About 20 students from a group called Protect the Public University – Warwick entered the university premises on Friday for a “meeting of indefinite length”.
They want to highlight the issue of student debt caused by the trebling of tuition fees last autumn and lack of progress made by Russell Group universities in recruiting students from poor families.
“Universities are becoming the site of extraordinary inequalities,” said a spokesman for the group. Protestors also have a list of grievances against Warwick, including the £42,000 pay hike awarded to its vice-chancellor Nigel Thrift last year.
The university has also led the way in outsourcing services, while staff had taken real-term cuts in income and are increasingly employed on short-term contracts, the group claims.
Students staged a “teach-in” on 19 June and say they have received “incredible support” from students and staff alike.
However, the protest is also aimed at its own student union for what the group says is a failure to show solidarity to protestors at the University of Sussex earlier this year or to oppose Warwick’s policies.
“At the moment, we have a student union that is an extension of senior management,” a spokesman claimed, saying the occupation was a “radical form of student democracy”.
“This action has been taken to voice resistance toward the marketisation of higher education and the detrimental effects this has upon the university as community,” a statement from the group said.
“Usually excluded from decision-making spaces, students have reclaimed this council chamber to bring the fight to the symbolic heart of the university’s administration.
“We fundamentally oppose the government’s destructive and inequitable agenda for higher education, and its implementation at Warwick and beyond.”
Warwick has said it is “keeping all its options open” and would take any actions it deemed necessary, including legal action, to remove the students.
A university spokesman confirmed the size of Professor Thrift’s pay rise, but said it was awarded in 2011 after several years of no pay rises.
“This group of about 17 students have their own particular range of concerns,” the spokesman said, but he was clear that the students had “no right to be there”.
A statement from Warwick Student Union said it “fully support[s] the right of our students to protest peacefully and within the law”.
However, it said was also bound by legal constraints, and could not formally support any form of unlawful direct action, but wanted to act as a mediator between the university and protestors.
“The student union will also do everything it can to ensure that food and sanitary provisions continue to be made available to the group.”