Ten University of Birmingham students are facing disciplinary action that could lead to expulsion after a peaceful sit-in that ended with forceful eviction by university security and the police.
The University has seemingly singled out students who they perceive to be politically active in an attempt to victimise them. Twenty-five students participated in the occupation; ten students are facing disciplinary procedures including one who was not even involved. The hearings will take place on Wednesday, 2nd February.
The students cannot graduate until the matter is resolved and it may affect their career prospects. Lucy Whalley, a final-year physics student says “I want to apply for PGCE after I graduate but this is holding me back and I cannot apply until this matter is resolved”.
A number of students were injured by the police and security in the eviction and are reported to be pressing charges.
David Owen, a second-year theology student, whose departmental staff have already been reduced by a third, says “The doors were opened, three security staff wrenched their way into the room. I stood and linked arms with two other men to create a human blockade in peaceful protest, at which point the tables were kicked towards us, and I was head butted by a police officer, causing my lip to bleed and substantial swelling. I was forced against the wall by a police officer and at this point I was bleeding from the face. I left the building in a very shaken state.”
Staff members sought to observe the eviction process as they were concerned that students might be injured in the process, but were repeatedly denied this request. Dr. David Bailey, a local UCU branch committee member says: “I decided in consultation with two other UCU branch officers, that a UCU member should stay around the site of the occupation in order to provide some observation. At about 7pm we could hear screaming and shouting from inside the building. Two students stumbled outside the building in a very distressed state – one claiming in a very distressed manner that he had been headbutted by a policeman as the police and security guards sought to enter the occupied room. The student’s lip was bleeding and very swollen.
This student proceeded to inform the police, by phone, that he had been assaulted. In the light of these events it seems to me that it would have been highly advisable for the University to permit an observer to these proceedings, particularly if it transpires that a dispute occurs with the University, police and students each having different accounts of the eviction process”
Officers at Birmingham University UCU member and local branch member said about the occupation: “Our higher education system is under a sustained attack that will turn the clock back on generations of social progress, democratic advance and educational achievement. Under the government's proposals, our country looks set to become the most expensive place to study in the world, Birmingham University UCU branch supports students who Peacefully occupied on their first day back at university”. Currently three students are said to be pressing charges for assault and others are taking legal advice before pressing their case. The university is said to have its own footage of the eviction which they have not released. Students have collected this footage of the form of a mobile phone.
Students started this first student occupation of the new year on the first day back at university on Monday the 17th. Edward Bauer, a third year geography student said “we wanted to show support with around 200 staff at the university who are losing their jobs, while the university is running a £20 million profit. We thought we should start immediately, it was difficult organising over the internet in the holidays but we didn’t think this could wait”.
Student’s anger has been aggravated by the lack of restraint shown by management. Laura Beckmann, the Ethical and environmental officer at the University of Birmingham Guild of Students says “I feel their action is especially legitimate particularly when our Vice Chancellor is one of the highest paid in the country and is having an 11% pay rise this year.”
The University of Birmingham is doing nothing to abate the damage caused by the spending cuts, despite many other Universities taking action. Prof Malcolm Grant, provost of University College London, said his pay would be slashed by 10 per cent and other senior staff would receive wage freezes1.
Bob Cyran Vice-Chancellor of Huddersfield University has stated his intent to support his students by taking on tuition fee debt himself and set up a standing order to pay for a student support fund at his university2.
Prof Eric Thomas at Bristol decided to give some of the money back from his £309,000 salary. The university said: "The VC took no pay rise last year, and made a donation to the university of £100,000."3
The occupation was covered on the day by a number of news sources BBC4 , Sunday mercury5 , Birmingham news and Mail6, indymedia7 and Schnews8