Students now in their 10th day of occupation at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, voted unanimously yesterday day to remain in the occupied Brunei Suite in protest at the government’s plans to cut higher education funding and lift the cap on tuition fees.
The students, who are defying a high court possession order, have been negotiating with University management since Friday. The negotiations led SOAS Principal and Director Paul Webley to issue a statement to all staff on Monday evening. In it he condemned the abolition of teaching grant for humanities and social science funding and expressed concerns about the impact of education cuts and fees on quality and accessibility. The students called a mass staff and student Assembly for lunchtime on Wednesday to decide the way forward for the occupation.After an extended discussion involving staff and students, it was decided by unanimous vote that the statement was not sufficient and that the occupation would continue. Student Fatimah Miah said ‘the management are still tiptoeing around the main issues. We want them to make a clear statement against all higher education cuts and tuition fee increases and to oppose the abolition of EMA, as this will severely limit access to university education. They need to take drastic action now if we are to defeat this bill’.
Ken Livingstone and Tariq Ali come and Support SOAS Occupation
The SOAS students said the occupation was gathering momentum. Labour’s London Mayoral candidate, Ken Livingstone, came and spoke to a huge meeting in the occupation yesterday morning. He said that he had long-advocated free higher education for all funded by taxing the rich and encouraged students to continue their protest. He also congratulated the students for leading the fight against government cuts, which he described as economically illiterate and ideologically driven.
Ken was followed by radical intellectual and activist, Tariq Ali, who came and spoke to a packed room on Wednesday evening. Despite having earlier said that he would only come if he could climb in through the window, Ali entered through the door to rapturous applause. Expressing his solidarity with the student activists he said that progress has never been made without struggle and dismissed government claims that higher education, public housing and other public services are not affordable as lies.
Into the night, the SOAS occupation was the first stop on a Ceilidh band tour, which will go on to entertain student occupations in UCL and Cambridge later tonight.