Protesting Goldsmiths students take over finance department ahead of public sector strike action

Occupiers decorate banners at Goldsmiths pic: Tabby Kinder

Students at Goldsmiths College were among a number which began occupations at British universities on Wednesday night in protests linked to next week’s public sector strike action.

Similar occupations have sprung up in the last 24 hours at Warwick, Birmingham, Cambridge and Edinburgh universities. A social centre has also been set up in Gordon Square, Bloomsbury, where students, workers and local residents have occupied a disused university property.

Following a meeting to discuss plans for the upcoming public sector strikes, 30 Goldsmiths students took over a building, which houses lecture theatres and the university’s finance department, in response to increasing tuition fees and the privatisation of the university. Students then spent the night gaining support via social media, and establishing the movement as a legitimate occupation with university staff.

The occupation comes one year after the university lost all government funding. Another 23 UK universities, with primarily arts courses, also lost 100 per cent of funding as part of the Coalition’s spending review.

It has met no resistance this morning, as students declared the building “open to the public” and a “newly liberated space”.

Lecturers have been permitted into the building, although one refused to teach under conditions imposed by the occupation. Conditions include reading the occupation statement before the start of lectures, and making each lecture open to the public.

Goldsmiths College has a tradition of occupation and was the first university to enter into occupation when the student movement gathered momentum in November 2010. Since then, the university has experienced three separate occupations.

Georgia Harrison, 26, studying postcolonial studies at Goldsmiths College, was one of the 30 students involved in the first night of the ‘sleep-in’. “It’s part of a much wider resistance to the way the global crisis is being used to push through welfare cuts and funding cuts,” she said. “On a local level, we’re against the marketisation of Goldsmiths and the privatisation of education. We don’t know how long it’s going to last. We’ve been talking about doing this for a few weeks.”

Simon David, 30, a Goldsmiths cultural studies student added: “We’ve occupied the building to show solidarity with the wider occupy movement and to block the finance offices. We also want to disrupt the everyday functioning of the university and prepare for the November 30 strike.”

However, occupiers have been careful not to disturb other students. “We’ve made sure we haven’t occupied the cash office as this would interrupt students who need loans and emergency funding,” David continued.

Wendy Smith, a mature student at Goldsmiths College, said: “I do agree that we shouldn’t sell universities off to big businesses, but it’s annoying that my lecture has been cancelled. There are better ways to voice your opinions rather than being disruptive.”

The occupation is not linked to the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts day of action and no members of University and College Union or Unison were present when the decision was made to occupy.

James Haywood, president of Goldsmiths College Students’ Union, said the union was not “in any way” affiliated with the occupation. “I didn’t know about it until after it happened,” he added.

In a statement on Novemeber 25, the college said: “Goldsmiths recognises legitimate protest, and is pleased the occupation has been peaceful. However it is also causing unnecessary and unwelcome disruption.

“We aim to keep good relations with the occupiers and to do what we can to ensure safety.

“We have concerns about the planned ‘party’ [on November 25]. The party has been publicised online carrying an open invitation. Given the College is not in control of the building we cannot guarantee the safety of those attending. A protest is one thing, a party is another thing entirely. We question whether this event is commensurate with the spirit of the occupation so far.”

Additional reporting by Raziye Akkoc.

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