7 Dec 2010

Tuition fees: sit-in students refuse to leave

Students staging a sit-in protest against tuition fees at University College London tell Channel 4 News they will have to be dragged out one by one before they leave.

Dozens of students have set up home in the Wilkins building at University College London (UCL).

Banners with slogans including “RIP education”, “Students of the world unite” and “Education is a right not a privilege” cover the walls of the Jeremy Bentham Room.

Many of the protesters have been there for 14 days and are still refusing to leave.

They are angry about the Coalition’s plans to charge students up to £9,000 pounds per year in tuition fees to study at English universities.

“They will have to physically drag us out one by one.” Ben Beach, student

Management at UCL are taking legal action against the protesting students. The result of the court action is expected on Wednesday morning.

The students staging the sit-in remain defiant despite legal proceedings against them.

Ben Beach is an architect student at UCL and helped to organise the sit-in. He told Channel 4 News protesters would not leave voluntarily if served with an injunction: “If the management attempt to remove us from here we will not leave.

“It is our right to be heard. We will stay.

“They will have to physically drag us out one by one. We’re not about violence, we’re about making a point.”

In a statement UCL management told Channel 4 News it will not enforce legal action immediately:

"During the occupation, UCL's main concern has been to provide a safe and secure working environment for all its staff, students and visitors.

"Negotiations with the student protestors are ongoing, and we still hope for an amicable end to the occupation. UCL recognises the right of protest and has been even-handed in its response.

"However, UCL feels that it has to have the option of ending the occupation through legal means, which is why it applied to the courts. If an order is granted, UCL does not plan to enforce it immediately, preferring to proceed with negotiations for the time being.

"The occupation is inevitably proving disruptive to the life of the university. For example, students and other groups who booked space in the Jeremy Bentham Room have not been able to proceed with their activities, student protestors risked their personal safety by accessing the roof of the building, and chalk graffiti which will cost several thousand pounds to remove has appeared around the main campus."
Students protesting against tuition fees (Reuters)

Thursday’s vote

The students are convinced their protests against a rise in tuition fees are making a difference at the top of British politics.

“I think we are getting somewhere..the Liberal Democrats are exceptionally shaken by this,” Ben said.

“When the architect of the policy itself is talking about abstaining you begin to realise you’re having a massive impact on the politics of this country.”

Catriona Cowie-Fraser studies English at UCL. She is hopeful that Thursday’s vote on tuition fees could end in the students’ favour: “The Lib Dems have to ask themselves if they want to have a future as a party.

“They’re going to lose all credibility if they vote for these changes.

“They’ve lied to students, they’ve lied to the general public and they’ve got an ethical and political responsibility to vote against this so I think we may well see it not go through on Thursday.”

The Lib Dems are meeting this evening to discuss Thursday’s vote on tuition fees.

Nick Clegg’s party is under mounting pressure not to back down on its pre-election pledge to scrap tuition fees.

Students say they will continue to demonstrate until Thursday’s vote and, if necessary, beyond.