LSE students are now in occupation: follow the story at http://lseoccupationcoverage.wordpress.com, where the Beaver is providing live coverage.
A group of students have been occupying an LSE conference suite since last Thursday, with the support of the LSE Students’ Union.
The occupation followed an Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM), held on Thursday afternoon by the Students’ Union in response to sustained calls for direct action in protest to proposed changes in higher education funding.
The EGM, attended by an estimated 250 students, saw vigorous debate as students exchanged views on whether the Students’ Union should back an occupation.
Twenty minutes prior to the end of the EGM, eight students rushed from the Old Theatre to occupy the Old Building’s Vera Anstey suite. The initial eight were soon followed by some thirty more students; the number of occupiers later swelled to a reported 140 students during the occupation’s first assembly. Numbers have since fluctuated with approximately ten to twenty students remaining overnight.
Organisers issued a statement on Friday evening, condemning the School’s stance on proposed changes in higher education funding: “We, the occupiers of the Vera Anstey Suite, have been dismayed by the Directorate of the LSE’s failure to speak out against the coalition’s proposals to cut funding for further and higher education.”
The occupiers’ actions followed more than thirty other recent university occupations, at institutions such as UCL, SOAS and London Metropolitan, with students protesting against a proposed increase in the tuition fee cap to £9,000 per year.
The LSE student sit-in was initially the policy of only those students involved; however, an online vote on the motion debated at the EGM allowed students to vote for or against Students’ Union backing of it. Those in support and opposition made frantic efforts to win the vote, using banners, Facebook statuses and leafleting across campus. By Friday evening, the motion gained the necessary number of votes, with 464 students voting in favour and 261 voting against.
LSE authorities have publicly condemned the action. In a statement issued to the Beaver, a spokesperson said: “We have made it plain to the occupiers that they are not authorised to be there. We are monitoring any disruption to teaching”.
The last occupation at the School came in 2009, when pro-Gaza protesters took over the Old Theatre for six days. School officials later claimed the occupation cost “a bit more, but not much more, than £10,000” and at the time threatened the Students’ Union with this fee. An ongoing occupation at UCL faced legal action last week, the cost of which could be incurred by their Students’ Union.
Over the weekend, voices from around the world backed the occupation at the LSE. Biljana Kašic, a lecturer from the University of Zadar in Croatia, said: “I would like to say yes to your courage, your resistance, your critical ‘eye’”.
Meanwhile hip hop star and radio DJ Lowkey called for “Action! Action! Action!” from students. During a visit on Friday evening, he told protesters: “I totally support what you’re doing. If they really believe in this policy, then they should all pay £9,000 a year retrospectively”.
Mike Cushman, the University and College Union’s branch secretary, also expressed support, arriving on campus shortly after the occupation began. “It isn’t acceptable”, he said. “We need to be part of a campaign to roll back these attacks – not just on students and lecturers – but on the poor, the vulnerable, patients, even schoolchildren. We need to all be backing this action”.
The occupation has faced opposition from some students. Former LGBT officer and third-year Government student, Scott Macdonald, told the emergency meeting: “This is imposing the views of quite a narrow section of students on all of us. It takes away the ability of people who don’t agree with this cause to actually say that they object.”
Government proposals, which include cuts to the teaching grants of all non-STEM subjects, are expected to become law following a parliamentary vote on Thursday 9th December. Occupiers are demanding that LSE Director Howard Davies condemn the government’s policy. In a statement issued on Friday, occupiers called for a “joint open statement by the LSE Students’ Union, University and College Union (UCU), and Howard Davies.”
Davies has yet to make clear whether the School plans to increase tuition fees and if so, by how much. Having written privately to the government, questioning proposed cuts to non-STEM teaching grants, he has stepped clear of offering specifics on future LSE policy. Those in charge of fee levels are expected to meet in 2011, once government proposals have been resolved.