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Free education protestors occupy University of Warwick building

Members of Warwick For Free Education (WFFE) have taken over a University of Warwick building, The Slate, a new £5.3 million conference centre, in protest against the university’s involvement with the new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) and poor working standards, which WFFE describes as “the disastrous direction in which higher education is being pushed, and our own institution’s complicity in that agenda”.

A statement from the protesting group reads: “We are at a truly pivotal moment for higher education. This government is set to usher in the full marketisation of the sector, with devastating consequences for both students and staff.

“Student debt is set to rise, academics will be pushed to breaking point, and private companies will be given a free pass to take over and profit from public universities driven to collapse.

“As tuition fees go up, students don’t even have enough space to study or to sit in lectures. As management salaries continue to surge, hourly-paid teachers are struggling to survive.

“As Warwick prioritises corporate conference space, they fail to provide enough housing for students year upon year.”

As part of their protest, Warwick for Free Education made three demands. The first is: “The University must opt out of the Teaching Excellence Framework”, owing to the university agreeing to the TEF policy despite opposition from both student and staff votes.

The second demand reads: “The University must agree to Warwick Anti-Casualisation’s 6 demands for fair teaching conditions,” reacting to the university’s ‘notoriously’ bad working standards.

Earlier in November, The Guardian revealed that 68.1 per cent of academics at Warwick were working on ‘insecure’ contracts. Warwick Anti-Casualisation group call for hourly-paid lecturers to be made full-time staff and for equal pay rates across departments.

The third, that “the University must scrap the protest injunction and apologise for their handling of the events of 3 December, 2014,” refers to violence against student protests at a sit-in for free education and the following response from the university’s Vice-Chancellor, Nigel Thrift, that the group called a ‘smear campaign’.

West Midlands police were called to the university two years ago and claims of excessive force, including the threat of tasers and use of tear gas to subdue the crowds, have since been made.

One final year Warwick student, not involved in the protest, spoke to The Mancunion: “The fact that Warwick has invested in The Slate building when the campus does not have sufficient study space, teaching space, or even accommodation for its growing student population is outrageous.

“The university continues to accept more and more students while making little attempt to keep up with the demands on facilities — seminars are held in offices, students cannot get seats in the library, first years are put up in hotel rooms.

“With tuition fees set to rise again, and 68 per cent of staff struggling on precarious contracts, it is simply unacceptable that Warwick continues to pour money into outside business ventures to the detriment of its staff and students.”

This reflects the growing hostility towards the university from all areas of the student population, and echoes WFFE’s statement: “This is the product of years of students being treated as consumers and universities being run as businesses, the impact of which is felt very strongly here at Warwick.

“As we sit in this cutting edge facility purpose-built for external companies and businesses, students and staff are experiencing a drastic deterioration of learning, working and living conditions.”

A spokesperson for the University of Warwick Press Office has responded: “We are aware of the occupation by around half a dozen people and we are monitoring the situation.”

The University of Warwick’s Students’ Union have released this statement:

“The Students’ Union has been made aware of an occupation of ‘The Slate’, Warwick’s new £5.3million conference building, by Warwick For Free Education. Our primary concern is for the welfare of those students involved, and Sabbatical Officers will remain in dialogue with both the University and those in occupation to ensure this.

The students’ demands – that the University opt out of the government’s proposed ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’, agree to the “6 Demands for fairer teaching conditions” among casualised staff and abolish the protest injunction – are all supported by democratic mandate and SU policy.

Furthermore, it is clear from recent events such as the Extraordinary Meeting of Warwick’s Senate and the NUS National Demo that students and staff are not being listened to. As outlined in the occupiers’ statement, the traditional democratic channels open to staff and students have now been exhausted. It is also important to note that this building has been purpose-built to support corporate conferences and is not used for teaching and learning, thus causing minimal disruption to students’ everyday lives.”

At the time of print, this was still a developing story.

Tags: academics, excessive force, free education, teaching excellence framework, University of Warwick, West-Midlands police

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