“The senior management are determined to ensure the campus doesn’t become a political space”. This is what a student and their representative were told by the head of security at Loughborough University during a disciplinary investigation last year. They were being interviewed about their role in a peaceful protest where inoffensive messages were written in water-soluble chalk on campus as part of an environmental campaign.
Despite the chalk substance eventually coming out with water, the university supposedly mistook the substance for paint and hired expensive cleaners. The student was later charged £430 for the cost of the external professional cleaners that they say did not need to be used.
This is according to an open letter to the Office for Students (OfS), signed by student and staff groups at Loughborough University and the National Union of Students (NUS). The letter calls for the OFS to investigate the university and details a series of alleged incidents where the university has attempted to shut down freedom of speech on campus using intimidatory threats, suppression and disciplinaries.
The groups believe that Loughborough University should be used as a case study into the suppression of staff and students at UK universities. The groups have now gone public with this information in the open letter that also mentions a student being excluded from campus for almost two months for setting off a handheld coloured smoke device at another protest demonstration, students being made to hand over their IDs to security for giving out campaign leaflets, a sub-warden being forced to quit their job for supporting protesters online, security searching students’ rooms with sniffer dogs, and threats over the continuation of their studies being used against student protesters.
Loughborough People & Planet, a student group who signed the letter, have been campaigning on environmental, workers’ rights and migrants’ rights issues for three years. In 2018, their campaign led Loughborough University to remove all their investments in fossil fuel companies. Since then, Loughborough University has also signed up to Electronics Watch to monitor working conditions in their electronics supply chain and have cancelled events with Barclays, who the group say invest more money into fossil fuels than any other European bank.
The group’s current campaign is to push the university to sign a pledge against the hostile environment, which calls on the university to not carry out surveillance of students that goes beyond Home Office requirements and to classify those en-route to British citizenship as ‘home’ students for fee purposes.
A spokesperson for the Loughborough People & Planet group said: “The university has been unprofessional and dictatorial throughout our campaigns. We were met with threats from when we started in 2017, they have refused to meet with us, and they’ve taken punitive action when we’ve resorted to peaceful protest. We hope this investigation leads to changes in the approach the university takes.”
Another student at the university said: “I don’t think the management here have any idea how to deal with student protests. They seem desperate to contain any public dissent, which leads them to act very heavy-handed and recklessly. It’s quite worrying that they don’t appear to know how to provide the kind of campus for healthy staff and student campaigning.”
Images: Loughborough People & Planet