Warwick occupation students win!

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Warwick students have ended their two-week occupation of the Slate conference centre declaring a partial win, as university bosses caved in on demands ranging from ending legal threats against students to improving lecturers’ work rights.

University bosses have reluctantly apologised for their heavy-handed approach to campus protests, dropped legal injunctions laid against the occupiers, pledged to look at including hourly-paid teachers in union pay bargaining agreements and publicly acknowledged the government’s controversial new “teaching excellence framework” isn’t fit for purpose.

The Warwick For Free Education campaign has been campaigning for two years to knock down legal injunctions which were laid against members who had staged a sit-in in the university’s Rootes building on December 3rd 2014. Up to 1,000 students took part in a demonstration which ended in chaos after the university cleared West Midlands police to break it up using CS gas and tasers. Shortly afterwards Rootes was occupied and participants were served with an eviction order — along with threats against two students that they could be forced to pay legal costs.

The university has now finally backed down over the injunction, with vice-chancellor Stuart Croft saying in his reluctant apology statement:

I very deeply regret the violence that we witnessed and the great upset amongst the students and staff involved, and the community beyond. I never want to be in a situation again in which CS spray or a tazer is deployed on our campus. Second, I regret that in the University’s communications that immediately followed what took place, the principle of neutrality fundamental to our University community was evidently broken.

We are now committed to removing the injunction put in place after the events of December 2014. I do hear the call for increased urgency for the resolution of these matters. I am committed to continuing to pursue deeper engagement and ongoing dialogue between the University, Students’ Union and the breadth of our student body. There are lessons to learn, and I hope that we are collectively starting to do that.

The vice-chancellor also agreed to meet with both Warwick anti-casualisation campaigners and the UCU lecturers’ union over calls for hourly-paid lecturers to be included in standard collective bargaining agreements. At present nearly two-thirds of lecturers are on precarious contracts, and most are not formally recognised as employees of the university. While Croft failed to offer any tangible concessions in his statement, he did agree to talks with Warwick Anti-Casualisation specifically on their Six Demands for fairer teaching conditions, starting next month.

Finally, the university has publicly acknowledged that the government’s upcoming Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) is fundamentally flawed. The framework would send in government monitors to assess teaching quality in English universities. In a mirror of the widely-despised Ofsted system of schools oversight, it has been linked to control over tuition fees and caps on numbers of international students, giving the government the ability to punish institutions — and thus teachers — who don’t conform to tick-box metrics.

Critics have warned it will not in fact measure “teaching excellence,” and that the government is using the threat of caps on international students to push institutions into opting into the TEF. In his statement, Croft reiterated that Warwick will be joining the TEF, but admitted it “will not do what it says on the tin; it will not measure teaching excellence.” The vice-chancellor has also highlighted that the Higher Education and Research Bill poses huge threats to the sector which need challenging.

In their response, Warwick for Free Education said:

Whilst it is disheartening that the University will not be changing their decision to opt into TEF, it is significant that the occupation was able to force the institution to be more transparent about the reasoning behind their decisions, as well as to openly voice their criticisms of this government’s visions for higher education.

We believe these achievements demonstrate the legitimacy, strength and impact of disruptive direct action tactics in shifting the balance of power and winning real material gains, especially when repressive measures seek to undermine the right to protest and invalidate the political and historical necessity of such tactics.

However, the struggle is far from over. We recognise that there is still so much more that must be done on both local and national levels to challenge the damaging direction in which higher education is being pushed, and to fight for our vision of an education system which is free, democratic and accessible to all.

It goes without saying that we will continue to defend the right to protest, to stand alongside academic staff in pushing for fair working conditions, and to fight by any means necessary against the government’s disastrous higher education reforms.

The last two weeks have been inspiring, empowering, and of great political significance on both the local and national level. Together, we have created and sustained a vibrant and welcoming space which has been shared by hundreds of students and staff, and which has facilitated truly collaborative political education, as well as successfully forcing senior management to concede on some crucial issues. We have received overwhelming support and solidarity from students, staff and education activists from across the country, and we look forward to maintaining and developing these links further.

Though this occupation was just one pocket of resistance, and though not all the demands were met in full, there is so much to take away from the experience; to cultivate, to build upon, and to channel into further action in the future. We warmly welcome anyone who wishes to join us in that endeavour.

VICTORY TO THE OCCUPATION!
THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES!