On Wednesday, students at the week-long Newcastle University Occupation stepped up their action in the defence of education.
As well as staging a sit-in at the King’s Gate building on the university campus, which resulted in the finance building being temporarily closed, they submitted an application to the Department for Education to turn their occupied space into a free school.
This non-violent direct action – the latest in a series against education cuts and soaring tuition fees- was a response to the Vice Chancellor’s refusal to meet the occupiers as a group in the occupied fine art building of the university.
Fifteen students marched into the new complex, mouths covered with tape, and lay in a line across the foyer. This was where they remained for two hours despite requests from university management to leave the building, which had been shut down for the duration of the protest.
Masashi Stokoe, one of the students involved in the protest, said, “we haven’t been able to speak to the Vice Chancellor as a group democratically. He says we don’t represent student opinion but the wave of protests throughout the country recently suggest otherwise, besides which we’re supported by our democratically elected Student Union”.
The group had their mouths symbolically gagged, as one of the students, Emily Clark, explained, “to show that we feel that our voices aren’t being heard”.
Highlighting the peaceful nature of the demonstration, history student, Francesca Scott, commented, “the management were trying to suggest that we were disrupting the business of students, but it was management that shut the building down. Also, when they started talking about disciplinary procedures, I felt pretty intimidated. We have a right to peacefully protest”.
Meanwhile, the students at the occupation have submitted a request to become a free school under new government proposals.
Nick Lamb commented, “the government has said that anyone who want to set a up a school should be able to. With this occupation we are using this space to promote an alternative idea of education, so we have taken the government up on its offer and are trying to ensure that we can continue providing an alternative educational programme. We await the department for education’s response”.
Jon Clark, a music student who was involved in the sit down demonstration summed up the overall mood of the protesters; “We are showing the management that we take the defence of education seriously. The occupation is not a glorified sleep over – we are prepared to take action”.