Two of the biggest student protests on campuses in Britain for many years have just taken place. Some 1,700 students at Exeter University and 2,000 at Cambridge University demonstrated against planned department closures.
At Exeter on Thursday of last week students equipped with Italian flags, musical instruments and white lab coats joined a rally and march to protest against plans to close the music, chemistry and Italian departments.
Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of Exeter University, claims the closures come in response to the “market” that will be created by the introduction of top-up fees in 2006.
But students are furious that the university wants to either phase these departments out or even transfer the students to other universities, all for the sake of profit.
After last week’s protest there is hope that the plans can be stopped.
Department reps will hold another mass protest outside the next meeting of the university senate, when the departments’ future will be voted on.
Meanwhile, on Monday this week, Cambridge students took to the streets to protest against plans to close the university’s architecture department.
Architecture students defied a ban by the university to march through central Cambridge before joining a mass rally with speakers including comedian Griff Rhys Jones and some of the country’s top architects.
The student union worked hard to build the protest, which was also supported by the AUT lecturers’ union. They are confident that mass pressure can force the university to back down.
Underpinning both these big campus protests is the belief that universities should not by run like corporations, and that profit and the “free market” should not determine which departments stay open.
In this sense the National Union of Students demonstration in Cardiff on Thursday of this week is crucial.
The demonstration has been called to coincide with a vote in the Welsh Assembly on whether top-up fees will be introduced into Wales.
Labour has a majority of just one in the assembly so, with thousands of students protesting outside, there is a chance fees could be beaten.
A defeat in Wales would leave the Blair government very isolated on this issue in the run- up to the general election.
Whatever the result in Wales, the fight to stop neo-liberalism ravaging our universities is rapidly intensifying.
Thanks to Sam Caldwell and Greg Wilton for additional reporting.