Students occupying the University of Kent have vowed to continue their protest against tuition fees over Christmas, despite threats of legal action.
The sit-in at the Canterbury campus, which began almost two weeks ago on 8 December, has seen more than 100 students and staff join a series of meetings, workshops and a concert.
Management had expected that as term finished the take over of a key administration building would come to an end. Instead a core of activists is determined to stay in occupation until term restarts in January.
“Kent is not normally known for its radicalism,” Steve Stevenson, an occupier, told Socialist Worker. “So it’s been great to see the occupation attracting mainstream support.”
The occupation started after a Kent student union council meeting resolved to support non-violent direct action against the education cuts.
“Our vice chancellor had signed a letter supporting the rise in tuition fees that was printed in the Daily Telegraph. That made a lot of people really angry.
“One of our demands is that they remove their name from that letter. We also want them to sign a new statement – a commitment to university education not being the preserve of the privileged.”
The occupation has helped transform the atmosphere on campus, and Steve thinks that many more students now consider themselves to be part of a movement.
“In the weeks since we started, there have been dozens of workshops and discussions,” he says. “And there have been loads of cultural events too, like jazz concerts, African drumming sessions and street theatre.
“We organise everything democratically through meetings, which can take a long time but is part of the learning process.
“Lots of people here have never been involved in anything like this before, so it’s been great to see them coming to the Vodaphone tax avoidance protest in town, as well as being part of the student movement.”
While the response of university staff has been overwhelmingly positive, with more than 260 signing a letter of support for the occupation, management have been taking a tough line.
“They are threatening legal action and say they are determined to get us out this week. But we are determined to stay,” says Steve.
“Management have turned the heating off in the building we are occupying for ‘routine maintenance’. So it’s really cold at night and your breath freezes around you. They have also refused to open the building’s kitchenette so that we can make hot food.
“And they’ve got security guards on the doors of the building and are only letting students and staff with ID cards in.”
Nevertheless, Steve says that occupiers have been heartened by messages of support they have received and the news that representatives from local Unison and Unite union branches are planning to visit the students on Christmas Eve, bringing food parcels and electric heaters.
Management hopes the holiday season will provide an opportunity to put an end to the inconvenience of having their university occupied. But with solidarity and support for the students continuing to grow, they may well find they don’t get their Christmas wish.
Send messages of support and offers of food and heating to: [email protected] or see the university of Kent occupation page on Facebook.
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