Birmingham University has recently been granted an injunction that criminalises any occupation of university property for the next year.
The injunction follows a recent occupation of an abandoned campus building and other protests which have resulted in sanctions against students.
Tessa Gregory, a solicitor at Public Interest Lawyers who is acting on behalf of Birmingham students, described recent events as being ‘a shameful attempt by the university to prevent students from exercising their lawful right to protest.’ A Birmingham University spokesperson claimed that the injunction would have no effect of the right of student protest on campus; ‘it merely covers the unauthorised occupation of campus or buildings.’
Other universities have also resorted to legal action to end occupations. Sheffield University have recently withdrawn a similar injunction last week after successful negotiations between student occupiers and university authorities. Students at Royal Holloway were also threatened with a high court injunction, although the occupation ended before the university resorted to such action.
Asked to comment on the Birmingham injunction and Oxford’s response to a future occupation, an Oxford University spokesperson stated that the University ‘fully supports people’s right to protest, as long as it is within the law. We do not support occupying University buildings as a means of protest. Any response to a particular protest would depend on the circumstances.’
In November 2010 the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford was occupied by a group of students as part of a wider protest against public sector cuts. The protest ended after more than 24 hours when the police managed to break through a door.
The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts has placed the blame on the increasing privatisation of higher education. They say that certain principles, such as freedom of expression and democracy on campus, are being lost, as ‘high paid university executives are cracking down on all forms of dissent on universities’ campuses.” They will ‘fight this draconian injunction in court’ as well as disregarding the injunction in practice by organising more protests at Birmingham University.