A demonstration began at 2pm today in central London, attended by a number of Oxford students, to protest against the violence of police towards university students, as well as showing solidarity with university staff and opposing the privatisation of student debt.
Recent reports suggest that student protestors from around the UK have joined the march through central London, and a large number of similar protests are set to take place in university towns and cities in the rest of the country.
Some of the protestors have reportedly attempted to enter Senate House, a research library near Russell Square, despite occupiers of the building last week being evicted by the police last Wednesday.
A group of Oxford students has also issued a statement to show solidarity with students across the UK who have been the victims of repressive policing in recent days.
The statement, signed at press time by 83 students and staff members from 27 Oxford colleges and Oxford Brookes, was issued in advance of a national “Cops Off Campus” day of action called today. One notable name among the signatories was new OUSU president-elect Louis Trup, who could not be reached for comment.
The open letter states that Oxford students and staff are “deeply disturbed by the disproportionate and violent reaction of the police, security and university managements to student protests over the last week during national strike action against pay cuts”.
The national protest, which is being attended by nearly 3000 people according to its Facebook event, was organised in response to a series of violent police crackdowns on student protests and occupations in a number of universities across the country. It is unclear how many Oxford students are among them, though a small group of Wadham students had organized a solidarity Facebook group.
Last Wednesday, private security employees stormed the University of London’s Senate House building in order to evict an occupation in support of better pay and working conditions for university staff, seizing protesters and handing them over to police. A day before the occupation began, a High Court judge had granted a six month injunction banning occupation-style protests at the University. Video later surfaced on the internet of a police officer punching a student, and police made five arrests in a crowd of scarcely more than 100.
In a demonstration against police brutality held the following day, between 34 and 43 students, including the editor of the University of London’s student paper, Oscar Webb, were arrested amidst violent confrontations between police and protesters. London police officers were recorded striking protesters with batons and dragging them by the hair.
According to the Oxford activists, the issues at play go beyond the role of university administrations and security forces in squelching dissent. The statement by Oxford students and staff links the struggle against police repression to broader issues facing universities.
It reads, “The freedom to protest is a healthy part of any society, but is particularly important for students and staff now facing an unprecedented assault on public higher education. In the context of the sell-off of student loans, sweeping cuts to pay and conditions, cuts to courses and student numbers, privatisation, and talk of raising the tuition fee cap yet again, there is every reason for those who value education to voice their dissent loudly and clearly.”
Edmund Schluessel, a member of the National Union of Students’ Executive Council, confirmed to Cherwell that the increased reliance on police and security forces to counter protest was directly related to lecturers’ campaigns for fair pay. “Vice chancellors are attacking students as a proxy because they can’t make lecturers and other staff back down in their demand for fair pay,” he said.
While the centre of gravity of the Cops Off Campus movement presently lies at other universities, Oxford activists maintain that the issues are nevertheless deeply relevant to the collegiate University. Nathan Akehurst, a third-year History and Politics student at Lincoln and organiser in the recent lecturer strike, told Cherwell, “Oxford has one of the largest security apparatuses in the country, has victimised protesters in the past, and until 2001 had a full-scale private police force.”
Akehurst stressed that Oxford students should be doing more to support the Cops Off Campus cause. “Strengthening the campaign here sends a clear message to the University that suppressing dissent will not be tolerated by the student body,” he said.
“Protest rights are not negotiable, and now more than ever the student body needs to be standing together against issues such as low staff pay, the sell-off of our loans and the spectre of £16,000 tuition fees.”