Birmingham Students Protest, Occupy, Defy Injunction

Students of the University of Birmingham intend to continue their near week-long protest, in defiance of a court injunction ordering them to cease. The group Defend Education has occupied the school’s senate chamber since the evening of November 20th.

Defend Education’s demands include increased equity in wages for University of Birmingham staff, more decision making power at the university for staff and students, and the scuttling of a planned increase in tuition fees, writes The Guardian’s Ashley Kirk.

An order for their removal and an injunction against future protests have been issued, but the group has said they will remain, “resisting an unjust, aggressive injunction”.

Defend Education say on their website: “Not only have students agreed to stay inside the occupation past the time that the injunction becomes valid, they have voted to stay for the foreseeable future, resisting aggressive intimidation tactics by university management and instead waiting to be removed by force.

“We plan to continue our protests until the university management take seriously our demands and drop any charges or sanctions currently threatened against students.”

The recent senate chamber occupation is not the group’s first action on the subject of pay disparities. Earlier this month, Defend Education blockaded five entrances to the University’s Edgbaston campus to raise awareness of their positions.

The occupiers have received support from others on campus, with provisions delivered to sustain their occupation, and a gathering of around  100 students marching in their support this past week.

Not all on campus support the Defend Education mission, however.

Opinion on campus has been mixed. Charlie Winch, a third-year international relations student, says: “This small group of occupiers risk widening the already growing divide between the university and its students. The university is not going to change its fundamental position in light of this occupation.”

Although the University itself has been accused of ignoring students’ demands, they find themselves walking a fine line between support of free speech and maintaining their educational mission.

The University of Birmingham says in a statement: “Universities are places of free speech and we respect the rights of students to protest peacefully and within the law.

“Our priority is the safety and wellbeing of our students, staff and the wider community, and we are concerned where any protest poses a potential hazard to protesters or bystanders, or causes unwarranted disruptions to study or work, or damage to property.

“We are particularly concerned that the actions of this small number of students is diverting safety and security resources and potentially diminishing the safety of our 28,000 other students.”