Some oddly-timed fire alarms have ended the student occupation at Brighton University

Brighton University students and staff staging a sit in
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University of Brighton bosses are planning to make 140 staff redundant, but workers and students alike haven’t been taking it lying down. They’ve organised protests and rallies. 11 students have also occupied parts of the uni. However, that action came to an abrupt end on Sunday 4 June – in rather suspicious circumstances.

Brighton University: cuts, cuts, and more cuts

As PhD researcher at Brighton University Kathryn Zacharek has documented for the Canary, the institution is a mess. Bosses are closing parts of it, while spending massive amounts of money elsewhere – and now, they’re planning on laying off staff. As Zacharek previously noted, the university:

intends to make 110 academics and 30 professional staff redundant, all in a bid to save almost £18m

Bosses are asking people to take voluntary redundancy first, before forcing people out. Now, in recent developments, Zacharek wrote that:

the university has announced it will close the Brighton Centre for Contemporary Arts (BCCA) due to alleged financial pressures.

Bosses say these pressures include the government freezing regulated tuition fees, and inflation. However, people are finding it difficult to believe this, when the uni has spaffed £17m on buying out the Virgin Active lease of sports facilities on one of the campuses.

So, people have been taking action.

Read on...

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Students are not having it

As Zacharek previously wrote:

On 25 May, [11 students] occupied the VC’s office on the 8th floor of the Cockcroft building. They said they will occupy the building indefinitely until management meet their only demand – that no redundancies take place.

However, university bosses acted quickly:

In response, the university threatened legal action against the students occupying the VC’s office. However, rather than communicating with the students directly, university management decided to serve the students with a solicitor’s letter. It stated that the university had reported the occupiers’ conduct to the police, and:

“intends to pursue disciplinary action under the student disciplinary process”.

Undeterred, Brighton University students carried on with their occupation – albeit in horrid circumstances. Students said in a press release that:

During the protest, the students faced alleged homophobic and verbal abuse from employees of the university, as well as being flooded by raw sewage. When cleaning supplies were dropped off at the building by supporters, the students say they ‘were forced to wait 12 hours for security to give us the supplies’ and had other items such as ‘bedding, books, notebooks, stationary… stolen from our supply drops’.

One student trying to drop off food to the protestors was told by security that they had it ‘written in front of [them] in clear writing that no food be delivered to the 8th floor’, and added that the protestors could ‘eat when they leave’.

However, the occupation came to an abrupt end on 4 May.

A random fire alarm ends the occupation

Brighton University students said in a statement that:

we were eating when we heard an alarm go off repeating:

‘Attention please we are investigating an alarm in another part of the building, please listen for further announcements’.

A few minutes later, the alarm started saying:

‘Attention please, attention please, a fire has been reported in the building, please leave immediately through the nearest exit, do not use the lifts’.

Due to the fire risk we left the building as quickly as possible. We were outraged to find that security at both doors not only failed to alert us, but had left immediately, again showing a massive lack of care from the employees of the university. Furthermore, security confused us as to the whereabouts of the nearest fire exit, and left without notifying us or even opening the fire doors.

Unfortunately, given the poor treatment by security and university staff throughout the occupation, we are not surprised that we were abandoned during such a dangerous situation.

So, the students had little choice but to end the occupation – and due to a very conveniently timed fire alarm, at that.

Brighton University Students said in a statement that:

We are extremely sad to have left the occupation early and against our will. We were fully prepared to stay until our demand was met. Our morale and motivation is still high and we know that the pressure on the university management will continue to build after this occupation.

Brighton: ‘The campaign will not end here’

Staff and students are adamant the fight will continue. You can sign a petition calling on bosses to stop the redundancies here. There’s also going to be a rally on Saturday 10 June:

Students said in a statement:

Its clear from this that the University management is not interested in engaging with us in a constructive way. It is clear to us that this poor treatment from security is down to orders from management.

For a University that has stated their hands are financially tied we are shocked at the ease at which they are spending their supposedly limited funds on expensive court hearings, legal actions, and additional outsourced security. All this instead of engaging in a proper dialogue with us.

We are certain that this is not the last of Brighton University’s failures to protect staff and students, and we will continue to struggle under the University system. We are incredibly grateful for the support we have received, the solidarity shown from lectures, including those from other Universities, has been immense… The campaign will not end here.

The situation at Brighton is a microcosm of the wider chaos in the higher education system in the UK. Successive governments and universities have turned the system into a privatised, for-profit venture – at the expense of staff and students.

Until this capitalist agenda is rolled back, institutions like the University of Brighton will continue to erode the fundamental principles of higher education – and, as ever, it will be staff and students who suffer.

Featured image via Kathryn Zacharek 

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