QMUL students occupy against education cuts

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On Monday 12 March, students at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) in east London began an occupation of the prestigious Octagon building – a Grade II listed building used by the university for holding major events. The occupation is in protest against huge cuts to bursaries for students from low-income families, and in solidarity with the long-running UCU strike over cuts to pensions. Students, including supporters of the RCG, have been in occupation since then, organising to put pressure on the university management over these issues. The occupation is one of 13 current student occupations all over the country, including the University of Sheffield, Kings College London, Cambridge, Bath, Exeter, Reading, Dundee, Aberdeen and York.

QMUL has silently cut bursaries for most students from low-income families (households earning less than £42,600p/a) – many bursaries have been halved, and many scrapped altogether. A slight increase for students from families earning under £15,000p/a will not distract from this massive attack on poorer students. Instead the university will be putting money into the ‘QM Model’ which attempts to improve student employability by improving their ‘social capital’. Former Principal Simon Gaskell and Vice-Principal Rebecca Lingwood argued in The Guardian on 2 October: ‘Evidence at Queen Mary University of London suggests that our graduates do not always succeed personally, nor make a societal contribution, to the extent that their talents and educational qualifications should enable’, explaining this with the fact that ‘60% of [QMUL] students are from an ethnic minority.’ This is a further move in the general commodification of higher education backed up by a racist argument posed in terms of helping integrate black and brown people into British capitalism.

The occupation is demanding:

  • The reversal of bursary cuts without making other cuts to student support (whilst retaining the slight increase in support for those with a family income under £15,000).
  • The redefinition of the purpose of bursaries to ensure quality of experience for low income students, rather than recruitment and retention.
  • That bursaries be evaluated in terms of student experience, including mental health, part-time employment, and academic opportunity/attainment, rather than simply drop-out rates.
  • That university finance is made more transparent by submitting a biannual financial report to the student council.
  • That Colin Bailey (the President and Principal) declares support for the retention of the defined benefits pension scheme in its current form – which UCU are striking to keep – and commit QMUL to providing increased contributions if necessary.
  • That salary deductions for participation in industrial action will be spread over a three-month period and that no deductions will be made from hourly-paid staff.
  • That the university release its gender pay gap and diversity data.

The occupation has received widespread support from striking staff and students. Daily demonstrations have been called at 12pm in the Library Square to raise awareness of the occupation and its demands, and the occupation will be holding various actions to continue to escalate pressure on the management.

Support the QMUL occupation! No to bursary cuts! No to pension cuts! Fight for free education for all!

Update, 15 March 2018

The number of universities with student occupations has now grown to 17:

  • Strathclyde
  • Glasgow
  • Edinburgh
  • Dundee
  • Aberdeen
  • Sussex
  • Surrey
  • King’s College London
  • Queen Mary University of London
  • Exeter
  • Bath
  • Cambridge
  • York
  • Stirling
  • Sheffield
  • Reading
  • Nottingham

 

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