Students bring university occupation to a close

A group of students brought their four-week long occupation of a university building to a close today as part of a protest at rises in tuition fees and education cuts.

The students have been staging a sit-in at the Senate building at the University of Kent in Canterbury since December 8 and remained there throughout Christmas and New Year.

University officials had attempted to regain control of the building by seeking a possession order at a hearing at Canterbury County Court on Friday, but the students agreed to leave the building peacefully at 2pm today.

One of the occupiers, 20-year-old philosophy student Ben Stevenson, said: "After four weeks we feel we have exhausted this type of protest for the time being.

"But it's not over, it's simply the end of the beginning and we will continue pursuing our campaign."

The students want the university and its vice-chancellor Julia Goodfellow to condemn the Government's plans publicly.

Their occupation was a reaction to her signing a letter, published in the Daily Telegraph on December 8, endorsing a rise in tuition fees.

Prof Goodfellow has since written an open letter in which she said she deplored cuts to higher education funding, but the students said this did not meet their demands.

The students have written to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, in the hope that as a visitor to the university he would act as mediator but they have so far received no reply.

The occupiers said that the "savage cuts and substantial rise in fees should not be underestimated".

The students intend to issue a letter to universities encouraging students and staff to sign as a counter-measure to the letter signed by Prof Goodfellow and other board members of Universities UK.

Students had taken it in turns to join in the protest, but this changed on December 22 when the university obtained an order to stop anyone from re-entering the building and only six remained today, Mr Stevenson said.

The group survived on food that had been donated to them and they passed the time watching films and maintaining contact with supporters via Twitter and Facebook using a 3G dongle.

They allege that the heating was turned off during the cold weather, that they had been unable to leave the building for fresh air and that their internet connection was cut off.

In a statement, the university said: "From the outset, the university has made it clear that it is sympathetic to the concerns of the students involved, and that we deplore the proposed cuts.

"Throughout the duration of the occupation, the university has been mindful of the students' welfare and has ensured that the Senate building has been heated at all times, with full access to electricity, toilets and water."