A 150-strong group of current students and alumni marched to Senate House, where the university’s management is based, and which had already prepared for the protest by barring entry with high railings and a sizeable police presence.
The demonstration was mostly peaceful, though there were isolated confrontations with police. At one point, at least 20 policemen grappled with a handful of protesters who were attempting to fight their way through the barricade or scale the railings. Some were successful, but were subsequently dragged away by police and Senate House security.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the police said that officers were present “to prevent and detect crime, protect life and property and ensure there was no obstruction of the highway or breach of the peace”.
"Officers attempted to engage with the demonstrators when the intention to break through security at Senate House was made, and police were forced to take a firm stance, to prevent crime or injury to those present.
"A few officers sustained minor injuries as a result of protestors’ actions."
Support came from multiple University of London colleges including UCL, King's College and SOAS. The SOAS Samba Band provided consistent, energetic rhythm to the chants of “save our union” and “whose education? Our education”.
“Let this be the beginning, not the end, of our fight,” said ULU president Michael Chessum as the protest drew to a close. “We have lots of work to do.”
The University of London, which represents 18 colleges and 10 institutes with a total population of over 120,000 students, announced plans to close its amalgamated union in May. ULU claims that this decision was taken without democratic discussion either with students or their representatives. Should it go ahead, new management would take over the running of the ULU building in central London from August 2014.
Students are primarily concerned with the loss of their central hub, and what they see as the almost inevitable rise in costs to use sporting facilities, something which is currently subsidised for student use.
One protester said: “ULU unites everyone within the University of London. It’s an incredible resource precisely because it is run by people with a vested interest.”
Founded in 1921, ULU is the largest students’ union in Europe, and provides a range of intercollegiate services in one building including bars, cafés, a shop, a swimming pool and a gym.
In a statement, the University of London said it had come to the decision to close ULU after "an exhaustive eight month review."
“The review group responded to the clear message coming from the student body – most students see ULU as providing very limited benefits."
ULU will be running a follow-up referendum for all of its members about its future, beginning this Friday. Information about this can be found at: http://www.ulu.co.uk/ents/event/54/