University of Birmingham reoccupied - even though five students face possible expulsion for previous protest


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The Independent Online

Students at Birmingham University occupied a university building on Wednesday in a new anti-privatisation protest.

Between 30 and 40 people are believed to have occupied the Horton Grange Conference Centre at around 10pm.

A student inside the occupation told the Independent they plan to stay indefinitely.

“We’re not going to leave and stop until they actually start talking about our demands,” she said.

Among their demands, the protesters are calling for vice-chancellor David Eastwood to lobby the government for fees to be reduced and bursaries increased. They also want university accommodation made cheaper and staff to be paid a living wage.

The student said she disagreed with the university, which has said the occupiers do not represent the student body.

“There are a lot of students who agree with our methods, but they don’t feel that they can get involved with it,” she said. “Over the last term and this term I would say a few hundred people have been involved in this campaign. I think a few hundred people is not a minority at all.”

The Independent understands more students intend to join the occupation.

One student who was involved in the November occupation plans to travel to Birmingham today to join.

“Education is being turned into a commodity and the student is being turned into a consumer,” he said. “Rather than treating university as a transformative experience that has the potential to lead to change and growth in both students and society we are increasingly being sold a product.”

Meanwhile, one of six students who was facing expulsion for his role in November’s anti-privatisation protest had his investigation quashed today.

James Harding, 21, a third-year politics student, had the disciplinary against him dropped after photo evidence allegedly showing him inside the occupation proved inconclusive. Five other students are still under investigation.

A week-long occupation by students of Birmingham University’s senate chambers was broken up by police and security on November 28.

Mr Harding insists he played only a “minor role” in the protest and only provided support outside and did not enter the building.

“They were investigating me like I was some kind of criminal,” he said. “These investigations are meant to be just open investigations to find out what happened, but the person interviewing was really pushing even though the evidence was really weak.”

The University of Birmingham is calling the occupation “illegal”.

A spokesperson said: “The University welcomes debate on key policy issues and there are a variety of ways in which the legitimate concerns of students can be raised and responded to... it is therefore extremely disappointing that rather than engaging with the University through these channels, a small and  unrepresentative group of students has decided to occupy a building on campus, diverting resources from our 28,000 other students.”

She said the university will not comment on the case of individual students, five others of whom are still facing possible expulsion from the university for their parts in the earlier occupation.