Students at Sussex University have stepped up their efforts to block the proposed privatisation of several key services, by storming the conference room and third floor balcony of Bramber House. The surge followed a protest attended by over 300 students and staff, as well as comedian and Independent columnist Mark Steel.
Students have occupied parts of the building since Thursday 3 February, as a ‘last resort’ to resist privatisation after declaring that communicating with management down the conventional channels had become ‘impossible’.
The occupiers had numbered around 40 until yesterday’s demonstration when, after one of the largest protests in the university’s history, cries of ‘join them’ led to what the press contact for the Occupy group is describing as a surge of ‘hundreds’ into the building.
Kit Bradshaw, communications officer for the Sussex Student’s Union confirmed on twitter that: “security have let hundreds of students into Bramber House conference centre to join the occupation”.
On the morning of the most recent protest Sussex Vice Chancellor, Prof Michael Farthing, in a letter to the students occupying the terrace said that he had “been asked by a number of staff and student to find a way to resolve this situation” before offering a meeting on the condition that “before the meeting takes place, we would want all the people involved in the protest to leave the terrace room”.
The students occupying responded saying that “If dissolving this occupation is the only condition upon which we can meet, then will not have a meeting” and instead, invited the Vice Chancellor and university registrar John Duffy, who is responsible for overseeing the outsourcing on campus, to a meeting in the occupied conference room.
It came a day after the release of a statement of support for the campaign, signed by over 150 leading academics, journalists and celebrities, including Caroline Lucas MP, activist Noam Chomsky, and BAFTA and Academy award winning actor and director Peter Capaldi.
Speaking at the demonstration, Mark Steel told the students it was an “honour and a privilege” to speak to them, and praised them for “standing up for what is right”, he also appeared to make reference to the recent horsemeat scandal when he told the students: “private business, food, what could possibly go wrong?”.
During a recent Q and A session between university registrar John Duffy, and students, Duffy insisted that the “treatment of staff and quality of service [are] top priorities” and that it was “really important that employers on this campus treat their staff well (…) a good employer will pay [and] treat staff equally”.