Despite what the radio silence from major news outlets might suggest, the past few weeks have seen some of the most dramatic protests from UK students since 2011. Students across the country, including myself, have engaged in a various means of protesting, including occupying buildings and building road blocks, as a means of objecting to the gradual privatisation of our Higher Education institutions and the general defunding of public services. Rather than negotiate or create a dialogue with their students and staff, the steps taken by university management seemed to be united across the nation: shut down the protests and bring in the police.
The protests were in support of university staff who will be taking a 13% pay cut this year in real terms and an objection to the privatisation of our education services and deplorable treatment of workers. As the dogfight to remain high up in the league tables continues amongst the redbricks, university spending is being funnelled away from the people that students have contact with every day and towards building shiny buildings to entice in new students - each of whom represent almost £30,000 per head.
In London, over 30 students were arrested as part of an occupation at Senate House, which included police brutality and kettling. In Sussex, five students have been suspended from campus following their peaceful protest that has been an ongoing issue at the university for months. In Sheffield, students have taped their mouths up to highlight the attempt to ban protest on campus. In Liverpool, we were denied access to water and toilets before being kettled and threatened with an injunction, following minimal communication with management. Similar stories have been replicated everywhere that protest has sprung up over the past few weeks. Negotiation and a willingness to listen has been replaced with an inclination to call the police first and ask questions later. Our attempts at democracy have been met not with likewise, but with a disproportionate and inappropriate employment of authority.
Student politics have traditionally been an integral part of university, but the gradual push to disassociate student unions and guilds with politics and attach them instead with drinking-themed nights has effectively severed political support between independent university bodies and their students. The result of this, amongst other things, is a culture of political apathy where attempts to enact real change are lost between layers and layers of bureaucracy. As fees rise, staff are treated increasingly worse and higher-ups pocket enough cash to pay back our loans several times over, it seems utterly inconsistent with the idea of paying for services that paying students should get no say in the matter. If universities insist on turning education into a consumer product, then the very least they could do is offer the same degree of customer care that one would expect from such an expensive purchase.
To treat students this way is an act of violence in itself. Putting police between you and your students is simultaneously an expression of disrespect to the people that pay your wages and an indication that you are scared of what a politically active student body can achieve. The reason that we as students choose to protest is because we care about our universities, and we care about our education. The reason that universities call in the police is because they do not care about us. When civil dissent becomes the only way to communicate with a community you are supposedly an equal part of, then that is worrying in itself, but the fact that the ringleaders of those communities feel that the only way to deal with that dissent is to employ state-funded authorities is a travesty.
On Wednesday 11 December, national demonstrations are being held to stand against the implementation of police officers on university campuses. If you are unable to make it to London, then hold one on your own campus. Whether you feel strongly about the changes going on around you or not, the fact is that the right to protest is one that should be at the heart of any truly democratic society. The use of police to stamp down on what should be university matters is the outsourcing of responsibility from university management to avoid having to deal directly with angry students demanding change. It is cowardly, unnecessary, and directly against the spirit upon which student culture is built upon. Cops do not belong on campus.