We are now occupying Appleton Tower, in support of the UCU strike on Wednesday November 30, against the moves of the government to privatise higher education and in defence of the principle that education is a public, social good which should be free for all.
We are currently in the middle of the most aggressive attack on the notion of public education in any of our lifetimes. The White Paper being introduced by the government in Westminster will lead to for-profit institutions, a stratification of our university system and the reinforcing of social barriers. The plans are economically illiterate and will have disastrous effects on the system of higher education in the UK.
We stand in solidarity with student occupations across the UK. In Birmingham students have been blockaded without food and water, threatened with legal action and, unbelievably, even physically assaulted by security. We realise that in Scotland we remain sheltered from some of these effects. But as with the introduction of £9000/year tuition fees in England, which have led directly to the rest of UK fees at our university increasing to £36000 for 4 years, changes in the funding and organisation of universities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will affect what happens here. That tuition fees, directly or deferred in the form of a graduate tax, have not been reintroduced for Scottish students is testament to the anger and action shown by students in Scotland last year. If we wish to defend our system and move towards a genuinely egalitarian position – where students are supported through their degrees, courses and staff are properly funded and no one is priced out of education – we must make a stand now.
We aim to persuade staff and students that education does not have to be considered as a commodity to be traded for profit but is instead a public good which benefits all of society. That education is not simply a means to future employment but has intrinsic worth in itself. That universities do not have to be run as if they were a private business, but can be democratically controlled by their staff and students.
Next week lecturers, librarians, IT staff and others will be on strike as part of the largest coordinated action undertaken in generations. We will be standing with them on their picket lines, supporting them in their struggle for a decent pension and the ability to retire in dignity. Their struggle is ours. If unions lose their fight, we will suffer when we come to start pensions of our own on leaving university.
We call on all students to support their staff, to refuse to cross picket lines and work from home or join us on the pickets. Pickets are not just for show; they are not symbolic nor are they just another way to express your unhappiness. They are a weapon – the only weapon workers often have to balance the relation of power between themselves and their employers. To cross a picket line is to undermine a strike. If you support the aims of the staff you must refuse to cross.
Our occupation is to defend education and our university. We do not intend or expect to disrupt teaching and hope that the university will not choose to cancel or move lectures or events happening in Appleton.
We invite all students and staff at Edinburgh University to visit our occupation and to join us. We hope that you will.