by Simon Furse

Last week I took part in a peaceful sit in to try and raise awareness and dialogue about the effects of the white paper. My university responded by unleashing what are essentially hired thugs to harass us and I was assaulted. Because I gave my name to the police for this assault the university have singled me out and brought disciplinary procedures against me.

On the 23rd of November there was a national day of action against the White Paper and the impending privatisation of the Higher Education system. Since then students from around twenty universities have gone into occupation; including students from my own university, Birmingham. At every other university the occupiers’ rights to speech, assembly and access have been tolerated (see the experience of Cambridge or Edinburgh). However the Birmingham university management act with a mafia mentality, not just trying to stop protest but actively trying to intimidate students into being silent.

Last year the university violently forced its way into an occupation and then disciplined several of the students involved. This year we occupied an unused house on campus causing no disruption and the universities overreaction was truly staggering. They employed between six and ten security guards to stand guard around the occupation twenty four hours a day making sure no-one could go in or out; several senior managers and the universities legal team spent huge amounts of time during the day and night co-ordinating the universities response and the university paid for a special sitting of the high court in order to get a possession order against us in only two days (it normally takes around two weeks.)

On the second night of our occupation a few students tried to break the siege and get in. One of the students was almost through the window when a security guard tried to drag them out by their ankles. Luckily they got inside at which point the security guard completely lost control and started punching me repeatedly in the face. He only stopped because he was led away by the other security guards. At that point, far from being apologetic or embarrassed, the university security started a co-ordinated campaign of harassment: ringing our doorbell, knocking on the windows, shouting abuse and pressing their face to the glass of the toilet all through the night.

Instead of shame from their management about their hired thugs the Vice-Chancellor came to the occupation to express his personal gratitude to the security. The fact that I reported an assault to the police has been used to identify me and put me through disciplinary procedures alone.

The occupation was standing up for the principles that a university is supposed to be about but the management reacted with nothing but threats, violence and harassment. They know that students and staff are overwhelmingly against them and their policies and that they have no option but to try and scare people away from taking action. If the university system is to be an institution that promotes social mobility and knowledge for the public good the principle of democracy urgently needs to be re-instated. Power needs to be taken away from the businessmen who don’t care about their students or the quality of the education and put in the hands of students and staff.

The lesson I have learned from my experience is that we need more and stronger action to really start to assert the principle of democracy in the university if nowhere else.