At approximately 2.30pm on Wednesday the 24th of November, following a mass demonstration around the university precinct and Park Street we occupied Bristol University Students Union. We occupied this building ostensibly to hold a people’s assembly – that is an open participatory forum – on the future of higher education in England and what steps we want to take to defend and improve it.
After collectively discussing the problems assembly made the following agreement:
1. To express our solidarity with everybody affected by the education cuts including but not limited to university staff and current school and university students.
2. To express our solidarity with all those in society negatively affected by the cuts to social spending.
3. To call upon the University of Bristol Students’ Union to genuinely represent the interests of all students and to call an Extraordinary General Meeting.
4. To demand that the plans for university spending cuts are made public; we demand an open accounting policy.
5. To demand that the Vice Chancellor, Eric Thomas, take a stance against cuts to higher education.
6. To continue learning and theorising a new university within the space we have occupied and to be allowed to come and go as we please.
7. That we condemn the violent and heavy-handed policing tactics used against students, staff and their supporters.
8. To demand no disciplinary repercussions for those involved in the protest.
We took this form action because we have been consistently denied by the students union (specifically, President James Ashton-Bell) the space and opportunity to discuss the proposed cuts to higher education and to formulate a response. Despite the clear negative impacts on the learning experience at Bristol and to accessibility and quality of higher education more broadly, the students union has failed to take a stance, or up until yesterday, to facilitate debate on this issue of crucial importance.
As a result of the massive turn-out at the demonstration and subsequent occupation, the Student’s Union Officer Team have decided to act, communicating to all students across the university, their intention to hold a Forum on Monday the 29th of November at the Epi Bar.
Whilst this is an absolutely necessary first step, it is important to note that the outcome of a such a forum would not be binding – that is, it would not democratically mandate our Union sabbaticals to take action. As such, in addition to this forum, we call for an Extraordinary General Meeting to take place as soon as is feasible and that we are able to use the Union building (despite not being a university society) for the purposes of holding workshops and debate around this issue. At the point at which these specific demands are reasonably met we will end the occupation of the Student Union Building. Crucially, we would like to underline the fact that throughout the duration of this occupation we intend to keep the union building open and usable as a student space and desire that all pre-booked student society activities are allowed to continue. This must not be an exclusive space.
Whilst our occupation of the Union building will end with the meeting of these particular demands, our struggle for the future of higher education continues. There will be more organising, more actions, demonstrations and debate. We call upon students and staff to join us in this process, on students specifically to attend the forum on Monday at the Epi Bar, and to support the forthcoming motions for our proposed EGM.
…this is just the beginning.