Campaigners turn private Cambridge lawn into ‘free university’
Students defied “top-hatted goons” yesterday to take over Cambridge University’s most precious lawn, before a mass demonstration calling for the scrapping of tuition fees next week.
Security guards in traditional dress swarmed the university’s Senate House — home of its central administration and vice-chancellor’s offices — fearing protesters would stage a repeat sit-in at the building, which was occupied for 11 days in 2010.
Students will take to the streets of London next Wednesday to call for free education funded by progressive taxation.
They will march on Parliament to slam mooted compromises such as the Labour front bench’s pledge to reduce fees and the “graduate tax” favoured by the National Union of Students (NUS) leadership.
The demo is supported by NUS Scotland, the NUS black students’ campaign, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), the Student Assembly Against Austerity and the Young Greens.
The NUS pulled its support last week, with president Toni Pearce saying it posed “an unacceptable level of risk to our members.”
NCAFC activist Hannah Sketchley said campus campaigners had “switched on” since the NUS turned away.
“I’ve been getting the feeling that something is really happening when I go round talking to people,” she told the Star.
“One of the things I’ve noticed is how many new activist groups have been set up all over the place.
“The demo has given these groups a rallying point to organise around, and if they carry on organising on campuses then that will be the biggest and best legacy of this campaign.”
In Cambridge, students set up gazebos and tables on the private lawn for a day-long “free university teach-in” with some academic staff taking part.
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett also made an appearance on the off-limits lawn after spotting the protest on her way to a Cambridge Union debate.
Activists unfurled banners setting out their demands. They were later visited by university proctors in gowns and mortarboards who insisted they were present “to look after your welfare” and “to protect your freedom of speech.”
But Cambridge has a record of victimising activists, suspending a student in 2012 for preventing then-universities minister David Willetts from speaking.
At Warwick University, a rally for free education was addressed by student union reps and lecturers last night.
Recently reinstated English don Thomas Docherty was among the speakers.
Colleagues have said his nine-month suspension was victimisation “for his anti-cuts activism.”