Students part of the educational activist group, Defend Education, are currently in occupation of the Aston Webb Senate Chambers.

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Images by Charlotte Wilson

Defend Education, an educational activist group, have made a list of demands focused equal pay, improvements for student and staff democracy and also have personally demanded that the Vice-Chancellor ‘David Eastwood and the University of Birmingham should publicly take back their position that fees should be increased’.

Shortly after going into protest on Wednesday evening, the group issued a formal statement on their website listing their demands:

‘The Senate was, historically, the place in which the academic community came together to discuss and decide the direction of the University. Today, this has evolved into a box to be ticked, a bureaucratic procedure of approval which carries little weight, in which very little can be debated or contested, and in which the few academics and even fewer students are routinely ignored and powerless. We have chosen this site to occupy as it is symbolic of the way in which University management has steadily decreased the democratic power and representation of both students, staff and academics, and we feel this needs to change.

‘Defend Education believe that staff and students should have more power in every level of university decision making. Currently a small class of senior managers benefit disproportionately from the fees and work of staff and students. They have total unaccountable power to harm our interests within the university and lobby against our interests outside it.

‘We are fighting this campaign to try and put pressure on the university to directly accept the following demands; but also because we wish to start a debate and dialogue among students and workers at the University about the kind of institution we want it to be and how we can bring this about.’

The University has also issued a statement: ‘Universities are places of free speech and we respect the rights of students to protest peacefully and within the law. Our priority is the safety and well being of our students, staff and the wider community and we are concerned where any protest poses a potential hazard to protesters or bystanders, or causes unwarranted disruptions to study or work, or damage to property. We are particularly concerned that the actions of this small number of students is diverting safety and security resources and potentially diminishing the safety of our 28000 other students.

Tom Wragg (VPDR) also spoke to Redbrick, saying that he thought that the students were in occupation because they felt that the university was for the corportisation of universities and the selling off of the loan book. He cited the Computer Sciences course as an example, saying that the level of teaching had suffered because the university had admitted an increased number of students this year without making any increase to the teaching provided.

Update 21st October 10.30am: The group announced on social media that the barricades were still up since last night and the occupation was ‘still going strong.’

Update 21st October 21st November 14.00: The Guild of Students has released a statement on their website:
‘The Guild of Students has been made aware that a number of Birmingham students yesterday occupied the Senate Chamber, Aston Webb on University campus, and are still in occupation this morning.

‘The Guild recognises the right of students to protest peacefully on campus to raise awareness on student related issues. Whilst not a Guild organised occupation, the Guild can confirm occupants have access to basic human rights, such as water and toilets.

‘The Guild encourages the University and the people in occupation to engage in a positive dialogue on the issues raised and hopes for a swift resolution.’

Defend Education have said that they have barricaded ‘the whole staircase… which gives us access to toilets’.

Update 21st November 15.00: In an exclusive interview with Redbrick, a spokesperson for Defend Education insisted that the ‘within the occupation, morale is high’. He added that they planned to remain in there as long as practically possible although they were aware that they would have to move if an injunction was brought by the University. Read the full interview here.

Updated 22nd November 00:26: Defend Education tweet ‘Uni claim we’re blocking fire exits, now they’re locking occupiers inside! We’re under siege!’.

An open meeting was held in the Beorma Bar in the Guild of Students earlier on Thursday night, which was made up of student organisers of the Defend Education Occupation gathered for an open meeting. Around 17 supporters and activists led by former Guild Ethical and Environmental Officer Alice Swift discussed the 11 key demands of the Occupation. UoB and BCU students and non-students attended to show their support and discuss the direction of the campaign. They set out the slogan of the Occupation, ‘Whose Campus? Our Campus.’

Swift told those at the meeting that the University has said they want the protestors to leave immediately on the grounds that activists are ‘misusing university property’. She added that ‘they are taking [the occupation] seriously’, although security guards have not restricted access between activists on both sides of the blockade barrier to exchange food and information. Swift also pointed out that the ability to provide sustenance to the activists ‘makes a real difference in terms of longevity’ of the Occupation, and that this marks a key difference compared with University occupations in the past.

It was said at the meeting that police were at the Senate Chamber barrier on Wednesday night and that the University has raised concerns over the wellbeing of the activists and fire safety of the building if the occupation were to continue.

An activist, who preferred not to be named, has said that the occupation is likely to last ‘until the weekend’. He went on to say that ‘if the police get involved’ more seriously, then the occupation would most likely end ‘immediately’.

‘No one is here for any criminal purposes,’ commented another attendee. ‘We’re not here to cause damage to property, just to make a statement.’

Updated 22nd November 14.00:

Overnight social media updates by Defend Education claim that they were locked in by security over night over access of fire exits. They have also discussed security, saying that ‘A few students have left the occupation and have been pushed and kicked by security on their way out!’ The group add that ‘We condemn the university’s increasingly hostile stance to our non-violent occupation and urge them to allow free access without fear of violence or punishment to all students and non-managerial staff.’

Another update states ‘The university have tried to get the police in to break up the occupation, and are probably going to be attempting to get an injunction tomorrow to remove us.’

A protest has also been organised for 3pm near the clock tower in show support of the occupation, however the group say that ‘following round people and telling them to leave campus, trying to force them to stop building for the demonstration at 3pm.’ In a statement on their website, they describe the reasons for the protest, saying that ‘The demonstration being called today is part of a strategy of escalation which we feel will generate much needed pressure on the University management.’

Updated 22nd November 2013 16.30:

Around 100 students have gathered in support of the Defend Education Occupation currently taking place in the Senate Chamber of the Aston Webb Building. Student protesters were filmed by security staff in the University as they proceeded to march, chanting through the corridors of the Aston Webb this Friday afternoon.

After an initial series of energetic speeches, the protesters proceeded to sit down in the adjoining corridor to the Senate Chamber and discuss tactics of the group’s next steps for direct action. Masked in scarves and face-coverings, several of the occupying students welcomed in small groups of students to look around the base-camp of the protesters in Senate Chamber.

A spokesman for the occupying students emerged from the adjoining Senate Chamber to tell the protesters: ‘Around 2.45 today the university served papers on us, serving us a court date on 10.30 on Monday morning, they’re trying to get an injunction similar to the one they did last time’

‘There are two people who are named on the injunction, and the university want these two to cover the university’s legal costs.’

They were also claims about students behind the occupation barriers enduring what was described as a ‘rough night’ as ‘students were attacked, punched, kicked and pushed downstairs by security’.

One student, who was at the demonstration, said: ‘This is one of the most successful occupations we’ve ever had’.

Another confirmed that students had been ‘harassed overnight’. A proposal is being discussed to ‘split the university’s resources’ and set up a separate occupation in ‘another university building’. A third added that this would ‘divert the university’s attention’ and that protesters ‘would be able to leave at any time’.

Protesters expressed support for those occupying the Senate Chamber, and explained that their aim today was to ‘provide a space’ for those wishing to leave or join the sit-in to do so. The protesters’ main concerns were that the University were threatening those involved in the occupation with ‘disciplinaries’, and therefore protection of their identities was paramount.

The occupants’ spokesman went on to say: ‘They totally ignored our demands at every point.’ He added that the only way for them to be heard would be to make the protest ‘unmanageable’ for the University. He termed the occupation as ‘unbelievably successful’, owing to provision of ‘free access [to and from the occupants] for the first time’.

Video News Update from the Barricade 16:10:

Update 22nd September 17:00: As the protest neared an end, terms were negotiated between students and management which would allow any students willing to leave to do so but no more students would be allowed in as this would put more students ‘at risk’. The university maintained the right to film those leaving the occupation but wouldn’t unmask anyone.

Follow @redbricknews for live updates from the demonstration and all the action from the occupation as it happens.