Students occupy universities against neo-liberal austerity

Ahead of the British General Election in May, students have occupied a prominent London University building to protest against austerity and the role of the university, reports Harry Blackwell.

On the evening of 17th March 2015, students at the London School of Economics (LSE), a prestigious college of the massive University of London, occupied the central meeting and administrative suite as a protest against neo-liberalism and austerity. The occupiers are holding teach-ins and meetings and have launched a manifesto for change (reproduced below). The protestors have called for a ‘Free University of London’ in protest against the escalating costs and debts for university tuition in England. Among the other demands is a call for universities to divest from fossil fuels to protect the environment – a major campaign among radical and ecologically-aware students in Britain.

The occupation comes four years after a wave of protests and occupations, including at the LSE, when the coalition government voted to triple university fees and saddle students with massive debts.

Meanwhile students in Madrid in the Spanish State, one of the worst hit countries in Europe by austerity, have also occupied a university building.

Solidarity greetings can be sent to:

Twitter: @lseoccupation (London), @LaReproOkupada (Madrid)

Occupy LSE – Free University of London

Why we are occupying

We have have occupied the Vera Anstey Suite, the central meeting room of the university administration, to demand a change to the current university system.

LSE is the epitome of the neoliberal university. Universities are increasingly implementing the privatised, profit-driven, and bureaucratic ‘business model’ of higher education, which locks students into huge debts and turns the university into a degree-factory and students into consumers. LSE has become the model for the transformation of the other university systems in Britain and beyond. Massive indebtedness, market-driven benchmarks, and subordination to corporate interests have deeply perverted what we think university and education should be about.

We demand an education that is liberating – which does not have a price tag. We want a university run by students, lecturers and workers.

When a University becomes a business the whole of student life is transformed. When a university is more concerned with its image, its marketability and the ‘added value’ of its degrees, the student is no longer a student – they become a commodity and education becomes a service. Institutional sexism and racism, as well as conditions of work for staff and lecturers, becomes a distraction for an institution geared to profit.

We join the ongoing struggles in the UK, Europe and the world to reject this system that has changed not only our education but our entire society. From the occupations in Sheffield, Warwick, Birmingham and Oxford, to the ongoing collective takeover of the University of Amsterdam– students have made clear that the current system simply cannot continue.

We are not alone in this struggle.

Why Occupy?

In this occupation we aim to create an open, creative and liberated space, where all are free to participate in the building of a new directly democratic, non-hierarchical and universally accessible education: The Free University of London.

The space will be organized around the creation of workshops, discussions and meetings to share ideas freely. Knowledge is not a commodity but something precious and valuable in its own right. And we hope to prove, if only within a limited time and space, that education can be free.This liberated space should also be a space for an open discussion on the direction this university and our educational system as a whole is heading. We want to emphasise that this process is not only for students, and we encourage the participation of all LSE staff, non-academic and academic.

We base our struggle on principles of equality, direct democracy, solidarity, mutual care and support. These are our current demands which we invite all to openly discuss, debate and add to.

1 – Free and universally accessible education not geared to making profit

  • We demand that the management of LSE lobby the government to scrap tuition fees for both domestic and international students.

2 – Workers Rights

  • In solidarity with the LSE workers, we demand real job security, an end to zero-hour contracts, fair remuneration and a drastic reduction in the gap between the highest and lowest paid employees.

3 – Genuine University Democracy

  • We demand a student-staff council, directly elected by students and academic and non-academic staff, responsible for making all managerial decisions of the institution.

4 – Divestment

  • We demand that the school cuts its ties to exploitative and destructive organisations, such as those involved in wars, military occupations and the destruction of the planet. This includes but is not limited to immediate divestment from the fossil fuel industry and from all companies which make a profit from the Israeli state’s occupation of Palestine.

5 – Liberation

  • We demand that LSE changes its harassment policy, and to have zero tolerance to harassment.

  • We demand that LSE does not implement the Counter Terrorism Bill* that criminalises dissent, particularly targeting Muslim students and staff.

  • We demand that the police are not allowed on campus.

  • We demand that LSE becomes a liberated space free of racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia and religious discrimination.

  • We demand that the school immediately reinstates the old ethics code and makes it legally binding, in line with the recently passed SU motion.

  • We demand that the school ensures the security and equality of international students, particularly with regards to their precarious visa status, and fully include them in our project for a free university.


Added Note: *The “Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015” was passed by the British parliament in February 2015, with the support of the opposition Labour Party, and requires university and college authorities to work with the police and other authorities in reporting students at risk of becoming terrorists or extremists. It is widely seen as turning university staff into Stasi-style state police informers on all kinds of ‘radical’ activity by students.

  1. Students have occupied facilities at Central St Martins, University of the Arts London, in protest about cuts to the Foundation course, a longstanding FE level prep course for students prior to entering art degrees.

  2. Dear Terry. I wish that Socialist Resistance would publish links to Student Occupation Committees. My new flat-mate has disappeared without her warm coat to the Camberwell occupation. I would like to help them with a big pot of stew. But maybe they need your ideas not stew or warm coats.
    Steve Ashton, Brixton

  3. Steve – some current links to student occupations in britain:

    London School of Economics:

    University of the Arts London:

    Goldsmiths College (occupying the former Deptford Town Hall)

    News about the occupation at Kings College London and from elsewhere can be found from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts here:

    NCAFC have a demo in Birmingham Saturday 28th March to put demands to Labour spokesperson Liam Byrne MP:

  4. Many thanks Harry!
    [PS Ebony Rainford-Brent & Isa Guha are so much better than Vaughan and Tufnell on TMS – why not swap them?]

  5. Occupiers at LSE and KCL reluctantly had to vacate the premises over the Easter weekend for their own safety, due to the extensive underground fires that broke out in the neighbouring street of Kingsway, Holborn causing the evacuation of over 5,000 workers.

    Like the Terminator – they’ll be back!

    Occupiers at Central Saint Martins, UAL at Kings Cross continued their action over Easter, despite a partial backdown by management in offering a review of Foundation courses.

  6. Demands of the Goldsmiths occupation:

    In direct response to a commercialisation of our universities, and the commodification of education; we, Occupy Goldsmiths, hereby demand the following from Goldsmiths College, University of London Management—

    Counselling services:

    Recruit more counsellors to meet demand
    To be able see a tangible reduction in the waiting list for the service
    Resist the planned restructure
    Secure jobs within the service, and stop any redundancy
    Disabled Student Allowance:

    Resist any cuts to the Disabled Students Allowance
    Increase investment towards making the university more accessible to students with disabilities
    Bring all services in-house and put an end to all outsourcing
    Sustaining Goldsmiths:

    Establish an all union (UCU, Unison, Unite, GSU) committee to oversee the implementation of the sustaining goldsmiths plan
    Resist any increase in student numbers without matching it with an increase in resources
    Find a viable solution regarding lack of study space on campus
    Freeze Senior Management’s pay for five years and reduce their pay before anyone else’s
    Lack of Space:

    Move the Senior Management Team to Warmington Tower to free up their spacious offices for teaching space, therefore maintaining Deptford Cultural Centre for Free Education (formerly known as Deptford Town Hall) as a student and community space

    Allow the curriculum to be organised by students alongside academics, and not be from the top-down. Open forums should be held to consider what the students want to learn, specifically referencing moving away from euro-centricity in both the curriculum as a whole and specific modules and reading lists, as well as including queer theory and LGBTQ* voices
    Create better communication between lecturers and students through transparency within departments
    Fix the broken mechanism for communicating between students – that is the DSC system – as the DSCs are overloaded with work and not respected by management, leading to students to feeling alienated and disempowered from their departments
    Hold bimonthly, open, student forums to allow direct communication between the student body and the Warden
    Fully fund the Black British Writing MA programme and ensure its operation

    Zero tolerance policies on all forms of prejudice, discrimination and oppression — this can be achieved through the provision of annual funding for a full-time Women’s Officer, as well as a full-time BME officer, who would be tasked with campaigning on Women and Liberation issues
    Reject the counter terrorism bill must be explicit in mentioning that it institutionally targets BME students, and puts them at unnecessary risk
    Oppose any further amendments to the Post Study Work Visa program by the current government
    End racial tokenising in the university’s marketing strategy
    Better representation for women, and women of colour, in leadership positions
    Provide mandatory gender sensitivity training for all front line staff
    Provide gender neutral toilets in the RHB building, as well as women-only toilets
    Trigger warnings must be regular practice in lectures and seminars, as well regularly abiding by the safe space policy
    Wider Aims:

    Tackling the attainment gap and drop out rate should be the responsibility of the University, and not the part time BME officers
    Commit to working towards a Free University of London
    Show full financial transparency
    Radically reduce the pay disparity of University staff, at the maximum of 6:1
    Cut ties with unethical companies in regards to funding including those complicit in fossil fuel investment
    Do not welcome police on campus
    Work towards free education
    Fight marketisation and privatisation of higher education
    Workers’ rights for everyone who works at Goldsmiths
    All on-campus staff, including security to be brought in house, receive a living wage as minimum and solidified union recognition.
    Be in solidarity with London School of Economics, University of the Arts London, King’s College London, and University of Amsterdam who are all in occupation
    If anyone has any further queries please do not hesitate to contact us at, or check us out on Facebook at Occupy Goldsmiths – Free University of London!

  7. Update on occupations:

    University of the Arts London – students have been forced out by a management injunction. There is a protest march about cuts in FE on Saturday 25th April in central London. Students from UAL are organising a feeder march at 11am from London College of Communications, Elephant and Castle site:

    Amsterdam – the student occupation has been evicted by police after six weeks. Over 1,000 defiant students and university staff organised a march through Amsterdam in protest. English language report here:
    Videos and Dutch language reportage here:

    LSE – after the fire in Holborn disrupted the protest over Easter, students have returned and have a planning meeting on 21st April to organise the ‘Free University of London’ protest movement:

    The Free University of Sheffield have a conference on Mayday 1st May and Saturday 2nd May at the University of Sheffield Students Union:

    Students at Goldsmiths have left the occupation of the former Deptford Town Hall but continue to protest:

    Meanwhile the National Union of Students (NUS) Conference is opening in Liverpool 21-23 April…. follow the (lack of) action here:
    First fringe meeting before conference 11am 21 April:
    Other events will follow.

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