As well as the highly publicised student marches at the end of last year, many students demonstrating against the rise in university tuition fees have staged sit-in protests to voice their opinions in a more peaceful way, such as the occupation of Founder’s Building’s Victorian corridor near the end of winter term. Some of these sit-ins, such as the one at the University of Kent, have only just finished after continuing throughout the holiday period.
Despite the vote to increase tuition fees and the motion being passed being carried out on 9 December, the protestors at University of Kent carried on with their sit-in in the Senate building at the Canterbury campus for a total of four weeks. The group of seven students had to spend a good deal of the Christmas holidays without heating and lived on food parcels given by supporters, which security guards in the building passed to them. Supporters even held a candle-lit vigil on New Year’s Day to show their solidarity with the protestors.
The aim of this student protest was for the university and its vice-chancellor Julia Goodfellow to openly denounce the government’s plans to raise tuition fees. They also wanted her to retract a letter published in the Daily Telegraph in which she opposed cuts but supported government plans regarding higher education funding. While Professor Goodfellow has since written an open letter to again condemn the cuts to university funding, the students said this did not meet their demands.
A university statement said it was “sympathetic to the concerns of the students” and “deplored” the proposed cuts. They also added they had made sure the Senate building was heated and the protestors had access to electricity, toilets and water during their occupation of the building.
Despite the students even writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury to request his assistance as a mediator, officials at the university had planned to get a possession order at Canterbury Crown Court in order to regain control of the building, but the students agreed to leave the building peacefully.
One of the protestors, Ben Stevenson, 20, said: “I suppose we feel as though we have done as much as we can. We know that the university would get a possession order because it’s their building, but we feel as if we are leaving on our terms. We are still very much in dispute with the university and we will be continuing our campaigning once we are out”.