Defend Education’s recent occupation of the Aston Webb Senate Chambers is a drastic measure, but necessary given the University’s conduct in relation to tuition fees. The University of Birmingham Green Students are wholly sympathetic with the demands that the occupiers are making. In particular, their demands that the Vice-Chancellor, David Eastwood, retracts his position on wanting to raise tuition fees further, and that the University should actively pursue a maximum of a 10:1 pay ratio are demands we wholeheartedly support.
The Vice-Chancellor obviously shows no concern for increasing equality in society. Only three years ago did Eastwood controversially support the increase of tuition fees to £9000 and, as we enter the second year of students paying these increased fees, it is a position he still maintains. Furthermore, the 28:1 ratio that the University currently has between the highest-paid earner and the lowest-paid earner demonstrates the complicity of the University in society’s inequality.
In light of this, the demand that the University reduce this pay gap to 10:1 is an extremely reasonable demand. It is a step towards reducing that inequality. All this would require is that the Vice-Chancellor lowers his own wage and redistribute it to the university’s lowest paid workers so that they could earn a living wage. The Green Students recently advocated these exact demands with their involvement in the Fair Pay campaign, also supported by Defend Education.
The university’s kneejerk reaction to the protest has been brash and unnecessary, with security being used to surround the unthreatening protestors. The Green Students feel that the claim that peaceful protestors pose a threat to anybody on campus whilst locked away in the senate chambers is absurd. Worse still, the university now criticise these same protestors for forcing them to divert resources and put other students at risk. The university’s unethical injunction against peaceful protest further subverts democracy and thereby alienates all students, and so any student who is politically concerned should be disturbed by the implications of the university’s heavy handed response.
For this reason, the University of Birmingham Green Students stand in solidarity with Defend Education and other occupiers. We urge all students that believe in equality and democracy to engage with the campaign and demonstrate against the university’s unethical, undemocratic and aggressive response.