Student action pushes back Uni bosses

Submitted by Anon on 29 May, 2009 - 10:34 Author: Katherine McMahon

Anti-cuts campaigns seem to cut deep. At Edinburgh University, details of £400,000 of cuts within the Division of European Languages and Cultures were leaked by a courageous member of staff to the Students’ Association. The reasons given were the “current climate” and the lack of profit made by the department.

It’s been startling just how fast our campaign has snowballed; from a hurried meeting of five people the day after the leak, to a meeting of 200 in four days, and from that meeting to a demonstration of 400 in another six. All the more remarkable, given the fact that it is the end of an exam period and people are either revising or going away (deliberate timing by the University management, of course).

Links with the lecturers’ union UCU have quickly been built and the Students’ Association is also on board. Despite University management asking them not to participate in the campaign, there has been a strong staff presence and chants of “students and workers, unite and fight!”

It is almost impossible for a campaign like this not to have politics. It brings out, in glorious Technicolour, the hypocrisy of University management and the need for Universities to be democratically run in the interests of students and staff rather than finance wonks. A room of 200 people cheered when it was suggested that the cuts be found from senior management salaries, and there has been constant discussion about changing the direction of the University away from profit-oriented research and back to teaching. The anger over the secrecy of these cuts has inevitably led to a conviction that the University is ours, and should be run as such.

We have made small gains. Any “restructuring” will involve consultation with students and staff. Courses and contact hours (but, crucially, not class sizes) are guaranteed for the next year (but no more). And at a meeting with a variety of senior managers, a comment about “rewarding success” and “viable business plans” by the head of the College of Humanities and Social Science (and the brains behind these cuts) was greeted with a look of serious discomfort from the principal which clearly showed that it is now not seen as OK to talk in those terms — a small but satisfying victory.

Whatever gains we make in the fight to save the subjects under threat are added to by all the links we’ve made: Strathclyde University in Glasgow has been facing similar cuts and delegations have been going backwards and forwards between the two cities. An anti-cuts network is in the process of being set up to help with collaboration on a larger scale. New links between UCU, the Students’ Association, staff members and students are also incredibly important.

The campaign involves hundreds of people who have perhaps never done anything like this before, and the University management are thoroughly spooked: they know that there is now no way that they can slip these things by us and expect no reaction. They can no longer ignore us. The determination to fight is overwhelming: the favourite chant has been “they say cutback, we say fightback!” And it’s absolutely true.

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