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A group of Lancaster students and lectures have organised themselves under the banner to Lancaster University Against Cuts, to voice their opinions over the financial issues affecting them and future generations of students.
Simon Mair, creator of the Facebook group Lancaster University Against Cuts (LUAC) said the group’s creation was a necessity. “At the anti-cuts demonstration in town [on October 20] I met lots of people that were just as angry as me at the unjust, unfair and completely unnecessary cuts, but we had nowhere to discuss our thoughts or to plan any actions. I set the group up as a response to that. The Facebook group is a place to discuss the cuts and co-ordinate actions”. LUAC describes itself as “an autonomous group of students welcoming support from people with any, or no, political background or affiliation”.
One of the first actions taken by the group was to create an open letter to LUSU President Robbie Pickles, requesting that the Students’ Union actively engages with the local Lancaster and Morecambe Against Cuts campaign. The letter states that it wishes to “present a united front to MP, Eric Ollerenshaw”. The letter also asks LUSU “to commit to truly leading the fight against cuts to higher education and generally” through the publication of upcoming demonstrations taking place in and around Lancaster.
Pickles said: “The fundamental issue is that students are paying through the nose and are not, to their minds, receiving value for money. All students have the right to petition their President if they feel the Union is not responding to their needs. However, none of these students had been to see me. The worry it raises is that these students felt unable to speak to me in person. I hope that in future people feel they can just ask me”.
However, the idea of peaceful protest is already in doubt following controversial events that took place on November 19 during a protest organised between LUAC and LUSU outside Lancaster University Council. In a press statement issued by LUAC, the protest initially had “a party atmosphere” but this quickly soured when a group of the attending students crossed the police tape. The statement read that “one was singled out and forced to the ground by a violent minority of the police present. We believe that the force used was excessive with a number of eye witnesses seeing the police strike the student over the head with handcuffs, drawing blood. He was then arrested and held in custody for five hours”. The statement encourages further student activity despite the violent turn of events, inviting Lancaster’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Paul Wellings for a constructive debate in the near future and “calls on students to contact him requesting this”.
Beau Bulman, the protestor who was arrested suggested the police action following students crossing the tape was “overreacting to a peaceful demonstration, perhaps panicking due to the news from Milbank”. Bulman added: “The police are also facing cuts, so things must be pretty stressful for them at the moment too. This government is seemingly intent on destroying the welfare state in favour of privatising everything in sight”.
Bulman also said that the LUAC is not “dominated by any particular political agenda beyond the stated aims. We seek to educate and debate around the cuts, and to organise against them and those who are attempting to implement them. The Vice Chancellor is playing scissors every-time; and we’d rather play rock than paper”.
One protestor Nickie Wareing described crossing the police tape as “symbolic to express our discontent at the situation… I believe that everyone should have equal opportunities no matter how rich they are. Students and the public should be the ones to make decisions about the services that they use. I think it is important for everyone, not just students, to get involved in any injustice that they see”.
Mair added: “The Nurse Unit and SLDC are being closed, departments are being merged and rent is increasing. Lancaster University administration is doing nothing to help its students. The University is operating a profit before services policy, which has come at the expense of valuable student services. Our esteemed Vice Chancellor is being very vocal in welcoming the lifting of the tuition fees cap whilst remaining oddly quiet on his plans to reduce the scholarships offered. Not exactly progressive at a time when it is likely students will have record debts”.
Mair continued by saying: “LUSU have been good at supporting students. However, their hands are tied by their proximity to University management. Lancaster students have to fight for their services; not just expect LUSU to save them.”