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On Friday Week Five a small protest was held across campus aimed at convincing University staff not to raise tuition fees to the highest they can, £9,000 per year.
Around 15 students began attended the protest, which began at 9:30 in the morning in Edward Roberts Court. They carried homemade signs written on cardboard bearing slogans such as “Philistines what will they flog next?” and “Don’t let the s**t hit the fan- say no to nine grand”.
The group progressed along the Spine to stop outside County Bar and diner. After some discussion among themselves they agreed to head back towards the centre of campus given that there were very few people around. One of the protestors keen to move reasoned that they’d reach more people “even if we just go and stand outside Greggs or something”.
For a large part of the morning the only people the around to hear the protest were builders working on the various construction sites across campus. The group appeared lacklustre, with lone voices intermittently shouting through megaphones. “Your education is about to be auctioned”, “Degrees at a discounted price starting soon”.
The few students encountered in Alexandra Square appeared to humour the protestors, with one joking “come to my lecture”.
There appeared to be confusion between the protestors as to whether there was a planned route or not. After a brief pause in Alexandra Square they then moved to University House. The protest was evidently expected by University staff. Porters were positioned around Alexandra Square and in Edward Roberts Court at the beginning of the protest, and security personnel were present at University House.
Staff attempting to head to their offices in University House were redirected as the main doors to the offices were locked. Two police officers arrived during the protest as the group arrived outside University House but good-naturedly stayed a fair distance away from the small group after an initial introduction.
The group addressed Paul Wellings directly via megaphone while standing outside the University offices. One protestor called up to the higher floors of the building, “hello Vice-Chancellor, we’re here to see you.”
The chanting and calling, while jovially intoned, carried some reasonably loaded language. Mantras such as “Paul Wellings, we know you, you’re a fucking Tory too” and “It’s bollocks. You know it’s bollocks, we know it’s bollocks, and we’re calling you out” were aimed at the offices. This prompted a warning from one of the security personnel present, though a swift jovial apology via the megaphone was the groups answer.
The displeasure at rising fees also spilled over into ideological arguments during the morning, with “No war but a class war” being chanted by the group.
Cardboard placards reading “Hey, teacher, leave those fees alone” were taped onto the hoarding outside University House, and posters for a public meeting taking place at Lancaster’s town hall were placed on the doors. Chants of “education for the masses, not just for the ruling classes” signified the final foray before the group moved once again, stating that they hoped to catch students who were leaving classes on the hour.
While at University House the protestors managed to get a member of the security personnel to call the University Secretary and ask whether or not they would be allowed to attend the meeting. The feeling according to one member of the group, who after a discussion with the rest of the group decided adamantly to remain anonymous, was that “it’s a no, basically”, but that it had to be asked “just to show that we are not allowed into a meeting that is all about us.”
Accepting that they would not gain entry to the meeting, the group moved away towards the library to protest across the road from the reverse of the University House offices. The speakers were aimed at the library while the group stood chanting to students queuing for buses.
One protestor confessed that he felt nationally the volatile feeling related to the fees protests had “ebbed down” and that while they hadn’t expected a particularly high turnout the group had been “hopeful for more”.
Feeling towards the protestors did seem to reflect a measure of resignation among the student population and weariness with them. At one point during the protest one of the group began talking to a student who had come out of the library, and was asked to move away or turn the music down. “I’m just asking you to go anywhere but outside this window”, he said. The group moved away shortly afterwards to head towards Furness College. Other students made similar comments, claiming “You’re only pissing off other students.”
As the protest moved towards Furness the group handed flyers to the passing students leaving or heading towards lectures and seminars. One recipient of a flyer loudly complained to the people he was walking with about the futility of the small protest, saying “look how stupid this is- they’re protesting in a place full of students.”