Sussex students plan national demonstration

Campaigners at the University of Sussex plan to host a national demonstration against privatisation in higher education.

Protesters say students, academics and university staff from around the country will join them on 25 March, with a number of student unions laying on transport for the demonstration.

At the time of writing, almost 800 people on the social networking site Facebook had said they would attend the event.

It comes as an occupation of Sussex’s Bramber House conference centre in protest at plans to outsource 235 estates and catering jobs approaches its seventh week.

The occupation has received political support, with Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, tabling an Early Day Motion in Parliament on university outsourcing and the plans at Sussex.

The motion, tabled on 19 March and so far also signed by Ms Lucas and five Labour MPs, shares occupiers concerns about third-party providers being contracted to undertake university services and at the government’s “promotion of the commercialisation of the higher education sector”.

According to the occupiers, academics at Sussex are also increasingly getting behind their efforts.

In a message on their Facebook page, academics in Sussex’s department of anthropology say they will “endeavour to make appropriate adjustments to teaching schedules” in order to allow students who are taking part in the protest to remain engaged in their coursework.

They also say they support the occupation’s “courageous efforts” and share the students’ scepticism that outsourcing would genuinely provide better quality services.

Meanwhile the relationship between university management and some students remains fractious after a protester was deemed to be in breach of disciplinary rules for sending an “abusive” email to a member of university management.

The message, which also expressed the student’s concerns over the outsourcing plans, suggested a manager’s job title might be changed to “director of corporate tyranny and human suffering”.

At a hearing on 4 March the student was told he faced a £100 fine after declining to apologise. However, the punishment has since been changed to attending a one-to-one seminar with an academic on “ethical lines relating to the boundaries of ‘fair comment’ in polemical communications”.

A spokesman for the university told Times Higher Education that it was the university’s aim to “improve services to staff and students through identifying high-quality external partners for catering and facilities management as we grow [in student numbers]”.

“We continue to have positive discussions with trades unions, including in relation to future pension provision for transferring staff. We are supporting transferring staff through [one-to-one] meetings and information sessions,” he added.

elizabeth.gibney@tsleducation.com

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