UCL Management threatens to bankrupt 12 students and 1 member of staff over peaceful three day occupation in support of striking lecturers
The Management of University College London has launched High Court proceedings against 12 students and 1 member of staff for participating in a peaceful three day occupation in support of striking lecturers. The 13 protesters, who had been occupying the University Registry, have been told by management that they face thousands of pounds in legal costs on a scale that could put them into bankruptcy and end their university careers. They have been instructed to appear in the High Court on Monday 28th March. Some of the 13 have apparently been singled out for their prominent role in political activism on campus whilst others have been chosen at random having played little or no part in the occupation.
The student occupation was carried out in support of the strike called this week by the University and College Union in defence of pensions, job security and pay, and in anticipation of the decision, taken by UCL Council on Thursday 24th, to raise tuition fees for future students to the maximum level of £9,000 a year.
The protest began on the afternoon of Monday 21st March and ended on the final day of the UCU strike on Thursday. It garnered huge support from members of the union, staff across campus and from fellow students who have expressed their shock that an entirely peaceful protest, that involved no damage to university property, is being treated in such a draconian fashion.
The occupying students were first threatened with disciplinary action and legal costs on Tuesday. Finding this an unacceptable act of victimisation against students protesting in the best traditions of solidarity with a lecturers’ and support staff dispute, they sought assurances that no such disciplinary procedures would occur. No such assurances were forthcoming. Now, despite the fact that the occupation has come to an end, UCL management is still pursuing a Possession Order and Injunction through the High Court, with the sole intention of inflicting punitive legal costs on the students in the hope of deterring future acts of protest.
The actions by UCL management are part of a wider pattern of university authorities cracking down on the democratic rights of student protesters with a dramatic standoff earlier in the week at Glasgow University between student occupiers and riot police resulting in a PR disaster for the university.
Although distressed by the threat of bankruptcy, disciplinary action and the potential end of their university careers, the 13 protesters have been buoyed by the popularity of the rapidly formed “Defend the UCL 13” campaign set up by fellow occupiers and supporters on Twitter and Facebook.
Sarah, 19, a fellow student and supporter, said, “Several of those singled out have been prominently involved in political campaigns on campus, including the campaign to pressure management to pay all cleaners the London Living Wage, so this very much looks like a spiteful political attack on student activism.”
Jess, 20, one of the students being threatened, said “We carried out our peaceful occupation in defence of our lecturers and so that future generations of students can afford to come to university. We were shocked to hear UCL management is planning to bankrupt us in order to prove a political point, but we’re determined to defend our democratic rights”.