Edinburgh student protesters set out '˜alternative vision'

STUDENTS who have occupied a University of Edinburgh building for over a month have set up their own 'Futures Institute' to promote 'an alternative vision' for higher education.
Picture: Jon SavagePicture: Jon Savage
Picture: Jon Savage

The protesters describe the hub, based at the occupied Gordian Aikman Lecture 
Theatre, as “a performative critique” of the University’s plan to create a £120 million Futures Institute at the old Royal Infirmary building.

A spokesperson for the group said that “staff, students and the wider community will share in collective control over the Institute’s spaces”.

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Vijay Jackson, one of the 
protesters, added: “The difference between their institute and ours is they run off the vision of education being a commodity, where education is a good to be bought and sold and benefits the individual.

“We see education as a public good that provides for all of society. It’s a universal right, not a privilege.”

Over 50 protesters took up position at the lecture theatre in March in support of University and College Union (UCU) members’ nationwide strike over proposed changes to their pension scheme.

On Friday, 64 per cent of UCU members voted to accept modified proposals after Universities UK backed down on the changes.

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But at least 20 Edinburgh students and supportive staff members plan to continue the occupation to “build momentum towards addressing wider issues”.

Nathan, another protester, said: “The dispute has been temporarily resolved as we understand it.

“But in our discussions among students and staff here at the university, we have come to understand that this attack on pensions is just one part of a much broader attack on 
higher education across the country.”

The occupation has received high-profile attention, with Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard and Scottish Greens co-convener Maggie Chapman both having visited and expressed support over the past month.

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The Edinburgh occupiers’ demands include an end to mandatory short-term contracts for staff, a lower pay ratio between high and low paid staff and mandatory mental health training.

They also claim no overtures have been made by university management to shut down the occupation. Principal Peter Mathieson visited on Thursday, but occupiers claim he arrived “unannounced”.

Protester Ruby said: “It’s not how he’d treat anyone else he’d meet with. The university have very consciously tried not to interact with us”.

Some occupations have resulted in controversy, with one video showing Aberdeen students being “manhandled” by a senior staff member. However, Edinburgh occupiers say they have had “no conflict with security staff”.

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A University spokesperson said: “The University supports the right of people to protest lawfully and peacefully. We are working with those involved to ensure their safety and provide for their basic needs.”