Mark Steel: We must support Sussex Uni occupiers against privatisation

February 12, 2013
Video: University of Sussex - Anti-Privatisation Movement featuring Mark Steel. Video by James Bradley.

Comedian and socialist Mark Steel addressed a protest against cuts and privitisation at Sussex University on February 12. Students at Sussex University have been occupying the university's conference centre since February 6 against the university's outsourcing of key services.

The Morning Star said that day: "Hundreds of trade unionists and students united to stage two major anti-cuts demonstrations in Sussex today.

"Protestors gathered outside Lewes County Hall to call on the council to not cut important local services. And hundreds of protesters then joined a huge demonstration in solidarity with students occupying Sussex University's conference centre.

"The occupation is a last-ditch attempt to stop Sussex University outsourcing jobs that unions believe will put 235 people out of work. Around 40 students have been barricaded in the centre since last Thursday and over 100 students today packed out a meeting to plan the way forward."

For more information, you can read Mark Steel's column in The Independent, pasted below.

* * *

Many people have expressed compassion for Chris Huhne (the Liberal Democrat MP forced to resign for trying to avoid driving violations), on the grounds that most of us at some time have committed a worse crime than speeding.

Huhne, for example, went into an election promising to scrap tuition fees and then decided to treble them, causing far more misery than his fibs about driving. Maybe, before he goes back to court to find out his punishment, the judge will pledge to scrap sentences for driving offences, then at the last minute change his mind and treble them instead. I’m sure Huhne would see the funny side.

Trebling fees was only the start of turning further education into a business. Sussex University is the latest to try this, privatising almost the entire place; security, porters, cleaning, starting with the catering, because when big business is in control of a food supply what could possibly go wrong? But this has provoked protests from students and the workforce, including an occupation of the conference centre. The university responded by locking them in, which strangely doesn’t seem to have calmed things down.

As this is one of the facilities to be sold off, the plan could be to keep the students there and market the room as a conference centre with an “uprising” theme. A brochure will boast: “Our unique space offers your business the opportunity to discuss strategies with a thrilling backdrop of water cannon being fired at students. ‘Our sales improved by 7 per cent after an uplifting session in which a physics student was chased by a tank,’ said Ken Sedgwick, South-east regional manager for Carpet Rite.”

If they get away with this scheme, others are sure to follow. Universities will be turned into Westfield Centres, with students taking notes on philosophy while working at the checkout at River Island. Maths lecturers will ask: “How do we express 70 per cent as a fraction? No, not seven tenths, it’s ‘We’ve got a whopping 30 per cent OFF that’s right, 30 PER CENT, here at Homebase we’ve gone ratio CRAZY’.” And chemistry experiments will be carried out by a company called

Welfare officers will listen to students struggling with coursework and say: “OK, I’d like you to focus on your strengths, accept it’s natural to be anxious, and realise that’s when you need New Improved Nurofen, because with Nurofen, remember, your appendix might burst but you’d still get a first.”

It’s become accepted amongst those in charge of education that learning has to be profitable to be valid. Learning a language or studying Ancient Egypt simply because that’s a brilliant thing to do is considered a crime against nature. So the protesters are doing all of us a favour, and when I met them yesterday, they seemed exuberant and enthusiastic, and far better company than you’d enjoy at your average business conference. If the government really trusted the free market, they’d charge people for being inspired by the protesters, and sack the idiots running the university.

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