Tanju Çakar, an activist taking part in a student occupation of Sheffield University, spoke to Solidarity.
We wanted to put some demands on the university: for the university to not comply with Prevent; non-compliance with the Teaching Excellence Framework and the other reforms in the HE green paper; secure contracts and an end to low pay for casual staff.
The HE Green Paper that the government has issued means potential tuition fee rises, allowing private firms to cut into higher education, and the TEF will force teachers to compete with each other. We have a similar framework in place around research which has made universities more neoliberal, competing with each other.
This is an attempt by the government to impose marketisation on universities. These are things which the university and our Vice Chancellor have spoken out against. But we want them to go further — it is unfortunate that they are fighting against our occupation as hard as they are. Staff have been quite receptive.
We initially took over the auditorium in the Richard Roberts Building... and Richard Roberts himself sent us a message of solidarity! Some academics have put out a list of staff members who are supporting the occupation, and that has been sent to the press. Rather than shutting down the spaces that we have taken, we have tried to keep them open for teaching and study. But the management have shut these spaces down. So we are worried that staff who try to use the space to teach will be disciplined.
Management have also closed down adjacent seminar rooms on the spurious grounds that there might be violence. Management have done things like shut down the power and heating in the occupied rooms, so it's absolutely freezing. We've had some snow over the weekend. And during the snowfall they wouldn't let people in. So much for all their talk of how important health and safety is.
Students have been coming down to support the occupation. We've had dozens of people coming in to participate. Grace Petrie came to play at the occupation, and Natalie Bennett is going to come and do a Q&A on sustainability soon. We've been planning to have an occupation for some time. It has been useful to get lots of new people coming in who haven't necessarily been involved in an occupation before. It has been useful to train student activists in how to occupy a space, and to use it as an effective way to make a point, turn it into an educational space. Throughout the protest we have been holding workshops, rallies, banner-making and so on. It has been useful from that point of view as well.