On Tuesday afternoon, student and staff protesters at the University of Edinburgh will leave the occupied Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre after 6 weeks of sustained action. Exactly 6 weeks to the day they took over the building in solidarity with striking staff, the occupiers will leave the lecture theatre and move on to the next stage of their campaign.
Students began their occupation of the lecture theatre – the largest on campus – on Tuesday 13th March as a show of solidarity to staff members of the UCU (Universities and Colleges Union), who last month took part in 14 days of national strike action in response to proposed changes to their pensions. While the UCU have accepted a deal, the occupiers say the fight for fair working conditions is not over and they continue to campaign in solidarity with staff, especially on the issue of pay deductions for strike action.
This occupation, the longest ever of its kind at the University of Edinburgh, has developed over the past weeks to be an alternative educational space on campus, hosting a programme of more than 100 “teach-outs” and workshops. This has engaged hundreds of students, staff and members of the wider community in critical discussions about the University and higher education. The occupiers have since identified several key wider issues with the University, including lack of adequate mental health provision, the cost of student housing and casualisation of university staff. “The marketisation of universities and the lack of democracy in how the University is run are at the heart of these problems,” says Nina, a member of the occupation community.
The occupiers are in ongoing dialogue with senior management and academics at the University, working towards making many of the changes they have proposed a reality. They see their decision to leave on Tuesday as part of this development of their movement going forward. Réka, another occupier, says: “Leaving occupation is in no way an end. It marks the next stage in our campaign for a democratic university – it’s time now for us to organise outside of this space,”
The departure from the occupation on Tuesday 24th April will be marked by a rally and march, involving staff, students and members of local trade unions, beginning outside the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre at 1pm.