The occupation of the John Usher meeting room in Northcote House has sparked a second occupation, as students have now entered one of the lobbies of the building.
Seven students (on the latest update, down to four) decided to occupy the lobby after the conclusion of a rally held in support of the John Usher occupiers. They claim that they are currently being denied access to water without leaving the building, and also have been denied access to toilets – leaving them to urinate into bottles instead. According to staff, this order has come from the Registrar’s office.
Marina Lademacher, one of those in the lobby, told Exeposé that: “Everyone is really overwhelmed by the support this afternoon at the rally. We put pressure on senior management and a second occupation has begun.
“Many of us need the toilet but we can use it only if we leave.”
Exeposé can confirm that later on in the evening, water was allowed to be brought out of the John Usher occupation to those in the lobby. Further, those in the lobby were offered to join the main occupation – which they refused.
The rally, which according to organisers attracted between 50 and 60 people, was addressed by Barrie Cooper, the UCU Exeter Branch President, as well as those students who are inside Northcote House. After speeches ended, several students attempted to pour into the University’s main admin building, causing security to crack down on the area, and University Registrar Mike Shore-Nye to address those outside, stating that they “are more than happy for [the students] to occupy to make their statement.” He then accused those outside of intending only to intimidate staff.
Meanwhile, in the John Usher occupation, protesters found that one of the fire escapes had been locked. This was only unlocked after much debate, in which the occupiers protested to the University’s Head of Security, as well as the Registrar, that this was illegal.
The occupations began on Monday 5 March at around 8:30am. Students entered Northcote House through an open door, and chose to set themselves up in the John Usher room, where the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive Group (VCEG) was set to meet.
The occupation is taking place in favour of the University and College Union’s ongoing industrial action, as they attempt to prevent changes to the USS Pension Scheme. Nationally, talks supported by the conciliatory service ACAS are ongoing as UUK, the representatives of the universities, are attempting to change the scheme from a defined-benefit scheme, in which a particular income is awarded on retirement, to a defined-contribution scheme, in which pension benefits are determined by the result of investments on the stock market.
The John Usher occupation group initially put out this statement:
We stand here today in solidarity with our striking lecturers. We have occupied the Vice-Chancellor’s Executive Group meeting room until such a time that they release a clear statement regarding how they feel about the strikes. We stand in solidarity with our lecturers and we will not be moved.
Since then, the protesters have decided to increase their demands, expecting a statement of support for the UCU due to the time that the University is taking to respond.
Mike Shore-Nye, the University’s Registrar, and Janice Kay, Provost, met with the occupiers on the first morning. Shore-Nye also spoke further to the protesters on Tuesday morning, and after the rally. The University of Exeter told Exeposé that “A small number of students have gathered in a meeting room on the University’s Streatham Campus. We respect students’ right to protest, provided they do so in a safe and legal manner.”
The protesters had also been addressed by Becca Hanley, the Guild’s VP Activities, and Kat Karamani, VP Welfare & Diversity, who gave information about support that the Advice Unit can provide, and asked for further information about how the Guild can help. Several members of Guild staff, most of which are Sabbatical Officers, have since assisted in bringing food to the occupiers. A Students’ Guild spokesperson told Exeposé that: “The Students’ Guild has been made aware of the ongoing student occupation here on campus today. The Guild supports every student’s right to voice their opinions and views in a safe and peaceful manner.” They also issued a statement, clearly offering support to those in occupation.
The current industrial action is in its third week. UCU members will remain on strike until Friday this week, before walking out again for the entirety of the following week.
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