Students stand together during the first hour of occupation
Plans were quickly hatched to turn the lecture theatre into a place of creative resistance and open learning. A statement was agreed, press releases fired off and channels of communication opened over the internet while ideas were floated and discussed. Two supportive and inspirational lecturers were among the early speakers. Since this afternoon numbers have remained high with plenty of students coming to find out more. There are 50 people present as we write this at 1.30am: they'll be here overnight and have agreed a programme of events for tomorrow. Speeches and talks with a radical slant have figured strongly in the day's events, as have constructive and open discussions between occupying students from the University and the College, Exeter Students' Guild, University staff and authorities, and fellow occupiers around the country.
Until now there had been protest and lobbying at Exeter Uni but no occupations (with the honourable exception of the Cornwall Campus), but at nearby Exeter College students have led the way in resisting the assault on education. Today's march unified the two institutions and there was good representation from both at a public meeting against the cuts last night.
Exeter University's vice-chancellor, Steve Smith, is president of Universities UK and has been the leading voice amongst university bosses in favour of the £27,000 degree. One of our main aims is to show Smith up on his home turf and let the world know that he doesn't speak for us: staff or students.
The following statement was thrashed out and agreed by over 100 people in an encouragingly productive consensus decision-making process soon after the occupation began today:
1. We call for MPs to vote against the rise in tuition fees on Thursday 9th December.
2. Students of Exeter, supported by the University of Exeter Students' Guild, oppose Higher Education cuts and the proposed fees rise.
3. Students of Exeter oppose EMA/ALG cuts, Higher Education cuts and the proposed fees rise. We call on the Exeter College Students' Union to support our action.
4. We call on Steve Smith, as President of Universities UK, to issue a statement acknowledging he does not represent the opinions of a significant proportion of the Higher Education sector.
5. We call for a full public inquiry into higher education reform to be undertaken by an independent body.
6. We oppose the privatisation of our schools and the abolition of EMA and AIM Higher.
7. We express solidarity with all who are taking peaceful action to oppose the government cuts.
8. We call for the recognition of the equality of all university subjects.
9. No participants will face disciplinary action by the University of Exeter, or any other body, if they take part in peaceful occupation and protest.
10. We stand in solidarity with students and others globally who protest the neo-liberal cuts agenda, particularly in Education.
There's plenty of information and news from Exeter going out on the web, for those who want to keep in touch. Messages of solidarity have been pouring in, and every single one is appreciated.
For those who can join in, occupiers are in Newman A, accessible via the Peter Chalk Centre in the middle of Exeter's Streatham Campus, and access appears to be unimpeded for now.
Street map: http://www.openstreetmap.org/?lat=50.73644&lon=-3.535672&zoom=18&layers=M
Campus map: http://www.exeter.ac.uk/visit/directions/streathammap/ (number 18)