UAL’s month long protest moved to the Royal courts this week, when more than 100 students gathered outside the judicial building in London. The protest was officially banned when an injunction was issued prohibiting around 15 students from continuing a ‘sit-in,’ at Central St Martin’s Kings Cross campus. “unlawful trespass” restrictions will now apply on all of the UAL sites. The university is trying to drop a total of 580 foundation course places over the next two years. Hundreds of students have joined the occupation which began on 19 March.
UAL Vice-Chancellor Nigel Carrington in a prepared statement said, “Legal action was our last resort to protect the interests of the overwhelming majority of our students and staff and prevent further disruption as we head into the all-important summer term.”The university remains committed to freedom of speech, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly within the law.” UAL says that if allowed to continue, the occupation could have had a serious impact on forthcoming degree shows. It added that foundation courses will continue to be taught at UAL – but courses offered at its London College of Communication site will be discontinued “where foundation is generally not a pre-requisite of entry to undergraduate courses”.
Shelly Asquith, the president of UAL’s student union and one of 15 individuals named on the court papers, told BBC News they had now ended the sit-in, but were considering further protests in the coming weeks. “By taking us to court they wanted to silence us but that has backfired in terms of the wider campaign. “So many more people have heard about the cuts in the media coverage,” said Ms Asquith. Encouraged by the judge, the two sides also reached an out of court agreement that the university would not pursue legal costs against the named individuals if they vacated the space. Ms Asquith took to social media to thank supporters. “Today I stood inside a court representing activists who are defending education. “The fight to save foundation courses (as well as our right to protest) continues but today we managed to get the university to back down on serving us legal costs… I am very proud of our students today,” she posted on Facebook.
The injunction could make it illegal for the 15 students to return to the occupation zone. It could also force them to pay tens of thousands of pounds in legal fees. Samia is one of the UAL students who would have been named on the injunction. She told Socialist Worker, “I’ve been both a student and a member of staff here—it doesn’t surprise me that management are doing this. “But we’ve had a lot of press coverage since we were given the court papers—and our support has grown.”
A spokesperson for UAL told the Evening Standard: “After nearly four weeks of attempted negotiations, legal action was an absolute last resort and our only remaining option to protect the interests of the majority of our students and staff from further disruption as we head into the all-important summer term.”
Some may think that UAL are not looking good with this injunction. They have attempted to negotiate with the student union but this has failed. Between cuts and the ever increasing quotas of students from abroad, some feel the colleges are turning into finishing schools for wealthy foreigners.
Hundreds have attended protest events and a petition against the cuts has attracted over 5,000 signatures.