Lecturers’ president backs student resistance
By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education correspondent
There have been more than 50 arrests following the tuition fee protests
The lecturers’ union president has signed a statement refusing to condemn protesters who attacked a Conservative party building last week.
Alan Whitaker has joined calls to “rally behind all who were arrested for fighting to defend their education”.
A radical students’ group has also threatened to target Lib Dem offices and Downing Street next week.
But the UCU union’s official spokesman rejected last week’s violence as “totally unacceptable”.
Backing “acts of resistance”, the lecturers’ statement has been signed by 24 members of the University and College Union’s national executive.
The UCU spokesman said the statement supporting the arrested students had been signed in a personal capacity by lecturers and was not the union’s official policy.
But the scale of support among the union’s leadership for this latest statement suggests deep divisions in the response to the outbreak of violence, during a protest march against raising tuition fees.
There are also divisions among student protestors, with student activists set to reject the more moderate strategy of the NUS leadership.
The Education Activist Network has warned that the Liberal Democrat headquarters will be targeted in the next wave of protests, set for 24 November.
The protesters are calling for students and their supporters to stage a walk-out and then to demonstrate outside Liberal Democrat offices and then Downing Street.
Alan Whitaker, national president of the UCU, has joined about a third of the union’s national executive, in calling on university and college staff to “stand with those students who were arrested”.
“We will not side with those who condemn the violence against windows and property but will not condemn or even name the long-term violence of cuts that will scar the lives of hundreds of thousands by denying them access to the education of their choice,” says the statement.
“The victimisation of individuals for acts of resistance is something that our movement has a proud record of opposing,” says the statement.
There have been more than 50 arrests following the storming of the building.
And there was widespread criticism, including from Downing Street, of lecturers who had appeared to be sympathetic to the occupation of the Millbank building.
But the spokesman for the latest lecturers’ statement, Tom Hickey, says it is “pure hypocrisy” for lecturers to be expected to either condemn or condone the occupation last week.
He says demonstrators were provoked by the government’s decision to “privatise” higher education, without any mandate from voters.
Mr Hickey, who lectures at the University of Brighton, says he expects the lecturers’ union to back a campaign for the defence of those who were arrested during the demonstration.