Cambridge University Student Occupation – Interview with Benjamin

This is an interview with Benjamin, one of the students occupying Cambridge University’s Senate House as part of the protest against the proposed rise in student fees.

17:05 Friday 3rd December 2010
Drivetime BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

ANDY BURROWS: Top story then this afternoon, it’s about those students again at Cambridge University, protesting against that rise in tuition fees, blockaded the entire Old Schools and Senate House administrative sites this morning. That’s home also to the Vice Chancellor’s office, and prompted the University to say that students’ actions are dangerous and unacceptable, and the police and fire authorities would take the necessary Action. Our reporter Jozef Hall was in Cambridge this morning. (TAPE)
JOZEF HALL: The blockade is on three fronts. You’ve got the front here that you’ve just described Johnny, by the Senate House Lawn. People can’t get in there. You’ve got the duvets draped over the fences that you described. About thirty protesters there, singing, dancing, Michael Jackson playing in the background. Probably an attempt to stay warm rather than any political comment. Round the side is the main entrance into the Old Schools building. That’s where I witnessed quite a few people this morning being turned away. Done in rather good humour, and tempers have been fairly good, up until ten minutes ago where a couple of presumably admin staff were turned away. And I won’t repeat what they said, but they weren’t too happy about not getting in. There was a farcical scene earlier this morning, just after eight thirty, where the postman round at the back, as you go towards the Cam end, so just near the back of Kings College Chapel, the third front that the protestors are blockading, the postman tried to deliver parcels in there this morning, and he got very irate when a group of about thirty protestors, that’s probably the biggest blockade, didn’t let him through. He was not very impressed whatsoever, and certainly not sympathetic. (LIVE)
ANDY BURROWS: That was our reporter Jozef Hall, who was at the scene of the blockade this morning, speaking on the Andy Harper show. If you want to see Jozef’s full report watch Look East tonight at BBC1. That’s six thirty. (4th December 2010). Right now, let’s speak to one of the students, who’s involved in that blockade. His name’s Benjamin. Doesn’t want to give his full name. Let’s say hello to him now. Evening to you Benjamin.
AB: Why have you decided to form this blockade today?
BENJAMIN: We formed a blockade until mid-day, and we did it to stop the activities going on in the Old Schools, because we came here to peacefully occupy, to take a space, to have somewhere where we can really discuss what’s going on, and to make some demands on the Vice Chancellor of the University, to say he needs to come out on the side of students, on the side of academics, on the side of residents of Cambridge, against the cuts. Not just the cuts in education, not just the rise in tuition fees, against all the public sector cuts.
AB: No-one’s going to be bullied into a dialogue though are they?
BENJAMIN: Well there’s been plenty of other situations where groups of protestors have managed to actually open a dialogue, get authorities to make some kind of statement. When there was an occupation in the North actually a couple of years ago, on the second day University opened negotiations with the students. Down here we’ve been here for a week, there’ve been no negotiations. In fact we feel the Vice Chancellors have been incredibly rude in ignoring us, ignoring our demands, ignoring the Student Union.
AB: Haven’t you made a couple of fatal errors here though? One, it’s the end of term, so they can effectively tough it out, and they don’t have to form a dialogue with you. The other one is you’re outside, aren’t you? At some point you’re just going to get very very cold and go home.
BENJAMIN: OK. I don’t think you understand our situation at all. On the first point, when we started it wasn’t the end of term, and also there are plenty of people here who are students throughout the year. So postgrads, lecturers, academics, also people who aren’t students, trade unioninists, residents of Cambridge, people who realise that the cuts in the education sector are simply the first …
AB: Are you now outside?
BENJAMIN: No we’re not outside. We’re outside and we’re inside. We’ve been occupying this base for the past week. What we did this morning was expand our protest around the building in order to actually block all the activities in order to make more of a ..
AB: At this stage you’ve made your protest quite clear over the last few days. We’ve spoken to you on a fairly regular basis. You’ve still got no dialogue with the University. Where’s this all going to end Banjamin?
BENJAMIN: What we’ve found is that the longer we go the more support we receive. So we haven’t had a response from the Vice Chancellor. Yesterday we sent the final thing saying look, we really want something from you, unless we’re going to escalate the situation. And that’s what we did today, to say look, we really are serious here.
AB: There are some people that will agree with your actions, and some people that won’t. However, at this point, aren’t you risking your own education, you’re risking some kind of disciplinary action.
BENJAMIN: We think there are actually a lot more important things than our own eduction, or a bit of discipline, disciplinary action from the University, they like to trump up what they can do so much. We have over three hundred academics signed a petition supporting everything that we’re doing. We’ve got messages from UCU, Unite, Unison, the Green Party, and all sort of local associations, trade unions, community groups, petitions from schools, huge amounts of sixth formers, teachers, supporting what we’re doing. So actually this idea that somehow people are turned off by what we’re doing, we’re finding every day we get more and more and more support, with people saying why aren’t people standing up against the Government more.
AB: Thank you for your time. That was Benjamin there, didn’t want to give his full name which probably shows you the seriousness now of the situation. That blockade that’s going on today, and a process which is now in its eighth day. We would really like to speak to someone from Cambridge University. We’ve asked them every day since the protest began. They still won’t come on live onto the programme, or even give us a pre-recorded interview. But they have sent us this statement, which we have voiced using one of our journalists here:
“Over the last week the University has respected occupiers’ rights to demonstrate. But their present actions are dangerous and unacceptable. And the University will be taking the necessary action. Those occupying the Combination Room are doing so illegally, in breach of a court order. The Vice Chancellor has offered to meet a delegation of students. It would be inappropriate for him to do so however, while they continue illegally to occupy University premises.”
Deadlock. And no doubt we’ll update you on that story over the weekend. Thirteen minutes past five.