Sussex protest over privatisation attracts high-profile support

Sussex students protesting against the privatisation of jobs at the university have garnered high profile support for their cause.

Eminent academic Noam Chomsky, MP for Brighton Caroline Lucas, activist Tariq Ali, actor and Oscar-winner Peter Capaldi and hundreds of academics, politicians and public figures have signed the petition on the Sussex Against Privatisation website, set up by workers at the university.

Plans by university management to privatise 235 support jobs, including facilities management and catering positions, have been met with opposition by academic staff, support staff and students at the university.

The coalition formed by students has stated: “The management at Sussex have shown a blatant disregard for the views and wishes of the campus community in the way that they have instigated these proposals.

“The lack of transparency, and openness from a university that has a reputation as a ‘radical’ institution is tantamount to a management position which is eroding the spirit of Sussex…

“We call on the management of the University to immediately halt their plans; to undertake a full and proper democratic negotiation with staff and students about the future of campus services; and to ensure that student and trade union representatives are fully represented and informed during all stages of future processes and decision making.”

Senior law lecturer Craig Lind said of the protests: “Mostly it has to do with the way in which the management of the university have been neglecting to consult staff and students for the past five to six years.

“There is a singular lack of proper consultation and when they do consult they don’t listen. I don’t trust these people when they negotiate with anyone.”

He added: “They are trying to de-radicalise. Sussex has a reputation for being radical, which is what our students are trying to carry on I think.”

A university spokesperson said: “As we go through this process, we are providing information and support to those staff who will be transferring to external partners. We also continue to meet and discuss our plans with the three campus trades unions. We are also keeping other staff and students informed about the process.

“At Sussex, there are no redundancies involved, and 235 staff out of a total Sussex workforce of 2,200 will transfer to external partners under the protection of terms and conditions provided by TUPE legislation. We will be conducting TUPE consultation on the transfer when preferred external providers have been identified in spring 2013.

“In relation to the protest, there was a demonstration by some 100 or so students and some staff on Thursday 7 February. A small group of students entered the third floor of one of the buildings on campus, Bramber House, which is where we have a conference centre.

“Yesterday, Tuesday 12 February, the vice chancellor Michael Farthing and registrar John Duffy offered to meet the students to hear their concerns, which could then be reported to the university’s governing body, on condition that they left the conference centre. The students refused the offer.”

University management has a history of clashing with students. Three years ago, vice chancellor Michael Farthing called police onto campus to deal with students who had occupied a building in protest against education cuts.

Sixteen police vehicles, including dog units, were brought onto university grounds. Six students were suspended for their involvement in the occupation. Lind labelled management’s actions “heavy-handed”.

In other news, the retrial of Alfie Meadows, the student injured in the London student demonstrations of 2010, has begun. Meadows is accused of violent disorder (12 February 2013).