It started with a march, and it ended with a march.
On 22nd February, students from Aberystwyth University took to the streets to tell those overpaid fools in management “No cuts!”. It was the “Imagine the Future” demo organised by our Guild of Students, which saw around 600 students taking over Old College. That day was also the day we set in motion a plan – Aber Students Against Cuts would occupy again. And so it came to pass, that on that day in February, A12/14 in Hugh Owen were occupied once more.
During our 32 days in occupation, we achieved a great deal. In entering dialogue with the Pro Vice-Chancellor, we made the university commit to improving transparency. We’ve raised awareness of the cuts and just how they’ll affect students, the university, and Aberystwyth itself. We’ve shown the hypocrisy from the greedy suits at the top, who take 11.8% pay rises whilst other staff take real-term pay cuts and face redundancy.
The Occupation also played home to the Free University, an idea that we’ve been building on since the November march in Aberystwyth. For several days, students of Aberystwyth could immerse themselves in an environment where they could learn freely in an open space, about anything from European languages to circus skills to sustainability. We’re eager to keep this going beyond occupation.
Of course, you can’t have an occupation without social events. Every night we’d be doing something, whether it watching films, or playing improvised ball games. We held a soiree, where dozens turned out to hear several live acts including bands, choirs, poets and more. We even had a barbecue, in the freezing cold, although perhaps unsurprisingly most of the food we cooked was vegetarian or vegan!
Alongside the occupation, Aber Students Against Cuts was working closely with local Unions in a manner of ways. Firstly, we ran for elections to the Guild of Students, where 2 of us were elected. We also worked with UCU to organise as Free University Public Forum on March 18th, the first day of UCU strike action in Wales, which saw hundreds of different people from all across Ceredigion come to Aberystwyth to hear local influential figures talking about the cuts and related issues. We then joined UCU on the picket lines on the 24th February to show our solidarity with our lecturers.
On March 26th, at 4am, we ended the occupation after 32 days to join the March For the Alternative in London. Aber Students Against Cuts worked closely with local unions including UNISON, NASUWT, and PCS to ensure that 300 people from the region could go to London and march in solidarity with 500,000 thousand others.
It is fitting that what began with a local demonstration of 600 people concluded with the largest national demonstration in almost a decade. The economic policies of the Coalition Government spell disaster for the public sector, for education, and for society as a whole. The cuts affect everyone, from a new-born baby in Aberdeen, to a 21 year old student in Aberystwyth, to a 78 year old pensioner from Hackney. We must and shall continue to oppose the cuts both locally, and nationally.