Students to end sit-in protest over tuition fees

University of Kent students say they will leave tomorrow after four-week occupation

Students who spent Christmas and New Year occupying their university in protest at rises in tuition fees are to end their sit-in tomorrow, they said today.

The students have been living in the Senate building at University of Kent in Canterbury since 8 December, surviving on food donations passed through a window.

University officials were attempting to evict the students by seeking a possession order at a hearing at Canterbury county court on Friday.

But the students announced today that they would leave the building peacefully at 2pm tomorrow, saying they felt they had done enough to highlight their cause.

One of the occupiers, a 20-year-old politics student called Alex, said: "Tomorrow will mark exactly four weeks since we began our protest. We decided to leave on our own terms with our heads held high."

A philosophy student, Ben, also 20, added: "We are still very much in dispute with the university and we will be continuing our campaigning once we are out."

Since the university closed for Christmas, private security guards have been patrolling the Senate building, trying, with limited success, to prevent anyone else gaining access. Today, the occupiers claimed to be a group of six. When the Guardian visited last week, there were five of them.

The students want the university and its vice-chancellor, Prof Julia Goodfellow, to publicly condemn the government's education cuts.

Their occupation began as a reaction to Goodfellow's signing a letter, published in the Daily Telegraph on 8 December, endorsing a rise in tuition fees. She has since written an open letter in which she said she deplored cuts to higher education funding, but the students said this did not meet their demands.

The students have written to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, in the hope that, as a visitor to the university, he would act as a mediator, but they have so far received no reply. Today, they said they would be inviting him to the Senate for their departure tomorrow. The group promises to leave the building spick and span.

The students alleged that the heating was turned off during the cold weather, that they have been unable to leave the building for fresh air and that their internet connection was cut. "The university has not treated us with the respect we feel we deserve," said Alex.

But they claim they do not fear punishment from the university for their actions. "When we first started the occupation, we gave the university a list of demands, and the only one they came back to us on was a point about no individual students being victimised as a result of their actions," said Alex, adding: "We think that it is an important enough cause to put the fear of personal consequences to one side."

Meanwhile, it emerged today that a teenage schoolgirl has been questioned over an attack on a police van in London during protests against proposals to increase student tuition fees.

The 16-year-old, from Beckenham in south east London, was arrested by a Scotland Yard unit investigating the disorder.

She was questioned on suspicion of violent disorder and criminal damage in Whitehall, central London, on 24 November.


Helen Pidd

The GuardianTramp

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