2,000 people turned out to lobby the University of Glasgow Court against planned cuts to student courses, as part of university plans to save £20 million.
The protest, backed by the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) and the Free Hetherington, took place on Wednesday February 16. The protesters were marching against proposed course closures, such as Nursing, the Department of Adult and Continued Learning (DACE) and modern languages such as German, Slavonic and Spanish.
The campaign against course closures has been backed by playwright Tom Stoppard and Baroness Onora O’Neill, who have both signed an open letter along with 150 academics against the course closures, which has been sent to the Scottish Education Secretary Mike Russell.
The protest began at 12 noon on University Gardens and proceed down University Avenue before going up Gibson Street. The march then continued into the university grounds, with a rally being held in the West Quadrangle.
Speakers at the rally included members of staff from Slavonic studies and nursing, as well as SNP MSP Sandra White and Green MSP Patrick Harvie, who had previously put forward a motion to the Scottish Parliament raising concern at the cuts at Glasgow University.
Speaking at the rally Sandra White called Anton Muscatelli, the Principal of Glasgow University, ‘disgrace’ while Patrick Harvie called for any politician who votes for cuts or fees to be sacked.
There were some divisions between protesters as the large majority started the march outside the Free Hetherington, while a small minority joined the march from outside the Queen Margaret Union (QMU). This march was organized by students who wished to distance themselves from the members of the Free Hetherington who participated in the kettling of NUS President Aaron Porter.
In an email sent round to all students before Wednesday’s march, President of the SRC, Tommy Gore, warned against any use of violent protest.
He said: “Come along to the march and have fun. If you agree with chants, chant them- if you feel alienated by other chants it’s likely most other people around you will feel the same way. Any minority, lacking popular support will be quickly drowned out by the sensible majority of students that we’re looking forward to marching alongside. University security will be on hand, not to limit our right to protest – which they respect and are often sympathetic to – but to make sure if idiots do turn up and idiots do try and be idiots, they won’t be able to detract from what we’re sure will be a mass meeting of like-minded, sensible and (thankfully) educated people who want to show that they feel strongly about this very important issue in a calm and dignified way.”
Despite these fears and a large police presence, the march was entirely peaceful, although there was anger at Gore’s comments, with one University member, Andrew Rubens, expressing his reasons to Gore for boycotting the march in a letter.
He said: “You are anti-democratic, anti-pluralist, authoritarian and frankly a snob (please explain to me why people who currently do not have access to a university education should not march in solidarity with students and against the further restriction of opportunity embodied in these proposed cuts to courses and staff? Or indeed ‘uneducated’ (shudder) non-academic staff at the university who will also be affected?). Freedom of speech is already under threat from government, and the SRC, with its usual mandate of less than 10% of the student body, has less right to tamper with it than they do.” He later withdrew comments regarding snobbery.
The march was timed to coincide with the meeting of the University Court, which approved a consultation on the proposed cuts. The consultation will run until May, when the university is expected to announce its decision on the cuts.
The university announced last year that is was facing a £35 million shortfall over the next three years. It hoped to attract an extra £15 million in income from overseas students, which leaves a £20 million deficit to be made up by reducing expenditure.
The cuts proposed at the moment are expected to save £3 million in 2010 and 2011, with a further £17 million in savings needing to be made over the next three years.
A university spokesperson explained the reasoning behind the proposed cuts.
He said: “The higher education sector currently faces unprecedented financial pressures, and this University is responding in a planned and strategic way to the cuts in public funding.
“Our approach is two-fold: to generate more income, and to pursue cost-savings.”