On the afternoon of Wednesday 21 March, the current occupation of the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre (formerly the George Square Lecture Theatre) over the changes to the USS held a ceremony unveiling their newly created space. After a few speeches and the reading of their Declaration of Occupation, a ribbon was cut by ‘Peter Mathieson’ and a banner fell down declaring: “Edinburgh Futures Institute: Actually Open to All”.
These students outlined their reasoning for occupying this space on campus and repurposing it for the reform of education. Following this statement, they continued to hold workshops inside, welcome for all to join in on. The Futures Institute continues to host events, inviting all students to take part in their movement.
Aaron is a second year Biological Sciences student who has been a part of the occupation since the beginning on Tuesday 13 March, and spoke to The Student as a spokesperson for the Futures Institute. When asked about the start of the occupation Aaron said: “This space was occupied so that we could show solidarity with the striking staff. But we quickly realised that this could be a part of the larger national conversation on the marketisation of education and what liberal education can mean and how the pensions dispute is very relevant to that.”
In the Declaration of Occupation, students have outlined specific components of the marketisation of education they are working to resist through this occupation. It mentions resisting things such as, “being treated as consumers, and seeing our education treated as a commodity” as well as “inequality between the remuneration of the lowest-paid staff and the excessive salaries of senior management.” Elaborating on this, Aaron said: “Our role is showing that students and staff of all sorts have an equal role in education and we all have an ability to share what we have and we shouldn’t need to be held back financially and be competing with each other based on how wealthy we are to come in here.”
While this occupation began as students demonstrating their support for the striking staff, the Edinburgh Futures Institute is a symbol of wider movements; more than just discussions, but a bold statement concerning the larger issues across the nation concerning higher education. Specifically, they are highlighting the perspectives of students in this matter. However, the occupation is still very grateful to staff, with their spokesperson stating: “We are over the moon that staff believe our space here is a positive thing for them. It’s been a huge morale boost for them and we’ve had some very involved staff that have helped us set up events here. Although this was a student-established space, this is a student-staff space in collaboration now.”
The occupation turned Edinburgh Futures Institute is hoping to really get the ball rolling on large national issues concerning students about higher education. And while they are currently hosting numerous events and spreading the word, they are encouraging of more students to get involved. They have stressed their concerns about the state of our higher education system and desire to spark change, specifically telling students: “We urge you to assert your collective power. Join us in taking control of our schools and departments. Let us reimagine our curricula together.” This message may seem broad and over-reaching to some students, but the Edinburgh Futures Institute is looking to encourage as much student involvement as possible to make a statement in taking claim over the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre.
The spokesperson summarised their message to all students saying: “[This is] a community space for everyone and what we want for other students is to feel like they know why we’re here. Whether or not they want to join or not is their own option, but we want them to know that it’s completely open to them to come and join us and be a part of the movement… if they want to.”
Image: Andrew Perry