The occupation of the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre (formerly George Square Lecture Theatre) is a productive and inclusive act of protest. Not only does the occupation increase pressure on university officials and add momentum by continuing the protest started by the strikes, it also uses the pension dispute as a starting point for challenging the impending corporate state of university education.
The Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre has become a symbol of solidarity which encapsulates the overwhelming sense of support and community amongst students and staff. The occupation is a fundamental part of the continuous fight for an appreciation of hard-working, dedicated lecturers who at the very least deserve to retire feeling financially stable with a sufficient pension scheme.
After the end of the first wave of strikes, staff were overburdened by feelings of defeat, disappointment and discontent because of failing to achieve a closure to the pension dispute. Universities are making it difficult for lecturers to continue teaching and sharing their passion for learning amidst cuts, increasing pressures and personal financial worry.
However, the occupation restores hope. Lecturers feel supported and inspired by students in a system where they evidently lack appreciation for their hard work by those who run the university. The occupation reiterates the idea that we as students and staff are the university; decisions should be made in the interest of keeping our education alive rather than allowing the degradation of university education to a business in which students are mere consumers.
The occupation has ironically been renamed the ‘Edinburgh Futures Institute’ after the university’s new expansion. Its name emphasises that, paradoxically, the university can make huge investments, yet is simultaneously making harsh cuts to staff pensions.
The space is welcoming and positive. Every time students walk to Central Library they are reminded of the network of community that makes university such an exciting, forward-thinking, liberal space by the unmissable banners stating “No commodification of our education” and “Student Strike Solidarity”. The positive atmosphere amongst the crowds gathered outside is inspiring; the occupying students are inviting students to ask questions and join in, even if only for a short amount of time.
Students have transformed the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre into a productive, creative environment in which lecturers want to teach and feel appreciated. They have organised a vast array of activities, such as academic talks, ‘teach outs’, climate change initiatives, political discussions, charity fundraisers and theatre workshops.
The publicity that these events – and the occupation in general – have received on Facebook has been unprecedented for the UCU in creating a buzz around the strike action.
The Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre was one of many occupations at other UK universities, including the University of Sheffield, where students occupied the Arts Tower for the last few days of the strikes. Students and staff across the UK were forced to find a more radical approach after the slow progress during the initial strike action.
The ongoing ‘open occupation’ of the Gordon Aikman Lecture Theatre adds a new dimension to the strikes and continues to urge university officials to recognise the welcoming, creative and supportive educational community it represents.
In an uplifting, inspiring method of protest and demonstration of solidarity, the occupation of this university building is essential to making university officials aware of staff and students’ views. We need an education fuelled by passionate, hard-working lecturers who come to work every day excited to teach, rather than disappointed lecturers, saddened by the direction towards which university education is heading.
Despite the end of the first wave of strikes, the occupation allows the protest to thrive and shows that solidarity can triumph.
Image: Andrew Perry