Hundreds of demonstrators marched along the seafront today (Saturday, May 14) in protest at plans to close Hastings’ university campus.
The event, organised by members of the #HandsOffHastings campaign, started in Priory Square where there were several speakers who made impassioned speeches.
Demonstrators waving placards and chanting ‘Hands off Hastings’ and ‘You’re not taking our campus’ marched through the town centre before gathering outside Hastings Pier and then returning through town.
Several borough councillors, members of Unison and Unite and other unions took part, as well as students themselves.
Drivers honked their horns in support of the protestors as the procession wound its way through town and along the seafront.
Today’s demonstration was the second such protest to take place since the University of Brighton announced its controversial decision.
Ré Poko, from the University of Brighton Student Union, said: “The response from the community has been absolutely overwhelming. Even though we’ve had a demonstration before it’s still important for people to understand this campaign is not going to be won overnight.
“The students know how important it is to fight this decision. it’s not just for the generations of young people looking to study in this town in the future but for the present students themselves.
“The university’s decision has been made on pound signs, not people and we are not going to go down without a fight.
“Everyone who looks at this situation knows it stinks of injustice. This is not the way you do higher education. You do not treat students and staff like that.
“You do not take millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and then bail out.”
Hastings councillor Mike Turner blasted the university’s decision, saying it had broken past promises on committing itself to Hastings.
He said: “The university has let down the people of this town and betrayed the students. It has also reneged on its commitment to work with the council and not put in the effort it should have done. It’s an absolute disgrace and the university should be ashamed of itself.
“We wish to remain a university town because it’s so important for regeneration.”
Fellow councillor James Bacon thanked all of the students and community for raising awareness and starting the campaign to save the Hastings campus.
He added: “As a borough council we want to support higher education for all people in the town.”
Mark Harvey, disability officer for the University of Brighton Students Union, said: “The university needs to honour its commitment to the town. The Hastings campus is the most disabled friendly campus in the whole of England. The decision to close it is ridiculous and stupid and the university could be marketing this campus as disabled friendly.”
Student Edward Tollefson, 19, who is from Colchester, Essex and studying digital film, said the decision was too ‘short-term’.
He added: “The university is saying it’s about financial issues but the Hastings campus has grown quite a lot over the short number of years it’s been here. There has also been a lot of investment in this area and the university has recently bought another new building. It would be a bad decision to pull out.”
Brett McLean, chairman of the 1066 branch of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: “Today’s students are tomorrow’s employees. Hastings is an up and coming town and we need as many entrepreneurial sparks as possible and economic development as possible. The university is a key element for that.”
Mark Abel, from the University and College Union, said: “The university made a commitment to Hastings as part of a regeneration programme, entering into a partnership, and now it appears to be betraying that commitment in an act of educational vandalism.
“We are worried about what might happen next. This is the tactic of asset strippers.”
At the march, Carole Chick, from Unison, spoke of the Hastings campus being a ‘family’ and part of the community.
She added: “We want the University of Brighton here, to stay and help us build and grow the Hastings campus.”
Today’s protest was the latest in a series of events planned by #HandsOffHastings aimed at raising awareness and support for its ongoing campaign to overturn the University of Brighton’s decision.
There will be a public consultation inviting the community to participate in The People’s Consultation to create an alternative vision for the future of the university in Hastings.
This takes place on Friday, June 10, at the university’s Priory Square campus from 2pm to 6pm.
Since the decision to close the Hastings campus was announced in March, more than 7,800 people have signed a petition in protest.
To sign the petition, visit www.change.org/p/save-hastings-campus.
Following today’s march, a University of Brighton spokesman said: “The protestors are misleading themselves and others by suggesting that the University of Brighton is closing its Hastings campus and walking away from the town.
“We have already made it quite clear that our current campus will continue to operate as normal over the next few years.
“From September next year it will operate in tandem with the new University Centre that we are currently developing in partnership with Sussex Coast College with input from the local councils and other stakeholders.
“Over the coming years the aim is for the University Centre to offer a broad portfolio of part-time and full-time degree courses including higher apprenticeships that will support the delivery of an exciting new vision for higher education in Hastings.
“We will be announcing further details about the new University Centre in the next few weeks.”
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