This morning, Friday 3rd May, the University of London voted to shut down its students’ union. The University of London Union has been at the heart of student life in London for decades. It represents more than 120,000 students, and is the only London-wide representation that students have. The union has been at the centre of the student movement and its mobilisations for many years, and is in the process of establishing a London-wide tenants union.
Students from across the city have pledged to fight the closure anyway, and ULU is planning to set up a London-wide student assembly to fight the decision as part of a broader plan to create a pan-London Union. A student from University College London said: “We have a proud heritage of fighting for our rights. If the University thinks that it can simply start stealing our buildings in 2014, it has another thing coming.”
Michael Chessum, President of ULU, said: “This decision is totally illegitimate and will have a majorly negative impact on student life and representation in London: no student sat on the review panel, no student got a vote on the decision, and student responses have been ignored or brushed aside throughout. It’s not that we won’t go down without a fight – we simply won’t go down.”
Daniel Cooper, Vice President, added: “The decision by the University is extremely myopic and destructive. It is an attack on students’ union autonomy and independence, if it can happen here, it can happen at any other students’ union in the country. The decision is a disgrace – we will be fighting this decision tooth and nail. The University have said they will facilitate the setting up of a new pan-London representative structure. We will not allow the structures, history and expertise, that have been built up over many years, be thrown away in this vandalistic way. We will continue to represent the interests of all London students.”
This morning, a large proportion of the London Assembly and a number of high profile London MPs wrote in the Guardian to defend the union’s existence. “As politicians from across London, we understand the value of having a strong student movement in London. Students, like many London residents, face issues of poverty, appalling housing conditions and attacks on public services. We cannot afford to lose the core of what could be a major force for good in the capital.”
The combined personal salaries of the Vice Chancellors of the University of London, who made the decision, is £4.1m. In contrast, the cost of funding ULU is an annual grant of £800,000, most of which is paid directly back to the University as rent.
ULU’s clubs and societies cater to a huge array of activities and sports. In a letter, Graham Miles, former President of the ULU Fencing club, said: “Many [students] remain in touch long after graduation, forming an informal global network of contacts and friends that is hugely beneficial to all members of the club, new or old. Marriages, careers and lifelong friendships have been forged from this network. ULU societies are uniquely placed to provide such a network because they bring together people from such varied backgrounds, a breath of fresh air for students attending small specialist colleges.”
An online commenter on the Guardian website wrote: “This would be a crying shame. Unlike campus universities, there is very little common public space in London University in which students can meet. It has social and work facilities, and a small swimming pool in the basement. The library is next door, and bookshops are close by. Students pay enough in fees to have some central resource as an amenity. London can be a lonely place to be a student, and ULU does something to counteract this. Bad news.”