guardian.co.uk, Thursday 22 January 2009 13.38 GMT
As student protests over the bombing of Gaza spread to eight universities across England today, the director of the London School of Economics, Sir Howard Davies, issued a joint statement with student protesters saying he understood their concerns and backing a fundraising drive for scholarships for Palestinians.
LSE protesters ended their week-long occupation of the institution’s Old Theatre peacefully last night, after Davies, former chairman of the Financial Services Authority, agreed to meet some of their demands.
But he refused to issue an official university statement condemning the Israeli bombardment of Gaza or to publish regular financial statements spelling out LSE’s investment in companies involved in supplying arms to Palestine and Israel.
The LSE will waive scholarship application fees for students affected by the conflict, help students organise a fundraising day, and donate surplus computers and books to institutions in Gaza.
The joint statement quoted Davies as saying: “I well understand the concerns felt by many students about the events in Gaza. It is painful to observe the suffering of the civilian population. Like Professor [Rick] Trainor of Universities UK, who speaks for the sector as a whole, I supported calls for an end to the conflict. As he has said, many of the casualties have occurred in educational establishments. Wherever in the world scholars or their institutions are threatened, or their lives are disrupted by conflict, I believe all parties should respect the integrity of scholarship and intellectual and academic freedom, and should work to minimise suffering”.
The agreement with students includes establishing a working party to look at socially responsible investments that will be “content to receive” proposals about disinvestment from companies implicated in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
Michael Deas, a third-year environmental policy student involved in the occupation, said: “We’re delighted with the result, although nothing we could have done would ever have been enough. It’s a real victory for student activism, particularly forcing the director into making a statement.
“We would encourage other students to take this sort of action and have the confidence to do so.”
More than 80 students at Oxford occupied part of the historic Bodleian building today to demand that the university release a statement condemning the attack on Gaza, and cancel a lecture series at Balliol College inaugurated by Shimon Peres, the president of Israel.
At Warwick, students started an occupation last night demanding the university sever links with companies supplying equipment used in the conflict.
At King’s College London, students have demanded the cancellation of an honorary degree for Peres, a demand rejected by the university. Trainor, the vice-chancellor of King’s and president of the vice-chancellors’ umbrella group, Universities UK, has said: “UUK supports calls for an end to the conflict in and beyond Gaza. We are particularly aware that many of the civilian casualties have occurred in educational establishments.
“The UK’s universities are resolutely committed to the right to education, enshrined in the UN universal declaration of human rights. Higher education, in particular, is a global activity and we value our academic links with universities all over the world.
“The international nature of higher education means it is a force for understanding, tolerance and respect between peoples.”
Students have also protested at the School of Oriental and African Studies, Birmingham, Essex and Sussex.
Simon Englert, a student at the University of Sussex, said: “The atmosphere is very good, and everybody there is absolutely committed to what we’re doing.
“Lots of different political stances are represented in the room. It has been a very good and interesting exercise, building a united front and agreeing on tactics.
“There has been a very uncomfortable silence in general about what’s happened and is happening in Gaza. We feel there should be concrete action, and the university making a statement would be symbolic and strong.”