Tuition fees: Students ask Archbishop to help end protest

The Archbishop of Canterbury has been called on to help end a dispute between a university and students who are continuing an occupation in protest at rises in tuition fees.

The students have been staging a sit-in at the Senate building at the University of Kent in Canterbury since December 8 and have remained there throughout Christmas.

University officials aim to regain control of the building by seeking a possession order at a hearing at Canterbury County Court next Friday.

But the five-strong group of students vowed to stay put indefinitely to highlight their opposition to the rise in tuition fees and cuts in higher education.

The students want the university and its vice-chancellor Julia Goodfellow to condemn the Government's plans publicly.

They said their occupation was a reaction to Prof Goodfellow signing a letter, published in the Daily Telegraph on December 8, endorsing an increase in fees.

Prof Goodfellow has since written an open letter in which she said she deplored cuts to higher education funding, but the students said this did not meet their demands.

The students have now written to the Archbishop, Rowan Williams, in the hope that as a visitor to the university he will act as mediator to help resolve the impasse.

No response has been received, one of the occupiers, 20-year-old philosophy student Ben Stevenson, said yesterday.

The occupiers said in a statement that the "savage cuts and substantial rise in fees should not be under-estimated".

Their statement added: "We feel that education should be seen as a public good and therefore a crucial investment, and that if education has to be perceived as a commodity, then it is one of our last great exportable commodities, and deserves to be protected.

"We oppose cuts that will result in university institutions being a privilege accessible solely to the few.

"Our occupation is completely peaceful and we maintain consistency in our objectives and feel this is imperative until our demands are met."

The students alleged that the heating was turned off during the cold weather, that they have been unable to leave the building for fresh air and that their internet connection has been cut.

People have been turning up with food donations for them and they have been passing the time watching films and maintaining contact with supporters via Twitter and Facebook using a 3G dongle.

The students intend to issue a letter to universities encouraging students and staff to sign as a counter-measure to the letter signed by Prof Goodfellow and other board members of Universities UK.

Their statement went on: "We have also been in contact with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams.

"Due to his capacity as Visitor to the University of Kent, we hope he may act as mediator in our current dispute with the university administration."

Campaigners at universities across the country, including Bristol, University College London and Leeds, all staged occupations but most ended after two weeks.