Simon Furse and Kelly Rogers were among students who occupied rooms at the university as part of the Defend Education Birmingham campaign, calling for more democracy and student representation at their university, greater pay for staff, and for their senior management to “take back their position that fees should be increased”, among other demands.
Furse and Rogers, both 22, have been suspended from their courses for nine months, and will not be allowed to return to their studies until March 2015. A third student, Hattie Craig, 21, was also handed a formal reprimand and a de facto “suspended sentence”. She also faces immediate suspension should she breach any university regulation.
The students were informed of the university’s decision earlier today, although a three-day hearing is said to have taken place in June, the culmination of a seven-month disciplinary period. According Defend Education Birmingham, university management issued a recommendation to the disciplinary panel that Furse be permanently expelled.
In a statement published by Defend Education Birmingham earlier today, Furse said: “I have been suspended from the university despite the fact that the only evidence against me is a 20-second video of me telling other protesters that they can go into a peaceful occupation.
“University management have clearly decided that they don’t want any more protests against their policies, and have decided to victimise us to try and deter others from voicing dissent.”
The students and their supporters believe they have been treated unfairly throughout the disciplinary period, citing as an example their claim that they were denied the right to legal representation.
Rogers has told Defend Education Birmingham that she is “shocked” at the announcement: “We protested peacefully to call for a better education for ourselves and future students, and for better working conditions for staff at the University. As a result, we have been punished for expressing our right to freedom of protest and freedom of speech. These rulings are vastly disproportionate.”
In a statement, the university said that the original protest had caused “significant disruption” to “nearly 900” students and staff.
“The university owes a duty of care to its staff and student community and has taken robust action to uphold its responsibilities in this regard. The university will not comment further on individual cases.”