Peace and Conflict Students in Protest to Keep Their Home
– We basically live here, says Jim Jormanainen, chairman of student association Pax et Bellum.
Around 50 people are gathered in the student lounge at the Department of Peace and Conflict Research at Gamla Torget 3 on Thursday afternoon February 20. Though Ergo arrives about an hour after the protest fika began, the discussions are still lively.
– We’re certainly open for a sit-in protest if enough people are interested in participating, says Annalena Podzun, head of PR and marketing for student association Pax et Bellum (run by master students at the Department of Peace and Conflict), who is organising the protest fika #SaveFredsen together with UPaD (Uppsala Peace and Development student’s association).
The topic of the protest is a proposal put together by the university’s Building Division (byggnadsavdelningen) that would entail the loss of two lecture halls, one seminar room and the student lounge at Gamla Torget 3 – the home of the Department for Peace and Conflict Research.
– The proposal is that these areas will be rented out to someone else. The lecture halls are little used and we understand that they need to cut costs – we’re primarily fighting for the study areas, Annalena Podzun explains as we sit down with her and some other representatives from the two student associations when the protest fika is over.
Study areas at Campus Gamla Torget are already scarce, they tell us, and if the premises at Gamla Torget 3 are to be vacated, the situation will go from bad to worse.
– I guess we will have to sit at the Department of Government at Gamla Torget 6, but that’s always full, says Lisa Stulic, head of education for UPaD.
"We study here and we use these areas for our work with the associations and usually stay quite late."
The Peace and Conflict students have few teacher lead hours per week, around six to ten, which means that a full-time student is expected to do around 30 hours of individual studies each week.
– We basically live here. We study here and we use these areas for our work with the associations and usually stay quite late. Yes, it’s true that the lecture halls and seminar rooms here are the least booked at the department, but in my experience they are used even when they aren’t booked. If you go by a room and notice it’s empty you use it if you have nowhere else to sit. But that doesn’t show up in the booking system, which makes it seem like they aren’t used, says Jim Jormanainen, chairman of Pax et Bellum.
What Pax et Bellum and UPaD want is for the Campus Board to look at other options for reducing costs, that don’t include giving up the study areas. The associations have reached out to other student associations and unions for support and so far UPS (Uppsala politicesstuderande) and the students of IRES (Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies, not an official student association) have shared their petition.
Their petition has more than 500 signatures by the time this is written and the associations’ next course of action is to make “the people higher up” in the university aware of their standpoint.
– We need to make them aware that we actually use these areas and that we need them. They’re like a second home to us, says Annalena Podzun.
– We’re also drafting a letter to the Vice-chancellor that we will present to her in the near future, says Jim Jormanainen.
Johannes Bäck is the chairman of Uppsala Student Union, which represents the students of Campus Gamla Torget together with Uppsala Law Student Association. He says that both student unions have been working with this issue since December last year, when they found out budget cuts had to be made in regard to these campus facilities.
– The Campus Board for Gamla Torget has suffered from a budget deficit for quite some time and have been granted two million kronor a year by the Vice-Chancellor to make up for this, but last year it was decided that they would have to make do without this contribution, says Johannes Bäck.
He explains that the facilities at Gamla Torget are very expensive being in the centre of town and that more money is spent on overhead costs, such as rent, than on the actual educations. The campus unit Gamla Torget does not only include the facilities on the actual address Gamla Torget, but also Kvarteret Munken and some buildings on Trädgårdsgatan. Uppsala Student Union and Uppsala Law Student Association have written letters to both the Vice-Chancellor, asking her to keep the grant, and to the Campus Board, asking them not to waive the students’ study areas.
They have also met with the Building Division to discuss the best possible solution for reducing costs at Campus Gamla Torget.
– When they came up with the proposal to vacate the facilities at Gamla Torget 3 we thought it sounded like a reasonable solution, but we didn’t realise that the two student associations, Pax et Bellum and UPaD, used those areas, says Johannes Bäck.
He says it’s important to find a solutions that as many people as possible can agree on, but that the current proposal, entailing the loss of study areas and facilities used by the associations, is not one that Uppsala Student Union supports.
– We wish for the Campus Board to keep looking for another solution, he says.
"We will not neglect the students, we will have to find a good solution for everyone"
The current proposal was put together by the Building Division at the request of the Campus Board (intendenturorganisationen) who is responsible for keeping the management of the campuses as cost efficient as possible. When they found out they would no longer receive the two million kronor grant from the Vice-Chancellor, they needed to find solutions for cutting costs for Gamla Torget.
– We need to make changes in our expenses. If you look at the Department of Government for exemple, a very large portion of the subsidies we get for each basic level student is spent on facilities, says Claes Levinsson, head representative of Gamla Torget on the Campus Board.
They have calculated, he explains, that the facilities at Gamla Torget are only used to 25 percent of their capacity, which makes them very cost inefficient.
– The Building Division made a simulation where they took all scheduled lectures from Gamla Torget 3 and moved them to the facilities at Gamla Torget 6 and they could fit all of them, except one, in between the lectures already held there, says Claes Levinsson.
The biggest concern of the students, though, were that they would lose the areas where they sit to study outside of the teacher lead hours. They say they use the empty lecture halls for individual studies, which doesn’t show up in the scheduling systems. If they lose both their student lounge and the lecture halls, where are they supposed to sit and study?
– There will be some loss of study areas. Unfortunately the subsidies we get for each student don’t cover the costs of creating study spaces outside of the lecture halls. What we can do, however, is to better inform the students that they can use the lecture halls for individual studies when they aren’t in use.
By vacating Gamla Torget 3 they could save 991 000 kronor a year on rent, says Claes Levinsson.
– That’s money we desperately need. This proposal is not set in stone, though. This has been a concern of ours for a long time and the reason we still haven’t made a decision is because we want to get this type of input from the students, he says.
No matter the decision of the Campus Board, it will not become effective until 2021.
– Should we decide to vacate Gamla Torget 3, we will need to look at ways to compensate this loss of facilities to the students. We will not neglect the students, we will have to find a good solution for everyone and use the facilities we have to their fullest capacity.