The National Union of Students is organising a demonstration in central London to raise awareness of the rising costs of attending higher education and to oppose cuts to college funding. The march is scheduled to take place on the 19th November.
The NUS hopes the march will highlight the impending rise in tuition fees laid out in the Higher Education and Research Bill which was passed by parliament in July. Now that the cap of £9,000 a year has been lifted universities will be able to raise fees in line with inflation. According to the NUS, this could mean fees hitting £12,000 by 2026.
As well as opposing tuition fee increases the NUS also hopes to raise awareness of the government’s cuts to maintenance grants for less advantaged students, which has lead to a drop in the number of students attending university from less privileged backgrounds. The march will also aim to highlight cuts to college funding, the reduction in the number of places on offer and the quality of the facilities available.
The broad range of issues has led to criticism that the march lacks a clear focus, unlike the march in 2010, for example, which focussed solely on the hike in tuition fees. There is little doubt that the higher education system is facing a wide range of challenges which must be addressed, however there are worries that the broad brush aims of the upcoming demonstration could make it difficult for the NUS to get its message across clearly.
Nevertheless, the leadership of the NUS insist that the demonstration will be successful in raising the issues students face, with particular focus being given to the effect of Brexit on Britain’s universities. Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, hopes the march will “call on the government to ensure that universities and colleges remain open and inclusive in post-Brexit Britain”. The government’s hardline stance on overseas student numbers will have done nothing to alleviate these concerns.
Universities minister Jo Johnson has consistently defended the Conservative’s record on higher education over the past six years and has argued that their reforms have improved the higher education system – something which many university students and staff would dispute. The NUS demonstration on the 19th November is an opportunity to voice those disagreements. Whether the government is willing to listen remains to be seen.