15,000 march through London to protest government higher education plans

Last Saturday thousands of students and lecturers from across the UK travelled to London for the event which began with a march from Park Lane to Parliament Square followed by a rally including speakers such as the NUS president Malia Bouattia and the prominent left-wing writer and journalist Owen Jones.

When asked why they were protesting, protesters gave a wide range of answers. Many were angry about the new Higher Education Bill and its implications for university students and staff, others wanted a reverse to the cuts in college funding set to be implemented during the course of the current Parliament. A few were even calling for nothing short of a Marxist revolution, but chants of “One solution, Revolution” gained little traction in the crowds compared to old favourites, “What do we want? Free education,” and, “Oh when the beans come out the tin”.

The wide range of issues the protesters hoped to raise were reflected in the range of slogans on the placards they were carrying, such as ‘Cut War Not Welfare’, ‘End Islamophobia’, ‘No to Trump’, ‘Fight for Socialism’, ‘Tories Out’ and the quaintly British, ‘Stop Being Silly’. Far left groups such as the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) were out in force, although it was difficult to determine whether they were there to support the protest or more interested in trying to pick up new recruits. Unlike demonstrations in previous years, at no point did things turn ugly. Instead of kettling demonstrators, the police were friendly and helpful.

At the rally in Parliament Square towards the end of the day, several speakers criticised the planned Teaching Excellence Framework and called for a boycott of the NSS (National Student Survey) in order to disrupt the implementation of the controversial policy which could result in further increases in tuition fees. Many  voiced fears that a loosening of regulation would allow private companies to easily establish for profit educational institutions and label them as universities, something the Government insists will offer students more choice. But many fear it will allow Trump-style universities to begin to operate in Britain.

Half a dozen other issues were raised at the demonstration. It seemed that people weren’t outraged by any single policy. But they were deeply uneasy about the Government’s ongoing commercialisation of the higher education system and potential implications for university students and staff.

Ian White 

(Image: Evening Standard)

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