Students demand free education

OVER 10,000 students marched through London last Wednesday to protest at the Government’s decision to abolish maintenance grants for students from low-income homes and to demand a return to free higher education.

The event was organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC).

The demonstrators also marched against the discrimination directed at students from overseas, stopping outside the Home Office to make this point. The march was vibrant, loud and colourful, and included many first time protesters.

The police themselves face a new wave of swingeing cuts to their numbers and the outsourcing of some of their duties to private contractors like G4S. They nevertheless defended the Home Office that is attacking their futures.

But they were not in a good mood and the students experienced some of the most heavy-handed policing in London for some years.

Once protesters reached the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the office responsible for this latest round of attacks on education, some students tried to enter the building. Smoke bombs, flares, eggs and paint balls were thrown while riot police from the Territorial Support Group (TSG) stormed the crowd.

The police then kettled a large number of the protesters, resulting in panic and confusion. At least 18 protesters were arrested violently. The NCAFC condemned this unnecessary and aggressive response.

Students then spread around the streets of Westminster in groups to avoid being kettled. They were still moving around and protesting well into the evening.

The NCAFC is planning another day of action on 17th November and a national student strike in early February.

They said: “We will build a movement that can win — and we will not be deterred, either by the violence of the police or the myth that protest doesn’t work. Because from history and from student movements all over the world, we know that it does.”

Last week Government released its Higher Education Green Paper — the first major policy paper since the election. It contains a series of changes that, if implemented, would further entrench the marketisation of universities and mean that governments could raise fees without even a vote in Parliament.

Students are already facing total debts in excess of £56,000 now that their maintenance costs will be added to their student loans and these figures are rising all the time. For students at elite universities the fees are even higher than the £9,000-per-year charged by most. Currently around more than half a million students receive the maintenance grant but that will soon disappear.

The NCAFC is concerned that many young people will be deterred from going to university and that higher education will be only for the wealthy.

James Elliot, from the NCAFC and a member of the National Union of Students (NUS) national executive, said: “These proposals are being openly touted by Jo Johnson (MP for Orpington, currently working in the Cabinet Office) as treating students as ‘consumers’. If implemented they will mean potentially unlimited tuition fees and, by linking teaching funding to graduate earnings, threaten to impose cuts on both humanities and the arts.

“It will be a disaster for students and education workers alike, meaning more fees and debt, and threatening jobs too.”