OVER 15,000 students, lecturers and supporters marched through central London on Saturday to demand free education for all.
The largest education demonstration in years was organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU). The young demonstrators carried NUS/UCU placards saying ‘Boycott NSS’ ‘No Fees No Cuts No Debt’, ‘Rent Strike’ and ‘Education Not Deportation’.
There were banners from colleges and universities from England, Scotland and Wales demanding free education. Many students chanted ‘May Must Go’ and a lively Young Socialists Students Society delegation won big support for its call to smash fees, end zero hours contracts, restore free education and a general strike to bring down the Tories.
NSS is the 2017 National Student Survey which the NUS warns: ‘Will be used to allow universities and colleges to raise their fees based on their awards in the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).’
University of Manchester student Ellen Lawrence-Clery told News Line: ‘We’re protesting against TEF. They claim they are using this framework to bring up the quality of teaching with research. They are using TEF to grade universities gold, silver and bronze. The higher ranked ones will be allowed to increase tuition fees above inflation.
‘This seems extremely unfair because it will make it even more difficult for lower class students to go to university. It’s particularly ironic because they are cutting funding to colleges while expecting students to pay more. The unions should all take action together to bring this government down.’
Angela Whitear, Acton YS, said: ‘I’m here to defend free education. People shouldn’t have to be left in debt just to learn about business or nursing and also to get qualifications to enable them to get a job. Tuition fees have been increased again to £9,500!
‘Nurses’ bursaries are being cut and the government is privatising schools with academies. And Theresa May wants to bring grammar schools back. The Tories only want education for the elite few. The Young Socialists say we have to stop privatising and end the government cuts.
‘What we need is a general strike to bring in a workers government. Labour is not going to do the job which is getting rid of capitalism and getting socialism.’
UCU campaigns officer Ed Bailey said: ‘This demonstration is to challenge the government’s policy on education. In particular, we are concerned about funding – cuts to FE colleges that communities rely on. Also, in universities the government policy, particularly the HE Bill, represents privatisation and cuts in staff. It also means higher fees and more debt for students. We’re marching to oppose all this.’
Asked if there should be a general strike, he said: ‘I understand about trade unions not being able to take strike action. All unions should be able to take strike action without these draconian anti-union laws the government are proposing.’
Molly Carlin, St Hughes College, Oxford University 2nd year student, said: ‘The government’s education policy is extremely divisive. You can already see in the universities the class divide, especially at Oxford. The government’s policy is augmenting that with the increases in fees.
‘They are already so high it’s putting people off from working class families from going to university. Grading universities and setting higher fees will make this even worse.
‘Students marching with lecturers today is definitely positive. It’s important as both sides of the education system are affected by the education policy. It’s important we stand in solidarity. I definitely agree with the unions coming out on a general strike to bring the government down.’
Darren Haastrup, Peckham YS, said: ‘I’m against the government. It’s all about money. They are selling a dream – get education, get a job, get a home and family – that’s unobtainable. People are living in shared accommodation with families in a single room. Getting to university is hard and fees are creating masses of debt.
‘The young generation is being set up to fail. We’ve got to change all this, something needs to happen.’
Edinburgh University 1st year student Jordan Turner said: ‘We’ve come down to oppose tuition fees, rising student debt cuts to education and to show solidarity. The government should abolish fees, bring back grants and increase grants to match the cost of living. Unions and students should take action together to oppose these savage cuts, they are an assault on education.’
Karen Rajapakse, an FE lecturer at Tower Hamlets College, east London, added: ‘The government needs to fund our colleges properly, stop the cuts and give lecturers a decent pay rise. We haven’t had a pay rise for years. I’m at the point now when I feel there’s no dignity in teaching anymore – we’re so badly treated by the government. It needs to stop. It would help if all public sector workers came together and take action together.’
Edinburgh University 1st year student Sophie Johnson said: ‘I’m here to oppose austerity measures, to protect refugees’ rights and to protect our education. We have to abolish tuition fees. We need to unite to fight capitalism. The trade unions need to take action with the students. I support a general strike to bring this government down. We need a reform of the electoral system.’
Masters law student at Strathclyde University Nanda Kumar said: ‘I feel as an international student, we do need some jobs here. We pay huge fees for our education. I pay £13,000 a year. I don’t have job security. We just get a visa for 16 months. My course is for a year. In 12 months I finish my course and I don’t have a job so I’ll have to go home to India. It feels really bad. I feel they should give us some opportunity to work here.’
Shanon Howard, Goldsmith’s University NUS housing officer was handing out rent strike leaflets. She told News Line: ‘We’re campaigning against high rents. University halls rents go up every year but student loans don’t cover that. With my student loan last year I had £10 a week left to live on after I’d paid my rent.
‘A lot of the halls now are privatised and the companies are charging extortionate amounts of rent. We want rents cut to an affordable rate. We are campaigning across London and the UK. We are mobilising for rent strikes for this academic year. We want to remind universities that student wellbeing comes before profit.
‘All the trade unions and students should take action. We need to show the government that privatisation of education is unacceptable. I’d support a government that takes into consideration the needs of each individual and doesn’t marginalise people in society. Down with the Tories!’
Molly Jenkins a student at Trinity Lavan Conservatoire of Music and Dance, Greenwich, said: ‘Everything is so expensive, the fees are too high. Some courses you don’t even get loans or funding for, so you just have to get yourselves through, take what jobs you can.’
Lauren McKillop, also at Trinity Laban, added: ‘I’ve already gone through education so I’m in a massive amount of debt. While I’d like my debt to be axed, I’m more interested now in those coming after me and abolishing fees. There needs to be measures taken in the meantime to work towards that. The students and the unions should cooperate where possible to bring about affirmative action to make a difference.’
Cora Singer-Hobbs and Maddy Andrews from Leeds Beckett University said: ‘We’re here, we’re queer and can’t afford nine grand a year!’ Maddy said: ‘We disagree with the marketisation of our education. Education should be a right not a privilege.’
Cora added: ‘The amount of money spent on Trident is ridiculous. All our welfare services are being cut. We agree with a general strike to bring this government down and go forward to socialism.’
At a rally in Millbank, NUS president Malia Bouattia praised a movement ‘united in the face of this government’s attempt to privatise our education, to overcrowd our classes, to sack our staff, whilst leaving the vast majority of young people with the bleak choice of a lifetime of debt or a diminishing job market.’
She told the crowd: ‘We are marching today in defence of post-16 education, but also to fight for our future. We live in a time when we are confronted with crumbling conditions and pay at work, sky rocketing rent, fewer and fewer welfare services to help us through it. We live in a time when we are told to fear and exclude migrants, Muslims and Black communities. Where lecturers, teachers and nurses are turned into extensions of intelligence services and the border agency through Prevent and the ethnicity register in schools.’
She added: ‘We live in a time where so many want an alternative but that alternative is taking far too long to take shape.’ In her concluding remarks, she said: ‘That is why the NUS priority campaign is to Liber8 education – to demand free, fair and accessible education for all.’ She concluded: ‘Let’s see today not as an end in itself but as a beginning of a new process, one in which we reinvigorate our movement to offer a better future for our students: to reject the despair, inequality and racist rhetoric that this government is trying to normalise – and instead, offer hope. We have a world and a future to win.’
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt told the rally: ‘We are here with you today as we once again fight against rising fees, spiralling debt and the privatisation of education. But we are here today too because we stand for something bigger even than that. We are calling for Theresa May to stop using EU staff and students as pawns in the Brexit negotiations. Show some humanity. Do the decent thing. Give our people the right to stay.
‘We are calling too for an end to the expansion of for profit education. An end to the slashing of further education. An end to the exploitation of thousands of university and college staff kept on casual contracts. And – of course – an end to student debt.
‘So let today be the start of something bigger. The day when we agreed to stand up for education; for compassion; and for equality. In the end with your help, education will beat ignorance.’
Other speakers included TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, Dr Donny Gluckstein of Educational Institute of Scotland, along with video messages of support from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and a French student union representative.