Students March For ‘Free Education Now!’

The 10,000-strong march passing King’s College London
The 10,000-strong march passing King’s College London

SEVERAL students were arrested at the end of an occupation of Parliament Square by hundreds of student protesters on Wednesday.

They were part of a 10,000-strong march against fees, cuts and the privatisation of education. The marchers chanted ‘Free Education Now!’ on their way through central London to Parliament.

There were some scuffles with the police when a number of students climbed over barricades and several hundred occupied Parliament Square.

Demonstrators from all over Britain also shouted: ‘Workers and students Unite and Fight’. Lots of placards said ‘Free Education – Tax the Rich’.

A lively delegation of Young Socialists won support for their demands: ‘Stop Cuts and Closures – Kick this government Out! Smash Tuition Fees – Restore Free Education!’ and ‘From the River to the Sea – Palestine will be Free!’

Many of the demonstrating students had small squares of red cloth pinned on their chests, in tribute to the fight of Quebec students in Canada.

There was a contingent of Mexican students calling for support over the 43 disappeared, believed killed by police or criminal gangs in collusion with the police. A group of Palestinian students carried a banner saying everyone has the right to education.

The protest was organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.

Many students were angry that the National Union of Students (NUS) had withdrawn its backing for the march from University of London Union in Malet Street.

Some of the young people spoke to News Line before they set off for Parliament. Beth Morris, a third year student at St John’s University, York, said: ‘The NUS completely stabbed us in the back and our Students Union has caved in to their line.

‘It’s absolutely necessary that we have free education as soon as possible. The current fees system is completely unsustainable. In the long term either universities will have to charge American-style fees or universities will just collapse.

‘The trade unions should support students. The struggle of the UCU (University and College Union) for lecturers’ pensions comes exactly from the same place that the struggle for free education originates.

‘We need to tax the rich and vote for free education now. I agree that there should be a general strike to bring the government down and going forward to a socialist society.’

Ewan Nelson, a first year student at Durham University, said: ‘I’m here because free education all the way up to university is vital for social mobility and equality.

‘Education can’t be blocked off to the privileged who can afford to pay for it. We’re all here from Durham to show the government this is not the way forward and that there is a popular mandate to end tuition fees.

‘It’s a disgrace that the NUS undemocratically backed off from supporting this march – this flies in the face of their principles. They should be supporting students fighting to abolish tuition fees.

‘The workers’ trade unions should support students. They are supposed to be fighting for free education and equality.

‘I agree with the unions calling a general strike to bring this government down. We need to move towards socialism.’

University College London third year student Angela Hutchinson, added: ‘I’m against fees – £9,000 a year is very expensive.

‘And there is unemployment for graduates and yet you’ve still got a big debt. I’m looking at doing a Phd. I’m doing a chemistry degree.

‘People who go into science are paid less, so there’s a lot of emphasis on people going into fields such as banking and accountancy. And it’s crazy the amount international students have to pay as well as all the paperwork they have to fill in.

‘A lot of them are put off and are forced to leave when their funding gets changed. I don’t think funding for education should be limited. The unions should take action. The NUS should support their members.’

Second year student Jess Sankey from Sussex University, told News Line: ‘I’m here because I think education has become an elitist occupation. They are trying to shut people out of education so they can continue to exploit us with no protest and no change.

‘Free education is part of a wider struggle against austerity. Education is a good place to start because more people can think more critically about those who govern them.

‘A better world becomes possible with educated people. And the unions should take action to get us out of the capitalist system.’

Third year Sussex student Andy Scott added: ‘I’m standing up for the basic right to free education, when so much in the world is spent on unjust causes.

‘All the government’s efforts are on increasing the stranglehold of big corporations and the banks. Fighting for free education isn’t everything but it’s an important start.

‘We need to end the mainstream legitimisation of austerity. We need to reinvigorate the trade unions.

‘The NUS not supporting this march on health and safety is just an excuse.

‘They’re the young Labour Party and in the run-up to the election, they don’t want to put any pressure on the Labour Party. A general strike and using this to bring down the government would be tremendous.

‘We need directly accountable and recallable representatives. That would mean a workers government.’

James Moulding, a graduate from Westminster University, said: ‘I’m here because I’ve been looking for a job for the past few months.

‘Free education is an absolute necessity in the fight against jobs automation. With free education, digital skills and data literacy, we can take control of our own futures. The NUS not supporting the march is rubbish.

‘They’ve been letting students down since 2010. We need to build an alternative to the NUS, a student union system based on the Quebec student general assemblies.’

Louise Williamson, a young mum from Dublin living in London, told News Line: ‘I’m against student fees, austerity and capitalism.

‘I’ve a five-year-old son. The fact I can get fined for taking my son out of school for a holiday and even if he’s ill, in school term makes me angry, too. Student fees are turning education elitist.

‘You’re crippling an educated generation with years of debt. The Scandinavian countries and Germany all have free education. It’s an even playing field. UK fees are not an equal playing field.

‘If you’ve got two or three children, you’re looking at £100,000 to put your children in university. The government should scrap fees, but I can’t see that happening with this government.

‘The unions should be taking action. They should be out supporting the students. There should be a general strike – hit them in the wallet where it hurts.’

Alasdair Ibbotson, from Stirling University CND Group, said: ‘We say fund education, not Trident. We have come here today because the government wants to spend £100m on new nuclear weapons.

‘This is when last year, one million Britons used a food bank at least once, and students are being made to pay thousands of pounds in tuition fees. Education can build a better tomorrow, nuclear weapons can’t The trade unions should support students.

‘We need to build an activist movement to effectively challenge the government. I’m wearing the red square which is a symbol of the students movement in Quebec. They had a mass movement and student strikes, something we need to build here.’

Jacob Fured, University College London first year student, said: ‘We’re protesting for free education.

‘It’s ridiculous that we have to pay for a fundamental right.

‘If they have free education in Germany and Greece, they can have free education here. We’ve got elections coming up next year, so there’s a lot of discussion about education. We don’t want people like Clegg who betrayed students. The trade unions should support students and the students union should represent students in this fight.’