RESTORE FREE EDUCATION! – demand 25,000 marching students

A section of the 25,000-strong march on London’s Embankment yesterday
A section of the 25,000-strong march on London’s Embankment yesterday

‘IN GREECE and France they have changed things by taking to the streets – you can change things,’ University and College Union joint general secretary, Paul Mackney, said yesterday.

‘Pass it on, the idea is “subversive’’ – together we can change things,’ he added, addressing a rally in Trafalgar Square at the end of a 25,000-strong national student march against tuition fees.

The National Union of Students (NUS) called yesterday’s demonstration in response to the growing anger amongst students at being forced into increasing levels of debt and being priced out of university as a result of the fees, which were tripled to £3,000 a year this autumn.

NUS leaders demanded a ‘cap’ on the fees – warning that plans to allow universities to charge unlimited sums are already being discussed – at the same time as calling for the restoration of free education.

Mackney said that whilst his union stood with the NUS in its campaign against lifting the cap, the UCU ‘is against fees altogether.’

Blair, Brown and Straw, who didn’t pay fees, had ‘pulled up the ladder for this generation’, he said, adding that the money for higher education ‘was diverted to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan’.

Mackney also said lecturers ‘will not spy on students for Special Branch!’

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber and UNISON leader Dave Prentis were among the many people who sent messages of support to the rally.

NUS President Gemma Tumelty said: ‘You’ve come from across the whole of the UK today. This is your campaign and we can’t do this without you.

‘You’ve come to say “no” to soaring levels of debt, “no’’ to any attempt to lift the cap on top-up fees, and “yes’’ to free education and access for all.’

She said that, as a result of the imposition of top-up fees, there were now 15,000 less students entering university.

NUS Vice-President Wes Streeting released 3,000 red balloons to represent ‘the soaring cost of fees’.

There were student union banners from all over the country – from Manchester to Bristol – as well as homemade placards and banners, including a giant cheque representing the cost of education. One student carried a placard simply saying ‘Scoundrel’, with a mugshot of Blair attached.

A determined contingent from the Young Socialists Students Society (YSSS) kept up chants of: ‘NUS leaders say keep the cap – we say smash all fees!’, ‘Grants not loans!’, and ‘We want free education!’

There was a deafening noise of whistles and chanting all along the route of the march through central London.

Jamie Lennon, from the University of Glamorgan, told News Line: ‘I don’t think the NUS is doing enough. I think the fact that we’re demonstrating on a Sunday instead of a weekday shows that.’

Katie Brown, 22, a student at the University of Central Lancashire, said: ‘I think that free education is a right, not a privilege.’