Last week, on Wednesday 24 November, an estimated 3,000 protesters marched in Brighton against the higher education cuts proposed by the Coalition Government. While the University of Brighton and the University of Sussex provided a large turnout, students from both institutions were also joined by individuals from a range of professions. Trade unionists rubbed shoulders with nursery owners and students as all turned out to display condemnation of heavy funding cuts. Brighton, Hove and Sussex Sixth Form College (BHASVIC) students were given the afternoon off to attend the march, which began at Dyke Road Park just a few minutes away from the college.
Wednesday was a day of nationwide walkouts by students of all ages, and over 20,000 of them had pledged to join protests. However, many secondary school students claimed that they had been threatened with expulsion if they skipped school to join marches. As shown by the participation of many sixth-formers in the march, the cuts also affect further education, with the government announcing the possible scrapping of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) to be replaced by a decreased ‘learner support fund’, provided to students according to their parents income.
The Coalition has cited a report which states that only 12 percent of students receiving an EMA would not have undertaken their courses if they did not stand to receive the payment. Yet Chris Thompson, principal of BHASVIC, claimed that the abolition of the EMA “will have a significant impact on attendance”.
Although Thompson complained that the Police knew the protest would be commencing near to the school before he or other senior members of staff did, he claimed to fully support the action taken by students.
The march was peaceful and attracted hoards of onlookers as protesters marched along Dyke Road and onto West Street before finishing in Victoria Gardens.
Trade unionists from the Britain’s General Union (GMB) handed out placards to the assembled marchers before the procession was met near BHASVIC by a cohort from the University of Sussex who had first attended a rally in Library Square.
Nick Clegg was the focus of many of the placards, which portrayed him as a traitor who courted the student vote by campaigning against higher fees and has now reneged on his promises.
At the march, students voiced their concerns about the cuts to EMA and about the expected rise in university fees.
One student from a local secondary school declared that it was “unfair that [the politicians] all went to university for free and they are doing this now. By the time we finish our education we will be in £30,000 of debt.”
Provision for young people is set to suffer even further as the government has announced they are scrapping Connexions, a counselling and advice service for those aged 14 to 19.
Jon Redford, one of the organisers of the march, asserted that “a lot of people are thinking the march won’t stop the cuts. That isn’t what we are aiming for at the moment.
“What we want is to build momentum, to raise a large movement and get students organised in their colleges.
“The adverse effects of these measures will have a knock on effect on the economy and therefore everyone in society.”
Even though the march focused primarily on the cuts to education, it also took in hand other issues.
Among the speakers were representatives from trade unions and local businesses, including the Bright Start Nursery which has also had its funding cut by the new government.
Holly Smith, a trade unionist from the GMB, spoke about the knock-on effect of closing the nursery: “This means that a lot of council workers who send their kids to this nursery will have to give up their jobs to be able to take care of their children”.
Although there was a brief struggle with police as some protesters attempted to enter the University of Brighton’s Gallery by Victoria Gardens, those who marched hold on to the belief that these peaceful actions will ultimately trigger change.