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Sussex students take to streets of London

 

London Demonstration in March Photo: www.andyworthington.co.uk

Two bus-loads of University of Sussex students will be joining students from across the country for anti-education cut protests on 9 November.

The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) have organised the demonstration.

The route will be between London University and London Metropolitan University and will have the protesters pass St. Paul’s Cathedral and the London Stock Exchange.

Michael Chessum, from NCAFC says on the organisation’s website: “In marching on the City, we are sending a message that we will not let the Government hand over education to the markets. “Education should be a public service, accessible to all – not a corporate enterprise.

“The march is a protest against the government’s white paper on education, due to pass into law next year.

The NCAFC is campaigning against the rises in student fees, the scrapping of the Education Maintenance Allowance and “the worst cuts in the history of universities”.

The government’s policies have also been widely criticised in academic circles.  An alternative white paper, published at the end of September, was signed by hundreds of academics.

The academics’ paper puts forward nine propositions on the value of public higher education.

There is, they state in the paper, wide public support for the proposals, even in the absence of public statements about their significance.

The paper also says: “Public higher education is not state controlled higher education, but publicly funded higher education that respects these principles and secures other public benefits appropriate to a democratic society.

These principles and benefits are put at risk by a market in higher education and the entry of for-profit providers”.

In an appendix the academics also argue that: “The commodification of higher education is at the secret heart of the white paper.

“The government seeks a differently funded sector, one which can provide new outlets for capital that struggles to find suitable opportunities for investment elsewhere.”

University of Sussex professor and signatory to the alternative white paper, Dr. Andrew Chitty said: “They [the government] are forcing the next generation to pay for the financial mess that the present one has created by saddling them with a lifetime of debt for their education.

“In that sense the plans are profoundly anti-future”.

The NCAFC have warned of a “massive autumn of struggle” if the government does not back down about the proposed changes.

The upcoming student protests are a follow-up to the marches last year in opposition to the decision to allow universities to raise fees to £9000 per year.

It also runs alongside the continuing protests at St. Paul’s cathedral by Occupy the London Stock Exchange.

Figures released by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) earlier in the year show that public spending on UK education will fall by 14.4 percent between 2010-11 and 2014-15.

This represents the largest cut to education in any four year period since the 1950s.

The report shows that the universities will face a drop in funding of 40 percent in real terms, although it is anticipated that the increases to student fees will offset the budgetary reductions.

Education for 16-19 year-olds will also be cut by 20 percent over the same period.

Luke Sibieta, senior research economist at the IFS, said: “having risen by historically large amounts during the 2000s, the UK’s education budget is now set for a historically large fall over the next few years.”

The planned march on London comes in light of early statistics from UCAS which show a 12 percent drop in university applications from UK residents compared with the same time last year.

However Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK, speaking to the BBC last week, warned “It’s too early to read into these figures at the very start of the applications process.”

A poll of A level students conducted by the BBC’s Inside Out program at the start of the year found that ten percent would be put off going to university by the higher fees.

More than half said that they would stick to local universities or consider studying abroad to reduce costs, and up to two-thirds said they would consider apprenticeships instead.

Dr. Chitty said: “It is as absurd to make people pay for higher education as it is to ask them to pay for a primary or secondary education.

“Education, at every level, should be freely available to everyone who can benefit from it”.

However universities and Science Minister David Willetts said when talking to the BBC: “It’s important that prospective students are not put off applying to university.

“Going to university depends on ability – not the ability to pay.

“Most new students will not pay upfront, there will be more financial support for those from poorer families and everyone will make lower loan repayments than they do now once they are in well paid jobs.”

The buses to the London demonstration have been organised by Sussex Stop the Cuts (SSC) which describes itself as “an open organising group for all staff and students concerned about the negative effects these cuts will have on the quality of education, research, and livelihoods at Sussex.”

Jeremy Prynne, responding to the government’s plans on the SSC’s website, said: “Are we involved in escalating protest, or are we inching towards revolutionary action?

“Must the latter at some point if we reach it, break links with the former, and diverge into a different path?”

The Big Lemon bus company will provide the buses for the shuttle to London leaving at 8.30am on 9 November.

Tickets cost £5 and are available from the SSC stands in library square.

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