Students took to the streets of central London to protest tuition fees. They marched several miles from Malet Street to Parliament Square. The protest called for the scrapping of tuition fees, living grants for all students and a halt to campus ‘funding cuts’.
A group of Sussex students and Union officers attended the protest and were heard chanting: “Students and workers unite and fight!” and “Sussex. Cut the rent!”. They were also displeased with the National Union of Students’ (NUS) decision not to support the protest which had the support of the Labour Party, Momentum and The NCAFC (National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts). An NUS spokesperson told The Badger: “NUS national policy as voted for by the membership is in support of a free education system.”
“NUS has been at the forefront of the changing narrative on education funding, we have made real progress in keeping education funding in the headlines all summer.
“There was no prioritisation of the motion on a demonstration at National Conference in April, the membership expressed the need for us to direct resource to other areas of work. NUS is upholding the democracy of our National Conference.”
The University said: “We know that these are issues students care about and we absolutely respect everyone’s right to raise awareness within our community and beyond.”
The group traveled to London free of charge, in a coach hired by the Students’ Union. However, the coach was rather empty and The Badger have asked the union how many attended. Sarah McIntosh, Postgraduate Education Officer said: “The national demo on fees and education has been happening for seven years and as to be expected, the turnout has always fluctuated. This year, Sussex Students’ Union took 39 people to the demo.”
She also said: “Free education is extremely realistic. According to the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, there would only need to be a 2.5% increase in corporation tax (which would still leave the UK’s rate far below all the other G7 countries) and not only could tuition fees be abolished but maintenance grants could be reestablished too.
Free education is now a mainstream topic of conversation. It was in both the Green Party’s manifesto and in Labour’s Manifesto at the last general election and for the first time ever, the Conservative government has frozen the fee threshold, a reformist measure in [an] attempt to dissipate the momentum around the topic.
The overall turnout for the protest was also lower than expected with The Guardian reporting: “The organisers expected about 10,000 young people to march from Malet Street to parliament but the number who attended may have been significantly lower.”
The Badger witnessed a group of students break off from the main protest. They blocked gates in front of the Elizabeth Tower (aka Big Ben) and Downing Street, wearing masks and carrying a large ‘Rent Strike’ banner. They resisted police’s suggestions that they move but were not arrested.
One protester told The Badger that they believed high media presence prevented the police from acting. On the whole, the protest was peaceful with no arrests reported by The Guardian, despite one incident in which a protester attempted to punch a counter-protester who was carrying a Margaret Thatcher placard.
The march took place ahead of next week’s Budget. The Badger saw students let off numerous smoke grenades, a samba band playing and hundreds of placards demanding free education, showing dissatisfaction with the Conservative Government, and emphasising the financial hardships students face.
Photos by Jessica Hubbard.