As a new academic year begins it looks like it will be another turbulent term of student action and protest. Student groups are organising a wave of protests to coincide with the trade union strike action planned for the end of November. Young Academic‘s featured editor Robert Gant reports.
The main student protests will start on the 9th of November, as thousands of students and young people are preparing to descend on London to march in protest at high tuition fees and the government’s decision to axe its Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA). Following on from this, student groups up and down the country have vowed to stage a series of walkouts and occupations.
In a significant development last week, the NUS voted to support the action in November. At a meeting of its National Executive the NUS voted almost unanimously to support the demonstrations, pledging to use its vast resources to help organise the action scheduled for the 9th of November.
The action is being organised by a coalition of students and workers who operate under the banner of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC). While the NUS represent over 7 million students they have denied rumours that they are going to run the demonstrations. On their twitter page, the NUS National Executive said ‘[The] NUS resolves to support (but not run) the NCAFC demo this autumn’.
In a press release the NCAFC stated ‘This government is attacking students and young people. It has made the biggest cuts to education ever, is making millions unemployed, and has waged war on public services and youth centres. We won’t take it.’
NCAFC committee member Alice Swift believes the demonstration in November will attract large numbers of students. She said ‘Predicting numbers is very difficult but it will definitely be very big. The more people hear about it and the more the date is put out there the bigger it will become.’
As the student protest movement continues to grow she believes that last year’s protests have woken up a generation. ‘All too often the older generation has labelled students as being apolitical and apathetic and students have been accused of not taking a stance on broader issues. I think students realised that cuts and an increase in fees were something that needed thought about and acted upon.
Now with freshers coming through having seen our actions last year we have woken up successive generations. There is a feeling that new students want to be part of this.’
Last year student protests in London gained international media attention after outbreaks of violence threatened to over shadow the peaceful demonstration against fees and cuts.
A student who asked not to be named said he planned to attend the demonstrations in London and that he understood why there were incidents at last year’s protests. ‘People are angry and people have the right to express that anger on the streets. While I’m not saying it will get violent again or that I condone violence, I wasn’t surprised it turned nasty last year. The Liberal Democrats came to campuses before the election and made promises. They then broke those promises so young people don’t feel they can trust politicians anymore.’
University of Chester Student Union President, Dechlan Jarrett voiced concerns over future demonstrations. ‘I hope that future demonstrations will be held with much more care, and with more police numbers to prevent criminal damage. However, because of the publicity of last year’s demo, I reckon more [students] will take to the streets’
Noting that this year’s intake of the students are the last of the ‘3K generation’, Jarrett thinks there is relief among many students at avoiding the crippling £9K a year tuition fees.