Students from Newcastle University joined thousands of other students to protests in London on 4 November. The demonstration, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) was a response to the Government’s plans to abolish maintenance grants for students.
The coach went down to the capital with 20 Newcastle students on board, along with students from Durham University.
“Just two days after the demonstration the Government announced plans to allow high-performing universities to raise their fees”
The protesters listened to a speech by shadow chancellor John McDonnell before marching through central London with placards and banners. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also gave his support to the protest, and Natalie Bennett, leader of the Green Party of England and Wales, was also in attendance.
The organisers of the demonstration have called for an end to tuition fees. Just two days after the demonstration the Government announced plans to allow high-performing universities to raise their fees above £9,000, in line with inflation.
Universities would be ranked based on criteria such as the quality of teaching, student satisfaction and graduate employment rates, with the top universities able to raise their fees.
The proposals, by Jo Johnson, universities minister, also include establishing and Office for Students, that would represent student interests. It would also become easier for new universities to open, and targets would be introduced to encourage universities to accept more students from disadvantaged and minority backgrounds.
Although the proposals have only just been announced the move has already attracted widespread criticism, including from the National Union of Students.
Allison is holding a meeting on Wednesday at 5pm, in the Dunstanburgh Room in NUSU Central, to discuss further student action. There are plans for a national student strike later in the year, as well as further protests in London.
Several of the Newcastle students who went down to London for the protest spoke to The Courier about their experiences:
It is important for current students to show solidarity with future students. I wouldn’t have been able to afford to come to university if it wasn’t for my maintenance grant, and it isn’t fair that future students will not be able to attend – not based on merit, but on how much money they have. Furthermore, as a feminist, I recognise that fees and cuts are a feminist issue, because they disproportionately affect groups traditionally marginalised in society. This is why Lucy Morgan, the Gender Equality Officer, and I marched with Feminists Against Fees placards.
The Free Education march which happened in London last Wednesday, reported to have attracted around 10,000 students from far and wide, was a successful, and despite what the papers would have you think, peaceful protest.
Newcastle students travelled with students and union members from Durham and were met by thousands of protesters from many other universities. There was a great vibe with chants and the rhythmic hammering of drums as we marched together past Parliament in solidarity against injustice towards students, refugees and other minorities suffering under this government. Despite encountering turbulence caused by a small group of other protesters unaffiliated with our cause, we marched peacefully yet strongly to fight for what we believe in.
Spending 14 hours on a chilly coach to and from London may not seem not like the greatest way to spend a Wednesday; but when students are lambasted to the extent that is reality under this government, we all have to make our voices heard.
I went to march against the cutting of student grants, which will mean students from modest backgrounds will graduate with around £10,000 more debt than their luckier peers. This effective tax on poor parents is an affront to meritocracy. It is merely an act of political posturing as grants count towards the deficit, whereas loans do not; although of course they contribute the same amount to the national debt.
I also marched in favour of free education. I believe that higher education has a social benefit, so that even those who do not attend benefit from its existence. A brilliant entrepreneur may not have a degree, but you can bet their accountant will, and their lawyer and doctor. Their web designer probably will and any marketing or publicity managers. Businesses could not grow and succeed without the university educated professionals which underpin such success. Is it justifiable that such an entrepreneur should not contribute towards the cost of the education which builds their business?
The government will continue to disregard students as long as students ignore government. We need to ensure our voices are heard.