At 2 pm this afternoon, the largest education protest since 2010 took place. An estimated 15 000 peaceful protesters marched from Marble Arch to the Houses of Parliament.
The protest was organised by UCU (University and College Union) and NUS (National Union of Students) in opposition to the new “Higher education Bill”.The new bill allows Universities to charge £9,250 a year in 2017, with the fees increasing in subsequent years to match “forecast inflation.” This means that in 10 years university fees could reach as much as £12000 per year.
However, universities will only be allowed to raise their fees in line with inflation if they meet “expectation” in the TEF (Teaching Excellence Foundation) rating system, which has also been introduced by the new bill. The TEF will be based of the NSS (National Student Survey.) The NUS is proposing a boycott of NSS, so that no universities can pass the TEF ratings.
Many of the protestors were angry at these changes, with some shouting: “You say cut back. We say F*** that!” One student protestor worried that the changes included in this bill would increase inequality in Britain: “it will only be the rich who can afford to go to University and get a better life.” Another protestor, who is currently in 6th form, said that he was protesting because he wanted the government to remember that “we are students not customers!”
In addition to students protesting there was also members of university staff. A former employee of UCL, named Carol, said that she was protesting as she felt there is “no financial justification” for the changes. She had seen first-hand how paying student loans had “negatively impacted her daughter’s life” and she did not want that to happen to other people.
It wasn’t just protestors who were enraged by the changes that would be put in place by the new bill. One observer had dragged her friends and family from her dad’s retirement party to watch the protest. She said that England had “reached a breaking point in education” and that she was “really glad” to see so many people protesting.
Once the protest reached the Houses of Parliament, there were several speeches including a video by Jeremy Corbyn in which he launched a message that seeks to unite students and labour to “work together to defeat the government.”
Unfortunately, there was a problem with the audio of his video leaving him sounding like Alvin the chipmunk. But in all the speeches, it was emphasised that this protest was only the beginning and that people need to “keep fighting for what we know is right.”
Some students had come from as far as the Orkney islands, leaving at 4 am on Friday to reach London in time for the demonstration. Despite the high student turnout, UCL students’ presence was low, with only 20 students meeting before the protest collecting placards. One student said that when she asked her flat mate if he was going to the protest, he asked “what protest?”
This coming Monday will see another protest outside Parliament when the MP’s review the “Higher Education Bill” for the third time.
Featured image: Lucy Bacon