‘Students’ future for sale’: Thousands march against education cuts in London
The national demonstration, dubbed “United for Education,” was organized by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU), an association of lecturers and other staff, who want “free, accessible and quality education” for everyone.
More than 2,500 students and university staff said they are willing to join the rally on the event’s Facebook page and another 3,000 signaled that they might be interested in joining the protest.
However, the real number of protesters was significantly higher as the authorities describe it as “thousands” and Malia Bouattia, the president of NUS, put it at 15,000.
The protesters were holding banners and placards that read “For sale: students’ future” and “Hi Mum, I’m broke” as well as “Fund our colleges” and “Education should not be a tool of division.”
They showed their opposition to the bill that would introduce a teaching excellence framework ranking the British universities by quality of education and allowing the best-performing educational institutions to raise their fees in response to inflation.
The bill also envisages creating easier ways for educational institutions, including the for-profit ones, to get the status of university – a title that currently takes decades to gain. This would, in turn, boost applications from overseas students and would allow the new “universities” to raise their fees.
Bouattia, who gave a speech during the rally, warned that the reform would significantly damage the quality of education and leave students in even more debt. She also called it “a deeply risky ideologically led market experiment in further and higher education.”
“This week, before the bill has even been properly debated in parliament – let alone passed – universities are already advertising fees above £9,000,” she said, adding that the measure could at the same time lead to college closures across the country.
“The further education college review process risks college closures across the country, having a particular impact on the most disadvantaged students,” she said, as cited by the Huffington Post.
Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner also attended the rally and gave a speech there. Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, appeared in a short video demonstrated at the rally and pledged his support for the protesters.
The UCU drew attention to the problems faced by university staff, which, according to Sally Hunt, the UCU General Secretary, “has been held down in recent years, while the gender pay gap has risen.”
“All the while those at the top have continued to enjoy inflation-busting pay rises,” she added. The UCU also called on the government to reassure the EU staff and students that they would not become hostages of the Brexit process.
A large number of police officers were deployed on London streets to prevent any potential breaches of public order, but the rally was peaceful and no incidents were reported.
However, according to some twitter posts, a group of students set off flares and smoke pellets outside of the parliament and called for a strike.
The public outcry that led to the rally was also provoked by some earlier measures taken by the government. In August, the government scrapped maintenance grants worth around £3,500 for the UK’s poorest students. They were replaced with additional maintenance loans that the students had to pay back once they get a job.
In June, the authorities also confirmed the abolishment of bursaries for student nurses and midwives by 2017, stressing that the measure would create extra 10,000 training places.