STUDENTS from Exeter travelled to London last week, joining thousands of protesters from across the country on 4 November to march against proposed Government cuts to Higher Education.
Organised by The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), the demo was planned in protest against recent Government reforms including the replacement of university maintenance grants with loans to be repaid in addition to tuition fees and regular maintenance loans.
The march was attended by around 15 students from Exeter Socialist Students, who joined a crowd of what was thought to be around two thousand protesters at Malet Street, London. The rally, which was also attended by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell and supported in a statement by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, then marched by key locations such as Parliament Square and the Home Office holding placards and chanting in support of the Free Education movement.
The demonstration was described as largely peaceful. However, national publications reported that 12 protesters were arrested after a clash outside the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills building in which smoke bombs and eggs were thrown and riot police deployed. There were also reports of ‘kettling’ being used to detain protestors, a claim denied by the Metropolitan Police.
A further day of action has been called for 17 November to protest against the treatment of international students, migrants and refugees.
Speaking about the march, Natasa Christofidou, President of Exeter Socialist Students, said: “Education should be free and accessible to all, regardless of their socioeconomic background. However, tuition and maintenance loans are increasingly depriving the most vulnerable students in society.
“The demonstration was a great way of collectively protesting against austerity and detrimental governmental policies in aid of creating positive social change and raising awareness of these issues.”
The Students’ Guild holds no official position on free education. Guild
President Laura-Jane Tiley said: “The Students’ Guild exists to represent the views of students and we will always support students to have their voices heard about issues surrounding Higher Education.”
The NCAFC is also looking to call a national ballot for strike action through the National Union of Students (NUS) in February of next year. “This will be one of the biggest things the British student movement will ever have pulled off,” a spokesperson for the NCAFC commented.
A similar protest organised under the banner of ‘Free education: no fees, no cuts, no debt’ last year was attended by around 10,000 students and made national headlines.