Student protests have a tendency to turn sour but should we simply dismiss their message because of a few scuttles? When thousands turn up to demonstrate there is clearly something that needs to be looked at.
Words: Daisy Greenaway, Subeditor: Mariya Savova
The “grants not debt” demonstration, organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, involved students from all across the UK. They all campaigned for free tuition following the governments decision to scrap grants for the poorest students. Without said grants it has been estimated that 1/3 of students currently receiving them would have been unable to continue their education. Opposition to the cuts accuse the government of attacking the working class. Chants of “education should be free not just for the bourgeoisie” were popular throughout the day.
Students from Aberdeen and Edinburgh universities joined the march, having arrived that morning after travelling down on an overnight bus. Even though Scottish students have free tuition fees they decided to show solidarity and protested alongside those paying £9000 a year.
One student, Finley, said: Attacks on education from this government are… grants – these are essential for people having an access to education and access to education is a very fundamental right. So, in order for education to be accessible, it needs to be free. Not only does there need to be no tuition fees, but students also need grants without getting tens of thousands of pounds into debt”.
Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, opened the march with a speech supporting the protesters and said: “This will be a peaceful demonstration. Stay safe and make sure the politicians know that we’re not going to stand for this anymore. Education is a basic human right. It is not something to be bought and sold. This generation will teach these Tories that we will not stand by and allow them to destroy your futures.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also furthered his support (he was previously photoed holding a sign advertising the event) by demanding the abolition of tuition fees, in a statement read out at the rally. During the march Green Party leader Natalie Bennett was also spotted.
The march was planned to set off from Malet Street – the heart of the University of London, pass the West End – popular with tourists, pause at Parliament – where the cuts were passed, continue onto the Home Office – as part of their pro-refugee stance, and then conclude at the Business, Innovation, and Skills (BIS) building – it is here privatisation takes place.
However, protesters then continued the march after being kettled by police and took Victoria Street despite traffic risks. From then on their movements greatly varied as they attempted to avoid further kettling by splitting, taking side streets, and then regrouping.
The protest resulted in 12 arrests for public order offences. According to Scotland Yard, paint was thrown by a “small group of protesters” outside the Home Office. It has been estimated that there were about 2000 officers patrolling the event. However, when scuffles broke out in some cases police lines were only one deep. Initial reports claim police were unarmed but a number were seen with battons. There were also accusations of police using “kettling” techniques to trap protesters, which they have denied – nonetheless, this was witnessed firsthand and students were heard chanting “plenty of kettles but not enough tea”. During the scuffles chants also included “you’re sexy, you’re cute, take off your riot suit” and “shame on you, don’t your kids need uni too?”