(From ‘The Cambridge Student Online‘, Thursday, November 6th, 2008)
Students from four universities and members of various political factions joined forces to protest against tuition fees.
The demonstration – made up of students from Cambridge University, the University of East Anglia (UEA), Anglia Ruskin, and Sussex University – was part of the East Anglia Day of Action. About 150 protesters carried bunches of red balloons and home-made cardboard placards with slogans demanding that the government ‘Make Tuition Fees History’ and that they ‘Bail Out the Students, Not the Bankers’. Many wore home-printed red t-shirts reading ‘broke and broken’.
The demonstration began on Christ’s Pieces with a speech by NUS Vice President for education, Aaron Porter. He told the crowd: “We are faced with a massive problem in the UK; the 2006 introduction of variable fees was an absolute disaster. We need to stand up to the Government and say no to the marketisation of Higher Education.”
David Howarth, MP for Cambridge also expressed his sympathy for the students’ cause: “I fully endorse everything you’re saying, everything you’re doing today. We need to say no to lifting the cap [on top-up fees] – the principle of free education is worth fighting for no matter how long it takes.”
Accompanied by a small police presence the students were kept under the watchful gaze of two top-hatted University Constables and two proctors in mortarboards and gowns. The protesters made their way down to Market Square before marching along King’s Parade and Silver Street to their next gathering point, Queens’ Backs.
Led by a man on stilts, a girl with a ukulele, and a giant red papier mach� pound sign (courtesy of “the collective genius of the East Anglian Masses” – that is, UEA students), the march progressed noisily but peacefully.
The only time the police had to step in was to persuade the protesters to stay on the pavement. Some of their chants included ‘Students unite, education is our right’ and ‘They say cut back; we say fight back’.
A representative from the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said: “Every one of the members of the current cabinet benefited from free education. How dare they pull up that ladder behind them?”
Banners revealed the presence of numerous political groups, including the UEA Socialists, members of Education Not For Sale, the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, the Socialist Workers’ Party and Socialist Students, as well as the Union of UEA students and the Cambridgeshire NUT. Onlookers also pointed out “at least two Norwich anarchists” and “a member of the Trotskyist wing of the Liberal Democrats”. Although the CUSU banner was carried on the march, CUSU Higher Education Funding Officer, Emily Hammerton Berry, was conspicuously absent.
She defended her absence to TCS, saying: “I came along to the rally at the end but I couldn’t make the march; I had two supervisions, one of which I couldn’t reschedule.” She insisted that she remains committed to the cause of free education, saying: “I really wanted to be there. I’ve been building for this as much as anyone. I attended all the planning meetings and went to the gathering afterwards to help organise future demos and keep the momentum going.”
On Queens’ Backs, Rupert Read, Green Party councillor for Norwich, told The Cambridge Student (TCS): “The question boils down to: do we want our children to go to university and be saddled with mountains of debts? The old system was basically fine – why can’t we have education like healthcare, free to all? If we increased taxes on the very rich a bit and stopped paying for stupid things like nuclear missiles and I.D. cards we’d easily have the money.”
The first speaker on the Backs, Socialist Students’ Edd Mustill, said: “Working class students are being excluded from university. At home I know mates who aren’t c considering going to university because they can’t afford it. This is real life; students are being priced out of Higher Education and no amount of bursaries can fix this.” He added: “This government doesn’t believe in free education. For them, education is a commodity and we are customers. For us, it’s a right to be enjoyed equally by all regardless of background.”
National Secretary of Education Not For Sale, Edward Maltby said: “Students are under attack. The Government is trying to shift the economic burden of the crisis onto the shoulders of students.”
Speaking to TCS afterwards, he added: “The money for free education certainly exists if the Government can spend £76bn on renewing the nuclear weapons system and bail out banks by buying their losses. The top rate of income tax and corporation tax is the lowest in living memory. There is no reason why we can’t raise the money to fund all public services decently and fund free education.”