Students across London walked out of lectures and took to the streets today as part of nationwide protests to demand the Government “come clean” on its plans for higher education.
The demonstration was part of a national Week of Action campaign organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) to fight the Government’s proposed reforms to higher education.
The NUS said that students will “demonstrate their anger” at ministers, who have not yet made their plans for reform clear since dropping a planned higher education bill earlier this year.
Students from London universities and colleges met outside the University of London Union at 2pm and ended their rally outside the offices of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills in Westminster.
Universities across the UK also took part in various actions, including marches, rallies, teach-ins, discussions and petition signings. The NUS hoped thousands of students would take part in the action, though turnout in London was lower than expected.
In a statement NUS President Liam Burns said that a national debate is needed to remind ministers that students are watching their actions.
Burns said: “When the government quietly dropped plans for a higher education bill earlier this year they didn’t drop their plans. They simply removed the opportunity for the kind of scrutiny that has been afforded to changes to the NHS.”
He also said anyone with a stake in education, including parents, lecturers, and students, want to know what the government and universities are planning for higher education.
Students from Goldsmiths College, Lewisham, took part in the protests. They are campaigning against the “privatisation” of higher education and cuts in funding for education.
The bill, among other changes, would have introduced a system that would make it easier to set up private colleges offering higher education in Britain.
The reforms laid out in the bill were opposed by the Liberal Democrats, who have been accused of breaking their pre-election promises not to raise higher education tuition fees.
EastLondonLines reported on mass student demonstrations against the rise in tuition fees to £9,000 a year in November last year.
ELL reported live from the protest as we followed the path of Lewisham students.
The protest has apparently dispersed – the Guardian has posted a round-up of the day’s events, including actions in other cities such as Sheffield, York and Birmingham.
The protest is still outside the DBIS offices, and David Willetts does not seem to be making an appearance. Lots of people are standing around and seem to be enjoying the protest, which our reporter said has been “very calm.”
Protestors dressed as clowns have performed a theatrical piece in front of police.
In an interview with TheNationalStudent.com, NUS president Liam Burns explains a bit more about the campaign and its media coverage.
The crowd is now chanting “Willets, Willets, what are you going to do when we come for you?” as it reaches the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) offices on Victoria Street. Protestors are chanting for Universities Minister David Willets to come out and face them.
Protestors are now sitting down chanting “we are all Alfie Meadows,” referring to the Middlesex philosophy student who was struck on the head by a police baton, and required emergency brain surgery, during the student protest in 2010.
Hannah Dee, chair of Defend the Right to Protest, made a speech saying: “It was just here that Alfie Meadows was hit on the head. Fighting for justice for Alfie is fighting for justice for everyone who has been a victim of police violence. They are scared that when we come out in our millions and thousands we will make a difference.”
“Shame on you” is being shouted at the police.
Bystanders have gathered to watch the protest.
The protest is now reaching Westminster. The turnout seems to be quite low – our reporter estimates that around 400 people have joined the protest so far.
An officer from the Protest Liaison Team, who wished not to be named, told our reporter there had been a “positive response” from protesters regarding their presence. He has been in central London since 8 this morning and commented on the low turnout: “I’ve got two daughters at university and am surprised to see the lack of students here. There are thousands of students and I don’t know why they are not here.”
Our reporter says around 30 police officers are walking in front of the crowd moving down Kingsway. The march has been peaceful so far, with students chanting and playing music and drums. A popular chant is “Willets, Cameron, on your bike – what we need is a general strike.”
Here are some pictures from the day so far.
Our reporter spoke to one of the officers, who said he would not arrest anyone “unless they murdered someone in front of him.” He said their purpose is to talk to the crowd and report back to other officers, as it is hard to make judgements from CCTV.
The Met had been expecting between 3,000 and 4,000 participants in today’s protest, according to an official briefing, which also includes the planned route from Malet Street to Victoria Street.
Our reporter at the scene says police presence is now “very visible”.
It is the first time today that the Police have deployed their Protest Liaison Team, who will be working in pairs and be wearing pale blue “liaison officer” tabards.
According to the Met their role is to: “provide demonstrators and the general public with a knowledgeable and visible point of contact should anyone wish to discuss the policing of the event.”
Students have now gathered outside University of London Union on Malet St. They will be joined by the Education Activist Network and the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts.
They are expected to leave at 2pm and make way towards Westminster and the Government’s department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Metropolitan Police have just tweeted “The Protest Liaison Team are in Malet St. Please feel free to speak with them. They are wearing baby blue tabards”
Here is an article from NUS about the different actions across campuses this week.
The Guardian have put together a twitter list with key people to follow during the protest.
ELL reporter Jo Abbas has joined students from Goldsmiths College in New Cross who are travelling to central London to join other universities for the protest.
About 30 students have so far gathered from Goldsmiths. Our reporter sent a photo of them marching down New Cross Road.
Samson Osun, campaigns officer at Goldsmiths student union, said he hoped the protest would be effective in raising awareness among new university students. He said: “It is good to see that people still care about their education and the cuts movement hasn’t died down.”
He said the small turnout from Goldsmiths was because students were busy with coursework, and that it would have been more effective if the NUS had arranged the walk out at a different time.
Soren Goard, who has been elected as Goldsmiths student union’s education officer next year, said:
“People are up for a fight but it is difficult to see if there is a strategy to win with the education cuts. The government are being quite vague about it and they are trying to get it round the back door essentially to divert away anger. They are weak and people are still angry on campuses even if they are a bit demoralised.
He said: “A little bit of action can go a long way, like the workfare protest getting Tesco to withdraw from the work experience scheme.”
Des Freedman, Secretary of the Goldsmiths branch of the University and College Union (UCU), said” “‘Willetts Must Go’ sounds like the most sensible demand I’ve heard for a while.
“We know that while some of the most far-fetched plans to privatise the university system have been put on hold while the government sorts out its other problems, higher fees, insecure loans and increased competition for students and resources are all in place. Today’s protest and the NUS week of action as a whole are reminders that our movement to defend universities from market reforms is necessary, timely and is not going away.”