Students and lecturers marched together in central London today, Saturday, in defence of education.
Several thousand joined the United for Education national demonstration, called by the NUS students’ union and the UCU lecturers’ union. Organisers claimed as many as 15,000 marched.
The march came as MPs prepare to vote on the Tories’ Higher Education bill this Monday. If passed, the bill will allow some universities to raise fees even higher than £9,000 a year.
It will also make it easier for private, for-profit, institutions to gain university status.
Most students joined the march because they want to stop tuition fees from being raised again.
Francesca from Soas university in central London told Socialist Worker, “My brother went to university before the fees were raised to £9,000. He paid the same amount in three years as I pay in one.
“Now we’ve got the prospect of fees rising again. It’s making it harder for the poorest students to go to university.”
Many students were also furious at the high cost of student living. Harjeevan from Queen Mary University in London said, “My student loan doesn’t even cover my rent. I have to work crazy hours during the holidays to save enough up.
“The government spends millions on Trident nuclear weapons but they won’t fund education properly”.
Josh from Hastings added, “We know some people who work during their courses and find it hard to balance work with study. I know one person who works two jobs, four days a week, alongside her full time course.”
Lecturers from the UCU union also pointed to the effect of funding cuts, privatisation and casualisation in universities.
One lecturer from Bath University told Socialist Worker, “The use of temporary contracts in universities is definitely increasing.
“Sometimes a student will be at a university longer than their lecturer. That’s not good for anyone. That’s why we’re marching with the students—when lecturers suffer so do the students”.
The march was loud and lively—and covered in home-made placards. Some had simple messages such as “Education is not a commodity” and “Free education for all”.
Some were more humorous. One placard demanded, “Deport Theresa May,” Another read, “Nerds against tuition fees,” while one simply said, “I’m not repaying—you are fucked”.
One of the liveliest sections was the block from Stand Up To Racism. Students on the block said they wanted to fight against tuition fees—but also against Islamophobia and in defence of refugees and migrants.
Speakers at the ending rally spoke out against attacks on migrants, and the use of the Prevent strategy in universities to make lecturers spy on Muslim students.
NUS president Malia Bouattia said Prevent forced lectures to become, “an extension of the security services.”
Jyoti Rajput from Goldsmiths was marching with the Stand Up To Racism banner. She said, “If the government can afford to pay for racist wars around the world, why can’t they afford to pay for education?”
And Francesca said, “The way to fight is to refuse to be divided. There are a lot of attempts to say migrants or refugees are to blame. It’s the same with talk of ‘benefit scroungers’. But it’s the people at the top who gain from that”.
Other speakers at the rally looked ahead at how to keep fighting after the march. Donny Gluckstein, a lecturer from Edinburgh College, described how an all-out strike helped them to beat a pay freeze.
“If you stand together, if you’re determined, you have the power to win,” he told the rally.
Students looked at how to take the fight forward as well. Eleanor said students needed to combine “traditional lobbying of MPs and support from trade unions” with “more extra-parliamentary protests”.
Others looked to more militant protests such as occupations and direct action. Benjamin, a recent graduate said, “My university was so corporatised they only allowed private, profit-making companies to sell food to students on campus.
“It would be good if students could occupy a space and set up something like a free canteen”.
And Damien said, “We should look at occupying in our universities and colleges. We need to keep protesting”.