On Wednesday, I was surprised to see hundreds of police officers while I walked from Holborn to Bloomsbury.
I was unaware of the biggest ever university student mobilisation and the significance of this event.
My interest as an academic and social movement researcher forced me to leave my other commitments and witness this historical event.
I was astonished to see thousands of university students participating in the national demonstration to end tuition fees and student debt.
The national demonstration was organised by the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts. It was supported by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the Unite union. Students and new lecturers from around 60 universities participated in the protest.
The protesters gathered at the University of London on Mallet Street. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, students’ representatives and union members addressed the rally.
After that the rally marched through Leicester Square and Westminster taking in Parliament House and the Home Office before the final gathering took place at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
It was a largely peaceful march with one incident involving a minor scuffle with police towards the end.
The students protested against the Government’s plans to scrap maintenance grants, announced by Chancellor George Osborne this summer. The protesters fear that under this plan the students grant available for low income families, will be replaced by loans that would affect the student funding.
Protestors were of the opinion that free education is a human right.
Money is concentrated in the hands of a few people and that money should be used to build the future of students.
Lot of young students looked engaged with this social movement and were hopeful that this protest would make some changes in the society and help deserving students get an education.
Some protesters claimed that they were showing solidarity with University staff currently facing pay cuts and struggling with their working conditions. Socialist students were in for a frontal fight with austerity.
They benchmarked this mobilisation against the South African victory of social movement defeating the planned fee rise there. The protestors confirmed that this protest is just one of the events of planned mobilisation and among other events planned.
The International students’ campaign has called for a day of solidarity to take place on 17th November, in order to protest against what they call is the government’s “Racist” policies.
One of the young teaching staff mentioned that she was fighting against capitalism. She claimed that students are not consumers and the universities should not be profit makers.
Instead they should look at the students as the future of the society and the builders of a strong secular nation.
One of the sympathisers mentioned that he graduated in 1995 at a time when students studied because someone else paid for their fees.
Society is changing and the greed of the profit makers is at an all time high, he said. He acknowledged the fact that it’s a global economic crisis but that does not give employers and ruling party the privilege to milk poor students.
One student mentioned that she comes from a poor socio-economic background and none of her school mates have managed to get into universities. She said she was destined to be “born poor and die poor – unlike the rich lads”.
“This is the time that our voices are heard and we together make a larger impact. We will fight till we win”, she added.
One of the participants argued that the student loan system is soon going to collapse as not many university graduates are in the position to repay the loans. So the government would be better off reducing tuition fees.
The students’ movement and students participation in union activities is not new in British society.
The last big student activism wave began in 1960 and over covered multiple protests. The current wave of protests began in 2010 and has created awareness about rising tuition fees and its impact on the British education system.
Rising tuition fees and declining learning facilities have created a negative impression of a system that is revered around the world. The anger and injustice felt by students seems to have mobilized into a impactful social movement.
I am not certain if the British economy can sustain a system that provides free education to millions of university students but this social movement definitely makes me think that reduced fees and a good education can create a golden mean to form a more equal society.
I hope and pray that the current capitalist system can be tweaked to accommodate an appropriate level of socialist elements thereby meeting the needs of a majority of students.
It’s time for political parties and society at large to take cognizance of the latent energies of the youth which may otherwise be channelled into more radical thought processes.
If this is not done then we may see bigger and more radical protests.
The author is an academic and researcher. The views expressed here are her own and do not reflect those of the UKAsian or any political organization.