On Wednesday 21st November thousands of students from across the UK protested in a march through central London against the rising costs of university and further education. The protest was organised but the National Union of Students (NUS) after delegates at their National Conference in April voted to hold a national demonstration during the first term of the academic year.
This demonstration marked the second anniversary of the protest against the tripling of tuition fees in November 2010 where 50,000 students took part. A violent attack on the Conservative Offices in Milbank occurred with several arrests.
This time however the NUS worked cooperatively with the Metropolitan Police negotiating a safe route which passed the Houses of Parliament and ended with a rally in Kennington Park. The demonstration was about three key things; education, employment and empowerment.
We all know that we are entitled to an education but with the scrapping of EMA, higher tuition fees and the cutting of postgraduate funding it’s hard to understand the government’s reasoning behind these decisions. Youth unemployment continues to rise with over one million young people without a job once they have graduated. Therefore it seems unfair that so many of us struggle to afford our rent, bills and a social life with no hope of a decent paying job at the end of our degrees.
I doubt that many of us have forgotten the promise Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats made, and shamefully broke. This demonstration aimed to put education and youth employment back on the agenda of politicians, where they should remain.
Encouraged by Leeds University Union and our Executive, Leeds Students were offered the opportunity by paying £5 for a seat on one of three coaches to travel down to London and take part in the protest. My friend Jessica and I went to London representing Leeds Student Radio taking with us a recording device and microphone to ask students at the protest why they were and what they hoped to achieve.
We arrived in London at 12.15pm near the Victoria Embankment which all students taking part were to meet. The NUS had ordered hundreds of placards with the words, ‘Educate, Employ, Empower’ on them for people to hold up. Many had made their own, with my personal favourite reading “This wouldn’t have happened at Hogwarts!”
Police stood either side of the road which marked the route we would walk along. When the crowd reached the Houses of Parliament several chants were shouted with the loudest being “They say cut back, we say fight back!”
It was clear from speaking to many students from other universities that we all agreed on one thing: the current coalition government has let down students.
There are still three more years until the next general election so unless things are done to help improve our current situation regarding funding and youth employment I can’t help but think it won’t be long until another large scale demonstration.
The Student Executive at Leeds University carried a large banner throughout the protest incorporating all the messages that students of Leeds University wanted the government to take notice of. The Exec represents all students at Leeds Uni and speaks on our behalf on a local and national scale. By encouraging us to take part in the Demo by either coming down to London or just tweeting ‘#Demo2012’ we demonstrated that by working together with other students from across the country we can try and make our voices heard and make a difference.
Photo taken by Anthony Haddley, Union Affairs Officer on the Leeds University Union Executive
Luckily this demonstration was peaceful with only a minor dispute between protestors and police officers at Westminster which resolved itself. The march ended with a rally in Kennington Park where NUS leader Liam Burns along with other speakers spoke to the crowd. Despite a few chants against the NUS and eggs being thrown on stage the speeches went smoothly. Even with the pouring rain and blustery wind we all ploughed on with the march encouraged by the music played by a samba band from York and cheering workers and residents along Kennington Road.
It was the first protest I had ever taken part in, and to be honest with you I was anxious about it all kicking off whilst being in the middle of it. However I really enjoyed myself because the sense of being a part of something with others that feel the same way as you do is a great feeling. Even though it was pouring down with rain and we were cold and wet we were taken notice of and made the national headlines during the day. We proved that as a national student body we could protest peacefully and were well within our democratic rights to do so.
I’ll be joining in with future demonstrations and I hope you will too, otherwise who else is going to stand up for your education?