Students marched through London on 4th November to protest against the government’s decision to scrap maintenance grants from 2016. The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, who organised the campaign, estimated that more than 10,000 students attended the protest, while “#GrantsNotDebt” trended on Twitter during the day.
The campaign organisers said that students from around the country took part in the demonstration, which aims to get rid of tuition fees and reverse the decision to convert maintenance grants into loans. Callum Cant, a member of the campaign, said “the government is impoverishing the poorest students for minimal gains”.
He continued: “It is an attack on the least privileged students which doesn’t save much money and causes misery. It is austerity which targets the poorest students. Our worry is that it will make university a lot more inaccessible”.
The march began at Malet Street and ended at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which is responsible for universities. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell addressed the crowd at Malet Street, supporting the campaign: “This government is betraying you and future generations and I’m here in solidarity for education,” he said. “Let me say this to you: your voice needs to be heard. Education is a basic human right not something to be bought and sold. This generation will teach the Tories that we will not stand by and let them destroy our futures.”
[su_spoiler title=”Daniel Jeakins looks at the case for keeping maintenance grants” style=”simple” icon=”chevron-circle” anchor=”Comment”]It was over five years ago that George Osborne revealed tuition fees would triple in price, and anger amongst the student population simply hasn’t died down. The most recent march, was just the latest attempt to put pressure on the government, sadly, however, this won’t be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Reform on tuition fees simply isn’t going to change under this government.
When you consider that just a 0.5% increase in income tax for the highest earners in society could make tuition free for all, it’s pretty outrageous that the government insist on selling us this lie that free higher education isn’t possible in the current economic climate. Maintenance grants for the poorest students are already far from sufficient, and as a result teenagers from the lowest income families are far too often deterred from going to university, regardless of their academic ability.
Education was free in this country for a long time, and although more and more people are now applying for higher education, evidence simply doesn’t suggest that this means free education is impossible.
Protestors are doing a great job and should keep fighting the good fight, I only hope one day the government will take notice.[/su_spoiler]
The campaign was also backed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who did not attend the march, but released a statement saying: “Switching back to a loan in place of a maintenance grant will push the poorest students into higher levels of debt. We must also look again at restoring EMA [education maintanence allowance] and increasing college places, so all young people have the opportunity to go to further education and, if they wish, on to higher education too”. A spokesman for BIS said it was “committed to ensuring everyone with the potential to benefit from higher education has the opportunity to do so, regardless of their background”.
The Metropolitan police confirmed that there were 12 arrests during the protest for public order offenses, stating a “small number of smoke bombs and eggs were thrown at police outside BIS”.
Deborah Hermanns, from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, said: “We know that the fight for free education doesn’t end at the end of this demonstration. We are not just marching for one day and for the abolition of fees. We are building a movement which can strike to win, just as other movements all over the world have won”.