Students at UEA joined a march and “debt in” on campus last week, as part of a national day of action to push for the abolition of tuition fees. Carrying red boxes to symbolise the weight of student debt, protesters marched through campus shouting chants that called for free education and an accessible education system. The protest finished with a “debt in”, where students laid on the ground and pretended to be crushed by the weight of student debt.
The protest was followed by an open meeting of Defend Education UEA, the group that organised the demonstration. Students debated what the group should be demanding, as well as the tactics that the group might use to achieve its goals.
The protest follows Union Council’s vote earlier this term to back free education by a vote of 75 to 8, as well as a recent national demonstration for free education in London which was attended by 10,000 students.
The national day of action on free education saw 20 campuses take part in direct actions such as sit-ins, debt-ins and occupations. Students at King’s College London, the University of Manchester, the University of Lancaster, the University of Sheffield. and the University of Warwick all took part in occupations and sit-ins. Students also held a sit-in protest at the offices of Universities UK.
However, the day was marked by an aggressive police response at Warwick, where a sit-in to discuss free education was met with tear gas, tasers and three arrests. These police tactics were condemned by the National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts (NCAFC) as “brutal”. The use of tasers is apparently unprecedented on a campus. 1,000 students attended a “cops off campus” protest at Warwick the next day, which was followed by students occupying another building in protest at police tactics.
Beth Redmond, from NCAFC, said: “The widespread action today has shown that the movement for free education has really kicked off. We expect the local days of action on Saturday to be even bigger and we will not be scared off by police and university repression”.
As of Sunday 7th December, occupations were still ongoing at Manchester, Lancaster Sheffield and Warwick.