In an effort to push the government into offering access to all for a free, quality education, more than 15,000 students, teachers, and university staff members marched through central London as part of what they called a national protest.
Organized by the National Union of Students and the University and College Union, the protest, “United for Education,” found a large number of gatherers carrying signs that read “No fees, no cuts, no debt,” as well as “For sale: students’ future” and “Hi Mum, I’m broke.” The two groups said they are seeking “free, accessible and quality education” for all.
While more than 2,500 students noted interest in joining the protest on the event’s Facebook page and an additional 3,000 students said they would be interested in joining in, it is believed that the actual number of protesters was significantly higher than that. Authorities stated the number to be in the “thousands,” and NUS president Malia Bouattia claimed it to be around 15,000.
Bouattia spoke at the event to express her opposition to the Higher Education Bill. The bill would create a teaching excellence framework that in turn would rank universities across the country by the quality of the education students received, and offering the best-performing universities across England the ability to increase tuition fees according to inflation.
The bill would also offer educational institutions, including for-profits, an easier road to earning university status, which currently requires decades of work to obtain. As a result, applications from international students would increase, and the new universities would be allowed to increase their fees, reports Rebecca Ratcliffe for The Guardian.
The government is running at pace with a deeply risky ideologically led market experiment in further and higher education, and students and lecturers, who will suffer most as a result, are clear that this can’t be allowed to happen,” said Bouattia.
Bouattia argued that the bill would cause a decrease in the quality of the education that students received while at the same time increasing the amount of debt they incurred while attending school.
She went on to say that this week alone, before the bill had even passed through Parliament, a number of universities had already begun to advertise fees reaching above £9,000, reports Tom Powell for The Evening Standard. She added that as a result, many schools across the country could be forced to close their doors.
“The further education college review process risks college closures across the country, having a particular impact on the most disadvantaged students,” she said
Others who spoke at the event include Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn appeared in a short film featured at the rally in which he offered his support to protesters.
While a number of police officers were sent to the event to keep public order, the rally was seen as peaceful. However, some Twitter accounts did note that a group of students set off flares and smoke pellets outside of Parliament while pushing for a strike.
At the same time, the NUS has begun to suggest that students boycott the National Student Survey. According to the union, the national census taken annually allows universities to even further increase their fees.
In addition to the bill, other measures taken earlier by the government helped to lead to the protest. For example, maintenance grants totaling close to £3,500 that had been previously awarded to the poorest students across the country were done away with in August. In their place, maintenance loans were introduced that students are required to pay back after obtaining a job.
The Higher Education and Research Bill is expected to have its third reading in Parliament this week.