The National Demonstration to demand quality further and higher education recently took place in London. UNIfied’s Dave Russell went along to see what was what.
You heard the march before you saw it. The primal drumbeat from the crowd and politically charged chants pulsated, resonating like an echoing wave, ringing out along the streets of London as the crowd flowed like a torrent, a tirade, powering steadily through roads and junctions, industrial yet organic.
The march toward the demonstration had started hours earlier, and the journey to get there earlier still – with participants travelling from all over the country, most headed up by their respective student union reps. Liverpudlians, Mancunians, Geordies and many more all eager to march and have their voices heard after half a day on their coaches or trains.
Lining up along the pavements at the meeting point, the atmosphere was one of comradery and palpable excitement, with political passions running rife and charged conversations aplenty.
It was here that we spoke to the friendly yet stern police officers who kept a keen eye on the goings on. Refusing, perhaps unsurprisingly, to pose with a banner or sign, we continued to talk to them and ask their opinion about the march and demonstration to abolish student fees. Of course, they declined to comment officially, stating that as officers of the law they had to remain politically impartial. Off the record and anonymously however, they told us that they were fully supportive of the causes which the march promoted.
Overall the support for the march was huge, with many onlookers stopping, filming, clapping, cheering, and joining the demonstration.
Journalists ran ahead of the parade and vaulted to get the best vantage points – national newspapers were covering the event.
An unofficial figure obtained from the police before the march started was 3,500 people, but by the end we were told around 15,000 had been involved, many carrying messages written on signs and banners such as “Books Not Bombs”, “Can’t even afford a placard”, and “I don’t usually make signs, but this takes the piss”.
Before attending I had believed that the march was just about student’s fees, but upon arrival was greeted by placards such as “No to Racism; No to Trump” and other similar phrases centred around racism, sexism and inequality.
I was also very surprised to find many lecturers taking part in the march, and upon speaking to them realised how their plight was affected by the same issues as the students – lack of resources, inequality and misuse of funds. These topics along with those of the T.E.F. and the N.S.S. boycott were the main points at the heart of the march.
T.E.F. – what is it and what does it mean?
The T.E.F. (Teaching Excellence Framework) is a new law recently passed which relates the value of teaching to the amount an institution can charge in fees, in turn (theoretically) increasing the amount their lecturers are paid and the resources and facilities available to them.
What this means is that private organisations may now give degrees, in turn meaning that the rich can buy their degrees from better taught and higher ranked institutions; essentially creating an elitist, class based divide between students and their respective degrees, and leading to a decrease in “lower-class” high-level degrees and qualifications. But fret not, the N.U.S. has a solution.
The N.S.S. (National Student Survey) Boycott
The T.E.F. is going to use the N.S.S. to decide which degree-giving institutions are more worthy of higher fees.
The boycott of this survey plans to tactically place a stick in the spokes of the T.E.F. as the government will be unable to gain accurate feedback from students.
The boycott is a reaction to the higher education (H.E.) reform, with the aim to encourage the government to review its stance on the equality of future education.
Alongside these definitive messages to the government, there was also the obligatory piggy-backing by other political groups supporting the cause, most notably from The Socialist Party and Labour supporters – including the ultra-left-wing group “Momentum” – an independent organisation which has evolved from the campaign to re-elect Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the labour party in 2015.
Any evidence showing Conservative support for equality in education was completely absent or impossible to gauge amongst the sea of Anti-May signage, which were even more popular than the Anti-Trump placards.
There was even one brave young man dressed as the P.M., proving that political satire and high-humoured spirits from the public were still evident even after the shocking events of Brexit and Trump’s ascension to President Elect, both of which left many astounded and unable to choose whether to laugh or cry.
Generally, the diverse array of individuals attending came together colourfully, peacefully and happily – with only a select few troublemaking dissenters entering quarrelsome squabbles with police resulting in just four arrests – and with most attendees travelling safely home with the warm feeling of accomplishment to stave off the cold.
We shall have to wait and see how the government reacts to their public’s fiery passion and the warmth of their message – whether the politicians will acclimatise and listen, or whether they will shut people out to survive the harsh conditions of the environment which they have created.