Over 8,000 students from all over the UK assembled in London last week for a demonstration in support of free education and opposing cuts to education funding. The march was organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) and the Student Assembly Against Austerity.
A number of Edinburgh students were joined by students from Stirling on an overnight coach travelling to the demo. The event took place under the slogan “No fees, no cuts, no debt”, and aimed to “provide a spark for further action” as part of “an escalation of opposition to the government’s programme of fees and privatisation in education”, according to the Facebook event.
A motion to Edinburgh University Students’ Association (EUSA) student council to secure funding for a bus going to the demo, which also included EUSA’s official backing of the demonstration, was voted down on September 25. Two trade unions, University and College Union and the Educational Institute of Scotland, donated heavily to make the bus affordable for students.
EUSA continues to hold multiple policies explicitly supporting free education, most recently in policy submitted to the National Union of Students (NUS) conferences last spring. EUSA has also been affiliated to the NCAFC since March 2013.
The demo assembled on Malet Street, on the campus of University College London, and marched to parliament amidst chants of “What do we want? Free education! When do we want it? Now!” and “Education is a right, not a privilege”. The march ended in a rally in Parliament Square, where some protesters pulled down barriers set up around another part of the square, while others continued to the designated area for the final rally.
Police response to this move by the protesters was mild: protesters were not removed from the area and dissipated voluntarily. Speakers at the official rally included MPs, trade unionists, and activists.
Eleven protesters were arrested after breaking off from the main demonstration towards the end of the march, but were all released without charge. The arrests were recorded as “assault of police”, “violent disorder”, and “affray”. The march was generally overwhelmingly peaceful with an energetic atmosphere.
The National Union of Students’ executive committee initially voted to support the demonstration, but its leadership withdrew their support just a week before the demo, citing the lack of public liability insurance and accessibility concerns. NCAFC organisers responded to this decision with sharp criticism, implying the decision had been political rather than practical.
Last year’s NUS national conference voted to support free education, but the issue remains contentious among the organisation’s leadership.