A national demonstration organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) and Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) took place in London on Saturday, 19 November.
The protest was named ‘Unite for Education’, and aimed to demonstrate many grievances against the UK Government’s current policies regarding student’s rights, education access and fees, as well as migrant and immigration policies that affect students from European Union and other countries outside the UK. The protest was attended by what was reported to be 15,000 people, and saw one of the largest turnouts ever for an NUS demonstration.
The Edinburgh University Students’ Association, in coalition with the Students’ Associations for Heriot-Watt University and Edinburgh Napier University, brought a large group of 45 students from the three Universities in Edinburgh.
The cost of the coach bus was subsidised by the Students’ Associations, however the students still travelled nine hours through the night both ways to attend the event.
The Student also attended the demonstration, and observed as Edinburgh students and sabbatical officers wielded self-designed banners, signs, and placards, as well as waved flags, shouted into megaphones and beat on drums.
Students, union workers, teachers and professors all marched togetherdown the 3 mile route, chanting slogans such as “students and workers unite and fight”; “I believe that we will win”; “What do we want? Free education; when do we want it? Now”; and “No borders, no nation, free education”; as well as many others. They also sang songs commonly associated with both the UK and US labour and student movements, such as Jim Connell’s “The Red Flag,” and Pete Seeger’s “Solidarity Forever.”
The event, which took place in the UK capital in the early afternoon, began with a march starting on Park Road, passing well known monuments such as Hyde Park, Trafalgar Square, 10 Downing Street, London Bridge, and the UK Parliament, before ending in Parliament Square with a rally which saw speakers such as the President of the NUS, Malia Bouatitia, and the General Secretary of the UCU, Sally Hunt.
Bouatitia, who was greeted with rousing cheers and applause from the crowd, opened by expressing what she believed herself, the NUS, the UCU, and all the people in attendance should be marching for.
“We are marching today in defence of post-austerity education, but also to fight for the future of our society. We live in a time when we are confronted with crumbling conditions, sky-rocketing rents, and fewer and fewer services to help us through it.
“We live in a time in which we are told to fear and exclude migrants, black communities, and Muslims; where lecturers, teachers and nurses are turned into extensions of intelligent services; with border regulations, Prevent, and ethnicity registration in schools; where hate crime is rising in the post Brexit world, where students feel less safe on campuses.”
She also spoke about her plans for leading the NUS and successfully campaigning against the government’s current education, immigration, and welfare policies. “We live in a time when so many want an alternative, but that alternative is taking far too long to take shape.
“We need to be that alternative. This is why, as NUS President, my efforts this year aim to focus both on the challenges ahead, as well as putting forward that alternative vision,” she said.
Boutatita concluded with a statement about the issues which she felt students should protest not just in the UK but around the world.
“Let this be the time when we unite against all forms of fascism, when we conquer anti-semitism, when we tackle hate crime, when we make our campuses and communities a safe place for all and show collective strength against all attempts to divide us.
“Let us see today not as an end in itself, but as the beginning of a new process, one in which we reinvigorate our movement to offer a better future for our students, to reject the despair, inequality and racist rhetoric that our government is trying to normalise, and instead to offer hope.
“We have a world, a future to win,” she concluded.
Hunt also spoke from the perspective of teachers and professors, saying how happy she was that the UCU had come together with the NUS to host the protest.
“I am proud of the enduring relationship between university and college staff and our students. When the government tripled university fees, we were there with you.
“When they did it again in 2010 we were there with you then, and we are here with you today as we once again fight against rising fees, spiralling, debt, and the growing privatisation of our education system, and we are here today because we stand for something bigger and better,” she said.
“Let today be the start of something bigger, the day when we agree to stand up for education, for compassion, for internationalism, for equality. In the end, with your help, education will beat ignorance. Let’s keep fighting for what we know is right,” she continued.
MP Jeremy Corbyn also addressed the crowd with a virtual statement made to show encouragement and support for the protesters and their cause.
“Together we can tackle student debt, reinstate education which is accessible to the masses, and which is free for all university students. We must ensure that the benefits of education are accessible to all.
“I wish you well today, and promise we will be working together to defeat this government and its appalling approach to all facets of government,” the leader of the Labour Party said to shouts of support from the crowd.
Image: JJFD Photography