Across the country yesterday 130,000 students took to the streets to protest against cuts to higher education and fee increases. Around 20,000 took part in a protest in London, many of them school and college students who had walked out of lessons. In Southampton 100 students took part in a rally on campus which featured a march around campus, stopping at the Vice Chancellor’s office.
The protests marked the second day of mass action against the 80% cuts to higher education teaching budgets and proposal to triple University fees by 2012.
In Southampton the protest, organised by Students Against Cuts but not supported by SUSU, targetted the Vice Chancellor for his comments welcoming the proposals in the Browne Review. The protest began with a rally featuring speakers from the lecturer’s trade union, UCU and activists from local colleges as well as the organisers.
Around the country, nearly every University city saw a protest of some kind, with occupations taking place at University College London, London South Bank University, Birmingham University, Warwick University, Oxford, Strathclyde, Cardiff, Dundee, University of East London, Portsmouth, Leeds, Royal Holloway, SOAS, Manchester Metropolitan, UWE Bristol, Nottingham and University of Plymouth.
In London, an estimated 20,000 took part in a march from ULU to Trafalgar Square. Despite being peaceful, the march was heavily policed with riot police deployed from the outset. Stop and searches took place throughout the day, with anti-terrorism legislation used to remove masks from protestors.
At around half past two, a crowd of several hundred demonstrators were cordoned by police at the bottom of Whitehall and not allowed to leave until nearly half nine in the evening, with no access to food or water. Conditions were very cold, and school students as young as 13 were detained in the cordon. Horse back police were deployed after officers in riot gear had forced the crowd back with batons.
The Education Activist Network, who organised the protest criticised the policing for ‘heavy handed brutality’, although Met Police Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said the policing of the demo was ‘right’.
While many of those present were from London universities, a large contingent of school and college students also attended. They joined the protests against the University cuts and fee rises, but were also campaigning against the proposed removal of EMA (Educational Maintainence Allowance) funding.
This funding is currently avaliable only to those with a net household income of less than £30,000 p/a and pays a maximum of £30 per week. Without it, many children from the lowest income backgrounds would be prevented from staying on in education after the age of 16.
The Education Activist Network has called for a further day of action next Tuesday, billing it as a national student strike.