March for Free Education

10,000 students march through London for free university education [Oliver Price | Contributing Writer]

Wednesday the 18th of November saw around 10,000 students and supporters parading from Malet Street to Westminster in the name of free university education. Police liaison officers said that a good outcome would be “peaceful protest”, and apart from a minor scuffle at Parliament Square by a fringe group where 11 arrests were made, the protest was largely non-violent.

The march was organised by the University College London Union, and had various groups participating, including but not limited to, the National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts, the student wing of The People’s Assembly- The Student Assembly, UCLU Labour, The Green Party of England and Wales, The Socialist Workers Party, and various students and students unions from across the UK.

Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire, Professor Quntin McKellar CBE in a recent speech said that: “In the short term the £9k fee should be indexed [raised] according to inflation.” Or that alternatively, the fee cap could, “…be lifted altogether creating a true market in Higher Education…” resulting in, “…real competition.”

If Professor McKellar’s second suggestions were implemented, it would mean that universities would be able to charge whatever they wanted in fees, potentially giving the opportunity for universities to compete against each other for students by changing their prices for their courses.

In response to Professor McKellar’s comments, Dr Shahrar Ali, one of the two Deputy Leaders of the Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW) said that: “People are going to flee, they’re going to have to go elsewhere even at the cost of mobility,” and that it would be a, “very short sighted move.”

He said he was fighting for, “Fair education, access to education for all; even in higher education in the universities. We rely on those people… to pursue the goods of humanity and at the moment they are being priced out of those options so we are doing ourselves a disservice.”

He made a comparison to Germany and other European countries with free education saying that, “even on economic grounds, [free university education] pays for itself.” He went on to disparage the current government saying that, “Education for its own sake is a value to be reckoned with, and that is something that is systematically downgraded by this government.”

Amelia Womack, the other Deputy Leader of the GPEW said that we have seen universities be, “operated more like a business than an institution for learning.” Regarding the cost to the taxpayer she made the claim that, “economists have predicted that these tuition fees are going to cost the taxpayer more than the old system, because they are so extortionate that most people will be unable to pay them in their lifetimes.”

She said that there is an, “inter-generational inequality,” because those politicians that introduced fees and subsequently raised them went to university for free and also got maintenance grants to supplement their education. Individuals paying off their education will have difficulty investing in their future, with a pension or a mortgage for a home, due to the sheer size of the student loans. Regarding the government she said that their policies in regards to education were, “hedonistic policies, thinking of the short term and not the long term.”

Nathan Steele, the President of UCLU Labour argued that he doesn’t, “believe that education should be something that you have to pay for; it should be accessible for all no matter what background you’re from,” and that you shouldn’t, “have to pay to get a good education, there should be a good education that everyone is entitled to.”

He said on the raising of tuition fees that, “due to the current job market, people are unable to repay those debt. So you’re winding up with system that you’re raising tuition fees in order to put people into more debt that they can never pay back. All you’re going to do is cause the government more debt in the long run.

Romayne Phoenix, Co-Chair of The People’s Assembly, expressed worry that students are, “not only are coming out of college with these great debts around their neck, but with the housing crisis and the cost of living crisis, how are they supposed to make their way forward in the world… and build a decent life?” She also criticised the Liberal Democrats as they, “reneged [went back on] their promise…” to oppose any rise in tuition fees.

While not part of their manifesto, there are rumours in the political world that if the Conservatives get in again that tuition fees will increase yet again. Labour have also yet to make a commitment, but Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour Party, has made speeches claiming that he would lower tuition fees to £6,000 a year if elected as Prime Minister. The Liberal Democrats haven’t made any official statement, but many students feel burned by them after they promised to vote against any rise in tuition fees, and then did the opposite once they got into power in the coalition.

The sheer number of students at the protest, and the amount of people that support free education, demonstrates that the cost of education will be a key point of contention in the 2015 General Election among young voters.

What do you think about tuition fees? Have you say @TridentMediaUK!

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