Students and lecturers join forces for a national demonstration over cuts, fee rises in London

Gayathri | Tuesday, November 22, 2016 10:56 AM IST

University staff and students joined a mass rally in London to protest against rising university tuition fees, funding cuts and the privatisation of education.

In what was planned as the largest education demonstration in recent years, staff from the higher and further education sectors marched with students through central London on 19 November before assembling for a rally in Westminster.

The demonstration, which was jointly organised by the University and College Union and the National Union of Students, also aimed to draw attention to the uncertainty faced by students and staff from the European Union following June’s Brexit poll result.

At the rally, Sally Hunt called on Theresa May, the UK prime minister, to “show some humanity, do the decent thing and stop using EU staff and students as pawns in Brexit negotiations”.

With students “marching in large numbers, united with staff, we’ll send a clear message to Theresa May that we are a force too powerful to ignore”, Ms Hunt said, adding that it is “international students and staff who are suffering disproportionately in this post-Brexit climate of heightened xenophobia”.

She also called for action to address the expansion of for-profit education, the “slashing of further education” and the “exploitation of thousands of university and college staff kept on casual contracts”.

The protest, which took place ahead of the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Autumn Statement on 23 November, also heard from NUS president Malia Bouattia.

“The government is running at pace with a deeply risky ideologically led market experiment in further and higher education, and students and lecturers, who will suffer most as a result, are clear that this can’t be allowed to happen,” said Ms Bouattia ahead of the event.

“The government’s Higher Education and Research Bill proposes opening up higher education to for-profit institutions, much like Trump University, and opens the door for universities to raise their fees ever higher,” added Ms Bouattia.

Hitting out at the government’s “attack on education”, she added that the “further education area review process risks college closures across the country, having a particular impact on the most disadvantaged students”.

“We simply cannot put up with this,” she said, adding that “students are clear that enough is enough, and will be marching for a positive alternative, ‘United For Education’.”