U.K. Students Have Won the Battle But Not the War
By Hwaa Irfan
It is at times like these that we are reminded of one true reality, that the present is the only period of time is within one’s control. We impregnate a concept of the future with dreams, and our imaginations, and may even plan it, but we do not what it may hold, after all it is what we do here and now that has some impact on tomorrow, and whatever we are not willing to let go from the past!
For youth this is a major crossroads in their lives, at a time when they become more responsible for their own lives. Yet, here and now their “betters” have made a really big mess that locks them out of their own potential. That potential was supposed to be fulfilled with the education system created by their “betters” who have mismanaged their world. So left with that reality one is left with a choice, to give up, or to fight for one’s right to take one’s place in the world, and with an open heart, hopefully help create a better world.
UK students mass protest, in the City of London, over coalition Government cuts and tuition fees. Attempts to join forces with the Occupy LSX movement, was thwarted by an overwhelming numbers of riot Police.
While protests have sprung up all over the world as 2011 comes to a close, British students have been standing up for their right to take their place in the world in recent times for the past two years as the anti-austerity measures dig its heels in threatening to lock students into the nightmare of no-man’s land. A State faced with a burgeoning welfare bill is not a future to be had encaging one into an unaffordable life that was costed at £14,400 a year in 2010 by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for a single person – that is how expensive living in the U.K. is with the Office of National Statistics 2010 revelation that 19% (i.e. 1/5th) of British homes possessing only one employed person. With that reality confronting one’s “future” British students have been faced with the Hobson’s choice of standing up and being counted when university fees were set to triple in 2011.
The ongoing protests and sit-ins since 2010 have now achieved a degree of success with 1/5th of universities deciding at the last moment to cut tuition fees set for autumn 2012 according to The Office of Fair Access, OFFA. From an agreed £9,000 – as the standard fee that was set in July 2011, the fees will be £7,500- £8,354. Not a significant drop, but one that has been advanced by London South Bank, Aston, Nottingham Trent, St Mary’s, Teesside, Wolverhampton, Cumbria and Southampton Solent universities, and hopefully Chester, Chichester, Hertfordshire, Huddersfield, Leeds Trinity and the University of West London. However, this took an incentive from the coalition government allowing for universities to bid for a share of 20,000 for full-time undergraduates for universities that set a fee above £6,000 per annum.
Until the recent university fee hike, there was an annual fee set at £3,290 per annum, in a country that has one of the highest standards of higher education in the world at a rate that gave access to students from a wide variety of backgrounds. British students prevented themselves from paling into insignificance by undertaking ongoing protests and sit-ins in recent times since 2010.
Protests began in October 2010 at the prestigious University of Oxford when Business Secretary, Vince Cable had a scheduled visit, which was canceled due to the protests. Refusing to be ignored, the nation’s student unions began to organize and their second protest took place soon after on November 3 2010 in Dublin, Ireland.
The first official protest-cum-demonstration marched from Whitehall – the home of the Prime Minister, Downing Street with the approval of the Metropolitan police. The students werre not alone, and the march included support from bodies like the Socialist Party, the Green Party, The National Pensioners Convention, the Young Communist League, and members of the Labour Party. The most unlikely group the pensioners took part because of their strong belief that the community should be invested in without burdening those who are starting out in life with a mountain of debts!
The Occupy Movement really began with these students in 2010 when they began sit-ins that occupied the very establishments that provide their education. Those occupations since October 2010 have been widespread throughout the U.K. and has included:
- Bradford University
- Bristol University
- Cambridge University
- Edinburgh, Scotland (19 universities)
- Goldsmith University
- Kings College London University
- Leeds University
- London School of Economics
- Manchester University
- Nottingham University
- Plymouth University
- Sheffield University
- Slade School of Fine Arts
- SOAS students occupied the Brunei Gallery
- St. Andrews University
- University College Falmouth
- University College London
- University of East London
- York University
Students and some staff were suspended after one day of occupation of Middlesex University Library in order to save the Philosophy department which took place in May 2010, however the occupation continued for 18 days ending with a High Court injunction after the occupation expanded to other parts of the University including the Dean’s office.
Occupations also included other establishments like the headquarters of the Conservative Party, after a march of 52,000 students ended with 35 arrests. Other government establishments included John Hemming, MP’s office in Birmingham which was occupied. The Rolls Royce containing Prince Charles and his wife Camilla as they were on their way to the theatre was attacked soon after the decision to triple university fees in September 2010 with bottles after a clash with the police outside Parliament. In November 2010 clashes, a group of school uniformed students persuaded a group of angry to respect public property – an empty police van outside Whitehall was turned over and painted with graffiti, and a bonfire was lit close by.
One of the longest occupations was at Glasgow University which lasted 6 months. The students were able to do so because they occupied the disused Hetherington building on the campus.
Concerned about the violence, the governmental itch to ban all student protests was only abated by a fear that a ban would make things worse. Behind the marches, protests, and sit-ins, student bodies, and organizations like IDRAS (Improving Dispute Resolution Advisory Service for Further and Higher Education) provided guidelines, and general legal advice on areas like how to stage a sit-in, the nature of court injunctions, laws pertaining to free speech on campus, disciplinary procedures for students, and resources.
2011 began with members from the public donating food to students who occupied the Senate Building of the University of Kent in Canterbury in January 2011, and culminated in November 2011 as 4,000 police officers were deployed for a mass protest through central London. Establishment estimates put the attendees at 2,000, while the protestors themselves put the number of protestors at 15,000. They joined the Occupy London City protestors at St, Paul’s Cathedral in the privately run City of London – the financial hub of the U.K. Under heavy vigilance from the police, the protestors were warned that they have the power to fire plastic bullets.
“Any officer that shoots a student with a baton round will have to answer to the whole of London. How did we come to this? An unpopular government pushing ahead with policies that are all pain and no gain, relying on police armed with plastic bullets to deal with young people who complain about it all. The prospect of the police shooting at unarmed demonstrators with any kind of bullet is frankly appalling, un-British and reminiscent of scenes currently being used by murderous dictatorships in the Middle East,” Jerry Jones of the Green Party told the Guardian, U.K.
The planned route was widely publicized in case the protestors should become entrapped and kettled. Michael Chessum of the organizing group, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts told the BBC:
“We are being told by a cabinet of millionaires that we will have to pay triple tuition fees.”
This highlights the power and position of class in the governance of Britain, a country that has become a safe haven for the global elite to hang out in the coming global economic tsunami, and a coalition government that represents only the elite.
“23 Universities Currently in Occupation.” http://occupations.org.uk/
“35 Arrested as Protesters Occupy Conservative HQ.” http://www.studentprotests.co.uk/home/item/1-35-arrested-as-protesters-occupy-conservative-hq
“Protesters Attack Car Containing Prince Charles.” http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/40588201/ns/world_news-europe/t/protesters-attack-car-containing-prince-charles/
Shepherd, J. “University Tuition Fees: Fifth Of English Institutions Cut Course Charges” http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/dec/02/university-tuition-fees-cut-courses
Students Protest in London and Across the U.K.” http://www.channel4.com/news/student-protests-in-london-and-across-uk
“Thousands March in Student Protest Over University Fees.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-15646709
Wilson, C. “Wednesday’s Student Protests.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2011/nov/07/plastic-bullets-available-student-protests
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