troche serif; font-size: small;”>UK students are set to stage a national demonstration in protest at the increase in tuition fees scheduled to be implemented in the next academic year. Then main event is a march in London, pilule expected to be attended by tens of thousands of students and their supporters. Sit-ins, pharm walkouts and occupations are planned before and after the march throughout UK universities. The demonstration is expected to be the biggest trade union strike action since 1926. St Andrews and Birmingham university have already gone into occupation ahead of the protest.
The protest is being led by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC) who were also behind last year’s campaigns. This year the efforts are being supported by the NUS (The National Union of Students) which represents 7 million UK students. They have agreed to support the cause and are helping the NCAFC by pledging resources.
The purpose of the November 9th march, as in the equivalent USI protest scheduled for November 16th, is for students and staff to join in opposition to the government’s planned austerity measures. As well as halting fee increases and spending cuts, the protest aims to bring back the scrapped EMA, the Education Maintenance Allowance, a payment scheme to help 16 to 19 year olds from low-income backgrounds to stay in education.
The NCAFC slogan, “Defend Education, Fight Privatisation”, is aimed at highlighting fears that the government’s plans will ‘privatise’ university education. David Cichon, President of The University of Sussex Student’s Union, commented to the College Tribune that “the UK government is proposing hugely destructive changes to Higher Education that is based on a strategy of marketisation and privatisation. This will need to be opposed if we want education to be available to everyone, not just the elite and the private sector.”
Last year, despite widespread protests, the government decided to raise the cap on tuition fees to £9,000 to come into effect from September 2012. This is an almost threefold increase from the current level of £3,375. Fees for masters and doctorate programmes would also be uncapped.
Liberal Democrat government ministers, including leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, are expected to come under renewed fire from student groups for reneging on a pre-election pledge to oppose any increase in fees. The example of the junior coalition partner sacrificing a key education manifesto element once in government has drawn parallels with Ireland’s Labour party.
In an attempt to counter the ‘privatisation’ effect of tripling the fees, the government plans to increase loans, raise maintenance grants and also increase the threshold that graduates have to start paying back loans from £15,000 to £21,000.
This year’s march is expected to generate an even larger turnout than last year which has triggered fears over safety. Last year’s demonstration turned violent when protesters started rioting which led to the arrest of 180 people including the son of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour. It also comes in the wake of a summer of rioting and civil unrest in the capital, as well as the controversial Occupy London protest outside St. Paul’s Cathedral.