‘D Day’ for students and school pupils as the fate of Higher Education is decided

Posted on December 6, 2010 by

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School and college pupils will be once again demonstrating along with university students against the Coalition government’s proposed reforms to higher education, marking the day of the final Vote in Parliament to decide the issue.  These follow a recent wave of protests by university and school pupils on the issue since the controversial Browne report was published and mostly accepted by the government earlier in November.

Library picture of angry students

The government has set the date for the vote on the reforms for this coming Thursday (the 9th), which has been widely criticised as this date makes it likely that many MPs opposed to the measures from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will not be able to make the vote.  If the vote is passed, which will probably happen unless most Lib Dems rebel and vote against it, fees are likely to increase to up to £9000 per year, teaching budgets cut by 70% overall (with 100% cuts for humanities subjects), and EMA will be scrapped (but on the bright side there’ll be an increase in the payback levels for student loans…).

The government maintains that the state can no longer afford to maintain the Higher Education system as it is due to the deficit, but many campaigners reject this, claiming instead that these reforms are ideologically driven by a drive to privatise HE and will stop many poorer people from being able to enter higher education.  Some students do support the reforms in the context of deficit reduction though (or don’t care as it won’t affect people currently at university), but we suspect protests in favour of them are unlikely to be seen on the day in most places…

School's Out...

To mark the vote, groups opposed to the reforms across the country are organising protests in their areas, as well as converging on Westminster.  In Southampton the Student Unions of both the University of Southampton and Southampton Solent University will be marching together down the High Street to the Bargate on Wednesday between 1 and 3pm.

Organisers say it’s to show that ” Hampshire and the UK… will not stand for Higher Fees and we will not stand for paying more for less teaching and less support.”  SUSU are also organising transport to London to ‘lobby MPs directly’, although how they’ll square that with their concerns to have polite protesting in the middle of what is likely to be more ‘vigorous’ protesting is unknown (see here for more on how SUSU don’t want swearing or politics in protests).

School and College pupils have also organised a rally (which presumably involves not going to school and/or walkouts too) at the Guildhall Square on Thursday from 12-5pm, along with another walkout and rally on the last day of term (17th Dec. ~ 12:30pm) against the cutting of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), which gives poorer students money for attending college.  Organisers say that the rise in fees will “will deter many people from going to University in the future and affects the future education of Britain” and also that “scraping the EMA for many College Students… will affect many people from poorer backgrounds.”

Student Protests 4: This time it's personal...

It is likely that many of Southampton’s students will also make their way to London on the Thursday to protest in Westminster itself, with the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), along with the Coalition of Resistance, Right to Work, UCU Higher Education conference, Education Activist Network, London student assembly and more, calling for mass protests and actions to “shut down London” during the vote.  More university occupations, of which dozens have been seen in recent weeks, are also likely to emerge as the protests against the changes come to a head.

If the vote is passed with the help of Lib Dem MPs (which now seems fairly likely), Higher Education will change dramatically over the next few years, and it is unclear where campaigners will focus their attention next  in the fight against it.

What seems more certain is that the Lib Dems, especially in seats where students give them a significant part of their majorities, are likely to suffer in the next local and potentially general elections, as many have young people have lost trust in the Lib Dems for their ‘betrayal’ of their pre-election promise to oppose fees, and for many they have lost trust in party politics in general.

The question on our lips though is whether student activism will continue its current, phoenix-like fiery reappearance (on both sides), or will it burn out and collapse if the vote passes?  The Blowhole will be bringing you more on how the protests go and future student activism in due course…

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Posted in: News, Southampton, Students, UK