Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Student demo?

Demo gets underway

I was quite excited last week to receive an email from the Birkbeck Students’ Union inviting me to participate in a student demo. Hey! The seventies are back! The NUS (National Union of Students) participated in a National Demonstration on Wednesday 10 November. As the email put it, “we will be joining friends from UCU (the lecturers' union), UNISON (Birkbeck trade union) and from other trade unions, community groups, student groups and many students' unions from across the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland.”

Birkbeck staff and students are meeting outside ULU, the University of London Union, on Malet Street from 10am (for coffee, banner making and breakfast meet at 9am) for an 11am departure.

Sadly, I was away in the USA at the time, and so had to forego the new friends I might have made over the coffee and banner making.

On a serious note, the protest was about rising tuition fees. The UK government , a coalition of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats (wittily known as the “Con Dems”), was elected on a platform of bringing the budget back into balance after all the trouble of the NAFC (“North Atlantic Financial Crisis” - my term) and the stimulus spending that was needed to counter it. Now they are cutting government spending all over the place and meeting all kinds of flack from the people who presumably voted them in, but consider that it should be everyone else who bears the brunt of the cuts. The newspaper letter column is full everyday of some interest group, small or large, arguing convincingly why their sector should be ‘ring-fenced’ from the cuts going on everywhere.
Things getting out of hand
 University fees were introduced in the UK 1998, and increased to £3,000 in 2006, with apparently little protest. But last Wednesday 50,000 people (not including me) marched in the streets over the issue – the planned increases are as high as £9,000. Many students will be forced out of school, and many won’t start. A small militant band of about 200 ratbags actually launched an assault on the Conservative Party Campaign Headquarters, smashing windows and burning their placards. They are angry, and frustrated with the ineffectiveness of ‘consultation’ and ‘peaceful lobbying’. The crowd outside the Con HQ grew to about 1,000, supporting the renegades who occupied it. Perhaps the seventies have come again. Or maybe the eighties. You couldn’t get a job after you graduated back then, either.

Evan was telling me over lunch today of his friend Katie who is studying Speech Pathology at London City University. After rent, Katie lives on £55 per week. Travel must cost her about £20 pw. This is shoe-string territory.
It wasn't all young ratbags

Of course, the counter-argument is that students generally come from middle-class backgrounds, and with the cuts going on in every sector, including welfare, they are not at the pointy-end of the hardship problem. Here are some eloquent words from the Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/10/student-protests-nus-lobby-anarchists on this fraught point:

No doubt [journalist] Polly Toynbee will be looking on disapprovingly – she has argued that student are low on the pecking order of pain inflicted by the coalition government. And she is right that students are largely from middle class backgrounds and so won't be as hard hit by austerity as many others. But her argument assumes that there is only a certain amount of space in society for protest. If the students are successful, her argument goes, then others will face more severe cuts. Quite the opposite: if the students make some headway, others will be spurred on to push their agendas more forcefully.

The increase to higher-education tuition fees of course brings with it the fear of a return to the bad old days when higher education could be afforded only by the rich, and thus the rich ended up running the country. Oh, wait a minute, the rich are running the country....hmmm

As the the Birkbeck Student Union, I receive a lot of emails from it these days. They seem to support a diverse range of activities and services, including (my current personal favourite) a “drop-in drumming session” which is part of “Diversity Week”.

Note the 'London' haircut

And in other news, today Evan left me to return to Sydney. He said he couldn't stand the weather any longer. :-) I miss him already - it will take him until Wednesday to negotiate the three flights it will take to get home (cheap ticket - has to go via Perth). But we did enjoy one last lunch at the Betjeman Arms pub downstairs - just like the day he arrived. This time it was fish and chips.

Demo Images from:


  1. I heard about this. One commentator also recalled the seventies - but noted that today's students should be proud; they really HAVE something to complain about. But why attack the Conservative Party Campaign Headquarters, surely the elections are well and truly over? Some clever student organisation may be needed.

  2. The cuts are Con Dem policy. Actually, the Dems promised not to do it, and are now in a bind because they are reneging.