LUSU’s campaign to keep the cap on tuition fees began successfully with an endorsement from Lancaster’s MP Ben Wallace.
As over 200 Lancaster University students protested on the steps of the Town Hall, Wallace signed a pledge to vote against a rise in fees under the current system.
Organised by LUSU President Michael Payne, the protest came after Lord Mandelson publicly announced a review on Higher Education fees and funding last week. The likely outcome of the review is an increase in tuition fees to as much as £7000.
The protest, held on Friday 13th November, was the first step in LUSU’s campaign against rising tuition fees and for a review of the current funding system. With a briefing from Payne and Andy Johnston, LUSU VP (FEDS), completed, students were transported in free buses from the underpass to the city centre where the protest commenced.
Students from all colleges and year groups marched through the city, laden with hand-made banners with words of warning: “Generation Bankrupt” and “Not a £ More”. They made their presence felt with chants such as “Seven grand? You’re having a laugh!” and “MPs, clean up fees” shouted in unison. Leaflets were distributed to members of the public to raise awareness of the campaign.
On arrival at the Town Hall, Payne addressed his fellow protesters, saying “Twelve years ago the Labour government swept to power with the promise of a focus on ‘education, education, education’. Just five years ago Labour abandoned that promise. This government decided to turn its back on students.” Despite his strained voice, Payne carried on to say “Today we must call on our MPs and prospective MPs to come clean,” concluding with “MPs must vote with us or pay the price.”
Clearly motivated by Payne’s speech, the crowd took their stance outside the Town Hall, where Wallace was holding his weekly surgery. Payne had organised a meeting with Wallace with the intention of acquiring his vote against the rise in student fees. As well as the pledge, Payne took with him over 1,300 letters signed by Lancaster University students calling for Wallace’s support on the matter.
Rhona Jackson, a second year student from Bowland College, attended the protest. When asked for her thoughts on the possibility of student fees increasing to £7000 per year, Jackson said “I think it’s absolutely terrible. I don’t know how I’m going to pay it off as it.”
JCR members were also in attendance with many College Presidents vocalising their concerns about the plans to increase student fees. Bowland President Tom Skarbek-Wazynski stated “I think it’s just unacceptable as the system doesn’t work as it is and sticking it up isn’t going to help. The government needs to look at the review process and find a better way of funding education.” President of Lonsdale College, Matt Windsor, commented on the future of university if the rise in fees did occur, saying “University will be flooded full with people who can afford it off mummy and daddy’s credit card and not those who actually want to learn.”
After the meeting, Wallace came out to address the students, a signed pledge clearly in view.
“The current system has failed. It needs to be reviewed, but after the review there could be all sorts of other issues. However, under the current system I would not support an increase in fees,” he said. “I am not raising the cap under the current system. You haven’t got what you paid for.”
The pledge signed by Wallace read: “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees ‘under the current system’, in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative.”
With the first protest of LUSU’s campaign against increasing fees clearly a success, Payne commented on the turnout of Lancaster to students showcasing their support. “I think the turnout is absolutely brilliant but I don’t think we should get complacent. There is a lot more to achieve in this campaign.”
The campaign was commended by Ray Hill, Honorary Vice-Chairman of the NUS and a specialist in anti-fascism campaigns, who was present at the event. “This is an excellent campaign; I would like to congratulate all who had anything to do with it,” he told SCAN.
The success of the campaign received national attention within hours of completion with press coverage on the BBC website and politic.co.uk as well as the Lancashire Evening Post.