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LUSU’s ‘Fairer Fees and Funding campaign’ took an innovative new direction as students sported the face of Vice Chancellor, Paul Wellings as part of a silent protest outside University Court on Saturday 29th January.
University Court is attended by many local dignitaries, including local councillors, business owners and famous alumni as well as members of Union Council. Court is a significant event in the LUSU’s calendar since it is able to reach out to a wider group of representatives about the issues that really matter; the focal issue of the moment being the future of Higher Education’s funding and fees.
The eerie atmosphere created by over 150 students standing silently along the walkway from Central to George Fox created a huge impression on councillors and other dignitaries alike. LUSU’s key strategy involved the use of masks and “I owe…” posters illustrating the vast amount of debt students already owe. The masks created the illusion that the faces of Paul Wellings and Lord Mandelson were staring out of the crowd, which was unnerving to some passersby.
When asked to comment about the new style of protest, LUSU’s VP (Equality, Welfare and Diversity), Torri Crapper said “The last two protests have had banners and chants so we chose to mix it up and catch the councillors off guard. The masks are a bit of a gimmick … we wanted to do something a bit entertaining.”
Creating a visual impact was central to this success of the protest since it surprised officials and security who were expecting the rabble raising that has been seen previously. Grizedale JCR Women’s EWD officer, Sarah Wiles said “If you say three chants over again they’re not going to listen, but this way they will. People have been coming up and talking to us about the campaign.”
Professor Mandy Chetwynd, Pro-Vice Chancellor for College and Student Experience, took a particular interest in the protest, taking the time to praise individuals on their commitment to student issues. She later said: “I think it is great the students have turned out to speak out for both funding of the students and funding of the university. I think it will make a difference and is being done in a very reasonable way.”
This view was echoed by university policeman PC Gary Wynne who said the protest was “very effective and will get message across in a responsible manner. Everyone is very well behaved which is very much appreciated by the police.”
Student support is essential to this campaign, and this was emphasised by LUSU President Michael Payne. “Facebook will not win this fight, online petitions will not win this fight, people will win this fight,” Payne said.
Many politicians believe that students don’t care about politics and that they think it is not going affect them so will not act. Nonetheless second year Cartmel student, Matthew Young comment “Being here at 9am on a Saturday morning shows that we’re committed to the cause.”
Many turned out not simply because of the affect that rising fees and lower budgets will have on them but want to prevent the effects it will have on future students. LUSU Welfare Campaigns Officer, Pete Macmillan said “The students of today are fighting for the students of tomorrow. If we don’t take action now then in ten years time other groups of students will have to fight for the same issues.” This feeling was reaffirmed by Bowland’s Sophie Hall who said “I came today to protest about the raise of tuition fees for the future generations.”
As the protest developed the students moved to the front of the George Fox building, still wearing their masks, and stared into the foyer at the Court members. There were members of Court taking photographs, illustrating the surreal yet evocative nature of the student action.
The ‘Higher Education Funding and Fees’ motion that was presented to Court, by Michael Payne was passed without any issues. Furness JCR President, Luke Anderson said “I don’t believe the motion would have passed with so much ease without the protest. It was innovative and showed that we are more than just a bunch of rabble rousers.”
Payne commented that “The protest was the most effective visualisation of student concerns about fees and funding I’ve ever seen. Student views were not only well received they were embraced, supported and championed by everyone.”
Local dignitaries were full of praise for the students and their actions. Lord Taylor said “I thought the students were excellent and protested in a dignified way which fitted well with the eloquence of the speech given by the LUSU President.”
The success of the protest, however, does not mean an end to the campaign. LUSU’s VP (Academic Affairs), Danny Ovens said “Once the motion is passed it is the people behind us [the students] that will make the difference not the councillors.”
It is felt that student support must remain strong if they want to make a difference. Payne enforced this point, saying “This campaign has proved that students do still care about their education. The campaign is going to be long and no-one should pretend otherwise – but Lancaster is already fighting and winning for students and will continue to do so.”