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In the wake of recent riots and violent protests across France against pension reform, it is now the time for investigations of those arrested in some of the more destructive acts. On October 28 over 270 separate protests took place in different cities across France. According to trade unions, the number of protesters reached over 150,000 in some cities, with a total of around 2 million.
Although unhappy with the decision of Nicolas Sarkozy, it is the opinion of many that the majority of the violence that did take place during the manifestations was in fact due to opportunistic youths, rather than aggressive trade unionists. The activities across the channel provide an interesting mirror to the current unrest in the UK against the lifting of the cap on tuition fees following recommendations by the Browne review. This has outraged many as an abhorrent act that will see strong university candidates unable to attend ‘good’ universities, who would inevitably charge more than universities lower down the league table, if said universities can survive the government cuts. According to the NUS, if government support was cut altogether, with their private funding universities such as Oxford and Cambridge would last around two years. Other universities that provide high quality education for thousands of students each year are so seriously in debt that they would last less than one day, in fact they would be in negative figures.
This has been a harsh blow for students, and once again a failure to follow through on promises by the Liberal Democrats. Like Sarkozy, Cameron is making unpopular decisions in withdrawing state aid for those who need it most, leaving relatively unharmed once again the wealthy corporations. Lancaster offered over 250 free places on their coaches to London. The protest itself can be considered something very un-British, although nonetheless something to be proud of, because now is the time to stop merely accepting what we’re told and grumbling about it afterwards. Many of the French protests continued after the reforms had actually been submitted, and as a general rule the French population will stand up for what they believe in. And regardless of your opinion on whether it is right or wrong to disrupt daily lives or go as far as some protesters did in the London demonstration, France have traditionally appeared to be resisting changes much more effectively, up until now. For a start Britain has been considering raising the pension age for years, and there has not been a word suggesting the possibility of a concerted, let alone national, demonstration against it. And unlimited tuition fees? Well in 2010/2011 tuition fees for public universities are €174 (plus social security), rising to €237 for masters courses. In addition the majority of students receive some sort of grant, which is means tested and can mean that those who might normally struggle financially or who study far from home are by no means in a worse position than students from wealthy families. These students would pay no tuition fees or social security and receive a monthly grant for living expenses, not to mention the “aide au mérite” for students who did particularly well in their baccalauréat. Students rarely have to claim loans unless they study at a private institution, and part-time jobs are not essential to survival.
It seems we have a lot to learn from our neighbours, and should not brush off protests as disruptive or a waste of time. If we compare the changes the UK has undergone throughout our short time with a right wing government compared to France, we can see quite clearly that as students and some of those most affected, we can’t sit idly by and let our government’s promises be so blatantly ignored.