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On Wednesday 24 November the United Kingdom saw thousands of students taking part in sit-ins, walkouts, and marches in response to the impending increase in tuition fees.
The Facebook group, named National Walkout And Day Of Protest Against Tuition Fees, consisted of 26,536 members in attendance and prompted all members to walk out of their academic classes at 11am to take part in the non-violent protests. It was not just university students, however, that took part in the demonstrations, but sixth form and high school students as well.
At Lancaster University, a public lecture and discussion was held in the Faraday Building. Documentary producer David Malone came to give a talk on his new book The Debt Generation, which was described on the Facebook event page as being a “compelling account of the economic crisis as it happened and a devastating critique of the financial system and of our political leaders who bowed down to it”.
Although no major protests happened on campus it seems that the University was prepared for it. An email was sent by a member of University staff to people who had appointments with staff in their offices on the day, stating that there was going to be an increase in security outside University House.
However, a protest did take place in Lancaster town centre, consisting primarily of local high school students. Heather Mann, a student at Lancaster University, described the scene as “energetic” with around 300 people taking part from 11am. Morecambe High student Jack Gannon explained how over a hundred students at their school alone signed out of school and walked to Lancaster, taking the protest round Penny Street and to Dalton Square.
“I was there to show my anger at removing EMA [Education Maintenance Allowance] payments,” Gannon said. “My EMA helps pay for stuff I need for school so now it’s going to be harder to pay for things as I’m going to have to find part-time work. Also I was showing support for my friends, I don’t personally aim to go to University but most do so they were protesting against the rise in uni fee’s”.
Joshua Brandwood, a student at Lancaster and Morecambe College, described the day as being brilliant. “We all gathered at Dalton Square to express our feelings via sing-alongs, literally singing, not just chanting.” Students ran onto the town hall steps to chant but were then “made to go back into Dalton Square” by the police.
“There was no trouble as far as I’m concerned, the police did a very good job at organising the protestors into Dalton Square,” Brandwood said. When asked why he was protesting in particular, he responded that he thought nine thousand pounds for fees was “obscene” and “working class people can’t afford it.”
While the day’s protests took place, politician Nick Clegg, who abandoned his party’s pledge to oppose any increases in tuition fees, was challenged by Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2. Clegg said: “I believe we genuinely are, successfully, now putting forward something which will over the coming years make for a fairer university system.” He went on to say “all graduates will pay out less per month than they do at the moment, but crucially you pay nothing as a student, this is the crucial point, you only pay back once you earn enough money to do so”, Vine’s response to this was: “You still have the debt though, that’s the point.”
Live feeds were set up on the Guardian and the BBC websites documenting the day’s events, along with the official National Campaign Against Fees & Cuts website, anticuts.com. Students were reported to have occupied numerous educational facilities, including lecture theatres at Cardiff and Warwick Universities.
Students at Birmingham University staged a sit-in, issuing a statement on Indymedia.org.uk which read: “Despite some difficulty from security guards preventing many of our students getting in more than 30 Birmingham students are currently in occupation of the Aston Webb building the site of the prime ministerial debates”. The statement went on to say that they “have embarked on this occupation because we believe the Government’s cuts to be economically unnecessary, unfair and ideologically motivated. We stand in solidarity with unions and seek to be active members in a broader anti-cuts coalition”.
At least 4,000 people were reported to have marched in Manchester, eventually gathering together round the town hall. Liverpool, Bristol, Durham, Sheffield, and Leeds were just some of the other locations involved in the protests, all with considerable turnouts.
In Whitehall, London, the protests were described as somewhat antagonistic. A Metropolitan police statement was issued on the Guardian’s website at 3:47pm saying that three people had been arrested “for violent disorder and theft during the march” with two police officers sustaining injuries, including a broken arm. The London Ambulance Service had also confirmed at that time that eight people had been injured. An abandoned police van was also severely vandalised during the protest, pictures can be found on The Guardian’s website.
By 5.50 pm the Met had confirmed 15 arrests, and later on, other speculations of police on horseback charging into the crowds of activists were also published.