NUS Demo 2012: Analysis

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‘No ifs; no buts; no education cuts!’

This was the rallying cry of the thousands of students gathered at London’s Embankment early on Wednesday morning. Those in attendance were preparing for the National Union of Students’ ‘Demo 2012’ protest against the impact of government reforms to Further and Higher Education in the UK.

Believing the security of their futures to be at stake, the NUS and those in support of their campaign were aiming to make sure that their collective voice was heard, and acknowledged, by those in charge of policies affecting students of today and the future.

The march was scheduled to begin at midday, as the NUS website updated its live blog indicated shortly beforehand: ‘Ready to move in half an hour – the helicopters are out!’

The planned route began at Temple Place, Embankment, before heading southwest along the Thames bank, whereupon the demonstrators crossed eastwards over Westminster Bridge at approximately 1 o’clock pm and proceeded on down Kennington Road towards the finishing point in Kennington Park. A Section 12 Public Order was issued by police in advance of the demonstration proceedings, meaning that participants were required to adhere to route-restrictions or else face police intervention.

Government initiatives such as the abolishment of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) and the now-infamous raising of university tuition fees to £9K per year for Home students – all enacted with the objective of saving money in the Education Sector – have left many students angry and dissatisfied with the way the legislature has handled the economic problems that have led to a situation necessitating such austerity measures.

The NUS website states that ‘[e]ducation should open doors, but the government is slamming them shut, both for today’s students and the next generation.’

Feelings of unrest have never fully dissipated since the furore caused two years ago, when student protests over the proposal to increase tuition fees descended into scenes of anarchy on the streets of London. Memories of that day’s events were no doubt at the forefront of minds in charge of organising this year’s protest. Media coverage reported a ‘large police presence’ steadfastly guarding access to the area surrounding Parliament as a reminder that no disorder would be tolerated.

Since the 2010 Browne Report – ‘Securing a Sustainable Future for Higher Education in the UK’ – members of HE institutions have felt growing consternation over the disparities between the aims of reforms recommended by Lord Browne and the actual situation in which they have cumulatively resulted. Despite the Government’s assertion that removing the tuition fee cap would enable universities to ‘put quality first and charge accordingly’ (number10.gov.uk), many students do not feel that they are receiving value for money. The business-discourse promulgated through many universities has left many of their ‘customers’ feeling somewhat short-changed.

Last Wednesday’s demonstration was not simply a protest against financial matters: the demo was about students taking an overt stance demonstrative of a student populace which will not remain passive in the face of threats to the education of its members’ education.

Youth unemployment is a key factor cited by those who took part in the protest as just one indication of the Government’s failure to secure the future prospects, financial safety and social stability of students today.

The NUS further states, ‘The issues affecting students are too many to count, but politicians of all parties are failing to address them.’

Wednesday was about a show of solidarity. It was about individuals uniting to take responsibility for effecting change, and doing so in a controlled and well-organised manner, which may go some way towards undoing the negative perceptions held by many members of the public following the previous display of collective student angst.

Whether the key objectives were achieved given the slightly bathetic end to proceedings, which saw NUS President Liam Burns heckled off-stage by anti-NUS protesters, remains to be seen.

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