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On the 19th of January, students from a wide consortium of groups banded together to protest inflation-based tuition fee rises at Lancaster University, which as part of the newly passed Higher Education Bill, means that universities qualifying for ‘gold’ or ‘silver’ badges (presumably, what materials the bricks and mortar are made out of) are now allowed to increase their fees in line with UK inflation rates. Having visited the protest during amidst one of the many salvos of impassioned chanting, such an insight into the anger is illuminating.
Of course, this protest was part of a sustained critique on university policy; the most notable demand was the abolishment of tuition fees, an admirable though admittedly difficult challenge. Sadly, it seems like tuition fee protests are a commonplace event, and in today’s political climate, seem to be considered by management as an annoyance, rather than something to majorly consider, which is where the issue of numbers comes in.
As the photos demonstrate, there was a respectable number of participants – but what is really needed, sadly, is the physical presence of a few hundred people and some seriously advanced coordination in order to make a lasting impact.
Free Lancaster University needs to grow to gain clout, and this is where institutionalised pressure does not help. Unless an effective framework of social change exists, then the only option left is to cause physical disruption, but how can one do such a thing without serious repercussions?
Peaceful protest is the next recourse, but that requires time, and we don’t seem to have a lot of it, especially when we’re worrying about finances! Hence you can only muster the most dedicated of protestors along, which results in only reasonable numbers…the cycle continues. An important point to make here is that I am in no way critiquing the protest or the protestors; their work was admirable.
What’s disgusting about all this is that as a university, we should be leading the example as a bastion of social progressiveness. I pose a simple question.
Why does our university operate, pay and behave like a corporation? As an academic institution (and one in the fabled ‘top ten’ too), we should lead in terms of ethical and social responsibility.
Comparably, the University of Nottingham “reassured all of its students, including those due to commence their studies in 2016, that there would be no change made to the rates they were paying”, whilst Lancaster e-mails their first years to note their fees will rise in their second, third and possibly fourth years.
If these fee increases went to helping out teaching staff, funding research opportunities, or going into building plans that aren’t just to impress prospective students, then I and many others would have no problem.
However, that simply isn’t the case. The primary argument made by the protestors, and here in print, is that there has been no proportional benefit to the lives of students as a result of these fees, and if the university wants to satisfy the demands of the protestors, then at the very least, some real benefit needs to be seen as a result of these fee rises.
However, what stuck out the most was the verve and determination of the students present despite the noticeably increased security presence around Alex Square. The group swelled in numbers, and as passers-by stood in solidarity, what really hit home was how it encompassed representatives from a far-reaching number of groups on campus; people from the Lancaster University Anti-Capitalists, LUSU, Labour Party, Green Party, Feminist Society and the LGBTQ+ Association were represented at the Free University of Lancaster group, which just shows how pivotal tuition fees are in the hearts and minds of us students.
In much the same way that issues around the NHS reverberate in the public, tuition fees are central to student life, and any unjustified rise is bound to raise the anger of the student populous.
If you wish to support this protest group, their group page can be accessed via this link: https://www.facebook.com/freeunilancs/