UK Students Protest Over Tuition Fees, Maintenance Grants


Protesting students in Britain have called for the abolition of tuition fees and to the upkeep of maintenance grants in a recent demonstration.

In their chants, the protesters asked for “grants, not debt” and a “free education” for students in the United Kingdom. The march, which included thousands of students from universities across the country, demonstrated through central London on November 4th before halting in front of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills. There, protesters incited minor violence against police, resulting in a spate of arrests.

A spokesman from the Department, which oversees universities and university policy, disagreed that these policies were restricting access to education. He said that the Department’s goal was to give everyone who could benefit from university an opportunity to attend.

Tuition has reached £9,000 per year in England. Currently, full-time students from families who make less than £25,000 can get a maintenance grant of £3,387 per year, reports Rebecca Perring and Tom Batchelor of the Express.

Some demonstrators emulated anarchist movements and dressed in black with scarves hiding their faces and confronted police, according to Sean Coughlan of the BBC. They set off fireworks, a few smoke bombs, and pelted the police with eggs. Others threw paint at the Home Office, though police protected nearby war memorials from any vandalism. These activities resulted in at least 12 arrests for public order offenses. Parliament locked down security in case students attempted to break into the Palace of Westminster.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn expressed support for dropping tuition fees and for the protest. The free education cause is also supported by the National Campaign Against Cuts and Fees, which is working to end tuition fees and reverse a decision that converted grants into loans. Callum Cant of the Campaign said that this austerity measure only targets the poorest students and makes university and education less accessible to students trying to overcome economic inequality.

Laura Hughes and Nicola Harley of the Telegraph quoted shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who said to the crowd:

Your generation has been betrayed by this Government in increases to tuition fees, in scrapping the education maintenance allowance and cuts in education. Education is a gift from one generation to another, it is not a commodity to be bought and sold. For generations now, one generation has handed the baton to the next. They have tried to ensure that the next generation has a better quality of life than the last. This government is betraying you and future generations. You need to oppose it and I’m here in solidarity with that opposition.

November 17th has been designated an additional day of action against educational policies that protesters say are unfair to international students, migrants, and refugees, write Mark Smith and Mark Tran of The Guardian. Strikes against cuts to maintenance grants and student support may take place in early February if the movement by student unions gains traction.