Student Protest is Timely and Urgent

Student protest has a pitiful public image as a lame, occasionally apoplectic limb that, for all the flails and jerks, can’t support itself or do anything useful, but the organised, […]

Student protest has a pitiful public image as a lame, occasionally apoplectic limb that, for all the flails and jerks, can’t support itself or do anything useful, but the organised, thoughtful activism at the TUC ‘March for a Future that Works’ in London, on Saturday morning, busted this myth.

Carping critics sneer that protesters will have awoken forlornly, in a room scattered with dog-eared agitprop, realising that their jolly about London with vuvuzelas had no effect on coalition higher education policy, but we knew that already; We’re not nearly as naive as you may think. Our success right now is simply in affirming a common generational purpose, to roll back reforms which narrow the already scarce access to the corridors of education. These timely, urgent changes can only follow after abrasive students across the country continue using one of the few resources they currently possess – SPOILER: it’s voice, not money  – to register dissent.

Outside the buildings of ULU, tucked a few streets behind the stultifying bustle of Oxford street, a throng of students and education activists chat beneath athletic banners, colour the air with pithy chants, sway to the undulating rhythm of a talented samba band, whilst sharing leaflets, placards and handshakes. Many here, anxious and incensed, attend University under the 3k fees regime and fear the long term effects of the tripartite attack of fee rises, cuts to funding and market reforms.

A welcoming but shyly self-aware final year undergrad taps his feet and cranes back to catch a proper glimpse of the protest, before turning back to me and stating quietly, but emphatically, rearranging his grip on the placard more firmly, that “this government is bad news for education.” Tuition fee rises and limited course places will alienate less confident students from poorer backgrounds, he says, but savaged social mobility prospects are not the worst of it, only the scarred dermis layered above the vicious, subcutaneous disease of privatisation.

Although just one of many public grievances aired at the march, those of education activists  arguably concern the most fundamental threat to the future and integrity of our society from the coalition thus far. Not only is access to a basic, vital means of personal and social development diminishing for students, particularly from backgrounds for whom the opportunity to flourish as a practitioner in traditionally privileged environments is long overdue, but a state secured public asset is being undermined by unnecessary market reforms which are reconstituting higher education to serve the interests of business.

Sadly, the next generation of students are being taught that financial transactions are more important than the majesty of their subject, that education values consumption over intellectual curiosity, that creation of profit rather than knowledge is the foremost purpose of the academy. This ideological position is encroaching upon higher education because a narrow caste personally benefit from these types of reforms, people who also personally benefited from free education, a thought that should make you throw your smart-price noodles to the floor in disgust.

Unfortunately the government has a shallow view of higher education, as a commodity to be paid for by individuals who choose to learn and develop, rather than seeing it as a long term economic investment to be made by a society consciously considering its future interests. Yet the expense of funding free education is a reasonable one which will populate our economy with solid researchers and skilled pioneers; these people are more likely to form the backbone of a sound economic recovery than deep spending cuts.

Still, we are begged to believe that the graduate burden is an economic necessity, whilst corporate tax evasion continues to cheat the state of resources which could reduce the zealously cited deficit whilst widening access to a quality education, underwritten by properly funded teaching and research.

The idea that political resistance is pointless, ineffective or a gateway to rampant criminality is sinister only once we believe it. More time, as well as more effective organisation, leadership and action from student associations is certainly needed before a fairer future is attainable, but there’s no good reason to give the coalition the satisfaction of our silence. With austerity rattling the coffers of middle class households and cries for a general strike from the unions, there has never been a more opportune moment for beleaguered students and “workshy” strikers to unite and show exactly how hard we can work when standing together against a government that works for itself, but not for us.