Kingston University students chanted: “No ifs, not buts, no education cuts” when they joined thousands in central London attending the United for Education demonstration last week.
The event was organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and Colleges Union (UCU) to address concerns raised by the publication of the Higher Education and Research Bill in May earlier this year.
Chris Newlove, a philosophy and contemporary critical theory MA student at Kingston University said: “I’m marching here today to oppose the new white paper which is going to mean more privatisation, more cuts and a two-tier education system.
“I’m also in the Stand Up To Racism bloc because as the government implements more austerity they try to divide society so that we will not collectively fight the cuts. They do this through racism against refugees, Muslims and immigrants. I believe that it’s important that while we fight the cuts we have to say we also oppose racism.”
Unions argue that the bill will create more opportunities for private companies to open new universities where quality teaching is not guaranteed and fees could exclude those from poorer backgrounds.
MPs could be given the power to allow tuition fees to increase above annual inflation rates, if the new grading system is approved. Universities would be scored based upon the National Student Survey (NSS) with those ranked highest permitted to raise fees.
Malia Bouattia, NUS national president, gave a moving opening speech calling for the solidarity of not only students and teaching staff but wider society. She said: “It’s a fight for our vision of what our society should be based on; social good, solidarity and collective growth. Not for profit and the destruction of the lives of the majority.
“The government’s Higher Education and Research Bill proposes opening up higher education to for-profit institutions, much like Trump University, and opens the door for universities to raise their fees ever higher. Universities are already advertising fees above £9,000.”
Inclusivity and anti-racist rhetoric was also a prominent central theme of the demonstration. Kingston University students chanted: “Let in every refugee, throw the Tories in the sea” and marched behind a banner in support of the organisation Stand Up To Racism, which has been a driving force for advocating refugee rights and acceptance since the migrant explosion in 2015.
Brexit and the President-elect Donald Trump were also on the minds of many on the demonstration. Protesters held placards that read “No to Racism. No to Trump” and many speakers denounced Donald Trump’s racist rhetoric.
Owen Jones, Guardian columnist, said: “We won’t allow the powerful to scapegoat Muslims, immigrants and unemployed people. Instead we will direct our anger at the bankers, the tax dodgers like Donald Trump himself.”
Sorana Vieru, Vice President of the NUS for Higher Education, reminded students of the pledge the NUS made in April that should the Higher Education and Research Bill be passed the NUS will campaign for students to sabotage or boycott the National Student Survey (NSS). She said: “You won’t have your survey data until we have our funding back”.
Kingston University has responded to the news of the boycott of the NSS:
“Each year, the National Student Survey provides the University with valuable feedback to help us identify where we are performing particularly well, along with areas in which there may be room for further improvement. We then develop comprehensive action plans for any areas of provision which students have indicated could be enhanced.
“The feedback we receive through the National Student Survey plays a significant role in underpinning the decisions we make to ensure our students get the very most out of their time here at Kingston University.”
The Higher Education and Research Bill is currently awaiting consideration by the House of Lords after the second reading passed from the House of Commons on November 21 where it received 279 votes in its favour against 214 noes.
Footage produced for The River: