Tens of thousands of voices were put in the shadow of violent attacks, carried out by a minority group of anarchists on the Tory headquarters, at Demo 2010.
The students and lecturers who had protested peacefully against the impending reforms of university funding, hardly got mentioned by the major press the following day, as they all carried front page leads on the violent outbreaks.
Aaron Porter, NUS president and leader of the campaign, condemned the attack. He said that some people, “perhaps anarchists,” had “deliberately come to hijack the event,” adding: “Perhaps 500 or more have chosen to use disgraceful tactics to try to undermine us.”
Among the protesters were students who came all the way down from Scotland to voice their concerns about the consequences higher tuition fees in England would have on Scottish universities. They said they were worried about an increase in the number of students that would apply for Scottish universities to avoid paying the higher fees.
Just a few steps away from them assembled a small group of actors clutching on to an improvised piece of cardboard on which was scribbled: ‘RADA against cuts’. “We will only be training rich actors soon,” exclaimed one of them. The four most respected drama schools, Rada, Lamda, Guildhall and Central, are run as BA degrees and, traditionally, applicants to these schools undergo tough audition processes to secure a place based on their talent. This may be jeopardised by a pre-selection based on financial ability, the campaigners claimed, and could have a damaging effect on arts as a whole.
Right at the front of the marching crowd were Muslims, disabled and black people who, while representing the multicultural face of modern Britain, protested against the disproportionate effect the cuts would have on minority groups. Muslims in particular, who because of their religious beliefs oppose to taking out loans which carry interest, will find it very hard to raise sufficient money to fund their courses should fees rise to the estimated £9,000 a year.
Women will also be affected disproportionately, said campaigners for women in education. According to one campaigner, women were more likely to study subjects which were under threat to be cut completely, such as Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. She said that it generally took women longer to pay fees back, adding: “Cuts are disproportionate to women. It’s unfair. It forces us out of education.”
Branded the ‘worst cuts in 30 years’ by one lecturer who was marching for Cumbria University, the reforms will most likely see further opposition from the NUS, as Aaron Porter said he was determined to fight to the bitter end. “I see this as the start point for a much bigger campaign. Students will not tolerate politicians saying one thing in order to get elected and then doing the reverse once they are elected. We expect the students are still angry and there will be more to come.”