Thursday, 25 November 2010

Tough on Education, Tough on the Cause of Education.

As you may have noticed yesterday (24/11/10) marked the first national day of protests against the Coalition Government’s plans to increase higher education tuition fees by up to 300%. Protests took place across the UK, with major demonstrations in large cities and smaller ones pretty much in every town with a sixth form college. Some of these protests, like the one occupying part of the Bodleian library in Oxford are still ongoing. In my home town of bury in Greater Manchester over a thousand young people walked out of college at 11 am to march on the Town Hall.

Being at a loose end, I decided to accompany some of my student friends on the march and show my support - and I am very glad that I did. The turn-out was most impressive, the atmosphere was jubilantly defiant, the protesters seemed well informed and I was proud to see that many young people, who are all too frequently dismissed as apathetic at best and hoodie wearing scum at worst, join together and stand up for a common cause.

They were a very well behaved crowd too, considering how angry many of them were at the proposed education cutbacks. They also seemed to be keeping their own rowdier elements in check leaving the police to direct traffic (and photograph everybody for security purposes, of course). I have to admit to feeling a thrill of vicarious pleasure at the excitement many of them were obviously feeling, at taking part in their first ever political protest.

The march proceeded from Holy Cross College, along Wellington Road, then up Market Street where it met the contingent from Bury College, round Peel Way to the Town Hall, which was locked down tighter than a maximum security prison. Council officials could be seen peeping sheepishly out of upper story windows, but sadly no one inside seemed willing to address the crowds concerns that they, their younger brothers and sisters, and ultimately their children were being denied the right to a university education, the same right that those now in power took for granted in their youth. After a rally in Knowlsley Street the crowd marched down Manchester Road, enthusiastically applauding all the drivers who beeped their horns in support.

What stood out to me was not the students derision of the Conservative Party, young people and Tories have rarely seen eye to eye, but the sheer vitriol reserved for Nick Clegg as leader of the Liberal Democrats, which was truly staggering!

Hardly unsurprising, but staggering nevertheless!

The "Fib Dems", as one placard wittily labeled them, made specific manifesto pledges to oppose increases in tuition fees, many students voted for them in May on that very basis and indeed the student vote makes up a significant percentage of their support. The protesters yesterday made it abundantly clear that they feel betrayed by the Liberal Democrats.

And in my opinion, that is exactly the right place to apply pressure. The House of Commons (which seems a silly name with so many millionaires now sat on the front bench) will be voting on whether to allow universities to raise tuition fees before the end of the year. The Coalition government has a fairly slender majority as it is - but if enough Lib Dem MPs oppose the bill to make it fall, as many, including former leader Sir Menzies Campbell, have indicated they will, a motion of no confidence in the Government becomes a very real possibility. If that motion passes their options are quite limited, call a general election or resign!

A further National day of protest is planned for 30th of November and I would urge as many people as possible to join in with the students in peaceful protest, to show support for the young people, and for the future of this country. Universal education is a principle worth defending to the hilt, and those who ask why they should pay for someone else to go to university, particularly those with young children of their own, should ask themselves why anyone with no children should pay for other peoples kids to receive 14 years of free schooling?

I know the answer; it is because I do not wish to live in a society where only the privileged elites can afford education, such unequal societies are unstable and prone to violent collapse, they are also unsuited to the needs of a 21st century world economy. Great Britain does not have enormous natural resources, and we cannot compete against China and India in terms of manufacturing, but we have always been a nation full of clever, ingenious, inventive people. That is our one true resource and we should be investing in it above all else.

Education should be a universal right and tuition fees, particularly those set at such a high rate, represent an attack on the very principle that entitles every child to go to school. If we tolerate this Coalition Government's plans, in reality we are setting the stage for a hundred and fifty years of social progress to be rolled back.

Join the protest! Fight the cuts!

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