An estimated 10,000 student demonstrators braved the awful weather today to protest against tuition fee rises, the many financial burdens they face and the threat of youth unemployment.
Demo 2012, organised by the National Union of Students (NUS), calls for greater investment in education and employment. The march began at 11am in Temple Place and followed a route, devised collaboratively by the NUS and the Metropolitan police, which took the students past Parliament Square before joining a rally in Kennington Park at 2pm.
This is the first demonstration the NUS has organised since 2010, when more than 50,000 people, students and lecturers alike, took part in a national protest that resulted in a number of complaints, injuries and arrests.
As the slogan, ‘Educate, Empower, Employ’ suggests, there is much angst and disappointment at the heart of Demo 2012. Liam Burns, president of the NUS, said Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, had won the trust and votes of many students and parents by signing the pledge not to put up tuition fees, before reneging on his promise. He said:
"As students gather in London today to demand investment in education and employment, the countdown to the next general election has already begun. Many MPs of all party colours kept their promise, but those MPs who broke their pledge cannot wriggle their way out. They are living out their electoral lives on borrowed time."
Burns spoke about the feeling of desperation spreading through university campuses nationwide as students fear the personal consequences of the coalition government’s education reforms. The decision to treble tuition fees, scrap the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) – a grant to help the poorest teenagers remain in school or college education – teamed with the constant threat of youth unemployment has left students angry and feeling powerless.
The NUS has warned that the current post-university reality of thousands of pounds worth of debt and a tough job market could prompt an ‘epidemic of dropouts’ with a study showing that more than two in five students had seriously considered leaving their course.
Kathy Taylor, the president of the University and College Union (UCU), branded the government ‘out of touch with the needs of ordinary people' and claimed some harrowing statistics:
"In the first year of this coalition government, the richest 1,000 people in Britain increased their collective wealth by 18%. Over the same period the government introduced measures which increased the number of children living in poverty by nearly 1 million."
It remains to be seen exactly what the outcome of Demo 2012 will be and whether or not it can be the peaceful yet effective demonstration the NUS hope for.
Photo by Ren's Photography in the Londonist Flickr pool.