The proposed raise in student tuition fees seemed to go unnoticed, even the Government were surprised at how little controversy the matter caused. This all changed on November 12th at 11am. A student led mass protest announced itself on the streets of Whitehall. Students demonstrated with lively vigour from the offset, with banners reading, ‘Conservatives, putting the N into cuts’ and ‘F**K Fees’. But what started as energetic, seemingly peaceful protesting soon became violent. Dancing and singing soon became window smashing and fire lighting.
On 24th November, students at our own university (UoB – University of Birmingham) began a genuinely peaceful protest. One of the students explained:
There was a mixture of staff, students and Unison representatives which was really good to see. There were a few people there trying to cause trouble saying things like ‘Rise Tuition Fees’ but someone on the balcony of Aston Webb called out to him and said that everyone was entitled to their opinion and a voice and why did he think that and he looked kind of embarrassed and left.
Clearly he didn’t know what he was talking about and just wanted to cause trouble! Other than that it was a really peaceful protest with some funny chants, some serious chants etc. Some people brought musical instruments and we did a march around the campus chanting to music which gave the whole thing a really peaceful vibe and reinforced in my mind that I was there for a good cause with good people who were all just standing up for what they believed in.
Which protest was more effective? Was the protest in Whitehall unreasonable or a necessary demonstration that the student population were not going to take these catastrophic increases in tuition fees? How effective was the protest at UoB?
Let’s look at the facts.
As it stands the Government has outlined a proposal which will allow Universities to charge up to £9,000 per year in tuition fees, which is just under triple what we pay at the moment. Any university that wants to charge more than £6,000 will have to offer bursaries and outreach programmes to help students from poorer backgrounds, but this figure is still almost double of what they would have to pay as it stands, where such students are already legible for financial support. While Maintenance Loans may increase, to qualify for a grant your household income will have to drop from £50,020 to £42,000.
Student loans will still be available, and the £15,000 verge will increase to £21,000 before students have to pay back their debts. If the debt has not been cleared after 30 years, it will be wiped. However, any student who goes on to be successful and wishes to pay back their fees early will be subject to a 5% levy to ensure higher earners are “not able unfairly to buy themselves out” – which seems to undermine the entire institute of higher education.
The proposed plan is set to take place in September 2012. Those that have already embarked on higher education will not be subject to the increased fees. There seems little hope of the plans being rejected as only a small handful of Liberal Democrats have stated that they plan to vote against the increase. The impact of this would be catastrophic for the Lib Dems, who rely on the support of university students.
The facts may be able to justify the plans but reality speaks very differently. As a third year student of the Arts, I average 3 hours of tutor-to-student time. If I had entered the system a few years later, that would mean I would be paying £9,000 a year for my three contact hours a week. This works out at £136 per class.
As mentioned, The Liberal Democrats are facing a massive backlash and should be worried for the next election. We are the next generation of voters; it is very arguable that in the current economic climate, we all should have expected this from a Tory government. The voter turnout for the 2010 General Election was just 65.1%, Selly Oak (in Birmingham) had a turnout of 62.3%. In an area that is heavily populated by students, around 37.7% of us probably did not vote. While I feel that the protests in Whitehall did not help the cause and left the student body open to be discredited, I can fully understand why it happened and share the frustrations of the protesters. I feel the way forward was highlighted by the peaceful demonstrations held yesterday which were extremely effective and commendable and I applaud the students who voiced their opinions! We need to have a say in our future!
Written by Rebecca Schwartz (Birmingham University Student)