THOUSANDS of students gathered in Malet Street, Bloomsbury for a protest march to Parliament Square to demand free higher education, to be paid for by taxing the rich.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has backed the students’ demands and called for free education “from the cradle to the grave”.
Corbyn went into last June’s the general election promising to abolish tuition fees in England but came under intense pressure in the weeks after the vote in relation to a pledge to “deal with” historic student debt. Labour insisted this did not amount to a vow to write off the existing stock of debt and stood by its plan to cancel fees for future students.
On Wednesday Corbyn sent a message of support to organisers of the demonstration, which has been called by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.
“Everybody should have access to high quality education from the cradle to the grave, without being forced into debt and anxiety,” he said.
“No one should be shut out. That’s why I support the demonstration for free education on the 15th November organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and backed by students’ unions and Momentum. Together we can build a movement to demand high quality education for the many, not the few. And in government, Labour will deliver it.”
Last month Theresa May cancelled the £250 rise in tuition fees, freezing the charges at £9,250, and announced a review of the entire student finance system. The measure was derided as “desperate” by Labour, which has seen its popularity soar among young people.
The march had support from all the major trade unions involved in education. Unison at the University of Bath sent a message to the protesting students: “Tuition fees hurt us all: students, staff & education itself. Fees are an integral part of marketized Higher Education & universities behaving like businesses, prioritising surpluses over students. We need Free Education. Full support to all at #FreeEdNow demo today!”
Caroline Lucas, MP for the Green Party sent a message: “Solidarity with NCAFC UK who are marching for free education today. Tuition should be paid for from progressive taxation, it's simple really – and has been Green Party policy for many years.”
The organisers also arranged a DemoHQ to enable those students who could not travel because of disability or for whatever other reason to take part in the event.
National Union of Students disabled students Officer, Rachel O’Brien, says that DemoHQ is a vital part of any demonstration: “It gives people who can’t march – be that for disability reasons or otherwise – a place to go and do essential work for the Free Education Demo. It makes our labour visible, and gives it equal value to the labour of the people who are marching.”