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From The Socialist newspaper, 2 November 2006

Student protests

Thousands join fees demonstration

ON 29 October, thousands of students showed their opposition to government attacks on higher education by demonstrating against top-up fees. They marched with banners, drums and megaphones, chanting all the way, to a rally at Trafalgar Square.

Michael Pooler Manchester University Socialist Students

At the rally Paul Mackney of lecturers' union UCU pledged his union's support as well as members' opposition to spying on 'radicalised' students. National Union of Students (NUS) President Gemma Tumelty made a vitriolic speech, although it remains to be seen whether the union can turn this protest into something more tangible and effective.

The government has introduced expensive "top-up fees" and also raised the cap on fees, which will have crippling financial consequences. Prospective students could leave University with debts up to 30,000. This is no way to start a life.

Bringing in top-up fees this September has already had an effect. This year, around 15,000 fewer students started courses than those entering last year. Admissions body UCAS admit there had been fewer applications particularly from those from poorer backgrounds.

David, a student at Durham said: "It's positive that so many people attended the march and the support of the unions should show the government that we are serious". But another student saw the demonstration as a "token gesture" from a "weak NUS with a right-wing careerist leadership".

Abolishing the cap would mean that different institutions could charge different fees. An elitist system could emerge, with the more established and prestigious Universities charging more and the more 'competitive' and career-orientated areas of study becoming more expensive than others, creating a marketised system.

This contradicts the government's professed policy of getting more students from working-class backgrounds to study.

It is time for students to unite with working people in solidarity against increased cuts and privatisation.

If anything is to be changed we should follow the example of France and Greece and hold organised sit-ins and occupations of University campuses rather than just offering weak words of protest.

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