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From The Socialist newspaper, 27 February 2008

Student feature

Fighting fees

Socialist Students in Exeter did a debt-o-meter on the Campaign to Defeat Fees day of action, photo Jim THomsom

Socialist Students in Exeter did a debt-o-meter on the Campaign to Defeat Fees day of action, photo Jim THomsom

On 21 February Socialist Students and supporters of the Campaign to Defeat Fees (CDF) organised protests and stunts around the country to draw attention to the need for a national campaign against university fees and for free education. Only last week it was revealed that 22% of students are forced to drop out of university, many saying that debt was the problem. This day of action showed that where a lead is given students will respond.


'What do we want? Free education! When do we want it? Now!' Despite the wind, rain, and cold, the rally against fees attracted around 60 students at Anglia Ruskin University and Cambridge University as well as from a local sixth form. Speeches roused the crowd, pointing out the hypocrisies of a Labour government that will bail out a bank to over 50 billion but forces students to bear huge financial debt.

After the rally it was decided that we would march through Cambridge. The protest was lively and loud which made us hard to miss; some young people who where in town at the time joined us and marched to the city centre. After the demo we met to discuss how we can continue to fight against fees in Cambridge. Movements in France and Greece have shown the power students can wield when we unite.

Mark Walmsley and Frankie Langeland


Socialist Students in Exeter did a debt-o-meter on the Campaign to Defeat Fees day of action, photo Jim THomsom

Socialist Students in Exeter did a debt-o-meter on the Campaign to Defeat Fees day of action, photo Jim THomsom

Five members of Socialist Students handed out hundreds of leaflets and fake degree scrolls, showing the crippling cost of education. We also did a 'debt-o-meter' where we invited students to record how much debt they will be in when they graduate. By the end of the day the 'debt-o-meter' was full, with some people's debt above 30,000.

It was clear that although the NUS leadership has written off a fighting campaign against fees, students are still very angry towards New Labour and their cronies hidden away within the university ivory towers.

Moreover, Exeter Socialist Students found that there is a significant layer of foreign students for whom there is no cap on fees who find themselves hugely indebted and are desperate to fight. It is especially among students like these, and those from working-class backgrounds, that the Campaign to Defeat Fees will find support, while the NUS bureaucrats at Exeter and throughout the country believe the fight is lost and turn their backs.

Jim Thomson


Socialist Students in Manchester on the Campaign to Defeat Fees day of action, photo Abby Taylor

Socialist Students in Manchester on the Campaign to Defeat Fees day of action, photo Abby Taylor

On the CDF day of action, Manchester Socialist Students held a stall outside the University of Manchester student union, encouraging students to sign petitions and 'diplomas of debt' illustrating the levels of debt students will be in when they graduate from university. We found that some had not yet considered how much they would owe, and were shocked to face such a huge figure for the first time.

Several students showed an interest in joining the campaign, and we had an interesting response from passing secondary school students who hoped to go to university but didn't know about the fees involved. They were keen to pass out leaflets for us and sign our petitions.

The BBC was around for a lot of the time, filming us as part of a documentary they are making about young people in debt and the presence of a camera seemed to attract a lot of attention! Unfortunately the students union were conspicuously absent from the day's proceedings. Three Socialist Students took the diplomas of debt to the vice chancellor of the university but he was not available to accept them.

Abby Taylor

Northumbria University

Students and trade unionists marched through Newcaste on the Campaign to Defeat Fees day of action, photo Northumbria Socialist Students

Students and trade unionists marched through Newcaste on the Campaign to Defeat Fees day of action, photo Northumbria Socialist Students

The campaign to defeat and reverse the introduction of tuition fees starts with the students. At Northumbria, students took part in a lively demonstration and marched from the campus into Newcastle city centre. We gave out a loud and clear message, chanting: "education is a right not a privilege!"

As the Socialist Student demonstration passed through the main shopping precinct we attracted a lot of attention and support from passers-by. One of the students was an exchange student from Germany where she was involved in a similar campaign against attacks on education. She said she had come on the protest because "education should not be a commodity".

A group of trade unionists marched alongside us. Jon Bryan, from the Universities and College Union national executive committee said: "I came on the demo to show support for the campaign against tuition fees".

This is just the beginning of the campaign to defeat fees at Northumbria. We will be planning many more activities.

Becky Johnson


The response from ordinary students to the CDF day of action in Bristol was very welcoming. We collected over 70 signatures and created a 'wall of debt' for people to write solidarity messages on. Here is some of the content: "give us our money back", "fees = inequality", and "privatisation of education keeps the rich richer and the poor poorer".

Luke Sinnick

Socialist Students national council

Activists from around the country gathered on 24 February for the Socialist Students national council.

The first session, introduced by national organiser Matt Dobson, focused on the political situation facing students and on building Socialist Students in the universities and colleges. Reviewing the successful Campaign to Defeat Fees (CDF) day of action, the meeting agreed to continue building the campaign especially at the further education colleges.

Paul Philips from Northumbria University raised the need to build links with workers and trade unions as they also face attacks from the government. He highlighted the support from staff at his university for the CDF day of action.

Ted Smith from Aston University reported on the interest in a Che Guevara meeting and there was resolve to continue organising campus meetings on political topics. Socialist Students across the country are planning meetings to mark the anniversary of France's month of revolution in May 1968.

There was also discussion on our work in NUS and mobilising opposition to the governance review at the forthcoming NUS national conference. Socialist Students will campaign for Arran Cottam's election to the part time 'block of 12' on the NUS national executive.

In the second session, Ben Robinson from International Socialist Resistance and Naomi Byron from Youth against Racism in Europe (YRE) spoke on how to stop the racist British National Party. Naomi gave examples from the YRE's successful campaign in Tower Hamlets in mobilising workers, young people and the community against the BNP's presence in the 1990s.

She explained how racist ideas are a product of capitalism. Ben raised the need for socialists to mobilise opposition to the far right by campaigning against racism and for decent jobs, housing and public services. He highlighted the role of the main parties in increasing divisions and racism with their anti-youth and anti-working class policies and the need to raise a socialist alternative.

UK youth parliament question time

The 'UK youth parliament' held a question time debate on 22 February in Reading entitled 'I'm independent - get me out of here'.

Questions focused on the issues facing young people finding somewhere to live, managing their money, getting a job and going to university.

The panel included the Conservative leader of the Isle of Wight council, a Green Party local election candidate, a Liberal Democrat councillor, representatives from Voluntary Services Overseas and Connexions Berkshire and Matt Dobson, Socialist Students national organiser.

Matt explained that Socialist Students was organising a fightback against the government's attacks on young people. Most of the audience of about 30 young people (despite the presence of a sprinkling of vocal young Tories!) was receptive to these points. This was proved by people taking leaflets and buying copies of The Socialist after the debate.

100 Nottingham University students demonstrated against restrictions on the right to protest

100 Nottingham University students demonstrated against restrictions on the right to protest

Nottingham students also protested this week against attacks on freedom of speech. Video

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In The Socialist 27 February 2008:

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