10,000 Students Take London in Education Protest

England’s youth amass, Scotland Yard responds.

10,000 Students Take London in Education Protest
[Photo: Chris John Beckett, found on Flickr.]

Reports from London indicate that some 10,000 students have taken the streets to demonstrate against what they consider drastic and unnecessary education cuts and fees. The protest has so far remained peaceful.

So what’s the situation in England? The proposed measures by Parliament, called the white paper, favor private universities, and include gutting the education maintenance budget while cutting university teaching budgets and programs; simultaneously with the cuts, the plan proposes increasing tuition figures and adding extra fees.

Professors at prominent universities in England have proposed an “alternative white paper” that claims “the commodification of higher education is at the secret heart of the white paper” and that “the government seeks a differently funded sector, one which can provide new outlets for capital that struggles to find suitable opportunities for investment elsewhere.”

As far as the youth are concerned, there’s reason England had been in tumult in 2011. According to government figures cited by the Guardian, the number of unemployed youth (ages 16-24) in England is “almost nudging one million.” That’s roughly 20% of that demographic, according to data from the 2001 census.

On top of reducing funding for education, Britain’s government wants to add enormous fees to the already high cost of education. Compared to the rest of Europe, England’s education costs much more. The flip-side to this is the quality of education in Britain is ranked higher than in other countries around Europe.

In an effort to intimidate protesters before they hit the streets, force chiefs at Scotland Yard announced that 4,000 police officers were made available for the rally. All in all 24 arrests have been made as of the latest available information at 8:01 p.m. (GMT), with a few complaints about police brutality.

Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), had this to say of the authority’s handling: “Talk of rubber bullets and direct mailings to students who attended past protests is dangerously close to a clear agenda of either discouraging peaceful, legitimate protest or heightening tensions before a single protester even arrived in London.”

Most of the arrests were made in Trafalgar Square, where a few fearless Brits set up a city of about 30 tents holding roughly 50 people.

Birmingham University student Claire Lister gave her reasons for protesting to the Guardian. Here they are in part:

A progressive society must make education accessible to all regardless of gender, ethnicity, disability and family income. With the introduction of £9,000 [note: this is ~$12,185] fees along with the privatisation of universities, people are already being forced out of education. The cuts within universities will affect women to the greatest degree. Humanities courses – which in general have a larger percentage of female students – are being targeted first for spending cuts.

Of course the same targeting of humanities and liberal arts is happening here in the States — not to detract from England’s situation, but to point our governments’ collective devaluing of these programs. The right to an education in the field of one’s choosing – David Foster Wallace once called liberal arts education “learning how to think” – has never been more under attack, yet simultaneously, ardently defended.

In Zen Buddhism and Taoism, the number 10,000 signifies the phenomenon of all reality. Today in London, it signifies the reality of how 10,000 disenfranchised individuals respond to being financially cornered.

For American students like me who are seeing the effects of education cuts (particularly living in a state where the governor wants to completely axe liberal arts programs), it gives new credence to The Clash’s “London Calling,” which drifts away saying, “I never felt so much alike, alike, alike…”

Cheers from across the pond!