In 2010, a series of student protests took place in London. The participants were angry about plans to raise the cap on the cost of university from £3000 a year to £9000. Alongside this, huge cuts were to be made to state spending on subjects such as humanities and the EMA – an allowance for students from low income families attending college – was to be scrapped. This was part of the, then fairly new, conservative-led coalition government’s austerity drive. Their argument was that the UK government had to cut back spending as the country had a huge deficit. Education was the first to be affected by this plan, but cuts to the NHS, legal aid, libraries and other public services soon followed. The protesters saw this as an ideologically driven attempt to privatise the education sector and argued that it would reduce social mobility by putting off people from working class backgrounds from going to university.
On 10th November, the country was taken by surprise by the first protest, in which students stormed the Conservative party’s headquarters at Millbank and occupied it for several hours – damaging the building in the process. The protests then became major news and the following protests saw increased media interest and a much heavier police presence. Two more protests followed in November before the final one on the day that the legislation was to be voted on in parliament. After initial attempts to stop them, the protesters managed to break through into parliament square and occupy it for the duration of the vote. The police responded by using their tactic of “kettling”, whereby all exits to the square were blocked and the protesters kept inside. There were sporadic confrontations throughout the afternoon with protesters throwing stones and and using metal barriers to attack police lines. In return the police used batons to beat the protesters back and charged the square with horse-mounted officers. As night fell, frustration with police tactics followed by the news that the bill had been passed lead to angry scenes with people attempting to storm the treasury, setting fire to things, as well as trying to force their way out of the square.
Five years on, interpretations of the results of the changes to education vary. Universities almost universally raised fees up to the maximum of £9000 and while it seems that the rise in fees has not put those from lower income backgrounds off university, graduates are facing years of debt and some may never be able to pay it off. Some even believe that this will mean that the changes will actually cost the government money, despite the reasoning behind them being that lack of money made the rise a necessity. With hindsight, the education bill can be seen as the first move in this government’s campaign of austerity and privatisation. The student protests turned out to be the strongest wave of protest to this campaign and despite discontent, cuts to the NHS and other public services have failed to ignite similar levels of visible anger. They probably have however, contributed to the dramatic fall of the Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats as their U-turn on their pre-election pledge to resist any raise to tuition fees was highlighted.
These photos were taken during the final protest on the day of the vote.
Tags: photography, 2011, student, protest, education, university, fees, fire, london, parliament, Nick Clegg, austerity, cuts