"No tuition fees! No education cuts! No debt!" Those are the calls being voiced in the streets of London on Wednesday as thousands of students marched for publicly-funded ("free") education nationwide.
The protest was also billed as a direct challenge to austerity cuts to higher education imposed by the conservative government led by David Cameron.
Organizers said the march is just the beginning of "a major wave of action" ahead of the nation's next general election. "We are determined," the students said in a joint letter, "to build a movement too big to ignore that puts free, accessible and public education back on the political agenda."
In a tweet, the anti-austerity group UK Uncut declared, "No cuts! No fees! No debt! Education is a right not a privilege. The students are back on the streets demanding #Free Education."
The #freeeducation hashtag is being used to document the march in real-time on Twitter:
Led by a coalition of several student-led groups—including the Student Assembly Against Austerity, the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and the Young Greens —organizers and participants wrote an open letter explaining their demands in a letter published in the Guardian on Wednesday morning:
Today we are stepping up our campaign against tuition fees and education cuts with the biggest student national demonstration for years. As student debt soars and staff working conditions deteriorate, it is clear that the marketization of education is failing students and workers alike.
Last month Germany scrapped tuition fees – proving once again that free education is possible. If the government increased tax on the rich, scrapped Trident or reduced military spending, billions of pounds would be made available to fund education and other vital public services.
Free education is not just about the money. It’s about the working conditions of those who make our education possible, and about democratizing and liberating our institutions and the curriculum; funding vocational and further education, living grants and childcare that allows women to freely access learning.
According to a statement put out by the Young Greens, the Cameron government and the ruling elites have their priorities on education all wrong. "[They] sees public services as a means to make a profit for the rich and powerful rather than a means to serve the common good," the party said in a statement. Putting forward their proposed solutions, the group listed the following set of policy changes to counter the current assault on education and students:
- Abolish all tuition fees.
- Increase student grants to cover costs of living.
- Cut accommodation costs by investing in decent, affordable social housing and regulating landlords.
- Ensure that universities are sufficiently funded and accessible to all, including providing for disabled students and those with children.
Earlier this the year, the Student Assembly Against Austerity released a digital pamphlet, titled The Student Manifesto, which explained why free education was necessary and laid out 15 demands to create a revitalized public education in the country.
This story was originally published on Common Dreams.