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From tuition fee hike to Egypt: London's student protests all-encompassing

Text by Sophie PILGRIM

Latest update : 2011-01-30

Thousands of students took to the streets of London Saturday in the latest protest against tuition fee hikes. The march was meant to end at the ruling Conservative Party’s headquarters, but protesters proceeded to the Egyptian embassy.

In the first major demonstrations since late last year, thousands of students in London and the northern English city of Manchester took to the streets protesting the Conservative-led coalition government’s hike in university tuition fees.

Drawn up as part of a massive austerity overhaul, the reform will require students at English universities to pay as much as 9,000 pounds (10,000 euros) per year for their studies, up from 3,290 pounds.

Previous protests over the controversial fee hike have descended into violence. On December 10, 2010, hundreds of students attacked a car containing Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall as parliamentarians voted to increase tuition fees.
Saturday’s protests in London were largely peaceful, although scuffles between demonstrators and police broke out in Manchester.   
British Prime Minister David Cameron has argued that students will benefit from the reform because they’re no longer expected to pay their fees upfront. But the worry is that students from poorer, traditionally debt-averse backgrounds, will be daunted by the prospect of loans that could take decades to pay.
Laurie, an 18-year-old student from Brighton who declined to provide his last name, had planned to study to become a paramedic. But he told FRANCE 24 that he had been scared off by the changes.
“I’d be looking at leaving university with at least 30,000 [pounds in debt]," he said. "I highly doubt I’ll be able to go. Does the government want doctors, scientists, politicians for the future?”

‘Destroying a generation’

The government has said it will use the increased fees - starting in 2012 - to cover massive cuts to the higher education budget. Students only start paying back their debt once they earn over 21,000 pounds a year.
But the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), a London-based economic research organization, says that the average student will never pay back their loan in full because of a 30-year cut-off point, after which the loan is wiped out by the state treasury.
A group of students with scarves covering their faces who declined to be named, told FRANCE 24 that the reform would “destroy our whole generation in terms of jobs and education”.
From David Cameron... to Hosni Mubarak

The march was supposed to end on Millbank, a central London street where the ruling Conservative Party’s headquarters are located. However, the entrance to the building was blocked by security after last year’s protests ended in violent clashes between protesters and police.

Lacking direction, protesters began to trail off in various directions. Antonia Bright, from the London-based civil rights group Movement for Justice, complained of a lack of momentum. “It felt powerful in previous protests. [What we’ve seen] today communicates that people are quieter now.”

But because large numbers of Egyptians had joined the protests to voice their discontent with their own government, many then headed to the Egyptian embassy near the Conservative Party headquarters.
One demonstrator, Gavin (who declined to give his last name) from Sunderland, explained the last-minute coalition. “What’s going on in Egypt - the cuts in food and fuel subsidies - was born out of the financial crisis. So was the increase in fees here. It’s all linked”, he said.

The Egyptians certainly didn’t seem to mind. One protester, when asked if he was happy to unite with thousands of angry students, grinned and shouted, “We’re happy to have support from anybody!”


Date created : 2011-01-30

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