Article @ Morning Star, published 5 November 2015
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell threw his weight behind students who took to the streets yesterday over Tory plans to cut maintenance grants and raise tuition fees.
Mr McDonnell kicked-off the demonstration as an estimated 7,000 students from across England assembled for the march near London’s largest universities.
Speaking to a cheering crowd, he said: “Your generation has been betrayed by this government in increases to tuition fees, in scrapping the education maintenance allowance and cuts in education.
“Education is a gift from one generation to another, it is not a product, a commodity to be bought and sold.
“This government is betraying you and future generations, we need to oppose it and I’m here in solidarity with that opposition.
“Your voice needs to be heard.”
Wishing protesters a good march, the Hayes and Harlington MP added: “Stay safe, but make sure that politicians know that we are not going to stand for this any more.
“Education is a basic human right.”
Dozens of students held makeshift shields made to look like famous political books.
Smoke flares and firecrackers were released during the march down Whitehall and around Westminster leading to the arrests of several young men.
Student activists have demanded a return of free education to Britain, after the new Conservative majority government promised to do away with £3,000 maintenance grants and start raising fees alongside inflation.
According to George Osborne’s new plans, the financial subsidy for children of households on incomes below £25,000 will be substituted by a loan to be paid off when students start earning over £21,000 a year.
University College London human rights student Alex McKenzie told the Star she had felt lucky she was able to afford university, but that it wasn’t fair others would potentially no longer be able to.
“I think education is a right everyone should be able to access,” she added.
“Without things like grants a lot of people that I’ve become friends with through university would not have been able to access education.
“So for that reason I really feel that’s something that’s worth defending.”
In their own words
“Maintenance grants are really important because the whole point of what the government has been doing over the last seven years has been saddling students with so much debt. The purpose of it is to force people into low-paid and precarious work with no in-work rights at a time when they are also attacking trade unions. The debt problem is the big thing. It causes so much anxiety. That’s why we’re campaigning against these two things together.” — George Severs, Royal Holloway
“I’m here to fight for free education, against the course cuts that are being proposed and the maintenance grants. Just fighting student debt. This happens every year, I was here last year [so I decided to come again].” — Halima Usayd, SOAS
“I came today because education is a right not a privilege. You shouldn’t need to have been to an elite school to go to university. That’s not the way to make our country work, that’s not a fair way. And also, as a medical student, there’s currently a fight going on over junior doctor contracts and it’s about showing solidarity with all people in all the forms of education. And hopefully they’ll come out to protest with us.” — Joe Simpson, Kings College London