THE BLOG

Why Students Are Marching Against a Government Waging a War on the Young and the Working Classes

04/11/2015 09:41 GMT | Updated 03/11/2016 09:12 GMT

Today, students and activists will take to the streets of London to demand free education and living grants for all. We are putting forward these two positive demands, but they are made in the face of an incredibly negative situation.

We demand free education, because we know that it is a right for all. Education is liberatory, a social good and a fundamental right; for home and international students, from HND to PhD.

We march for living grants, because we believe that the system of means testing parents to determine their child's success is wrong and the student finance system is broken. What of the LGBT student estranged by their parents and cut off? What of those with other reasons for not contacting their parents, and what of those whose parents can't support them for many other reasons? And we specifically demand living grants, because student poverty and eating beans for every meal isn't a joke - it is poverty! Everyone should have the ability to fully live whilst they study, not be burdened by the worry of debt; a debt incurred by a loan that for many doesn't even cover rent, let alone living costs.

This student finance system is broken, but it is still better than the now-proposed transition from maintenance grants to higher maintenance loans. This will plunge the million poorest students into the most debt - coupled with the changes to the student loan repayment system this means that those who enter the higher education system poorer will, over the course of the thirty years they repay their loans, pay £13,000 more than their wealthier peers. We counter this regressive tax by demanding that the richest in society pay for education and living grants.

And what's more, there is likely to be a tuition fee rise on the horizon. When Jo Johnson's proposed Teaching Excellence Framework is unleashed to put more pressure on casualised graduate workers and judge teaching quality by the level of graduate job a student goes into, it will very likely be connected to a fee rise. This will be allowed for those institutions which rank as excellent, and give them the ability to raise fees in line with inflation - so not only will the poorest students graduate mired in debt, they will have to pay more in the first place to enter our most prestigious institutions.

But let's be clear here: the Conservative government is not only targeting students in their lives as students; they are waging a war on the young and the working classes across society. The destruction of youth housing benefit, the NHS, social housing and working tax credits, and the spreading of anti-migrant narratives and the Prevent "counter-terrorism" agenda, with its wide-reaching surveillance especially on Muslim students, will all affect 'the average student' in one way or another.

This political situation demands a coherent political response from the student movement, and requires us not just to march against attacks on education or take on single issue campaigns, but to put forward our own ideas about the transformation of society. The Conservative agenda isn't single-issue so we can't afford to be either.

That's why we're highlighting the demand of "No Borders" in this demonstration, and marching for an end to the scapegoating of migrants, a right to remain and to work for our international students and for the abolition of all borders and global freedom of movement. The demand for no borders is not a rebellion against something, it is a solution - as with free education, alone and in a vacuum it cannot be effective, but in combination with our other demands it begins to form a solution which could transform our society.

The situation is undoubtedly bleak; but there is hope: we are now in a very different political climate to twelve months ago - or even four months ago. The election of Jeremy Corbyn to the Leader of the Opposition has opened up a new space in the British political mainstream for radical ideas to enter mainstream discourse. This did not happen, and his election was not won, without the efforts of many thousands of grassroots activists who have been lobbying, marching and protesting for many years previously. Going forwards, those grassroots social movements must be the foundation and the guide for the parliamentary campaign that Corbyn represents.

We stand today on the streets in a long tradition of effective activism. We know that our demands will not be won just in one day, but with a sustained campaign of organisation and action. We will strike, walk out and resist the government until those demands are met.

Hannah Sketchley is a member of the National Committee of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, who have organised today's demonstration. She is the former Democracy & Communications Officer at UCLU