19/11/2012 08:08 GMT | Updated 19/11/2012 09:02 GMT

#Demo2012: Students Marching Against Unemployment, Internships And 'Broken Promises'

For many years, student demonstrations have been characterised simply as marches against tuition fees, but this year's protest looks likely to set a new precedent.

The slogan for #Demo2012, named as such to reflect the ever growing role of Twitter, is "Educate. Employ. Empower".

Unlike its predecessors, this year's demonstration aims to give voice to a host of problems affecting not only today's students but an "entire generation", according to the National Union of Students (NUS).

"If we want to make a real impact, this demo needs to be a debate changer," the NUS has said. "It needs to reach beyond purely student issues. If we focus only on tuition fees, we’ll get little sympathy from a public that’s suffering from austerity cuts."

student protest

Students took to the streets in London last year to protest against tuition fees

At present, 21.9% of under 25-year-olds are not in work or education. At the same time, funding for the Job Centre and Connexions services, which advise young people on getting back in to work and training, has been cut.

The NUS has rallied students across the UK to "show the government how angry we are at their betrayals and broken promises".

"Education should open doors but the government is slamming them shut," president of the union Liam Burns says. "The damaging effects of recent changes to education have restricted access for future students and created new barriers for those currently studying.

"Our message is that a strong education system benefits not only the economy but families and communities across this country.

"Politicians need to make the public value of education the starting point of their plans to bring about economic recovery."

nus student demo route

The demonstration route will see students marching from Temple tube station to Kennington

Rising tuition fees will always be a component of the protests, but this time the focus is on unpaid internships, postgraduate study and bursaries, to name a few. The organisation is touting a Robin Hood Tax on banks as an alternative to cuts, as well as clamping down on corporate tax dodging.

University costs will also form part of the protest, as a report released by the NUS on Monday showed students face a living shortfall of thousands per year.

According to the research, the gap between the potential government support students can receive and the actual cost of being a university student has grown to £8,566 per year for those studying outside London, and £8,112 for those in London.

Pete Mercer, NUS Vice-President Welfare, called the new system of student support a "joke".

"Student financial support is a mess and it is not reaching the right people when they need it. Fee waivers are a joke to anyone who has a pile of bills to pay and months until their next loan payment - what they need is cash bursaries that help them meet the costs of studying.”

"If you had a minimum wage job and received no further support from your university or family you’d have to work full time every week of the year to come close to bridging this gap."

So, who is marching?

Dom Anderson, vice-president academic at the University of Derby students' union, explained his, rather personal, reasons for attending the demonstration on Wednesday.

Anderson was expelled from school at 15, "without a single GCSE to my name", along with a friend. After a stint at a referral centre, Anderson managed to get his life on track through apprenticeships and college courses, and went on to study history at university. His friend was not so lucky.

"Shortly after leaving the referral centre he began to involve himself with crime; street robbery, drug dealing, and even weapons.

"The last time I saw him he was in a psychiatric hospital after being diagnosed with schizophrenia. To this day I wish he had been given the opportunities that many take for granted.

"I often ask question how we ended up on such different paths," he adds.

"The answer eludes me but what this story teaches me is simple; when I march on 21/11/12 I will be marching for my friend with the memory of our conversations about our childhood dreams in mind, I will be carrying with me the responsibility my journey has given me to make a difference and finally I will be with tens of thousands of other students who each have a story and things to be thankful for that together can send a message that people like my friend are not forgotten."

And it's not just universities getting involved. Zak Thompson, president of Burton and South Derbyshire College students’ union is participating, after taking part in the TUC demo in October.

"A qualification can change a person’s life," he says. "Think how many lives have been denied of that change by the government.

"If we are the change then let’s do exactly that; be the change for ourselves, to be the change for our students, but most importantly to be the change for everyone who wants to go to college or university and have an impact on their lives."

In recent interview, the NUS president voiced his concerns over possibility of violence at the demonstration, saying he was powerless to "stop any arsehole from coming along".

"I think we’ve done everything we can to negate violence," Liam Burns said. "All of our students' unions are quite clear about this being a peaceful demonstration. I think we've set the tone right."

"For me the reason that violence will never form a part of this campaign is that it doesn’t make sense tactically. You want public sympathy on your side; violence is not going to engender public sympathy."


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