Student Protests: The Problem is No One is Listening

11/11/2011 00:34 GMT | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

Demos are of course intended to publicise a cause, to literally demonstrate the strength of feeling about a particular issue and the number of people who feel affected.

By this gauge, few issues have enraged as sizeable a section of the British public as regularly as tuition fees. Since their introduction by the Labour government 13 years ago, the strength of feeling against charging people to go to university has ensured that a demonstrations have taken place almost every year since.

Fortunately, there were no major incidents of violence at the protests on Wednesday, although reports of 24 arrests suggest that the march did not pass entirely without trouble.

However, most of the coverage of the march focused on the behaviour of the demonstrators and the effectiveness of the police. Media attention is never proportionate to the size of a march.

Although far larger demos over fees took place in the noughties, the violence of last year's event ensured that there was far more coverage of the protest this year. Newspapers on Wednesday morning carried maps of potential 'flash points' and the police pointed out they had the option of the use of rubber bullets if things turned nasty.

Largely absent from the debate, however, was any discussion on the ever-increasing cost of attending university, which of course has been the inspiration for the protests that have been taking place for over a decade.

Although some would have you believe that the protestors represent a small minority of youths who would be angry with whatever policies were being issued by the government, the regular occurrence of these protests are entirely reflective of public mood.

Polls have consistently shown that most people oppose tuition fees since the idea was first floated in the late 1990s. The position of Labour and the Liberal Democrats in opposition reflects fees' unpopularity: both parties have attempted to capitalise on the strength of public feeling when out of power, only to renege once in government.

The Labour Party's about face on top-up fees was even more stark: having promised to prevent their introduction in their 2001 manifesto and even arguing that they had "legislated against them", Blair's government initiated such fees once re-elected, massively increasing the cost of attending university in the process.

Now back in opposition, Labour seem to have learned to be a bit more careful about the commitments they make, and Ed Milliband has now committed to a £6,000 cap on annual tuition fees. To me though this is an insufficient commitment and, given his party's record, entirely untrustworthy.

I attended the protest on Wednesday and totally sympathise with the strength of feeling on this issue. As the occupation outside St Paul's Cathedral and the consequent focus on the undemocratic nature of the City of London demonstrate, effective public action can bring issues to the forefront and help us move towards change.

Rather than getting bogged down in debates over the effectiveness of police tactics or the behaviour of protestors, we need to look at the issue being raised: Ucas has reported a 12% decrease in applications from UK residents to go to university in 2012, with a 20% fall among those over 25 and a 28% fall for those in their 40s.

Just as importantly we also need to ask ourselves why successive governments have been willing to ignore public opinion on tuition fees-and seemingly go unpunished at the ballot box for going back on their word.