It's been over four years since the 2010 protests which saw more than 50,000 students take to the streets of London to demonstrate against the coalition's plans to further commoditise education and hike up the price of tuition fees to the exorbitant figure of £9000 per year. This near trebling of the cost of a degree incited the anger of many, and the path of this anger was organised into a formal student protest the size of which has not been seen since. The demonstrators demanded the right to a free education, which nearly all MPs voting in favour of the motion themselves had benefited from, rather than facing a further increase of debt.
Despite these protests and the voice of the student body being clearly against the increase, the government went ahead with it anyway. It was a difficult passing, that saw the government's majority slashed and two Liberal Democrats resign from their posts in government in order to vote against what they felt was a betrayal of their party's promise to students to vote against any rise in tuition fees. In fact, all 57 elected Liberal Democrat MPs signed the NUS' pledge to vote against any future increase in fees.
Since this U-turn, students have turned on Nick Clegg and his party for this betrayal of that promise. On the day it passed in the Commons, protestors in one last rally against the motion were heard chanting "Nick Clegg, eat shit!" outside Parliament Square. Sentiments remain much the same today. The Liberal Democrats, who had been cast as the champions of students prior to 2010, have seen their support from the student population shrink from the overwhelming 50% to just 6%. A knife in the back is not taken lightly, no matter how big the smile, Nick.
Fast forward to 2014 through what many consider to be four years of student apathy after having our rights and wishes ignored, and students are making a stand in a big way. Facing many tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt, uncertain future prospects, and a continual lowering of the standards of living, we have decided we have had enough. This term has seen a return to fighting form as thousands have rallied once again under the banner of free education, strengthened by figures which show that the entire exercise was financially unworkable in the first place. A current figures stand, almost 75% of the £9000 tuition fees won't be repaid. In November, students travelled from up and down the country and descended on London to march with the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts' protest. The biting austerity pioneered by the coalition government has hit people hard, and students angered by it turned out in the thousands to demand an end to this neoliberal nightmare and commoditisation of their education.
Despite the four years time difference, the similarities are striking. Students nationwide are taking to the streets and campuses in retaliation against what many of us feel is a worsening in the standards of our education, at a continually upward spiralling price, while our voices continue to be ignored. Meanwhile, it would seem that despite strong criticism of kettling tactics in 2010, rather than toning things down, police are in fact upping the violent and repressive nature of their reaction to protests.
Justin Tallis, via Getty Images
In 2011, two SOAS students suffered the hard boot and arm of the law while demonstrating outside of the University buildings. Earlier this year in January, they were both cleared and awarded damages after video footage and photographs showed deeply unsettling inconsistencies in the police's accounts of the situation. In 2013 after the University of London officially banned protest on its campuses for six months - a move seen as anti-democratic by the majority of the student body - students, rightly outraged began to speak out against this heavy-handed police presence at Universities. Recently, clashes between peaceful protestors and the police, which saw police with tasers at the ready and pepper-spraying students, at Warwick University grabbed the media's attention. Again, there is video evidence of these brutal tactics, which have been called into question by more than just students.
In response to the police's mistreatment of protesters in Warwick, students are sitting in to stand up for their rights: Universities across the country have taken part in solidarity occupations and staged protests of their own. At my own University, Bristol, a protest to demand more transparency over departmental and university spending is set to attract almost 1000 students after many Arts students have finally decided to challenge the way things are run. Students are fed up of being disregarded by politicians and an elite which has continued to fail us as a group. We are tired of being cast as the apathetic, lazy generation that doesn't care.
What will it take for politicians and University boards to sit up and realise that we are more than just pissed off? We are angry, and our voices are carrying far more weight than some choose to recognise. We refuse to be neglected any longer. Our rights and freedoms are not only being infringed upon by an overbearing police presence on campus, but in addition our entire higher educational system has been turned into a financial transaction. Students and staff alike have been angered by the government's wilful abandonment of their needs. So it is that in 2014, we have decided we have had enough. Students are taking to the stand and our voices are growing louder every day. It is high time that Westminster and University boardrooms pay attention and start to listen. Come 2015 and the election in May, it might not just be Nick Clegg who we decide to unseat from power...