Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Educate. Employ. Empower.

“No ifs, no buts, no education cuts! No ifs, no buts, no education cuts!”

That was the voice of thousands of students as they took to the streets of London, banners galore, expressing their frustration concerning the eye-watering £9000 tuition fees and the crushing numbers of unemployed youths under the leadership of the National Union of Students (NUS).

Being one of the many first-year students who already have a £9000 debt looming over their heads, not to mention the fact that I have got nowhere in finding a job, I jumped at the choice to march, the words of the consultants in job centres I showed my CV to echoing in my brain:

“You don’t have enough experience.”

How am I supposed to gain any experience if nobody is going to hire me? And the hums of agreement I received at the march were not that much of a comfort. What with the retirement age being increased, and the constant undeniable discrimination against adolescents, youth unemployment is at a record high with over 1.4 million 16 to 24 year olds unable to find work. Meanwhile, funding for services such as the Job Centre and Connexions – facilities which provide young people with advice on getting into work – has been cut.

This, along with the tripled university fees, has left students feeling betrayed by the government. With proposals to abolish the education maintenance allowance (EMA) for the poorest students and to remove adult learning grant (ALG) for second-chance learners, the student financial support has been described as “a joke”. According to NUS, 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 of London, and £8,112 for those in London.

So on the 21st November of this year we, the students, provided a voice. We assembled at Temple tube station and marched to the Oval in Kennington, chanting and demanding change to the unfair dismissal of the needs of the younger generations.

The march started off well – the weather was cold but clear, extra banners were handed out and the chants were loud and unmistakable in their meaning:

“No ifs, no buts, no education cuts!”

“They say ‘cut back’. We say ‘fight back’!”

“Bring back EMA! Bring back EMA!”

It was amazing to see how many people had turned up for this event, and the amount of press about was even more encouraging since that’s what we needed: good publicity. A voice.

It was as the crowd neared the Houses of Parliament that things got a little out of hand. The route that the NUS had planned for us to take brought us just shy of the building before turning us towards the bridge instead. A small minority of the crowd were especially angered by the “spineless” demonstration plan, some even resulting to throwing eggs and fruit at the head of NUS, Liam Burns. Although I understand their frustration at this – after all we were marching to make the government take notice of us – I can also understand why we were directed away from the Houses of Parliament after what happened in 2010 on Whitehall. We needed this to be a peaceful, mature protest, to show the public as well as the government that we are serious about this, and that we do have the right to be heard.

We continued to walk the rest of the way in the wind and rain, voicing what we were marching for to the media and, of course, chanting. Although by the time we made it to the Oval we were wet through and shivering, we were satisfied overall. Now we have to hope that the government take notice and with time make the necessary changes to the legislation and policies. We know that this is not an overnight change, but it’s about setting the agenda for education, and saying as a united student body that the current state of play is not acceptable for students and for young people in general.

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