Wednesday, December 22, 2010

No fees, No cuts, Defend education! National Demonstration – Saturday 29th January

National Demonstration against education cuts, fees and to save EMA – January 29th, assembling at 12noon

The student uprising against the Tory-led assault on the welfare state has been breathtaking.

The vote to treble tuition fees has gone through – but this is not the end.

Savage cuts, higher fees and the scrapping of EMA will have devastating consequences for young people.

Our movement has sent a clear message to the government: we will fight your immoral and illogical cuts. Now we must turn the heat up even more.

The national demonstration on January 29 in London has called by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the Education Activist Network, the University College Union (UCU) and is supported by the Free Education Campaign.

We will be pushing for the NUS to support the demonstration at the NUS NEC emergency meeting in January. The NUS President, Aaron Porter does not currently wish to support the demo.

On the same day there will be a TUC rally and demonstration in Manchester supported by UCU and PCS youth network which we also encourage activists to attend if they cannot make it to London.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Children of the revolution

This article was first published in the Evening Standard on Thursday 16th December 2010.

Student protesters are breaking away from their official union into new, more militant groups. Fresh leaders are emerging and Joshua Neicho has been meeting them.

For a month, we seem to have been cast in a tide of student protest — but not one of the big marches since the invasion of Millbank on November 10 has been organised by the NUS. Into the fray have come a slew of homemade placards and new organisations including the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts (NCFC), the Free Education Campaign, Schools and FE Students against the Cuts, and local equivalents.

“I don’t know how it happened,” says Joana Oliveira Pinto about the NCFC, which was founded in February. “It’s not hegenomic, more like a parliament.”

The London Student Assembly, formed this autumn, convened last Friday to set up a national organisation. Occupations at London universities were carried out by groups independently of their student union leadership.

There is a widespread sense that NUS president Aaron Porter has been weak and has sold out. Politics PhD student and Opendemocracy blogger Guy Aitchison blames him for “forfeiting moral and political leadership” because of his over-the-top condemnation of the Millbank protests and then for “going back on his promise to support the occupations in the most deeply irresponsible way” (he attempted to strike a deal over fees with ministers). A campaign for a vote of no confidence in him is afoot.

“Students organising things on campuses often have been previously active with their student union, or People & Planet, or one of the political parties,” suggests Green/Left campaigner Adam Ramsay. “But they are getting things going themselves in the absence of national leadership, inspired by things happening at other campuses, organising using a procedure of consensus decision-making invented by the anti-globalisation protest movement”.

Specifically, Climate Camp, the annual gathering of youthful green protesters, has supplied a pre-existing network and a non-violent direct action philosophy.

UK Uncut, an anti-tax avoidance protest group which has grabbed headlines for its occupations of Vodafone shops, is seen as an explicit model by campus activists like UCL’s Jon Moses. English undergrad Tom Dillon, stung by political betrayal, describes going from a common room occupation to a UK Uncut flash-mob. “There is an alternative to cuts but politicians are ignoring it”. Online journalist Ellie Mae has been running the group’s protests in Liverpool before handing over the reins as she relocates to London. The target of tax avoidance appeals to her British sense of fair play. “I don’t respond well to big group activities,” she says. “I don’t even see myself as an activist.” She is right behind tuition fees protests — “by any standards, £21,000 is a phenomenal amount” — though for her and many others the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for low-income sixth-formers is even more significant.

Shiv Malik, 29-year-old author of The Jilted Generation, views wryly the debate about whether the protesters are anarchists or socialists. “They are very much Thatcher’s children — they believe in freedom, individualism and have no solid ideology. They are out there for more than education cuts.”

In what Malik brands the “hashtag revolution”, Twitter has been crucial in organising and shaping protests, frustrating police by directing hundreds of people to make a move in a particular direction. New web initiatives have helped assemble petitions and allowed supporters to post footage of independent actions they have embarked on.

The hub of the university occupations were teams on computers co-ordinating a mass lobby of wavering Lib-Dem MPs. But the anti-fees and cuts movement has married the white heat of technology with traditional methods — the open meeting where people come and freely debate; tub-thumping open lectures held by SOAS academics and Goldsmiths students in locations ranging from a bank to the St Pancras concourse. The UCL occupation delighted visitors with the bohemianism of its handmade posters and communal kitchen. Bands and comics have played protest gigs. Josie Long, darling of the indie comedy scene, is an ardent backer of the movement and its “organised, sane, fun” supporters who she feels have been traduced by a hostile media.

Any accusation the movement is narrowly middle-class can be countered by the battle to save the EMA. One of the leading figures in this is James Mills, a young working-class Londoner and Lib-Dem parliamentary researcher who went from tough Gunnersbury School to St Andrews at the same time as Prince William. Meanwhile, many student and graduate activists vouch modestly that school-age protesters have been more positive and creative in their campaigning than they have, spontaneously occupying sixth forms at the risk of exclusion from school. They pay tribute by seeing their protests as part of a duty of care to younger generations which MPs have manifestly failed to show.

Given the electoral arithmetic, commentators tend to see a fees rise as a fait accompli. But the grassroots movement is not discouraged — and has rallied behind protester Jody McIntyre after his harsh treatment on TV. James Haywood of Goldsmiths looks enviously to Rome where protesters have occupied railway tracks, bringing the city to a halt.

Many protesters are clearly in it for the long haul. “I’m 100 per cent committed — I don’t think I could sleep at night if I wasn’t involved,” says Josie Long. Or as graduate student Benjamin Weiss, involved in occupations in London and Cambridge, vows: “We’ve made our presence felt with fees. When it comes to the NHS we will be there too”.

Six Angry Young Men and Women, By Ben Bryant

Pictured above, from top left

James Haywood, 23

Used to want to be an academic, but says that now he can’t afford it. Worked as a butcher for two years before attending Goldsmiths College to study history. He is Campaigns Officer of the Students’ Union there.

Kanja Sesay, 22
Born in Sierra Leone, living through 11 years of civil war and coups d’etat. Came to England in 1999 and studied law and history at Bradford University. He is NUS Black Students’ Officer and a vocal critic of NUS President Aaron Porter.

Sean Rillo Raczka, 28

Activism runs in his family – his grandfather were both trade unionists. He left school at 16 and worked in admin before going to university at 26. He is chair of Birkbeck Students’ Union and NUS NEC Mature Students’ Rep.

Fiona Edwards, 23

Father a builder. Went to Worcester comprehensive, studied politics at Sheffield and became Women’s Officer. Involved in campaigning groups including Free Education Campaign and Student Broad Left.

Marie Leconte, 18
French student from Nantes now at the University of Westminster who attended the UCL occupation.

Jon Moses, 21
Father a geophysicist. Went to private school in Monmouth. Graduated this year from UCL in history. Stalwart of the UCL occupation and member of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Open Letter: Let’s organize together a united conference for free education and against education cuts

Dear friends,

We write to propose a united national conference against education cuts and for free education and to invite student campaigning organisations and occupations to be a co-organiser of this.

Whilst groups and occupations will continue to organize a whole range of local, regional and national activities - which will continue to put the Tory-led government under considerable pressure – we believe that a national, unified conference will strengthen the whole movement. We believe there is considerable enthusiasm amongst students for such an initiative.

The aim would be to have a united national conference in the next academic term organised by all those campaigns, Student Unions and sections of NUS, and occupations that have so successfully organised actions over recent weeks against higher fees and education cuts following the NUS leaderships' failure to build on the successful national demo of November 10.

To this end we believe representatives from all participating groups should meet at a convenient time and place in the week beginning Monday 10th January 2011.

We hope that you will able to participate in this initiative which we believe will facilitate greater collaboration between all those who wish to seriously fight to defend our education.

In solidarity,

Free Education Campaign

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It is time to go Aaron Porter – we need a fighting NUS

Students need a fighting NUS to take on the Tory cuts.

“We the undersigned believe that Aaron Porter should be removed as NUS National President as he is unable to lead the student movement. His failure to call or even back another National Demonstration, his refusal to back up his promises of support for occupations, his weak stance on police brutality and his collusion with the Government in identifying cuts means that he has lost the confidence of the movement.

We call on activists to bring motions to their SUs calling for his removal and an Extraordinary Conference to do so.”

Signed in a personal capacity:

Sean Rillo Raczka, NUS NEC and Chair of Birkbeck SU

Clare Solomon, ULU President

Fiona Edwards, Student Broad Left

Joshi Sachdeo, NUS NEC

Ashok Kumar, LSE Education Officer

Mary Robertston, Free Education Campaign & SOAS Occupier

Javed Anjum Sheikh, NUS NEC

Poggy Murray, NUS Black Student Committee & Liverpool Guild of Students LGBT Officer

To add your name email:

* * * *



1. That on the 9/12/10 over 30,000 students marched from the University of London Union (ULU) to Parliament in a protest against fees and cuts on the day of the vote to raise tuition fees.

2. That the National Union of Students organised a candlelight vigil and rally in Victoria Embankment with under 1,000 attending.

3. That the NUS NEC, in a proposal made by NUS President Aaron Porter, voted NOT to back the march from ULU.

4. That Aaron Porter stated he was ‘not at all proud’ of the ULU protest.

5. That the co-ordinators of the NUS Rally at Victoria Embankment urged those in attendance to return home immediately afterwards and not to join the protest in Parliament Square.

6. That violent police tactics including kettling, horse charges and the use of batons were deployed by the Met, leaving over 43 protestors injured or hospitalised, including one life threatening injury.

7. That the NUS has not put out an official statement condemning the police violence towards students on the 9th of December, standing up for their right to protest and not be illegally kettled or charged by horses.

8. That Aaron Porter recently visited the UCL Occupation where he stated that the NUS would provide support for those in occupation, as well as calling a National Demonstration on the day of the fees vote.

9. That at the UCL Occupation meeting Aaron Porter admitted that the NUS had been ‘spineless’ and ‘dithering’ in response the student occupations.

10. That Aaron Porter has reneged on both promises mentioned above (8).


1. That emails leaked to the Daily Telegraph show that the NUS had put models of alternative cuts to Ministers, outlining where cuts could be made to the Higher Education budget without raising tuition fees. These plans included cutting grants to the poorest students, and immediately charging a higher commercial rate on interest on student loans.

2. That the NUS response to this leak is to admit that they had ‘met with ministers and officials to discuss and model various potential impacts of cuts to Higher Education’


1. That the National Union of Students should not be in the business of modelling cuts for the ConDem Government or discussing possible ways of cutting grants from the poorest of students.

2. That the NUS National President should keep his promises.

3. That the NUS should organise another National Demo, and officially supporting and coordinating other demonstrations and protest.

4. That the NUS should give practical support to occupations and students affected by police violence.

5. That Aaron Porter, given his failure to assist students & occupation, and to coordinate or support further National Demonstrations against the cuts, and because of his helpful emails to the government, is incapable of leading the student movement.


1. That we have no confidence in Aaron Porter as NUS President.

2. To call for an Extraordinary Conference to hear this vote of no confidence.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

BBC interview: Student Jody McIntyre exposes media campaign to undermine student protest

Student protester Jody McIntyre was dragged from his wheelchair by police during last week’s protest in London in yet another shock display of police violence.

Jody’s interview on the BBC exposes the media campaign to undermine student protest. The clip also reveals the disgusting attempt by the right wing media to present the victims of violence as the perpetrators.

Act now: Call the BBC on 03700 100 222 to complain about the Ben Brown interview with Jody McIntyre. The BBC must respond to every complaint received. Fight the right wing media’s campaign to undermine student protest.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Day of the Vote – an eyewitness account by Aaron Kiely

By Aaron Kiely, University of Kent Occupation

Firstly, I have to state that I am a member of Labour Party, a candidate in the upcoming local elections, a Committee member of the NUS Black Students’ Campaign and an elected representative of Kent Students’ Union; I would never act in a way to damage the reputation of any of these organisations as I am proud to contribute and participate in them and I am conscious that at this protest I represent all the students who elected me locally, nationally as well as fellow residents in my local Labour Party.

What I witnessed and experienced at Parliament Square was absolutely horrific, and the levels of police brutality and indiscriminate violence were made all the more shocking due to the the fact that a very large proportion of those who attended the march from Malet Street to outside Parliament were young, either Further Education students or school students, and a very visible and large number were Black students.

The protest started absolutely peacefully, and I joined the march at Trafalgar Square and made the short journey to Parliament at around 1:30pm with other Kent students. I made my way to the front of the demonstration and as students were pushing to make their way closer to Parliament, made sure that students that wanted to move to the back were allowed to do so, as well as making sure that people were not being hurt in the push. I think it is important that we demonstrate as close as possible to Parliament as we can, as MPs were in the Palace and hopefully would’ve been able to hear our chants calling for them to not betray students and future generations by voting for the removal of the current cap in favour of variable fees of up to £9,000 a year. The atmosphere was wholly positive, with impressively creatively placards, chants and a real strength of diversity in the Trade Union and Student Union banners, from the CWU, to Unite to LSE, to SOAS Unison to Manchester Met and many others.

After over an hour, after discussing with other friends at the demonstration it was thought that we could pop out for a bite to eat and come back to whatever action is taking place. So at around 2:30 to 3:00pm we went to leave, only to find that we had been ‘kettled’ in by the police and exits were sealed. SOAS University students quickly erected a ‘Kettle Cafe’ where those trapped could get some food and drink. I made it very clear to students from Kent who were going to attend the day that there was a strong likelihood that the police would use the kettling ‘tactic’, and they freely choose to come. For any of those who do not know what kettling is – it is basically where the riot police surround a group of protesters to ‘control the situation’. What is conveniently forgotten in the official description is that kettling often lasts for hours, with some school students having to endure the freezing cold for 9 hours just for being there. It is a collective form of punishment, where those who are kettled, no matter how peaceful or well intentioned are denied access to basic freedoms such as food, water, shelter, the freedom to move as well as access to clean sanitation. This tactic, has come under increased scrutiny, yet it is continually used, when I would argue it acts as a catalyst to anger people and does nothing to ‘control the situation’, instead provoking and setting up an ‘us and them’ scenario between the police and protesters.

We were denied access to the above mentioned rights, despite the police and media portraying that they were available for a combined total of 8 hours on a chilly Winter’s day. A tarpaulin was set up in the form of a cubicle so that men (not women) could urinate on the grass, turning it in to a slurry of mud and piss. I could find no portaloos, nowhere to access food and water and the riot police were not responding to requests for these requirements to be met as well as the basic request to leave the area. It is no wonder why those there were agitated and furious with their treatment by the authorities. Calmly requesting something from a riot police officer is often as productive as drawing blood from a stone as you are deliberately ignored, and sometimes, officers will communicate that they cannot hear what you are saying, despite being able to have conversations freely with nearby officers.

Eventually, the exits were fully manned by riot police, with police on horses charging young students and full riot gear in use, meaning truncheons (a blunt club weapon), specialist helmets and riot shields. I witnessed an officer repeatedly hitting a ‘Robin Hood Tax’ hardhat with his riot shield off the head of a protester and then proceeding to hit him, without the protection of the hardhat once more for good measure. I also witnessed a young, smartly-dressed woman, who could be no older than 16 being hit with a truncheon to the head, to much shock. She posed absolutely no threat, was not being verbally abusive, nor physically threatening, yet she was smashed across the head indiscriminately, her head drooped and she was taken back in to the crowd to be treated by St. John’s Ambulance staff. At one point, many protesters broke through and made it to Whitehall, it looked like we could get out as well and during the several attempts of the crowd to push, with hands in the air the police beat us back violently holding riot shields horizontally and hitting at the crowd. It was at this point I was first hit on the back with a truncheon, having been pushed to the front with my back turned. I did not react, did not say one word of abuse and maintained my composure. The second and third time I was hit with a truncheon across my forearm and shoulder was when I stumbled across a young man whose head had just been cracked open and was gushing with blood. His light-coloured hoody was distinctive against the vivid red of the blood coming from him. Again, I kept my composure and was then kicked with no reason, with my hands in the air, silent, and the kick was so hard that it has left an imprint of the sole of the shoe on my leg. This not only happened to me, but many others, young people as well.

The logical question to ask is ‘how did you get to the front’? ‘Why risk being hit and injured?’ – these are absolutely valid points but I will say this: I am not prepared to stand to the side and watch young students, many from ethnic minorities and particularly young women who perhaps might have of been pushed to the front having their heads cracked open. I would rather it was me than ever having to live with the thought that someone else was seriously injured when I could have taken the hit much better. Seeing young students, who have been kettled, treated inhumanely and stained by their own blood is an appalling sight and something I would never wish anyone to see as it is hugely distressing. The people at that demonstration could’ve been my 19 year old sister protesting against her EMA being cut, or my 15 year old cousin who dreamed of going to University but could never pay off their £9,000 a year fees. I firmly believe that older demonstrators have a duty to protect those who we have encouraged and helped mobilise to protests and there were many more experienced activists helping younger people out. The vast and overwhelming majority of people were armed with words, not weapons, not truncheons, not riot shields and definitely not heavy duty protective clothing and specialist helmets; the brutality of the police at this demonstration has to be exposed for what it is, absolutely despicable.

During the coming hours, students set fire to placards for warmth, shared food and drink as none had been provided and later, SOAS students kindly sprayed disinfectant on my small cut from the riot shield. At around 8:30pm, after much back and forth and conflicting information from non-riot police who had entered the kettle, it was established that we would be released soon. All throughout this, I was polite to every single police officer and I saw none of the ordinary unarmed police officers subjected to any harassment or intimidation. Eventually we were allowed to leave the kettle, escorted across Westminster Bridge following a line of police who were slowly moving back until we stopped at the end of the bridge. We were anticipating that we would then be allowed to disperse in three separate directions, perhaps through a bottleneck, however were treated with silence for an hour. We had been stopped in our tracks. In the cold, dark night, thousands of protesters were held on Westminster Bridge, with no access to toilets or water and were packed like sardines with barely any space to move. It was then announced by the police that there were not enough riot police to handle the departure of those who had been trying to leave for hours. Eventually another hour later at 10:55 pm we were allowed out, in single-file, surrounded by riot police and told that Section 60 was in action and that we should move continuously towards Waterloo Station.

After hours upon hours of being kettled, we were finally free to make our way home. However, it is important to remember that many of us had been booked on coaches which had fixed departure times, so many had to make their own way homes – potentially leaving young members vulnerable as we edge towards midnight in the capital. If students had been allowed to leave, as the vast majority had requested or queued up to do, then this situation could have been entirely avoidable. I wrote this to explain how I experienced the demonstration and to condemn the police-handling of the event as excessive, brutal and unnecessary – kettling has to be stopped as it a violation of basic human rights and does nothing to control the situation, only inflame it.

I have to give a special thanks to Kent Union staff and leadership who managed to get the coach to wait, although it ultimately couldn’t wait enough, as well as their support on Twitter, text messages and calls. It is to be praised and they handled it all very professionally and I thank them for doing what they could in a very difficult situation.

I would also like to thank Zain Sardar, Jonathan Buckner and Andy Hewett who I spent most of the time in the kettle with for their company and support. I would also like to especially thank Maham Hashmi-Khan, from one Black Students’ Committee member to another, as she was exemplary in helping to remove hazards, helping students leave, giving advice and standing witness at the front to the violence inflicted on the demonstrators by the police as well as making sure students were as safe as she could. And a further thanks to all the retweets, all of the messages of support and the calls from so many different people – it made a lot of difference knowing people were working on the outside to pressure the police and spread awareness of what they were doing to us.

The people on that demonstration were not violent or extremist thugs intent on hurting others, the vast majority were peaceful and youthful, yet angry at what the Coalition government are doing. What kind of democracy do we live in, when young people are brutalised by the police outside of Parliament, while inside a government votes through symbolically violent acts which amount to vandalism of hopes and dreams? I will always stand side-by-side with those suffering such huge injustices and I invite you all to come to the next demonstration, which I am sure will be about saving EMA. As although we have lost the vote on the raising of the cap, we are in this struggle for the long haul, and it will take all of us to contribute in whatever way we can, through lobbying, industrial action, vigils, demonstrations and occupations because we have an obligation to leave a better legacy to the next generation, not a worse one.

Aaron Kiely is a Kent Union Ordinary Council Member; NUS Black Students’ Campaign Committee (Open Place); Member of the University of Kent Occupation

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Justice For Alfie Meadows

Alfie Meadows is a 20-year-old student from Middlesex who attended the tuition fees protest in central London on the 9th of December 2010.

He was beaten on the head with a police truncheon causing bleeding on the brain, as he attempted to leave the police kettle outside Parliament.

The mother of Alfie has described how police officers objected to her son being treated – with brain surgery – at the first hospital he was taken to. Only after the intervention of an ambulance worker did Alfie receive urgent medical treatment for the stroke he suffered after receiving his injury. The ambulance worker said, “If he hadn’t, Alfie would have been transferred and he could have died.”

Alfie has thankfully survived.

The Internal Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) has opened an investigation into the case and are appealing for help.

We support all campaigns to bring about justice for Alfie Meadows – those responsible for attacking him must be brought to justice. This should take place alongside a full investigation into the utterly appalling police violence and brutality against young protesters which took place on Thursday – and on student protests earlier this month.

The London Student Assembly Press Conference from Friday 10th December:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Teenagers charged by police horses outside Parliament whilst MPs vote away their future

Scenes of disgusting police violence & brutality against protesters played out on the streets outside Parliament in the bitter cold on Thursday. At the same time the Tories rammed through legislation to treble tuition fees - with the decisive support of half of the Lib Dem MPs.

The National Union of Students shamefully refused to organise a national demonstration of the day of the vote and has gone on the condemn the protest of tens of thousands that was organised by ULU and London Region UCU instead. The NUS also has failed to condemn the police brutality and violence against student protesters.

The University College Union (UCU) has issued the following statement about the protest on 9th December:

"The coalition government have won a vote but lost the argument over tuition fees.

Once again the democratic deficit in British society has been revealed as being as wide as ever.

The government that does not have a mandate for cuts and has ministers who were elected on the basis of opposition to tuition fee rises should be ashamed of themselves for ignoring the wishes of the overwhelming majority.

UCU is committed to non-violence but no-one should be shocked at the rage that young people showed at the betrayal of election promises and at their protest against cuts in EMA benefits and the raising of tuition fees.

UCU condemns the brutal attacks on our young people by riot police and calls for a TUC and public inquiry into police tactics.

UCU today reaffirms its wholehearted commitment to continue to defend education for all and calls upon the trade union movement to actively support legitimate forms of student protest."

Friday, December 3, 2010

Conference cancellation underlines unpopularity of Lib Dems fees policy

Friday 3rd December

London Liberal Democrats today faced the ignominy of having to cancel their prestigious annual London conference after two venues cancelled their booking to hold their conference on Saturday 4th December 2010.

Initially planned for Haverstock School in Camden, the head teacher refused permission to the Lib Dems to hold it at the school after demonstrators against the tuition fees rise and the abolition of Educational Maintenance Grant organised a protest at the school.

Two hours later, after advertising a new venue on their website, the Lib Dems were forced to accept that their toxic reputation meant that they would have to cancel their London conference when the second venue pulled out.

Protest organizer Fiona Edwards, of the Free Education Campaign, said:

“We now have 6 days to save our education. It is not too late for the Lib Dems to keep the promise they made to students that they would reject higher fees.

A free market in fees is a Tory policy cooked up by the heirs of Thatcher and the Lib Dems should not go along with it.”

Notes to Editor

1. This peaceful protest was being organized by the Free Education Campaign and supported by a range of organizations including the NUS Black Students’ Campaign, NUS LGBT Campaign, Compass Youth and others.
2. For all press enquiries contact Free Education Campaign Secretary Fiona Edwards on 07900922766. Email:
The Free Education Campaign’s blog:
Twitter: @free_edcampaign

Student protest threat forces out Lib Dem meeting

Report taken from the BBC website:

By Sean Coughlan - BBC News education correspondent

Threats of a student protest this weekend have forced a Liberal Democrat conference to abandon its planned venue in London.

The party's London MPs were to have met at a north London school on Saturday, but the head teacher has now cancelled the booking.

Head teacher of Haverstock School, John Dowd, said the risks from the protest were too great.

The Liberal Democrats say the meeting will now go ahead at another location.

Mr Dowd said it was clear from protest websites that there was going to be a demonstration against the Liberal Democrat MPs meeting at the school and he thought that it posed too great a risk.

Fiona Edwards, speaking for the Free Education Campaign protest, said: "The cancellation of the venue for the conference is yet another sign of the deep unpopularity of the Liberal Democrats' policy on fees and is hugely embarrassing for the party."

The vote by MPs on whether to raise university fees in England to an upper limit of £9,000 will be held next week and a number of protests have been announced.

Liberal Democrats have become particular targets for student protests as their MPs had given students a signed pledge that they would vote against any increase in fees.

There has been a wave of protests and occupations in universities, against the fee increase and plans to cut public funding for many arts and humanities courses.

Students at the London School of Economics say there are now 400 people taking part in an occupation.

This weekend students are planning talks which will link the current wave of unrest with the protests of the 1960s - in which students at the London School of Economics played an iconic role.

'Desperately concerned'

There are also occupations taking place in universities including University College London, SOAS, Newcastle, King's College London, Leeds, Sheffield and Cambridge.

On Friday, the National Union of Students has sought to broaden the protest against fees by encouraging parents and families to write to MPs.

"Over the past few weeks I have been contacted by a great number of parents who are desperately concerned about how their children will be affected," says NUS president, Aaron Porter.

Press release: Lib Dems Can Run - But Never Hide

For Immediate Release
Friday 3rd December

Students, parents and public sector workers will demonstrate outside the hastily rearranged London Liberal Dem Conference tomorrow, Saturday 4th December 2010. The Liberal Democrats have been forced into rearranging their high profile London conference as a direct result of planned protests at the original venue that forced the venue to cancel the conference booking because it did not want to be associated with the Liberal Democrats Conference at this time.

Fiona Edwards, spokesperson for the Free Education Campaign, which was organising the protest said:

“No matter where the Liberal Democrats hold there meetings, conference and surgeries, they will face the anger and resentment of a generation who they have lied to.

The message we have for the Lib Dem MPs is that it is not too late to keep your promise.

A free market in fees is a Tory policy cooked up by the heirs of Thatcher and the Lib Dems should not go along with it.”

Notes to Editor
1. Protest outside London Lib Dem Conference – Saturday 4th December
Assemble 12noon – 3pm
Royal Horticultural Halls in Vincent Square, Greycoat Street London SW1P 2QD
Nearest tube Nearest tubes: St James Park; Westminster and Victoria
2. This peaceful protest is organized by the Free Education Campaign and supported by a range of organizations including the NUS Black Students’ Campaign, NUS LGBT Campaign, Compass Youth and others.
3. It is part of ongoing student campaign that has focused on pressuring the Liberal Democrats MPs to keep their pre-election promise to vote against higher tuition fees on Thursday 9th December.
4. For all press enquiries contact Free Education Campaign Secretary Fiona Edwards on 07900922766. Email:
The Free Education Campaign’s blog:
Twitter: @free_edcampaign

Press Release: Student protest forces Lib Dem's London Conference Venue to be cancelled at eleventh hour

For Immediate Release
Friday 3rd December 2010

Students preparing to protest outside the Lib Dem London Conference on Saturday have caused the venue to cancel the booking at the eleventh hour

In just a few days, more than 1200 students had signed up via Facebook to the protest planned for tomorrow.

According to the police, as a result of the protest the venue has now said it does not want to be associated with the Liberal Democrats Conference at this time.

If the Liberal Democrats find another venue for the conference the student protest will go ahead.

Fiona Edwards, spokesperson for the Free Education Campaign, which was organising the protest said:

“The cancellation of the venue for the conference is yet another sign of the deep unpopularity of the Liberal Democrats policy on fees and is hugely embarrassing for the party.

It is not too late for them to keep the promise they made to students that they would reject higher fees.

A free market in fees is a Tory policy cooked up by the heirs of Thatcher and the Lib Dems should not go along with it."

Notes to Editor

1. The peaceful protest was organized by the Free Education Campaign and supported by a range of organizations including the NUS Black Students’ Campaign, NUS LGBT Campaign and Compass Youth.
2. It is part of ongoing student campaign that has focused on pressuring the Liberal Democrats MPs to keep their pre-election promise to vote against higher tuition fees on Thursday 9th December.
3. For all press enquiries contact Free Education Campaign Secretary Fiona Edwards on 07900922766. Email:
The Free Education Campaign’s blog:
Twitter: @free_edcampaign

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Kanja Sesay’s letter to Aaron Porter: NUS should organise national protest against fees

Kanja Sesay, NUS Black Students’ Officer, has just sent the following letter to the NUS President, Aaron Porter.

He urges all student activists and student leaders to join him in urging the NUS President to go the extra mile to organise a national demonstration next Thursday – and as such lead a united fight against the government’s disastrous policies.

The Free Education Campaign fully supports Kanja’s letter – other student leaders and activists should join his call. Email Aaron at

Dear Aaron,

With one week to go until the parliamentary vote on tuition fees takes place I write to urge you to step up our campaigning on a national level in a way which will mobilise the deep anger and opposition to the government’s proposal.

I welcome NUS’ recent move to work with the UCU to organise the following:

* Protests at universities across the country on the day prior to the student funding vote in Parliament
* Mass lobby of MPs on the day itself followed by a rally in Westminster
* A ‘candlelit’ vigil during the evening of the vote with 9,000 ‘candles’ to represent potential fees

In addition to these initiatives I urge you call another national demonstration on Thursday 9th December - the day of the vote. We have the potential to mobilise many tens of thousands of students, lecturers and the wider public to demonstrate their opposition to £9,000 fees. I believe at this crucial stage in the campaign NUS must do all it can to facilitate such a mobilisation.

I propose NUS organises a march from Trafalgar Square to Parliament on the day of the vote.

I have submitted an emergency motion to the NUS NEC meeting this Monday calling for another national demonstration. I hope we can count on your support as NUS President.

In unity,

Kanja Sesay

NUS Black Students’ Officer

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A week to save our education – student occupations show the way!

With just one week to go until the Parliamentary vote – there is not much time left to put maximum pressure on MPs to vote down £9,000 fees.

The student occupiers have shown the way forward for our movement over the past couple of weeks with an inspirational wave of direct action that has swept the country.

SOAS students sparked off the wave and have since been host to a number of high profile visitors, including Ken Livingstone, Tariq Ali, Mark Steel and Baby Shambles over the past week and a half. Today the occupation voted to continue the sit-in despite pressure from the University to end their protest.

At a London College just down the road from SOAS, students at UCL have led a particularly dynamic occupation. Earlier this week they also led a flashmob protest outside Top Shop’s flagship store on Oxford Street. The protest highlighted the billions evaded by big business every year through tax avoidance– billions which should be spent funding education and our vital public services. You can watch how the protest went online here:

The students at Cardiff University have staged similar actions – occupying banks across the city as well as their campus.

Alongside organising flashmobs, discussions and such like the UCL occupiers have also boldly challenged other occupations to a “dance-off.” They performed their very impressive routine last week - which can be viewed online here: Student occupiers at Brighton have taken up UCL’s challenge. Their dance routine can be seen here

Up north in Sheffield, following a massive march on Nick Clegg’s constituency office students occupied the University of Sheffield for the second time in a week. Their demands include support for the principle of free education – this demand that can also be found in the Lib Dem General Election manifesto.

The fight back in Yorkshire is very strong indeed with over 100 Leeds students spending a full week in occupation so far. Their blog is a must read – it includes great updates from the Leeds campaign alongside news from the occupations across the country:

Meanwhile in the midlands Nottingham students are continuing their occupation despite the university turning the heating off in this cold weather to force them to leave. The Nottingham occupiers are organising an impressive programme of alternative education, film screenings and workshops – including a talk from a Venezuelan activist who discussed the exciting social progress in Venezuela where education is now free thanks to Hugo Chavez and the Bolivarian revolution.

Students at the UCL School of Fine Art braved the elements today and organised a life drawing class outside the Slade occupation in the freezing cold!

OxBridge students are also leading the way against the government’s regressive and elitist proposals. In Oxford over 100 protesters from the city’s universities, colleges and schools staged a sit-in in Oxford University’s iconic Bodleian Library. At the same time students occupying Cambridge University have received 260 messages of support from Cambridge academics. This video report documenting the start of the Cambridge occupation is well worth a look:

The right wing media have continued to attack student protesters – including those occupying. The slogan for the Manchester University occupation is a good response to such critics: “If you cut our education we go into occupation”. Like so many of the occupations Manchester’s peaceful sit-in has attracted an impressive array of supporters - including Trade Unions, academics, campaigners and politicians.

The occupiers at Newcastle University have organised one of the most impressive banners drops in the history of banner drops – scaling one the city’s bridges to drop their ‘OCCUPATION – NO FEES –NO CUTS’ banner. Check out the photo here:

Similarly impressive actions, talks, publicity stunts and campaigns have been led by student occupations across the country including Edinburgh, London South Bank, University of the West of England Bristol, Roehampton, Royal Holloway, Birmingham, St. Andrews, Kingston, Strathclyde, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Falmouth University, UEL and Kings College London.

There is no doubt that this wave of direct action has had a fantastic impact and provided vital publicity to the campaign against higher fees and education cuts.

As the campaign to defeat the Tory proposal of higher fees reaches its final stages now is the time to really turn the pressure on MPs – more action – including university occupations - is needed.

Lib Dems in particular need to feel the pressure – they should not go along with this Tory agenda and instead keep their pre-election promise to vote against the fee hike.

The protest outside the Lib Dem London Conference at the weekend – the last weekend ahead of the vote - is a key opportunity.

Protest outside London Lib Dem Conference – Saturday 4th December
Assemble 12noon
Haverstock School, Haverstock Hill, London NW3 2BQ
Nearest tube Chalk Farm

Please invite your friends to the facebook event:!/event.php?eid=148974651817209

Mobilising tens of thousands of students for next week’s NUS/UCU actions, including on the day of the vote itself will also be vital – more on these coming soon.