Last week tens of thousands of students across the UK boycotted lectures and participated in protests, as a part of the culmination of the National Union of Students’ (NUS) “Come Clean” week. In a peaceful and carnival-esque styled protest, students in London marched towards Victoria Street and demanded the resignation of universities minister, David Willetts.
The London protest organised by the NUS, Education Activist Network and the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts assembled at the University of London Union. Students marched towards the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on Victoria Street and demanded that Willets accept a petition signed by over 40,000 people, proposing no confidence in his current position as universities minister.
The NUS claimed that unlike recent NHS reforms, the government is failing to provide the public with the opportunity to scrutinise major reforms to higher education, including the opening-up of the private sector as degree-awarding powers.
NUS President, Liam Burns, suggested students wanted to demonstrate their anger at ministers who have failed to clarify their plans for increased marketisation of higher education. He said, “Students, parents, lecturers and anyone with a stake in education all want to know what the government and our institutions have in store for higher education and demand that they come clean.”
Alongside the desired resignation of Willetts, protesters staged a sit-down near Parliament Square, advocating justice for Alfie Meadows, a student who underwent brain surgery as result of injuries sustained during the November 2010 demonstration. Meadows is due to face charges of violent disorder later this month for his participation in the student demonstrations that assembled against the near tripling of tuition fees.
In correspondence with Pi Newspaper, ULU president-elect Sean Rillo Raczka suggested, “I think it’s very important we continue to show opposition to the governments plan for higher education, and today’s march was a very solid local action. David Willetts can’t be allowed to get away not only with tripling fees, but privatising our universities, cutting courses and introducing profit as a central motive in the provision of education. His white paper may have been delayed, but Willetts and cronies such as Malcolm Grant are doing a good job at implementing many of its proposals.”
Rillo Raczka, who led the front of the march alongside the current UCLU LGBT officer, Stef Newton, added “Our march today was on behalf of 40 thousand people who’d signed a petition of no confidence in Willetts, not to mention the Universities, SU’s and numerous union branches who have supported the motion. We say to the government that enough is enough, and they won’t get away with destroying the future of so many young people. Willetts must go, and so must his policies.”
Despite the demand from protesters, Willetts refused to confront the petition and has declined to comment on the situation. The momentum of the protest phased out on Victoria Street at around 4pm and students continued their march into the nearest pubs and parks to celebrate the successful turnout of the walkout.
Across the country, various actions took place to demonstrate frustration in the government’s silence regarding its higher education policies. Owen Holland, a PhD student at Cambridge University was expelled from his studies until 2014 for the role he held in the protest at a speech held by David Willetts last term.