Today I am sitting at my desk listening to the persisting chants of Birmingham’s protesting students, who have taken over Aston Webb since early this morning and are now playing music and marching across campus. Over 40 of them have joined a sit-in which is planned to last 36 hours. There is a strong, determined, almost positive atmosphere. It is impossible to ignore.
The last time campus was this frenzied was the Prime Ministerial debate in April. Since then, much has changed. Despite Lib-Dem promises, the government now plans to raise tuition fees to up to £9000 per year. Public funding for many subject teaching budgets may be withdrawn. Protests against tuition fees and university cuts are being held across the UK today, including a rally in London’s Trafalgar Square. Over 20,000 students across the country pledged a “walk-out” from lectures at 11am.
Government cuts have left many departments reeling, and a “freeze” on science funding (which still means effective cuts) has left STFC funded research like particle and nuclear physics among the hardest hit (after the funding body’s own severe funding crisis). Raised tuition fees will discourage many talented individuals from studying physics, and a lack of jobs in the field may force many existing scientists away from the country. Staff and students alike are very concerned for the future.
Particle Physics PhD students working at CERN have today joined together in support of the protests and stood atop a Large Hadron Collider Dipole outside the CERN cafeteria in Switzerland, Geneva, with a simple message: “Education is not for sale”. In my opinion, it is fairly poignant, as CERN strongly supports the idea, “Knowledge should be free” (making its research freely available to the public).
The UK PhD students are based at CERN to conduct their research. “We held our own demonstration in solidarity today”, Eleanor Davies of Oxford University (shown middle right) said, “We feel that future students will be discouraged from going to university, particularly those hoping to study science and technology courses – these are some of the most expensive courses to run and it is likely the tuition fees will be the highest for them.”
Sara Mahmoud from Liverpool University (shown crouched bottom left) invited the students to join her on the dipole in protest, worried that her younger brother may not be
able to afford a degree. She told me,
“I am appalled by the recommended cut on university teaching funding and I think the looming closure of whole departments is nothing short of barbaric.”
Jody Palmer of University of Birmingham (shown top left), agreed:
“All of us here today were lucky enough to obtain our degrees before top up fees were introduced, though many of us have large debts still to pay off. It’s short-sighted of the coalition to think increasing fees wont affect participation, whatever their clauses are. Science particularly requires top class graduates, and that means students from every walk of life. You have to find the best in ability, and without them, our long term prosperity is in jeopardy.”
Though today’s protests are not supported by NUS, they are planning a Lobby of Parliament, so if you are against raising tuition fees and cuts to education, please send your constituency details to here. Also, PLEASE write to your MP.
One final point: Protests that raged earlier this month became out of control, and the rally in London appears to be doing the same. I urge anyone taking part in protests today to keep it peaceful. Violent action does not speak for the majority and destroys our reputation and message.