Students step up protests against privatisation of debt

UEA students opposing privatisation of debt

By Jennifer Nash

Last week students from more than 50 campuses took part in the Student Assembly Against Austerity’s national week of action to halt the government’s plans to sell off the student loan book to private companies.

London Met students protesting against proposed debt sell off

In a letter published on the Huffington Post, those involved in the wave of action explained why they are fighting the student debt sell off, stating:

“This week we are stepping up our campaign to stop the government’s plan to privatise our student loans through a national week of protests, rallies and creative direct action which will sweep across more than 50 university and college campuses in the biggest wave of opposition to the plans yet.

“As a secret report for the government has confirmed, to ensure the student loan book is profitable for private companies the cap on interest for repayments would need to be increased. This means graduates would effectively face a retrospective hike in the cost of their tuition fees.

“The sell-off of student loans is just the latest major assault on education, following the tripling of tuition fees, the scrapping of Education Maintenance Allowance and an austerity agenda which is hitting the living standards of students hard, especially through rising rents.

“We are building a movement on campuses across the country to stop this grossly unfair and unjust policy. This week’s national week of action co-ordinated by the Student Assembly Against Austerity will see a major escalation of the student fight back against this latest government attack on our education.”

It is the enormous scale of this assault – which threatens to burden students and graduates with more student debt than they originally signed up for – that is prompting a new generation of students to get involved in the movement against austerity.

Essex students banner drop

The week of action saw students at Exeter University occupy their campus, banner drops hit campuses from Essex to LSE to Queen Mary, and students on dozens of campuses stage rallies, protests, creative stunts and mass petitioning aimed at both raising awareness of the government’s latest assault on students and building up a movement of opposition.

At the University of East Anglia a broad coalition led by the Students’ Union and involving the Young Greens, the Labour Club and the campus People’s Assembly society organise the biggest action the campus had seen for years – with 120 students taking part in a ‘debt in’.

At Falmouth University students used a myriad of creative ways to get the message across on campus. A huge “hands off our student loans” banner was prominently displayed on campus and this satirical video was circulated on social media. Hundreds of students signed a petition targeting the local MP to sign up to the Early Day Motion opposing the sale of student loans and more than a dozen students held a sit in demanding the Vice Chancellor publicly condemn the student loan sell off. All this was organised by the Falmouth Student Assembly Against Austerity campus group, which was set up only a couple of months ago.

Bradford students protest

Students from further education colleges played a leading role in the week of action. Students at Bradford College organised a protest on campus behind a sign saying “Don’t sell our debt or our future! Because… it will put me off going to uni to pursue my dream”, whilst Midkent College Student Assembly Against Austerity got the first Prospective Parliamentary Candidate in the country to sign a pledge promising to vote and campaign against any attempt to privatise student loans if they are elected at the general election in 2015.

Student Assembly Against Austerity London protest

The week of action concluded with a 100 strong protest through the streets of London to the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), which is the department responsible for privatising the student loans. Chants of “student debt is too high – we won’t let you privatise” rang out as students were symbolically crushed by student debt, represented by red boxes. Speakers from the Young Greens, the People’s Assembly and NUS Liberation Campaigns addressed the rally and a statement of support was read out from Katy Clark MP, who sits on the BIS parliamentary select committee.

More highlights of what students did during the national week of action can be viewed on the liveblog here.

The Student Assembly Against Austerity has announced that the next step in the campaign includes another national day of action to coincide with budget day on Wednesday 19 March, where student protesters are expected to stage a debt in outside the House of Commons as George Osborne makes his speech to Parliament.