Oxford students joined with protesters from across the country yesterday as the latest round of tuition fee protests hit London.
The demonstration was organised by the National Campaign Against Cuts and Fees in London following the white paper announced in June. It was estimated that nearly 10,000 people would attend the protests.
The march is in response to the pa- per’s proposals to allow private provid- ers to offer degrees. It also opposes the government’s funding cuts and tripling of maximum tuition fees last year.
Following violence at last year’s tuition fee protests, which saw the Conservative Party Headquarters come under attack, around 4,000 police of- ficers were expected to be on duty. Controversially, earlier this week Scot- land Yard said that trained officers would be allowed to use baton rounds of plastic bullets if deemed necessary.
Speaking from the protest on New Fetter Lane, St John’s student Jack Clift said: “The protest has been peaceful so far and the police have been reason- able. They are doing a lot better but I am not sure that everyone has learnt from last year’s protests.”
Over the course of the afternoon, po- lice removed protesters attempting to set up tents in Trafalgar Square as part of the Occupy movement. The pro- tests appeared to become more rowdy as the day went on, with more and
more police changing into riot gear. Teddy Hall’s OUSU Rep James Ferguson said: “OUSU isn’t playing any particular role in the demonstration, however it is backed by the NUS of which every student in Oxford is a member.” Teddy Hall was one of the more active colleges in preparing for the pro- tests, but there was some debate over the JCR’s involvement. It sent out an email advertising the protest, but came under criticism from students citing that the JCR is meant to be apolitical.
Ferguson said: “Coaches are being provided by the Oxford Educational Campaign for any Oxford student wishing to participate in the event. These coaches were advertised using the JCR mail list to make Junior members aware of the event and of the sub- sidised transport. The JCR still remains apolitical.”
The white paper would allow univer- sities to take more students who score AAB or above at A-Level, an estimat- ed 65,000 students next year, putting pressure on mid-ranking universities to reduce fees or improve quality.
Currently, universities have a fixed number of government-funded places for home undergraduates and are fined if they exceed this limit. The changes will open up competition between universities and potentially allow more able candidates a place at their first choice.
One second year student at Lady Margaret Hall supported the proposals: “Although I disagreed with the in- crease in the tuition fees cap, I simply don’t understand why people oppose this bill.
They continued: “Allowing more of the ablest candidates to go to their first choice university, and putting pressure on universities to provide a better ser- vice can only be a good thing. The opposition seems to be based on an irrational fear of any kind of competition and anger at last year’s reforms.”
But a first year disagreed: “Setting such a fixed boundary of AAB is too simplistic, and would discriminate against those who went to worse schools or are from poorer areas. Universities already compete for the best applicants, and needlessly expanding university numbers is unnecessary and unhelpful.”