November 21, 2013

British students push back against Austerity

Special to Rebel Youth

Student activists in the UK were out on the streets yesterday, as part of a national day of action to protest against their government’s plans to privatise the student loan book.

The series of actions were the first step in what is expected to be a longer campaign.

"Student campaigners will be building opposition to the government’s intentions to sell off student debt to private companies before the next general election, which has caused widespread concern on campuses that this will lead to an increase in the financial burdens placed on students and graduates," the National Union of Students said in a press release.

Chief Secretary to the UK Treasury, Danny Alexander, announced the government’s plans to privatise the student loan book in a speech to Parliament on 27 June 2013.

According to the NUS, a secret report for the government shows that in order to ensure the student loan book is profitable for private companies the current cap on interest for repayments would need to be either be increased -- or removed all together.

Actions took place on 25 campuses across Britain, including open air rallies, creative stunts, direct action and mass petitioning demanding that MPs pledge to oppose the student debt sell off.

The right-wing Cameron ministry in the UK has come under repeated criticism for their tuition policies.  Unable to win a majority at the polls, the Conservative Party formed a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in May 2010.  Within four months tuition protests were sparked across the country with between 30 to 52,000 protesters flooding the streets of central London.

Subsequent protests saw students holding rallies across the country, as well as occupying government and university buildings including the headquarters of the Conservative Party. Police received criticism for their heavy-handed response.

Loan changes hurt access

Speaking to the media, Aaron Kiely, NUS Black Students’ Officer and spokesperson for the Student Assembly Against Austerity (which is co-ordinating the national day of action) said that Cameron’s plan to sell off the student loan book to big corporations "is the latest outrageous attack on students and education."

"We are clear that privatisation of student debt will lead to higher interest rates and a higher burden of debt placed upon graduates. It is essentially a retrospective hike in tuition fees," Kiely said.

“We are determined to build a mass movement on every campus in the UK to stop the government in its tracks and the protests happening on campuses across the country on Wednesday 20 November are just the start of this campaign.”

"It's amazing to see so many different campuses unite for this coming day of action. The only way we're going to defeat the government's cruel and cynical austerity programme is by building a broad, national movement that it can't ignore," added Sam Dathi, a Stop the War National Officer and spokesperson for the Student Assembly Against Austerity.

Full details of the events can be found on facebook.  As part of the day of action students will be targeting MPs, demanding they sign the Early Day Motion in Parliament opposing the privatisation of student loan book.

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