Apathy: a modern form of protest?

Why on earth would you drag yourself from your cocoon-like bed at 4:30 a.m. on a Sunday, of all days, only to stand around freezing in Goodricke car park for an hour, allow yourself to be herded onto a colour-coded bus (primary-school style) and find yourself in London, 5 agonisingly slow hours later, to march along the streets as anarchists scream in your ear?

As with anything, there were a variety of motivations. A £5 trip to London is sweet music to the ear of any seasoned shopper, tourist or of course firebrand protester and, therefore, the ‘Admission: Impossible’ demonstration was the end goal of only some of our party, and for this I felt disillusioned, as should any self-respecting young adult who likes to fit into their assigned political demographic. 12,000 people expected, 3,500 showed. Poor effort.

The people who were there and did march were passionate and, let’s face it, quite amusing. My favourite chant was “Hey Tony” sung to the tune of Hey Baby by DJ Otzi, with the immortal line, “I wanna know-oh-uh-oh-uh-oh if you’ll pay my fees”. The Japanese tourists regarded us with half-fearful, half-bemused stares, then got their cameras out and took pictures anyway. However, the serious tone of the march was palpable, with police lining the streets and megaphones urging us to spread a message that this seething body of red banners and redder-faced students was angry at a government who claims to care about education but who has let us down woefully.

Why were the Government able to slap these fees on our heads in the first place? Because there was little more than a murmur of discontent from us, the people who should have fought this tooth and nail. If the Cabinet had been protesting at our age, there would have been arson, debauchery, riots and suchlike, and I for one am disappointed at our lack of willingness to make a political statement and stand up for what comes down to a basic human right: education.

When Jack Straw was the Chairman of NUS, instead of a full-time hypocrite, the opposition to fees would have been savage. Student radicalism simply does not exist in the same way as it did in 1969, for example, when students briefly forced the closure of LSE after breaking through 7 security gates to protest against the appointment of the new Director, Walter Adams.

Tony Benn made his point quite forcefully once we had gathered in Trafalgar Square, urging that students “must do more” to make a real mark upon government policy. I believe that it is safe to say that we are mildly annoyed by tuition fees, but we’ll acquiesce and pay back that £20,000 because, in the main, you must go to university to get a decent salary. Of course you will never see 9% of that salary, so when you’re struggling to get your foot on the first rung of the already steep property ladder, you will know who to blame.

Now, that sounds like a very Daily Mail concern, but what about the 15,000 young people, largely from poorer backgrounds, who did not apply to university this year because of the massive costs associated with it? Despite the Government offering larger loans and some form of grant for applicants whose parents earn less than £37,500 per annum, young people from poorer backgrounds have been discouraged. Apparently, the top-up fees system was designed to make things better for students from less privileged backgrounds, but this has clearly been a grave misjudgement on the Government’s part. Perhaps with more support from the student body as a whole, higher education would be based on a desire to learn, rather than the ability to pay the fees.

The ‘Admission: Impossible’ protest may fail to achieve anything at all, but that is surely not the point. The point is that it should make people sit up and take notice, to see that they do not have to be held back in adult life, either by not attending university at all or by losing 9% of their salary as soon as it’s decent enough to live on. Education should be free, and should not be denied to anyone.

Jenny O’Mahony

One comment

  1. Apatthy is certainly a problem in people of student age, and not just political apathy – there is a general culture of indolence in student circles that is, at best, grudgingly respectful to enthusiasm towards politics, ideology, art and other things sometimes seen as sometimes dubiously high-brow. A collegue of mine admitted to feeling guilty that she hadn’t been clubbing in her first week back this term, another said she felt “a sad person” for discussing literary theory for fun.

    Nevertheless, simply because students don’t oppose tutition fees doesn’t mean, as this article implies, that they’re apathetic. Just because we have to pay the extra doesn’t mean we subscribe to a not-in-my-back-yard attitute: I would argue, myself, that if people from poorer backgrounds don’t apply to University as a result of tuition fees then that’s a failure of information. These fees, after all, come out of the salaries earned after University, and are forgiven entirely if not payed back over a long period – so it’s certainly not an immediate financial burden. The overwhelming probability is that a degree worth many times the cost of the tutition fees will increase one’s earning potential enough to justify this debt, and probably give one a bigger boost on the property ladder than the fees hold one back.

    But that’s the joy of issues like tuition fees: they provoke debate; here both entertaining and interesting me as I read and responded to this article.

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