Protests against the government’s planned increase in tuition fees have continued this week, with around 30 students starting a two week sit-in at the University. Two protest marches have also taken place, through the centre of York.
The self-named ‘Great York Sit-In’ started last Wednesday with around 30 students occupying a study area in the campus Physics/Electronics building in attempt to force the University to release a statement in opposition to the planned raising of the cap on tuition fees.
Following a similar vein to other university occupations across the country, the students have released a set of demands which include the requirement that “the University of York issues a written statement in strong opposition to the conclusions and substance of the Browne Report on Higher Education. We also insist they take the lead in encouraging other universities and relevant institutions to do the same.”
The students are calling on the University to use its recent accolade as the Times Higher Education Authority’s University of the Year, to cause an impact in the debate.
YUSU have shown their support of the sit-in, with Tim Ngwena, YUSU President, chairing one of the daily 18:15 meetings last Thursday. Ngwena pledged to support the protesters in every way he can and one student described that his involvement and input as “a great help”.
Whilst presently occupying part of the building, students have taken to activities such as yoga, an open-mic night and a lecture on Einstein’s theory of Special Relativity to pass the time.
Caleb Wooding, a student taking part in the sit-in, described the occupation, stating: “The sit-in is going rather well. We’re trying to cause minimal disruption to students and the senior management staff have come down a few times to discuss what we can agree on and what we can do to defend accessibility in education.
“As part of a national movement what we are doing is certainly worthwhile, and with respect to what we achieve with the university, only time will tell, but we are feeling confident.”
Members of the sit-in and other University of York students joined forces with a contingent of protesters from York St. John, York College and other institutions on both 30th November and 5th December to march through the centre of York. Between 200 and 300 people attended each event despite bitterly cold weather conditions.
A notable police presence accompanied both marches, although the protests were non-violent affairs. Police guided the march through the city centre, briefly closing down roads and alerting shoppers to the upcoming mass of people.
Students from the University, started from Parliament Street, shouting the chant of “no ifs, no buts, no education cuts,” where they joined a larger body of protesters constituted by students of local schools and members of the public.
On Tuesday, the march moved to the Mayor’s office at York Mansion House, where the protest took on a slightly more aggressive tone, with cries of “Tory scum” reminiscent of the violence encountered during November’s National Union of Students’ (NUS) protest in London.
In a statement after the march the North Yorkshire Police praised students for the peaceful nature of both protests, stating: “We are pleased with the outcome and hope that further demonstrations will have a similar peaceful conclusion.”
NUS have urged students for a day of lobbying tomorrow, the day before MPs vote on whether to lift the tuition fee cap and a march in York is planned for Thursday (9th December).
Some protesters on the marches were motivated by a concern over their own ability to attend university in the future. Others argued that the older generations owed the young an education, such as SWP member Chris Fuller – “I had a free education, so did the cabinet, so should today’s generation.”
However, there was also a feeling of recrimination amongst some of the crowd. “Students, people who cannot afford it, should not bear the brunt of the recession” commented first-year University of York philosophy student, Tom Wyatt.
A student from Fulford School, who will be affected by the planned rise in fees, said: “We’re really upset by the fact that our futures are compromised by the previous generation.”
While protesters were satisfied with the demonstration, there were many who thought that the protest needed to be on a larger scale if they hoped to have a serious impact. “It’s a good start, but it should have been better publicised,” said first-year Connor Macrae.