Students and academic staff from across the UK marched through London in support of the ongoing UCU strikes, which are now in their second week.
Despite snowstorms bringing much of London to a standstill, crowds at the start of the ‘March for Education’ stretched around Malet Plac with placards, signs and the infamous SOAS Samba band in attendance.
At 11.50, a group of students from the Bartlett UCL released flares on the main campus of University College London, before joining the massed protesters.
The strikes are over proposed changes to the pensions of academic staff that could leave individuals £10,000 worse off per year on retirement.
Students and staff alike expressed optimism about the possible success of the strikes, with many saying that university management weren’t expecting this level of support.
One lecturer, who did not want to be named, said: “UUK underestimated that students will come out with us, and I think that they didn’t realize how many staff would actually come out as well. I don’t know that many staff who aren’t striking, to be honest.”
Many students told London Student they believed this spate of industrial action could even be a turning point for universities. Harvi, a second year student at UCL, said “You’re seeing loads of students who don’t see themselves as consumers and loads of lecturers who don’t see themselves as service providers, saying that it’s not okay to put their pensions on the free market, they’re not about marketisation. It’s wonderful – it’s reassuring.”
The march itself kicked off around 1:00, winding through central London and passing London School of Economics, King’s College London and eventually making its way to Parliament Square. Energy remained high throughout the protest, which numbered about 600 people overall. Protesters gathered outside of Westminster Central Hall as speakers, such as John McDonnell MP, eventually came outside to address the crowds gathered.
Many pointed out that this attack on pensions will eventually affect students too. Various groups of students expressed belief that this was a litmus test for how far university managements could push the cuts to higher education.
Pearl, a fourth year student at UCL, who has been involved in various campaigns around UCL, pointed out that students are wondering what these pension cuts – and this dispute itself – means for the future. She asked, “What next – we want more transparency in governance, students and academics have both voted no confidence in the provost, and what are we going to do with that? How is this all connected to, extortionate rents, underfunding in mental health?”
Main photo credit: Harvi Chera