Yesterday's student protest in London may well prove to be the downfall of NUS president Aaron Porter. There have been calls for his resignation after a breakaway group of students/anarchists unleashed their fury on Millbank Tower and 30 Millbank.
As someone who has been through the British education system, at school in Bath, university in Sheffield and now university once again in London (SOAS), I did not feel much rapport with the NUS yesterday, or even my fellow students.
I felt that a lot of the students in the march were misguided about what they were trying to achieve. There is a mistaken belief among many that higher education should be completely free. There is also a mistaken belief that higher education of any sort automatically makes a person an indispensable boon to society.
Speaking from personal experience, attending university was, and still is, an important part of my life – but it wasn't the only part. I graduated six years ago and still haven't paid back my student loan. It's a rather large loan, but the way the loan system is structured in the UK has meant that it isn't a burden. This is something British students often forget.
I don't come from a wealthy background, and actually my tuition fees were waived for this very reason, but I always understood that the loan system was structured to help me do something I would otherwise not have been able to. I never expected my education to be free. However, tuition fees back then were, I believe, only about £1,250.
If the loan system can continue to be utilized to benefit people like me and if there is no real alternative than to increase tuition fees, I think it might be something we have to take on the chin – to an extent.
What I imagine is that increased tuition fees will make people consider more carefully whether or not their lives will benefit from going to university rather than simply going to uni because it's the done thing, what you are supposed to do. Furthermore, the government says students from lower-income families will be protected. Whether or not this is true is yet to be decided.
The most pressing problem is, perhaps, the grim outlook for many arts and humanities courses, which will lose public funding. I don't know what the solution to that is. There may not be a solution.
So my initial question was: does the NUS represent me?
After yesterday, I really don't know. The speeches given merely towed the line that the Lib Dems and Tories are evil. The bizarre Hollywood-esque movie packages, while fun to watch, almost trivialised the matter to the point of farce. It's fine to tell me why I should oppose higher tuition fees, but at least tell me why. Give me the big picture, the hard facts. Tell me what I'm doing out there in the cold chanting with protest tourists.
And then there was the violence, which allegedly involved a number of NUS activists, while some NUS stewards allegedly cheered the whole thing on. The violence was mindless and disgusting. I didn't feel a bond with anyone there. My fellow students, if they were students at all, were pissed up, blazed up and were fuelled by an almost irrational hatred of C&C. Never mind that Labour would also have hiked up tuition fees.
There were an estimated 52,000 people there yesterday. The police had been told to expect 15,000. The BBC had reported on the day that 24,000 were coming, but before that the NUS had said there would be 10,000-plus. Something clearly went wrong in the organizing.
Some people want Porter held accountable. I won't follow this line until I hear more from Porter himself. Given that he is a member of the Labour party, it's difficult to see Porter in a favourable light after what went down yesterday, but is it fair to place the blame of one albeit large group of students on one man? To me, it was clear that those people were going to cause disruption any way they could.
The attack on Millbank should never have happened. If the police had been better organized then it wouldn't have.
What I think should happen now is that those responsible for the violence, who are clearly visible in photographs all over the Internet, should be publicly named and shame by their fellow students.