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Demo 2012: What’s changed since 2010?

Ben Wilson


A cold and wet November morning was the perfect atmosphere to sum up the disenfranchisement of a nation’s youth. Those who came weren’t just facing up to the elements; they were facing up to a government that is failing them and a future that is starting to look bleaker by the minute.

But two years on from when London’s streets first saw students turn out to protest the rise in tuition fees, just what exactly has changed?

In terms of turnout, the numbers speak for themselves. Wednesday’s protest saw only a fifth of the 2010 attendance, with an estimated 10,000 taking part in the march compared to the 50,000 who demonstrated when higher education costs were first announced.

This decrease is not surprising though, since it is the third demonstration to take place with little sign of the government taking any notice, in legislative terms at least.

Nick Clegg may have shed a tear or two in that time, but that’s small comfort for those who are going to be saddled with £27,000 worth of debt in tuition fees alone.

According to a student calculator helpfully put together by the BBC, an undergraduate who goes on to earn the national average wage will spend 26 years paying back an estimated £33,000 once interest is taken into account.

It feels like very unintentional irony that the calculator pointed out roughly £3000 will probably be written off from this figure after 30 years have been spent trying to pay it back – it’s a very small silver lining, and one that the struggling workers of the future won’t be able to take to the bank.

Another notable absence was the tensions that have marked the previous demonstrations. The more subdued mood couldn’t just be attributed to the bad weather, although it didn’t help. Despite samba bands and chants there was an undeniable feeling of apathy creeping in throughout the march. While I’m not trying to suggest that the violence of the 2010 demonstration or the repressive police tactics of last year are to be viewed as positive things, they at least spoke of the depth of emotion involved and a real feeling that there was something at stake, and something being fought over.

Instead, Wednesday seemed more remarkable in its lack of remarkability. The only real moments of unrestrained passion came at the end of the protest, when NUS president Liam Burns was egged offstage at the rally in Kennington Park amidst cries of ‘NUS, shame on you, where the fuck have you brought us to?’

But perhaps it is this change in attitudes that will define this particular protest, and the future protests that seem all too likely at this point.

Rather than feeling that their voice can be heard, students are being told repeatedly that they are under-valued, and their government is happy to let them fall through the cracks.

It is in danger of becoming a lost generation, one that feels permanently disillusioned and resigned to being given the short straw in life.


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