Divided and Ruined: The Failed Student Protests In Great Britain

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 10:45 AM
Room: 501
Oral Presentation
Sarah PICKARD , Institut du Monde Anglophone, Université Sorbonne Nouvelle - Paris 3, PARIS, France
The current decade has been marked by both the global economic crisis and a growth in social movements around the world spearheaded by young people. In particular, we have witnessed collective action – demonstrations, direct action and civil disobedience – regarding higher education. In Britain, there was a series of demonstrations and sit-ins in the winter of 2010-2011 about the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition Government’s plan to cut dramatically public spending on higher education and to raise considerably university tuition fees. In fact, both of the policies were enacted and the ceiling on annual fees went up to £9,000 (approximately 1.500,000 JPY) in 2012-2013. Just after their introduction, a demonstration took place organized by the National Union of Students (NUS). Strikingly, this #DEMO2012 had three themes: “Educate, Employ, Empower,” rather than only higher education and it was attended by far fewer demonstrators.

This talk will analyze the social movements organized by young people against higher education reform since 2010 in Britain. It will focus especially on the 2012 demonstration, in order to ascertain to what extent it can be gauged to have been a failure. Drawing on interviews I made with protestors, as well as photographs I took of the demonstration, the talk will reveal that the different types of participants were very polarized about the best course of collective action to take. For example, the extreme-left wing radicals and anarchists accused the NUS of cooperating with the Government, whilst the NUS claimed the extremists were not focusing on the issues at stake. This lead to highly confrontational scenes during and after the demonstrations which detracted from criticisms of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government and its youth policy. Instead of uniting and fighting, the protestors were divided and ruled by Government cuts in an era of austerity and lack of social change.