UK students put up a fight: “If they vandalise our public services, we will vandalise them!”

Photo posted on Flickr by Semisara.
Violence flared briefly at an otherwise peaceful student rally in London as protesters furious against government plans to triple university tuition fees broke into the Conservative Party headquarters and vandalised the reception area. Our Observer was there.
According to student unions, over 52,000 students, lecturers and supporters marched past the House of Parliament carrying placards reading “Stop education cuts” or, more humorously, “Cameron, Kiss my Arts” and “Hogwarts is Free”.
Lawmakers in the coming weeks will vote on proposals to lift maximum tuition fees to 9,000 pounds (10,541 euros). The newly elected Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government plans to cut 2.9 billion pounds (3.4 billion euros) of state support a year for universities to help tackle a budget deficit that has soared to nearly 11 percent of gross domestic product following the global financial crisis. But protesters say the fee hikes will bar students from low-income families from reaching higher education.

“If they vandalise our public services, we will vandalise them!”

Ed, who preferred not to give his full name, studied mechanics at King’s College London and is now working as a waiter during a gap year. We reached him on his cell phone just as he was leaving the Conservative HQ at 30 Millbank, where protests turned violent.
There was a huge crowd in front of the headquarters when I got there, and I was literally pushed into the building when the windows were smashed open.
What happened was, some people managed to force their way into a side entrance, and began smashing things in the reception area. Police tried to stop them, but then they were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the crowd, and more people got in. Afterwards things went crazy, the main entrance was opened from inside, people were streaming in. Someone smashed a plasma TV hanging on a wall, others were drawing graffiti. I went up to the roof, there was a great view of the protest from up there. I saw two bonfires burning in the courtyard of the building, apparently people were burning posters.
The atmosphere was chaotic, but not really violent. Most people were just having fun, running around the building but not vandalising. I did see police get rough at two points: once at the beginning, when they were trying to stop people coming in, they hit several protesters with batons. Then when reinforcements arrived and they raided the building and were very aggressively throwing people out.
I think the vandalism was justified by the fact that the Conservatives ruling our country are vandalising our public services! The people protesting were students or other people who care a lot about education in this country, and who don’t think that just waving a banner or two outside Parliament is enough to protest. Direct action is needed against the criminals in our government who think nothing of spending billions on endless wars then say there’s not enough money left to pay for schools! The damage that was done today is nowhere near the damage this government is getting ready to do to our country.”
Protesters smashing the entrance-level windows of the Millbanks building, which houses the  Conservative Party headquarters. Originally posted on Flickr by Asif Khan.

"The anger was mostly aimed at Nick Clegg"

Our Observer Shailyn Shah, who plans to study geography at university next year, was protesting near Westminster. He sent us this account.
It was evident that there was more anger and frustration towards the leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, Nick Clegg. Students are some of the Lib Dem’s strongest supporters, the party really can’t afford to lose their vote. But, as I took a moment to look around at flyers and posters it looked like students were debating a no confidence vote with the Liberal Democrat Party.
Why is this? The party came up with a number of pledges on the election trail, most notably to scrap tuition fees. Yet, some months into the coalition, it seems that the party has moved a step backwards in allowing tuition fees to be substantially raised.
There was a great sense of unity between students of all ages and from all universities, colleges and schools at today’s protest. What was even more interesting was the powerful voice students were able to generate, with the sort of noise and shouting that only students are capable of." 

Images from the protests

Photos by Rob Dyson, originally posted on his Blog.
Photos posted on Twitpic by @BMAstudents.
Post written with France 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.


Reply to comment | The FRANCE 24 Observers

I did only that while stuck in traffic in Birmingham, Ala.,
earlier this year.

Value of learning

I am an american who graduated from university with close to $30,000 in debt despite attending a school in state to try to lower my costs. I empathize with the students, leaving school with a mountain of debt is demoralizing. However, those students truly motivated to improve their lives through learning Will Find a Way To Do So. Vandalism simply makes those people who are interested in fee hikes more entrenched in their plans to improve the debt situation by making students pay and makes it harder for those who are working for a more balanced way to improve the debt situation to be heard. Learning is not something that can only be experienced at university maybe other avenues to alleviate the situation should be explored such as paid internships, work study, mentors, and other ways to broaden the experience so that students don't merely learn in a university setting but in a broader more reality-based setting as well. Yes, the fee rise is abrupt, unfair, and not the best solution - but this is the time when students and their supporters should rise to the occasion and use this as an opportunity to suggest new and creative ways to broaden the learning experience while possibly alleviating the debt-producing aspects of a university career.

This behaviour is not justified in any way

I do not belive the behaviour of certain students can be justified in any manner. I myself was a student only a few years ago. i have left with huge debt. Get over it. Everyone is in the same boat. People will still get loans or subsidies to cover their fees, the rise in the upper limit for fees is not going to stop people who are serious about studying from going to University.

The behaviour of the few who decided to storm the Conservative HQ is absolutely disgusting. It cannot be justified in any way. To say they were 'just having fun' is absurd! They broke into a building, forcibly took control of it, vandalised it and destroyed property that did not belong to them. Then some idiotic child decided it would be a 'laugh' to chuck a fire extinguisher from a rooftop directly into a crowd of people, mainly police. What an imbecile. He has now been charged for committing violent disorder and I hope he pays for it. He could easily have killed or seriously injured someone. This boy is a student from Southampton. How somebody that idiotic and immature has managed to get into University is beyond me. He probably attends the Solent Uni, which is not a 'real' University anyway.

I absolutely deplore using violence to get your own way. This is what the students are doing. It will not work of course as the Government will not back down just to appease the students.

If the fees had been £9000 when I started University, I still would have gone. I would just have more of a loan to pay back now. If you are serious about studying then you need to just get on and do it.

I hope they manage to find all the idiots that played a part in this mindless criminal damage and violence spree that they called a protest and charge them all. Obviously, I have no issue with the peaceful protesters, I guess we all have the right to dislike and protest in a civil manner.

reply to above response to student boredom antics.

this man above acted in a much more manly and adult way towards his university loan debts than the pleb-bags and small-brained sawdust ceasers that attacked the conservative party H.Q in london. where were the useful crowd calming measures that we had in the 1980's such as the firing of plastic bullets into the crowd? i did not see any tear gas fired either.

Please refrain from using offensive language

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Silly children

It's interesting that you quote from a student who is having a gap year. It's strange how he can find the funds to finance a gap year (working as a waiter would not do that) and yet he complains about the tuition fees. Britain has a real problem that can't be solved with idealistic Liberal policies. The students have a choice - either a minority of students go to university funded by taxation (like in the old days) or everybody goes and they pay for it themselves - taxation cannot pay for it. The choice is theirs.

Their behavior is ridiculous

Their behavior is ridiculous and completely unacceptable. Descending into anarchy is not the way to deal with grievances. This seems to happen only in Europe. They behave like children. Including the French. If you have a problem then go to the polls to settle them. Lazy f*cks.

And if you have only 2

And if you have only 2 choices between BAD and WORSE at the polls, then what do you do? [Expletive deleted by editor]

Listen dipshit, YOU have the

Listen [expletive deleted], YOU have the option of running for an office. YOU don't need to play this BS game of Tory or Labor. I take it you're one of the dumbasses who's probably out rioting because the government is now going to make you pay for YOUR OWN education, even at a subsidized rate. I'm a university student here in the United States at a public university and even with the conversion from dollars to pounds I am still paying more for my education than you. The reason the state's making you pay for YOUR own education is because you left in a ridiculous welfare state that's about to go to the poor house because it's broke. Boohooo cry me a river you have to only pay 6,000 pounds a year. University isn't cheat, it never is. When it's "Free" it means other people are paying with THEIR money that THEY WORKED FOR.

"Stupid, crazy fuck" I suppose you do the sane thing like yourself and piss and moan and possibly take part in rioting because its well known behaving like an insulant child and vandalizing buildings is the only valid recourse. [expletive deleted]


Wow authentified, what a narrow minded reply you've published! The reason we, the tax payers, don't mind paying for Students to go to university is because some people really cannot afford the fees. I don't earn that much but if my taxes pay for someone worse off than me to get a decent education then so be it. It'll make the world a better place and who knows that person could grow up to be someone who ends up contributing a lot to society.

The new system does mean students only have to pay once they have left Uni but if you know you're going to leave Uni with more than £40,000 of debt then it's not that motivating.

One way to cut University cost would be to still subsidise student fees but on the understanding that if they drop out then they have to pay back the fees off their own backs!

I guess the moral of this story is not to criticise from a remote location and different way of living when you don't know the facts. Not everyone is in a position to support themselves and no matter how hard they try sometimes they need a little help.