Students call national demo against tuition fees, after Tories lose bid to raise cap

The Conservative Party was forced to abandon plans to hike tuition fees by £250 each year, after the DUP caused them major embarrassment by backing a Labour motion to block the rise.

Students have called a national demonstration to demand tuition fees are scrapped, after the Tories lost a bid to lift the £9,000 per year cap on how much home students pay.

Momentum has backed the November protest, which is being organised by student coalition National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts (NCAFC), promising to “mobilise up and down the country”.

The Conservatives yesterday had to abandon plans to allow universities to charge home students £250 more per year after the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) backed a Labour motion to block the new policy, in what has been described as a major embarrassment for Theresa May.

The DUP also backed Jeremy Corbyn’s party in calling for an end to the public sector pay cap for NHS workers this week, exposing the fragile nature of the Tory-DUP deal.

NCAFC says it hopes to “capitalise on the division between the Tories and the DUP to advance a radical agenda of free education”.

The demonstration will also call for an end to the cuts and job losses in the education sector, the organisation added in a statement.

The grassroots group — which was founded during student protests in 2010 and has organised several major demonstrations since — said it expects tens of thousands of people to take to the streets.

Hansika Jethnani, a NCAFC organisers and member of the National Union of Students’ National Executive Committee said:

“We refuse to lie down in the face of the relentless attacks on education.

“Tuition fees are fundamentally illegitimate – education is a public good not a product, and it should be funded publicly, paid for by taxing the rich.

“The orthodoxy that students should be charged more and more has been shattered.”

May first attempted to sneak the rise in student fees through parliament earlier this year, but Labour  — whose gains at the general election in June were partly attributed to widespread student support, after Corbyn promised to scrap tuition fees —demanded a vote and more thorough parliamentary scrutiny.

Under the government’s plan, the current annual tuition fee cap of £9,000 would have risen by £250 a year, increasing the debt of a student on a four-year course by £1,000 overall and making the starting cost far higher for young people who study in five or ten years time.

Labour’s motion to block the rise was passed by the House of Commons on Wednesday after it secured DUP backing. The Conservative party abstained from the vote.

Speaking to the Guardian, Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said on Wednesday the Tories “won’t even trust their own MPs to back their latest hike in student fees”, suggesting there is even opposition within the party to burdening students with enormous debt.

NCAFC and Momentum see weakness in the government as an opportunity demand change.

Sahaya James, a member of Momentum’s National Coordinating Group and of NCAFC, said Momentum would be organising up and down the country to ensure thousand of students and young people turn out.

She said:

“A generation of people are being sold out by a minority government with vanishing credibility.

“Momentum has changed the electoral map; we will help change the consensus that maintains university as a luxury for the rich.”

With so many graduates already crippled by debt and others deterred from going to university at all, the Tories must start listening.

Charlotte England is a freelance journalist and writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow her on Twitter.

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