UK — Tuition fees protest turns ugly

Tail wagging the dog

A large demonstration by students against the proposed increase in the tuition fees in England has turned violent, as a small number of protesters stormed the Conservative Party HQ. If nothing much has changed since my undergraduate days, then it would have indeed been a small proportion, and some of whom may not have even been students, but who may be termed as ‘professional protesters’.

As I recall, whenever protests were organized, the committed fringe often exercised a disproportionate influence on the course and the outcome of the protest. This was due to a number of reasons. Even though the professional protesters were not large in number, they had experience of organized protesting, so they could rustle up posters and banners very quickly, which many students could not do. One can say that being disorganized is often associated with being a student. These professional protesters were united, holding true to an ideology. The bulk of students, on the other hand, could agree on protesting against an issue, such as Iraq war or tuition fees, but held differing views on other issues. Students were, and are, a heterogeneous group. Among the professional protesters, there was a hardcore sub-group, which was ever ready to resort to violence, and it seemed that the issue was less important than the destruction of capitalism or the system. Depending on the mood and personalities, some students would follow the leaders in destruction, which could lead to a large mess.

It is unfortunate that the fringe had hijacked the protest, in the sense that people will associate this protest with violence, since it could discredit the whole movement. Students need to make a convincing case why the public should fund their education. Why should tax-payers, some of whom have not attended universities, fund their education? What does the public get out from funding higher education? Students could and should make a case that well-funded higher education not only benefits them, but also the society.