Protest against Tuition Hikes: A Teaching Moment

“They say ‘Cut Back.’  We Say ‘Fight Back.'”  The chants are the same across the Atlantic, even if the politics are somewhat different.  Students and other young people in the UK have taken to the streets to protest the Cameron government’s decision to triple tuition.

It’s still cheaper than a comparable education in the US, British Conservatives say; oddly, this hasn’t calmed the British students who have to come up with the money.

Student protests have been coordinated and aggressive.  Across the country, students have occupied buildings on campuses and staged marches through town centres (what Americans call “centers”).  But the focal point has been Parliament in London.  A series of demonstrations have seen unusual levels of disruption for Britain, featuring fires, arrests, and clashes with the police. According to the BBC:

The BBC’s Ben Brown, outside Parliament, said protesters shouted “shame on you” as news of the result filtered out to the crowd.

In violent scenes earlier, the BBC’s Mark Georgiou said there had been injuries to both police and protesters near to Westminster Abbey.

The Metropolitan Police say there have been attacks using “flares, sticks, snooker balls and paint balls”.

The political unrest has exacerbated rifts in a Conservative/Liberal Democratic coalition government that has seemed tenuous from the start, with 21 Liberal Democrats and 6 Conservative MPs voting against the policy.  Three ministerial aides resigned in protest.

American university students are also facing tuition hikes and education cuts, but have thus far been unable to create a campaign nearly as well coordinated.  Part of the problem in the US is that American universities are funded by diverse sources, including state and federal governments, and have depended more on tuition and fees for a long time.

By imposing a nation-wide policy, British Prime Minister David Cameron has made it easier for students to decide who to target and when.  American politics diffuses responsibility more broadly, and thus makes it harder for activists to hold anyone accountable.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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