Around 70 people marched today in Bath as part of the Free Education protests that have taken place in campuses and cities across the UK this weekend. The protestors were comprised of students and non-students, as well as the parliamentary candidates for Labour and the Green Party.
The march began outside Bath Abbey and wound its way through Bath before ending up in South Gate shopping centre where a short rally was held with a number of individuals giving speeches. Quotes from the speeches can be seen in the slideshow below.
The march was organised by the Bath Students Against Fees and Cuts, a joint pressure group made up of all higher education institutions in Bath.
Dominic Tristram, Prospective Green Party MP for Bath, told bathimpact that he was attending the demo because “Education is a right; it’s not just about getting jobs, about having a loan and then paying it back”, and reinforced the party line that “We [The Green Party] would entirely abolish tuition fees and bring back maintenance grants.”
Ollie Middleton, Prospective Labour MP for Bath and student at the University of Westminster, explained that he was marching “to highlight the Liberal Democrat and Tory betrayal of thousands of students across the country, but here in Bath as well”, and was positive about the outcome of the demonstration.
“I think it’s great that we have such a fantastic turnout from the student community in Bath, and it’s really important to keep up the pressure on the government because the fact is things need to change. The system doesn’t work for anyone and we need to work towards an alternative”.
Despite Middleton’s enthusiasm however, the march was received in a mixed way by residents of Bath, with the city being very busy due to Saturday shoppers and the Christmas Market. Some applauded or honked their car horns as the march passed, however others were less supportive, with “Get a fucking job” and “This is just a joke” being the responses of some displeased people.
Last week, free education activists blockaded the entrances to both the University of Bath and Bath Spa University. The event was peaceful.
Also present were the University of Bath Students’ Union (SU) Officer team, including Students’ Union President Jordan Kenny. The SU has taken an increasingly strong stance against tuition fees after criticism of their failure to back a national march in November on ‘health and safety’ grounds.
On the march, the SU said, “In support of the principle of free education, we are actively encouraging students to attend the local march occurring this Saturday.”
SU Activites Officer, Freddy Clapson, told bathimpact, “Education has to be a right, not a commodity, something the Officer team feels very comfortable and happy to fully support”.
The demonstration followed a high profile event in Warwick where police reportedly used pepper spray on protestors. Following the event Bath Student’s Union gave the following statement.
“University of Bath Students’ Union stands in solidarity with these students. Such excessive and aggressive force is completely unacceptable for what was a peaceful protest for free education. Students should feel safe on their campuses and feel able to make change, not to be pepper sprayed. University of Bath Students’ Union condemns the disproportionate action taken against these students and our thoughts are with those students at Warwick”.