On Sunday an estimated 7,000 students from across the whole of the UK took part in a national demonstration against top up fees, which rose to £3,000 this year for new students. Although the march was smaller than the last demonstration in 2003, it was widely reported on BBC and Sky media outlets throughout the day.
The students met at noon at ULU in Malet Street and marched along a designated route through Central London, passing along the Embankment and the Houses of Parliament, up Whitehall and finishing with a rally at Trafalgar Square. There participants heard speeches from NUS President Gemma Tumelty, NUS Vice President Wes Streeting, Veteran campaigner Tony Benn and Paul Mackney from the University and Colleges Union. Tumelty explained the NUS's position on fees arguing "What is always overlooked is that education is a benefit to society as well as the individual. [Universities are the] institutions producing doctors, nurses, engineers, and that is a huge benefit to society and therefore society should pay."
3000 red balloons, symbolising the £3000 top up fee that is now being charged to most first year students, were then released creating a rather bizarre and pretty sight across Central London.
Although this national demonstration was coordinated entirely by the National Union of Students, non affiliated unions such as Imperial and Southampton were allowed to join in. Around a dozen students from Imperial were spotted on the march which compares favourably to larger London Unions such as UCL, which had a smaller turnout. The Imperial delegation was supported by ICU President John Collins and Deputy President Ben Harris. Harris remarked: "it was great to see so many fresher students involved but a pity that no other Union Officers or Council Members made it to the event".
The evolving debate around higher education funding and top up fees is likely to continue at a future ICU Council meeting, when a new over-arching policy on top up fees is expected to be presented.