Zoe Pilger: Radicalism is in the air and the rage is palpable

Thursday 11 November 2010 01:00

Yesterday 50,000 people marched in London against the proposed Coalition cuts to higher education. In the bright November sunshine, the atmosphere was largely peaceful and exuberant. As Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), told the crowd, this was the biggest march by students in a generation.

What brought everyone out on to the streets? The general consensus was anger. The rights afforded by education are not simply the reserve of the elite, a claim implied by some commentators. As an excellent film by the UCU showed, colleges such as Goldsmiths, University of London, where I am studying for a PhD, do more than merely smooth the progress of middle-class students into the corporate job market.

The film showed a man who had been released from prison walking into Goldsmiths' programme of adult learning. The reoffending rate is three times lower for ex-prisoners who participate in higher education. Precisely such progressive and imaginative resources will shortly be slashed.

One of the speakers at the rally was Angela Maddock, an art lecturer from Swansea University. She rejected the idea that the arts should be subordinated to so-called "useful" subjects, and instead argued for a defence of "art for art's sake". The Government's decision to ringfence science and technology while cutting the entire teaching budget for the arts and humanities, points to an alarming ethos.

The biggest cheer came when speakers made the connection between the "eye-watering" price of proposed tuition fees and the banking scandal. Radicalism is in the air. The rage is palpable.

Perhaps this drove a small group of protesters, by no means representative of the whole, to smash their way into the lobby of Millbank Tower and on to the roof.

Most of the demonstrators I spoke to did not condone these actions, but were glad that the message of the day was clear, written in red paint and unfurled from the top of Tory HQ: Stop The Cuts.

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