Are Students feeling disillusioned with their ability to bring about change through protest, or do they simply feel due to financial concerns it’s just no longer feasible?

On the Saturday November 19th the NUS in conjunction with the UCU are staging the United for Education protest march, in central London. The UCU have described the protest as being in defence of free, accessible and quality further and higher education and are demanding an end to privatisation and cuts in universities and colleges. Protestors are set to congregate at Park Lane at noon with the march set to begin an hour later.

Following the defeat by majority vote of an FXU motion to provide a coach for Falmouth students who wanted to take part in the protest, but couldn’t afford the trip, the UCU stepped in. Originally a coach from Falmouth scheduled to leave at 04:00, with two scheduled stops at Plymouth and Exeter, before arriving at Park Lane by 11:30, was scheduled by the UCU. The Falmouth starting point has since however been cancelled. After speaking with David O’Toole, the Branch development officer at the UCU’s office in Exeter, to find out why this had happened, he informed me that there that no one from Falmouth University had applied for a position on the coach.

Does this point to a lack of faith amongst students in their ability to cause change? Are we hampered by financial concerns? Or have we simply become disillusioned with politics in our modern social media saturated society. To find out I decided to speak to students to get their opinion on whether student protest was still feasible in the modern day.

When asked what issues she felt were hindering modern student protest, Falmouth student Noel Nuccioni, said. “I do feel like, because of social media, it’s much easier for your voice to get lost now, because there are so many people talking at once that you’re not really sure if you can make an impact, because you’re afraid your voice will just get lost in the crowd. At the same time it’s a good thing, modern media is able to reach a far wider audience, and therefore have a deeper impact.”

The unprecedented level of communication facilitated by social media does allow for far more efficient organization of demonstrations, like United for Education, and so is undoubtedly an effective tool for stimulating social change. Though it is interesting to note that to some extent it can be a double edged sword, having a dampening effect, deterring people from speaking out because they feel they won’t be heard.

When asked if she felt that the financial concerns of modern students also played a role in discouraging protest, Noel had this to say.  “My friends, a lot of people I know, always say, Oh yeah I would do this, if I had the money, I feel like it is a big problem. The general feeling is that our generation is unable to do as much, because money is such a constriction. Sometimes my mum and dad tell me things they’ve done, that they were able to do because they didn’t have the same constrictions. Even if they were not in a good economic situation, the general environment which they were in, I feel like a lot of things were much easier to do.”

‘I feel like because of social media, it’s much easier for your voice to get lost now. There are so many people talking at once that you’re not really sure if you can make an impact’

It’s a sad irony that some students feel so hamstrung by rising debt, that they are unable protest against rising student debt, or even make their voices heard. If this trajectory continues, with certain students feeling muzzled by their financial situation, could this lead to a future where the chorus of protest is comprised of only those voices with enough money?

These were however not the only concerns I heard from students concerning the feasibility and the efficacy student protest. When speaking to Mickey C.P about his perspective on the situation he had this to say, “If it’s a calm and peaceful protest, I feel they’re effective, but as soon as it becomes violent it can bring down the validity of the protest.”

To see the validity of this point we need only to look into the recent past, the 2010 student protests in London. They were protesting against the government’s plans to raise tuition fees for higher education. The widespread damage caused to the city that day served to tarnish the reputation of the protestors and do nothing to further the pursuit of their goals. The only way to affect change is to keep the protests peaceful.

It would seem that there are a multitude of issues that are deterring students from assuming a more active role through protest. Perhaps creating a more active dialogue on the issue between students who feel disillusioned or disconnected with the protesting process, and organisations such as the FXU who are there to represent student interests would go some way to remedying the situation.