9k4what? student protest takes place at Civic Centre

Thomas Wrath reports on the protest held on Saturday

Tom Wrath
3rd November 2020
Image: Joe Molander
Last Saturday, an estimated 120 students and activists gathered to protest at the Newcastle Civic Centre. Some gave speeches on tuition fees, the perceived maltreatment of students and the low quality of online learning.

The demonstration was named 9k4what?, in a nod to one of the many posters and signs in the windows of student halls. It hosted a mix of activists from different political factions and students from all years and courses.

Despite the protest having an emphasis on tuition fees, much of the discourse focussed on other forms of lobbying and demonstration. There was also talk of a rent strike, which the National Union of Students (NUS) has said they will support.

A sound system and microphone was donated by Sound System Protest NE, which provided a platform for students to give spoken testimonies. It was also used to lead protestors in chants such as “Chris Day, make him pay” and “What do we want? Free education. When do we want it? Now!”

On loss of education, first year SOAS University of London student and Sound System volunteer Abel identified that “a monetary transaction cannot quantify it, it’s an education that you can’t put a price on”. He argued that rent strikes are a “necessary step” to help students being “creamed for cash”.

A similar view was expressed by Students before Profit representative Ben, who set the tone for the event by stating that “students shouldn’t have to pay rent”, arguing “they deserve a refund”. Of the University, he said “They value money more than education and even our lives”.

A steady stream of statements from frustrated students and activists also urged the University and College Union (UCU) and students to stand together in solidarity against the University.

Event organiser Unity Addison reiterated this, with the story of a lecturer who didn't have her contract renewed because she did not have a research project.

When approached for comment on the matter, the University said “Every year the University will have a number of research projects that come to an end. We make every effort to redeploy any colleague that is specifically employed on those projects on a fixed term basis and becomes at risk of redundancy." 

"The University does not directly engage teaching colleagues to work on research projects. Where a teaching colleague holds a fixed contract, this will be for a specific reason and for a defined period.  Where there is no longer a requirement for that work and the end of the fixed period, the contract will not be renewed.”

Meanwhile, Fine Art student Iris Ollier spoke on the origins of the 9k4what movement. She mentioned how her studio hours had been cut by 85%, and encouraged the protestors to lobby for a 33% decrease in tuition fees. This would mean they would match the £6192 charged by The Open University. A petition to lobby the Students' Union for fee reductions will be circulated in the coming weeks.

Alongside alluding to other student demonstrations, such as the 300-strong protest in Edinburgh, Ollier emphasised “More demos are coming, and we have the power to demand transparency from the University”.

Other protests planned in cities such as Leeds, Manchester, and Stirling highlight the growing traction of the movement.

Northumbria Police were in attendance, though the protest was peaceful and passed without incident. Although the majority of officers didn’t voice their opinions on the demonstration, one officer told The Courier’s Joe Molander to “make sure you get it balanced, because you’ll hear some things today” from speakers at the protest.

Several political movements and parties stood in solidarity with demonstrators, and used the protest to speak on other societal issues. Of note was Elaine Brunskill of the Socialist Party, who voiced her concern that “the pandemic has highlighted all of the cracklines within the system”. Also speaking was Mark Johns of 'Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism!', who proclaimed “Change will only come when we’re fighting the parliamentary system”.

What many demonstrators echoed was Iris Ollier’s sentiment that “this is just the beginning”.

Featured Image: Joe Molander

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