And yet as I sit here, I'm pretty taken aback by the events of the last hour.
Students have a history of making a stand, and making a difference. In 1941 the White Rose movement was formed by students in Munich, making a defiant stand against the Nazi Regime. The chain of events leading to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 were started by peaceful student demonstrations. In 1967 the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA) was formed, spurred by Catholic Students who were benefitting from the free education that had come into Northern Ireland in 1947 under the new 'Welfare State' and who were now disenchanted with discrimination from local authorities. The Tiananmen protests in China, culminating in the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989 came off the back of students dissatisfied with the Chinese method of governance. Around the same time in Europe, students were holding pro-democracy protests in Soviet states, which can be argued to be a catalyst for the rapid downfall of communism.
Yet where is the passionate student today? Last year, a protest organised against fees was held at Stormont. Some 30 students bothered to turn up. Not so long again at UUC, the Union General meeting attracted only 40 people, though this was twice as many as the considerably larger UUJ campus. Talk about issues of Fairtrade and the student is interested in change, but only if someone else will do it for them. Speak about poor parking facilities, and the threat of doing away with Sunday train services for which many students on this campus rely on, and there are complaints, but no action.
It disheartens me to see a vast number of young people here, affected by various issues but so dispassionate and apathetic that they don't want to see anything changed. Maybe it all comes back to selfishness? Why bother campaigning if by the time we have change I won't be here any longer? Why lobby on Fairtrade if all it does is ease my conscience a little?
Today seemed different though. The Students' Union organised a protest against Fees. At the minute in Northern Ireland, tuition fees stand at £3,145 per annum, the maximum which Universities can charge. There is a short term proposed move to increase this by £80, to help 'deal with inflation'. On top of this, Sir Reg Empey, leader of the Ulster Unionists is calling for a removal of the cap, meaning that Universities could charge as much as they like. This would lead to an increase to £5,000, £10,000, £20,000...who knows. Ultimately it would weed out the last remaining students from low-income families, and ensure that our institution-educated people are those people who come from middle class backgrounds. The Bible talks about campaigning for the poor, lobbying for justice.
"Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?"
(58 v 6)
Ultimately the majority of students are not coming to protest because of any God-given command, but I was shocked to see the numbers who started arriving from 12.30 in the Students Union, ready to make their voice heard
Why? The increase is unlikely to effect us, especially for those of us who are in our last year, it's more for those teenagers who will be coming to Uni in the years to come. And yet students wanted to speak for those who couldn't speak. Students wanted to stand up for their brothers and sisters who would be coming to University after them, and didn't want them to be labelled with an even bigger financial burden.
There were probably around 150 people gathered in the Students Union building. Councillors Billy Leonard (Sinn Fein) and Barney Fitzpatrick (Alliance) spoke well and passionately. Their calls for students to continue to be active, and to hold politicians accountable (all 5 major parties in Northern Ireland committed to a removal of students fees in 2004) were greeted with loud cheers.
Followed thereafter a march from the Students Union biulding to the Central building. Shouts and chants were heard. Upon entering the front entrance of the University, these grew louder. Classes were disrupted. Students and staff stopped to watch. Security men stood on the steps of the stairs.
"What do we want?"
- "No Fees"
"When do we want them?"
UUSU Campaign Against Fees- http://www.uusu.org/content/index.php?page=10298
Convert your universty to Fairtrade -http://www.fairtrade.org.uk/get_involved/campaigns/fairtrade_universities/default.aspx
What does the Bible say about the poor? - http://www.worldvision.org/content.nsf/learn/g8-bibleversesNICRA - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NICRA
Tiananmen Protests - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiananmen_Square_protests_of_1989
The White Rose Movement - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_rose
The Increase of fees
Previous increase - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/7135588.stm
Recent proposals - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/7728579.stm