John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, is to address a student protest taking place next week under the slogan “Free education: no barriers, no borders, no business”, according to its organisers.
The National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, the left-wing student group organising the 4 November London rally and protest, said that students joining the event would be opposing the scrapping of student maintenance grants and “also be demanding free education funded through progressive taxation, and an end to the scapegoating and deportation of international students”.
The shadow chancellor's decision to speak at an event advocating the abolition of tuition fees comes at a time when Labour’s policy on fees and higher education funding is under review.
Jeremy Corbyn said during his leadership campaign that he wanted to scrap tuition fees and reintroduce maintenance grants, a policy he costed at £10 billion a year.
Asked by Times Higher Education in September if that was now Labour policy after Mr Corbyn’s victory, Gordon Marsden, shadow minister for higher education, further education and skills, said that the party’s position would go “into a consultation process…and it’s really important we have a far more inclusive consultation within the party than we’ve had in the past”.
The NCAFC had already tweeted a picture of Mr Corbyn, the Labour leader, giving support to the event by holding up a “grants not debt” placard after a chance meeting with an organiser on a bus.
The National Union of Students opted not to take part in organising the protest, a decision made on the casting vote of its then president, Toni Pearce. However, the union’s National Executive Committee later voted to provide £4,000 towards the costs of the event.
After the opening rally at Malet Street, where the University of London is based, protesters will march to the Houses of Parliament, the Home Office and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Hope Worsdale, of the NCAFC, said: “The student movement is a part of the wider labour movement. Resisting the government’s attack on grants and the higher education system has to be a top priority for the anti-austerity movement as a whole – and we will stand shoulder to shoulder with workers and migrants.
“That’s why we’re forming alliances with trade unions and political parties that are on our side in this fight.”
Rida Vaquas, of Labour Young Socialists and the Labour Campaign for Free Education, said: “It’s brilliant that John McDonnell has come out in support of the student movement. The Labour party will only win if it is connected to social movements.”
THE attempted to contact Mr McDonnell for comment, but he has yet to respond.