Amy Gilligan reports:
Activists from Cambridge Defend Education (CDE) ensured that a talk yesterday evening at the Cambridge Union Society by David Willetts was met by noisy protest. Around 50 students and staff took part in a “speak out” where the crowd was addressed by members of Cambridge University Students Union and the local UCU and NUT branches. Two CDE activists smuggled a banner into the talk, which they unfurled as the lecture began. Attendance inside was relatively sparse. There was a similar number of people attempting to listen to Willetts speak as there were drowning out his speech outside.
Protesters wanted to send a message to David Willetts that they are still angry about the damage he’s doing to higher education and won’t stop fighting him. Jess, an undergraduate student said there were three main reasons to be protesting against Willletts: “Under him fees have been raised to £9,000, under him loans have been privatised and he’s pro-cuts to courses that are ‘non-competitive’. It’s dangerous that he’s in power.” One of the students who had participated in the banner drop highlighted the importance of protest because “the only way we’re going to achieve anything is by pressure from the bottom”.
Cambridge Defend Education was set up in 2010 and organised protests and occupations against cuts in higher education and increases to fees. When Willetts tried to speak at Cambridge University in 2011 they organised a “people’s mic” protest which saw Willets driven from Cambridge unable to give his talk. The group has been reinvigorated in the last year by a layer of new activists and a focus on solidarity with the HE workers strike and action to oppose the selling off of the student loan book.