Demonstrators: “It is not only a breach of promise, it is treachery”

Students showed their dissatisfaction with the new SU reform on Rådhuspladsen and Christiansborg yesterday at a huge demonstration

"Kære, kære Morten, det er ikk' i orden!" (Dear, dear Morten, it's not okay!), thousands of people at Rådhuspladsen screamed yesterday, venting their frustrations at the higher education minister, Morten Østergaard (Radikale), for his reform proposal of the student grant (SU) system, which is aimed at forcing students to finish their education faster.

The demonstration started at 3pm at Rådhuspladsen with speeches and performances before moving on to Christiansborg, where the demonstrators were so loud that Enhedslisten (EL) MP Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen later reported that the chants were clearly heard in the nearby Finance Ministry as EL met with the finance minister, Bjarne Corydon (Socialdemokraterne) to discuss the SU reform.  The students' association Danske Studerendes Fællesråd, which arranged the protest, estimated there were 25,000 in attendance, although police estimates put the number closer to 5,000. Most of those on hand were angry students from all over Denmark, but the demonstration also attracted an older audience.

Amongst empty beer cans, flyers, and slogans, 56-year old Pernille Cauchi was selling books for Internationale Socialister (International Socialists). She is unemployed and highly dissatisfied with not only the SU reform, but also the kontanthjælp (cash welfare benefit) reform and the government's growth and jobs bill. She said that she finds the new reforms unacceptable and thinks it is a pity that the government is cheating their voters by following a political line that seems more right-wing than left-wing.

“It is difficult to recognise this government,” said Cauchi, who voted for EL in the last election.

The participants were all angered by the new reform and said that the government should start living up to the promises the parties made to their voters, such as not cutting welfare and not giving tax relief to large companies.

One of the speakers, Malene Nyborg Madsen, who is the head of the student organisation Danske Gymnasieelevers Sammenslutning, claimed that rather than reforming SU, the government should work to create more internships and encourage students to meet with their student counsellors more often. She said that the nation's disappointed students need to clearly express their dissatisfaction with the government's direction.

“We must stand together to make the government change their mind,” Madsen said.

She is also angry with the way SU has been characterised by politicians and the media, particularly the tendency to refer to SU as cafépenge (café money).

“SU for students living at home is NOT cafépenge,” she said, adding that many students depend on the funds to make ends meet and that many students who live at home still have to pay rent.

In the back of the crowd, behind a sea of banners reading slogans such as "It is not only a breach of promise, it is treachery” and "There goes the future", 25-year old student Sally Schmidt stood warming herself with a cup of coffee. She showed up for the demonstration because she is afraid that the higher education minister is wrecking the educational system. She mostly disagrees with the new SU reform, although she did concede that students should finish their education faster.

“We have to finish faster, but not this way,” Schmidt said.