clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

British protests over tuition increase turn violent

LONDON — A demonstration against government proposals to cut education spending and steeply increase tuition for university students turned violent Wednesday as protesters attempted to storm the building that houses the Conservative Party.

The protesters scuffled with police officers, set off flares, burned placards, threw eggs, bottles and other projectiles and shattered windows at the building, 30 Millbank, in Westminster. A small group of demonstrators, some of whose faces were obscured by ski masks, climbed to the roof of a nearby building, waving anarchist flags and chanting "Tory scum."

The protest was dispersed about 10 p.m. Fourteen people, including seven police officers, were injured, none of them seriously, authorities said. Thirty-five people were arrested.

An estimated 52,000 people also massed near Parliament on Wednesday to condemn the government's education proposals, which would allow universities to charge $9,600 to $14,400 in tuition a year, up from a cap of $5,264. The protest was the largest street demonstration against the government's plans, which were announced last month, to cut public spending by $130 billion by 2015. Unions and public employees have promised more demonstrations and strikes, particularly as details of the cuts become clear.

Tuition is a politically sensitive subject in Britain, where universities are heavily subsidized by the government. Until the late 1990s, when the Labour government introduced tuition, students paid nothing to attend college.

The current government, a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats that has ushered in an age of budget austerity, has announced plans to cut teaching grants to universities and said it has no choice but to raise tuition.

That has presented a dilemma for Liberal Democrats — the more vulnerable members of the coalition — who made abolishing university tuition a core element of their platform in the general election last spring.

Student leaders have made it a priority to denounce Liberal Democrats who support the higher tuition, and they said Wednesday that they would try to recall any legislators who had broken their election promises on the issue. Some Liberal Democrats have said they would abstain from the vote to increase tuition when it comes up in Parliament.