Why students are protesting in Britain


The crux:

It was the first violent protest against 81 billion pounds ($130 billion) of  spending cuts ordered for the next four years by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition to tackle a record budget deficit. ... Politicians will in the coming weeks vote on proposals to lift maximum tuition fees to 9,000 pounds ($14,500) a year.

Here's what the AP is reporting:

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LONDON (AP) - Tens of thousands of students marched through

London on Wednesday against plans to triple university tuition

fees, and violence erupted as a minority battled police and trashed

a building containing the headquarters of the governing

Conservative Party.

Organizers said 50,000 students, lecturers and supporters

demonstrated against plans to raise the cost of studying at a

university to 9,000 pounds ($14,000) a year - three times the

current rate - in the largest street protest yet against the

government's sweeping austerity measures.

As the march passed a high-rise building that houses

Conservative headquarters, some protesters smashed windows as

others lit a bonfire of placards outside the building.

Office workers were evacuated as several dozen demonstrators

managed to get into the lobby, scattering furniture, smashing CCTV

cameras, spraying graffiti and chanting "Tories Out," while

outside police faced off against a crowd that occasionally hurled

food, soda cans and placards.

"We are destroying the building just like they are destroying

our chances of affording higher education," said Corin Parkin, 20,

a student at London's City University.

The violence appeared to be carried out by a small group as

hundreds of others stood and watched. Anarchist symbols and the

words "Tory scum" were spray-painted around the building, and

black and red flags flew from atop an office block beside the

29-story Millbank Tower.

Rooftop protesters threw down water, paper - and in one case a

fire extinguisher, to boos from the crowd below.

Police said eight people, a mix of protesters and police

officers, were taken to hospitals with minor injuries.

The Metropolitan Police said, "A small minority of protesters

have taken it upon themselves to cause damage to property, whilst

the vast majority have peacefully made their point."

Nearby, the headquarters of Britain's MI5 spy agency, Thames

House, was sealed with heavy metal doors as police guarded the rear


Organizers condemned the violence. Sally Hunt, general secretary

of faculty group the University and College Union, said "the

actions of a minority, out of 50,000 people, is regrettable."

Elsewhere, protesters were peaceful but determined.

"I am here because it is important that students stand up and

shout about what is going on," said Anna Tennant-Siren, a student

at the University of Ulster in Coleraine.

"Politicians don't seem to care," she said. "They should be

taking money from people who earn seven-figure salaries, not from

students who don't have any money."

Frances O'Grady, of the Trades Union Congress, said the hike

would make colleges "no-go zones for young people from ordinary


"This is about turning colleges and universities from learning

institutions into finishing schools for the rich," she said.

Britain's Liberal Democrats, who are part of the coalition

government with the Conservatives, pledged during the country's

election campaign to abolish fees.

Protest leaders said they would attempt to use recall powers to

oust lawmakers who break campaign promises on the issue.

The National Union of Students said it would try to recall

legislators from the party who vote in favor on the hike.

"We will not tolerate the previous generation passing on its

debts to the next, nor will we pick up the bill to access a college

and university education that was funded for them," said union

President Aaron Porter.

While British tuition fees are modest compared to those at some

U.S. colleges, British universities are public institutions.

Opponents of the tuition increase have pointed out that Prime

Minister David Cameron and other members of the government attended

elite universities such as Oxford and Cambridge at a time when

university education was free.

The previous Labour government of Prime Minister Tony Blair

introduced the first fees for students soon after it was elected in

1997. Scotland abolished tuition fees in 2000, and in the rest of

Britain the cost is capped at about 3,000 pounds ($4,800) a year.

Prime Minister David Cameron's government plans to triple that

and cut funding to universities as it strives to slash 81 billion

pounds ($128 billion) from public expenditure over the next four