LONDON (Reuters) - Students demonstrating against higher tuition fees burned placards, scuffled with riot police and smashed windows at the headquarters of Britain’s governing Conservative party on Wednesday.
Protesters, their faces covered with scarves, kicked through the glass doors of the building, a short distance from the Houses of Parliament. Demonstrators occupied the ground floor reception area, while others streamed onto the roof of the building.
The violence broke out during an otherwise peaceful march by thousands of students and lecturers protesting against plans by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition to triple the amount universities in England can charge students for tuition.
Carrying placards saying “Stop education cuts” and chanting “They say cut back, we say fight back,” the marchers passed parliament, where politicians will in the coming weeks vote on proposals to lift maximum tuition fees to 9,000 pounds ($14,500) a year.
“My parents are both public sector workers. My dad will lose his pension next year and my mum will lose her job and this will just put them in bankruptcy,” said Matthew Kell, 22, from Bristol University in southwest England.
Other students on the march said they were demonstrating on behalf of their younger siblings, who will be liable for the higher fees when they kick in from 2012.
“My sister is 15, I doubt she will go away to university because it is so expensive,” said Catrina Miles, 21, from Sheffield University, northern England.
The coalition government plans to cut 2.9 billion pounds ($4.64 billion) of state support a year for universities to help tackle a budget deficit which soared to near 11 percent of gross domestic product following the global financial crisis.
It says the higher student fees, financed by government-backed loans, will cover the shortfall and allow Britain’s universities to continue competing against international rivals.
Despite the plans announced last month for 81 billion pounds of overall government cuts over four years, Britain has so far seen only muted anti-austerity protests compared to those which have rocked other European countries such as France and Greece.
Writing by Tim Castle, editing by Mark Trevelyan