8 Dec 2010

More student protests on eve of crucial Commons vote

Thousands of students are expected to take to the streets today and tomorrow to protest against the planned rise in tuition fees.

Student protests and sit-ins have been taking place around the country with students occupying university buildings from Leeds to London. Students in the Yorkshire city learned they will be allowed to continue their protest for the time being. Meanwhile students who have been protesting at University College London for the past fortnight have been in negotiations with management.

Earlier today it emerged that a number of changes are being made to tomorrow’s bill, which the government is hoping may take the sting out of some of the charges being levelled at it.

The Business Secretary Vince Cable said: “When we announced the reforms last month, we said we would welcome further discussion about the proposals.

Leeds students protest

“We have been listening to concerns from universities, students, parents and parliament; and in light of those discussions, I am today announcing further enhancements to the package.”

Last night, the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said that all Lib Dem ministers would be voting for the proposed changes but Channel 4 News has learned that a number of Lib Dem MPs are prepared to either abstain or vote against the government on the issue. This afternoon, Mr Clegg made no comment to the media as he left the Commons following Prime Minister’s Questions.

But the National Union of Students hit back at the news saying that the “direction of travel” had already been determined by the government and that the move would not satisfy those who had protested recently.

Government amendments to education bill
• All eligible part time undergraduate students studying for at least 25 per cent of their time will qualify for full loan support for their tuition costs, compared with the 33 per cent originally proposed: they will no longer have to pay up front fees.
• The £21,000 earnings threshold will be uprated annually in line with earnings from 2016, when the first graduates under the new system start repayments, rather than every five years as originally proposed. No graduate will repay anything until they reach that income threshold.
• The £15,000 earnings threshold that applies in the current student finance system will be uprated annually in line with inflation from 2012. The £15,000 threshold has never been uprated since its announcement in 2004. The government says the change will help existing graduates.


Dozens of students from King’s College London are out on the streets of London today dressed as animals. They are gathering signatures for their petition against tuition fees, which has been backed by Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Ryan Wain, President of the Student Union at King’s College London told Channel 4 News: “The idea behind today’s campaign is that we as students believe the proposed rise in tuition fees is grossly unfair, especially when you add on an 80 per cent cut in teaching grants for universities.

Today’s campaign is fun, it’s friendly and it appeals to children and that’s very important because these guys are the students of tomorrow. Ryan Wain

“Today’s campaign is fun, it’s friendly and it appeals to children and that’s very important because these guys are the students of tomorrow.

“When I heard that Lib Dem ministers would vote in favour of the policy I was disappointed. The Liberal Democrat MPs signed a pledge against any rise in tuition fees and they got voted in on the back of that.

“To go against that pledge is to go against your electorate and to do that is to undermine everything that democracy stands for. “I’m intrigued to see how the Liberal Democrats react to this when, once again, they see from the student body, from the wider public, a growing apprehension and mistrust of their politics.

“For me anything other than a vote against tuition fees tomorrow from Liberal Democrats MPs would be detrimental to their political careers and detrimental to politics in the UK.”

School protest

Elsewhere in London a group of secondary school pupils are planning an overnight sit-in at Camden School for Girls.

Katie, who is 17, told Channel 4 News: “This is showing the general public and the Government we do have our own opinions and it’s not that youths are violent mobs.

“We really value our education. The worst thing is that those of us who haven’t even had a chance to vote yet, we’re the ones who are being punished.”

Another protester, 17-year old Rose said: “I come from an average family. My parents of course want to help me with university but of course they can’t pay the kind of fees that are being enforced.

“If I do go to uni I probably would be in debt for the rest of my life.”


Meanwhile, police are warning that this week’s anti-fees protests could be hijacked by “violent youths”. Thousands of students and lecturers are expected to take to the streets to demonstrate against the government’s plans to treble university tuition fees.

But the Metropolitan Police has raised concerns that troublemakers could use the protests as an “excuse” for violence. Protests held last month against the proposals were marred by some violent clashes and resulted in numerous arrests.

Commander Bob Broadhurst, head of the Met’s Public Order Branch said: “We have seen groups of youths descending on the last few student protests as the day progresses, purely with the aim of using the event as a venue for violence and to attack police.

“It has been obvious that these particular elements are not genuine protesters and they have no intention of protesting about cuts to tuition fees or any other issue. They have turned up purely to take part in violence and disorder.

“We will work with all protesters who want to peacefully protest and we acknowledge and respect their right to do so, but I would warn them to be aware of this violent element, which could harm them and their cause.”

Mr Broadhurst called for parents to advise their children of the dangers of attending a protest as youngsters are more at risk if violence breaks out.
Many school children, including some dressed in school uniform, attended previous demonstrations, and the Met was criticised after pupils were “kettled” for several hours during the second of a series of protests on November 24.

“Violence and disorder is often a result of a minority who are determined to cause trouble,” Mr Broadhurst said.
“Police officers will endeavour to assist young and vulnerable people as much as they can if violence breaks out during a protest, but there is only so much they can do once they are in a crowd of thousands.”