LONDON — Some furious student protesters rained sticks and rocks on riot police, vandalized government buildings and attacked a car carrying Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, after lawmakers approved a controversial hike in university tuition fees. Demonstrators set upon the heir to the throne’s limousine as it drove through London’s West End shopping and entertainment hub. Protesters who had been running amok and smashing shop windows kicked and threw paint at the car, which sped off.
Charles’ office, Clarence House, confirmed the attack but said “their royal highnesses are unharmed.”
Protesters erupted in anger after legislators in the House of Commons approved a plan to triple university fees to 9,000 pounds ($14,000) a year. As thousands of students were corralled by police near Parliament, some strummed guitars and sang Beatles songs – but others hurled chunks of paving stones at police and smashed windows in a government building. Another group ran riot through the busy shopping streets of London’s West End, smashing store windows and setting fire to a giant Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square.
Police condemned the “wanton vandalism.” They said 38 protesters and 10 officers had been injured, while 15 people were arrested.
The violence overshadowed the tuition vote, a crucial test for governing Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, and for the government’s austerity plans to reduce Britain’s budget deficit. Many in the thousands-strong crowd booed and chanted “shame” when they heard the result of the vote, and pressed against metal barriers and lines of riot police penning them in.
Some students marched through central London and converged on Parliament Square, waving placards and chanting “education is not for sale” to cap weeks of nationwide protests aimed at pressuring lawmakers to reverse course. “I’m here because the Liberal Democrats broke their promise,” said 19-year-old Kings College student Shivan David from London’s Trafalgar Square. “I don’t think education should be free but I do think that tripling fees doesn’t make any sense. We are paying more for less.”
Clegg defended the proposals, saying the plans represent the “best possible choice” at a time of economic uncertainty.
“In the circumstances in which we face, where there isn’t very much money around, where many millions of other people are being asked to make sacrifices, where many young people in the future want to go to university, we have to find the solution for all of that,” Clegg told the BBC.
The government proposed raising the maximum university tuition fees in England from 3,000 pounds a year to 9,000 pounds. Students reacted with mass protests that have been marred by violence and have paralyzed some campuses. In response, the government modified its plan by raising the income level at which graduates must start repaying student loans and by making more part-time students eligible for loans. Students have said the concessions are not enough to lessen the blow of higher fees. They say that under the proposal, piles of debt will plague graduates and make a well-rounded education unattainable for many.
The Welsh regional government has pledged to subsidize the higher fees for any student from Wales who enrolls at an English university. Student fees in Scotland are just 1,820 pounds per year, sparking fears of a future stampede of bargain-hunting students from England. Northern Ireland’s fees are capped at 3,290 pounds a year.