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Drastic tuition fee hike in Britain sparks clashes

British parliamentarians have backed a government plan to sharply increase tuition fees at universities across England and Wales. The vote sparked clashes between students and police.

Banknotes and a diploma

The cost of getting a degree in Britain has just gone up

Violent clashes on Thursday between police and students outside the parliament building in London accompanied the vote inside in favor of adopting a drastic hike in tuition fees at British universities.

Police on horseback charged into the crowd outside Westminster Abbey to push demonstrators back from the Houses of Parliament. Groups of protesters had earlier broken through police lines, throwing sticks, stones, paintballs, metal objects and other projectiles.

Inside, members of parliament debated the planned increase in annual tuition fees, from the current level of 3,290 pounds ($5,200) to a maximum of 9,000 pounds, nearly tripling the cost of a higher education.

Many MPs did not toe the party line

The House of Commons finally approved the plan by a reduced majority of 21 votes, indicating that several members of the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition bolted from the party line. Ordinarily, the government has a majority of 84 seats in the 650-seat parliament.

Students facing policemen on horseback

British police officers on horseback confront angry students in London

While facing the biggest challenge so far of its seven-month tenure, the government argued that the three-fold increase in fees was necessary to ensure sustainable long-term funding for university education.

Critics maintain that students from lower-income families will be deterred from academic studies.

Student outrage targets Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats, led by Nick Clegg, have been the prime targets of student criticism because they had made an election campaign pledge not to support fee increases.

Instead, they had promised to phase out charges altogether over the next six years. A defiant Clegg dismissed opponents of the policy as “dreamers.”

“I would feel ashamed if I didn't deal with the way the world is, not simply dream of the world as I would like it to be,” he said.

The government of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has made cutting Britain's record peacetime budget deficit its priority, and government departments have been ordered to reduce spending by some 19 percent over the next four years.

Author: Gregg Benzow (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

Editor: Susan Houlton

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