Students in Britain took to the streets again on Wednesday on the eve of a parliamentary vote to sharply increase tuition fees at universities as part of government austerity measures.
Earlier protests against higher fees turned violent
Surprisingly small numbers of students braved inclement weather in London, Manchester and elsewhere in England on Wednesday to voice their disapproval of plans by the British government to treble tuition fees at the country's universities.
Parliament is set to vote on the issue on Thursday and, if the increase is approved, universities in England would be allowed to charge students up to 9,000 pounds ($14,000) per year, nearly three times the current limit.
In recent weeks, hundreds of young people were arrested during protests which turned violent. London police warned protesters this time that the “violent element could harm them and their cause.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said on Wednesday that hiking tuition fees was the fairest and most sustainable way to fund university education.
"This is the most sustainable option available, allowing universities to get funding they need and offering much needed savings for the taxpayer," Cameron said in a speech.
Cuts part of austerity program
The tuition move is part of government plans to cut state funding for higher education as it slashes public spending to curb a record budget deficit.
The issue has not only angered students across England and Wales (Scotland is not affected), but has also divided the Liberal Democratic party, the junior coalition partner in Prime Minister Cameron's Conservative-led government.
The popularity of Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, has plunged since he reneged on a pre-election pledge not to raise tuition fees.
But, on Wednesday, Clegg said he had convinced party leaders to support the measure. Earlier, Clegg wrote to student organizations to try to explain the government's case that the new system would be fairer.
The government has argued that the tuition hike was necessary to maintain world-class universities in future and that students from all backgrounds would still be able to study.
Parliament is expected to approve the increase, despite likely opposition from about a dozen Lib Dem lawmakers.
Author: Gregg Benzow (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Susan Houlton