Clegg under fire over fees as violence mars student protest

Nick Clegg came under renewed pressure over his tuition fees u-turn at Prime Minister's Questions today as 50,000 students marched on parliament in the biggest protest against the government since it came to power. However, violent scenes at Millbank Tower, home of the Conservative party, cast a pall over the demonstration.

Nick Clegg came under renewed pressure over his tuition fees u-turn at Prime Minister’s Questions today as 50,000 students marched on parliament in the biggest protest against the government since it came to power. However, violent scenes at Millbank Tower, home of the Conservative party, cast a pall over the demonstration.

National Union of Students president Aaron Porter “absolutely condemned” the violence, telling BBC News it was “not part of our plan” and the “actions of others who have come on to our march”, adding: “A minority have sought to undermine us.”

Porter also tweeted:

“Proud of the 50,000 students who have come to protest peacefully. Shame on those who are here to cause trouble.”

In addition, there was a sit down and occupation on the streets surrounding parliament; again, as with the violence at Millbank, nothing to do with the NUS – as seen in a video from Socialist Worker which clearly shows an NUS steward urging students to stand up.

Earlier, Mr Clegg was asked 12 times about fees at PMQs, failing to answer questions about the cuts to university teaching grants, described by Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman as “staggering”. She accused the deputy prime minister of “pulling the plug on public funding and putting the cost on students”.

Last week, Left Foot Forward reported on the likely abolition of teaching grants to 24 UK universities, including the LSE and SOAS, following universities minister David Willetts’s admission that state funding funding of arts, humanities and social sciences degrees would be scrapped.

This morning, the University and College Union revealed the cost of studying for a degree would double by 2012, while a survey of student teachers by the National Union of Teachers has shown that four-fifths found it difficult to make ends meet as a student – with 41 per cent finding it “very difficult”. Only 2.6 per cent of those polled support the plans to cut university teaching budgets.

NUT general secretary Christine Blower said:

“No amount of window dressing can take away from the fact that the coalition Government’s proposals for raising tuition fees will result in generations of young people being denied access to a university education on the grounds that they, or their families cannot countenance the debts with which they will be saddled.

“If higher education becomes the preserve of the wealthy it will be to the detriment of society. Ministers need to think again if we are to avoid shortfalls in recruitment to teacher training in the future.”

Update 4:15

To add to the visage of a man under siege, Nick Clegg announced he was pulling out of his visit to Oxford University next week, following in the footsteps of Vince Cable, who infamously cancelled his planned visit to Oxford last month, citing “police advice” – a claim disputed by the police. The Liberal Democrat leader said he had pulled our “due to an unfortunate diary clash”.

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