Britain adopts controversial university fee hike amid protests

Thursday, December 9, 2010

LONDON - The British parliament Thursday narrowly approved controversial measures to hike university fees amid violent protests from tens of thousands of students across the country.

The measures to increase annual fees from 3,290 pounds ($5,200) to a maximum of 9,000 pounds have become the first major parliamentary test for the Conservative-Liberal coalition.

They were passed by 323 against 302 votes, with a government majority of 21. The coalition has a parliamentary majority of 84. The measures are due to come in in 2012.

A number of Liberal Members of Parliament (MPs) abstained, or voted against the plan. Two Liberal MPs resigned government positions in protest at the fee rise.

The government argues that the increase is needed to secure the sustainable long-term funding for British universities.

But critics maintain that students from less well-off backgrounds will be deterred from going to university in future.

Scotland Yard said a police officer was taken to hospital with serious neck injuries after being knocked down by crowds of protestors outside the Houses of Parliament.

A second officer injured a leg when he was pulled off a police horse, police said. There were also reports of several injuries among protestors, and dozens of arrests. London Ambulance Service said six people had been treated for injuries.

The clashes were the worst seen on London streets for some time. Demonstrations also took place in at least a dozen other major cities across Britain.

Police on horseback charged into the crowd outside Westminster Abbey to push the demonstrators back from the Houses of Parliament, where the planned increase in tuition fees was being debated before a vote.

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