Students march through London to protest against 'elitist' tuition fees

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The Independent Online

Thousands of students yesterday achieved what 400 hauliers and farmers failed to do a day earlier, by bringing large parts of central London to a halt, on a mass march against higher education fees.

Thousands of students yesterday achieved what 400 hauliers and farmers failed to do a day earlier, by bringing large parts of central London to a halt, on a mass march against higher education fees.

Undergraduates from more than 150 universities and colleges paraded, for three hours, along a five-mile route that crossed the Thames, waving banners and blowing whistles, causing traffic jams, as police closed off some of the capital's busiest thoroughfares.

In contrast to the fuel protesters, the event, billed as the biggest student march for a decade, failed to bring immediate concessions from the government, despite claims that the abolition of maintenance grants is driving ethnic minorities and the poorest youngsters from higher education.

The National Union of Students, which organised the protest, said that the average cost of a degree from next year will be between £14,000 and £15,000 in tuition fees and living costs. The number of black students applying to go to university has fallen by 10 per cent since 1997 and the number of applications from men from working-class backgrounds fell by 7 per cent in the same period, according to the NUS.

The student body said proposals for "top-up fees" - extra tuition charges of up to £5,000 suggested by Vice-Chancellors at some of the top universities - threatened to turn the higher-education system into one based on financial muscle, rather than academic.

Owain James, NUS National President, said: "Students are happy to contribute towards their education. But if you don't support those from the poorest background and you charge them £15,000 to go to university, then you will put them off.

The NUS leader said the demonstration marked the beginning of a campaign to run until the General Election to persuade political parties to rule out top up fees.

Organisers of the march claimed that up to 12,000 students marched to a rally in Kennington Park, London, addressed by speakers including Mayor Ken Livingstone. Scotland Yard estimated attendance between 3,000 and 4,000.

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