Labour leader Ed Miliband said he was "tempted" to join student protesters on the streets this week but was "doing something else".
Mr Miliband said that although he did not condone violence, the demonstrations were fuelled by "justified" anger about tuition fee rises.
And he indicated that he was open in future to talking to those protesting on the streets, with marches and other protests set to continue.
There were 35 arrests and seven injuries to police officers on Wednesday as initially peaceful marches again flared into violence.
Labour MP David Winnick was criticised for describing the protests as "marvellous".
Mr Miliband said it was "an extraordinary indication of the way this Government is going about its business that you already have such anger about the decision on tuition fees.
"It is indication both of the fact that the decision is wrong, but also of the high-handed nature of this Government in its decision-making. That's why young people are so angry."
Asked about the most recent protests, he said: "What I am not in favour of is, obviously, violent demonstrations. I applaud young people who peacefully demonstrate.
"I said I was going to go and talk to them at some point. I was tempted to go out and talk to them," he told BBC Radio 4's Today.
Asked why he had not, he explained: "I think I was doing something else at the time, actually."
Mr Miliband did not rule out doing so in future, saying: "We'll see what happens.
"I think that peaceful demonstrations are part of our society and, of course, as the Labour leader, I am willing to go and talk to people who are part of those demonstrations.
"It is an indication of what is happening to this country because I think people have a sense of anger and a lot of the anger is quite justified."
He repeated his commitment to a graduate tax to fund higher education, not fee rises.
"I think it is a fairer way of paying for higher education because it says the amount you pay is related to the ability to pay," he said.
Asked what he saw as the "squeezed middle", Mr Miliband said it comprised about 90% of the population - excluding only those on welfare or six-figure salaries.
"There are people who feel squeezed financially and they are people who are low paid but also people who will be earning a decent income, like £45,000 a year, who are going to be losing thousands of pounds in their child benefit.
"We have a different view about our society that the Conservatives.
"They will say to you there's basically the very poor and of course they need help, and then there's everybody else. Everybody else is you and me and people on 20 grand."
He went on: "I say that whether you are on £20,000 or indeed you are on £45,000, actually the help you get to get on in life the help you get - whether it is child benefit or help with your kids' university education - is really important to you.
"Fundamentally this is a Government out of touch with the needs of the middle classes and indeed the squeezed middle."
Pressed again as to what the "squeezed middle" was, he said: "People around the average income. Both below and above the middle income.
"I'm not talking about people on benefits - they are clearly not in the middle - and I am not talking about people on six-figure salaries either.
"I am talking about the broad middle classes in this country who find themselves financially hard pressed."
Mr Miliband denied claims he had failed to define himself with the public and was offering "therapy" not leadership.
"I come to this with a very, very clear view...about our society, about how it needs to change, about the role of government to help make people's lives better.
"I care about inequality and the gap between rich and poor. I don't think it is very surprising that I would say that the Labour Party and a Labour government is in the interests of the vast majority of the people in this country."
He restated his view that the 50p tax rate for those earning £150,000 should be kept in place because it was "fair" not just because it was required to help the economy - and tried to play down differences with shadow chancellor Alan Johnson on the issue of keeping it.
"Alan has said, as I have said, that when it comes to the next election, the idea that our priority is going to be to cut the top rate of tax...is not correct because there are going to be many other calls on our resources.
"But yes, I do think it's a question not just of deficit reduction but of fairness."