Students prepare for new wave of protests

Thursday 02 December 2010 10:27 GMT

Students are preparing for a fresh wave of protests on the eve of a Commons vote on university tuition fees.

The National Union of Students (NUS) called for protests on campuses across the country on December 8 - the day before Parliament votes on plans to raise the current fee cap.

On the day of the vote itself students and NUS officials will hold a rally and then lobby MPs inside the Palace of Westminster in an effort to persuade them to vote against any fee rise.

A 9,000-candle vigil - designed to represent the anticipated higher cap level of £9,000 - is planned if the vote passes.

An NUS spokesman said the demonstrations, which are being organised in conjunction with the University and College Union (UCU), would not involve mass protests in central London as they had when riots broke out at Millbank on November 10.

NUS President Aaron Porter said: "MPs can be left in no doubt as to the widespread public opposition to these plans or of the consequences of steamrollering them through Parliament.

"For the third time in less than a month thousands of students have taken to the streets to protest against the Government's attacks on further and higher education.

"Despite repeated dismissals by Nick Clegg that these are uninformed protesters, students are intelligent, articulate people who are not being listened to by those in whom they placed their hope for a different politics."

The decision to stage the crucial Commons vote on December 9 was made yesterday, as Liberal Democrats continued to agonise over whether to support the measure in the division lobbies.

Staging the vote on a Thursday - when many Scottish and Welsh nationalists and Northern Ireland MPs will have left for their constituencies - could make it easier for the Government to get it through without the Lib Dems.

The party is currently deeply divided, with some Lib Dem MPs determined to vote against the measure, having promised during the general election campaign to oppose any increase in tuition fees.

Business Secretary Vince Cable has suggested that he could abstain - even though he has direct Cabinet responsibility for the measure - if it would help keep the party together.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg - the target of much of the fury of student protesters opposed to the plan - has refused to say what he will do.

However former Lib Dem higher education spokesman Lord Willis - who retired as an MP in May - said that they should "bite the bullet" and rally behind the plan.

"The reality is that we either bite the bullet and believe that the ... proposals ... are the ones to take us forward in terms of higher education or we don't," he said.

"They do take us forward and it is time the Liberal Democrats now simply got on board and said 'Well, let us back them, let us sell them'. I would like Nick to say that and I would also like Vince to say that.

"I hope Vince will reconsider that position (on abstaining)."

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