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Why Students Are Rioting in London?

January 31, 2011

Riots U.K.


The news came, and the fires followed. On Dec. 9, sometime after 5 p.m., Britain’s Parliament passed a bill to triple university tuition fees to $15,000. Within minutes, peaceful student demonstrations descended into chaos, and Parliament Square — home to Big Ben and Westminster Abbey — transformed into ground zero. Protesters broke through metal barricades and used them to smash windows at the Supreme Court. They urinated on a statue of Winston Churchill. And they scaled the Cenotaph — the sacred memorial to the nation’s fallen soldiers — to rip down the Union Jack. As the night progressed, a mob of 50 demonstrators — many wearing full-face balaclavas — attacked the car carrying Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, denting its doors and pelting it with paint bombs. To anyone standing outside Parliament, amid riot police, injured students and plumes of smoke, one thing became clear: London was burning.
For students in the U.S., the widespread violence may be difficult to understand: $15,000 seems like a bargain compared with the $50,000 price tag of America‘s most expensive private universities. But until 1997, British students paid little or nothing to attend college because Britain’s government footed the bill through the national budget. In 1996, though, Conservative Prime Minister John Major commissioned a report endorsing the introduction of means-tested, mandatory tuition. Since then, the cost of attending college has risen steadily, climbing from $4,700 in 2003 to $5,000 in 2009 for students from the wealthiest backgrounds. The decision to suddenly raise fees by 200% has left students feeling cheated. “In Britain we believe in free education as a social good for all, and education should be based on social values and have nothing to do with money and consumerism,” says Daisy Jones, student union president at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London. “It should be a right for everyone.”

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