Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Editor's Viewpoint: Tuition fee riots drown out debate

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 10: Student protesters clash with police as they enter Millbank Tower home of Conservative Party headquaters on November 10, 2010 in London, England. Student groups are protesting against the government's proposed funding cuts to education and an increase in tuition fees. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

At least the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, had the good grace to immediately admit that his force mishandled yesterday's protest demonstration in London against the trebling of tuition fees and the cut in university funding.

He was not exaggerating when he said that the police response was inadequate and embarrassing.

It almost beggars belief that police were unprepared for serious violence, given the repeated infiltration of demonstrations by anarchist elements intent on hijacking legitimate protest to carry out acts of wanton violence. Some of the violence seen on the streets of London yesterday was murderous in intent with officers narrowly missing serious injury or death.

Given that the protests were directed against government policy, it is also baffling that police did not anticipate that rioters would target the Conservative and Liberal Democrat headquarters, gaining entry into the former and having to be driven from the doors of the latter. The inevitable inquest into the police response will have many searching questions to put to the force's commanders.

While most of the 40-50,000 protestors took part in a peaceful demonstration, the actions of the minority, who unfortunately included many students, means that legitimate complaints about education policy have now been drowned out by the protests at the violence. Indeed, some people will argue that the young people involved in violence are not a good advertisement for further education and their objections to government policy don't deserve an audience.

If tuition fees are raised substantially, then many families will face punitive sacrifices to enable their children to gain a third-level education. The reduction in university funding could lead to some institutions going to the wall and third-level education again becoming an elitist gift rather than a universal right. But after yesterday, will anyone be listening?

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