Oxford students stage tuition fees protest

Oxford students demonstrating The police say about 650 students took part

More than 600 students have demonstrated in Oxford against proposals to raise tuition fees and change the way higher education in England is funded.

The rally had been planned to coincide with a visit by the Business Secretary Vince Cable, but he cancelled it on Wednesday.

Thames Valley Police said the protest had passed off "pretty peacefully".

It was organised by a group called the Oxford Education Campaign.

Students from both Oxford and Oxford Brookes universities took part.

On the protest group's Facebook page, it says: "This is our opportunity to show our opposition to the changes proposed by Lord Browne which we feel threaten the university system as we know it."

The Browne Review into the funding of higher education published its findings earlier this month and they have been broadly supported by the government.

The government will give its formal response next week.

The recommendations are for the lifting of the cap on tuition fees - currently pegged at a maximum of £3,290.

Students should pay more interest on their loans, Lord Browne said, but should not have to start paying them off until they are earning at least £21,000 a year instead of the current level of £15,000.

He also set out proposals for radical changes and cuts to funding coming directly from central government to universities.

The government announced a 40% cut to the higher education budget in the spending review - in line with Browne proposals - and offered protection only to teaching budgets for subjects such as science, maths and engineering.

Subsequent comments from the Universities Minister David Willetts suggest the government expects teaching for arts and humanities to be mainly funded by students' tuition fees - also recommended in the review.

'Cowardly'

Oxford University Student Union president David Barclay told BBC News that hundreds of students were protesting in a backlash against Mr Cable's decision not to come to the city.

"Vince Cable's decision not to come to Oxford because of a peaceful protest is one of the most cowardly acts by a British politician in living memory," he said.

"There could be no more powerful image of a government turning its back on students than the fact that the business secretary himself cannot even explain its policies to them face to face.

Demonstrators in Oxford The protest was mainly peaceful, the police said

"Oxford students will lay down a marker that they will not tolerate the withdrawal of public funding for the arts and the humanities, and they will not tolerate an open market in university fees."

A spokesman for Mr Cable said on Wednesday evening that he had decided to postpone his visit after taking advice from the police about threats of a protest.

He had been concerned about the level of disruption to the people of Oxford plus the possible cost of policing.

The demonstration came after a warning from the vice chancellor of Oxford University that the institution would face a funding gap if ministers adopted the proposals from the Browne Review.

On the university website, Professor Andrew Hamilton writes that, even if tuition fees rise, those funds could be cancelled out by teaching grant cuts.

"Put simply, the money the state would make available in loans to support the higher fees envisaged under Browne would be largely recycled from the deep cuts to the teaching grant that flow from the CSR [Comprehensive Spending Review]," he writes.

Students and lecturers are organising a national demonstration in London for 10 November to protest about cuts, the prospect of higher fees and what they say is the increasing privatisation of education.

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