Decision time on tuition fees

By Alex Stevenson

The coalition government is undergoing its biggest test since its inception, as protestors march through London while MPs debate tuition fees.

Significant numbers of both Liberal Democrat and Conservative backbenchers have warned party whips that they may not be able to support the government on this evening’s motion.

Last-minute agonising is being heightened by a massive protest outside the Commons this afternoon against the rise in fees.

Tuition fees: Massive protest underway in parliament

A nervous Vince Cable started debating the measure just after midday, as a packed House of Commons saw emotional MPs argue over the ethics of the decision to try and triple the fees.

Plans to increase the cap on tuition fees from £3,300 to £9,000 have dominated politics since the Browne review issued its report – and are being brought to a head by ministers determined to resolve the issue once and for all.

Tuition fees: Countdown to the vote

Last-minute concessions – including a promise to annually uprate the income threshold at which repayments for the loans takes place – could win some over.

Ahead of the vote deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and business secretary Mr Cable strove to win the argument by claiming demonstrators would end up paying out less per month than they do at present.

Tuition fees: Desperate Lib Dems reach out

The University and College Union warned that tuition fees of nearly £7,000 would end up becoming the norm because of the government’s wider cuts to higher education funding, however.

Universities must charge £6,863 ‘to survive’

Protests in central London quickly focused on Parliament Square, where police were forced to call in reinforcements to contain angry demonstrators.

A ‘candlelight vigil’ was scheduled to begin at 16:30 – but it remained far from clear whether protestors would move on from Parliament Square.