More than 500 students and university staff from Norfolk made their feelings known yesterday as they joined 50,000 people at a London march against plans to treble tuition fees and slash higher education funding.

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The local protesters were vociferous but peaceful as they chanted, waved banners and vented their anger at the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition government.

Others were not so controlled, though, as the huge event was overshadowed by violence as demonstrators stormed the Conservative Party headquarters, smashed windows and lit fires.

The scenes were a sour conclusion to a day that was playing out peacefully, as the marchers made their anger known about the cuts - and the plan to raise the cap on tuition fees to a maximum £9,000 a year.

The parade snaked past the Houses of Parliament in bright autumn sunshine at the time that deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was in the commons, fending off questions about the fees from the Labour benches.

Mr Clegg was the target of many of the most angry chants, as the protesters pointed out that he and all of the MPs in his party had signed a pre-election pledge to oppose any increase in tuition fees.

Many of the chants were good-humoured, some of them near the knuckle - and the same could be said of the thousands of banners and placards that were waved.

Seven coachloads of students and staff left at dawn from the University of East Anglia (UEA) to join the march and rally, and they were joined by coachloads from City College Norwich and Norwich University College of the Arts (Nuca).

The UEA marchers congregated under a huge blue and white “Union of UEA Students” banner and repeatedly chanted “UEA, we won’t pay”.

The huge turnout came despite the fact that few if any of those protesting would be affected by the increased fees, which are set to be introduced from September 2012 but only repayable after graduation and when people are earning at least £21,000 a year.

Rob Bloomer, finance officer for the Union of UEA Students, said: “As a whole it was a very well-organised event. The speeches at the end were particularly outstanding.

“It was a great turnout by UEA, sending 370 students in seven coaches. Even though these students won’t get hit by this, it’s fantastic to see people putting the effort in.”

Matt Taylor, 21, from London, is studying international relations and modern history at UEA.

He said: “Students have been protesting peacefully for over a decade to no avail. We in no way want to alienate the general public, but it shows the frustration felt that the violence broke out. Politicians keep letting us down.”

Jo Davey, 21, from Surrey, is in the third year of a creative writing degree at UEA.

She said: “I’m proud of the fact that 50,000 people got together, young and old. We walked as a united front through the streets of London.”

Emily Prichard, 21, from Kent, is in the third year of an English literature degree at UEA.

She said: “It wasn’t just hollow words, we actually felt it. We stopped feeling powerless and started fighting for our future.”

The “We Will March” demonstration was organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) and the University and College Union (UCU). Protesters marched from Whitehall past Downing Street and Parliament.

But violence flared at Millbank Tower - the headquarters of the Conservative Party.

On the UEA coaches on the way down to London there was a sense of anger - and anticipation at being part of such a big event.

Tom Dolton, 22, communications officer for the Union of UEA Students, said: “I’m on this bus because access to education shouldn’t be decided by how much money you have. Why should someone from a wealthy background deserve to go to university more than someone from a working class background? It’s elitist and disgusting.”

Megan Evans, 21, is a fourth year American studies UEA student. She said: “Education should be a right, not a privilege. £9,000 is atrocious and it is even worse that the politicians in power got their fees for free.”

Perdita Fearon, 22, a UEA English and philosophy masters student, said: “The students that will be affected are too young to protest. We have to get involved, as the ones fortunate to go through the system as it stands.”

Were you part of the protest or caught up in the violence? Call Steve Downes on 01263 513920 or email steve.downes@archant.co.uk.

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