LONDON - In Britain's worst political violence in years, furious student protesters rained sticks and rocks on riot police, vandalized government buildings and attacked a car carrying Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, after lawmakers approved a controversial hike in university tuition fees.

Demonstrators set upon the heir to the throne's limousine as it drove through London's West End shopping and entertainment hub. Protesters who had been running amok and smashing shop windows kicked and threw paint at the car, which sped off.

Charles' office, Clarence House, confirmed the attack but said that "their royal highnesses are unharmed."

Police said that it was unclear whether the royals had been deliberately targeted, or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The couple arrived looking composed at the London Palladium theater, where they were attending a Royal Variety Performance. Their Rolls Royce limousine was left with a badly cracked rear window and was spattered with paint.

Protesters erupted in anger after legislators in the House of Commons approved a plan to triple university fees to 9,000 pounds ($14,000) a year.

As thousands of students were corralled by police near Parliament, some strummed guitars and sang Beatles songs - but others hurled chunks of paving stones at police and smashed windows in a government building.

Another group ran riot through the busy shopping streets of London's West End.

Police said that 38 protesters and 10 officers had been injured, while 15 people were arrested.

The tuition hike was approved 323-302 in the House of Commons, a close vote given the government's 84-seat majority.

Many in the thousands-strong crowd booed and chanted "shame" when they heard the result of the vote, and pressed against metal barriers and lines of riot police penning them in.

Demonstrator John Dawson, 16, admitted that it might be too late to change lawmakers' minds, but said that protesters must keep up the fight.

"The fact that so many students came out to protest today shows that, even after the vote, they will still do whatever they can to avoid paying this much for higher education," he said.

Experts warned that fallout from the policy could pose a greater risk after the vote.

"The real danger for the government is not that they won't pass it through, but that it will be a policy fiasco," said Patrick Dunleavy, a political-science professor at the London School of Economics. "By picking this fight with the student body . . . the government seems to have gotten itself into choppy water."

The controversy has highlighted regional educational differences in the United Kingdom.

The Welsh regional government has pledged to subsidize the higher fees for any student from Wales who enrolls at an English university. Student fees in Scotland are just 1,820 pounds per year, sparking fears of a future stampede of bargain-hunting students from England. Northern Ireland's fees are capped at 3,290 pounds a year.