They should be allowed to vote with the government on a package which is an uneasy but workable compromise.
A number of lessons can be learned about this situation. The first is that signing pre-election pledges "never" to vote for tuition fees, or a rise in fees, is plainly mistaken if not politically naive. The second is that coalition means that political principles need to go into a pot of negotiation, and workable agreements reached.
The third is that with government goes responsibility, and the need to develop practical measures and see them through to fruition. The fourth is that it is ludicrous to ask the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, to bring forward the proposals and then ask his Conservative allies to vote for it but not do so himself.
Mr Cable's position would be untenable if he was simply bringing forward a plan to increase tuition fees without qualification. But the proposals seem to be practical south of the Border not just in terms of university finance. They do go some way to encouraging these bodies to make more provision for students from lower income backgrounds.
Student protesters and Liberal Democrat activists need to be reminded not just of the late RA Butler's dictum that "politics is the art of the possible". They need to know that government requires a different mindset to that of permanent opposition.
For weeks Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, the Lib Dem equivalent of Laurel and Hardy, have been touring television and radio studios trying to defend the indefensible Tory policy on university fees. The fact that both of these men benefited from a free university education seems to have escaped them.
This after Clegg gave a cast-iron guarantee during the election that he would first abolish tuition fees, then modifying the position by saying he would not increase them. Then selling out all his principles for junior fall-guy role in government.
Now taken aback by the anger and vitriol directed against them by the mass student protest, Mr Clegg can't tell us if he is going to even vote for the proposal he endorses and says is fairer than the current system. Mr Cable says he may abstain even though he is the man in charge of implementing the fee increase.
The consequences for the Lib Dems of the student protest will be far-reaching. The young protesters will be the voters in future elections for at least the next 50 years. The Lib Dems will be consigned to the fringes somewhere between Ukip and the Monster Raving Loony Party.
What is clear is that the students have the beard-and-sandals brigade on the run. Mass action in this case is working.If the student fees can be stopped by popular resistance so, too, can the whole government programme of public-service cuts.