Peter Hoskin

The universities strike back

The universities strike back
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A wander through to p.14 of the Sunday Times delivers one of the most eyecatching political stories (£) of the day. The headline: "Cambridge may go private in fees row". And the content: that officials at Cambridge Uni are dissatisfied with the findings of the Browne review, which they see as too restrictive. Their issue is with the fees that are imposed by the government should a university charge above £6,000 for a year's tuition. This, they claim, prevents them from pulling in the kind of Big Bucks that Ivy League institutions have in their bank accounts - and could lead to British universities falling behind. So, why not go independent, stop paying the government's and levies, push up the grants and loans that they provide to students, and increase the cost of their courses? One source even tells the paper that this plan is "not just a threat, it is a fact".

You could dismiss this as special pleading from a university that just wants as much money as possibly. But that's precisely the point. Stir in a YouGov poll (see below) which suggests that the public prefer a graduate tax to increased tuition fees, and the government is caught between several competing viewpoints here. Even though the Tory and Lib Dem halves of the coalition have managed to reach a compromise on this, the politics of the situation is yet to fully unwind itself.