David Blackburn

The Vice Chancellors scupper Vince

The Vice Chancellors scupper Vince
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Vince Cable won’t be slipping on his dancing shoes at this year’s Lib Dem conference. A draft of the Browne review into university funding is out today and apparently it does not mention a graduate contribution, Cable’s Lib-Dem friendly answer to tuition fees. The Times has caught wind of this rumour (£), which is also doing the rounds among higher education think-tanks and consultants.

This is unsurprising. Neither David Willetts the universities minister, nor his predecessor Lord Mandelson, ever mentioned a graduate contribution until Cable went on manoeuvres because Lord Browne was not seriously considering such a measure. University Vice-Chancellors and the CBI have always believed it to be an unworkable solution that would damage the international competitiveness of Britain’s renowned universities - the FT’s Alex Barker has an excellent summary of its shortcomings.

Cable’s judgement has been questionable throughout this affair. He pre-empted the Browne review with a nakedly political interjection and refused to be deterred by the ensuing criticism. Cable must have realised that his plan had little chance of success, as it would damage one of Britain’s most lucrative industries. Today has brought only rumours, but it looks as if the Sage of Twickenham has delivered another self-inflicted humiliation.

PS: From what I gather, the Browne report advises an increase in tuition fees to £7,000, supported by means testing. Theoretically, the additional funds are re-couped to fund more bursaries and relief for those who can't or won't pay more. I'm told that universities do not advertise or manage bursaries effectively at present. The system is certainly disorganised: I recall a student, who was a millionaire in her own right, receiving £800 so that the college could maintain its charitable status, meanwhile others struggled. Apparently, Lord Browne will recommend that the private sector be involved in marketing and managing funds for bursaries more effectively. 

UPDATE: Vince is still unperturbed. According to Paul Waugh, Vince Cable and the government are not fazed by the leaked Browne Report recommendations. Intriguingly, Paul has also heard that tuition fees may rise to £25,000. The report will be published at an unspecified date later this autumn.

UPDATE 2: Former management consultant specialising in higher education, Nik Darlington, has a pertinent counter-argument to the National Union Student’s research into tuition fee hikes and declining applications. A must read for the battle against the left-wing opposition to higher education reform.