3 Nov 2010

Universities charging below 6K ‘extremely unlikely’

The IFS has been number crunching the Tuition Fees announcement and pouring ice cold water over the government’s claim that universities will only charge more than £6,000 a year in tuition fees “in excpetional circumstances.”

The IFS says it thinks universities charging below £6,000 is “extremely unlikely” because after government cuts to the teaching grant of nearly 80 per cent the universities will need to charge £7,000 just to stand still and replace the lost income.

Ministers weren’t very helpful on what “exceptional” precisely meant in this context but, for the record, one Vice Chancellor I spoke to this afternoon thought there would only be about a dozen busting the £6,000 threshold. The Russell Group though said they expected “many universities” would want to bust it.

Elsewhere on Tuition Fees, Home Office minister, Lynne Featherstone, has outed herself as one of the Lib Dem ministers considering voting against the Tuition Fees proposals outlined today (thanks to James Kirkup at The Telegraph for spotting this).

When you read her words you realise that the Coalition is planning to use the ambiguity in the Coalition Agreement to rewrite the rules on collective responsibility and allow ministers to abstain while keeping their jobs.

She writes: “I won’t make a final decision until the final proposals are on the table. I will have three choices in theory: support the Government (and as a Minister this would be the norm), abstain as per the coalition agreement  or vote against as per the NUS pledge.”

It’s always been pretty well understood that the Lib Dems emergency opt out on Tuition Fees, allowing Lib Dem MPs to abstain if they didn’t like government policy on the matter, was meant to apply to all Lib Dem MPs collectively opposing a measure the Tories felt they had to push through.

It’s now being stretched in a lawyerly bit of interpretation to mean that Lib Dem ministers will be allowed to abstain on the measure even though it’s been authored by their own Dr Cable and overseen by their Party leader. It’s unheard of for ministers to keep their jobs in government even though they have failed to support a major government non-conscience measure … but then a lot of stuff in the last few months is without precedent.

Update: Vince Cable has just tweaked his line on the £6000 threshold, speaking on Channel 4 News, saying that “a substantial minority” will charge above £6000 a year.

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