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Is another tuition fee hike on the horizon? May 11, 2015

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Originally posted on Progress website:

http://www.progressonline.org.uk/2015/05/11/is-another-tuition-fee-hike-on-the-horizon/

Is another tuition fee hike on the horizon?

In 2010, the first big flashpoint for the coalition government was the very public and very brutal, at least for the Liberal Democrats, clash over whether to increase tuition fees. The independent Browne review suggested no fee cap whatsoever. The Liberal Democrat manifesto had promised their abolition, the National Union of Students campaign pledge signed by all Liberal Democrat candidates opted for a freeze on fees and the Tories had not really said anything at all. Eventually the coalition opted for a fee cap of £9,000 a year, the Liberal Democrats broke their promise and the rest, as they say, is history, a bit like most of the Liberal Democrats members of parliament who broke the pledge.

But as soon as the vote to increase fees squeezed through parliament, passed by 21 votes, it became clear that issues of sustainability were coming to the fore. The resource accounting and budgeting charge for the new fee regime continued to rise steadily, and well beyond projections from BIS. By the end of the parliament, the latest figures suggested that for every £1 loaned to a student, 48p would never be paid back. Figures from the public accounts committee suggest that by 2042, the tuition fee black hole could be as big as £90bn, a system which critics described as costing students and the taxpayer more money than the previous regime, while part-time enrolments fell by 40 per cent during the last five years and universities are, privately at least, very concerned about the first generation of £9k students and their willingness to stump up yet more fees for postgraduate courses.

Labour’s policy on tuition fees in the last parliament was always unclear. In their respective leadership campaigns, both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls suggested they preferred a graduate tax. During the fees debate in parliament the Labour position was simply that it opposed what the coalition was proposing and then after months and months of uncertainty and internal wrangling over the feasibility of a graduate tax, the manifesto finally opted for a reduction to £6,000. In opposition, Labour should have had an easy time criticising the coalition on tuition fees, but without a clear and compelling alternative it always felt like they did not exploit that advantage. Liam Byrne was impressive as the shadow minister for higher and further education. He engaged thoughtfully with the sector and seemed prepared to think about the wider challenges for universities beyond the headlines generated by tuition fees. When the Times Higher Education magazine polled academics just before the 2015 election, nearly 46 per cent cited they would back the Labour party. Byrne’s robust and evidence based approach will have been a large contributor to that. However, it was not clear that the thoughtfulness demonstrated by the shadow minister made its way into the Labour manifesto on higher education.

So against this backdrop, and with a strong body of opinion that higher education funding is already unsustainable and wider questions about regulation of the university system there will be some pressure to look at the question of tuition fees once again. Speaking at a post-election briefing hosted by Pearson and the Financial Times this morning, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the RSA and formerly head of the Number 10 policy unit in the Blair years, suggested that a further increase in the fee cap would be likely this parliament. He went on to say, that it appeared the government really only listens to the Russell Group of universities and a number of their vice-chancellors have already gone on record as saying that the cap should increase further.

Whatever the new government might be thinking, Labour needs to be more thoughtful than simply arguing against whatever might be proposed. Labour’s approach needs to consider the interplay between schools, further and higher education policy, and the contribution that employers can make toward both funding and appropriately contributing to curriculum and assessment. There needs to be a credible position on funding, but that should not just focus solely on full time undergraduates. There is a crisis in part-time funding, and the postgraduate system is also under pressure and shows signs of being woefully underrepresented by those from non-traditional and working-class backgrounds, these all need to be taken into account.

The Labour party has much to be proud of for the way it oversaw a significant rise in students from the poorest background going to university and the development of a sustainable footing for British universities to compete with the best of the world during their time in government. But with new pressures ahead to find a sustainable funding model, the same level of thought needs to be given to universities once again.

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Thur 28 July 2011: First or Fail: University of East London and Theresa May July 28, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education.
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First or Fail: University of East London and Theresa May

This week Aaron Porter explores the unpopular, and potentially very costly, reforms which will limit international student numbers and academic support for the 2012 Olympics

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/jul/28/theresa-may-international-students

 

'1 year to go to' the Olympic Games

Staff at the University of East London are already gearing up for the 2012 Olympic games. Photograph: ANTHONY CHARLTON/LOCOG/HO/EPA

Aaron Porter gives his verdict on who has had a good week (heading for a first) and who has had a bad week (heading for a fail).

Heading for a First… University of East London

With the Olympics exactly one year away, it’s not just been a good week for sports fans excited about 16 days of wall-to-wall sport next summer, but located right in the heart of East London, this is fantastic news for the University of East London, its students and staff who are already gearing up for the games.

Already a university that has deep roots in the local community, it has played an instrumental role in helping to realise the regeneration of a part of London which had suffered since the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s. Arguably the legacy of the economic investment in East London, the new homes, the creation of more than 40,000 jobs, a new shopping centre and state of the art sporting facilities which will be converted for public use will be an even greater triumph than the games themselves

Academics from UEL have been supporting and analysing all aspects of the games, including research on how sustainable the games will be, through to interactive workshops on nutrition, fitness, strength and conditioning. Along with JISC, the university has also set up an East London Lives 2012 Olympic archive which will give an opportunity for East Londoners to share accounts of how the games are impacting on their lives which will be stored as an online archive.

The Olympic games have the potential to instigate a transformation across a whole host of areas particularly as a catalyst to get more young people taking up a range of sports. It’s heartening to see a university realise the opportunity of the games for them too, and I suspect this could be the beginning of a truly special year for the University of East London.

Heading for a Fail… Theresa May

When David Cameron pronounced in the prime ministerial debates before the last general election that he would oversee “net immigration falling from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of thousands” he was attempting to appeal to the Daily Mail-reading voters he was chasing in order to win. Nick Clegg in stark contrast floated the idea of an immigration amnesty for those who had previously entered the country illegally. At that point, the thought of a chummy relationship between Cam and Clegg right into Downing Street couldn’t have appeared more absurd.

But tie their political vows they did, and now the government’s immigration policy is starting to become an issue of contention. Over the past few months, the Home Office has been consulting on how it could further “tighten up” immigration regulations, but what this really means is looking for how they can further restrict people coming into the country. At present, students are counted in the net immigration figures. The logic behind this is utterly unfathomable to me, not least because internationalstudents are a transient population who return to their country of origin, but while they are in the UK they contribute billions of pounds through fees, accommodation, transport and so much more. In fact international students bring in critical income to our universities, which cross-subsidise the provision for home students – whether institutions will admit this publicly or not, the figures don’t really lie.

The idea that the home secretary is targeting international students by scaling back the provision of post-study work opportunities, and limiting the English language routes into higher education seem entirely counter-productive. There could be a huge cost to the local and national economy, and to the bank balances of universities if recruitment is hit. But the cultural loss to campuses will be enormous if home students are no longer able to find themselves in lecture theatres, sports fields and halls with students from across the globe which helps to make our society more tolerant, understanding and diverse.

This week the cross-party Home Affairs select committee warned that assumptions the home secretary has made on international student recruitment are, “optimistic” and an impact assessment now suggests the costs of the reform could be as much as £3.6bn. But perhaps most worryingly of all, the report goes onto suggest that the home secretary is ignoring the evidence, and simply ploughing ahead anyway. Sounds like the government are blindly chasing the Daily Mail readers again, and for this May definitely deserves a fail.

Thur 21st July: Guardian HE Network – First or Fail: Robert Gordon University graduates and Charlie Gilmour July 21, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education, Tuition Fees.
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First or Fail: Robert Gordon University graduates and Charlie Gilmour

Aaron Porter discusses measures for graduate employability and the consequences of student protests

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/jul/21/robert-gordon-university-charlie-gilmour

Aberdeen

Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University has the highest success rate in the UK for finding graduates jobs.
Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Heading for a First … Robert Gordon University graduates

This week saw the publication of the Higher Education Statistics Agency’s destination survey of first-time full-time graduates (for 2009-10), with the not so snappy acronym DLHE. Somewhat to my surprise, the mainstream university with the best rate of graduate employment wasn’t Oxford or Cambridge, but actually Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, with a whopping 95.9% of its cohort headed into employment.

It’s less surprising when you consider that the university has worked hard to secure research partnerships in engineering, computer science and the sub-sea industry, all of which have a real need for highly talented graduates.

Although I still have deep reservations about the quality and robustness of data collected just six months after graduation – I was deeply disappointed that the government didn’t use the recent higher education white paper as an opportunity to commit to a more longitudinal survey of graduate destinations – this is still great news from for the students and alumni in Aberdeen.

Other mainstream universities that figured highly in the survey include the University of Surrey (94.8%), University of Edinburgh (94.8%) and Aberdeen University (94.4%).

Heading for a Fail … Charlie Gilmour

It was one of the images that defined the student protests at the end of last year. Charlie Gilmour, the adopted son of Pink Floyd guitarist David, swinging from a Union Jack hanging from the Cenotaph. A Cambridge University student, from a wealthy home, who appeared to be high on drugs running amok on the streets of London. It was right that this was criticised and, in my opinion, his actions and others like him did nothing to help the student cause and probably hindered it significantly – certainly in terms of trying to build broader public support through the media.

But whatever your opinion about the student protests, and the actions of a tiny minority which went beyond the law, the news this week that Charlie Gilmour has been sentenced to 16 months for jumping on the bonnet of a car which was part of the escort for the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall seems disproportionate, unfair and an attempt from the judicial system to make a scapegoat of him.

Probably the most controversial decision of my time as NUS president was to describe the scenes of violence and criminal damage on the students protests as “despicable”. Now out of the eye of the storm and with the benefit of hindsight, I think the language I used was strong. And while I will never defend law- breaking, coupled with the belief that such actions were likely to lose our campaign support, I can’t help feel that the courts need to take a wider perspective. Gilmour was in the wrong, few would contest that. But context is important, and an angry 21-year-old, who had been rejected by his biological father, had been subject to quite disgusting personal attacks on him and his family and had already volunteered to seek help from a psychotherapist has surely paid a hefty price already.

If the courts needed to punish him, on top of the punishment he has faced already, then prison seems like the least appropriate sanction, as far as I’m concerned. What Gilmour will face both in prison and beyond is a great deal more profound than a “fail”. The real failure here is the verdict from our judicial system.

“Blue Skies” book contribution: ‘The students of tomorrow’ July 17, 2011

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“Blue Skies”: ‘The students of tomorrow’

By Aaron Porter –

http://pearsonblueskies.com/the-students-of-tomorrow/

 

Video contribution:

For those of you watching the recent debate on English higher education funding on our TV screens and on the front pages of our newspapers, you could be forgiven for thinking that higher education was predominantly made up of full-time undergraduates, largely aged between 18-22. Of course that is not the case, and is increasingly less likely to be the case as we start to get under the skin of an ever-changing and diverse higher education population.

Already the picture presented to us by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) shows us that around 4 in 10 students are part-time, 1 in 5 are postgraduates, and just under 1 in 10 are studying in a further education (FE) college. Putting to one side your opinion on the recent finance reforms – the debate is well-rehearsed – and making an educated guess about what may be in the Government’s higher education White Paper, we can be sure that the reforms are almost certainly going to lead to less traditional provision, and even more diversity.

As greater power is put in the hands of the future student, they are likely to choose to learn in different ways and at different times, and are almost certainly going to have different expectations to the students of today. In a speech just before the vote in Parliament on raising the tuition fee cap, I warned that students would likely bring about a “consumer revolution”, and whilst I feel incredibly uncomfortable about the idea of ‘students as consumers’, they will undoubtedly be more demanding about the experience they are likely to receive in the future.

So I suspect as the recent reforms take root, we might start to see an increasingly challenge to the current provision of higher education. The introduction of loans for around two thirds of part-time students is long overdue and welcome, and I hope that it will allow for more part-time students to study alongside part-time work. The pressure to enter full-time higher education at 18 years old will hopefully lessen, as the opportunity to study part-time later in life or even at 18 will now be more viable. And whilst both Browne and the Government missed the opportunity to really seize the mantle and deliver a funding system built on credit, the White Paper will have to address the issue of allowing students to move between and within institutions. The current system has been far too inflexible, in allowing a student to pick up credits over time, a system genuinely based on lifelong learning. Whilst I do not think Lord Browne nor the Government addressed this seriously enough, students will start to demand this in their actions. The idea of students increasingly spending time in different institutions, a period as a work-based learner, and switching between full and part-time study can no longer be prevented, as the student of tomorrow will be increasingly flexible and nimble to respond to the ever-changing demands of the labour market.

It will be the demands of the labour market that will increasingly mean students will want to re-enter higher education later in their working life. As the number of jobs an adult can expect to undertake in their working life continues to spiral upwards, so will the need to re-skill becoming increasingly important. Whilst the traditional campus experience will be important for lots of young adults, access to knowledge and skills will be the greater priority for older learners wanting to upskill or change careers later in life. At present the Open University stands out as the provider of education and qualifications to help the older learner change direction or reskill, but this will need to become the preserve of many more providers, as the UK seeks to keep its adult population with the required skills, and the UK economy competitive with our global competition.

And with an increasingly diverse pattern of provision demanded by future students, they will also have increased expectations of what they will receive too. In our own research NUS/HSBC Student Experience Research 2010;

65% of students said that they would have higher expectations if they were being asked to pay considerably more for their education.

Students, then as graduates, are not only being asked to pay considerably more for their higher education, whilst the government savagely cuts the teaching grant, the disastrously handled debate by Vince Cable and the government means that prospective students will be weighing up their options with real scrutiny, but also with concern about what the returns on their investment may be. With the jobs market still so bleak, and so many of the jobs that graduates went into employment with, such as the public sector, being savagely trimmed back, many students will be exerting their consumer traits onto universities with greater force than before.

The gauntlet has been well and truly laid down. In a new environment, with power in the ‘hands of students’ as David Willetts is so keen to remind us, then universities will need to respond. It can no longer be acceptable that student complaints are left to swill around the system for more than 60 days, at present some are still left unresolved for more than a year. The role of the personal tutor will become more important, as students will want and expect more personalised support to guide them through their learning. The quantity and quality of contact time, which has increasingly come under the spotlight will be an issue of even greater focus. The days when high profile academics are splashed around the university prospectus material, but then hidden away in a research lab away from undergraduate students will no longer be tolerated. Student-led protests against their perceived poor contact time, notably at Bristol and Manchester Universities will happen with increasing frequency unless institutions can respond, and meet rising expectations.

I have no doubts that improved information will be important both for the prospective and current student. The chance to make a more informed choice about what, where and how to study will be important, and then the chance to measure that against their expectations on arrival will be critical. But to ensure the greatest protection for students, we can not simply allow for market forces to run riot alone. The role of the students’ union will become even more important in holding the institution to account, and for the National Union of Students (NUS) to do the same with Government and the sector as a whole. With rights comes responsibility, and in the same way I know that students’ unions will be afforded greater powers as a result of the new flow of money through the student, I fully expect and welcome the need for Student Unions (SUs) and the NUS to increasingly base what we say on evidence, to back up our arguments with fact, but also to be more accountable and transparent to students too. The system will need to have greater regulation too in order to protect the student, and this will need to be forthcoming in the White Paper too.

The period ahead for higher education will undoubtedly be one of change. Whether we see a “consumer revolution” time will tell, and if it happens whether it will be for better or worse. But what is for sure is that talking about higher education and its students through the narrow lens of full-time 18-22 undergraduates enjoying the traditional campus experience will be less and less relevant, and it’s time we all started to get our heads around the landscape and demography of the new world.

Thur 14th July: Aaron Porter’s First or Fail: The Treasury and Office for Fair Access July 14, 2011

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Aaron Porter’s First or Fail: The Treasury and Office for Fair Access

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/jul/13/office-for-fair-access-treasury

This week, Aaron Porter examines Offa’s quick work on access agreements and the Treasury’s dashed hopes for average fees

Baby Black Hole

Heading for a budget black hole? Aaron Porter says rough estimates suggest the Treasury could be facing £600m shortfall. Photograph: AP/NASA

Aaron Porter gives his verdict on the good (heading for a first) and the bad (heading for a fail) this week.

Heading for a first: Office for Fair Access (Offa)

It was Mission Impossible. For what would normally take months, but had to be just weeks because of the Government’s rushed higher education funding policy, the Office for Fair Access miraculously managed to sign off the full complement of access agreements this week, for institutions wishing to charge more than £6,000 a year from September 2012, on time and on schedule.

Rather than simply getting the agreements signed off on time and constrained by their existing powers, Offa truly deserves recognition for seeking out a significantly increased outlay from institutions to support the poorest students, but for doing so in the eye of a political storm. Total access agreement funding will be £602m by 2015-16, the first year with three cohorts of the new fee regime students, compared with £407m in 2011-12.

But almost as soon as the government had announced that the upper cap would be set at £9,000 back in November, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable took to the airwaves promising it would only be “in exceptional circumstances”. Nick Clegg even went to Cambridge University to “promise” – a word he should learn to use carefully – that universities would be prevented from charging the maximum unless “they can prove that they can dramatically increase the number of people from poorer and disadvantaged backgrounds who presently aren’t going”.

Sadly, this was another Clegg promise which showed a complete lack of understanding for the context in which he was operating, this time misunderstanding the role and remit of the office – which is an access regulator, not a price regulator. You’d have thought that the clue was in the title, but then again the deputy prime minister doesn’t have the best track record of twigging things that seem blindingly obvious to everyone else.

However, for as well as Offa has done in the circumstances, its role and remit won’t suffice in the new fees regime. The government needs to stick to what it set out in the white paper and afford new powers to the regulator, and when the new Offa director is appointed later this year, his or her first task will be to give the organisation some teeth and start to measure institutions on their impact and results, not on self-imposed targets.

Heading for a fail: the Treasury

If Offa had a good week, then, sadly, the Treasury had a bad one. For as the ink dried on the access agreements, the dim and distant pipe dream that the average fee would be £7,500 (as Treasury figures assume) were banished once and for all. The Offa analysis shows the average fee is £8,393, which comes down to £8,161 once fee waivers are taken into account. That makes a whopping £616 off per student. It might not sound much, but rough estimates suggest this could lead to a budget black hole of as much as £600m.

This is a big headache for the Treasury, given it has already subjected the higher education budget to the biggest cut in its history over the next four years. With public teaching funds for the arts, humanities and social sciences already gone, it isn’t obvious what the Treasury will do next.

David Willetts has rightly stated his intention to see student numbers grow, and it is surely unthinkable to look at the remaining teaching budget largely concentrated on Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), or the widening participation premium which would surely be politically unpalatable to touch.

It almost borders on a conspiracy theory, but perhaps David Willetts knew all along that the average fee would be higher than £7,500, and this far down the road would now be impossible for the Treasury to cut further. Time will tell.

Guardian: First or Fail – Pearson and the University of Wales (Thur 7th July 2011) July 10, 2011

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Aaron Porter’s First or Fail: Pearson and the University of Wales

Aaron Porter puts the University of Wales and Pearson under the spotlight this week. But which gets the First and which gets a Fail?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/jul/07/pearson-university-wales

WBA World Heavyweight Title - Nikolai Valuev v David Haye - Nuremberg Arena

Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

Heading for a First … Pearson

Following the publication of the higher education white paper, Pearson the publishing giant has acted speedily to agree a partnership with Royal Holloway, University of London, this week, which will validate a degree drawn up and designed by Pearson.

This is the first major step taken forward by the private provider, just a week after the white paper. It allows them to enter the degree-awarding ring for the first time. Pearson has not hidden its desire to gain university status itself eventually and award its own degrees, but for the time being this will be seen as a real coup. Of course, Pearson has lots of experience in offering qualifications; not only does it own the exam board EdExcel, but it also offers BTecs and HNDs already.

Of course sceptics have heralded this as private providers simply looking to earn a quick buck , but in truth this is likely to lead to more diverse offerings for students and the chance for qualifications to be studied in different ways. If successful, we are probably only a few strides away from seeing the establishing of the Pearson University.

Heading for a Fail … the University of Wales

The past seven days has gone from bad to worse for the University of Wales. Once regarded as an academic heavyweight, the last few days have seen the institution lurch from one PR crisis to the next. First, question marks were raised about the integrity, and even the legality, of links between the university and colleges in Malaysia and Thailand offering their degrees, according to the findings of a review from the Quality Assurance Agency. Many commentators described it as “the most damning report” of its kind they had seen, and a rare move away from the judgment of “confidence” which the agency has given to 99% of institutions.

Not content with a kicking from the QAA, Wales’ education minister, Leighton Andrews, also put the boot in, describing the farce as bringing Wales “into disrepute”. And then, just as things seemed like they could not get any worse, talks about the formation of a new super-university in Wales fell apart as UWIC walked away from discussions with Trinity St David and Swansea Metropolitan University as a clear consequence of the fall-out from the QAA’s judgement on the University of Wales.

And then, the final cherry on the cake was news that the chief executive of Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, Professor Philip Gummet, in a leaked letter reported by the BBC to the chair of council at the University of Wales, stated the farce was “a significant failure of central processes, and of oversight of these processes by senior management and the council”. For the higher education community, this is pretty damning stuff.

Guardian: First or Fail – David Willetts & Vince Cable (Thur 30th June 2011) July 10, 2011

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Aaron Porter: first or fail

In the first of a series of weekly blog posts, Aaron Porter gives his verdict on who has had a good week (heading for a first) and who has had a bad week (heading for a fail) in HE

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/jun/30/aaron-porter-david-willetts-vince-cable#start-of-comments

Vince Cable

Heading for a First: David Willetts

Whether you agree with him or not, our minister for market forces and chaos, I mean universities and science, David Willetts has had a good week. We finally got to see the long awaited HE White Paper, which at 70 pages didn’t really surprise or shock us, but bewilderingly it wasn’t clear why such an unimpressive document was delayed for eight months. What took them so long?

The reason why I’ve awarded him a first this week, is not because I agree with the White Paper, but rather David Willetts has managed to get his way. The establishing of a freer market in higher education, routes for new providers to enter the HE arena, weaker regulation on quality, more information for consumers and greater competition between institutions is the market revolution Willetts and his Conservative colleagues have long craved.

The fact that the Minister of State has clearly won the internal war against his boss, and delivered a document that is Tory through and through, means the path toward a freer market has been established. The initial reaction from academics and students has been sceptical, bordering on the incredulous, but the debate will begin in both parliamentary and academic circles, and it will take a NHS style u-turn to stop Willetts getting his way.

Heading for a Fail: Vince Cable

The very same document which got David Willetts his first, is exactly the same reason why Vince Cable deserves to be awarded a fail. The supposed Secretary of State couldn’t have looked more disinterested in the HE White Paper announcement. Some commented how tortured he looked in the House, sat next to Willetts as the speaker first called the Secretary of State to the dispatch box, only to realise Dr Cable had abdicated that particular responsibility, and instead called the Minister of State to stand in for his boss.

In fact every time the words ‘higher education’ or ‘students’ are uttered, Vince appears to do a runner. The twitterati started to speculate why Cable was so absent from the press work and defence of the document, as unimpressively, and without precedent the man once regarded as “the most popular man in politics” has been turned into a laughing stock by students and academics alike. In April this year, Cable delivered a finger-wagging speech to a packed HEFCE Conference, the few allies he had in the sector turned their back on him, and his relationship with the sector appears all but broken.

But specifically, after the troubles over tuition fees and the infamous broken pledge, this should have been the chance for the Liberal Democrats to prove they do care about students, higher education and a chance to stamp some authority on the coalition. A chance for tough targets on widening access, missing. An opportunity to resist a worrying leap to pure consumerism, or an opening to strongly emphasise the importance of academic freedom – all missing. Rather than seizing the white paper as a chance to repair the Lib Dem’s damaged reputation on higher education, Cable went walkabouts.

Not much evidence of “muscular liberalism” here.