Universities worried by the gloomy signals over their budgets for the next three years will hardly have been reassured by events in Blackpool this week. The Labour Party conference theme of "schools and hospitals first" seemed to mean just that. Education secretary Estelle Morris barely mentioned higher education, except in the context of raising working-class aspirations, and where education featured in Tony Blair's speech, it was limited to school issues.
With a higher education strategy document still being drafted, it was understandable that schools should take centre stage. The government was in enough trouble over its handling of A levels and promoting the concept of a "post-comprehensive" era without raising awkward questions about student grants and top-up fees. But the absence of soothing noises for the one sector still to be given an outline of its future funding was ominous. If ministers have good news to impart in November, they are concealing it brilliantly.