Tory leaders have faced much criticism from their own supporters for their low profile on higher education, particlarly when ministers were on the defensive over top-up fees. But there was a logic to their position that they were unwilling to provide an alternative target for critics less than halfway through a parliament. Now that the argument has shifted to access, they have rallied to the aid of their natural constituency.
Yet the Conservatives' four-point pledge on access is stronger on politics than consistency. The object is said to be to "rule out once and for all the interference of the government in the awarding of university places". It is a worthy aim, but how does it square with the third of the four principles, namely to prevent universities from using information on parents' education or income in their admissions criteria? Either universities are to be trusted to select their own students, or they are not.