After a stormy three-way affair, several parents can lay claim to minister's long overdue baby

January 23, 2003

*No state funding for under 5-rated research *New 6-rating for super-elite *Students to vets quality

A succession of ministers, advisers and experts have had a hand in the higher education white paper, but only a few can claim to have left their mark.

Government plans to hold a brief internal review of existing literature on higher education to be published early last year collapsed after ministers woke up to the scale of the challenge.

From the outset the review was a tripartite affair, with No. 10 and the Treasury contributing officials, evidence and politics to a process over which the Department for Education and Skills was nominally in charge.

Prime minister Tony Blair pushed the student-support issue early on, declaring that it was the cause of voter dissatisfaction during the 2001 general election campaign. Mr Blair wanted a review of student support - then separate from the strategy review - but the No. 10 line was in favour of higher fees and the funding of a tier of elite research universities.

Adviser Andrew Adonis, former Oxford academic and Liberal Democrat, was behind much of this. And with top-up fees and the tier of 6*-rated “superversities” confirmed, he clearly made a mark.

Mr Brown made early running too when he condemned the decision by Magdalen College, Oxford, to refuse a place to state-school pupil Laura Spence.

Mr Brown was influenced by people such as the millionaire philanthropist Peter Lampl. Policies such as university outreach schemes with local schools figure strongly in Mr Lampl’s agenda and now in the white paper.

Both No. 10 and the Treasury were influenced by the ideas of economists such as Nicholas Barr and Iain Crawford from the London School of Economics. They advocated a graduate-contribution scheme that levied a higher rate of interest on graduate repayments. This is more or less what is in the white paper.

There were two notable influences on widening participation. First, Claire Callender, professor of social policy at South Bank University. The removal of upfront fees and restoration of means-tested grants are testament to her influence.

Second, Wendy Piatt from the Institute for Public Policy Research, whose widening-participation work can be credited with the return of grants for students.

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