Analysis: Highs and lows for higher education under Labour

August 1, 2003

1990-91

* Institute for Public Policy Research meetings involving several centre-left thinkers conclude that tuition fees and student loans are necessary to fund higher education expansion

1992

* IPPR pamphlet Higher Education: Expansion and Reform sets out radical ideas for tuition fees and student loans

1993

* Labour's further and higher education spokesman Jeff Rooker (right) is sacked for authoring a consultation paper saying tuition fees are necessary

1994

* Choosing to Change paper, published by the Higher Education Quality Council, advocates a voucher system for higher education

* Social Justice Commission proposes a learning bank with contributions from students and employers

1995

* Labour opposition argues over "graduate tax" to fund higher education expansion

1996

* Dearing inquiry begins

1997

* May - Labour government elected in electoral landslide

* July - Dearing report published and on same day the new education secretary David Blunkett reveals policy to introduce tuition fees, scrap grants and increase student loans

* November - Teaching and Higher Education bill introduced in order to change the student-loans system and to stop universities charging top-up fees 1998

* February - Universities and Colleges Admissions System figures show that the threat of tuition fees and higher debt may be deterring mature students from applying to university

* July - Teaching and Higher Education bill receives Royal Assent

* July - first comprehensive spending review gives higher education an extra £445 million over two years keeping annual cut in funding to 1 per cent. Extra 35,000 student places allocated for 1999-2000. Science gets an extra £1.4 billion over three years

* September-October - first intake of students start paying fees of up to £1,000, with no maintenance grants. Instead they take out the new larger, income-contingent loans

* December - further spending review details reveal an additional £776 million for higher education over the next two years, much of it to come from tuition fees

1999

* October - prime minister Tony Blair surprises higher education by setting a 50 per cent participation target for higher education

* November - Liberal Democrats uncover a government-commissioned survey dating from February 1998, before the introduction of tuition fees, indicating that fees would deter mature students

2000

* January - student grants announced for mature students from autumn and for younger students from disadvantaged backgrounds the year after

* July - second spending review gives another £100 million to higher education (a 4.6 per cent real terms rise between 2000-01 and 2001-02) and government claims not only to have halted the year-on-year cuts but that real-terms spending per student will rise between 0.5 and 1 per cent in 2001-02

2001

* February - David Blunkett rules out top-up fees for the duration of the next parliament

* June - Labour re-elected with another thumping majority

* June - Mr Blunkett moves to the Home Office. Estelle Morris becomes education secretary

* July - Labour Party national policy forum hears that student hardship was a major concern among voters during that year's general election campaign

* October - Mr Blair and chancellor Gordon Brown, rattled by the policy forum report and signs that the system introduced in 1997 may have negative effects, call for a review of higher education to be published in the new year

* December - IPPR report Opportunity for Whom? recommends higher fees, ending of subsidy on student loans, and grants for poorest students

2002

* Spring - review fails to materialise as government realises the size of the undertaking and begins to realise that the only solution may be higher fees and a graduate tax

* July - the spending review pumps another £1.25 billion into science and research

* September - higher education minister Margaret Hodge calls for radical reform to create a "freer" higher education market ending the one-size-fits-all university culture

* October - Mr Blair calls for reform of the public sector and an end to one-size-fits-all services

* October - Ms Morris resigns. Charles Clarke appointed

* October to January 2003 - Mr Clarke finalises the review that has since transmuted into a fully fledged higher education white paper. Discussions with the Treasury finally rule out a graduate tax

* November - Mr Blair and Mr Clarke hold Downing Street meeting with vice-chancellors to galvanise support for top-up fees

2003

* January - white paper published advocating fees of up to £3,000 a year, income-contingent graduate repayments and means-tested grants of up to £1,000 a year

* July - education and skills select committee publishes report on the white paper calling for annual fees of up to £5,000 a year combined with grants of up to £5,000 paid for by ending the interest-rate subsidy on student loans

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