Cable: elite held gun to our heads over fees

Vince Cable has claimed that the government effectively was held to ransom on tuition fees, as a group of elite universities would have “gone private” if the cap had not been raised.

November 16, 2010

Speaking at a conference in Manchester yesterday, the business secretary added that he does not know whether the proposed cap of £9,000 a year will be enough to “head off” those considering opting out of state financial support.

“One of the reasons we are [raising the fee cap] is precisely to head off Oxford, Cambridge, the London School of Economics, University College London and a few others from going private,” he is reported to have said in a speech at the annual conference of the Girls’ Schools Association.

“If we had not opened up the system, they would have a very strong incentive to do so.”

Mr Cable’s comments contradict the public statements made by some of the country’s leading universities, which have frequently dismissed claims they are considering privatisation.

In a statement on the topic issued to Times Higher Education last month, Howard Davies, the LSE’s director, says: “I have so far seen no arguments which convince me that the school and its students would be better off as a result of ‘going private’.”

Mr Cable is also reported to have told delegates at the conference that “a lot of universities are effectively broke” and that “if they were in the private sector they would have been filing for bankruptcy”.

“Various arrangements have been cobbled together to keep them going, and we can’t continue to do that,” he said.

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