Support for the Conservative party among university and college lecturers has all but evaporated, according to a poll conducted for The Times Higher Education Supplement by ICM Research.
Beaten into third place by the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative party has suffered a fall in support among academics from 17 per cent in 1992 to just 10 per cent.
Most lecturers interviewed (64 per cent) plan to vote Labour on May 1. This is an increase from 57 per cent in 1992 when ICM conducted a similar poll for the THES before the last general election.
It is impossible to say with certainty whether this represents a direct switch in Tory voters to Labour. The Liberal Democrat vote, at 21 per cent, remains the same while overall support for other parties has increased from 4 to 5 per cent.
ICM carried out telephone interviews with a random sample of 400 university and 100 further education lecturers across the whole country between March 5 and March 12.
A growing number of lecturers (69 per cent) believes that the rise in student numbers is leading to lowered education standards, a substantial increase on 1992 when fewer than half (43 per cent) believed this policy lowered standards. Lecturers tend to feel that the expansion of universities has been taken far enough. Over half (59 per cent) think that the expansion should be halted against one third (34 per cent) who believe it should continue.
Among supporters of continued expansion, an overwhelming majority (74 per cent) said that the Government should foot the bill. Conservative voters were markedly less supportive of government-funded expansion.
Lecturers in further education are more likely to vote Labour (74 per cent) than their counterparts in universities (62 per cent). The strongest support for Labour is in arts faculties (77 per cent), with the weakest in science departments (49 per cent), which also give the strongest support to the Liberal Democrats (35 per cent). The Tories fare best in medicine (22 per cent) and worst among arts lecturers (3 per cent).
While lecturers said that they considered higher education issues fairly important in influencing the way that they would choose to vote, there were many other factors which will affect their decision.
This time ICM, in common with other pollsters, has introduced an adjustment to take account of the differential tendency of respondents to lie about their intentions. When this adjustment is applied, their figure for the percentage likely to vote Labour falls to 61 per cent, and Conservative support rises to 11 per cent. Liberal Democrats remain on 21 per cent but support for other parties increases to 8 per cent.