As the nation prepares for a general election on 6 May, a Times Higher Education poll suggests that the Liberal Democrats may be winning the battle for the academy's votes.
In our voteHE online survey, 40 per cent of respondents say that they intend to vote Lib Dem, putting Nick Clegg's party ahead of Labour (33 per cent) and the Conservatives (15 per cent).
Other options, including not voting, are supported by 11 per cent of respondents.
The Lib Dems won even more support when readers were asked which party's higher education policies were best. Nearly half (49 per cent) went for the Lib Dems, 26 per cent for Labour and 14 per cent for the Tories.
The Lib Dems' most distinctive higher education policy is their proposal to abolish tuition fees. More than a third of respondents support this idea.
Asked what they would like the ongoing independent review of fees to propose, 41 per cent want them to be scrapped, 24 per cent say there should be no change to the current fee level, 22 per cent want a £5,000 cap and 9 per cent favour a £7,000 cap.
Just under 11 per cent think that there should be an unregulated market in fees.
The poll is intended only to give a snapshot of feeling within the sector, and will continue throughout the election campaign (see box below).
Gordon Brown announced this week that the general election will be held on 6 May.
With public spending certain to be a major battleground, many see the election as vitally important for the academy's future. THE has launched a campaign, #loveHE, to champion higher education from inside and outside the sector.
The campaign aims to cover everything from life-changing teaching to the joys of free enquiry, from the contribution universities make to short-term economic growth to their cutting-edge, paradigm-shifting research discoveries.
Meanwhile, a high-profile scientist and television presenter who played a musical role in New Labour's rise to power has given his views on the main parties' attitudes to science.
Brian Cox, professor of particle physics at the University of Manchester, was once a member of pop group D:Ream, whose hit Things Can Only Get Better was adopted as Labour's anthem in the 1997 election campaign.
He said this week: "I want politicians to put science at the top of their agenda. I know the Lib Dems are trying to push science into the manifesto and Labour is, too.
"But I haven't heard anyone from the Conservatives even talking about it. I haven't heard David Cameron mention how important science is once."
EYES ON THE PRIZE
Times Higher Education will be polling readers throughout the general election campaign to monitor how the sector responds to the policies and promises of the three main political parties.
The poll results published today will be used as a comparison to give a snapshot of how perceptions within the academy change.
THE will also follow the fortunes of a prospective parliamentary candidate from each main party who currently works in the higher education sector; look at the university towns and cities where the student and academic vote could prove vital in deciding the outcome locally; and cover all the breaking election news and its ramifications for the academy.
To take part in the pre-election poll, visit: http://bit.ly/b9Y1pl.