Higher education epitomises the government's desire to impose central control on British society, said former shadow education secretary Stephen Dorrell.
Mr Dorrell, who stood down from his shadow post in July, divides his time between his family clothing business and considering the Conservative Party's future. He has concluded that a policy fostering autonomy and differentiation in education and health will be central to Conservative political resurgence.
At the Conservative conference, Mr Dorrell attacked the government's higher education funding policy. He said that the decision to limit tuition fees to a maximum Pounds 1,000 while abolishing maintenance grants offered institutions little scope for autonomous development and restricted student choice. "I think higher education is probably one of the clearest examples of the Labour government being over-centralised," he said.
Mr Dorrell favours a policy allowing institutions to charge different levels of fees while assisting the poor financially. This, he said, would create a genuine market preferable to the present state-regulated market, which offers no grants to the poorest while threatening universities with financial penalties if they raise fees beyond a prescribed limit.