Early move to lift cap on top-ups looks unlikely as Labour rebels return to Commons in force

May 13, 2005

An early move by Downing Street to lift the cap on tuition fees looked politically impossible this week as enough Labour rebels were returned to Parliament to ensure defeat for the Government if it tried, writes Paul Hill .

The Times Higher revealed before the election that Downing Street had hinted to senior players in higher education and research that lobbying to lift the £3,000 cap would get a sympathetic hearing.

But the election returned 41 Labour MPs to Westminster who had rebelled against the Government in March last year. The Government won the third reading of the Bill by five votes.

With a majority of 67 in the new Parliament, only 34 Labour MPs would need to vote with the Opposition to defeat the Government.

The new political make-up at Westminster is also set to prompt a change of tack from lobby groups in higher education.

Michael Sterling, chairman of the Russell Group and vice-chancellor of Birmingham University, said the first step would be to seek a "reaffirmation" from the Government that higher education was underfunded.

"Once we have that, and if we are told it is not politically achievable to lift the fee cap, the question is, how are we going to fill that gap."

Professor Sterling added that if extra money was available, it should go to supporting subjects of national importance, as identified by the Government last year.

Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, agreed the election result had made an early change to the fee cap unlikely. "My guess is that lifting the cap is not going to be uppermost in Tony Blair's mind."

A team of academics was behind the uncannily accurate television exit poll analysis that forecast a 66-seat majority for the Labour Party minutes after the polls closed on election night, writes Anthea Lipsett .

Psephologists from Oxford, Plymouth, Warwick and Strathclyde universities emerged this week as the unsung heroes who gave the television companies their scoop. The team was led by David Firth, a statistics professor at Warwick, and John Curtice, professor of government at Strathclyde.

With the last exit poll return at 9.25pm, the team had 15 minutes to analyse the data and brief journalists before the 10pm broadcast.

Data were collected from 120 polling stations, with a sample size of 20,000 to predict the majority of 66. "When we said 66 we meant somewhere between 46 and 86," Professor Firth said.

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