Fees cap critic to chair public service think-tank

September 22, 2006

The outspoken rector of Imperial College London has been appointed chairman of an independent think-tank that is due to publish a wide-ranging report on higher education later this year.

Sir Richard Sykes will chair the advisory board of Reform, a non-party think-thank that sees its mission as setting out a better way to deliver public services and economic prosperity.

"We believe that by liberalising the public sector, breaking monopoly and extending choice, high-quality services can be made available for everyone," says its website.

It will be a natural home for Sir Richard, who joined Imperial in 2002 after leaving his post as chairman and chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline.

Sir Richard, who long argued that the Government set the cap on top-up fees too low at £3,000, nevertheless strikes a conciliatory note in the autumn issue of the think-tank's magazine. Asked if he thinks the Government should lift the cap, he says: "You have to take it, in my opinion, slowly. You cannot just remove the cap. If I was Education Secretary and you were Prime Minister, you'd be daft to say you were going to remove the cap. You'd have a rebellion. The country is totally unprepared for removing the cap."

The Reform article, written by its director Andrew Haldenby, goes on to point out that the current system is unsustainable and says that its forthcoming study will look at a "better future" for higher education.

Mr Haldenby said this week: "The next Comprehensive Spending Review is likely to see a real-terms cut for higher education. On top of this, it is politically unfeasible to lift the cap. Our forthcoming report will look at the options for higher education."

Sir Richard is expected to bring a "rigorous scientific approach" to the work of the think-tank.

"Reform can provide facts and analysis, from an independent standpoint, to enable better political decisions to be taken," he said.

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