"New, young" Labour swept over "old" Labour on further and higher education policies at its party conference in Brighton this week.
Battle was joined on the conference floor over a composite motion supported by more than 30 constituency groups, which called for "a commitment to a living grant for all students in post-16 education" and "increased forms of funding of higher education based upon the premise that individuals should not be required to pay for their education" in addition to proposals relating to the high profile dispute over grant maintained schools.
The motion was opposed by the party's national executive committee, including youth representative Catherine Taylor.
Shadow education secretary, David Blunkett, put the cost of the post 16 proposals alone at an extra Pounds 10 billion and described the motion as "a classic resolution of impossible demands that places us rather than the Tories on the rack". The motion was defeated on a card vote by 77 -23 per cent.
At fringe meetings and in conference corridors, lecturers' union leaders were calling for Labour to "bite the bullet" and spell out how it would fund expansion in the system. Bryan Davies, Labour's further and higher education spokesman, who is charged with drafting the party's further and higher education policy, proposed freeing up resources by introducing student and employer contributions to new "learning accounts" to support study. But a vocal section of delegates pressed for a return to full student grants and an end to loans.
Mr Davies told The THES that there was still considerable work to be done to overcome party divisions over funding issues. "There are some sections of the party which regard grants as part of the welfare state, and the argument is based on the premise that inadequate resources are the chief reason why people do not go on higher education. But that is not so. The real reason is that access is severely restricted," he said.
In resisting calls for the clock to be turned back on student support, the conference followed the lead given by the party leader, Tony Blair, in his speech on Tuesday.
The party in government would, he warned, have to say "No" to some people represented in the hall. "We want more children at university but know that though the student loan scheme will be replaced, we face hard choices about what its replacement will be," he said before going on to set out his futuristic vision for schools, colleges and universities to join the "knowledge race" in the "marriage of education and technology".
Mr Davies confirmed that British Telecom's agreement to connect every school or college to its fibre optic network for free, announced in Mr Blair's speech, applied to all further and higher education institutions.
He also announced at a fringe meeting organised by the AUT/Natfhe Confederation that a Labour government would move quickly to:
* relax the "16-hour" rule which prevents part-time students from claiming benefit:
* make college and university governing bodies more democratic and accountable by involving local councillors, staff and students:
* "end the unfairness in the distribution of research funding" which was creating a premier division ethos:
* insist on a "single, open and independent body for quality control in higher education:
* democratise the Further Education Funding Council by reorganising it on a regional basis involving locally elected people
* introduce incentives for more students to attend local institutions.
The party was committed to expansion rather than consolidation, which would only serve to "freeze opportunities and life chances", he said.