Labour would not change 9k fee system, says Cable

Vince Cable has predicted that Labour would not change the £9,000 fee system, while also forecasting that David Willetts would be safe in a reshuffle.

September 12, 2013

And the business secretary, speaking to an audience at the Universities UK conference last night, said he wanted to ease restrictions on post-study work for overseas students who have a master’s degree or a first-class undergraduate degree.

In his speech to the conference, held at the University of Leicester, the Liberal Democrat MP said there was a “very good story” in official figures on student numbers and access under the new regime.

Answering questions from the audience after his speech, the business secretary said that “reading between the lines” he would be “very, very surprised” if any Labour government after 2015 “would want to change it [the £9,000 fee system]”.

Labour’s current policy is that it would lower fees to £6,000 if it were in power now.

Mr Cable, who sometimes exchanges text messages with Labour leader Ed Miliband according to media reports, added: “They [Labour] did a lot of politics around fees but I don’t think they would want to go back. So I think you are guaranteed continuity.”

Asked by Times Higher Education how he would feel if his Conservative colleague Mr Willetts were to be moved in a reshuffle, Mr Cable said: “I think it’s unlikely, to be frank.”

He described the universities and science minister as a “very good colleague” who “cares very passionately about higher education and its standards, and about social mobility”.

Mr Willetts would be “an enormous loss if he was to go”, said Mr Cable, who potentially risks being seen as intervening in Prime Minister David Cameron’s reshuffle decision.

But he added: “All the indications I am getting is that he is regarded by the prime minister as very valuable, and I would be very, very surprised if he was moved.”

The business secretary also had some encouragement for the sector on post-study work for overseas students – a prized opportunity for many students, particularly Indians, that has been drastically limited under the Home Office’s visa policy.

Mr Cable said the post-study work route was still open, although restricted to those overseas students who secure “graduate level” jobs with relatively high starting salaries. He added that he was hopeful of extending an exemption to the salary threshold that the government has already granted to overseas PhD students seeking to stay on in the UK to work.

“It would be a very big and useful step if we could take master’s [graduates] out, or maybe [those with] first-class undergraduate degrees,” Mr Cable said. “Certainly David Willetts and I are making that case in government. But I can’t promise you where we will get with that – it’s part of the wider mix in immigration policy.”

In his speech, Mr Cable said the sector’s work in showing its progress on efficiency had helped him secure a “positive” settlement in the spending round, after a spell of “arm wrestling with the Treasury” that had been “quite traumatic”.

On the key challenges, for the future, he urged the sector to make further progress on efficiency. And he also said there was more work to do on explaining the new student finance system to the public, on part-time students, on access, and on the “postgraduate problem”.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

opinion illustration

Eliminating cheating services, even if it were possible, would do nothing to address students’ and universities’ lack of interest in learning, says Stuart Macdonald

Female professor

New data show proportion of professors who are women has declined at some institutions

Reflection of man in cracked mirror

To defend the values of reason from political attack we need to be more discriminating about the claims made in its name, says John Hendry