Lib Dems eclipse Labour on campus

April 29, 2005

Labour's electoral dominance on Britain's campuses will come to an end on May 5 amid a surge of support among academics and students for the Liberal Democrats, according to two exclusive polls for The Times Higher .

An ICM Research poll of 500 academics reveals that the Lib Dems have for the first time taken a narrow lead over the Labour Party for the campus vote.

While Labour could count on the votes of about 65 per cent of academics in 2001, the party's share of the vote has now fallen to 41 per cent.

The Lib Dems - who hovered around the 22 per cent mark in 1992, 1997 and 2001 - have doubled their share of the vote to 44 per cent.

ICM puts the Tories on 10 per cent: giving them a higher share of the academic vote than the 7 per cent in 2001, but no better than in 1997.

One politics pundit predicted that the switch of allegiance could see the Lib Dems take key "campus marginals" Bristol West and Cardiff Central, while the decline of the Labour vote could see Selby and Lancaster and Wyre switch to the Tories.

"Longer-shot" targets such as Cambridge could also come into range for the Lib Dems, said Simon Henig of Sunderland University, co-author of Politico's Guide to the General Election 2005 .

Some 44 per cent of academics said the Lib Dems had the best higher education policies, 21 per cent said Labour did and 4 per cent felt the Tories had the best. Only 75 of the 500 academics had yet to decide who to vote for.

A separate poll of 1,020 undergraduates, carried out by Opinionpanel Research between April 22 and 25, gives the Lib Dems a 47 per cent share of the student vote - up from 39 per cent in February.

Labour are down from 29 per cent to 23 per cent, only one point above the Tories. But three out of four students expect a Labour victory on May 5.

On a ten-point turnout scale - where ten is certain - 68 per cent of students and 82 per cent of academics ranked their likelihood of voting on May 5 between seven and ten.

Charles Kennedy, the Lib Dem leader, said: "The Liberal Democrats' commitment to university education based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay, is resonating - not just with students and parents, but with those who work within our universities."

The Labour Party said that if students and academics valued public services, they should stick with Labour.

"Labour is the only party committed to building and renewing our public services in the way they need to thrive," a spokesman said.

Tim Collins, the Conservative education spokesman, said the party had made progress but there was "more hard work to do between now and polling day".

Mr Collins added: "We'll be working hard for every campus vote by underlining our message that only the Conservatives offer the scrapping of tuition fees, maintenance of academic standards and the long-term financial independence of our universities."

Kat Fletcher, president of the National Union of Students, said: "Education hasn't been as high on the campaign agenda as issues such as MRSA, health and immigration. Part of the reason for that is that both Labour and the Tories are on thin ice on top-up fees."

Ironically, in the week that 35 prominent scientists published a letter supporting Labour, the ICM poll suggests that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's emphasis on science investment has failed to convince most academics.

ICM found that 46 per cent of academics in medical faculties, 47 per cent of scientists and 58 per cent of those in engineering faculties will vote Lib Dem.

Labour remains the favoured party of academics in the arts (44 per cent) and social scientists (48 per cent).

* ICM Research interviewed a random sample of 500 university lecturers between April 11 and 21 by telephone.

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