The Liberal Democrats may be about to ditch their traditional tax-and-spend higher education policy and face up to "hard-nosed" financial realities.
A funding working group, chaired by higher education spokesman Evan Harris (Oxford West and Abingdon), has been set up to develop policies for higher education that do not rely simply on the party's historic cure-all of adding a penny to taxation.
Education spokesman Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) said the party's policy had to be brought up to date with changes in higher education since the last general election, including the introduction of tuition fees, the abolition of grants and changes in a devolved Scotland.
Mr Willis said: "Simply saying that we can dip into a bottomless pit of resources is not acceptable."
A major consideration will be how to improve access to higher education for people from disadvantaged backgrounds while maintaining quality. Student hardship will also be addressed.
The working group will need to anticipate the outcome of inquiries into differentiated fees.
Staff pay and conditions will also be considered, as will innovation through the development of links with industry.
The group includes: Gillian Slater, vice-chancellor of Bournemouth University; Maggie Woodrow, of the European Access Network at Westminster University; Lord Wallace, a Liberal Democrat peer and lecturer at the London School of Economics; and Baroness Sharp, the LibDems' higher education spokeswoman in the Lords.