The Liberal Democrats have promised to spend Pounds 700 million a year more than Labour on higher education, with pledges to scrap tuition fees, restore maintenance grants and fund massive pay awards for lecturers. Radical access initiatives are also in the pipeline.
The bonanza would be funded with the Pounds 2.9 billion the Lib Dems would make through increasing income tax, higher education spokesman Evan Harris told The THES.
Dr Harris said the first priority for the extra money would be the full funding of the Bett report's recommendations on pay and conditions, at a cost of Pounds 380 million.
The party would also strive to end gender discrimination and casualisation in universities. Bett stated that ending pay discrimination against women alone would cost about Pounds 450 million a year.
The party also promised to abolish tuition fees through a model similar to that employed in Scotland. Instead of paying tuition fees, students would pay Pounds 2,000 into an endowment scheme after they have graduated and their salaries reach Pounds 30,000. The higher earnings threshold would be funded through a higher interest rate on student loans.
The party would also reinstate maintenance grants and allow students to claim benefits during the summer vacation.
Dr Harris was emphatic in his insistence that there was "an absolute no to top-up fees".
Radical access plans were also being finalised as The THES went to press. The party is expected to greatly increase access premiums paid to universities for recruiting students from socially deprived backgrounds. And, in a move that would require a change in legislation, it plans to overhaul the funding system so that two-thirds of funding per student is paid when the student graduates. This, it hopes, will reduce drop-out rates.
The party's higher education team has been considering giving the top 10 per cent of children in all schools an automatic right to a university place as an incentive to access.