OXFORD and Cambridge universities should go private, an influential "intellectual network" of academics with close government links will argue this week.
David Halpern, founder of the left-of-centre think tank Nexus said that there was "a very strong argument" that Oxbridge should charge students as much as Pounds 8,000-a-year for tuition.
Sweeping aside current debates about the future of Oxbridge's extra Pounds 34 million college subsidies, Nexus has engaged the academic community in an Internet-based debate over privatisation.
Speaking to The THES on the eve of addressing a Labour Students' conference on Oxbridge privatisation at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, Dr Halpern, a social and political scientist at Cambridge University, said: "A lot of Nexus members think there is a valid argument for privatisation. It is time to take the debate seriously. The pressure on people at Oxbridge not to discuss this is quite remarkable."
Charging full student fees could be a valid response to the higher education funding crisis, which is threatening excellence, he argued.
"The current funding system, with a very strong state subsidy, redistributes from the poor towards the wealthy. Shouldn't the wealthy pay more for their higher education?" he said.
Dr Halpern said that a privatised Oxbridge should still admit on the basis of ability, but apply fees according to wealth, with the rich supporting a system of "generous scholarships" for the less affluent. Research could continue to be funded from the public purse "for the public good". There would be potential for the state to continue to subsidise teaching in certain shortage subjects, such as medicine and science.
Dr Halpern has been seen as a rising star of the new left's intellectual policy shapers since he founded Nexus with more than 1,000 academics last year. The network was embraced by Tony Blair.