Party line over fees prompts Tory to quit

July 18, 2003

An independent education committee set up by the Conservatives to examine policy and practice in schools, colleges and universities has suffered its first resignation.

David Dilks, a long-standing Tory and former vice-chancellor of Hull University, resigned from the committee earlier this month.

Professor Dilks is firmly opposed to the Conservative policy to abolish tuition fees and end expansion, but declined to say that this was his reason for leaving the committee.

The committee was set up in February and is chaired by Sir Robert Balchin, vice-chairman of governors at Goldsmiths College, London. Sir Robert said Professor Dilks had left because he lived in Leeds and it was difficult for him to get to all the meetings - an explanation Professor Dilks found "rather startling".

"I think he must have been joking," he said. "He has a very dry sense of humour."

On Conservative policy, Professor Dilks said: "The unit of resource has fallen by half in higher education since 1979, and this has had a major impact on the quality of the student experience and on pay. To abolish fees would increase the reliance of universities on state funding - and this is never going to be enough."

He said halting expansion would make little difference: "The gap in funding is already there."

A number of senior Tories have already made clear their strong opposition to the policy put forward by Damian Green, the Conservative education spokesman.

Robert Jackson, a former education minister, said: "This policy has been adopted on the grounds of electoral strategy. It is not connected in a serious way with universities and their funding."

He said Conservatives might be shamed into changing it when they drew up their manifesto.

Sir Robert said that the committee would not be making any announcements on further and higher education until the autumn. "Lots of people are concerned about the policy on higher education. I am not. It is obviously a popular policy. The party can build on it," he said.

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