Reality checks for Tory policy

May 9, 2003

The Conservative Party will fine-tune its revamped higher education policy by consulting key people in the sector, shadow education spokesman Damian Green said this week.

Mr Green said that the party's revised higher education policy, which is due to be announced next week, had been devised with input from many in higher education.

But Mr Green said more soundings and advice would be taken as details of the policy were worked out over the coming months.

"I take it as a given that any policy I am to put forward is in the ballpark, so it is addressing the key issues," he said.

Mr Green has admitted that the policy of endowing universities with sums of about £1 billion each, funded by the sale of state-owned communications frequencies, failed to register with voters in the last general election.

At the time, many in higher education welcomed the Conservatives'

commitment to university autonomy, which the endowments would allow, but dismissed the suggestion that such huge sums of money would ever be handed to universities over other priorities such as schools and hospitals.

Mr Green has promised a radical and relatively non-ideological higher education policy that salvages the strongest themes from the party's previous policy, most notably the issue of university autonomy from the state.

The shadow education team has set up a database of key people in higher education to help hammer out its policy ideas. The process will continue with regular meetings after the outline policy is announced next week.

Mr Green said: "For every policy we announce, there will be people who oppose it. We accept that, but what we will know is that we are addressing the real issues of the sector."

Lord Norton of Louth, professor of government at Hull University and chairman of the Conservative Academic Group, welcomed reforms to the policy-making process but said that it required a further step to see how policies would play with voters.

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