Tories to put costly plan on ice

January 11, 2002

The Conservative Party may ditch university endowments as its main higher education funding policy.

Shadow higher education minister Alistair Burt told The THES that the policy, part of the party's 2001 general election manifesto, was no longer at the forefront of Conservative thinking.

Mr Burt said: "We are not reliant on endowments one way or the other. We are going back to the drawing board."

He stressed that endowments, which promised lump sums averaging £1 billion for each university to fund teaching, had not been dropped by the party. But he said that a number of other policy ideas were being considered.

The party had difficulty prior to the general election trying to explain how it could afford the policy. Lecturers' unions put the cost at more than £100 billion. The party said that the money would be raised by selling telecommunications frequencies.

Mr Burt said: "Some of the answers may be simple but not particularly palatable. If we are agreed that funding for higher education is too low then the question is, where is it going to come from, if not from tax payers?" The shadow minister was critical of the "secrecy" surrounding the government review of student finance. He called for a public review where all parties, not least students, could have their say.

The review, which had been due to be completed early this year, is likely to be delayed as departments, including the Department for Education and Skills, struggle to reach agreement on the best way to reform the current system.

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