Tory sparring partners clash over fees policy

November 11, 2005

The battle for the Tory leadership turns to higher education this week as the two contenders set out their differences on tuition fees and university expansion to The Times Higher .

While David Davis warns that tuition fees are a "tax on learning", David Cameron argues for "some form of co-payment", with the taxpayer and the student sharing the cost of higher education.

The candidates, both writing in this week's Times Higher , also take different lines on the future size of the sector.

Mr Cameron writes of "dealing with the demands of expansion" and giving universities more independence from the state.

But Mr Davis suggests that university "should not appear to be compulsory"

for young people and says expansion should be halted "if we are going to fund our universities properly".

According to Mr Davis, those who argue in favour of tuition fees "are really arguing in favour of discriminating against the poorest young people in society".

But Mr Cameron writes: "Our (anti-fees) policy at the last election was understandable given the anger at Labour's clear breach of its manifesto promise not to introduce top-up fees, but it would not be viable in the world of 2010."

Nevertheless, both candidates borrow elements from the Conservative Party manifesto.

Mr Davis echoes his party's election warnings about the skills gap and the need to improve vocational education. "It's not all about university," he writes. "We must ensure there is space for everyone who can benefit from a university education, but a Conservative programme for education must also have a focus on vocational skills at its heart."

Mr Cameron echoes the manifesto pledge to encourage endowments and charitable donations to universities with a call to "foster a culture of philanthropy".

But in a direct pitch for the academic vote, Mr Cameron adds: "Universities need to be set free to set their own pay and conditions, which in turn will enable them to retain the best talents."

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