Political leaders have been urged to be more honest about their plans for the academy as they enter the closing stages of the general election campaign.
The call was made by Les Ebdon, chair of the Million+ group of new universities and vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, after Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, accused his rivals of keeping tuition fees off the election agenda.
Mr Clegg told voters that Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative Party leader David Cameron “don’t want to come clean with you about what they’re planning”.
The Lib Dems have committed to phase out tuition fees over six years, a move they say would cost £1.7 billion.
However, Professor Ebdon accused Mr Clegg of oversimplifying election discussions on higher education, reducing the debate to a question of “no fees versus higher fees”.
“Voters will go to the polls in just over a week’s time and Nick Clegg is right to point out that the future of universities and students has hardly been mentioned,” he said.
“However, a genuine debate about higher education must include the parties setting out their commitments not just to tuition fees, but also to investment in universities to aid the recovery, fund research and postgraduate study, and…ensure that every applicant who is qualified and wants to go to university gets a place.”
Professor Ebdon also challenged the Lib Dem costings – Million+ believes that scrapping fees would cost £2 billion.
“The real question must be what would be cut to fund this,” he said. “There is a real risk that it could be the chance for everyone to go university – and for that university to be well funded for both teaching and research.”