The business secretary also told a Sutton Trust event today that the government is in talks with banks to devise a loans system for postgraduates.
Meanwhile, Mr Cable entered the discussion of social mobility started by Sir John Major, the former Conservative prime minister.
“I’m one of the few people in the Cabinet who didn’t go to a top school and isn’t a millionaire,” he said.
On postgraduate funding, he noted that there is no equivalent of the undergraduate funding system that provides support for loans and maintenance costs – meaning the majority of postgraduates “self finance”.
“We do recognise that this is a significant barrier to social mobility,” said Mr Cable. “We recognise it – there’s not a great deal we can do about it given the limited funding we have.”
He added: “David Willetts [the universities and science minister] is meeting the banks to try to devise a loans scheme that will help people progress through postgraduate education.”
Mr Cable also discussed the fact that an increasing number of professions are considering requiring entrants to hold a degree.
“The idea that in order to be a police officer or a nurse you need to have a degree – that’s just qualification inflation,” he said.
“You could argue there’s some ultimately good things associated with it, but arguably not…That partly explains why 40 per cent of people go to university rather than the 10 per cent which…I experienced.
“There are a whole lot of very standard professions, not elite professions, where a degree is a basic qualification. We are conscious in some areas like accountancy and elsewhere that degree qualifications appear to be superfluous – we’re trying to persuade professional associations to address that.”
Mr Cable also said: “We still have a major problem of social mobility in the UK, much of it centred on higher education.”
But he continued that while the problem was particularly evident in the most selective universities, it was “nothing to do with crude discrimination”.
Mr Cable also called for greater clarity in the use of the term “social mobility”, suggesting it is currently used in a “rather sloppy way”.
The business secretary said the most important day in his father’s life was when the family moved from a terraced house to a semi-detached house. That kind of social mobility “matters to millions and millions of people” and was more important than figures on how many Old Etonians are in the Cabinet, argued Mr Cable.