Vince Cable: Tories admit their overseas student policy ‘damages UK’

Former business secretary’s book says PM cannot move Theresa May ‘an inch’ and reveals Lib Dems had plan to protect higher education and science budgets under new coalition

September 15, 2015
Vince Cable in a fedora hat

Nearly all Conservative ministers privately concede that their policy on overseas students is “seriously damaging” to universities and the UK economy, according to the former business secretary, Sir Vince Cable.

The claim comes in a book by Sir Vince to be published this week, titled After the Storm: the World Economy and Britain’s Economic Future.

The former Twickenham MP also says in the book that prior to the 2015 election he had secured an agreement with Danny Alexander, the former chief secretary to the Treasury, to protect higher education and research funding should a second coalition government be formed.

Although the book looks back to his time in government – when he was the Cabinet minister responsible for the tuition fees policy that so damaged the Liberal Democrats – it focuses on economic rather than political issues and largely steers clear of the fees controversy.

In one brief reference, Sir Vince refers to the view having prevailed among Lib Dems prior to the 2010 election that “talk of cuts repelled voters, while spending commitments attracted them, and this led us into the disaster of the tuition fees pledge, among others”.

He describes the coalition’s trebling of fees as “unpopular but necessary”.

Sir Vince recalls that although he had “difficult exchanges with the home secretary [Theresa May] and prime minister over immigration controls on non-European Union students and skilled workers, almost all Conservative colleagues and ministers agreed, at least privately, that their policies were seriously damaging to business, universities and the wider national economic interest”.

He adds that he was “struck by the inability of powerful Conservatives like the chancellor, or even the prime minister, to move the home secretary an inch”.

On funding for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Sir Vince says: “I had obtained from Danny Alexander a commitment, reflected in the party manifesto, that in the event of a second coalition government being formed, we would protect my department’s growth priorities – training, further and higher education, science and innovation, industrial strategy – in a new spending review.

“Sadly this protection will not be given by the new government, which plans further cuts of 25-40 per cent.”

Elsewhere, he says that there is “one legacy of both the coalition government and its Labour predecessor that, I worry, is neither sustainable nor very useful. That is the belief that it is economically as well as socially valuable to open up university education to everyone who meets fairly minimal standards, and to provide them with tuition fee loans.”

He continues: “My primary concern is that, in a world of scarce resources and tight public spending, the creation of graduate factories diverts attention from the more pressing need for vocational training through apprenticeships and from lifelong learning in the further and adult education sectors.”

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments


After the Storm: the World Economy and Britain’s Economic Future is published by Atlantic Books on 17 September

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most Commented

James Fryer illustration (27 July 2017)

It is not Luddism to be cautious about destroying an academic publishing industry that has served us well, says Marilyn Deegan

Jeffrey Beall, associate professor and librarian at the University of Colorado Denver

Creator of controversial predatory journals blacklist says some peers are failing to warn of dangers of disreputable publishers

Kayaker and jet skiiers

Nazima Kadir’s social circle reveals a range of alternative careers for would-be scholars, and often with better rewards than academia

Hand squeezing stress ball
Working 55 hours per week, the loss of research periods, slashed pensions, increased bureaucracy, tiny budgets and declining standards have finally forced Michael Edwards out
hole in ground

‘Drastic action’ required to fix multibillion-pound shortfall in Universities Superannuation Scheme, expert warns