Back in mid-October, Vince Cable did not believe in tuition fees of £9,000. After John Browne delivered his review, Cable told the House of Commons that he was considering raising the cap to £7,000. But somewhere along the line he got turned over. Forget Sky - two discoveries in the past 24 hours have convinced me that this will go down in history as Vince’s biggest mistake.
I hate to be a party pooper when the media is gripped by tuition fees Angstlust, but the BBC is almost certainly wrong today when it says "at least two-thirds of universities in England want to charge £9,000 a year for some or all courses" and the Guardian is misleading people when it headlines average fees of £8,679. The picture is indeed grim, but David Willetts is right when he says the real figures are likely to be significantly lower.
I'm a fan of the Times Good University Guide. What's not to like? But I have been surprised by the number of people relying on it as a guide to the level of tuition fees to be expected from different universities.
I know the "student experience" is supposed to be a big deal. But I've always take it as read that it often has little to do with the market value of degree courses - which of course is a big problem if you are trying to use a market in tuition fees to improve the student experience. Instead, I prefer to rely on research quality as measured by the Research Fortnight Quality Index in our own Research Benchmarks product.
After weeks of relentlessly bad publicity about tuition fees surging to an average of £8,600 a year in England, Vince Cable today gave a major speech to vice chancellors in Brimingham. Would he tell us how he intends to stop universities rushing up to the £9,000 limit? Or how he plans to prevent a hole emerging in his budget as the cost of student loans soars?
Join me as we read today's big speech (with my comments in red)...
In it, the government's official "Advocate for Access" says, "My strong message to universities is: don't charge more than you need to and don't try and exploit the system by charging a high fee and using that to subsidise some kind of bursary or scholarship."
In other words, he is telling universities not to charge rich students more and poor students less.
And this is supposed to be socially progressive, to help students from poor families, like those in the council estates of his own Bermondsey, go to university? Truly, truly bizarre.