Cambridge University’s decision, leaked to The Guardian’s Nick Watt, to start charging fees of £9,000 a year from 2012 is an irritation for the Liberal Democrats who did not want any university to move to charging the highest fee possible straight away. It also threatens to overshadow Nick Clegg’s efforts to increase the social mix at Britain’s best universities.
But the news has also reminded me of how tricky the question of university fees will be for Labour in 2015. If Labour says it is going to reduce the fees universities can charge, it will have to accompany this with a promise to increase state funding to make up the difference. If it doesn’t, I suspect that top universities might threaten to go private.
So far, Ed Miliband has avoided binding his hands on the fees question—there’s tellingly been no pledge to reverse the coalition’s legislation. But the Lib Dems won’t be the only party for which higher education is a tricky issue at the next election.