2nd Year MPhil Week 6 TT04

Topic: Higher education

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Tories to end tuition fees policy

Michael Howard has admitted his party's policy on tuition fees would not solve the funding crisis in education.

The Conservatives had proposed to make higher education free by reducing the number of students and bureaucracy. The party leader told the BBC's Breakfast With Frost programme the proposal was now unworkable. Tony Blair will continue to try to win over backbenchers by making his case for tuition fees on Monday at a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. While he admits he does not have the answer Mr Howard said Labour's plans would not be enough to plug universities' funding shortfalls.

Latest proposal

On Monday the Department for Education and Skills will publish the latest in a series of reports on aspects of its tuition fees proposals. It will outline the pros and cons of rolling the £1,200 fee remission together with the £1,500 grant to produce a £2,700 upfront grant for poorer students. Education Secretary Charles Clarke insists the government will win a crucial Commons vote on tuition fees on 27 January. The Higher Education Bill would allow English universities to charge up to £3,000-a-year in tuition fees, payable when graduates earn £15,000. It would let the Welsh Assembly decide whether to have the same system there. The bill does not directly affect Scotland or Northern Ireland. In the latest twist Mr Clarke is due to send Labour MPs a new paper on possibly changing his package of proposals so that students receive £1,200-a-year as a cash grant rather than in reduced fees. At his monthly news conference last week, Mr Blair said there was "merit" in that idea but he added: "When we could do it, I'm not sure at this stage." He denied Mr Clarke was in conflict over the proposal with Chancellor Gordon Brown. Mr Clarke has said there are practical difficulties needing to be resolved before that plan could be used.

Crunch vote

Mr Howard told David Frost on Sunday: "The truth is the universities have a funding problem. It has been estimated variously at a £10bn or £11bn shortfall, and neither the government nor ourselves have any proposals to deal with that problem." It signalled the party is no longer sticking to its pledge under former leader Iain Duncan Smith - to scrap all fees. However when asked if he wanted to look "desperately dodgy" for fighting tuition fees without a credible alternative, Mr Howard said: "I have the gravest reservation about tuition fees but in due course, before the next election, we will come forward with our proposals and we will put them before the country in a manifesto." The crunch vote in the House of Commons happens the day before Lord Hutton reports on the death of government scientist Dr David Kelly.