By Tim Montgomerie
Sat alongside David Cameron, Nick Clegg and George Osborne, Business and Universities Secretary Vince Cable has just told the Commons that the Coalition government endorses the "main thrust" of Lord Browne's recommendation to lift the cap on tuition fees although it will not yet bring forward specific proposals.
He said that the Coalition would remain opposed to up-front fees and he welcomed Browne's recommendation that part-time students should also be exempted from up-front charges.
Mr Cable said he warmed to Browne's recommendation that higher earners pay a real interest rate on their tuition fee loans and no graduate should begin to start repaying until they earn £21,000 (the current threshold is £15,000). 20% of graduates would pay less as a result, he said, and the top third would pay more than twice as much as the lowest third. This, he said, met his hope for a progressive graduate contribution.
He said that the target of 50% participation in universities was "misguided" and he argued that an apprenticeship could be just as valuable as a degree; "if not more".
In this current fiscal environment the Liberal Democrats' opposition to tuition fees was "no longer feasible".
For Labour, new Shadow Business Secretary John Denham said that teachers, engineers, middle managers and women would suffer most from higher interest charges because the poor would be protected. Some, he said, would still be paying off their tuition fees when their own children started at university. Despite taunting from Mr Cable he declined to say if he supported Ed Miliband (who has advocated a graduate tax) or Alan Johnson (who opposed a graduate tax, at least until he became Shadow Chancellor).