Boris Johnson, shadow minister for higher education, writes an extended piece for today’s Guardian and insists that the Tories are now passionate about creating the world’s best higher education system. In classic Johnson style, he writes:
"We have junked the old Tory opposition to the variable fee. We have jettisoned our sour, mealy-mouthed and intellectually incoherent programme for government to go around dynamiting so-called Mickey Mouse courses in the hope of reducing the cost of higher education. We have ceased to sound hostile to universities or their expansion, because we believe in them. Call me starry-eyed, but I still think the main point of a university education is to achieve a personal intellectual transformation, and who knows, an emotional and spiritual transformation as well. The evidence seems to be that this transformation is, additionally, of huge economic importance. If Universities UK says our universities contribute £45bn to the economy, I am not going to quibble."
Mr Johnson goes on to say that the "Conservative vision for the future of these universities… is that Britain should be the Athens of the global economy, the place any intelligent person might think of going for a civilised and valuable education – just as people across the ancient world would go to study in Athens."
In what is the first of a regular series of dispatches for The Guardian on the university sector, he sets out some of the policy instuments that the Tories might use:
- Continued taxpayer funding because "investment in HE represents a thoroughly good return for the taxpayer";
- The use of matching government funds to encourage endowments and other incentivisation of giving to the university sector;
- Asset sales for endowments and he notes sympathy for the principle behind the 2001 Tory manifesto idea to endow universities with the proceeds of selling Channel 4;
- The ‘variable fee’ or tuition fee is here to stay;
- More freedom for universities to run themselves.