Responding to attacks from his opposite number John Denham, the Conservative Party’s Universities spokesman David Willetts has used an article in The Guardian to make it clear that a Tory government is committed to increasing university numbers.
Mr Willetts says university expansion is essential for Britain to remain internationally competitive and to kickstart social mobility. In his article Mr Willetts calls for more information to be available to young people about options in higher education and that that information should be made available for schoolchildren when they are considering GCSE and A level options. He also calls for more flexible course models so that older students, in particular, can study part-time or over distance.
Mr Willetts concludes his piece by touching on the thorny issue of finance. David Cameron, when he was Shadow Education Secretary, reversed the Tory policy of opposing top-up fees and Mr Willetts now invites Mr Denham to "establish a truly bipartisan and wide-ranging student finance review to consider the costs and benefits of university expansion".
The 2003 Tory policy to oppose tuition fees was taken on the grounds that university expansion was happening too fast, with serious consequences for the quality of the university experience. Just two years ago, in a pamphlet for Cornerstone, Conservative MP Julian Brazier also struck a different note to that taken by David Willetts (and Michael Gove) now. Mr Brazier called for more emphasis on vocational education and noted that "34% of recent university entrants fail to complete their courses, fail to get a job or fail to get a job that requires a degree."