Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Battle Won, but Maybe Not the War

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Battle Won, but Maybe Not the War

Article excerpt

With the government poised to shelve its HE bill, opponents of pro- market plans have scored a victory, however partial or fleeting.

Suggestions this week that the fat lady had sung a funeral dirge for the higher education reforms were doubtless premature. But David Cameron does appear to have done a bit of warbling for her, and David Willetts may not have liked the tune. The government is believed to be on the verge of shelving a major plank of the proposed reforms, delaying indefinitely the bill that was due to go before Parliament this spring.

It was expected to include major regulatory reforms, introducing legislation to make it easier for private companies to get involved in higher education. However, in a tale that is already operatic in its twists and turns, Mr Cameron is said to have intervened.

Bruised by the battle to reform the NHS and mindful of fierce Liberal Democrat opposition, he has apparently indicated that "the whole thing is off the table".

None of this has been officially confirmed - Mr Willetts said only that there would be "further discussion in Cabinet in the next couple of weeks". And it must be remembered that many of the changes - the Pounds 9,000 fee cap, the AAB plans and "core and margin" - are already in place.

Nevertheless, the brakes appear to have been applied on a key plank of the proposals, and most will see it as a victory (albeit a partial and perhaps temporary one) for those who are opposed to the reforms.

As has been pointed out, the lack of a coherent and committed response from vice-chancellors to the shake-up has been striking, but the higher education unions have been trenchant, if predictable, in their opposition, and Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, has also maintained the pressure on government. …

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