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Osborne the strategist

The chancellor has made it almost impossible for his Labour opposition and Liberal Democrat coalition partners to oppose the expansion of student numbers, writes Andy Westwood.

Everyone in higher education is still digesting the commitment made by George Osborne in the chancellor’s autumn statement to expand home undergraduate places by 30,000 next year and by around 60,000 when the cap comes off in 2015-16. Much of the focus has been on the financial implications and the economic arguments, but the political implications of the announcement and the way it is to be funded are perhaps even more important.

There are potentially significant consequences for each of the three main parties as they approach the 2015 general election. One strange twist to the announcement is that it feels like a role reversal. Members of the Labour Party are in danger of sounding like the party in government if they respond with technocratic detail about affordability while, bizarrely, the Conservatives sound more a party in opposition—making pledges to expand with great sound bites (“no cap on aspiration”) but with questionable funding calculations.

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