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Vince’s biggest mistake

Back in mid-October, Vince Cable did not believe in tuition fees of £9,000. After John Browne delivered his review, Cable told the House of Commons that he was considering raising the cap to £7,000. But somewhere along the line he got turned over. Forget Sky – two discoveries in the past 24 hours have convinced me that this will go down in history as Vince’s biggest mistake.

The first is a new opinion poll in Scotland that shows overwhelming support for the introduction of tuition fees there. Fully 65 per cent of voters back fees at the level of £4,000. This tells us that sharply higher tuition fees in themselves are not an unpopular policy, especially at a time when we all know we’ve got to tighten our belts. If the Conservatives in Scotland stick to introducing fees at that sort of level, their pro-fees policy could be a big plus for them in the coming elections.

The second is a long conversation with William Nelson, who produced the report for the LV= insurance firm earlier this week highlighting the big impact that high fees will have with more students choosing to live at home. What is very clear from his attitudinal survey is that there is a tipping point somewhere between £6,000 and £9,000. Below the tipping point, the vast majority of both prospective students and parents see the fees as a reasonable price for a degree from a typical university. Above the tipping point, the outrage kicks in.

Vince’s political instincts back in October were right. £9,000 is just too high. What a shame for his party, the Coalition and the country that he didn’t go back and fight with the Quartet for the money that would have made £7,000 possible.