Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has claimed that the Government’s higher education reforms would turn universities into “engines of social mobility” as he tried to stave off a damaging Liberal Democrat rebellion.
Ahead of a crunch meeting with Lib Dem MPs tonight, Mr Clegg insisted the coalition’s plans – including the highly contentious rise in tuition fees – would break a middle-class stranglehold on university places.
His appeal came as ministers were bracing themselves for Thursday’s vote on the proposals amid signs that Mr Clegg faces a rebellion from Lib Dem MPs who will not go back on their pre-election pledge to oppose a hike in fees.
At least two members of the payroll vote, including transport minister Norman Baker, have not ruled out resigning in protest.
In an article for the Financial Times, Mr Clegg suggested the Government faced a choice between increasing fees or having to “slash university places”
He acknowledged that the plans were “controversial” but insisted they were “the fairest way” to support higher education while cutting the deficit.
He dismissed criticism that the rise in fees would harm social mobility and insisted that that cause had not been served by expanding student numbers in recent years.
“The uncomfortable truth is that the growth in the university population in recent years has done little or nothing to boost social mobility. The student population has become more middle-class dominated,” he wrote.
“The coalition is intent on making our universities more effective engines of social mobility.”
However, he admitted that it would be “many years” before the impact of the policy would be known.