In opposition, Tony Blair was perfectly clear. "Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education," he said. Eight months later he is the Prime Minister and his words are forgotten. Labour pledges to resist making students pay for their tuition as well as for their living costs were never worth the paper they were written on. For a government that has promised to widen access to tertiary education, this is a devastating blow. Quite where a university system that demands payment and, by definition, must favour the better-off fits into Mr Blair's dream of a "new Britain" remains to be seen.

Of course, something had to be done about the crisis in higher education funding. The Dearing report concluded that universities need an extra pounds 915m by 2000 to deliver a higher education system equipped for the 21st century. Tuition fees were the solution - but there could have been others. Business could have been prevailed upon to meet some of the needs of its future workforce. After all, partnership between business and government is supposedly a central plank of New Labour thinking. As it is, working- class, ethnic-minority and women students - the very groups the Government has pledged itself to empower - are beginning to turn away from the institutions that might set them free from the poverty trap. The danger is that tertiary education will become the preserve of an elite once more. A week tomorrow the NUS begins a week of action in opposition to tuition fees. Its campaign has our support. The Government might care to recall that a few months ago it appeared to support the NUS, too.