Any political party that claims it could axe tuition fees will have no hope of gaining the public’s trust, business secretary Vince Cable has said.
Despite winning thousands of student supporters ahead of the 2010 election with their pledge to fight a rise in university costs, the Liberal Democrats broke their promise. Two years ago, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and his party backed government legislation to hike charges up to a maximum of £9,000 per year.
Speaking at the party's conference in Glasgow, Cable insisted that the Lib Dems had 'moved on' from the 'rancour and damage' of the tuition fees scandal but suggested that voters would not fall for the same promise to banish them again.
"What in effect we have done in government is to create a form of graduate tax," he explained. "It is not described in that way but that is what it is and it means nobody goes to university and has to pay upfront fees."
Arguing that, unlike 'every other area of the public sector', universities are in a solid financial condition, Cable admitted, "We, and other major parties, are not going to go back to free tuition. We have had a traumatic episode as a result of the pledge and what followed it, but we no longer need to look back.
"After two years, we have seen the benefits. The demand to go to university has been unaffected. Crucially, from the point of view of those worried about this policy, applications and admissions from students from underprivileged backgrounds are at a record level.
"We have got a good policy, which is good for universities and good for social mobility."
Cable did, however, back an amendment brought by Lib Dem Youth stating that education should 'never be based on an individual's ability to afford it'.