By Ray Fleming

DAVID Cameron is probably right in thinking that some poor and disadvantaged young people may be deterred from applying for university entry by misleading or incomplete recent publicity about increased tuition fees. He is also right to want to ensure that “every potential student has access to all the facts about costs, benefits and opportunities of further and higher education”. Where he is wrong, however, is in appointing Simon Hughes MP, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, for six months as an unpaid advocate to undertake the task of facilitating this access. The job should be done on a continuing basis by a minister of the responsible department, backed up by professional assistance in communications, publicity and, if necessary, advertising.

Simon Hughes is being asked to promote the beneficial provisions of a university policy which he refused to vote for when it was presented to the House of Commons only a few weeks ago. What has changed his mind? If the opportunities for poorer students are already part of the package why did he not vote for it? It is quite likely that his appointment has more to do with the internal difficulties of the government coalition after the Vince Cable embarrassment than with Mr Hughes' qualifications for the task in hand. And, although he is a skilled parliamentarian, his acceptance of this government assignment will certainly diminish his effectiveness as the Lib Dem's principal critic of the coalition.


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