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Universities plot to put squeeze on Government

Vice-chancellors are plotting a secret campaign to sell the message that Labour may not be elected for a second term unless it gives the universities more money.

A confidential paper, which has been seen by The TES, outlines the campaign strategy of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and reveals that they are worried about their reputation for being "whingers".

The paper expresses concern that the CVCP might send out the wrong message on tuition fees for students. It would prefer to be seen as helping to solve the problem of under-funding, rather than as confrontational.

This week the CVCP presented its demand for extra money as part of the comprehensive spending review (CSR) being carried out by Government.

The confidential document says: "CVCP's campaign strategy, over the next six months, is to undertake a highly focused, politically-driven campaign to persuade the key CSR decision-makers that the consequences of not addressing the current funding shortfall would become a political liability in the 20012002 election campaign - if not sooner..."

This would be achieved by presenting its case to ministers and "cascading the campaign out" with targeted briefings.

The paper says people outside higher education will assume that "the funding problem is solved by the introduction of tuition fees". . ."If there is still a funding problem, then the row about tuition fees was pointless," it says, adding that "calls from universities for more funding is just another case of universities whingeing".

The paper accepts that schools and colleges "have relatively strong claims" for funding but stresses the university role in lifelong learning.

There was tight control over public spending, "however, the core Government objective is to secure a second term of office in 20012002. In addition ministers will also want to avoid accusations that insufficient resources are in place over the short term, for fear of stoking up opposition to tuition fees."

Time is short, it says. "A loud campaign on its own will convey a sense of activity - but is unlikely to be met with understanding and sympathy by decision-makers. It also carries the risk of sending the wrong messages in relation to tuition fees...Our emphasis should be on co-operation about a shared problem, whilst making clear the potential dangers of not addressing our case."

Finally, the paper recommends that the universities should press their case through news coverage, features, speeches and other media exposure to ensure the "'background noise' is as helpful as possible".

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