Via Mark Leach I discover that the Telegraph is reporting that the HE Bill is to be dropped. These kinds of rumours always circulate, but if Willetts is quoted as saying “There’s going to be a further discussion in Cabinet in the next couple of weeks. There’s no final decision either way yet.” then clearly there is something to this one.
Currently we are still being regulated by HEFCE under existing powers. This works for two reasons (1) because the non-public actors (whom HEFCE can't currently regulate) are such a minor part of the picture and (2) because we all still have very substantial HEFCE grant. HEFCE's only power is the power to set conditions on grants. As the grants diminish, so does the power. Currently, new entrants are not really clamouring to get in to the English sector so a delay in legislation will not be fatal, but the day is not far off (in fact it is a couple of years away) when a significant group of universities are not in receipt of enough HEFCE grant to make it worth their while to obey Student Number Control limits.When that happens, BIS will lose control of the HE budget.
So whatever discussions may happen in Cabinet, the Bill is coming and will have to come before too long. They can run, but they can't hide.
Update Guardian also now covering this story. If the Guardian and the Telegraph agree it must have legs...