The public would not believe any political party which claimed at the next general election that it could scrap university tuition fees, Business Secretary Vince Cable said on Monday.
Cable said the Lib Dems had moved on from the "rancour and damage" of the party's broken pledge not to support any rise in tuition fees at the last election. Two years ago Lib Dem MPs supported Government legislation, increasing tuition fees to £9,000 a year for students paying the full amount.
Speaking during a policy motion at the party's conference in Glasgow, which will help form the party's manifesto at the next election, Cable said he backed an amendment brought by Lib Dem Youth stating education should "never be based on an individual's ability to afford it".
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And he told activists voters would not believe any party claiming to axe fees at the next election.
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Cable said: "What in effect we have done in government is to create a form of graduate tax. It is not described that way but that is what it is and it means nobody goes to university and has to pay upfront fees.
"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 under-privileged backgrounds are at a record level. Much of that is due to the work that our people have done.
"We have a situation where universities, unlike every other area of the public sector, are in good financial condition, expanding in quantity and quality.
"We, and other major parties, are not going to go back to free tuition. Even if a party promised it, I don't think the public would believe them. I think the key thing that I get out of this debate is that we have moved on. We have had a traumatic episode as a result of the pledge and what followed it. But we no longer need to look back.
"We have got a good policy, which is good for universities and good for social mobility."
An amendment committed to a review of the fees system in the next parliament, with a view to reforming the system and leaving the door open to abolishing fees in a "feasible and cost-effective way".
The amended paper was agreed by delegates.