Just when it seemed that higher education policy in the UK could not get more bewildering, the government and Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) today find themselves at odds over the funding council's draft strategy for 2003–08.

Among other things this document, released today, sets benchmarks for attaining numbers of students in higher education from less privileged socio-economic groups.

But the Department for Education and Skills (DFES) is widely reported to have said that Charles Clarke, secretary of state for education, wants HEFCE to reconsider these benchmarks.

Though spokespeople for the DFES repeatedly told The Scientist they were unable to confirm or deny this, a spokesman for HEFCE said the Council will be reviewing its benchmarks in the light of comments by Charles Clarke.

That this furore should erupt publicly is surprising because HEFCE deliberately withheld publication of the strategy document while it waited for the government...

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