Business Secretary Vince Cable has fuelled speculation that Cambridge and other Russell Group Universities could go private in the near future.

In a speech given at the Girls’ Schools Association Conference, he cited the threat of privatisation as one of the key reasons for government plans to increase tuition fees, stating that “fees keep universities public.”

His comments follow media speculation earlier in the month that Cambridge was planning to go private as a result of reforms in government funding for Higher Education institutions.

The Comprehensive Spending Review, released on the 20th October, outlined plans to slash the budget for Higher Education by 40 per cent over the next four years. Lord Browne’s controversial report proposed lifting the current tuition fee cap of £3,290 a year in order to replace the money lost in cuts to state funding.

Cable pointed out that the Browne Review had originally proposed removing the cap on fees entirely, but this had been rejected by the government due to concerns that it would unduly affect students from poorer backgrounds. The current government proposals stand at annual fees of £9,000, on the condition that institutions take adequate measures to improve access.

Speaking at the conference, Cable said, “One of the reasons we are doing this is precisely to head off Oxford, Cambridge, London School of Economics, University College London from going private, because if we had not opened up the system in the way we have, they would have had a very strong incentive to do so. Whether we will head them off or not, I don’t know.”

Cable indicated that the government had been under pressure from particular institutions to lift the cap on fees, but stated that universities would be much less likely to privatise under the current proposals, which, he claimed, would be profitable for them.

“It’s a little bit like bankers who say if you’re going to put some kind of tax on us we’ll run away to Singapore. Universities have been playing this game with us – let us have unlimited fees or we’ll privatise. I don’t believe it.

“I think what we’re proposing is a fair settlement which will provide them with enough income to provide high quality education and which is also fair to the pupils”.

Cambridge-alumnus Cable said that he would “very much regret it” if the University did privatise, but said that he found it hard to imagine either Cambridge or Oxford taking this step, primarily due to the complicated logistics of the collegiate system.

Cambridge has stated that “the University has no position on these matters,” and responses from fellows have been profoundly ambivalent.