It seems as if the tension may be getting to some Liberal Democrats. I just called Lady Sharp, who is – it transpires – the party’s higher education spokeswoman in the House of Lords. Sharp is quoted in this morning’s Guardian prevaricating over tonight’s tuition fees vote. (“She pointed out that, even on official calculations, £2.7bn of the £10bn due to be lent annually to students will not be repaid.”)

With only a few hours to go before the peers’ voting, the peer still claims to be undecided: “I’m going to make up my mind during the debate,” she told me before hanging up the phone.

Alex has written several times in recent months about the huge cost of lending students interest-free loans to pay for their education. For example here. As he wrote back in July, the subsidy works out as 23p in the £1, according to IFS research.

It seems that Vince Cable is now moving towards a “graduate contribution” which could fall somewhat harder on high earners than low earners. It is likely to be combined with a loosening of the cap on fees, which the Russell Group of top universities – and others – want scrapped. (Lord Browne’s review of tuition fees is expected in October). Read more