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Overseas Students

Volume 929: debated on Monday 28 March 1977

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asked the Minister of Overseas Development what plans she has to assist the education of overseas students from underdeveloped countries.


asked the Minister of Overseas Development what steps she is taking to ensure that the number of students from developing countries is not greatly reduced by the increase in tuition fees announced for the academic year 1977–78.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Overseas Development
(Mr. John Tomlinson)

My right hon. Friend will continue to pay the tuition fees of students who come to this country under our technical co-operation programmes. On 29th November her predecessor announced that we would make a substantial contribution towards the increase in fees for some 600 other students from developing countries who, having already enrolled for courses starting in the academic year 1977–78, would otherwise suffer hardship.

As education is one of the most valuable aids that we can give to underdeveloped countries, will my hon. Friend take into account the unfairness of the fact that overseas students have to pay additional tuition fees in order to study here? Will he also consider the possibility of using some of his Department's budget in order to encourage some overseas students to come here and to take up some of the vacant places which exist in colleges of education in Scotland and elsewhere?

We certainly bear all those points in mind, but we should also remember that our primary objective continues to be to assist the poorer countries to build up and use their own institutions for education and training. While advance training in the United Kingdom in disciplines of developmental relevance is important, we must not in any way lose sight of the main objective of trying to achieve greater self-sufficiency in education provision in the developing countries themselves.

Will my hon. Friend acknowledge that the schemes which he has indicated, although welcome, affect predominantly only students already on courses? What about the deterrent effects of such high fees upon Third World countries and their Governments in sending students here? What will be done about that problem?

We obviously bear in mind all the serious repercussions of the decisions which have been made. I remind the House, however, that in the year 1975–76 some 8,000 overseas students were brought to the United Kingdom at a cost of some £12 million to the aid budget. No one would suggest that that is an insignificant contribution in terms of education and serving the educational needs of developing countries.

Is the Minister aware that concern on this matter is not confined to one side of the House? Will he undertake to be in touch with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to emphasise the fact that many Members are profoundly concerned about the future of the overseas student programme and wish to see it maintained?

I readily recognise that concern on this matter extends to all parts of the House. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Overseas Development is having discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science on the matters which he raised.

Is the Minister aware that many people in universities and elsewhere are gravely concerned about the present position? Has he made any estimate of the likely decline in the number of overseas students which may result from the Government's present policy?

I am aware of the grave concern which is felt. The question of an estimate of the decline is not a matter primarily for the Ministry of Overseas Development. Rather it is one for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. But I must remind the House that all kinds of unpalatable consequences stem from the restraints on public expenditure which the House has had to recognise over the past two or three years.

Would my hon. Friend agree that one of the most important ways in which we can help education vis-à-vis the underdeveloped countries is in the teaching of the English language, which for many people in those countries will be the main route to modern science and technology? Has his Ministry taken steps in the past year or so, since unsatisfactory answers were given to me, to speed up and to step up the programme of English language teaching in under-developed countries?

This is obviously a very important area of education policy in relation to developing countries. It does not stem directly from this Question, because the matter of English language teaching is related to the question of teaching people in the overseas countries themselves rather than to the problem of bringing students here. As I said earlier, our primary objective continues to be to assist the poorer countries to build up and use their own resources. In pursuit of that objective, the teaching of the English language in the developing countries is an important part of their programmes.