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Student Grants

Volume 932: debated on Tuesday 17 May 1977

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what are the latest figures available for the numbers of students who receive mandatory and discretionary grants; how this proportion has changed over a recent convenient period; and what steps she is taking to make a higher proportion of grants mandatory.

In 1975–76 there were about 56,000 discretionary major awards and 324,000 mandatory awards. In 1970–71 the comparable figures were 66,000 and 294,000 respectively. My Department, in conjunction with the local authority associations, will shortly be making a survey of local authority practice with regard to discretionary awards and my right hon. Friend will review the position when the results are known.

Does my hon. Friend accept that, although the whole House welcomes the steps which the Government are taking, there is now an urgent need to tighten up on the provision of discretionary awards and that thousands of students or would-be students are already fearful of what will happen with the election of so many Tory-controlled county councils, which will be very unwilling to give some of these much-needed discretionary awards?

I appreciate the need for urgency. As I have told the House, we are having a survey. Before action is taken, we must know the facts, and we are expecting to know those facts during this summer.

Is the Minister a strong supporter of the Open University? If he is, is he aware that, because of the heavy cut-back in public expenditure and the pruning of expenditure which local authorities have had to undertake on the Government's instructions, the Open University is suffering and that many people who rightly seek discretionary grants are unable to get them because the counties do not have the money?

I am a great supporter of the Open University. I am somewhat surprised that the hon. Gentleman is a great supporter of increased public expenditure.

Can my hon. Friend or anyone else explain to me how it is that the Conservative Party, while advocating and pressing for enormous cuts in expenditure, gets very annoyed when we make any cuts in expenditure?