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Overseas Students

Volume 982: debated on Tuesday 1 April 1980

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4.

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the total number of overseas students attending universities and colleges on advanced further education courses in the present academic year; and what estimate is now made of the total number of such students in the next academic year.

The total number of such students in the present academic year is not yet known, but in 1978–79 there were 59,000 at universities and on advanced courses at maintained, grant-aided and assisted establishments of further education in Great Britain. I cannot predict at this stage what the total number will be in 1980–81.

Does the Secretary of State agree with the president of the Association of University Teachers that numbers of overseas students in universities will decline by about half by 1983? Will he confirm the report that appeared on Monday in The Times that the Government will allow students from the EEC to be charged at the home rate, at a saving of up to £4,000? If that is so, does he accept that the new non-discrimination protocol, signed under the Lomé convention, must require that the Government extend a similar facility to students from the New Commonwealth and from the ACP countries? Does he further accept that if the Government fail to do so they will be guilty of the grossest discrimination against the poorest students?

I think that the hon. Gentleman has asked four questions in that one supplementary question. I shall try to deal with them in order or at least attempt three out of four. I do not accept his view about the likely drop in the number of students, and I remind him that, according to UCCA returns, applications are 10 per cent. down on last year and only 3 per cent. down on the year before. As regards his second question, I have today answered a written question from the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) that concerns students from the EEC countries. As regards the third and fourth questions, I do not accept that the effect will be as stated by the hon. Gentleman.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the Labour Government attempted to reduce the numbers of overseas students by means of a quota system because there had been a large increase over the past 10 years, and that this attempt was to no avail?

I totally agree with my hon. Friend. The situation today is that despite the intention of the previous Labour Government to impose a declining quota, the numbers have increased. Against a figure slightly in excess of 35,000 overseas students in the universities at present, only a figure in excess of 29,000 is covered by recurrent grants.

A home student is defined as someone who has been ordinarily resident in this country for the previous three years.

In England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland so far as I know, but I shall confirm to the right hon. Gentleman whether I am right. An overseas student is someone who has not normally been resident in this country for the previous three years.

How can the Secretary of State justify the Exchequer spending £5 million on subsidising students from the EEC while at the same time people from Third world countries are denied places in our universities as a result of the extortionate increase in students' fees?

What The Times said yesterday was that if the Government were to agree that those from the EEC countries should be treated as home students, the cost in the final third year would be £5 million. The answer to the hon. Gentleman, who I thought was a supporter of the EEC, is that there is a draft directive before the EEC that recommends that all students from each EEC country should be considered as home students throughout the EEC.

I accept that our primary duty is to our own students, but, bearing in mind the importance of overseas students to our economy and to good international relations, if the figures prove to be substantially lower will my right hon. and learned Friend reconsider the issue?

If the situation turned out to be totally different from that which the Government believe it will be, we would, as with any other matter of policy, look at the issue again. There is no question of our not wishing overseas students to come to this country. The fact is that their numbers have increased by more than 300 per cent. in the past 10 years, and we do not believe that the British taxpayer should be expected to sudsidise them to the tune of £100 million a year, irrespective of either the income or the country of origin of the individual student.