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Overseas Students (Fees)

Volume 984: debated on Tuesday 6 May 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about overseas students' fees.

From 1 September 1980 overseas students beginning courses will, in general, be expected to pay full cost fees, and those in mid-course, fees at the subsidised overseas rates. It is intended that students from European Community countries should pay the home rates of fee.

In arriving at those decisions, will the Minister give the estimates of the Department on income resulting from people being trained in this country, and, on returning to their own country, specifying equipment that has to be bought from British manufacturers?

Attempts have been made to quantify that, but none has been satisfactory, either from people who are for or against the increased fees for overseas students. The 10 to 15 years during which there have been increases in foreign students have been years of relative economic decline, so there is no automatic link between the number of foreign students coming to this country—which has tripled in the last 10 years—and the British economic system.

Has there not already been a 12 per cent. reduction in the number of overseas students coming to this country? Is not that reduction likely to be disproportionately from poor students from poor countries? Why is it the Government's policy to allow students from rich countries—including EEC—to continue readily to come to Britain, while the poorest are not able to do so?

I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's attitude to the EEC, because I had always thought that Liberal Members were pro-EEC. Since the EEC is the one area in the world to which we send more students than we receive, I am astonished at the hon. Gentleman's attitude on that point. There is a decrease in the number of applications of 12 per cent. up to the end of March this year compared with last year, and 6 per cent. compared with two years ago. However, it should be remembered that only one in four of those who applied last year was accepted at that time and many must have had the necessary qualifications for acceptance. A fall of between 17 and 20 per cent. in the number of foreign students accepted would not reduce the figures to the numbers planned by the previous Labour Government.

Does my hon. Friend agree that no one asked for the number of foreign students to rise as much as it did over the past 10 years? Does he further agree that it is better to ration by price rather than by quota?

I find myself in total agreement with my hon. Friend. Under the previous system all students were subsidised, and one student in four came from a country where the average income was higher than that in Britain. I remind the House that the ODA will continue to help students from under-developed territories.