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Overseas Students

Volume 20: debated on Tuesday 16 March 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what saving of public money has resulted from the increase in overseas students fees; and what proportion of the saving relates to Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth students respectively.

About £40 million of the previous £100 million total subsidy has so far been withdrawn. Under the old system, just over half the beneficiaries came from the Commonwealth.

Is proper priority now being given to Commonwealth students? Have Her Majesty's Government in mind the special position of Cyprus, which has no institutions of higher learning?

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has made available from his budget an increased number of bursuaries for Cypriots under the Commonwealth plan and the Government's plan for 1981–82. Indeed, the scheme administered on behalf of my Department by the committee of vice-chancellors has also made available support for outstanding postgraduate students. When the Overseas Students Trust report is concluded in the spring we shall be in a better position to see the overall picture on Cyprus.

How does the Minister justify the extra subsidy that the Government have now decided to give EEC students as a result of halving the home student fee, while giving no help to Third world students who need the money a great deal more? Will he make any further exceptions along the lines of the EEC subsidy?

Britain is a great beneficiary of the trade in students between the European Community and itself. On the latest figures available, about 4, 000 students from Britain go to Europe, whereas under 3, 000 students come here from the whole of the Community. Therefore, the balance of advantages is still very firmly with us.

Will my hon. Friend give great: weight to the report of the Overseas Students Trust, when it is released, on the options open to the Government'? When doing so, will he bear in mind the special position of dependent territories such as Hong Kong?

Does the Minister realise that this Draconian action against students from overseas is diminishing all the richness and diversity that they bring with them? Worse, it means that the wealthiest students come here instead of our disseminating education to those who need it most. Is this not a wretched approach?

The approach by means of funds earmarked by the Overseas Development Administration for the poorest students is aimed at meeting that problem in part. The hon. Gentleman's Government recognised that the old open-ended system could not continue and, of course, were the first significantly to increase overseas students' fees.

Would not my hon. Friend be well advised to carry out a comprehensive review of these increases and give a little more attention to long-term trends in the Commonwealth and to the need to improve political and commercial relationships between Britain and the Commonwealth, rather than concentrating so much on next year's departmental budget?

It is exactly for that reason that my Department, with other Departments, has given full co-operation to the Overseas Students Trust, which is producing a major report in the spring.

Will the Minister take into account the fact that it is impossible to visit any Commonwealth country or to speak in Britain to people visiting us from the Commonwealth without being made aware of the dismay and upset that they feel at Britain having turned its back on students from those countries?

That is a considerable exaggeration. We still take a large number of overseas students from Third world countries, especially from Third world Commonwealth countries. The numbers entering universities last year fell less dramatically than was predicted by some Labour Members.