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Students (Parental Contribution)

Volume 33: debated on Tuesday 7 December 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the estimated proportion of students in higher education deemed to be in receipt of parental contributions; and what proportion of these is estimated as being in receipt of such contributions in full.

A parental contribution is assessed to be payable in respect of 70 per cent. dependent students who have a mandatory or full value discretionary award. My Department has no information on the proportion of those students who receive the assessed contribution in full.

Is there not something radically wrong with a system of parental contributions that is basically no more nor less than a tax in excess of 51 per cent. on the marginal income of hundreds of thousands of parents? Does my hon. Friend further agree that the system divides university students into those whose parents are rich, those whose parents are poor and who therefore receive the full grant, and those whose parents are in the middle and often receive nothing like the full grant? As students are basically independent adults, should not this be dealt with through the Exchequer and through taxation rather than through the education budget? What is my hon. Friend's attitude to that?

My hon. Friend constantly offers me the support of money from the Treasury rather than from my own departmental budget. I can do nothing but welcome that. Nevertheless, the programme that he recommends would be extremely expensive, whether the money came from tax relief or from the education budget.

As grants have been cut in real terms in the past two years and the Government propose to make a further cut for the coming year, which area of expenditure does the Minister suggest that students should cut—books or food?

The number of students receiving mandatory awards has increased by about 50,000 since the Government came to power. There have to be economies somewhere. It is clear that the demand from students is in no way diminishing.

Since many parents do not make their full financial contribution, would not a loans scheme assist students whose financial position is undermined as a result?

Yes, I think that it would be possible to devise a loans scheme that would help in that respect.

Is the Minister aware that many students whose parents are deemed to be able to pay a contribution towards their children's upkeep but refuse to do so are prevented from taking up places on courses and pursuing their education? Is he further aware that those whose parents are not deemed to be able to support them are able to take up places? Does not that wholly unfair state of affairs require radical change in the way suggested by the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow)?

I repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, North (Mr. Marlow). Demand from students shows no sign whatever of falling.

As the schedule defining the contributions is legally defective, due to sloppy workmanship on the part of the Minister's officials, when will the Minister introduce amending regulations to correct the errors?