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Higher Education

Volume 129: debated on Tuesday 15 March 1988

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9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans he has for increasing the number of places available to students in higher education; and if he will make a statement.

The Government remain committed to the principle that places should be available for all who have the necessary intellectual competence, motivation and maturity to benefit from higher education and who wish to do so. We are confident that our expenditure plans provide for institutions to meet this demand.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is a major pillar of his Department's policy that higher education should be made widely available to every 18-year-old or other person who wishes to seek it? Will he also confirm that major progress is being made towards the commitment to increase the numbers in higher education by 50,000 by 1990?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Important progress is being made. I have some interesting figures on student numbers and participation rates under the present Government compared with what happened under their predecessors. Between 1975 and 1979, participation fell by 9·5 per cent. and numbers rose by only 4·3 per cent. Between 1979 and 1986 participation rose by 12·9 per cent. and numbers rose by 18·9 per cent. under this Government.

Will the Minister confirm that if the growing numbers of students from outside the United Kingdom want to take advantage of further education in the United Kingdom under the EEC directive, students in the United Kingdom will not be penalised and there will be enough places for them if they are qualified?

There is room within our system for people to come from other countries of the European Community and we benefit from reciprocal arrangements with those countries. At the moment the traffic is more or less equal.

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is considerable evidence that people entering higher education at a much later age than 18 frequently get more out of it than 18-year-olds? If he does, will he confirm that he will do everything in his power to make it easier for such people to achieve access to higher education, which is so important?

My hon. Friend has touched on an important theme. By the middle of the next decade there will be a reduction by a third in the number of 18-year-olds in our population and it will be necessary, as well as desirable — as my hon. Friend said — to increase participation by mature people and part-time students.

Will the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to attract mature students and make it easier for them to get into higher education, instead of leaking stories about student loans, which would clearly make it difficult for them? What will he do to develop access courses and provide proper grants for mature students so as to attract them and to fulfil his policy of making a larger proportion of the student population consist of mature students?

I have already described the enormous expansion of higher education under the Government. On the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about loans, it is interesting to make international comparisons. They are difficult to make—[Interruption]—but, comparing the United Kingdom with the Federal Republic of Germany, we see that the average value of a loan paid to a student is £2,000 a year, and roughly 15 per cent. of new entrants to universities are from manual working class backgrounds, whereas in Britain, which has no loans and the most generous grant provision in the world, only 6 per cent. come from manual working-class backgrounds—[Interruption.]

Order. I appeal to the House once again to listen to Question Time. These are important matters of great concern to hon. Members and to people outside.