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Student Grants

Volume 129: debated on Tuesday 15 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he now expects his review of higher education student funding to be completed; and if he will make a statement.


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he now expects to publish a consultation document on the matter of financial support to students in higher education.

The work of the student support review is expected to be completed by the middle of this year.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the most important things about the review is that nothing is done to discourage the participation in higher education of students from lower-income families, and that nothing is done that would create a particular obstacle to graduates who wish to pursue careers in less well remunerated professions?

I agree with my hon. Friend. In the review that we are undertaking the point of access is very important. I made it clear earlier that we want to increase the possibility of access for many of our young people. Compared to other countries, we are not doing well enough in that regard. It is noticeable that for a long time in most of those countries which have had a system of loans working with grants such a system has not discouraged access.

Does my right hon. Friend have any evidence about the proportion of students who do not receive their full, assessed parental contribution?

This matter is of considerable concern to many students. A survey commissioned by my Department on undergraduate income and expenditure — to be published shortly—has shown that, in 1986–87, 40 per cent. of dependent students failed to receive the full assessed contribution due from their parents. That is an area where a loan system could help considerably.

Can the Secretary of State advise us whether the review took into account the implications of the poll tax for students?

The review is considering the whole range of expenditure by students and their sources of income. The survey upon which I have just commented covers the whole range of income and expenditure.

Does the Secretary of State recall that a few years ago the Tory Government decided to meddle with student grants and the net result was that literally thousands of students, many from middle-class families, came to Westminster to protest? They blocked Westminster bridge, without any provocation from people such as myself, and the net result was that the Tory Government had to back off. Is he aware that if he starts the process again, not only will those students come down to Westminster to lobby, but they will carry out the same exercise and we on the Opposition Benches will support them to the hilt?

I am glad to see the hon. Gentleman putting himself at the head of a middle-class march. The proposals upon which we are working in the review of student support will bear particularly upon the parental contribution, and one of the advantages of loans is that they may substantially reduce the contribution that parents have to make.

Whatever my right hon. Friend's decision, does he agree that higher education is a great privilege that brings great opportunities later in life?

I would agree with that. It is a considerable advantage to go to one of our universities, polytechnics or colleges. There is a growing recognition, supported by the practice in other countries, that students benefit considerably from higher education, so it is reasonable and fair to require them to make some contribution to it.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, coming on top of all the testing times that he has had with the Prime Minister, it is a crying shame that there should be more reports of Cabinet rows and defeats for him, this time on the issue of student loans? However, if he presses ahead with his scheme to replace grants with loans and to cut student grants, that is bound to deny educational opportunity and access to thousands of students from less well off homes, and it will be fought tooth and nail inside and outside the House. Now that he has been rolled over by his colleagues on ILEA and on student loans, will he tell the House when was the last time that he succeeded in Cabinet Committee?

The review is being conducted by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson)—previously by my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) — and myself, and any decision will be collective. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that in other countries, where there is a combination of grants and loans, a higher proportion of young people go to universities, polytechnics and colleges. The review will be published in the summer, and I have a lively expectation that it will be possible to find time for the early implementation of such an important policy.