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Higher Education

Volume 264: debated on Wednesday 18 October 1995

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To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many students will enter higher education in 1995–96. [36032]

Since 1979–80, the number of full-time entrants to higher education has more than doubled. Our expenditure plans for 1995–96 assume some 44,500 entrants to full-time higher education. As my hon. Friend will understand, the actual intakes for the 1995–96 academic session are not yet known.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and I congratulate him on his promotion, which is particularly appropriate given that he represents an ancient city, Aberdeen, with an ancient university. Does my hon. Friend remember the forecasts by the professional pessimists that the introduction of student loans would lead to a reduction in the number of students attending university? Do not those prove that the Opposition's policies and forecasts are wrong and that they cannot be trusted?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I thank him for his kind words. In 1993–94—the last year for which figures are available—132,509 students were in full-time higher education courses in Scotland, compared with only 68,322 in 1978–1979. That is a testament both to this Government's commitment to higher education in Scotland and to the increasing confidence which Scots and others of all ages and backgrounds have in pursuing all of the opportunities available in higher education in Scotland.

Did the Minister see the survey during the summer which highlighted the fact that there has been a 30 per cent. increase in the number of students leaving university for non-academic reasons? Is it not shameful that a rising number of young people are being forced to abandon their studies because of poverty? Is that not damaging for the country as a whole at a time when there is a skills barrier preventing further economic growth?

I am a newcomer to the Dispatch Box, so you will correct me if I am wrong, Madam Speaker, but is it possible to repeat my previous answer, as the hon. Gentleman was obviously not listening? There are greater numbers of young people and others in higher education than ever before. We are spending record amounts of money on student support—£386 million last year alone. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that that is not enough? If it is not, will he write and tell me how much is?