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Universities (Financial Support)

Volume 300: debated on Thursday 13 November 1997

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15.

If he will make a statement on the level of financial support for universities in 1998–99. [14336]

We have taken decisive action to deal with the serious funding problems facing universities. For 1998–99, my right hon. Friend has announced that an extra £165 million will be spent on higher education, including an extra £125 million to enable universities and colleges to maintain and improve quality and standards, and to make a start on the backlog of maintenance and equipment replacement.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. The Secretary of State's announcement of £165 million for higher education is a tremendous support. Will my hon. Friend seriously consider one aspect of the Dearing report which has been overlooked? Universities face a crisis in funding for research, infrastructure and equipment, for which £400 million to £500 million is required. I urge him to reconsider the funding proposals or make additional funding available.

We are examining the issue carefully. We are worried about the fact that some colleges and universities have closed important research sectors in their institutions. We are talking to colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry and in other Departments concerned with this issue, and we shall ensure that this country retains an excellent research base.

Will the Minister confirm that he has already taken the decision to withdraw from local education authorities the power to make discretionary awards to students in higher education? Why has he done that without proper consultation? Is he aware that, in taking away those discretionary awards, he is also taking away the student's right to the appeal process? In Surrey county, that process has enabled up to 40 per cent. of students to get at least part of the award for which they had applied.