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Higher Education

Volume 406: debated on Monday 9 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what measures he plans to introduce to widen participation in higher education for (a) ethnic minorities, (b) people with disabilities and (c) those of working class backgrounds. [108270]

We are committed to widening participation in higher education for under-represented groups. While ethnic minorities are generally well represented in higher education, we recognise that there are pockets of under-representation. The Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service are looking to see what data are available for monitoring purposes.Through amendments to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, which came into effect in September 2002, we have made it unlawful for institutions to discriminate against disabled students in their admissions procedures. HEFCE has, since last year, included benchmark figures for participation by disabled students in its performance indicators for higher education. We have improved the assessment of Disabled Students Allowances, which are now being completed well before the start of the course, giving disabled students confidence about the level and nature of support.In order to widen participation to those from working class backgrounds, we need to raise levels of attainment, raise aspirations and encourage more applications. Our Aimhigher programme helps universities, colleges and schools to work together to achieve this, and we have recently announced an extension of this programme into 86 new areas over the next three years. The Office for Fair Access will encourage further improvements to widening access through access agreements, which will set out the universities' plans to offer bursaries and other financial support, encourage more applicants from less advantaged backgrounds, and which will include their own ambitions. If there are any particular issues around specific groups relating to any one university, we would expect that university to have plans to address the problem.

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills if he will make a statement on the funding of higher education after the introduction of top-up fees. [116586]

As set out in the White Paper 'The future of higher education' (Cm 5735), the funding for higher education will increase by over 6 per cent. a year in each of the three years to 2005–06 as a result of the 2002 Spending Review settlement, so that total spending in England in that year will be almost £10 billion. The funding in 2006–07 will be determined through the forthcoming Spending Review, and will be supplemented by additional income generated through the introduction of a graduate contribution scheme for differential fees. The White Paper also made clear, however, that in order to meet the challenges of the future, universities need to develop other non-governmental funding streams. Therefore, in addition to the Graduate Contribution Scheme, the White Paper set out proposals in connection with the development of endowments and maximising donations from alumni.