The new variable fees regime starting this year will make a strong contribution to giving our universities the funding they need. It is providing, for the first time in a generation, a step change in funding for our universities while maintaining access. We have made it clear that we shall appoint an independent commission to look at the performance of the new system in 2009, and that no changes to the cap will be made before the commission has reported to Parliament.
I am very grateful for that response. It is worth reminding the House that it was this Government who legislated to ban top-up fees and the anarchy and cut-throat competition that they would have produced. It is important to have a system, but every time it changes there is a dip in the number of applications, so will my hon. Friend redouble his efforts to ensure that young people in particular are aware of the advantages that the new funding scheme brings both to them and to universities, and encourage young people to take up those opportunities?
I thank my hon. Friend. We should certainly do that. We should take some encouragement from the fact that the underlying trend in applications this year is upwards. We also need to continue with the joint communications campaign that we have established to get across the real benefits of the new student financial support system that is coming in this September. For example, students no longer have to pay before they go to university and only pay the money back when they are in work and earning more than £15,000 a year. The repayment terms are very affordable and, crucially, for students from poorer backgrounds, we are bringing back non-repayable grants. I am confident that if we get those messages across, we will get many more people going to university.
The student income and expenditure survey this year found that one in four students considered not going to university because of concerns about debt. Does the Minister not think that lifting the cap would only make the situation worse?
I have made the position on the cap clear. I saw that piece of research and it simply does not bear out in any way, shape or form the reality of what is happening with applications for this academic year. If that were the true situation, we would see a significant downturn in applications. I am sometimes challenged about the stance of the Liberal Democrats on this issue. In Scotland, under the Scottish Executive, where the Liberal Democrats are in a partnership Government, they are supporting a postgraduate repayment system that, in principle, is no different from the system that we are bringing in this year.