Despite all the progress that we have made in the past decade, too many adults struggle with low or out-of-date skills. A third of employers do not train their staff, and 8 million workers go without training each year. We must tackle those skills challenges to secure a prosperous and fair Britain. Yesterday we signalled our intention to consult on a statutory new right to request time to train, which will allow millions of employees to start a conversation with their employers about how they can become more productive members of staff and enjoy better career prospects. We also believe that that will encourage employers to take up the increasing Government support for training programmes that is available to them.
The Secretary of State will know that for decades Cumbrian Labour Members have sought to establish a higher education institution in the county. Thanks to the Government, we now have the university of Cumbria, Britain’s newest university, which is being funded with more than £100 million. How can the Secretary of State help me to ensure that it meets the needs of local employers?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing the attention of the House to yet another example of the Government’s commitment to investment in higher education. We have all been delighted with the establishment of the university of Cumbria. I suggest that my hon. Friend sit down with university staff to examine the document on higher-level skills that was produced a few weeks ago by my hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education. It sets out all the different ways in which universities can work with local employers to develop foundation degrees, short courses and many other ways of working—full-time and part-time—which can ensure both that the university meets the needs of employers and, equally important, that my hon. Friend’s constituents who want to go to university have the chance to do so close to home, and to study a course that will make a real difference to their lives.
I take those allegations very seriously. The evidence—such as it is—is that this is an isolated example of students apparently being encouraged to rate their institution more highly than they might have done unprompted, and I utterly condemn it. I know that the Higher Education Funding Council will take this matter very seriously. It is very important, not least to universities and students, that people can have full confidence in the national student survey, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that Ministers will want to make sure that action is taken should there be any breaches of the protocol.
Of course we will keep the level of those fees under review and look at what happens. It is important to say, however, that the ESOL budget has trebled since 2001, and we expect it to rise in real terms over the course of the comprehensive spending review. This whole exercise is about making sure that ESOL reaches those who need it most. A further consultation is currently under way on the suggested principle that, where areas have to set priorities, they should prioritise long-term residents with a commitment to this country who make the biggest impact on community cohesion, rather than transitory migrant workers who may not be here in a year or two.
I am sure that the Secretary of State will be aware of the recent Foreign Office decision to cut massively the support that it offers students from other countries through Chevening and Commonwealth scholarships. Was the Secretary of State consulted in advance on that Foreign Office proposal, does he accept that it has caused widespread concern among our universities, and will he urge the Foreign Office to reopen this decision, which is harming the international links of our universities?
We are discussing this matter with the Foreign Office. It is part of the Foreign Office’s process of focusing on its key strategic priorities, such as climate change, security and counter-terrorism. Notwithstanding that, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is maintaining a global programme with a particular focus on countries such as China and India that are of real long-term importance to the UK, and the FCO expects more than 900 Chevening scholarships by 2008-09, so this is still a substantial programme. Nevertheless, I am talking to the Foreign Office about this matter.
My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. The Government are doing a number of things already. We have reformed the training system through Train to Gain, so it should be easier for employers to influence the provision in local colleges to meet the needs of these industries. We have developed a national skills academy with the process industries, to make sure that we have the right infrastructure of training. Also, as we have discussed, it is now much easier for companies to work with universities to develop appropriate courses and degrees. Having said all that, we recognise that there are industries that are vital to the future of this country and that can project a clear need for skills in the future, and we must look at those key sectors and make sure that the training system is organised to meet their needs. I will be coming to Teesside in, from memory, early June, and perhaps I will have an opportunity to discuss some of these issues locally with the industry and my hon. Friend.
The Secretary of State welcomed the establishment of the university of Cumbria, which means that the administrative county of Somerset is the last in the country not to have a university. Somerset has some university courses, which are administered by Yeovil college and others, but no university. In the light of what he said to the hon. Member for Copeland (Mr. Reed), does he believe that there is a strong case for a university in Somerset?
There may well be, but I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to take a leading role in responding to the new university challenge because the new university centres will go to the places that can put the best case locally to show that they have the capacity to deliver higher education, that it will contribute to the local economy and that it will open up opportunities for participation in higher education that would not otherwise exist. Ultimately, it will not be for me to say that Somerset should have a university, but I encourage people such as him, who think that the potential is there, to get working with partners at local level and be ready to put the case forward when the Higher Education Funding Council opens the process later this year.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I shall point out three things. The further education capital programme of £2.3 billion, which I announced a few weeks ago, will be for new projects. They will all have to meet the new higher green standards that will be published in July, which will give us as high a standard of sustainability as any part of the public sector building programme. HEFC, too, is agreeing to ensure that its capital programme contributes to meeting the reduction in its carbon footprint necessary for the Government to meet their expected carbon budgets.
We are actively discussing with the Association of Colleges, Universities UK and others how we can work with them and with students to ensure that we achieve the reduction in carbon emissions right across the further and higher education estate that will be needed. My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue, but we are very active on it and I look forward to his support.
May I reinforce the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Sir Nicholas Winterton) about the e-Merlin project at Jodrell Bank in our respective constituencies? While accepting the point about the funding councils, will the Government acknowledge that this is not only a national but an international centre of excellence for astrophysics? It is vital that its valuable work, which greatly benefits the science and technology base in this country, is encouraged to continue and to expand.
The hon. Lady is right to highlight the internationally recognised experience at the university of Manchester, which owns Jodrell Bank. As has been said, decisions on the e-Merlin project are very much a matter for the Science and Technology Facilities Council. In accordance with the Haldane principles, it would be wrong for Ministers to interfere with that process. That body will probably be making decisions in early July. It has already indicated that the e-Merlin project is part of its future strategy for radio astronomy, which involves exciting projects such as the square kilometre array and, potentially, the extremely large telescope. Radio astronomy has a very bright future in the United Kingdom, and the Government are committed to continuing to support it.
Tomorrow, the Bishop of London will celebrate 100 years of the Bishop Creighton House settlement in Fulham, which was founded by his distinguished predecessor. Bishop Creighton House, which is led by Rory Gillert, and Hammersmith and Fulham volunteer centre, led by Marion Schumann, are two of the most successful volunteer agencies in London, but volunteering requires money for infrastructure, training and development. Given the appalling cuts in voluntary sector funding by Tory-run Hammersmith and Fulham council, what more can the Government do to support these outstanding institutions?
I think that all in London are disappointed and astounded by some of the cuts that are being made in my hon. Friend’s constituency, but I am pleased that my Department has been able to extend the Train to Gain programme, which is £1 billion-worth of investment, to volunteers. We have done so to ensure that volunteers with the right skills are able to play an active role in their communities, and I hope that those who wish to do so will be able to move on to jobs. I am also pleased that the Learning and Skills Council supports programmes for volunteers in his constituency, including the Torch project at the Lyric theatre. We will continue to do all we can against the backdrop of cuts that he describes.
The Government are completely opposed to such a boycott, which will harm rather than help moves towards peace and reconciliation in the middle east. It is significant that the motion before this year’s University and College Union falls well short of calls for an outright boycott. I think that that is because the proposers of the motion know that there is no widespread support for that among UCU members. Both Israel and the occupied territories contain both progressives and reactionaries, and the problem with boycotts is that they make the job of progressives much more difficult and entrench the position of the reactionaries.
Yes, we do. I was delighted to go to Swindon and meet the young apprentices. There are remarkable success stories around the country of young people who have started an apprenticeship programme at 14 or 15 before they leave school, doing three days a week at school, a day in the workplace and a day at college. If such schemes are well run, they are hugely motivating for the young people. We want to see that provision expanded, and a significant expansion in apprenticeship starts for those over 16 and older workers. Our aspiration is that in a few years’ time, one in five young people—far more than today—will have a chance to do an apprenticeship. I hope that many of those will have the chance to get their first exposure to a young apprenticeship—as my hon. Friend’s constituents do in Swindon—as it is highly motivating.
I am delighted to offer my congratulations to everybody at the college who has been involved in the building programme and in achieving such excellent educational outcomes. There are some fantastic things going on in further education. My hon. Friend’s college has benefited by £60 million, but 10 years ago the national budget for FE college capital programmes was zero. Earlier this week I was able to visit another part of the country, Crewe and Nantwich—[Hon. Members: “Oh.”]—where an FE college is being built, at the expense of £60 million, so that area too will benefit.
My hon. Friend is right. In 1997, there were only 75,000 apprenticeships on this side of the border, and many of us looked to Scotland, which still had an apprenticeship base. It is deeply worrying to see SNP colleagues now rationing and downgrading apprenticeships and, potentially, jeopardising the prospects of young people in Scotland. This is a devolved matter, but we take apprenticeships very seriously—