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Tuition Fees

Volume 487: debated on Thursday 29 January 2009

5. What assessment he has made of the effects of the level of tuition fees on numbers of university applications by those from low-income families. (252518)

All the evidence shows that variable tuition fees have not deterred young people from lower-income backgrounds from applying to university. University acceptances for people aged 18 and under from lower socio-economic groups rose by more than 8 per cent. this year alone, demonstrating that we are changing the attitudes and aspirations of young people.

That sounds very encouraging, but it does not match the anecdotal evidence that I hear from young people in my constituency, who cite tuition fees and debt as reasons why they do not aspire to do a higher education course.

When we had the tuition fees debate in the House, I think that there was only one Member of Parliament who had substantial loans and fees to pay, and that was me. Of course young people assess these issues, but at this time, in our economy, they are aware that being a graduate will benefit them in the long term, and over their working life, for 45 years after graduation. I am pleased to see that this year’s figures show a rise.

A recent report by Universities UK confirms the statement that my right hon. Friend just made—that tuition fees have not put students off. It also shows that the number of people going to university from different socio-economic groups was stable until 2007. I welcome the improvement in 2008, which was largely a result of the Government’s Aimhigher project and the introduction of new grants. Sadly, I still meet students in schools and colleges who are unaware of the new support for them. Will he work, through schools and colleges, to ensure that those 16 and 17 year olds know of the additional financial support available to them?

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for her championing of those issues in Blackpool; I know that there is still much to do in that city to ensure that young people from poorer backgrounds know about the opportunities that universities can offer them. I hope that she will welcome the advertising campaign that began very recently, which is to run across the country. It reminds young people of the opportunities offered by universities, reminds those from poorer backgrounds that grants are available, and points out that people whose parents have a household income of up to £50,000 can still get a partial grant to get to university.