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Student Finance

Volume 487: debated on Thursday 29 January 2009

11. Whether he plans to amend the rules determining eligibility for funding for students undertaking an equivalent or lower qualification. (252525)

At our request, the Higher Education Funding Council for England is reviewing the impact of the equivalent or lower qualification policy. We will consider the council’s advice when we receive it later in the year.

I am grateful to the Minister for that answer, and I hope that those who will be affected will find it encouraging. We are starting to appreciate the scale of the economic recession and he has just indicated that the Government are speaking to HEFCE about offering more help to people who become unemployed, particularly in respect of disciplines different from those in which they previously worked. I hope that he will accept that what the Government have previously said about financial support for ELQ students risks giving a very mixed message to those whom the qualification is trying to help.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman acknowledges our announcement on increasing the amount of career development loans available to people who want to do postgraduate study. I hope that he will recognise the £148 million that HEFCE has put into employer co-funded schemes and programmes for people in work and attached to an employer who want to engage in further study. I hope he will also recognise the investment fund that HEFCE has announced for economic challenges. That fund, effectively of £50 million, is to ensure that people across the country are getting the skills to take up employment, reskill, retrain and upskill in these difficult times.

The decision to remove funding for ELQ students was a knee-jerk reaction and a mistake. As unemployment rises in the United Kingdom and people are desperate to retrain, the Government are beginning to look stupid on this issue. Can the Minister simply explain why the decision was taken, and will he at least begin to review it? People are desperate to retrain, and they cannot under this system.

Let us not get into an interpretation of “stupid”. We have explained the issue a number of times to the hon. Gentleman. Let me say this to him for probably the fifth or sixth time: in respect of people who do not have a first degree, it must be an imperative for the Government to redistribute funds—£100 million—to benefit them in these difficult times. If he chose to leave and do a second degree, it could not be right for the Government to reward him over someone who had not done a first degree.