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Fair Access to the Professions

Volume 504: debated on Monday 18 January 2010

I have today laid before Parliament the Command Paper “Unleashing Aspiration—The Government Response to the Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions”. This responds to the report of the same name led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Milburn), published on 21 July 2009.

Social mobility lies at the heart of this Government’s social policies. That is why, in our White Paper “New Opportunities—Fair Chances for the Future” (Cmd. 7533) last year, we set out our commitment to give everyone a fair chance to get ahead and it was following the publication of that paper that my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington was commissioned by the Prime Minister to write his report.

The fair access to the professions report has already had a profound impact on the policies of this Government since its publication: “Quality, Choice and Aspiration” the information advice and guidance strategy launched by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Children, School and Families is making it easier for young people and their parents to access high quality advice and guidance about education and careers. Today we will set out a guarantee, building from the “New Opportunities” White Paper, for up to 130,000 of the brightest young people from low-income backgrounds to benefit from a structured package of support towards higher education from 2012.

In “Higher Ambitions” the higher education framework, we made it clear to universities that social mobility must remain at the heart of their mission. We accepted the panel’s recommendation on asking universities to take into account the context of educational achievement when assessing admissions. Lord Browne is leading an independent review of higher education funding and student finance to ensure the system caters for full and part-time students and finance is not a barrier to accessing higher education.

We announced in the pre-Budget report £8 million of financial support for up to 10,000 undergraduates from low-income backgrounds to take up short internships. With the help of employers, we have set up the graduate talent pool advertising thousands of internship opportunities and today we announce a new online national internship service providing both undergraduate and graduate internships in one place.

Our plans are not just about young people. We are asking universities to run shorter and more flexible courses for all. The provision of flexible learning was also an important element of “Skills for Growth”, our national skills strategy, where we committed to a new apprenticeships scholarship programme so that the best apprentices can go on to higher education if they wish. We have also launched skills accounts for all which will put power to choose courses and access to course information firmly in the hands of the learner.

These are just some examples of the work we are undertaking to create a more socially mobile society through fairer access to the professions. The full range of activity is set out in our response. Of the total 88 recommendations, we accept the vast majority today.

Our relaunched Gateways to the Professions Collaborative Forum will be instrumental in driving this work across all the professions. It will both advise on and help to implement the fair access agenda in the professions themselves.

Our commitment to social mobility is long-term. That is why we announce today the creation of a Social Mobility Commission to be based in the Cabinet Office. It will give expert advice to Government and report on progress towards a fairer, more mobile society. To further assist this work we will soon be receiving the report of the national equality panel, chaired by Professor Sir John Hills. This will outline how economic inequality, social background, gender, race and other factors impact on life chances. Sir John’s report will inform the implementation of the socio-economic duty in the Equality Bill, as well as wider Government action in this area.

We have raised the glass ceiling of social mobility in this country, now we must break it. The document we publish today outlines the next steps we will take towards this goal. Let me conclude by thanking my right hon. Friend the Member for Darlington and the panel on fair access to the professions for their work. I am confident that the panel’s work will help raise the aspiration of millions of people in this country and give them reassurance that all they need to succeed is ability, talent and determination.