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Higher Education Funding

Volume 510: debated on Thursday 3 June 2010

Universities will receive £5.1 billion for teaching from the Higher Education Funding Council for 2010-11. This includes an increase of £70 million since the December 2009 grant letter. That reflects the 10,000 extra university places that the coalition is committed to delivering in 2010-11.

The Government will make future funding decisions in the light of the Browne review on student finance, established by the previous Government, which will report later this year.

I am sure that hon. Members know that for almost a decade Professor Philip Cowley and his colleagues in the school of politics at Nottingham university have been studying Back-Bench behaviour. Their findings have been published on the “Revolts” website and are widely used by journalists and hon. Members—particularly, I am told, the Whips Office. Does the Minister share my concern that the project has recently lost its Economic and Social Research Council funding, just at the time when it might yield the most interesting results from the Benches opposite?

I attended a meeting at Nottingham university before the election when Professor Cowley presented his report on the fascinating subject of rebellions in the House of Commons, so I am aware of his work. However, it would be dangerous if we got into a position whereby Ministers responsible for higher education started commenting on and micro-managing individual universities’ decisions about their departments. I do not think that we should go down that route.

My hon. Friend will be aware of the value for money that the US community college model provides in getting more disadvantaged young people into higher education. Is he having any work undertaken in the Department to assess what we can learn from that important system in the USA?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s expertise in the subject and his record of campaigning on it. I completely agree that progression through college to university is one of strengths of some American systems, such as that in California. Experts from California are coming here next week. We definitely need to learn from those systems so that people have opportunities as they progress through education to move from college to university.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new role. I know that many in the higher education sector value the continuity that he provides, but they also value consistency. In November 2009, he said:

“At a time when the jobs market for young people is tougher than ever, it is far better to find them a place in education than to leave them languishing on the dole.”

Why, within days of taking up the job, has he done a volte face and condemned 10,000 young people to the dole by not providing extra student places to HE this summer? Is that not desperately hypocritical?

I look forward to my exchanges with the right hon. Gentleman, and of course I recognise his expertise as the former Minister for universities. As he held that position, I am sure that he remembers the grant letter that the former Secretary of State sent out in December 2009 to the Higher Education Funding Council, which involved a reduction in the number of students. We have delivered the pledge that we made to our party conference, and which is in the coalition agreement, of 10,000 extra places. That is why the amount of money going to universities in teaching grant this year is £50 million higher than the figure set out in the December 2009 letter.