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Universities UK

Volume 513: debated on Thursday 8 July 2010

I meet Universities UK on a regular basis. I last met UUK representatives at their board meeting on 25 June when we discussed a range of issues facing higher education. With my right hon. Friend being the rector of Glasgow university, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State having been an economics lecturer there, I am of course impressed by the excellence of that institution.

Well, that is very nice to hear. I hope that the Minister will visit, and we will make him feel extremely welcome. A guest lecture would not go amiss.

Given the Government’s policy of a cap on immigration, the Minister will be aware that Universities UK and many others across the sector are worried about its impact, as 10% of university staff across the UK are non-EU nationals, including 2,500 staff at the Scottish universities alone. What can he do with his colleagues in the Home Office to mitigate the impact of that policy on the tertiary sector?

We are working closely on this matter with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and I think that we have reached a sensible way forward, which she announced the other day. Of course, if there are individual problems affecting universities in the operation of these controls, we would be interested to hear from them, and will discuss them with our colleagues in the Home Office.

The Minister will be aware that the United States spends 2.9% of gross domestic product on higher education. We spend 1.3%, which is below the OECD average. The previous Government took a brave decision on tuition fees, although it was very unpopular with my hon. Friends. May I invite the Minister to take equally unpopular decisions on university finance, perhaps to introduce a graduate tax or lift some of the charges that universities can make? We must get more money into our universities.

That is why, of course, the Browne review was set up on a cross-party basis—to look at these issues so that we can find a way forward that I hope will command consent on both sides of the House of Commons.