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Higher Education

Volume 517: debated on Wednesday 3 November 2010

I am grateful for this opportunity to continue a hugely important debate. The decision taken by the Government today is of historic importance to this country, for two reasons. First, the decision to treble fees for this country’s young people could have a huge impact on participation in higher education. Secondly—this has been covered less, but is as important—the decision to withdraw state funding from a large part of the curriculum, namely arts and humanities subjects such as geography, history and politics, has huge implications for our democracy. We are a liberal democracy committed to the liberal arts, and today’s decision is to abandon that solely to private income. This is an important day, and I will be talking specifically about participation.

I am pleased to see the Minister in his seat. We have had many years of debates on education matters in this House. I know that he is committed, from his perspective, to participation. We understand the subject, but we do not always agree on the means, and I suspect that we will disagree today. However, I remind him that in 2004, he described tuition fees as

“flagrant, appalling and an abuse”. [Official Report, 26 February 2004; Vol. 418, c.503.]

That was his position as he voted against them. Can he really defend tripling fees to £9,000? I am pleased that so many colleagues from across the House have joined me today.

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on securing this debate on an important subject. I know that he was in the Chamber this afternoon; does he agree that there is a third historic element to the settlement? Does he recognise the positive impact that proper funding for part-time students will have on the participation of disadvantaged groups in universities?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for putting that decision on record. The last Government, of course, made progress on funding part-time students, but when we set up the Browne review, it was essential that part-time students were given the same arrangements as full-time students, and that has been achieved. That is the silver lining in the Government’s response today. However, it cannot be right that one group of students, of the sort that come from my constituency, should be encouraged to attend part-time courses at newer universities while another group of students, who can afford fees and are not put off by higher education, attend our more elite, select universities. I will go into the detail over the months.

I hope that we can all agree that it is morally right that university education be made available to all those who wish to take advantage of it. I know that that is true. University brought me, a young black man, from the shadows of Broadwater Farm estate in my constituency to the House of Commons. I want the same opportunities for all young people, regardless of their background.

The Labour Government inherited a higher education system that was the preserve of the rich and privileged. It was not a system in which university education was made available to all those who wished to take advantage of it, which is why we created the Office for Fair Access to monitor and analyse admission and participation and ensure that we increased the opportunities available to all students. It is also why, in 2004, we set up the Aimhigher programme, a national comprehensive programme working across constituencies as different as Cumbria, Liverpool and mine to encourage partnerships and access to higher education.

My right hon. Friend correctly said earlier that all those who could benefit from higher education should have access to it, but there is a further point. Society as a whole benefits from a highly educated population. There is obviously an issue about personal fairness, but the bigger issue for us as Members of Parliament is what is right for us as an economy, and what is right for us as an economy is that everyone who can benefit should have access to higher education. That is what gives us growth and makes us a strong country.

My hon. Friend is exactly right. That is why France, Germany, America and other countries throughout the developed world have a huge commitment to higher education and are increasing funding, not decreasing it. There is a drive to give more of the population the higher-level skills that come from higher education. The Government’s decision is crucial to the future of this country. We commissioned the National Council for Educational Excellence to encourage schools and universities to work better together to raise aspirations and achievement.

We do not say that schools in this country are only about driving young people to get GCSEs or A-levels. It is about outcomes, and one of the most important pathways to a better outcome for individuals and society as a whole is attendance at university. By the year we left office, £580 million was being spent annually on broadening access to higher education and widening its reach to poorer families across this country.

The number of entrants to higher education increased by 44% between 1999 and 2009. Since 2004, participation among the poorest 20% of the country has increased by 32%, compared with a rise of 20% among the richest. Our policies raised aspiration among people who had never before seen the path to university as being for them. Schemes such as Aimhigher broke cycles of poverty and underachievement that had existed in families for many generations. The proportion of university places taken by ethnic minority students increased from 13% in 1994 to a figure broadly proportionate to the size of the young population as a whole. None of those changes happened by chance. They happened because we wanted them to. We put money and a lot of effort into them.

I do not want to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman’s flow, and I endorse what he said about our shared intentions in respect of participation. He will know that on his watch as Minister, the funding for Aimhigher was reduced. Why?

I have no recollection of the proportion of funding for Aimhigher being reduced. The Aimhigher programme sat alongside the funding that we gave universities to both widen participation and increase retention. As I said, that overall pot was about £580 million. That is a significant amount of money, and it made a huge difference. I do not recognise what the hon. Gentleman said.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the student support that we put in place was important as well? As the Browne report said:

“The evidence suggests that improvements to the support for living costs helped to ensure that the changes in fees in 2006 did not have a negative impact on participation.”

Some progress has been made, but not enough. However, does the shadow Minister agree that we are now in unknown territory? The balance is getting out of hand, and the tripling of fees will have a deterrent effect on people from poorer backgrounds, who will feel obliged to choose cheaper courses at different universities.

That is, indeed, the fact. I want to emphasise that the increase in young people going into higher education in my constituency in the past 10 years is not just 5% or 10%; there has been a 100% increase in participation in higher education. That is, of course, to do with the support and the grants that were available, but it is also because of programmes such as Aimhigher Associates. Through such programmes, we encouraged young people, who were often from poorer backgrounds, to leave university for half a day a week and go back into schools to encourage others to go to university. That takes money, funding and priority. Making this issue a priority is in the national interest because of what has been said about growth.

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point about the increased participation of working class and black and minority ethnic students. Does he agree that, regrettably, there was a vestigial sense of a sort of educational apartheid in London, where working-class ethnic minority students tended to be grouped in what were often the weaker universities and middle-class students went to Russell group universities? Will such a steep rise in tuition fees not exacerbate the sense that people from areas such as his and mine think that a certain type of university is not for the likes of them?

My hon. Friend makes a profound point, which I hope to come on to. Such schemes worked, but they required money. Many of us who initiated such schemes hoped that they would make further progress than was achieved. We saw progress, but it was not at the speed and depth we would have liked. My hon. Friend is exactly right: it cannot be considered significant progress. One London university— I am thinking of London Metropolitan—has more students of black descent than the entirety of the Russell group. There was progress, but there is much more to do. We are concerned that today’s announcement will mean things go backwards—in the wrong direction.

I do not doubt the previous Government’s intentions, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman would not doubt the good intentions of the current Government. Does he accept that the current system is unable to meet the challenge of the rising demand for higher education? In particular, does he accept Sir Martin Harris’s report, which mentions the participation rate among the least advantaged 40% of young people and the fact they are not getting into the top Russell group universities? That figure remained flat throughout the period of the Labour Government.

As I said, we were all concerned about the progress in relation to our most selective universities. That is why allowing our most selective universities to raise their fees to £9,000 a year must be counter to the progress that I would hope the hon. Gentleman desires. The Sutton Trust estimates that there are 3,000 missing state school students from Britain’s 12 most selective universities. A further statistic that comes to mind is that only one black Caribbean student was admitted to Oxford university in 2009—one student.

The Government’s claims are hugely important. They claim to be committed to higher education’s role in social mobility. Indeed, we are told that access is hard-wired into the coalition agreement. However, despite that hard-wiring, the Secretary of State has apparently long questioned whether the 50% participation rate is sensible or affordable. It is important that the Minister says something about what he considers will happen to the participation rate. Does he believe that the Government can widen access with an increased tuition fee of £9,000 a year? How will trebling fees encourage the sons and daughters of nurses and dinner ladies to achieve what their parents never had the prospect of doing? If we add to that figure the £8,000 a year maintenance that a student needs to live on, the Government’s plans mean that it will cost £17,000 a year to study for a degree. Will that encourage a nurse on an average of £23,000 a year to send her young son or daughter to university? With costs that are three quarters of their salary, will they not decide that university is what they always believed it to be: not for them?

Does the Minister honestly believe that students from the poorest backgrounds will not be put off by these staggering sums of money? A Sutton Trust opinion poll shows that only 45% of 11 to 16-year-olds who are currently interested in progressing to higher education at current fee levels would be interested if the fees were increased to £7,000. What does that then say about the current figure of £9,000? With institutions now capable of charging variable fees of between £6,000 and £9,000, it is inevitable that some of the most capable students from the poorest families will make choices based on cost or on the perception of cost, rather than because of academic talent.

I am intervening so that we can deal with some of the important questions the right hon. Gentleman raises. In the spirit of fairness that he normally adopts on these occasions, he will want to acknowledge that the statement made today by the Minister for Universities and Science, for the first time links fees to access. The proposals will explicitly link fees to the extra demand on universities in order to widen participation.

I hope that the Minister will explain in his response to the debate the detail of that access. As I listened to the Minister for Universities and Science a few moments ago, there did not appear to be the teeth required to ensure that level of access. I did not hear anything about the programme of effort—the punishment or fine—that we will need to ensure that higher education meets the necessary access levels.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on bringing such a timely and pertinent debate to Westminster Hall. Is he not making the point that students historically have been able to choose their higher education destination based on the course they want to do and where they want to do it? They will now have to look at the course, the where and the price. That radically changes how the market will operate to the detriment of students, and both universities and higher education establishments.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The proposals are a huge departure. The Minister for Universities and Science indicated that there will be different price levels for different subjects and across the family of our universities. We also know that there will be a different state contribution to courses. That is a huge and profound change, which is far bigger than the change made to higher education in 2004.

I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend on this timely debate. On the point he is making, obviously we need to invest in science, but surely we also need to invest in our arts programmes. A number of industries, not least our creative industries, are growing and are part of our future economic development. The future of such industries must be called into question by today’s announcement.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: arts and the creative arts make a huge contribution to our economy and to the new digital creative economy. The decision to withdraw state funding from such courses is bizarre, particularly as it was made alongside the decision to make massive cuts to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Those subjects cut to the heart of what it means to be a democratic country. We all sit in this Chamber as politicians—politicians who draw on the liberal arts and who, I would have thought, expect the state to make some contribution to that area of study. Even in the United States, with its highly developed private higher education system, every state has a state university, as is the case in California, and all those universities make a massive contribution to the liberal arts. The departure that we are making in the UK leaves countries such as France, Germany and the United States making a contribution to that area of study, yet for the poorest students in this country, that will no longer be accessible.

I put on the record my thanks to the many people up and down the country who have worked in the Aimhigher programme. It is a programme that works. Pupils have been able to attend three-day summer schools attached to our universities as a result. I saw a scheme working with students in the Toxteth area of Liverpool; it was really reaching out to those young men, most of whom came from backgrounds like mine and had been raised by lone parents. They really wanted to aspire for the first time because of the huge inspiration that the scheme gave them. Following the decision that was announced today, what is to happen to Aimhigher? We have heard much today about the new access and success fund, but will the Minister confirm whether that fund will equal the £580 million a year that the previous Government invested in widening participation?

The Browne review promises to introduce stringent access agreements, and the Minister for Universities and Science confirmed that today. With universities charging more than £6,000 a year, will the Minister confirm what penalties they will suffer if they do not meet their access agreements? Will those agreements have teeth? I was saddened to hear the Secretary of State for Education being interviewed on the “Today” programme this morning. We did not want to hear that universities will demonstrate that they will use imaginative ways to attract students from poorer backgrounds; we want a lot more than imagination.

The Minister is really attracted to choice for students and to having funds following students to university. He has made great hay of the pupil premium, so why not have a pupil premium in that area of the education system? Why not fund students from poorer backgrounds better to get that buy-in from the higher education sector? Does he not agree that universities need real, hard commitments on access that are statutory and can be challenged? That is important if we are not to see the situation deteriorate.

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way a third time—I will not intervene again unless he says something extraordinary or outrageous, but I know that he will not. On the pupil premium, he knows that the biggest challenge in widening access is prior attainment. Unless we have more applications from people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds—as he and I do—we simply will not get the admissions we want. That is about the pupil premium and about supporting people in schools. Surely that is right.

I hope that the Minister appreciates the fact that 494 black students of Caribbean descent received straight As in their A-levels last year. I have already presented him with the evidence about Oxford university. The question for him is this: how will his changes make that situation better? Will they not make it worse?

It is important to note that there are three primary beneficiaries of higher education: the graduate, wider society and, of course, the employer. When we set up the Browne review, we asked it to look specifically at the employer contribution. I was disappointed that Browne spent only 300 words in his entire report on the employer contribution. We heard nothing from the Secretary of State on that subject when he responded to the report, and nothing from the Minister for Universities and Science today. Will the Minister now take the opportunity to explain why he departed from that key element in the basic terms on which we set up the Browne review? Why should we load young people, students and poor middle-class families with the debt, yet not ask employers, who are a beneficiary of our higher education system, to meet part of the cost? Why was that decision ruled out?

Will the Minister make a commitment that by the end of this Parliament, when—we are told—the structural deficit will have been eliminated, he will raise the public contribution to all courses, and lower fees? The changes have been presented to some extent as emergency measures that are necessary because of the deficit. When the legislation comes before the House, as we are told it will in a few weeks’ time, can we expect to see a sunset clause so that we depart from and then return to a system of more equalised contribution? I would like the Minster to say something about that.

On widening participation, I want to hear what the teeth, or the beef, of the programme will be. In particular, will the Minister commit to Aimhigher? I started my speech by saying that the Minister cares passionately about the issue, but I hope he will realise that, on this day of all days, many people beyond the Chamber are looking to this House, and what they want are answers.

Once again, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing the debate. I think that we should be very proud of the Labour Government’s record on widening access to higher education. Figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for England show that participation rates among young people increased from about 30% in the mid-1990s to more than 36% by 2009, and the extended opportunities for mature students mean that the figures for participation were well in excess of 40%.

Although differences in participation rates remain, depending on where one lives, Labour did much to increase participation among disadvantaged students. Young people from poorer areas have been substantially more likely to enter higher education since the mid-2000s. In the most disadvantaged areas, there have been substantial and sustained increases in the proportion of young people entering HE. That is because of recent increases in participation rates for young people living in disadvantaged neighbourhoods, whether neighbourhood disadvantage is defined by participation rates themselves or by measures of parental education, occupation or income. The proportion of young people living in the most disadvantaged areas who enter HE has increased by around 30% in the past five years, and by more than 50% in the past 15 years, which is truly an extraordinary increase.

The increases in the proportion of young people living in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods who enter HE are also consistent with other statistics, including recent trends in GCSE attainment. Since the mid-2000s, the majority of additional entrants to HE have come from more disadvantaged areas. Most of the ways of measuring the differences between the participation rates of advantaged and disadvantaged neighbourhoods have shown a reduction since then.

That last point is critical, because it means that Labour was starting to narrow the gap in participation rates between the most advantaged and most disadvantaged areas. We should also recognise that the chances for young people to go to university if they came from a more advantaged neighbourhood increased, so that has given us quite a task, which is why we must have strong measures that continue to widen access to HE.

We have to ask ourselves why we want to do that, and I shall put forward a few brief points. Most of us who had the experience of HE, particularly if we came from a low-income background—I am someone who did, and was the first person in my family to go to university—know the transformative effect that going to university had on our life chances. It is incumbent on all of us to make sure that that opportunity is available to all young people who are able to, and want to, benefit from it. We should not be sitting in this place putting up barriers that will stop young people being able to go to university.

This country needs to continue to invest in higher level skills. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham made an excellent point about the need for skills across a range of subjects. One of the concerning aspects of today’s proposals is the total withdrawal of state funding for the arts, humanities and social sciences in our universities because of cuts to the teaching budget. We need those higher level skills if we are to compete in the global economy of the future. Why is this country not prepared to invest in our HE system to the same level that other developed—and, indeed, developing—countries are?

I, too, thank the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) for securing this debate on a hugely important issue. I speak on breaking down barriers to HE as someone who came from one of those poor backgrounds. Most of my peer group were from an Afro-Caribbean background. The figure given by the right hon. Gentleman of only one candidate from that background going to Oxford or Cambridge is shocking, but is it not the case that the issue is about more than purely finance? If we discuss only money, the debate will be prosaic and we will not do it justice. This may not be the remit or framework for a full debate, but, as someone who has personally seen the disconnect in his peer group, I can say in all sincerity and modesty that most of that peer group were far brighter than me, but they fell away dramatically in those years between 14 and 18. The debate is about more than just money.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but surely the issue is removing all the barriers that prevent young people who want to go to university from being able to do so. Some of the barriers may be cultural, and there are many programmes in place to try to break them down. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham spoke about the Aimhigher programme. I have worked closely with Aimhigher in my constituency because we had a fairly low level of HE participation historically. Aimhigher works alongside schools and groups of young people to encourage them to make the most of their potential.

Of course we have to look at more than the financial situation, but it is important, in so far as it acts as a disincentive. One of the points that Opposition Members were making on the Floor of the House earlier, and are making in this Chamber, is that we are terribly concerned that the proposals to put fees up to between £7,000 and £9,000, with additional borrowing for maintenance, mean that young people will be faced with a debt of about £40,000 when they leave university. That will act as a huge disincentive, and we would like the Government to look at those proposals again. We would like them to take our points seriously.

My final point is about international competition. We know that we need our economy to grow. That is the biggest factor facing this country at present. We have to put more emphasis on economic growth, and to do that, we need more knowledge transfer from our universities. They need to be investing in their local communities, but that will be made much more difficult by the withdrawal of Government funding to universities that was announced today.

I would very much like the Minister to take on board these specific points. Is there some detail about how widening access will continue? What will the Government do to ensure that young people from middle-income backgrounds are not faced with a huge disincentive to going to university because of the level of fees being proposed? What will his Government do to ensure that universities continue to invest in their local economies?

I have indications from four hon. Members that they wish to speak. To get everyone in before the winding-up speeches, could Members take no longer than eight minutes? I have no power to impose a time limit, but consideration for colleagues will allow everyone to get in.

Thank you, Mr Betts. I am grateful for this opportunity to speak under your chairmanship on this important topic, and I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing this important debate. If there were ever any doubt that he cared passionately about the future of higher education, and the future of children from estates such as his, mine and those of other hon. Friends here today, his speech will have proved his passion and commitment—long may it continue.

I wish to discuss what the Government’s plans will mean for many of my constituents. In a Liberal Democrat press release during the election campaign, Nick Clegg said:

“If fees rise to £7,000 a year”—

I apologise, Mr Betts. The Deputy Prime Minister stated:

“If fees rise to £7,000 a year, as many rumours suggest they would, within five years some students will be leaving university up to £44,000 in debt. That would be a disaster.”

I have to say this, Mr Betts: this is one of the few occasions on which I agree with Nick.

Even if most universities charge the minimum of £6,000, it will still be a disaster, and if most of the more prestigious ones charge £9,000, it will be an even bigger disaster. If I were a 16 or 17-year-old working-class girl from Gateshead—not too much of a stretch of the imagination, as I once was—looking at my options for the future, a potential debt of £44,000 would make me think seriously about whether I should go to university, especially if I were the first in my family to do so. It was not a journey that I was ever able to make personally because of cost constraints, and having to go out to work to help support my mam, who was on benefits, and two younger brothers.

If I were desperate to go to university, I would probably have to go to one of my local universities to avoid the extra living expenses, rather than the best university that would accept me based on my ability and grades. That seems to be what the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills intends people from my constituency to do. I would also most likely have to take a significant amount of paid part-time work, reducing the amount of time that I could dedicate to my studies, and consequently my attainment.

Even then, when I had struggled through three years and racked up a debt of £15,000 to £20,000 for the privilege—assuming that I had received some of the grants that the Minister of State outlined—my debt would continue to grow at a rate far above that at which my earnings would be likely to grow. An interest rate of 2.2% plus RPI, which would currently be 6.8%, does not compare favourably with a typical increase in median income of 3% to 4%. By that logic, somebody finishing university this year with £20,000 of debt would see that debt grow by more than £1,300 in a year and would need to find a job paying more than £30,000 just to keep up with paying that off. Today, though, we have heard that someone earning £30,000 could be liable to pay even more interest. That will mean millions of young people never paying off their loans and quite a number of those loans—not just the odd one—probably being written off after the end of the 30-year period. The thought of being 16 or 17 and realising that I would still be paying for my education in my 50s would definitely put me off higher education.

Unfortunately, I am one of those Members of Parliament who are still paying back their student loans, even though I left higher education more than a decade ago. Does my hon. Friend share my concern that no one in government seems to consider the aggregate effect of people having these levels of debt for so long, when house prices are rising, mortgages are hard to obtain and contributions to the pension system will have to be higher? No one seems to look at the fact that the sheer amount that people pay out on their loans every month diminishes their capacity to spend their money on other things, which is detrimental to family life and their prospects.

I certainly agree. We should also remember that some of the young people being burdened with huge debts will be from families that have no other mechanism to support them in making further life choices, such as getting into the housing market, or in paying unexpected bills. Having large elements of their earned income tied up for the next 30 years will be more of an ask for those young people than it will be for young people from a more middle-class background, but that has not been taken into account. For people from some of the backgrounds that we are talking about who might want to strike out and go to university, such factors will have a big detrimental impact on the decision that they take.

Following on from the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), will my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) join me in asking the Minister to comment on the impact of today’s announcement on undergraduates who want to go on to postgraduate education? We heard nothing about that impact in today’s statement, and it would surely be useful to hear whether those from lower-income backgrounds who have heavy loans to pay back will be deterred from going on to postgraduate study.

That is an important part of the debate, but it has not been discussed yet, and I certainly hope that the Minister will refer to it in his closing remarks. Even during my time as an MP, I have seen a change among the people who have applied to work for me as a researcher, with those who apply now having chosen not to do postgraduate qualifications for the reason that my hon. Friend sets out. Degree-level qualifications will therefore probably be the maximum attainment for some children from working-class backgrounds.

I want now to touch on the education maintenance allowance. At the same time as the current changes are being made, the Government are planning to overhaul the EMA system, which has been instrumental in ensuring that talented young people from less well-off backgrounds get the necessary qualifications to apply to university in the first place. There was a debate on this subject in Westminster Hall yesterday, which was secured by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson). He is a great advocate of the EMA, and I see from Hansard that he put the case for its retention impeccably, so I will not repeat it.

My hon. Friend has plenty of evidence to back up his case. The evaluation of the roll-out of EMA showed that it reduced the level of those not in education, employment or training and encouraged those receiving it to work harder. Indeed, Institute for Fiscal Studies research showed that attainment among recipients has increased by 5% since the introduction of the EMA. If the Government remove something that encourages less well-off children to stay in further education and to aim higher, and they couple that with huge disincentives to apply for higher education, applications from that group will almost certainly drop significantly, particularly to the better universities.

In his intervention, the Minister talked about the importance of encouraging further applications. When I was growing up, I was one of those people whose family encouraged them to go out to work at 16. The EMA, which I argued for in my maiden speech in 2001, has been really important in changing that, but the Government gave us no indication of the implications of scrapping it when they announced the changed regime today.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I always tell people that the EMA would have been the one extra thing that would have given me the confidence to resist the push to go out to work, because I would have had just that little bit of money that was mine.

I note from Hansard that the Minister who answered yesterday’s debate tried to shift the blame for the decision to remove the EMA on to the previous Labour Government, much as I expect the Minister, unfortunately, to do today. The fact is that there are alternatives to those choices that have been made—ones that would have put more of the burden on the people who caused the situation that we are in, rather than on a generation that has had nothing to do with it.

The Minister for Universities and Science is not representing the Government here today, but he is apparently the author of an interesting book called “The Pinch”. I regret to say that I have not had time to read it yet, although perhaps a friend will be watching the debate and get me a copy for Christmas—if they do, I will be sure to pop along to the office of the Universities Minister to request an autograph. In his book, he argues that his generation—it is not quite my generation, because I am not that old—has benefitted from all the things that it is now unwilling to fund for the current generation and the next generation, including subsidised higher education. Does he not think that the Government’s reforms enforce that attitude, which he clearly sees—or saw—as hugely detrimental to young people?

I have a copy of today’s statement by the Universities Minister; he spoke of introducing a progressive system. The only progress that I can see between when he wrote his book and his speech today is a kind of backwards progress, which is, I believe, an oxymoron—a bit like his claim that the Government’s changes are progressive.

I, too, congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing this timely debate.

I represent Liverpool, Wavertree, which has one university, Liverpool Hope, within its borders and two, Liverpool John Moores and Liverpool university, just outside. Many members of Liverpool’s student and academic community live in my constituency. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), I am probably one of the Members who was most recently in the higher education system and I am still paying off my student loan. I was also one of the 500-plus candidates who signed the National Union of Students pledge not to vote for an increase in fees, and I will be upholding that pledge.

I recently met representatives of Aimhigher Greater Merseyside and I heard in great detail about the fabulous work that they continue to do across the region for 35,000 young people. As many of my hon. Friends have said, the goal of the Aimhigher programme is to widen participation in higher education and to encourage young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply for university.

Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to the work of Aimhigher not only on the issues that have been mentioned, but in providing advice and guidance to much younger children, who might never have thought about going to university? I am sure that there are far too many young people in her constituency, just as there are in my constituency of Wigan, whose talent and ability are not matched by their aspirations. Will she join me in urging the Minister to make sure that the invaluable work that Aimhigher does with young people from the ages of 13, 14 and 15 continues?

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention; she raises some valuable points about the fantastic work that Aimhigher has done not only with young people in further education, but in schools, and I will go on to mention some of the wide range of activities that it is involved in. Most specifically, Aimhigher helps young people from families with no other members who went to university to consider higher education. For many of them just going on to further education is a massive step.

I want to expand on the list of Aimhigher’s activities, because it does so many things. It has made more than 1 million interventions to encourage young people to think about university—an incredible amount of activity. That extends to more than 2,500 schools in the UK, and 300 colleges. We have heard about its summer school, which gives young people a three to five-day taster experience of what it means to go to university. It offers one-day master classes, given by university staff, in all subject areas. It also offers continuing professional development for teachers in school and staff in further education colleges, to make them aware of changes in higher education and the opportunities that are available.

Aimhigher offers impartial workshops on university life, finance, choice and how to make an application—because for many young people filling in the UCAS form is a massive step forward. It also offers bespoke programmes for those with disabilities, and for people who were looked-after children. In Liverpool we try to do a lot of work to help looked-after children to take that step, because so many do not go to university. Aimhigher also offers additional support for vocational learners—especially apprentices, as there is no reason why they should not go on to university if they want to.

I was therefore incredibly alarmed to learn from the Universities Minister a few hours ago, when I asked him about the Aimhigher programme, that responsibility for the activities that it currently pursues will fall to universities. I am incredibly concerned about that, because there is not enough detail, and a massive vacuum will be created during the transition. There will be a £150 million national scholarship fund. I welcome that, but it is only a fraction of the investment that the Labour Government made in the widening of participation—and it assists only the brightest, as we can see from today’s statement, to the exclusion of those who may still be good enough to apply to university, but who will not qualify for a scholarship.

My hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) quoted something that the Deputy Prime Minister said the week before the election, and I want to return to that, because the next line is very pertinent to the debate. He said:

“If fees rise to £7,000 a year, as many rumours suggest they would, within five years some students will be leaving university up to £44,000 in debt. That would be a disaster.”

Then he added:

“If we have learnt one thing from the economic crisis, it is that you can’t build a future on debt.”

Does my hon. Friend think it is ironic that the Deputy Prime Minister, who was so correct when he said that, should now use the excuse of the debt caused by the bankers to transfer the problems of and payments for that debt to the young people of today and tomorrow? It seems completely wrong.

My hon. Friend has made exactly the point I wanted to make, so I thank him.

Many of my constituents talk to me now about the challenges they face because of their current debts, when fees are only a third of those proposed by the new Government. Access to higher education should be about students’ ability, not the ability to pay or willingness to shoulder thousands of pounds of debt. That is my greatest concern.

Will my hon. Friend join me in asking for more clarity from the Minister about what will happen to the widening participation grant that is currently in his Department’s budget? We have had no information about whether it will be increased or decreased, or stay the same. I am sure that universities and students will be attending to this debate, and will want that information too.

I thank my hon. Friend for asking that relevant question. Given the fraction of money that will go from Aimhigher to the national scholarship fund, and the scarcity of detail in the statement about how widening will be funded, I too would be grateful to know what grant there will be.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing the debate. I know how passionately he feels about participation, and was pleased to join him, when he was the Minister for Higher Education, on a visit to Sheffield’s Aimhigher programme. We were both impressed by the excellent work done by the programme team. I congratulate him also on the timeliness of the debate, on a day when we have heard the Government’s proposals for the most fundamental remodelling of our higher education system for 50 years —shifting the responsibility for the funding of universities from the state on to students, and creating a market in which it is clear that a 50% higher fee for the best courses at the best institutions will lead many families, after discussion, to base choices not on a potential student’s ability to learn, but on their ability to repay greater debt.

My hon. Friend is talking about choices, and I want to mention the impact not just on participation but on subject or even career choice. Students in my constituency have said that they must seriously consider courses on the basis of how much they might earn after qualifying, rather than on the basis of interest or the career they want. That is a grave concern and perhaps the Minister might be asked to respond to it.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. There is a further message within the Government’s announcement, about social sciences, arts and humanities courses. The Government are sending out the message that they are not valued by the country. That will, I am sure, also be a factor in students’ decisions.

We know from talking to constituents, from research and from looking across the Atlantic at the United States model that the Government seem intent on creating, that the cost of courses is a significant disincentive for those who can least afford them. The levels of debt that the Government seem intent on students taking on will be a disincentive, particularly for those on lower—and, indeed, ordinary—incomes, who cannot contemplate such financial risk.

Apart from the impact on participation, the Government’s proposals fail their own test on the funding of the higher education system. I refer hon. Members to the remarks made by Professor Steve Smith, president of Universities UK, who wrote recently in The Guardian:

“The government should be in no doubt about the risks these cuts in funding pose to the world-class standing of our higher education system, and thus to the country’s future economic growth and prosperity. The UK’s competitors face the same deficit reduction challenges as we do, but they have decided to invest in higher education at this crucial time, not cut it.”

I know that the hon. Gentleman is a devotee of Steve Smith’s words on this subject. This afternoon, following the statement, he said:

“We believe that this package of proposals represents the best available funding system for universities.”

I understand the messages that the Government have been sending about the available options, and the way the universities are being forced to accept a way forward that is deeply unpalatable for many of them. Steve Smith went on to point out in the article I quoted that the spending review set the context within which to understand Browne. That is a crucial point. The previous Labour Government set up the Browne review as an independent review of our higher education system, but clearly the steer that was given to Browne on the resources that would be available, and the way they would be allocated, shaped the recommendations and took away any pretence that the final report was the independent review we had sought.

Is my hon. Friend aware that in 2007 we, as a country, spent only 0.67% of GDP on higher education when the OECD was recommending 1%, and that that figure is now likely to fall as a result of the announcements made today?

That is a very important point on our position in relation to competitors in the OECD. We have made enormous progress in the funding of higher education over the past 13 years. We did not get to where we needed to be, but we were moving in the right direction. This Government are reversing that direction and taking us backward.

Let me return to the point about the negative message being sent out about arts, humanities and social science courses, and share with Members the views of the vice-chancellor of the university of Sheffield, Professor Keith Burnett. He is an outstanding leader of an outstanding university, and a scientist. He said:

“In the last few days I have been thinking about how I would feel if my subject – Physics – had been identified as fundamentally unimportant to the UK, or at least unworthy of its investment, in the way that many of our colleagues’ subjects have been. I would be gutted….When I see what richness the work of our colleagues…has brought us…Sir Ian Kershaw’s books on Hitler…shed a unique light on how fascism emerged…offered insights and judgement which can’t be ignored. Mike Braddick’s new book on the Civil War…helps us understand how we came to be who we are as a nation…Focusing on a period when fundamental questions were being debated…casts new light on the transition of Britain’s passage from one era to another…One of our most powerful resources as a country, and as a University, is our cultural insight, our deep questioning of our own society and ideas – perhaps we have never needed that analysis more as we consider how best to go forward. In a world of global competition and profound change, we want our children to have more than just bread to live on.”

I turn now to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) made on education maintenance allowances. Fundamentally—the Minister himself acknowledged this—participation in higher education is in many senses determined by people’s experience of the education system in their early years. We know that for many people who aspire to go to university the critical decision is at the age of 16, and that in low-income families with no history of post-16 education there is huge pressure not to be a further drain on the family’s financial resources. I have talked to constituents across Sheffield, and have been left in no doubt that education maintenance allowances have transformed life chances. Last year, almost 7,000 EMAs were awarded across the city. In the comprehensive spending review, the Chancellor talked about replacing

“education maintenance allowances with more targeted support.”—[Official Report, 20 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 964.]

I suggest that that is a deeply cynical use of language. What could be more targeted than allowances that are assessed according to family income, with the level of payments being determined according to need? The Minister cuts a rather lonely figure today, and I regret that there are not more Members of other parties interested in the debate. I hope that the Minister will address my remarks in his contribution.

I am grateful for the chance to take part in this valuable debate. I congratulate my friend and colleague, the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), on obtaining this important debate. My Government had an excellent record in further and higher education, particularly when he was a Minister in that Department.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), I signed a pledge not to vote for an increase in tuition fees, and I had to fight through a crowd of Lib Dems in this House to do so. I had imagined that that same crowd of Lib Dems would be here today; I cannot imagine what has happened to them. As I said, my Government had an excellent record in further and higher education, but I voted against tuition fees in any form or fashion because my view was that society as a whole benefits from education and society as a whole should pay.

It was also my view that I had benefited. As the child of people who left school at 14, I have benefited from an education at one of our better education institutions, nestling as it does in the mists of the fens of East Anglia, and I was not prepared to draw up the ladder behind me to another generation of young people. I also knew that this is where it would all come to. It was all very well for us to introduce tuition fees in a very careful way, hedged about with all sorts of support—very judicious—but I knew that it would end in a Tory-led Government ramping up fees unconscionably, leading to a more divided education system than we have ever seen.

When did the hon. Lady change her mind about fees, or is she totally, wholly and implacably opposed to fees of any kind?

I am afraid that I did not attract the Minister’s attention. I have always been against tuition fees; I have marched through the Lobby against them. It gives me no pleasure to say that I knew it would end up like this, with Tory Ministers such as the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr Hayes) ramping up fees—[Interruption.] Members will see how I cast my vote in the coming debate.

The point that I wanted to make is that in a world of markets—all of us here, even my good self, believe in markets nowadays—price is an indicator and, as I said earlier, if there is variable pricing, the indicator to students is that the higher-priced universities are not for the likes of them. Over the years, I have counselled many young people in my constituency, including ethnic minority young people, to try to encourage them to go on to higher education. They are held back not because they do not have the qualifications—their teachers bring them to me precisely because they think they are bright enough to benefit—but because their parents and they themselves are worried about leaving home, about the sorts of people that they will meet, and that the environment might be snobbish. And now that we see a gap of perhaps £6,000 or £7,000 between fees, what will those working-class students think?

I was the first in my generation of my family to go to university. I always remember my father, who was a committed and kindly parent, saying when I was in the sixth form, “Girls of your age are out of school.” He was not being cruel; all the black girls of my age that he knew were out of school. I voted against tuition fees in the first place because had someone told my father, who left school at 14 and worked all his life, that not only was I staying on into the sixth form, not only was I going on to university, but I was going to pile up upward of £40,000 debt to go to my chosen university, he would have said, “No. You leave school and you become a nurse like your mother,” not because he was cruel, but because he was looking out for my future. For someone from his kind of background, that level of debt would be more than they would earn in a year, and more than my father in his day would have earned in several years, which would have been completely unthinkable.

I agree with Government Members who said that the issues that face young people from communities such as mine when going forward into further education are not just about money. They are very complex issues, and that is why for many years I have run a programme that is designed to encourage black young children, specifically, in London to raise their achievements. We have conferences and seminars, and we give out awards. There are, of course, hundreds of ethnic minority young people doing very well in school, in spite of everything and, as I am sure my right hon. and hon. Friends will agree, this measure will hit not just people from communities such as mine, but middle England also. In some ways, the people who will be worst off are those who are just in the middle, who are not eligible for the help but cannot afford to contemplate their children going on to pile up £40,000 of debt, not when they will have to think about their pension and their jobs, and interest rates on mortgages are rising. I believe that the introduction in this way of a crude market mechanism into higher education is wrong. I believe that it shows the reality of our invisible Lib Dem colleagues’ commitment to equality and fairness. I look forward to hearing the Minister responding to my colleagues’ points today, but I look forward even more to seeing what the electorate in Southwark, in Hornsey, and in Lib Dem constituencies up and down the country, will say in response to the way in which the Lib Dems have today walked away from signed commitments not to have higher tuition fees.

I thank all Members for their co-operation in ensuring that everyone who wanted to speak had a chance to do so.

It is a privilege to join the debate led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy), not least because he has a distinguished record championing the widening participation agenda as a Minister, a point others have touched on. Although I have a slight problem with his constituency, I welcome the opportunity to put on record my appreciation of his record in Government. Given his profound knowledge of the subject, I hesitate to speak so soon after my appointment to this shadow brief.

My right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods) rightly praised the improvements in access to participation under the Labour Government. Those from the top three social classes are twice as likely to go into higher education as those from the bottom four classes, and 19% of the poorest 20% go into higher education compared with 57% of the richest 20%. As my right hon. and hon. Friends made clear, there has been encouraging progress since 2004. Higher education participation by the poorest 20% is up by some 32% compared with a rise of 4% for those from the richest 20%, which means an extra 33,000 students from the bottom four social classes going into higher education between 2003 and 2008. My right hon. Friend and the previous Government can be proud of that record. As hon. Members have rightly said, we need to do more work in that area, so I share the profound scepticism of all those who have spoken from the Opposition Benches that the package announced today by the Minister for Universities and Science will help the effort to increase access to participation.

The hon. Member for Reading East (Mr Wilson), who, sadly, is no longer in the Chamber, intervened on my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham. As my right hon. Friend said in his answer, the one bit of good news in the Government’s response to the Browne review was about access to loans and better support for part-time students. There were interventions and speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott), for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds), for Newcastle-under- Lyme (Paul Farrelly), for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods), for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), for Scunthorpe (Nic Dakin), for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and for Sefton Central (Bill Esterson). I hope to pick up on some of the points that they made.

The hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Paul Uppal) made the perfectly fair point that barriers to widening access to education are not simply about finance, but I hope that when he reflects on his intervention he will recognise that a substantial cut in the teaching grant—of which more shortly—will have a big impact on the effort to increase participation. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham referred to the research by the Sutton Trust, which has long championed better access to the oldest universities—Oxford and Cambridge. It will be interesting to hear the reaction of the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning to the work that the Sutton Trust published and the profound concern it raised about the impact of the Browne review on the ability of universities to increase participation.

My right hon. Friend has also championed the future of Aimhigher. In answer to questions that I tabled about its future, the Minister for Universities and Science made it clear that Aimhigher has made a significant difference to access to higher education for those from low-income backgrounds. I hope that the Minister for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning will give us more detail about the future of the widening participation grant. Does he expect it to go down?

I hope that the Minister will deal with the Opposition’s profound concern about the scale of the cut that universities have to contemplate. It has been largely hidden away and not referenced until today’s statement and debate. It is not the 40% spending review cut that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills owned up to, but the 80% cut in the undergraduate teaching budget that is set to have such a profound impact, and is the prime driver behind the increase in fees that we are set to see.

As I said in response to the statement by the Minister for Universities and Science today, we expect universities to lose millions of pounds over the next four years. I hope that he has the courage to recognise that the universities that have done the most to increase participation are set to see the biggest drop in teaching grant funding. As a result of the cut in the undergraduate teaching budget, the university of Bedfordshire is set to lose more than £25 million; Sheffield Hallam university, which serves the constituency of the Deputy Prime Minister, is set to lose £63 million; Leeds Metropolitan university is set to lose almost £61 million; Manchester Metropolitan university is set to lose £60 million; and Liverpool John Moores university is set to lose more than £48 million. A series of universities are set to lose all their teaching grant funding.

In response to the statement from the Minister for Universities and Science today, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, Deptford (Joan Ruddock) referenced Trinity Laban, which serves, in part, one of the most deprived communities in London, and is set to lose all of its funding simply because it does not teach science, technology, engineering or maths. There is huge concern in the higher education sector, as I hope the Minister will acknowledge, about how the transition to the new system will work, about the pace of cuts in higher education funding and about the extent to which the income from increased fees will come on stream.

The key question for the Minister is how such a huge cut in the undergraduate teaching budget will help universities to increase participation. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central mentioned that we are one of only two countries in the OECD that is decreasing spending on higher education—we join Romania in that regard. In the US, President Obama wants the highest number of undergraduates in the world to be from the United States by 2020, and he is backing up that commitment with substantial additional investment in higher education and research. France, Germany, our allies in Europe, Australia and our allies in the Commonwealth—all OECD members—are substantially increasing their investment in higher education, because they want to increase and widen participation. They recognise both the importance to their economies of having highly skilled graduates and the social justice argument for ensuring that those from low-income backgrounds can go to university.

Although a huge number of Labour Members are interested in this debate, it is telling that not one Liberal Democrat has turned up to take part. They are skulking away in the corners of the House, no doubt embarrassed by what their party has signed up to. It is extraordinary that back in April the Deputy Prime Minister signed his headline manifesto commitment opposing tuition fees—wanting them abolished—yet he now supports trebling them as part of the package today.

What is the future for the widening participation premium? What will be the impact of much higher fees and loans on mature students? What analysis has the Minister commissioned about the impact of the package announced today on those from low-income backgrounds? What will be the impact on postgraduate teaching, and what will be the impact on people from low-income backgrounds in terms of participation in postgraduate study?

Will the Minister tell the House how the new access agreement that each university will have to sign with the Office for Fair Access will work? Will there be targets in the access agreement? How will they be set? Will the access documents be public, so that universities and those outside the higher education sector can compare like with like? What will be the penalties if universities do not achieve the targets set out in the access agreement? That point was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham.

It a pleasure to speak in this debate, Mr Betts, and I congratulate the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) on securing it. I acknowledge that we both care deeply about this subject, and we have debated it over many years. It was especially fortuitous of him to secure the debate for today. He applied for it and secured it before he knew about the statement that would be made—a remarkable achievement.

I have always listened to the right hon. Gentleman with interest. His journey from Tottenham to this place is one that we all believe more people should be able to take. Like many other hon. Members who have spoken, I was the first person in my family to go to university and, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, I want that opportunity for more people from working-class backgrounds. Like the hon. Member for City of Durham (Roberta Blackman-Woods), I believe in what she described as the transformative power of learning, and the way that learning changes lives by changing life chances.

However, let us be frank during the course of our affairs this afternoon. The previous Government knew, just as this Government know, that we have to think again about how we fund such opportunities. That is precisely why the previous Government commissioned the Browne review. I have a series of quotes from Lord Mandelson and others. It would be tedious to read them out, but they state that we need to think afresh about the way that we fund universities and think carefully about the contribution made by graduates. That was why we needed to commission a review that looked at such matters. The terms of reference of the Browne review could hardly have been agreed on had it not been anticipated that the outcome would address such subjects. That is precisely what Lord Browne did.

We have heard from a number of hon. Members about the problem of the disincentive effect of higher fees. We heard about that issue from the hon. Members for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), and the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas) mentioned it in his summing up. That stands in contrast to the simultaneous and accurate claims made by hon. Members that since fees were introduced, things have improved in terms of widening access. Rather than being a disincentive, there is little evidence to suggest that people have been put off by fees. As we heard, more people from less-advantaged backgrounds have been going to university since the introduction of fees.

I will happily give way, but I am not going to give way too much because of the time. I want to cover all the points that have been raised.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and I were veterans of the bloody battles that were fought in the Labour party over a market in higher education. The Conservative party and the Liberal Democrats agreed with us. The key achievement all those years ago was to stop the variability, which would have led to people from poorer backgrounds choosing cheaper universities.

While I am on my feet, I would like to make another point—

This will be very brief, Mr Betts. The price paid for a degree sends a market signal to employers that the higher the price, the more a degree is worth. Therefore, more universities will charge higher fees simply because of the signals that that will send to employers. There will be many effects that have not been researched.

I rather suspect that that depends on the degree. There is much more evidence to suggest that degrees in applied sciences, for example, and some of the practical subjects, tend to increase employment potential, whereas some other degrees do not—we could share that discussion offline, Mr Betts, if we have not got time to share it now. I do not write off those other degrees. My goodness—I am a politics graduate and I ended up in this place. As a social scientist, I do not want to make a case against social sciences, and as someone interested in the arts and humanities, I am not going to make a case against those subjects. None the less, if the hon. Gentleman looks more closely at the evidence, he will find that the issue is more about the type of degree.

Much has been made in the debate about the issue of prior attainment. I want to emphasise and amplify the point that the key problem with widening access is prior attainment. If the number of applications were greater, the number of admissions would be greater too. There is not much evidence to suggest that the admissions system is skewed against people from less well-off backgrounds. Many studies have been done to try to establish that, but such a claim is not evidentially based. The issue is about the number of people who apply to universities from less well-off backgrounds. We have to get the school system right and put people on the starting block in the race for higher learning.

We must get advice and guidance right. All too often, people from disadvantaged backgrounds are not given the right kind of empirical advice about the opportunities available to them. When people are advised properly, equipped with the qualifications necessary for their applications and encouraged to apply to university, we see the widening of participation and the fair access that both I and the right hon. Member for Tottenham would like.

No one would disagree with the need to improve attainment, but I do not think that those issues are necessarily in conflict—I will ask the Minister for his view on that. Over the past few years, if people wanted to get into housing, those who could go to the bank of mum and dad did so. Are we going to see a position where those who have the bank of mum and dad, or perhaps an inheritance from mum and dad or grandparents, will in future be able to make choices about higher education that other people cannot make?

It is more the case that people who get advice and guidance derive the wherewithal that turns their aspirations into reality because of a familiar understanding of opportunity. Research suggests that people tend to get that wherewithal from social networks or familiar experience. That is why my children will benefit from advantages that I did not have because of my understanding of the options that are available for higher study. The issue is not only about money, although money is part of it and I shall come on to that in a few moments.

I will not. I am terribly sorry, but I want to make progress. A lot has been said about Aimhigher. I charged the right hon. Member for Tottenham with the claim that he cut the budget for Aimhigher—that was perhaps a little unfair given that he will not have access to the same figures as when he was a Minister or a Front Bencher. However, I would like to give him the facts and I know he will also want them on the record. In 2007, the budget for Aimhigher was £102 million; by 2009 it had dropped to £81 million, and by time the right hon. Gentleman left office, it had fallen to £78 million. The faith that he and others expressed in Aimhigher was not supported by a financial commitment in the budget over which he presided.

Let me put on the record that I was not the Minister in 2007. We increased the widening participation budget for universities more broadly, alongside Aimhigher.

The right hon. Gentleman was not the Minister when funding for Aimhigher was at its highest, but he was when the funding fell. We understand his point.

The quality of achievement at state schools and the prior attainment of students is critical. The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the success of black students in getting into Russell group universities. That is a matter of profound concern and something that the Government should look at, particularly in light of the recent research that he and I discussed yesterday. I want to see what we can do to address that issue.

I also wish to speak a little about the point made about arts subjects. It is important to understand that we will continue to support the arts. It was suggested that arts subjects will no longer receive funding, but we will continue to focus the Government subsidy for teaching on that.

I cannot give way; I do not have time. I apologise. We will continue to support the arts through the subsidy for teaching in universities.

I have a couple of other points. First, the increase in support for part-time learning will do more to widen participation than any other single measure. As the right hon. Gentleman and others know, disadvantaged people are disproportionately represented among part-time learners. Raising the income threshold to £21,000 will have a profound effect—