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Part-time University Course Fees

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 9 June 2011

19. By how much on average he expects fees for part-time university courses to change between 2011-12 and 2012-13. (57797)

The majority of institutions have not yet set their fees for part-time courses for 2012-13, so it is too early to tell what average fees will be. From September 2012, eligible new part-time students will have access to loans to cover the cost of their tuition—extra support for part-time students that has been widely welcomed.

I welcome the introduction of loans for part-time students, but for lone parents that often means the loss of income support as a result. Moreover, they will be required to begin repaying those loans before they have completed their academic studies. Will the Minister look again at the proposals, to ensure that no lone parent is financially disadvantaged and put in the position of being unable to complete their course?

Our proposal has been widely welcomed. We believe that the number of people who will benefit from support while they are engaged in part-time study will increase from 60,000 to 175,000. Of course, people will repay their loans only when they are earning more than £21,000 a year.

Can my right hon. Friend tell the House whether the Office for Fair Access has the power to block fee levels set by universities if they do not agree to access targets?

The Office for Fair Access has the power to refuse to permit fees higher than £6,000 if it believes that a university is not doing everything possible to broaden access and if it is not satisfied with its access agreement.

Fees for part-time students are set to rise significantly, and there is growing concern that the quality of higher education in our universities will suffer as Government cuts begin to bite. The Public Accounts Committee has confirmed this week that the Government’s sums no longer add up, and a considerable number of would-be students are likely to be turned away from university this summer because of Government cuts in student places. The Government are chaotic, incoherent and incompetent. Are we not now watching “Fawlty Towers” in Whitehall, with the Minister and his boss the Basil and Manuel of the Government?

Let us be clear: the previous Government were planning cuts in higher education support. Under our plans, there will be extra cash going into universities by the end of the public spending period, compared with the amount going in now, and it will be going into the universities based on the choices of students and the courses that they wish to study. That is the right way for money to reach the universities. The hon. Gentleman should recognise the importance of a vision of universities that provides extra cash and respects student choice and the autonomy of the universities.