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Tuition Fees

Volume 539: debated on Thursday 2 February 2012

16. What assessment he has made of the effect of higher tuition fees on the level of university admissions in the next academic year. (93014)

UCAS published figures on 30 January 2012 covering applications to higher education institutions by its main deadline. That independent information shows that the proportion of English school leavers applying to university is the second-highest on record and is higher than in any year under the previous Labour Government. It is also encouraging that applications from people from some of the most disadvantaged backgrounds remain strong. We will continue to monitor closely the data on applications.

I thank the Minister for his answer and draw attention to my interest in this matter, as set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Since this Government’s punitive and regressive £27,000 tuition fees have been introduced, university applications for design are down more than 16%, applications for history are down more than 7%, applications for classics are down more than 8% and applications for non-European languages are down more than 21%. Britain has long had a world-class reputation for the humanities; why are this Government so determined to kill it off?

I am amazed that the hon. Gentleman could refer to an arrangement under which graduates pay for their higher education only if they are earning more than £21,000 a year as a regressive policy. It is a progressive and fair way of maintaining higher education. Because, unlike him, young people across the country understand that, we have had a very healthy level of applications to universities this year—down only 1% on last year’s peak.

What assessment has my right hon. Friend undertaken of the impact on admissions of university access agreements supervised, and indeed enforced, by the Office for Fair Access?

It is very encouraging that when we look behind the 1% fall in applications overall, it looks as though the fall in applications from prospective students in the most disadvantaged areas is actually only 0.2%. That tells us that the message is getting across, and I pay particular tribute to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes) and the advice we have had from him, and to the work done by OFFA to get that crucial message across.

Higher education applications have collapsed. In teaching, we have a simple way of measuring whether children are learning by rote or are actually learning and understanding: we ask them what would happen next. When the Minister tripled tuition fees and abolished education maintenance allowances, what did he think was going to happen next?

I thank the hon. Lady for the advance notice of her question. Contrary to the stories of collapse and disaster, we believe that the fact that applications have fallen only by 1% is evidence that the message that students do not have to pay is getting across, and this summer I shall once more sadly be in the position of having to explain why young people applying to go to university do not have a place. In other words, we have succeeded in explaining the truth about our proposals, contrary to the misleading allegations of the Opposition.

I know that the Minister will not be suggesting that any Opposition Member has misled the House. I am sure he is referring to activity outside the House.

Will my right hon. Friend the Minister join me in reassuring my constituents that, unlike the views of the Opposition, under our scheme a top-quality university degree will actually cost them only £30 a month when they are earning £25,000 a year?

I entirely agree. Indeed, that figure on earnings of £25,000 a year contrasts with payments of £75 a month under the arrangements we inherited from the Labour Government.