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Higher Education (Economic Growth)

Volume 545: debated on Thursday 24 May 2012

15. What recent assessment he has made of the contribution of the higher education sector to economic growth. (109164)

17. What recent assessment he has made of the contribution of the higher education sector on economic growth. (109166)

20. What recent assessment he has made of the contribution of the higher education sector to economic growth. (109170)

Higher education contributes to growth. We have just had universities week, celebrating our universities’ contribution to the Olympics, to the economy and to national life, and estimates by Universities UK indicate that higher education contributes more than £31 billion to our GDP. University education is of course, however, also worth while in itself—in ways that cannot be measured by economists.

The Minister acknowledges the importance of higher education as a major export earner. Does he therefore agree with his hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Joseph Johnson), who wrote an excellent piece in the Financial Times last week, arguing that we should catch up with our competitors and stop classifying students as migrants, as part of a strategy to win a bigger market share for our world-class university system?

I absolutely support the objective in that statement of winning a greater market share for our higher education sector, and we can be very proud of the international demand from students wanting to study at our higher education institutions. There is no cap on the number who come here, and we will do everything possible to correct any misunderstandings around the world that may be inhibiting people from applying.

At a time when many mainstream universities are extremely worried about where sufficient funding for research, which is vital to Britain’s long-term economic growth, will come from, why does the Minister think that a multi-million pound VAT cut for commercial universities is a good use of public funds?

One reason why we have protected the science and research budget and, for the first time, included the research funding going to universities via the Higher Education Funding Council for England is so that our universities can be confident that they have secure and protected research funding for the life of this Parliament.

Durham university is not only world-class but, along with the other four universities in the north-east, a key driver of the regional economy. What assessment has the Minister made of the visa changes and the capacity of Durham, and those other four universities, to attract overseas students, especially when we read in the press that students from India and other countries are choosing Canada and the United States, rather than the UK?

Let us be clear about what the Government have done. We have tackled abuse in bogus colleges and the issue of overseas students who, sadly, did not have the necessary academic qualifications to benefit from coming into higher education in this country. That abuse had to be tackled. We now have a clear message that legitimate students are welcome, with no cap on numbers, to come from anywhere in the world to study at British universities. I work very closely with our universities, including the university of Durham, on trade missions to get that very positive message out across the world.