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Higher Education

Volume 555: debated on Thursday 20 December 2012

16. What recent assessment he has made of his changes to higher education and to the level of student tuition fees; and if he will make a statement. (134553)

The proportion of English school leavers accepted by universities for 2012-13 was the second highest on record. Final data show that acceptance rates from disadvantaged areas increased. More students are getting into their first choice universities.

But UCAS data show that there was an overall 11% fall in applications for higher education in 2012-13, and early indications are that the number of applicants for 2013-14 will fall further. Is the Minister worried by that emerging trend, and if so, what will he do about it?

Of course, entry to British universities is competitive, and we have many more applicants than places, but we will continue to get across the message that no student has to pay up front to go to university, and that students start paying for university only if they are earning more than £21,000. That is a very fair way of financing our universities.

What measures is the sizzling science and higher education Minister putting in place to ensure that applicants to universities have the very best information on the outcomes of their courses?

For the first time, we have required that key information sets contain the information that prospective students want about, for example, employment outcomes from particular courses at particular universities. People are entitled to that information—it was not available before, but now it is.

I am afraid the Minister is trying to gloss over the facts of his record. The reality is that two years on from the Government’s decision to treble tuition fees to £9,000 a year, applications have dropped by 54,000, which is 11%; acceptances are down, as are the numbers of mature learners and part-time learners; his core and margin policy has caused nothing but chaos and confusion; his AAB policy has been a dramatic failure; and to top it all off, legitimate international students are choosing to go to our competitor countries to study as a result of Home Office policies. Is not the truth that the past two years under this Government have been a disaster for students and universities alike?

The fact is that the confusion is over the Opposition’s policies. We know they are planning to reduce fees to £6,000, but there is no indication of what they will do to compensate universities for the loss of those revenues. The only time the hon. Lady came to the House to explain her policies, it became clear she would abolish bursaries for students under access funds. Under this Government, we have more students going to university, well-funded universities and more students getting their first choice than ever before. We are proud of those reforms.