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Higher Education

Volume 571: debated on Thursday 5 December 2013

That is already our policy. Higher education is vital to our future productivity and economic growth. That is why we have reformed university finance and protected research spending. As a result of our reforms, total university income for teaching will rise from £7.2 billion in 2011-12 to £9.1 billion in 2014-15.

The Minister will know that spending on higher education remains lower than the OECD average, yet higher education makes a huge contribution to the national economy, as I know from the two excellent universities in Brighton and Hove, so will he do even more to address this gap please? Will he also make an assessment of the University and College Union proposal to fund our knowledge economy via an increase in corporation tax for the richest 4% of our corporations, rather than by relying on tuition fees that unfairly fixate on the individual benefit of students going to university?

We have a fair and sustainable way of financing higher education. It is right to expect graduates to pay back the cost of their higher education if they are earning more than £21,000. That has enabled us to see more students going to university and increases in funding for teaching at universities, even while we have been tackling the budget deficit we inherited from the previous Government.

As you know, Mr Speaker, while the Minister was batting for Britain in Kazakhstan last week, the National Audit Office was battering his handling of the student loans system. We look forward to the hearings at the Public Accounts Committee, but in the meantime would he mind telling the House how late he discovered that students at private higher education institutions were soaking up public subsidies at such a rate that there was an overspend of hundreds of millions of pounds? How did he lose control so spectacularly?

Let us be clear: these students are studying for HNCs and HNDs, which are all legitimate and valuable qualifications. Whereas under the right hon. Gentleman’s Government there was no control whatsoever of the designation of alternative providers, we have introduced controls. The number of students going to alternative providers has increased dramatically, and in order to maintain budgetary controls, we have introduced further limits on the numbers, but these are worthwhile courses that we should support.