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Student Loans

Volume 588: debated on Thursday 20 November 2014

I thank the Minister for that admirably concise response.

On Monday, the Higher Education Commission published a report which effectively endorsed the statement in the report from the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee that the current finance system for higher education was unsustainable. The Government rejected the Select Committee’s report. In the light of the overwhelming evidence backing the report, will the Minister tell us what he is going to do about this?

I do not agree with that report. Our system of student finance is in rude health. The OECD reviewed higher education systems throughout the world, and concluded that the

“UK is…one of the few”


“that has figured out a sustainable approach to higher education finance”

and that

“that investment…pays off for individuals and tax payers.”

This year more students are going to university than ever before, and that would not have been possible without the reforms that we introduced.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the resource accounting and budgeting charge is not a fixed cost, a cost that is being incurred today or public expenditure, but, essentially, a highly speculative forecast of what income tax receipts might be up to 2050? He is right: we have a system that is in rude health, with more people applying to universities, more funds for universities, and more applications from low-income families.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. We take a very cautious view of the RAB charge. The OECD is amazed that we take such a conservative view. For example, we take no account of the fiscal benefit that results from people paying more taxes because they earn more as a result of having a degree. The average salary of a non-graduate is £21,000, but the average salary of a graduate is £33,000. The graduate’s salary means extra tax for the Treasury, but that is not taken into account. We are expanding student numbers, and we have a record number of students with the most disadvantaged backgrounds. It is a tribute to the work done by my right hon. Friend that we are able to say that.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that the system is going bust, the Select Committee says that the system is going bust, and the Higher Education Commission says that the system is going bust. When will the Minister get the message? Let me ask him about uncapping student numbers this year. We were promised that the ceiling would be removed from places this year, next year and the year after. Earlier in the week, when I asked the Minister how he would pay for that, I received the immortal answer:

“The Department…has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period.”

Will the Minister tell the House now how he will pay for lifting the ceiling on student numbers this year? If he cannot answer that question, we shall have to conclude that it is a case of “Never mind a long-term plan; he has no plan at all.”

First of all, the IFS did not say that the system was unsustainable. We have one of the best systems of student finance in the world, and it is achieving the results that we on this side of the House all want to see. I will give the right hon. Gentleman the answer to his question on how the removal of the cap is being paid for. The Treasury has allocated £550 million to pay for it, and it is fully funded. This has enabled us to implement the Robbins report, which was produced 50 years ago and recommended that anyone with the capability and desire for a university education should be able to have one. We are the first Government in 50 years who have been able to implement that.