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Tuition Fees: Social Mobility

Volume 649: debated on Monday 12 November 2018

The proportion of 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds entering full-time higher education is up from 13.6% in 2009 to 20.4% in 2017, so disadvantaged 18-year-olds were 50% more likely to enter HE than in 2009. That is a record that this Government can be proud of.

A recent study by Universities UK and the CBI showed that about 60% of respondents were put off applying for part-time study courses because of the cost of tuition fees. Does the Minister have any plans to reduce tuition fee costs, or, even better, will he follow the example of the Scottish Government in scrapping them altogether?

The example of the Scottish Government is not one that is worth copying. We know that in Scotland, because tuition is free, resource per student is lower, and therefore disadvantaged students in Scotland have to wait for English students ahead of them in clearing because they pay more money. That is not an example we will be copying.

At St Andrews University, Scottish students go free, and as a consequence their numbers are capped at 20% of the university’s population. Cut tuition fees, and we cut opportunities for students. It is that simple, isn’t it?

My right hon. Friend is, as ever, absolutely right. In Scotland, the opportunity for disadvantaged students is capped, but that for international students is uncapped. That is not a record worth copying.

Given the importance of science, technology, engineering and maths subjects for the future of higher education and the economy and given the importance of social mobility in those subjects, will the Minister rule out, as a result of the Augar review, a future where STEM fees are higher than fees for arts and humanities courses, because that is apparently under consideration?

The hon. Gentleman is asking me to comment on leaks, and it will be no surprise to him that I will not comment on any leaks about an independent review. However, I will say that ensuring there is opportunity for everyone and creating opportunities that satisfy the skills our country needs is at the heart of the review. It is in the terms of reference, and that is what I will be looking for in the recommendations.

The latest report by the Education Committee suggests that some students are not getting value for money from their university courses. Does the Minister agree that only degrees that enhance employability and earning potential by more than the cost of the course can possibly improve social mobility, and what more can the Government do to make sure that young people make the right decisions about which course to go on?

I take slight issue with the point my hon. Friend makes in the sense that there are degrees that do not lead to higher earnings but are of incredible value—for example, for people who go into social work or nursing—but we need to ensure that every degree is of the right quality and gives students the best opportunity. That is why the new regulator, the Office for Students, which has the interests of students at its heart, is looking at value for money for students, and it is why we have introduced the teaching and excellence framework to focus on the quality of teaching. We are also backing the launch of new information to empower students to make the right choices.