It is good to be back at the Dispatch Box.
The most recent assessment of the living costs of English-domiciled full-time and part-time undergraduates was the 2014-15 student income and expenditure survey, which found that the average living costs of full-time undergraduates were about £7,000.
According to a recent report in the Huffington Post, the living costs of students in Manchester have rocketed by 37% in the last 10 years. Cost should not be a barrier to accessing the country’s best universities, such as the University of Manchester. What is the Minister doing to encourage universities to keep students’ costs affordable?
Students who started their courses in the current academic year have had access to the highest ever funding levels to support their living costs. We now have a system of support that targets those from the lowest-income families, who need it the most. A record number of 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds went to university this year, 68% more than in 2009.[Official Report, 20 December 2018, Vol. 651, c. 6MC.]
As a fellow historian, I warmly congratulate the Minister on his appointment, although I am afraid that he arrives to a perfect storm for students, battered by high tuition fees and extortionate interest, with evidence now piling up from freedom of information requests—the latest in The Huffington Post report that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) has just referred to—that many are unable to cope with spiralling accommodation costs in London and other cities. Yet recent questions I put to the Department on what it is doing about this got the answer that it was not a Government issue. On the day we are told that the London Business School head gets a half a million pound a year package, is it not appalling that students at his and other HE institutions are being brushed off like this? Will the Minister make this a priority for his in-tray?
The hon. Gentleman and I have a mutual interest in history, particularly the reign of Henry VII, and I hope that we can continue to be civil in our conversations on HE funding, but I reiterate on the loan package that we have seen not only a 10.3% increase compared with the previous grant system in 2016-17 but in November a further 2.8% increase, which means there is currently a maximum loan of £8,944. On accommodation costs, I am interested in looking in particular at the private rented sector. We have been working with the British Property Federation to develop advice on protocols that will encourage collaborative working between universities and private providers. I do want to go further and I hope that we can work together to look at this issue.