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Post-18 Education and Funding Review

Volume 662: debated on Monday 24 June 2019

13. What assessment he has made of the merits of the recommendations of the Post-18 education and funding review. (911518)

Congratulations, Mr Speaker, on your 10th anniversary. If you view it as a marriage to this place, then this is your tin anniversary. May I say, however, that you have certainly not had a tin ear when it comes to representing all voices around this House? [Hon. Members: “Groan!”]

Turning to the question, the independent panel’s report, chaired by Philip Augar, reports to the Government. It is an important interim step in the review of post-18 education and funding. The Government will consider the panel’s recommendations carefully and conclude the overall review at the spending review. The Government have not taken decisions with regard to the recommendations put forward.

I associate myself with the many fawning tributes to your period in office, Mr Speaker. [Laughter.]

I am not sure what was more embarrassing about the launch of the Augar review, the former Minister describing it as a report that will

“destabilise university finances, imperil many courses and reverse progress in widening access”,

or the current Prime Minister acknowledging that, after nine years of Tory cuts, further education has been “overlooked, undervalued and underfunded”. Will the Minister give us an assurance that the Government’s approach will be one of levelling up funding and not of robbing Peter to pay Paul?

It was an excellent launch of the report at the Policy Exchange; I do not remember the hon. Gentleman being there. I thank Philip Augar for an excellent piece of work, which has 53 recommendations, and I encourage all Members to read it. One disappointing factor was that there was not a single question from the media about further education until right at the end; it was all about higher education. That is a great shame. The report is a post-18 review looking at creating unity of purpose, following students across all parts of their life course. That is what the Government will consider when it comes to looking at the 53 recommendations as part of the spending review. We must ensure that the report is taken as a whole and that HE is not just plucked out.

There are many positive recommendations in the Augar review, including the proposed lifelong learning loans which will be very welcome, but the proposed tuition fee cut could have a negative effect, reducing the money available for widening access. Can my hon. Friend assure me that we can ensure fair access and good outcomes for students, and not just seek a headline? Can we make sure that funding for universities is not reduced?

Certainly. Unlike the Labour party, I am proud of the fact that the HE system has put an additional £6 billion of resource into universities since 2012 as a result of the fee level rise. On ensuring quality in our system, we want to look at the recommendations. One of the panel members was Edward Peck, vice-chancellor of Nottingham Trent University, of which I think my hon. Friend is an alumnus. It is right that we now work with all vice-chancellors. As Universities Minister, I will be hosting a series of roundtables to consult the sector to ensure that its voice is clearly heard.