Skip to main content

Scottish Universities: Support For Students

Volume 592: debated on Tuesday 28 July 1998

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

2.48 p.m.

Why their treatment of English, Welsh and Northern Irish students at Scottish universities was not part of their election manifesto.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment
(Baroness Blackstone)

My Lords, the concession for Scottish students in their final honours year of first-degree courses at Scottish universities was made following a recommendation from the Dearing Inquiry and its Scottish committee under Sir Ron Garrick. The inquiry did not recommend extending the concession to students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We made it clear before the election that we were awaiting the inquiry's recommendations before finalising our policy on support for higher education students. With the support of your Lordships' House, we have now agreed to appoint an independent review.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. However, there was no suggestion in the manifesto that there should be discrimination against any students in this country. Discrimination apparently now exists in law, but a review is being appointed. Does this mean that the manifesto is negotiable?

My Lords, as I said in my earlier response, prior to the election the Labour Party made it clear that it supported the setting up of the Dearing Inquiry into higher education and that it would wait for the results of that inquiry. Given that the inquiry had not reported before the election, the Labour Party could hardly have put in its manifesto that it intended to do anything about making a concession for students in Scotland in the fourth year of their honours degree course.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm whether a migrant worker from the European Economic Area who lives in England for a year before applying to a Scottish university will pay fees for one year less than his English neighbour who has lived there all his life?

My Lords, no, I can confirm that there are residence requirements for students who are from overseas but who live in the UK. However, a European Union student from a European Union country rather than from another overseas country would have to be treated under EU law in exactly the same way as British nationals.

My Lords, in the run-up to the general election, the Prime Minister said that the Labour Party had no plans to introduce tuition fees. Was that not misleading?

My Lords, in the run-up to the election, the Labour Party gave support to the Dearing Inquiry set up by the previous government. We made it clear that we were concerned about the funding crisis in higher education created by the last government and that we were prepared to consider various options which did not rule out seeking a contribution towards fees from those who benefit from higher education.

My Lords, is not the Scottish anomaly an absurd consequence of the Government's equally absurd and grossly unfair decision to charge fees at English universities?

My Lords, no. The Government accepted the recommendations made by the Dearing Committee that those who benefit from higher education should make a contribution towards the cost of their tuition. That has been widely accepted as fair and reasonable. Indeed, an opinion poll survey carried out last year revealed that just under 70 per cent. of parents think it reasonable that they should make a contribution towards tuition fees.

My Lords, is it right that membership of the European Union allows students from all other parts of Europe to attend cut-price? Why does not England, as a member of the European Union, have a cut price, too?

My Lords, while the EC treaty requires member states not to discriminate on grounds of nationality against nationals of other member states on matters within the scope of the treaty, EC law does not intervene on internal matters. It does not require each member state to treat all its nationals in exactly the same way. Therefore, under EU law we are not obliged to make precisely the same financial assistance available to students who are ordinarily resident in England, Wales or Northern Ireland as to those ordinarily resident in Scotland; just as we are not required to make exactly the same arrangements for part-time students as we do for full-time students or for further education students as we do for higher education students.

My Lords, the Minister quoted the opinion poll figure of 70 per cent. of parents being in favour of contributing towards fees. Will she accept the same figure when it is used with regard to clauses of the Crime and Disorder Bill?

My Lords, I cannot answer questions about the Crime and Disorder Bill. I am not sure that a survey has been conducted similar to that in relation to parents making a contribution when they can afford it to the costs of their children's higher education.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the Scottish parliament will be allowed to be kinder to English students?

My Lords, I would not dare to anticipate anything that the Scottish parliament might decide.

My Lords, what will happen to a student of proven Scottish nationality who is resident in England?

My Lords, the issue has absolutely nothing to do with nationality. There is no discrimination on the grounds of nationality. It is a matter of two different education systems, one north of the Border and one south of the Border, which is why the Dearing Committee recommended that a concession should be made to students educated in Scotland. Students educated in England will have had a different educational background before they go to university.

My Lords, has the noble Baroness ever heard of equal treatment?

My Lords, yes, of course I have heard of equal treatment. But the purpose of the concession which the Dearing Committee recommended was to allow those students from Scotland who had had only one year of education at the sixth-form level to gain a degree for the cost of £3,000, which is the same as for students south of the Border.

My Lords, in relation to the Minister's remark about wealthy parents being able to pay, is she aware that at the Labour Party Conference last year the Prime Minister stated: "No parent will have to pay more"?

My Lords, the Prime Minister was entirely accurate in what he said, as we are asking parents to make a contribution towards the tuition costs of their children's education. However, we are in addition providing extra loan finance so that a student can borrow more money and pay it back when his or her income as a graduate makes that possible. Therefore, the parent has to contribute less in maintenance as a compensation for contributing to the fee. That is why the Prime Minister was entirely accurate in what he said.