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Education (Student Support) Regulations 1999

Volume 597: debated on Thursday 18 February 1999

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6.20 p.m.

rose to move. That the draft regulations laid before the House on 4th February be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should remind the House that the Government were required under the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 to subject the first regulations made under that Act to the affirmative procedure. That requirement does not extend to these, the second regulations to be made under it, but we have chosen to follow that procedure because these regulations signal important further changes in the arrangements for student support. The Government recognised that Members of both Houses would welcome the opportunity to clarify any remaining questions they had on the detailed policy they embody. This debate therefore provides an opportunity to focus on the detail of the regulations before us. We had interesting debates last year on the Government's policy on student support and I ask noble Lords not to go over ground today which has already been covered.

These regulations give effect to the Government's proposals for student support for students who will enter higher education in 1999–20(X) and for those who entered in 1998–99. Parallel regulations for Northern Ireland will be made shortly. There will be an opportunity to debate the Education (Student Loans) (Scotland) Regulations in respect of Scotland under a separate Motion immediately following this one.

The Education (Student Support) Regulations were laid on 4th February. They have been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and were considered in the other place on 15th February. The regulations relate to the academic year 1999–2000. They will apply to students who enter higher education during that year and to those who entered during the 1998–99 transitional year. They will not apply to students who entered higher education before 1998–99; nor will they apply to those who entered in 1998–99 but who for specific reasons are treated under the previous arrangements—for example, gap-year students. Those students will continue to be subject to the previous arrangements. We shall shortly bring forward regulations on mandatory awards and student loans which will govern those arrangements for the coming year.

The Government are keeping their promise to students and their families. The rates of support for 1999–2000 set out in the regulations reflect an increase in the resources available to all students for their living costs by 2½ per cent., in line with forecast inflation; and they are honouring their pledge that the student's family will not be expected to contribute any more in real terms towards living costs than under the old mandatory awards regime. These increases apply equally to existing students who continue under the old mandatory awards arrangements and to new students who in 1999–2000 will be eligible for 100 per cent. loans. The parental contribution will be the same for both groups.

Students to whom these regulations apply will be eligible to receive a loan towards their living costs and a grant towards the cost of tuition fees. The maximum full-year loan for a student living in London will be £4, 480 and the maximum contribution towards tuition fees will be the full amount of £1, 025. Those in exceptional circumstances—for example, students who are disabled and students who have dependants—will continue to be eligible for supplementary allowances in the form of grants.

The regulations deal with all issues relating to the payment of support. They set out the eligibility criteria for support—for example, that generally a student should be ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom and that he or she should be doing a course which is designated for student support. They cover the amount of loan available, and this varies depending on whether the student lives at home, away from home, in London or is studying abroad. They cover grants towards tuition fees and the supplementary grants towards living costs. Finally, the regulations cover the application process students should follow; the financial assessment of the level of support a student will be entitled to; and arrangements for paying support to students in instalments. The arrangements for the prepayment of loans will be dealt with in a further set of regulations to be made later this year.

A key feature of the regulations for England and Wales is that they bring together and streamline the provisions relating to the payment of all types of higher education student support. In the past, different criteria applied in relation to eligibility for student loans and for mandatory awards; students needed to apply to their LEA for mandatory awards and to their institution for a loan; and they were paid grants by their LEA and their loan by the Student Loans Company. We have taken the opportunity to simplify and harmonise the policy where appropriate and to remove unnecessary duplication in the administrative procedures.

In future, all students will apply to their LEA in the first instance. The LEA will determine whether they are eligible for support and notify them of how much they are entitled to. At the same time, it will notify the Student Loans Company, which will make payments to students. Higher education institutions will be responsible for confirming the student's attendance and handing over the first payment. The new arrangements will be clear and transparent for students and for those who administer the arrangements—local authorities, the Student Loans Company and higher education institutions. Our aim is that all students will receive payment by the first day of term and thereafter by termly instalments. Students have their part to play in this by meeting the deadlines we have set for making applications.

We have consulted on the policy and administrative procedures reflected in these regulations with key representative organisations—the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, the National Union of Students and the Local Government Association. They have helped us to ensure that the technical aspects of the regulations are right, for which we are most grateful.

There are some new features to which I would draw your Lordships' attention. Our aim to is to widen access to higher education, and these regulations contain policy measures to help achieve that.

First, we have extended loans to those aged under 55 at the start of their course, where the student intends to enter employment after completing his or her course. This fulfils the pledge the Secretary of State made last June, and this welcome extension will he of real benefit to those wishing to retrain or develop new skills at this stage of their lives.

Before I leave this point and this age group, I should like to make clear to the House our position on one issue in these regulations which I know has caused some particular concern. SKILL (the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities) made representations to us during the course of last week about the effect of the regulations on disabled students aged over 50. While we have extended loans to certain students between the ages of 50 and 54, the effect of the regulations is that students who do not qualify for loan support towards living costs will not in future qualify for disabled student allowances. I should like to assure the House that the Government have heard these concerns very sympathetically. We are clear that we wish disabled students to continue to receive support towards costs arising from their disability. We are currently considering how best to achieve this and we shall be exploring the options in meetings with SKILL next week. We shall make an announcement on our plans soon.

Secondly, we are introducing a new allowance of up to £100 per week for students who enter higher education after having been in care and who need housing costs in the long vacation. Students who have been in care have often found it difficult to get a place to live in the long summer vacations. It is usually impossible for them to stay with their parents or to look to them for help and support. There are not many of them—in fact there are not enough of them—but we are determined not to let these few students down as they seek to improve their lives and job prospects through higher education.

We also announced last month that from autumn 2000 part-time higher education students on a low income will for the first time be entitled to loans of a maximum of at least £500 to help with the costs of their courses. We shall allocate £30 million to support the new loans over the next two years from 2000 to 2002. The loans for part-time students—both new and existing ones—on a low income will be to help with their course expenses, such as books and equipment. Also, £5 million has been allocated for the 1999–2000 academic year to enable fees to be waived for those starting undergraduate courses who are in receipt of benefits. Similar amounts will be available for following years. They will be available in respect of existing as well as new students for part-time undergraduate study towards first degree, HNC, HND or other undergraduate credit-bearing HE provision which is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. "Part-time" here means at least 50 per cent. of a full-time course.

On the basis of that explanation, I commend the regulations to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 4th February be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee]—(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his very full explanation of the regulations. I am particularly grateful for his remark about the disabled student allowance. As to that, I should like to have a brief moan and to give a cheer in more or less the same breath. I should also like to ask the Minister a question for clarification. I am delighted that the Minister is to rectify the situation for those disabled students who would be affected by the change in the rules. My moan is that it is unfortunate that it should be necessary to do so. The situation need never have arisen had the department in the first place consulted the organisations representing those people with disabilities who would be affected by the changes. I have in mind particularly SKILL, to which the noble Lord referred.

I mention it again because I must declare that I am president of that organisation. I believe that it was someone in SKILL's information service who, being a careful reader of the student support information note that detailed the changes, spotted the problem. SKILL then raised it with the department.

My cheer is that I am terribly pleased with the Minister and also the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, who acted very promptly when the matter came to light. I am delighted that they have undertaken to reverse any ill effects that the change will have. SKILL also welcomes this news and the fact that the department is willing to consult on how best to do it. It is very encouraging that the noble Lord has today said that they will meet so soon.

I turn to my question for clarification. Paragraph 5(a) on page two of the information note SSIN 02/99 states:
"Previous study rules will in 1999/2000 apply only to fee support. Eligibility for loans and supplementary grants will not be affected by previous study".
SKILL interpreted that as meaning that DSA would be extended to those students with disabilities who had undertaken a higher education course in the past. Obviously, that would be greatly welcomed particularly by those disabled later in life who might need to retrain for a new career. However, following a conversation with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, the other evening. I understand that this may be limited to those who have previously undertaken HNC and HND courses. I am not sure about the position. I have tried to look through the regulations but have become totally bogged down in them. Perhaps the Minister can try to clarify the position or write to me about it.

I thank the Minister once again for such a positive response now that the problem has been identified. I look forward to a satisfactory solution, whatever that may be. It matters very little what the package is called. What is important is that a small group of about 200 students should obtain the help they need, and it was intended they should receive, to pursue the course of their choice.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord for taking us through this rather complicated set of regulations. I must record my disappointment that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is not dealing today with these regulations. This is a sensitive issue and it was very controversial when it was debated in Committee. When the dates were negotiated with me I was not informed that the noble Baroness would not be available; otherwise, I would have been extremely accommodating in negotiating a date when the noble Baroness and/or the department whip could have dealt with the matter. Certainly, I do not complain at having to do business with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey. It gives me some feeling of affection and nostalgia to work again with the noble Lord.

It will come as no secret that I take no pleasure whatever in dealing with these regulations. The measure under the Teaching and Higher Education Act is beginning to take its toll on students. As the years pass I believe we shall find that that will be increasingly the case. The introduction of fees and the wholesale removal of maintenance grants and loans have created difficulties for many students. For example, the unfairness of the system leaves young people from low income families with a greater burden of debt on leaving higher education than fellow students who are fortunate enough to come from more wealthy families. The system is very bureaucratic and has already resulted in many problems for students throughout the higher education sector. The system has an effect on recruitment and retention, especially for more mature students. My noble friend Lord Mackay will refer to the Scottish regulations and therefore I shall pass on.

Sadly, the Government have not seen fit to address the anomalies arising from students who pay fourth year fees in Scotland or the bachelor of education courses where young teachers, especially in the primary sector in which the majority of our teachers are trained, do not enjoy the fourth year concession of fees, unlike their postgraduate friends who receive the fourth year of education entirely free of fees.

A particular point at issue in relation to the regulations now before the House is the penalties to be paid by students when applying for grants within the time-scale set down in the regulations. The National Union of Students has quite rightly referred to how one-sided it is: the students suffer but the Student Loans Company does not. Very often it is the fault of the Student Loans Company. There are administrative problems at local education authority level, higher education institute level and the Student Loans Company level. At the end of the day it is the student who needs to be serviced, and promptly, because for many students this is a matter of survival. Very often they are left to access the hardship fund and some, sadly, even abandon their courses. There is a catalogue of experiences during the first year: delays in processing the forms; application forms being sent to the wrong destination and gathering dust in places where they are not meant to be; insufficient numbers of application forms being sent out to some universities; and registrars' departments at some universities being understaffed due to insufficient resources to administer the application forms that come in from students.

Another issue that has also been raised by the National Union of Students relates to those students who change courses mid-year from one institution to another. It is important that students should not be required to pay fees in excess of the maximum in any one year at a single institution. My understanding is that there is a risk that students may end up paying part of the fees to one university and part to another and the combination of the two is greater than the maximum for any one year at a single institution.

Dealing with European Union students, I understand that by the middle of October the Government had spent £327, 000 in assessing their claims. Can the Minister tell the House how many students from the European Union were subject to an assessment under that heading and how many claims of that number were rejected? It was probably a slip of the tongue when the noble Lord, in referring to part-time students who would be allowed to have a loan of up to £500 from the year 2000, said that they would receive a maximum of at least £500. They may receive a maximum but they do not receive up to a maximum.

I strongly support the plea of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. I also join with her in thanking the department for responding so positively to SKILL. But perhaps I may press the Minister a little further. The noble Baroness rather skilfully used the word "rectify". The noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, used rather different words. I wonder whether he could confirm that the omission of this point in the regulations was just that: an omission. Could he confirm that whatever is to be put in its place by some informal means will have the same effect; that is, the effect that it would have had had it been within the regulations, and that, whatever other methodology is to be resorted to, the effect will he the same and students over 55 will enjoy the benefits?

The National Union of Students is concerned about the definition of "unfit to study" and it seems important that we should have clarification. Of particular concern is the Department of Education's proposal that information on previous study that has terminated before conclusion will be requested when assessing eligibility for an award. The students therefore seek clarification from the Minister on its use and the definitions and request that the department includes this in any guidance to local education authorities.

There are a number of other concerns and some which are voiced by the CVCP. First, the issue of local education authorities processing student assessments and the Student Loans Company paying the fees has been discussed extensively in groups involving the vice-chancellors and principals. Given the concerns about the performance of the Student Loans Company this year—I have catalogued some of them—could the department be urged to keep this matter under review and also the option of further grant re-programming by the funding councils next year in order to avert continuing cash-flow problems? This is a very real problem for many students.

With reference to the "borrower" in the second regulation, while the interpretation given may be clear in law, it is not so clear to those who have to administer the loans and access funds. The definition needs to be expanded to clarify the point at which an applicant becomes a borrower. Is it on approval of the loan by the Student Loans Company, or not until the loan has been received? Clarification in the guidance notes would again be very welcome.

On the 21-hour rule, could there be more guidance for the higher education institutions on the application of this rule?

Regulation 9 deals with addresses. The tracking of students' addresses was always going to be problematic for the higher education institutions. They cannot do this with any certainty. If students do not tell their higher education institutions, they are unlikely to tell their local education authorities, or indeed the Student Loans Company—especially the Student Loans Company.

Regulation 17 deals with students deemed to be living at home. The vice-chancellors and principals believe that this issue could be resolved in consultation with the higher education institutions, since they are best placed to take a view as to whether it is feasible to commute from a home. It is hoped that LEAs would work very closely with the higher education institutions, which have particular views on this issue.

Where split contributions are made, the suggestion is that either in the regulations—though of course that is now too late—or in the guidance notes the amounts of contribution notionally attributed to each child shall be expressed to the nearest whole pound. No one will lose money over this; it just makes life rather easier. Rounding fees up to the nearest pence is administratively inefficient.

Although the proposals for support for part-time ITT students look sensible and equitable, there is a need for the department to examine the impact of the changes on part-time ITT courses where the academic year does not begin in the autumn, where the length of the final year is shorter than standard and where teaching practice is not evenly distributed between the years of the course. There may be issues here, for example, for the postgraduate course offered by the Open University and other institutions. The department might note this point and issue guidance at a later date, after consultation with the course providers.

In relation to long-term residential courses, there could be problems for some certificate or diploma courses classed as higher education. In some cases these may entitle students to admission to the second or later year of a degree course, but may only admit to a first year, depending on the closeness of the course content match. It might be advisable for the department to check with a sample of colleges. If this has not already been done, could I suggest that it is done? It would be unfortunate if students from such colleges lost part of their support entitlement, having taken a course which was nominally higher education but which in practice gave them access only to the first year of their chosen degree course.

On previous study rules, could we seek clarification of whether "European Union public funds" means funds administered by the European Union, European Commission or funds from a government of an EU member state? If the latter, there may be problems in establishing the precise status of the funds in question.

As for assisted students, the removal of the "assisted students" provisions is welcome but the new proposals are not problem-free. Many of the assisted students have come from other EU countries whose student support rules allow the support to be used to fund courses in other countries. They have often arrived expecting, under the mandatory award regulations, to qualify to have their fees paid and have faced difficulties when they have found themselves classed as assisted students. The provisions in Regulation 21(7) are not clear unless their purpose is understood, and it is therefore essential for the provision to be explained in simple language, both for EU students and others.

I know that is rather a lot of questions, but these are very complicated regulations. It is important that some of these issues are addressed because there are considerable concerns within the university sector and the higher education sector in general

6.45 p.m.

My Lords, I too begin by thanking the Minister both for bringing the regulations to us tonight and for the clear and careful way in which he has explained them. I also echo the comments and the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth. I do not need to repeat those points. They are a matter of concern and we look forward to seeing how things develop. Similarly, the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, has dealt fully with the concerns raised by the NUS and in the briefing from the CVCP, which I too received. I hope that the House will accept that I simply echo those points and I shall not repeat them as fully as the noble Baroness quite rightly did.

These regulations were debated in the other place earlier this week and I have read the debate that took place there in full. Not surprisingly, the Minister's speech tonight bore a close resemblance to the speech in the other place; indeed, it would have been remarkable if it had not done so. I shall endeavour not to repeat exactly what my honourable friends in the other place said but rather to follow up on some of the points which did not receive the clear answers that we would have wished.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, made reference to the poor performance of the Student Loans Company and the seeming inequity that students are set a fairly tight timetable of one month for supplying the requisite information but that there are no performance targets either for the Student Loans Company or indeed LEAs. My honourable friend in the other place, Phil Willis, suggested that for LEAs there should be a four-week mandatory processing period for establishing eligibility and six weeks for the statutory financial assessment by LEAs and the Student Loans Company. I echo that, but what I wanted to pick up on was the response he received from the Minister, who said in Standing Committee in the other place:
"The Government are confident that key players will deliver".
We would all wish to share that optimism but I am not sure that we all share that confidence. More to the point, the Minister went on to say that administrative arrangements had been made and were in place and that they detailed,
"the deadline dates and turn-about times at each stage"—
referring to the LEAs and to the Student Loans Company. He made this comment also:
"The matter should be transparent, and we should be able to see the background against which companies or institutions are administering student loans".
I echo that and I hope that tonight the Minister is in a position to be transparent and to tell us exactly what these deadline dates and turn-about times are. It would be helpful to have that on the record.

My second point relates to students changing university or perhaps the course. Regulation 7(1)(b) seems to suggest that students can do so only on "educational grounds". All of us know that students change courses and universities for often good reasons but not necessarily good reasons on educational grounds. That point was queried during discussion in another place. The Minister stated that eligibility will not be based specifically on educational grounds but on what is in a person's best interests. If that is so, I welcome it. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that is what is intended and that the provision will be interpreted—dare I say it?—liberally and not strictly on educational grounds as appears to be the case.

My next point concerns part-time students and completion of courses. Increasingly degrees are unit based. They increase in number and importance. That is especially important for the poorest students. I am unclear about the position of part-time students who may take some time to complete a course. The regulations appear to suggest that failure to complete their course within two years will lead to termination of eligibility. I was not clear of the exact position from the Minister's reply in another place. I hope that the Minister will clarify it and give us an assurance that the leeway provided for in Regulation 8(2) will be used to assist poorer, mature and OU students who are combining study with work and may well take more than two years to complete a course.

Lastly—it is a point of particular concern to my honourable friend Phil Willis—I refer to field trips. Regulation 10(1)(c) specifically excludes field trips. Yet field trips are an essential part of many courses, for instance, in geology, archaeology, foreign travel and study for foreign language students, and so on. I worry that they are so specifically excluded. Perhaps we have misunderstood the position, but I do not think so. I hope that the Minister can explain that and give some further consideration to it.

I have been entrusted with further points which arise more specifically on the Scottish regulations. Although some apply equally to these regulations, I shall raise them later with some trepidation.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, for giving us the opportunity to discuss the regulations and to raise further points, one of which concerns the grants to be made available for students who have left care. I welcome that as a concept, but I am puzzled by the detail in the regulation which affects such people. At page 48 it states that to be eligible it is necessary that the person should have been in care,

"throughout any three month period ending on a date on or after the date on which he attains the age of 16 and before the first day of his course".
Therefore, if he had gone into care a month before the course he would not be eligible. I do not understand the reason for that. Why should one wish to exclude from the benefit of the regulation people who have only recently gone into care?

The following words seem strange for the opposite reason: that students must not have been back with their parents in the three months before the beginning of the course. Why? Does it mean that a student who has been in care and wishes to take advantage of the regulation has to avoid association with his or her parents in the three months before the beginning of the course; or has to avoid seeking reconciliation in order not to lose his grant? The regulations as drafted seem to contain somewhat strange aspects.

I wish to raise the question of lone parents. The regulations seem rather harsh towards lone parents. If someone is to attend a course properly, he or she may be paying out substantial amounts for babysitting or childminding. He will find life extremely hard under the regulations as drafted. I do not expect a clear answer from the Minister today, but perhaps he can write to me later. I refer to paragraph 1(1)(a) on page 43. Why do lone parents not have the disregard which other students have?

My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords perhaps not for their reception of the regulations but at least for the evident care with which they have studied them and the attention they gave to asking questions on them.

Perhaps I may say, first, to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that it is a pleasure for me to face her across the Dispatch Box. As the noble Baroness knows, my noble friend Lady Blackstone is in South Africa this week. If there has been any failure of communications through the usual channels, I apologise for that.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, for her reception of what I said about disabled students between 50 and 54. Of course there are not many. We are talking about perhaps 4, 000 students, able and disabled, and perhaps 200 disabled students in that category. However, the noble Baroness is right to say that it might have been better if we had anticipated the problem without it having to be brought to our attention by SKILL. We are grateful to her for the understanding and the co-operation which her organisation is giving to resolving the issue. I do not know how it will be resolved, but we are keen that it should be.

The noble Baroness asked me about previous study rules. The removal of the previous study rules from disabled student allowance is universal. There is no qualification to that. Students will be eligible for disabled student's allowance for any second course designated under the regulations, whether for HNCs, HNDs, or first degrees, regardless of the nature of the previous course. I hope that she will accept that that is as widely drawn an exemption from previous study rules as it can possibly be.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked so many questions that I hardly had time to write them down, let alone answer them! However, I shall do my best to do so. On a wider issue which is not contained in the resolutions, I simply do not agree that there is a greater burden of debt on students from low income families than on those from better off families. On the contrary, the qualifications for exemption from charges, for eligibility for loans, and the repayment conditions are fairer than they were previously.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. Does the noble Lord accept that a student from a low income family shares the full burden of the whole maintenance grant irrespective of the tuition fees, whereas a student from a more affluent family is responsible personally only for paying back half the maintenance grant?

7 p.m.

My Lords, I do not know that the Government can be responsible for the internal household arrangements of better off students. We can ensure that the provisions for loans and the repayments of loans are properly tailored between families of different backgrounds.

I will deal with the noble Baroness's questions in the order in which I have notes rather than the order in which she asked them. I cannot reconstruct her speech. She asked about students from the European Union and correctly said that the cost was £327, 000. She will recall that the department, of its own volition, volunteered to take over the responsibility for the assessment from local education authorities because it was believed that the conditions in so many European countries with so many different regimes would be difficult for local authorities to deal with. They would have to learn about small numbers and 96 per cent. of applications from the European Union countries were dealt with by the central unit.

The department has processed about 10, 000 applications from European Union students for fee support. The noble Baroness can draw what conclusions she wishes about value for money, but it is more expensive in the first year. I will have to write to the noble Baroness detailing how many students did not qualify for fee support as a result, but the cost relates to the application.

The noble Baroness asked about guidance to higher education institutions on the application of Regulation 9 about tracking student addresses. Both the LEAs and the Student Loans Company will contact students by any available route if we are aware that the address is no longer valid. However, it is a failsafe device in the sense that it is in the students' interest to allow their addresses to be tracked successfully.

Of course, the noble Baroness had the benefit of the briefing from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, which I did not have. She asked at what point an applicant becomes a borrower. The answer is when the first instalment of the loan is received by the student. A number of questions were raised by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about the performance of the Student Loans Company and about targets. The Minister in another place was able to say—and I know that it caused some queries—that 97 per cent. of completions were satisfactory. Of course, the ability of the LEAs and the Student Loans Company to achieve targets which are on a calendar basis depends on the proportion of students who complete their applications accurately and on time. But we have set targets. They are that there should be a turnaround for applications for new style loans within 14 days and for hardship payments within 7 days. Our fundamental target is that the first cheque should be available from the higher education institution on the first day of the first term. Those are tough targets. The improvement of the performance of the LEAs and the SLC in the past year leads us to have some confidence that it will be achieved. However, if there are problems we will be prepared to ask for a full review.

We have closely involved the major players in the design of the overarching system of administration. It makes clear the roles and responsibilities of each player, which are much more rational than under the preceding system, and it sets out a schedule which enables each of them to make their contribution at the right time. We have deadline dates and turnaround times for each stage of the process and the SLC has developed staffing plans so that it can meet its new responsibilities.

It is important for us and for the regulations to ensure that everyone is clear about their roles and responsibilities. Formal definitions and agreed business processes are being backed up by information and advice from the department. The Student Loans Company is rolling out a comprehensive training strategy for its staff on the changes. Nevertheless, we have contingency plans. We are developing monitoring systems to ensure that we receive early warnings of any problems. Representatives of the LGA and the CVCP have been involved in the development of the systems.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, asked about my phrase, "a maximum of at least £500". I confess that I added the word "maximum" because I wanted to provide for the possibility that part-time students would want less than £500. At the same time, Ministers have decided that there will be payments to part-time students. The maximum has not yet been determined, but it will not be less than £500; in other words, it could be more. I am sorry if my wording is somewhat elliptical and misled her. The noble Baroness also asked me whether the omission of disabled students was purely an omission. I can confirm that that was the case. There was no sinister intent.

I have already replied about the previous study rules. I hope that the noble Baroness will agree they are a good deal more user-friendly than they were. Of course, it is still the case that a student will not be eligible for fee support if he or she has previously attended a full-time course of higher education lasting one academic year or more. But that will not affect the student's entitlement to maintenance support. It means that, for the first time, a student will not be disqualified from receiving supplementary allowances, such as disabled student allowances or dependent allowances, on the ground of the previous study. I hope that goes some way towards reassuring the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who asked me about lone parents for whom dependent allowances are made. I can confirm that the previous study rules will not affect initial teacher training courses or people continuing from a higher education course that does not lead to a degree; for example a higher national diploma. After all, that is the purpose of access courses which carry with them the right to credit transfer.

The noble Baroness asked me about the liability of students to pay tuition fees on transfer between institutions. The collection of tuition fees is essentially a matter between higher education institutions and the students, but we are aware of the issue and we will be discussing it with the CVCP in order to agree guidelines. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, we do not intend to define "educational" in any narrow sense. The Minister in another place referred to the person's best interests. That includes opportunities for education to be defined very widely. It gives the possibility of a second chance if something has gone wrong and we shall be advising local education authorities accordingly.

The noble Baroness asked me about the impact of the changes on part-time initial teacher training courses and she referred specifically to the Open University. I am grateful to her for that. The changes will simplify them while ensuring that students are no worse off than now. They will promote access to the teaching profession. The regulations accommodate a range of patterns of part-time ITT study and start dates, as they have in the past. I would not imagine that there are special implications in respect of ITT start dates, but we are providing full and comprehensive guidance for LEAs, higher education institutions and the Student Loans Company. Of course, we cannot be completely flexible and allow students to dip in and dip out at will, but we recognise that there are some occasions, particularly for part-time students, when there must be breaks. I am sure that the regulations can be interpreted sympathetically from that point of view.

The noble Baroness asked me about the removal of the assisted students rule. A simple means test ensures that European Union students are treated no less favourably than UK students. I do not know whether that means that they are European Commission funds or national funds, but we shall provide further guidance to assist with interpretation.

The noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked me about field trips. That is more complicated. Field trips have always been excluded from the fees payable under mandatory awards and we did not change that in the Teaching and Higher Education Act. Had we done so, there would have been pressure to meet the cost of those field trips, which were not met previously, within the funds available. Therefore, on balance, we believe that it is right for those and certain other fees to continue.

I have dealt with the issue of transfers on educational grounds and delivery by the principal players. Perhaps I may say a few words on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, about part-time students and the lapsed time for a course. The time for completing a course is that which the institution sets, whatever the mode of attendance. There is discretion to extend it, which can be exercised in the light of all the circumstances.

If the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will forgive me, I shall answer his question about the definition of the dates of eligibility for the carer's allowance in writing. The point which occurs to me immediately is that if we have the three months' qualification for having been in care, it is right that there should be the same qualification for not having been back living with parents. It would be wrong if there were any asymmetry between those periods. However, I do not quite know what is the justification for specifying three months rather than one month.

I have taken too long, and I am sorry. I have tried to answer as many questions as possible. I shall write to noble Lords on those matters that I have not covered.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask one question in relation to what he said about the maximum of £500. I shall not go into semantics, but the noble Lord said something interesting. My understanding was that from 2000 part-time students will be given help up to a maximum of £500. The noble Lord said—and it is quite important—that it could be more. Will he confirm that?

My Lords, Ministers have not decided what the maximum will be. My brief said "at least £500". I wanted to add that if people wanted smaller loans they could have them. The maximum amount has not yet been decided. It will not be less than £500; it could he more. I commend the Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.