Skip to main content

Education: Conservatoires

Volume 739: debated on Wednesday 10 October 2012

Question for Short Debate

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will meet the funding needs of the United Kingdom’s conservatoires.

My Lords, before we start the next debate noble Lords will obviously know that it is time-limited. This is one of those tricky ones where we have great interest in the debate, which leads to a very limited speaking time for Back-Bench contributions: two minutes, except for the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey. I will endeavour to have us working together. If everybody were to have three minutes, it would take us over the hour but at two minutes I will try not to be too draconian. I am sure noble Lords would not want me to be that. If we can all come in together at an hour at the end of it, that would be marvellous. Thank you.

My Lords, I start by declaring two non-pecuniary interests: as chair of the all-party classical music group and, as of 1 October, as chair also of the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in London. I imagine that most of the many noble Lords participating in this debate have had the experience of walking into a music conservatoire. In my new position, I have the privilege of regularly walking in to the magnificent old naval college building in Greenwich, where the Trinity music school is situated, to find a jazz saxophonist practising up there, Bach cello music coming from down there and a bit of John Cage—I do not necessarily move towards that window—coming from over there. On the same visit, I may go to the Laban dance building, which won the Stirling architecture prize. There, because it does modern dance, you see bodies of all shapes and sizes—and yes, of course, of both sexes but also of every kind of racial background that you can imagine—working and working to perfect their art form. Every time that I go in there, it sends a tingle down my spine.

I am tempted just to say that and sit down, which might be very welcome as the House does not like people to go on for too long. The reason that I could sit down is the number of noble Lords who have put their names down to speak in this debate, even though they know that once they have cleared their throat they will have to sit down again. This really shows that this is one of those issues which may not seem huge on the great national tapestry but are of burning importance, not just to the people who work or study in the sector but to the whole of the culture. If anything in this world is of value, it is music, dance and drama and the conservatoires that make them possible.

I should also say at the beginning that this is not a “bash the Government” debate. I can do “too many cuts” speeches off the top of my head; I have been doing them for many years. When the Government introduced their new arrangements for higher education funding, I think that the special circumstances of the conservatoires did not enter their heads. That was certainly the impression that I got from ministerial correspondence at the time. However, to be fair, the Government have since woken up to the problem. My classical music group had an excellent meeting with David Willetts, the responsible Minister, over the summer. He was very concerned to listen to us. The Higher Education Funding Council for England is also sympathetic. This is not about “damn cuts” but it is, I suppose, special pleading and I will now make that special plea.

What, in a nutshell, is the problem? It is this: conservatoire education is by its very nature expensive to provide. You need one-to-one teaching; you need lots of space for people to practise; you need decent instruments, which are a lot more expensive than the whiteboard arrangements needed at a normal university. In recognition of this, successive Governments have provided funding for the sector—most notably through the exceptional funding that HEFCE provides. This is now coming under pressure. The higher education review that the Government published envisaged much higher fees and a consequent reduction in special funding. We are not going to argue with that; our fees will go up, as have those of other undergraduate institutions. However, we do not even have a guarantee that special funding will continue beyond the end of this year. HEFCE has kept it going for a further year in 2012-13 but is reviewing it now. An announcement is expected in December 2012. My colleagues and I operate every day with the sword of Damocles still poised over our heads.

The situation is very tough. HEFCE funding has been reduced by £9.7 million in cash terms and 16.1% in real terms since 2009-10. All conservatoires have been hit by the previous Government deciding that if you had done a first degree somewhere, you could not then go and do a first degree somewhere else and be funded for it. So someone who is a chemist but turns out to be a brilliant pianist cannot now get any funding if they go off to do a degree in piano. There has been a virtual removal of capital funding for teaching, which, as I said, needs to be much higher—you cannot buy a Steinway for the price of a blackboard. So the general situation that we face is very tough.

We ought to have a sense of proportion about this funding gap. The total funding for exceptional funding from HEFCE is £20 million. At the Conservative Party conference this week—this is not a party political point—the Government said that they were seeking, from social security benefits alone, cuts of £10 billion. That is 500 lots of our total funding. This money is not material in terms of its impact on the deficit, on the Exchequer or on anything like that, but it is oh so material regarding what happens at our conservatoires.

It is not easy for us to find other income. For example, we are looking the whole time for more foreign students but we face a great deal of competition, including from European institutions which are subsidised by their Governments, and now we have the problems created by immigration law, which were dramatically illustrated by the London Metropolitan affair. Trinity Laban suffers because the Americans have just cut off loans that were previously paid to fund students from the Americas because we do not have degree-awarding powers yet. The Government have made it more difficult for our students to get jobs after graduation, since you have to show that you can earn £20,000-plus a year and it is not easy for a music student to do that because they have a portfolio of earnings that come from different places.

We are also trying for philanthropic support, but that is not an instant solution either. The easiest thing to raise philanthropic support for is scholarships, but that just means that you get one student paid for by philanthropy who otherwise would be a student paid for through HEFCE in the normal way of business. It is not just money that goes through to the bottom line. We work on commercial money like mad but it is not easy to make yourself a billionaire from music.

Costs are being cut to the bone. I mentioned the beautiful buildings in Greenwich but I am afraid that the paint is peeling. It is hard to escape the conclusion that a proper contribution from government is essential if the conservatoires are to survive and prosper. This was recognised in the report by Darren Henley, the boss of Classic FM—no egghead he, but a good egg nevertheless—whose cultural education review in 2012, which the Government were very keen on, said:

“The government should recognise the need for exceptional funding for culturally based conservatoires, which train the artists, actors, dancers and musicians who will create and perform the culture of the future. The funding settlements for these conservatoires should be secured for the long-term”.

That last sentence is very important. It is not easy to plan the future and institutions such as this if you do not know where next year’s money is coming from.

With cuts here, there and everywhere—£10 billion of cuts—some might question whether institutions such as the conservatoires should be a priority for public spending, but no one should doubt the contribution that they make to the economy. Trinity Laban is in the top five higher education institutions in the country in terms of its graduates going into jobs. These are motivated people who are determined to work and find a way of making a living. Conservatoires contribute to jobs and to foreign exchange with students from abroad, and culture today is big business. However, I defend conservatoires not simply on those grounds but on these: our resilience as a nation in the crisis that we face in our economy depends not just on material matters—it depends on the values that sustain us as a society. A land without music, every kind of music, or dance of the highest quality is a land that has lost its soul, and once it has lost its soul it will lose the rest of its way too.

My Lords, after thanking the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for initiating this valuable debate, I shall make brief reference to Northern Ireland, which is my second home. The long tradition of fine classical music-making in the Province, the land of Sir Hamilton Harty, is insufficiently celebrated. Too much is made of the raucous thumping tones through which the divided communities have marked their differences, and too little has been heard of the way in which great music helps to bring members of both communities together, particularly young people blessed with rich talent.

Northern Ireland does not have a conservatoire of its own. There are some who would like one to be established but the reality is that its population resources are not large enough to support such an endeavour, so its promising young artists adorn the music colleges in other parts of our country. Many take pride in displaying their skills back in Northern Ireland itself, encouraging others to follow their example—none more so than Barry Douglas, a brilliant pianist born and educated in Belfast before becoming a quite outstanding student at the Royal College of Music in London, where he laid the basis for his ever-growing international career. Each year he directs the International Festival of Chamber Music held at Clandeboye in County Down.

Nowhere is there greater interest in securing the financial future of our conservatoires than in Northern Ireland. This should not be taken to imply that little or nothing is done in Northern Ireland itself to nurture young talent; on the contrary, ambitious education schemes flourish. The recently formed Northern Ireland Opera has led the way in providing access to outstanding music education. The winner of its 2012 young singer of the year award, Dawn Burns, is currently studying at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Next month she returns to Belfast to sing with the Ulster Orchestra and international opera star Barbara Bonney. This one example illustrates the broad theme that I want to underline—the crucial and often interlocking work done both in our conservatoires and in Northern Ireland itself to enhance one of the glories of our country:

“Music, the greatest good that mortals know,

And all of heaven we have below”.

My Lords, I, too, wish to congratulate and felicitate the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, on obtaining this important debate, which I believe is very timely. It appears that the conservatoires have almost inadvertently been overlooked in the structure of higher education; there has been a real-terms reduction in expenditure on them since 2008-09. The importance of these bodies is beyond challenge, and the number of people applying to speak in this debate is an indication of the width of support that the conservatoires enjoy. I speak as a Scot and recognise that the cultural life of Scotland is of massive importance; there is nothing outside the Olympic Games that attracts more people to this country than the Edinburgh International Festival, and our efforts in promoting the work, talent and creativity of the individuals who are now artists known worldwide are of significant importance.

In the very short time that is available, I ask the Government to recognise that what is required is a new structure for the funding of the conservatoires that recognises their legitimately very high costs and the length of training that they require. These are not spendthrift institutions but they have expensive requirements, and that needs to be taken into account in determining our policy.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lipsey both on securing this debate and on his recent appointment, which I had not known about and am delighted by.

I remind the House of my own interests. I have spent all my professional life working with people who have come through conservatoire training; I have observed them, employed them and advised them and for a short while I was in charge of them as, briefly, principal of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Furthermore, both my children are conservatoire-trained, so I think I may say that I have seen this kind of education close up, and these are some of the things I know. First, conservatoire training is intense and rigorous, and requires tremendous dedication. For musicians in particular, the road is not only hard but long. Secondly, it is therefore expensive to deliver. Thirdly, students who secure the few available places do so in the face of fierce competition and are often highly skilled before they even start. Fourthly, conservatoire graduates are central to the continuing worldwide success of UK arts and culture, which is critical to our economy.

There is currently, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Lipsey and others, a damaging degree of confusion and uncertainty about whether the necessary special funding for conservatoires will be properly secured. I should like to quote from a letter I received recently from the principal of one of our leading conservatoires in this country. He puts it thus:

“What we have at present is a cocktail of inadequate formula funding with various stop-gap supplements plus an institution-specific supplement that is subject to review every four or five years. It’s a mess. HEFCE do a really good job of making do and mending but ... this has never been translated into the price group structure that has underpinned HEFCE funding for many years. They allocate conservatoire training to a low price group and then wonder why the fee plus teaching grant doesn’t meet the costs and needs a supplementary discretionary top-up”.

He goes on to say:

“What we need is a structure that recognises ... the legitimate high cost and length of training required”.

Of course that is what we need. Why can we not do this when we can do it for other disciplines such as medicine, which also requires long training and high-cost teaching?

The noble Viscount, Lord Younger, is, I know, something of a performer himself. I am sure he perfectly understands these issues, and I hope that when he winds up, he can give the conservatoire sector some hope that they may be resolved.

My Lords, all those who experience the arts as part of their very lifeblood and that of the community in which they live must be indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for raising these important matters. It is a rash man who would venture into the same territory as the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, with her unrivalled expertise in this area, especially in two minutes, so I shall not try.

Rather, I wish to use my time to highlight some of the problems that conservatoires are experiencing with the UK Border Agency, such as the costs and delay in issuing visas, their unjustified refusal and so on. Because the UKBA cannot give a more accurate estimate of the time needed to process postal applications than four to 14 weeks, some students with late offers have been forced to pay for the premium service. In most cases, application decisions are received sooner than this, but the unpredictability means that most students will not risk overstaying on their current visas in case they receive a rejection or refusal after several weeks. Added to the sort of problems referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, these things, together with the cost of tuition here and restrictions on post-study work, have begun to make training in this country much less attractive than it was.

London was always the number one destination for the world’s most talented music students, but the recruitment of international, and particularly non-EU, students, who have contributed so much to the high quality and worldwide reputation of UK conservatoires, as well as their financial sustainability, is now increasingly under threat. The tier 1 post-study work immigration route provided important opportunities for conservatoire graduates to gain invaluable performance experience, which is so crucial to the development of a career. The closure of this route and its proposed replacement with tier 2 graduate employment for those on a salary of over £20,000 has little application in the music and performing arts sector, where people have a portfolio career and are mainly remunerated by one-off performance fees or commissions. No wonder that a former overseas student of whom I have knowledge is saying that if she was looking to study abroad today, she would not come to the UK because the climate is too hostile. She would go to Australia instead.

There is more that I could mention, but I have necessarily had to be selective. I hope that the Minister will be able to take some of these points on board and address them in his reply, or if not at least to take them away for more mature consideration.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Lipsey, and I thank him for initiating this important debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Maclennan, has said, the number of noble Lords who are participating indicates the importance that this House attaches to the role of these crucial institutions in our cultural life. In the couple of minutes available I want to focus, as my noble friend Lord Lipsey and the noble Lord, Lord Low, did, on the position of international students. Not only do they make an invaluable contribution with the considerable fee income that they bring in to these institutions, they are also largely responsible for an important and irreplaceable creative input, widening the diversity of excellence and musical influence, which benefits all students. It is therefore important that we should do everything possible to encourage these students to continue to come and study here.

I want to raise four particular concerns by asking the Minister four questions. First, as we have already heard, the replacement of the post-study work immigration route with a qualification through graduate employment raises particular problems. It is largely irrelevant to musicians, very few of whom go on to earn a salary. Will the Minister undertake to look at what can be done to make these provisions more appropriate for musicians? Secondly, in small institutions such as the conservatoires, with relatively few overseas students, a small number of visa refusals, sometimes for reasons way beyond the control of the conservatoires themselves, can affect their status as highly trusted sponsors. Again, will the Minister undertake to see what can be done to make these provisions more appropriate for the conservatoires?

Thirdly, the Minister will be aware, as my noble friend Lord Lipsey has already alluded, that the US federal loan board has withdrawn loans for studying at UK institutions that do not offer their own degrees, and that includes conservatoires. Can the Minister confirm that the Government are doing all they can to get the US authorities to look again at this decision and say when Ministers expect next to meet their US counterparts to discuss the issue? Finally, the Minister will accept that the decision about London Metropolitan University’s highly trusted sponsor status has created alarm among overseas students. What are the Government doing to reassure these students that they are welcome to continue to come and study here?

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the council of the Royal College of Music, a remarkable centre of excellence that produces the same tingle down my spine that the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, experiences. In 1882, the Prince of Wales posed our artistic forebears a question: “Why is it that England has no music recognised as national? It has able composers, but nothing indicative of the national life ... The reason is not far to seek. There is no centre of music to which English musicians may resort to derive instruction, counsel and inspiration”. The answer to his question was the foundation of the RCM which, in the years since then, has acted as just such a centre of music. It is a beacon of talent and expertise that feeds the creative life of our country and helps to shape its artistic character.

In these days of serious challenges for public funding, it is necessary to prove the added value of such institutions. That is exactly what a recent invaluable report from the LSE on the impact of the London conservatoires on our economy did. It shows how conservatoire graduates are disproportionately represented in the highest achieving and economically active sectors of the profession, including providing half the players in London’s leading orchestras. It notes how the music sector constitutes a sizeable proportion of the creative economy, comprising 7,900 businesses—and conservatoire graduates are powering its growth.

Conservatoires are vital, but they are also expensive. As we have heard, delivering the musical curriculum means intensive and often individual mentoring and coaching as well as performance spaces that replicate professional conditions. Those significant extra costs are the reason why successive Governments have ensured that the conservatoires receive exceptional funding. The long-term maintenance of that funding is crucial, especially as our colleges face so many other business challenges, including rising costs, capital funding and long-term risks to their ability to recruit.

Our conservatoires are jewels in the UK’s artistic crown. They have trained some of our greatest composers and conductors. They bring life to our capital city and they attract musical talent from across the world. They contribute to vital research, and above all they help to support local community artistic and musical life. I know that times are hard, but hard times force us to concentrate on what is absolutely vital—and these institutions are. The support that the Government have given them is extremely welcome, and I hope that tonight there will be another clear commitment from the Minister to their future.

My Lords, what I found particularly interesting about the Olympics was the interviews. Without exception, the medal winners told us that their achievements were due to the individual and continuous support that they had—one-on-one support that enabled them to achieve such high standards in their sports. As my noble friend Lord Lipsey described, this is what conservatoires do for music.

Over the years, Aldeburgh Music has developed into a place where musicians can come for that one-on-one continuous professional support and training. Jonathan Reekie and his team provide support at every stage of development, starting with young musicians, going on to supporting musicians at conservatoires, continuing to support the emerging professionals through the Britten-Pears young artist programme—which is, incidentally, the largest in the UK—and going on to master classes and residences for accomplished musicians who want to do better. Its sense of mission for continuous improvement, even for the most accomplished musicians, makes it one of our most valuable institutions for encouraging and developing talent—and, of course, Aldeburgh is a lovely place to be.

This is not special pleading for Aldeburgh. What I am pleading for is recognition that maximising human development and talent through institutions such as conservatoires and Aldeburgh is expensive, but it is the only plausible strategy for winning gold medals in the future for our music and for its contribution to our culture, our society, our economy and to feeling good about ourselves. That is why they should have proper financial support.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, on this timely debate. Tonight, we are celebrating the spectacular contribution that conservatoires bring to the culture of our country and to performing arts in particular. We should also be celebrating the fact that just one-quarter of 1% of the student population of this country is contributing over £2.5 billion a year to its economic life. A small contribution from the state produces a much bigger return for our country as a whole. That economic fact cannot be overlooked.

It is true that we have to use large amounts of capital funding to be able to train and work with these students. They need large performing spaces, very expensive instruments and very expensive equipment. Let us compare that with the sciences, particularly medicine and dentistry, which also require large-scale capital investment. Institutions teaching those subjects are able to get research funding that is not available to conservatoires.

The problem that we have seen in England can be contrasted with the role of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, because if anybody walks into the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama now, they will be astounded. Their breath will be taken away by the facilities in that brand-new building which contributes so much to our cultural life. The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales has a new premium funding which has tried to give to medicine, dentistry and other capital-intensive higher education institutions the ability to fund on a longer-term basis. The problem for HEFC in England is that it has had many supplementary grants but not brought the patchwork quilt together. My message to the Minister is that continued funding, in a comprehensive and sustainable way, is essential.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for securing this very timely debate, and wish him many enjoyable and spine-tingling musical moments in his new association with Trinity Laban. It is clear from the debate that there are many of us in this House who share his concern over the impact of funding cuts and short-term funding formulas on our conservatoires. As other noble Lords have said, a conservatoire education may be expensive, like medicine or dentistry, but it is part of our cultural lifeblood. I strongly support my noble friend’s call for a long-term funding solution that recognises the legitimate high cost of conservatoire training and places it among mainstream higher education.

At this stage in the debate, it would probably be enough to say amen to all the points that have already been made, but I join our choir tonight to emphasise just two points. I was dismayed to learn that the US federal loan board is withdrawing loan facilities for study at UK institutions that do not offer their own degrees. It questions their legitimacy as listed bodies within the UK higher education sector. It affects a number of conservatoires, including Guildhall School of Music and Drama and Trinity Laban, whose awards are validated by City University, as well as others such as Glasgow School of Art. This has serious implications. The US is an important source of international students for our conservatoires, but these students depend heavily on getting study loans from US federal authorities. Can the Minister say whether the Government can assist in any way in convincing the US to change its position?

Secondly, the closure of post-study work visas, which enabled conservatoire graduates to gain experience as independent artists and performers before returning home, is a further blow. The proposed alternative for graduates on a salary of over £20,000 means little in the music and performing arts sector where, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, and others have said, graduates have a portfolio career and are usually paid in one-off performance fees or commissions.

The education and training offered to the world’s most gifted practitioners is of necessity lengthy and expensive. So, in harmony with others in this debate, I ask the Government why these institutions continue to be subject to short-term, make-do-and-mend funding arrangements.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for initiating this important debate, and I shall try to make sense of those of my notes that have not been crossed out during the course of the debate.

As we have heard, the UK’s conservatoires represent a priceless competitive advantage, not just cultural but economic, that is quite disproportionate to their relatively small scale and cost. We really must not risk losing this, especially through inadvertence. The Government should be commended for recognising the value of conservatoires and continuing to provide exceptional funding for them, as do the Welsh Government for the splendid Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama. Surely it should be possible to give the conservatoires rather more confidence in the continuing availability of this funding, at least for a period of two or three years ahead, instead of the current situation where funding may be reduced even within the current year.

Secondly, we have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Low and Lord Wills, about the danger signs that the UK could be seen as a less appealing destination for overseas students as a result of issues over student visas and the reduced freedom for students to work in the UK after completing their studies. Why can the Government not find a way to offer a special limited exception for bona fide graduates of UK conservatoires from the current constraints which effectively prevent them undertaking performance work after their formal studies and thereby benefiting fully from their conservatoire experience? As we have heard, training to become a performing artist can take at least six years, or more for opera singers. There are many bodies that provide support beyond the conservatoire stage. I have been involved with one of them, the National Opera Studio. These bodies, too, need their funding protected in order to reap the full return from the work of the conservatoires.

I am heartened by the Government’s commitment to continued support for conservatoires. There is clearly no direct threat to kill the goose that lays such golden eggs for the UK, but I trust the Government will also ensure that the goose does not little by little become so deprived of sustenance and of an environment in which it can thrive that it dies anyway.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Lipsey for initiating this important debate in your Lordships’ House tonight. I knew of my noble friend before I entered this House, but I did not have the privilege of meeting and getting to know him until I was a Member. We have found that we agree on a number of diverse issues, and it is always a pleasure to be in his company.

While I was at school, I learnt to play the bassoon. I can advise your Lordships’ House that I was a very average player, but I am immensely grateful to my school, the former Inner London Education Authority and the Centre for Young Musicians for the help, support and encouragement they gave me and my fellow pupils. One or two of my fellow pupils got the opportunity to study at our conservatoires, and it is vital that the Government meet the funding needs of these centres of excellence.

The United Kingdom is seen as a centre of excellence in music. We not only produce from our own citizens some of the finest musicians in the world, but some of the finest musicians in the world come here to study because of our centres of excellence. It is not measured in fee income from home or abroad but in our influence, the vibrancy of our cultural scene and that in each of the nations in the United Kingdom, world-class concerts, events and productions of a staggering variety are taking place every day which people from all parts of the United Kingdom pay to enjoy. Tourists from all around the world come here because of the reputation, quality and variety of concerts and other productions. For relatively modest sums, the payback is measured in billions of pounds, thousands of jobs and the wonderfully creative things that we all enjoy and benefit from.

So I want the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, to be a champion for our conservatoires and to make the case for exceptional funding. We have been the shop window of the world this year, with the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty. It would be a tragedy if this was put at risk by short-term, blinkered actions by the Government that have not been thought through.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for securing this short debate. Indeed, I thank our Library for producing such a comprehensive briefing pack. I have pleasure in declaring my interest as the president of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and formerly its chairman and governor. It is a full and supportive member of Conservatoires UK, and one of only a few institutions across the United Kingdom which trains across both music and theatre disciplines, from undergraduate to both masters and doctoral levels.

For our 700 students, performance forms a central element of the curriculum. Students, mentored by leading professionals, deliver some 300 performances each year. We are a factory—a factory for creativity and of creativity—with an undiluted focus on preparing our students for the professions, to graduate and to earn their living by the use of their varied talents, which some 90% achieve within a year of graduation. Yes, they earn their living indeed—in a sector which contributed greatly to the wealth of the nation, measured in both GDP percentage as well as aiding significantly our great cultural heritage. But at what price?

Of course these 7,000-odd students across the UK conservatoire system are expensive to train, for reasons well known. The return, however, on the premium funding is a most attractive investment when considered as a percentage of our GDP, as well as of our UK exports, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord German. The LSE report referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Black, considered just three London conservatoires and amply illustrates the economic benefits. However, the £9,000 current premium funding for students allocated by the Welsh funding council cannot be a year-to-year decision. Governments in England, Wales and Scotland must ensure continuity. Otherwise, future planning is in jeopardy.

My Lords, what a pleasure—maybe an unusual pleasure—to find yourself towards the end of a debate with many contributors and being able to say that you agree absolutely with everything that has been said. I offer special thanks, of course, to my noble friend for introducing it. I declare a non-financial interest as a member of the governing body of Birmingham City University, of which Birmingham Conservatoire is a constituent part, and one of which the university and students are enormously proud. The city is proud also, which is very important indeed. The university and the conservatoire are very closely rooted in the city and are proud of the region in which we all operate.

I have three points: one economic, one social and one geographic, all specific to Birmingham. The economic point is that for historic reasons, which I certainly do not have the time or interest to go into, we are rather different from most other institutions in that we are not a stand-alone institution as a conservatoire, and therefore do not receive in the same way exceptional funding recognising the special costs associated with conservatoires. Partly as a result of that, we are—I can say without blushing—one of the best in terms of value for money. Certainly, our income per capita for a full-time student is less than half that of many of the other institutions. That is not to make any comments about any of the others; it is simply saying that we are very good value for money.

The second point is social, and one I am proud to make. The conservatoire in Birmingham, like Birmingham City University, takes a disproportionate number of its students from disadvantaged or low-income backgrounds. The figure for those in receipt of bursaries is 49%, against the average for conservatoires of 35%. Anyone who has ever taught knows perfectly well the joy of seeing people develop and realise their potential. That is particularly so when you are involved with students who perhaps never thought that they would have the opportunity. It would be tragic if that statistic was ever difficult to maintain.

The third point is a simple, geographic one. If you were looking for another conservatoire, if there were none in Birmingham, you would have to go north as far as Manchester, or perhaps not quite as far; you would have to go south as far as London; you would have to go south-west to Cardiff; and if you went east, you would simply get to the sea. In the whole of the Midlands, there would be no conservatoire if the Birmingham Conservatoire was not there. We need the funding, and I appeal to the Minister to recognise our rather different position, as he has recognised everyone else’s.

My Lords, I declare an interest as honorary life president of Trinity College London, the international examination board and an affiliate of Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, for which I was for some years deputy chairman. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, on his accession to the chairmanship.

I, too, will highlight the particular contribution of international students to our thriving conservatoire sector. On graduating from our conservatoires, they return to prominent positions in their home countries as powerful advocates for British cultural and democratic values. They go on to form alliances with UK arts and educational organisations that bring substantial artistic, economic and diplomatic benefits.

We should note the significant financial investment of overseas students in our economy and higher education sector, approaching £11 million per year in direct fee payments to their conservatoires, equating to 11% of the total annual conservatoire income. Those funds are critical in maintaining the outstanding facilities and teaching provision on offer to all our conservatoire students, UK and international alike.

The noble Lords, Lord Low of Dalston and Lord Wills, have already outlined the problems of the replacement of the Tier 1 immigration route with Tier 2, so I will not go through that again, but it is an important issue. It is essential that the UK Border Agency applies its regulations for renewing highly trusted sponsor status with sensitivity to the characteristics of small and specialist institutions. Conservatoire study in the UK requires major financial and personal investment from international students and years of preparation to reach the standard for entry. Virtually 100% of students go on to complete their courses successfully. There is no plausible risk here of illegal immigration. A proportionate regulatory regime must be followed that does not damage our world-class institutions, nor send a message that ambitious and gifted students are unwelcome.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Lipsey for initiating this debate which, quite rightly, has attracted a great deal of interest and informed debate from around the Chamber.

In the short time that I have available I should like to highlight three quick points. First, I do not doubt that, in principle, the Government are committed to the future funding of the conservatoires. However, the Government have to be judged not by what they say, but by what they do. As we have heard, the reality is that grants are being cut; there is insufficient recognition of the extra costs in providing one-to-one tuition and specialist facilities; and the Higher Education Funding Council rules for accessing the additional funds are overly complex. As we have heard, the funding is under review anyway.

Secondly, the Government have mismanaged the increase in student tuition fees. It was predicted that very few universities would charge the maximum £9,000 per annum fee but this figure has become the norm and, unsurprisingly, in order to cover their costs, all the major conservatoires have been forced to charge this maximum fee. As we have heard, the impact of the tightened rules for overseas students has also taken its toll. The result is that applications for places are down by as much as 14% and the conservatoires find themselves drawing on a more limited, perhaps more socially elite, talent pool. This undoubtedly will be compounded by Michael Gove’s refusal to include creative subjects in the EBacc as part of his curriculum review.

Thirdly, the Government have consistently undervalued the contribution that creative industries make to the UK economy. For example, the UK currently has the largest and fastest-growing creative sector in the EU. The conservatoires play an important part in this, thereby contributing to our economic recovery.

In conclusion, I say to the Minister that the issues raised this evening are a microcosm of a bigger concern about what will drive our economic recovery. We believe that the creative sector, based on our global reputation, has a crucial role to play. I hope that when he replies he will be able to reassure this House of the practical support and investment in conservatoires necessary to demonstrate that the Government share this vision.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, for this opportunity to set out the Government’s position on the funding of conservatoires—or “conservatories” as I noticed was displayed on the screen today. First, let me put on record my wholehearted support for the excellence of our conservatoires. They are a crucial part of our national cultural heritage and in this year which has seen the Olympics, Paralympics and the Queen’s Jubilee we have seen how these events have drawn on the talents of our creative sector and the amazing skills and determination cultivated by our conservatoires. Who can forget the sight of the Royal College of Music chamber choir singing in the rain at the Jubilee pageant?

The Olympics saw conservatoire alumni at their best. The contributions of stars such as Dame Evelyn Glennie, Annie Lennox and Kenneth Branagh showcased Britain and British talent around the world. The Paralympics witnessed the inspirational David Toole, the dancing star of the closing ceremony, and Errollyn Wallen, a teacher from Trinity Laban, whose work contributed to the amazing spectacle. Noble Lords have alluded to their own areas and I have taken note of the contribution from my noble friend Lord Lexden, who rightly highlighted the position as regards a Northern Ireland conservatoire, and the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who focused on Birmingham. I also noted the reference to Aldeburgh and Britten, where I have been myself, as noted by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel. The contributions from that beautiful part of the country are clearly invaluable and well renowned.

My own commitment to our conservatoires and the arts is sincere, although my participation in the Parliament choir, along with the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, may not be of a sufficient standard to meet the entry requirements for some of these highly prestigious institutions, where there is often only one place for every three or four applicants.

As has been clearly articulated this evening, notably by the noble Lords, Lord Lipsey and Lord Aberdare, and my noble friend Lord Maclennan of Rogart, our conservatoires are a significant national asset and their impact is felt beyond these shores. They, including Trinity Laban, are worth more than £130 million to our economy and are a force for good. I recognise that there are concerns for conservatoires, as there are within the broader higher education sector, to do with the impact of the Government’s higher education funding reforms.

However, I welcome this chance, if not to resolve all funding concerns, at least to place them in context. That context is, of course, the tough decisions that have been forced upon us by the global downturn. We have had to reform our higher education finance system and to rebalance funding between the state and the student while ensuring that those from lower-income backgrounds have no barriers to access.

This month, the first cohort of students will arrive at English universities under the new tuition fees regime. While UCAS reports an overall drop in entrants this year, some of which is due to a demographic dip in the number of 18 year-olds—I take note of the views expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones—there are of course still very many more applications than places both at our conservatoires and across higher education. Competition remains fierce.

I know the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, recently met the Universities Minister to discuss the position of Trinity Laban. They had a productive discussion in which the Minister was able to provide some assurances that the unique challenges faced by conservatoires will continue to be reflected by the funding council. Despite all the controversy, the financing changes that we have introduced are in the best interests of universities, students and the nation in the long term. They will provide a sustainable funding system for institutions, underpinned by a solid student support system.

Public funding will continue to flow to our conservatoires through the government-backed tuition fee loans for students and the continued central funding to support the extra costs of running high-cost specialist institutions, such as conservatoires. In addition, support for strategically important and vulnerable subjects will remain. The funding council and research councils will continue to support the conservatoire network.

I have certainly noted the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, on funding. In England, Higher Education Funding Council funding alone for conservatoires will amount to more than £40 million in 2012-13, which includes support for teaching, research and widening participation. My noble friend Lord German has highlighted the importance of consistency and I hope that he finds this information helpful.

Perhaps to the surprise of many of your Lordships today, the latest assessment of the financial health of English higher education institutions showed the sector reporting strong surpluses, large cash balances and healthy reserves. It is a sector financially well prepared for the new funding system. The study showed the majority of the key financial indicators as the best on record. This will help institutions to manage the challenges arising from the transition to a new funding regime where the coalition has been able to cut public spending without reducing the overall funds reaching our universities. The withdrawal of the block grant will bring a healthy market to the sector and student choice will drive up quality as institutions strive to attract students. Overall, the total public investment in the English higher education sector remains significant—some £14 billion this year.

If we focus for a moment on capital projects, we have to manage our financial resources prudently. However, this evening, I am delighted to announce that the Chancellor was able to say that there will be an additional £200 million for the Research Partnership Investment Fund for supporting long-term university capital projects. This fund, launched in the 2012 Budget with a government investment of £100 million, will support universities to develop infrastructure projects if they can match the funding by at least double from private companies or charities. That might partly answer the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, as regards the peeling paint at Greenwich.

I now turn to the importance of philanthropy. I understand that it is a challenge in these financially strapped times for every institution to diversify its income streams. Conservatoires already do well in this and do not rely solely on central government funding. Indeed, for some, their public funding is a minority income stream. But although our universities have made progress in recent years and funds raised by voluntary giving in the UK in the past five years have increased from £513 million to £693 million, I am sure all institutions will find there is more that they want to do to generate an increase in philanthropic giving. All will want to develop strategies to stimulate donations in order to position their institution as an attractive proposition to enable them to draw in funding to support their goals.

This Government salute our philanthropists and we think the work that they do is incredibly important. We want to do everything we can to recognise it. I know that many of our conservatoires have been highly successful in attracting donations and endowments. Just last month the Royal College of Art opened the Dyson building, which was built with a £5 million donation from the James Dyson Foundation.

Of course, elsewhere the arts are well supported. Taking account of lottery as well as government funding, the Arts Council will receive some £2.3 billion over the next four years.

I move on to the question of US loans for students, highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Wills, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. I understand that there have been changes to the terms of United States federal loans for US students who are studying abroad. The new requirement is that foreign institutions must have their own degree-awarding powers, in their eyes, in order for their US students to be eligible for US federal aid overseas. That affects some, though not all, of our conservatoires—I believe Glasgow was mentioned this evening. My honourable friend the Minister for Universities is continuing to pursue this matter with Martha Kanter, under-secretary at the US Department of Education, to explain the problem posed for these distinctive institutions. A further discussion is due to be held next week, but of course this is a decision taken by our American cousins and not something for which Her Majesty’s Government can take responsibility. I urge all noble Lords with any contacts to use their influence in the United States to press this case.

Many comments have been made, mainly by the noble Lords, Lord Low and Lord Wills, as well as my noble friend Lord Geddes, about international students and post-study. I will need to get back to noble Lords on those because time is running on.

This has been a stimulating debate and I welcome this opportunity to hear from the many noble Lords whose experience with conservatoires and universities is richer than my own, but I want to conclude by assuring your Lordships that our higher education sector is in good health, and that our conservatoires are recognised as beacons of excellence nationally and internationally. It is an unfortunate truth that it is never possible in a publicly funded system that every funding need for every priority can be met. Government must balance its priorities. We are entering a new age of uncertainty, with the bulk of funding following student choice, but I hope your Lordships will appreciate the significant steps that have been taken by the funding council, and by the Government, to recognise the unique nature of the conservatoires, to fund them appropriately, and to support their valuable contribution to our nation’s cultural health, well-being and heritage.

On international students and post-study, the unique contribution made by international students cannot be overstated. While the Government are clear that they cannot tolerate abuse of the visa system, make no mistake that they are committed to continuing to welcome bright, creative people to our institutions. London Metropolitan was unfortunate, but our top priority has been to support legitimate students to continue their studies. Replacing the post-study work route was essential, but those in creative occupations can still apply through Tier 5 by applying from overseas. Twelve months’ leave can be granted and extended to two years without a salary threshold. On that note I will finish.