HC Deb 23 November 1972 vol 846 cc1501-4
12. Mr. Hardy

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will set up an inquiry to report as a matter of urgency on the level and arrangement of students' grants and of parental contributions.

27. Dr. Marshall

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will now undertake a review of student grants.

Mrs. Thatcher

Arrangements have been settled for the triennium beginning with the academic year 1971–72 and I see no need for an inquiry now.

Mr. Hardy

Is the right hon. Lady aware that many students—perhaps the vast majority—fear that there will be no real increase in grants before 1974–75? In view of recent price increases and those which are obviously forthcoming, will not the Government, if they act in a mean way, be guilty of a harsh injustice affecting not only students but many parents who pay contributions?

Mrs. Thatcher

We negotiated the grants for the triennium and the total sum of £76 million was made available. Those round the negotiating table, including representatives of vice-chancellors, students and local authorities, as well as of central Government, decided to allocate that sum in the proportion—this is for provincial universities—of an increase of 13.1 per cent. for the year 1971–72, 3—5 per cent. for 1972–73, and 4.5 per cent. for 1973–74. That was the decision made, and I believe that it should stand.

Dr. Marshall

Is the right hon. Lady aware that accommodation charges in university halls of residence are now exceeding the notional accommodation element in student grants by over £50 annually? Is this not causing real hardship to many students, and should there not be an immediate increase in grants?

Mrs. Thatcher

The accommodation charges in universities and polytechnics vary widely. The figure in the grant takes an average of those charges. By doing so there will be some above and some below, but there is an extra amount of about £100, I believe, in the grant, which can be used either to make up the shortfall or, as the students wish, for other purposes.

Mr. John E. B. Hill

Has my right hon. Friend any estimate of the proportion of students who may not be receiving the appropriate parental contribution? Before the recent increase I believe there was an estimate of about 1 in 5.

Mrs. Thatcher

I cannot confirm the previous estimate, and there is no current estimate. In 1972–73 we expect student grants to cost about £120 million. The assessed parental contribution should be of the order of £35 million. We have no knowledge of how much of that is actually paid.

Mr. Pardoe

Can the right hon. Lady say whether it is her intention to continue with parental contributions and the related means test for ever and anon, or at least for the foreseeable future? What studies has her Department made to see whether the means test could eventually be incorporated within the Government's income tax credit scheme?

Mrs. Thatcher

I doubt very much whether it could be incorporated in that scheme, but the hon. Gentleman will no doubt raise the point when the matter is debated. The value of the parental contribution rises as the numbers of students increase, as does the cost of student grants. It would be very expensive to abolish the contribution, costing £35 million this year and possibly £40 million or so next year and the year after. I have no plans to spend that amount on abolishing the contribution.

Mr. Kinsey

Will the right hop. Lady look at some of the anomalies which have arisen in the grant system? May I bring one to her attention, namely, that when young girl students get married and pass out of their parents' legal control the parents are still expected to make contributions to the grant?

Mrs. Thatcher

As my hon. Friend will see, there is probably a good reason for that. If by getting married the young girl saved her parents' contribution, it might be rather a popular thing to do. [Laughter.] A young married woman student is paid the same rate of grant as other students unless she lives at home with her husband who is not a student.

Mr. Moyle

Is the right hon. Lady telling the House the full story about the negotiations over student grants? Is it not true that the vice-chancellors and principals of polytechnics wrote to her on 28th May, 1971, saying that if the present level of student grants were proceeded with there would be trouble over students meeting board and lodging charges before the end of the three-year period? Will she confirm that this is true and, following the advice of the vice-chancellors and principals, conduct an inquiry?

Mrs. Thatcher

We have received a letter from the vice-chancellors. It is very easy for anyone to demand an increase for which he does not have to pay. Most of us remain of the opinion that a settlement of £76 million for the triennium was not ungenerous.