HC Deb 26 June 1973 vol 858 cc1308-10
19. Mr. Molloy

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations she has received on the level of grants to students.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Since the interim settlement announced by my right hon. Friend on 15th May, she has received about 50 letters from hon. Members, members of the public, students' associations and other interested bodies.

Mr. Molloy

I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that they all condemn that paltry award. Is he aware that the current situation in our universities, including the student body and the staff, is now very serious? Can he tell us whether he has plans for trying to assuage the serious situation regarding student grants?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sorry to have to correct the hon. Gentleman. While it is true that the majority of the replies suggested that more should be done for students, other replies, including letters from vice-chancellors and students, indicated that they thought the award was about right. I regret to say that others thought it was too high.

We are concerned to review the position of student grants. The interim settlement of £10 million extra was, in the circumstances, a remarkable achievement. My right hon. Friend intended it to be an interim settlement. I hope that we shall have a full and frank exchange of views with the representatives of the National Union of Students in the near future.

Mr. Grieve

Might there not be more money available in the form of grants for serious students if the university authorities were more particular in sending down those who forfeited the education which they are receiving by misconduct and by aggression against people who are going to exercise the right of free speech in the universities?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The vice-chancellors, whose responsibility the universities are, have made it clear how strongly they condemn the recent incidents interfering with freedom of speech which have been perpetrated by a small minority. While we accept that the university authorities must be firm with the minority of trouble-makers, we must always be sure that we are utterly and completely fair to the majority who also condemn these incidents.

Mr. Moyle

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that he must be out of touch with feeling in higher education if he thinks that the award has been accepted with good cheer by the authorities or the students? Does it not now appear, as a result of the discussions which have been taking place, that the idea of the parental contribution causes more hardship to students than any other aspect of student grants? Will he undertake that that aspect of grants will be considered in the near future?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

In the interim settlement we raised the threshold so that parental contributions start from £1,500 residual income. That was a great relief to a number of students. Some students will receive as much as an extra £60 because of that. The hon. Gentleman suggested that I am out of touch with university opinion. I have indicated the contents of the letters which we have received. My experience—and I have been recently to more than a dozen universities and colleges—is that many students are quite happy with the increase they have received.