HC Deb 06 July 1976 vol 914 cc1139-42
1. Dr. Hampson

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on fees for undergraduate and postgraduate students.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Frederick Mulley)

I refer the hon. Member to the answer I gave yesterday to a Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), a copy of which I have sent to the hon. Member.

Dr. Hampson

Will the Secretary of State say how he arrived at £650? What is the extra cost to the Treasury of meeting all the tuition fees at that level? Will there be a rundown in the value, in real terms, of the maintenance award, leading to the possibility of a loan scheme? Will there be a safety net for universities, a good proportion of whose income is derived from fees, if the numbers fluctuate wildly?

Mr. Mulley

The hon. Member embraces disaster with great alacrity. None of these disastrous things will happen. I am separating fees from maintenance be- cause there have been wide representations from many students—this has been confirmed by surveys—urging me to do so. A great number of parents do not give their children the amount that they need to pay in maintenance, so none of the fears that the hon. Member expects on this score will arise.

The total extra expenditure on this score will be about £3 million, which will be more than offset by extra income on other accounts. The universities' income will be considered by the University Grants Committee as part of the annual arrangements for their support grant.

Mr. Bryan Davies

Will the Secretary of State accept that many of us wish to congratulate him on ending the discrimination between home-based and overseas students, and resisting the worst possibilities of most savage increases in overseas students' fees? Will he bring to the attention of the Minister for Overseas Development the necessity of offering support to overseas students in the face of the rise in their fees?

Mr. Mulley

It is the intention of the Minister for Overseas Development to increase the grants, in cases of students supported by his Department, to meet additional costs. I would have liked to have the same balancing arrangements at lower levels, but the amount of savings we have to make is forced on us by the harsh realities of the ecenomic situation.

Mr. Freud

In view of the fact that 1¾ million part-time students are expected to pay 25 per cent. more, can the Secretary of State make an estimate of the damage done to this sector of education, and the misery of those evening class institutions which are dependent on part-time evening students?

Mr. Mulley

I cannot give any estimates of damage. The fees we are talking about do not come into effect until September 1977, and while we are grappling with the problems of inflation there will be some increase in costs. In the two years we have to run since last October, when the fees were last put up, the increase will be 25 per cent. which is, in real terms, more or less standing still.

Mr. Canavan

In spite of what has been said, there will still be an element of discrimination against overseas students in practice, as most home-based students in receipt of mandatory grant will pay no tuition fees at all, whereas overseas students' tuition fees will have an increase of over 50 per cent. between the last session and the next. Is not this, together with the limit on the number of overseas students, encouraging an element of educational apartheid?

Mr. Mulley

The practice of assisting our own students has gone on almost since the universities began. The system of monetary awards has existed since 1962, so that in that sense we do not provide free tuition for anyone in the world who happens to come here. Therefore, the distinction remains as it has always been. As to the question of the quota, the soundings that I have made indicate that it will be unnecessary to have any formal arrangements. But I have made clear that I must discuss these proposals with the university and local authorities concerned, and I think it right that rather than have private consultations I should publish the basis upon which consultations will take place. Certain adjustments may then have to be made.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Is the Minister aware that the abolition of a separate rate of fee as between home and overseas students will be greatly welcomed? Does he recall that this separate rate was opposed strongly by the Conservatives when the Labour Government implemented it more than 10 years ago? Does he accept that within the constraints of existing expenditure, and without calling for additional expenditure, it would be very desirable if we could introduce greater flexibility to help students from less developed countries, if necessary at the expense of those from more developed countries?

Mr. Mulley

I agree with the hon. Gentleman's final proposition, which is more a matter for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development than for me. There are, however, practical problems in how one handles the matter. It does not follow that because a student comes from a poor country he is necessarily poor, or that because he comes from a rich country he is necessarily rich. I understand that the hon. Gentleman and his party oppose the imposition of a differential, but during their period of office they did nothing to remove it. They did nothing to put up fees, which meant that they could attack us for the high level of public expenditure when we took over. In spite of all that, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the compliment he paid.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I congratulate the Minister on standing up to the Treasury mandarins, which is always a work of supererogation. I also congratulate him on ending the discrimination between overseas and home-based students. Further, I congratulate him on exempting tuition fees from the parental contribution. Is he aware that if we could have more of this ecumenical approach to education we should make progress towards that desirable end of taking politics out of education?

Mr. Mulley

I should like to take education out of politics. I am grateful for what the hon. Gentleman said. I hope that that will not make any more difficult the consultations that I am about to have with the bodies affected. It is most important to stress that when the fees for overseas students were put up to £250 in 1968 they represented 24 per cent. of the average costs. The £650 that I propose they should be in 1977–78 will then represent only 16 per cent. of what we expect then to be the average cost.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. I allowed longer for that Question because of its importance, but we cannot spend the same amount of time on the rest of the Questions.