HC Deb 02 March 1976 vol 906 cc1075-8
2. Mr. Marten

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement about fees for overseas students.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Gerry Fowler)

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that my right hon. Friend gave to a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden) on 16th December—[Vol. 902, cc. 553–54.]—concerning fees for 1976–77. The Government are currently reviewing longer-term policy in respect of charges for overseas students.

Mr. Marten

As these students—many of them from wealthy countries overseas —pay only about 15 per cent. of the cost of education, would it not be better if they paid a higher fee, with grants and remissions for those who most need them? On that point——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is now asking a second supplementary question.

Mr. Fowler

I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Government, in their consideration of the longer-term issues here, are taking account of exactly the considerations that he has mentioned. The Government also have to take account of the benefit, sometimes unquantifiable, that overseas students bring to this country.

Mr. Grylls

Will the Minister confirm that it was the Labour Government in 1967 who introduced differential rates for overseas students? Will he bear in mind in future that he must do nothing to deter students from the developing world, who will find it difficult to meet very steeply increased fees?

Mr. Fowler

The answer to the first part of the question is "Yes". The answer to the second part is that the Ministry of Overseas Development provides substantial help to students from the developing world.

5. Sir David Renton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how much money will have been paid by Her Majesty's Government for the education in the United Kingdom of foreign students during the current financial year; and how much it is estimated will be spent during the coming financial year.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

About £17 million in 1975–76 and an estimated £20 million in 1976–77 on Ministry of Overseas Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office Votes for the education and training of overseas students in this country at educational and other institutions under aid programmes and scholarships. In addition, Her Majesty's Government contribute towards the total cost of educational provision through grants to the universities and other institutions and to local authorities.

Sir David Renton

As there is a statutory obligation to provide for the education of our own children and young people, and no such obligation in regard to foreign students, will the Minister tell us how such large amounts of money provided for foreign students can be justified?

Mr. Fowler

Yes, Sir. It is part of a general aid programme for students from developing countries. I should be much more disturbed were I convinced that our own students were being excluded from institutions of higher education by the presence of overseas students. At the moment there is no evidence to suggest that.

Mr. van Straubenzee

Does the inquiry into this matter, which was mentioned earlier, include the possible transfer of the Minister's administration in such a way that the British people get proper credit for the considerable amount of aid they give under this head?

Mr. Fowler

Nothing is excluded from the inquiry. However, we must be exceedingly careful to observe international rules, and in some respects they are constraining.

Mr. Dempsey

Is my hon. Friend aware that, rightly or wrongly, there is a strong feeling that foreign students are being admitted into universities at the expense of our own citizens? Is that true or not?

Mr. Fowler

There is no truth whatsoever in that proposition at this moment.

25. Mr. Brittan

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will make a further statement about fees at universities payable by overseas students.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

I refer the hon. Member to the answer that I gave earlier today to a Question by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten).

Mr. Brittan

I welcome that answer. Does the Minister not agree that one of the difficulties in this area is that it is extremely difficult to assess the exact balance of costs to universities and benefits from students? Would it not be helpful to publish a clear statement of that on an investigation by the Department, so that we know where we stand in this matter?

Mr. Fowler

The problem is even more complicated than the hon. Gentleman suggests. It would be difficult to obtain the precise costings, because we are dealing not simply with universities but with the further education sector. The whole issue is exceedingly complex on both sides of the equation. It is almost impossible to quantify the benefits that we receive from the presence of overseas students.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Does the Minister of State agree that the financial and economic burden and benefits probably cancel each other out, and that what is important is the cultural issue? Does he not agree that we should be glad, not sorry, that foreign students want to come here during the most formative period in their lives, to take advantage of our education system?

Mr. Fowler

It will be apparent from my previous answer that I cannot agree that financial benefits and burdens cancel out. I am not sure whether they do. I accept, happily, that we receive cultural benefit from foreign students, but we must also remember, as certain Opposition Members have suggested today, that we have to provide for our own students. There is a delicate balance here.

Mr. Flannery

Does my hon. Friend agree that the increase in fees for overseas students will militate against ordinary students coming here and allow only those to come over who already have money? Is it not the policy of the Labour Party to bring to this country the dispossessed and the most downtrodden students, so that they can learn about our way of life, no matter how much Opposition Members may laugh?

Mr. Fowler

For the third time today I must draw hon. Members' attention to the work of the Ministry of Overseas Development in supporting foreign students. Nor do I find it iniquitous that fees were increased this year in a manner commensurate with the rise in costs.