HC Deb 07 April 1981 vol 2 cc797-8
1. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received about the level of fees for overseas students.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)

Since the beginning of this year some 180 representations have been received by my right hon. and learned Friend from hon. Members, students and their organisations, academic institutions and national bodies.

Mr. Canavan

If this uneducated Tory Government are too mean to abolish full cost fees for all overseas students, will they at least give some special consideration to students from Commonwealth countries with which we have had longer and stronger links than we have with the Common Market? Is it not a piece of blatantly unfair discrimination, for example, for students from a British dependent territory such as Hong Kong to be charged full cost fees whereas students from a Portuguese overseas territory such as Macao will pay exactly the same fees as British students once Portugal joins the Common Market?

Dr. Boyson

The hon. Gentleman should have noticed that a month ago the Foreign and Commonwealth Office raised the value of Commonwealth scholarships from £34 million to £42 million. An additional £5 million is being given to Zimbabwe to enable another 800 or 900 students to come to Britain. We have helped to facilitate student movement in Europe because we are part of Europe. The hon. Gentleman should remember that we send more students to Europe than the number of European students who come here. The rest of Europe is the only area with which we have a reverse balance of trade with students.

Mr. Cormack

Does my hon. Friend accept that there is real concern about this issue in many parts of the House? Will he give us the assurance that he will continue closely to monitor the full cost fees system?

Dr. Boyson

I appreciate entirely what my hon. Friend says. We are monitoring the system continually. My right hon. and learned Friend said that we would do so. We shall continue to monitor the number of students coming to Britain and the countries from which they come.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Is not it true that the number of students coming to British universities has declined and that the balance between rich and poor countries has shifted adversely for developing countries, which need education more than other countries? What will the hon. Gentleman do about it?

Dr. Boyson

There are 2,500 more students in higher education in Britain than would have been paid for under the quota set by the previous Labour Government before they fell in 1979. The figures published last week tell us that between 1975–76 and 1978–79—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for West Stirlingshire (Mr. Canavan) listened, it would do him some good—the number of students coming from the poorest countries to Britain fell by 18 per cent. while the Labour Government were in office.

Mr. Durant

Is my hon. Friend aware that the figures for my local university at Reading have held up remarkably well? There have been anxieties, but it has done extremely well for overseas students.

Dr. Boyson

I am grateful for that comment. At some universities there has been an increase in the number of overseas students. For example, there has been a 40 per cent. increase at the LSE. At other universities the numbers have decreased. Much depends on the contacts that universities in Britain have made with the rest of the world.

Mr. Kinnock

Is the hon. Gentleman claiming that the full cost fees system is a success or a failure? It seems that it is so much of a failure that it requires additional stimulus from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to relieve the burden caused by the decline in the number of applications from overseas students. Does he recognise that increases in applications from certain institutions have arisen from a capacity to buy and not from merit?

Dr. Boyson

The arrangement under the hon. Gentleman's Government—

Mr. Robert Hughes

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) was not a member of that Government.

Dr. Boyson

The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) was a member of the Labour Party at that time, as was the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes). Under the previous Labour Government, there was an indiscriminate subsidy for every overseas student irrespective of whether he or she came from a richer country than Britain or from a rich family. We levied the fee and we are trying to help those from poorer countries and poor families.

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