HC Deb 13 April 1981 vol 3 cc16-7
34. Mr. van Straubenzee

asked the Lord Privy Seal at what figure his Department's support for overseas students is currently running; and at what figure he expects it to run in the academic year 1981–82.

The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Neil Marten)

At the start of this academic year about 5,200 students were supported by aid funds on degree or postgraduate courses in the United Kingdom. We expect this figure to rise above 6,000 next academic year.

Mr. van Straubenzee

I welcome that increase. How does that figure compare with that in the last year of the Labour Government? Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the widespread interest in and concern for our commitment to overseas students in many parts of the House? Will he undertake to keep those figures carefully under review, with a view to increasing them still further as economic conditions improve?

Mr. Marten

Yes, we shall keep these figures under review. As to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, as I said in my initial answer, in 1981 we expect the figure of 6,000 to rule. In the academic year beginning in September 1978 there were 5,700, although I do not pay too much attention to such ups and downs. I think that on the whole the general thrust is good.

Mr. Christopher Price

Will the hon. Gentleman explain the logic of charging cheap fees to comparatively rich students from the European Economic Community, but expensive fees to poor students from the Lomé convention countries? When will the Government reply to some of the sensible Select Committee's suggestions about extending the European concession—knowing the hon. Gentleman's opinions on Europe I am sure he has strong views on this—to Third world countries, especially the poorest?

Mr. Marten

My personal view is that it is an entirely paradoxical situation. However, the Select Committee's report is one for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I should not like to trespass on his responsibility.

Mr. Alton

Does the Minister accept that one of the best investments that we can make in world development is to provide more opportunities in Britain for people from poorer countries? Does he accept also that many people have had to give up their courses and return to countries that are unable to pay the remainder of their fees? What figures are available to show the differences between the poorer and the better developed countries?

Mr. Marten

If the hon. Gentleman will read my original answer he will understand that we are doing more to help. The question on the Order Paper refers primarily to overseas students supported by my Department, and that is very much a question of agreement between the developing country, and its aid budget and how to spend it, and ourselves in Britain.

Mr. Hill

My hon. Friend will realise my interest in Sri Lanka, and especially the way in which his Department has supported that very poor island. I am thinking particularly of the £100 million granted towards the construction of the Victoria dam. Nevertheless, the standard of living there is very low. The costs for overseas students are out of keeping with what they can afford. I should have thought that there was some way in which we could help such an island, which is very much a supporter of the British way of life, to enable more of its poorer citizens to come Britain to study.

Mr. Marten

If the Sri Lanka Government were to consider using a higher proportion of their aid budget on education, that is something that we should seriously consider with them.