HC Deb 01 December 1981 vol 14 cc123-4
3. Mr. Alton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he plans to make any changes in the student grants system.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William Waldegrave)

My right hon. Friend has at present no plans for major changes in the structure of the awards system.

Mr. Alton

How does the Under-Secretary intend to reply to the submission from the National Union of Students that the real value of the grant has been reduced by about 7 per cent. since 1978, and that some costs, such as hall fees, have risen by as much as 40 per cent. during the same period? Will he tell me what advice I should give to the welfare officer of the Liverpool students' union, whom I met yesterday, who says that many students are now facing grave financial hardship?

Mr. Waldegrave

I recently met representatives of the National Union of Students and had a useful exchange of views on that occasion. Its arguments and those of the hon. Gentleman will be taken into account by my right hon. Friend when he settles the level of grants.

Mr. Greenway

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the allocation of £500,000 to the Open University to enable unemployed people to study free of charge. Does he acknowledge that there may be difficulties in applying that money, because some people may get work as others leave work? Will he allow maximum flexibility in the way that the money is applied by the Open University in this excellent cause?

Mr. Waldegrave

The scheme that has been developed by the Open University, in conjunction with my Department, is imaginative and will need to be flexible, as I am sure it will be.

Mr. Christopher Price

How will the Secretary of State reply to the Public Accounts Committee's demand that student grants should be cash limited? Is the Under-Secretary aware that, inevitably, if student grants are cash limited the Robbins principle will be completely eroded? In case the hon. Gentleman has forgotten that principle, he can read it on the Order Paper in question No. 20. Do the Government still believe in the Robbins principle, or will they redefine it?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has also now remembered the Robbins principle. The Department will take into account the considerations that he has mentioned, together with other considerations, in replying to the Public Accounts Committee.

Mr. Rhodes James

In addition to the problem of student grants, will my hon. Friend give further consideration during the next few months to the problem of the parental contribution? I declare an interest.

Mr. Waldegrave

I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend heard what my hon. Friend said.

Mr. Whitehead

The Secretary of State said that he was still learning the job. May we take it that Ministers in the Department have learnt the lesson of their predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Runcorn (Mr. Carlisle), and abandoned the pernicious notion of introducing a system of student loans?

Mr. Waldegrave

My right hon. Friend and his colleagues in the Department are reconsidering student loans. The argument is not perhaps quite as open and shut as the hon. Gentleman makes it sound. Many countries operate loans systems. The effect that they have on students depends entirely on how they are designed.