HC Deb 10 March 1981 vol 1000 cc749-50
17. Mr. Nicholas Winterton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many students from overseas are currently studying at United Kingdom universities and polytechnics on first degree courses; and what was the figure for the same time in 1980.

Dr. Boyson

In October 1980 there were provisionally estimated to be 16,500 overseas students at undergraduate level studying at United Kingdom universities in the current education year. The corresponding figure for October 1979 was 17,500. In the polytechnic sector there were 9,900 such students in 1980–81, compared with 12,500 in the previous year.

Mr. Winterton

Will my hon. Friend accept that I am grateful to him for that detailed and satisfactory response? Does he agree that higher education in the United Kingdom gives good value and that that has long been found to be so by overseas students? Does he accept that the figures that he has read out indicate that the scaremongering of the Opposition was groundless?

Dr. Boyson

I, too, commend the value of British university and polytechnic education. It is among the best, if not the best, in the world. We are monitoring the number of overseas students coming here so that we are aware of changes from year to year.

Mr. Greville Janner

Is not the truth that wealthy students from overseas are able to come as before but that poor ones cannot?

Dr. Boyson

I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman noticed that last week the Foreign and Commonwealth Office increased from £34 million to £42 million the money allocated next year for overseas students on Commonwealth scholarships and fellowships. I am sure that the whole House will commend the increase.

Mr. Hill

Does my hon. Friend accept that there should be special exemptions to the policy? Is he aware that the island of Sri Lanka, which has been under Communist rule for many years, has finally broken free and is emerging as one of our dependencies? Is it not possible to make an exemption for an island that is abysmally poor through bad government in the past?

Dr. Boyson

Sri Lanka has its own universities. I was there for some time, and the Secretary of State was there last year. Also, if one makes special exceptions, there is then the question of Hong Kong, the dependencies, Cyprus, and so on. Through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we are helping all parts of the Commonwealth. The Department also has a scheme to help research scholars coming here, from wherever they come, who pay the home fees.

Mr. Ennals

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that it is not just poor students who are suffering but poor countries? Is he aware that wherever one travels in the developing world, one of the things that is said first of all is how much students want to come to this country and how many are now being denied that opportunity, to the great disadvantage eventually of our own country and our own trade?

Dr. Boyson

I remind the right hon. Gentleman that the fall in numbers of undergraduate students at our universities this year as compared with last year is only 7 per cent. There were four applications for every place last year. I also remind the right hon. Gentleman that under the previous scheme, which continued under the Labour Government, there were indiscriminate subsidies to people coming here. Those students had to pay for their travel here, their hospitality in this country and the home fee, which amounted to £3,000 or £4,000 in any case, so it was not a subsidy to the poor.