HC Deb 19 January 1982 vol 16 cc147-8
15. Mr. Teddy Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science how many overseas students enrolled in British universities this session; and what was the comparable total five years ago.

Mr. Waldegrave

Provisional estimates are that 15,000 new overseas students entered the universities of Great Britain in 1981–82 compared with 17,700 in 1976–77. Both figures include students domiciled in European Community countries, who are now charged home fees.

Mr. Taylor

Are not those figures reasonably encouraging, in view of the fears voiced about the effect of the new fees charged? Will my hon. Friend at least look at the ridiculous anomaly whereby we now charge all Commonwealth and foreign students full-cost fees of up to £6,000 a year, while all students from the EEC and the French overseas territories get an automatic subsidy of about £3,000 from the British taxpayer? In view of these encouraging general figures, will the Minister sort out this rather silly anomaly?

Mr. Waldegrave

I agree with my hon. Friend that the overall drop is encouragingly small. The Government are studying the Melbourne communiqúe, which referred to student mobility. A further encouraging sign is that students from the developing Commonwealth are still increasing, probably as a result of Government-to-Government scholarship schemes.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Was the Department of Education and Science consulted about a Home Office decision to refuse to renew visas for overseas students if they had been provided with short-term accommodation by local authorities and given a rent rebate? Is that not scandalous? What representations will the Minister make to try to get that decision reversed?

Mr. Waldegrave

I shall have to ask the hon. Gentleman to give me details of the case, and I shall reply to him later.

Mr. Rhodes Jollies

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is evidence that certain universities are dropping their standards in order to maintain the level of overseas students? Is not that the worst of all possible worlds at present?

Mr. Waldegrave

I have heard those suspicions voiced. I am not convinced that that is happening yet, but we shall keep a close eye on the position. I have no doubt that universities will be loth to drop standards.

Mr. Whitehead

A 21 per cent. drop in enrolments this year is described by the Minister as "encouragingly small". At which figure does he become discouraged? What would he say is suffering most as a result of this fall in numbers—the institutions to which the students would have gone and the home students still there, or our relations with the countries from which the overseas students would have come?

Mr. Waldegrave

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman, like many arts graduates, is not sufficiently numerate. There is not a 21 per cent. drop. The provisional figures show that there may be about a 3 per cent. drop this year.