HC Deb 09 November 1982 vol 31 cc414-6
6. Mr. Foulkes

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received from the National Union of Students on the level of student grants.

18. Mr. Maxton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will meet the National Union of Students to discuss the level of mandatory awards.

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

I have received a detailed submission from the National Union of Students concerning, among other things, the level of student grants. I shall be meeting representatives tomorrow to discuss it.

Mr. Foulkes

As the Government have now announced an increase in the level of student grants, albeit totally inadequate to meet the increase in students' cost of living, does that mean that they have taken the wise and sensible decision not to introduce a system of student loans which would militate against working-class entry into the universities?

Mr. Waldegrave

The Government have taken no decision one way or the other on student loans.

Mr. Maxton

Is the Minister aware that the reported 4 per cent. offer to students would mean an extra 27p per day to students on the main grant? As a result, many students will fall into debt, as has already been shown by surveys in Sheffield, Glasgow and Stirling universities, and will militate against working-class students taking up places at universities.

Mr. Waldegrave

As the participation rate in higher education last year was the highest for a number of years, it does not seem to have militated very strongly.

Mr. Marlow

As most students at university are over the age of 18 and, therefore, independent adults, and as the Chancellor of the Exchequer will apparently be able to reduce taxation in the next Budget, will my hon. Friend ask him to do away at once with the iniquitous parental contribution which divides students into two classes—those who get the full grant and those whose parents who for one reason or another either cannot or will not pay the parental contribution?

Mr. Waldegrave

The objective of both Labour and Conservative Governments has been to do away with the perental contribution, but it is expensive. One of the advantages of introducing some element of loan might be a diminution of the parental contribution.

Mr. George Cunningham

Given that so large a part of a student's outgoings are represented by rent for halls of residence or their equivalent, and that the increase in that has been far more than 4 per cent. in recent years and is likely to be so in the next year, how can the Minister possibly justify raising the grant by only 4 per cent.?

Mr. Waldegrave

Like other aspects of public expenditure, the student grant must relate to what we can afford. I admit that in the past year the increase in hall fees and other things in some institutions has been more than 4 per cent., but in others it has been near it. Next year we hope that few will find it necessary to increase hall fees by much more than 4 per cent.

Mr. Kinnock

Does the Minister recall describing the system of post-school student support as a tangle? Will he acknowledge that he has made the system much more tangled by failing to consult the National Union of Students at any time in the process of determining this grant settlement? There will still be 350,000 further education students—against a background of record youth unemployment—without any grant support at all. The settlement now made for students means that the most they can expect is an additional £63 a year, which apparently is rather less than the Chancellor leaves in change in his trousers.

Mr. Waldegrave

I am not sure whether this tangle would have been sorted out by a meeting with the NUS. Many longer term and expensive options are involved, which the hon. Gentleman finds it easier to pay for while he is in Opposition, which is where he will remain.