HC Deb 03 April 1984 vol 57 cc802-3
15. Mr. Hicks

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the number of overseas students currently undertaking postgraduate courses at United Kingdom universities and colleges of higher education; and what was the corresponding figure in April 1980.

Mr. Brooke

This information is not readily available for the United Kingdom. However, in 1983–84 the provisional estimated number of postgraduate students at universities in Great Britain who either paid fees at the overseas rate or were domiciled in other European Community countries was 16,300. The corresponding figure for the academic year 1979–80 was 17,500. Including public sector higher education in Great Britain, there were 18,900 such students in 1979–80. Public sector information for 1983–84 is not yet available.

Mr. Hicks

Do not those unfortunate figures show a lack of understanding of the educational requirements of Third world countries? Is it not a fact that the very people from Third world countries who are now having to seek their education in other countries will in future return to their own countries to be leaders of government, industry and central administration? Could this action now not be to the detriment of the United Kingdom?

Mr. Brooke

Any fall in overseas student numbers is a cause for regret, but the fall in overseas postgraduate student numbers at universities of less than 7 per cent. since the full-cost fees policy was introduced gives some grounds for pleasure, in that the numbers have held up so well.

Mr. Douglas

Will the Minister pay attention to the impact on Commonwealth countries when, because of the increase in fees in this country, students go to Eastern European countries and countries behind the Iron Curtain for their further education? Will he consider particularly the political, social and economic impact for the future?

Mr. Brooke

Many Commonwealth students benefit from the Commonwealth scholarship and fellowship plan and the various schemes of support for overseas students operated by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. The report published recently expresses the hope that other countries will match the British Government's expansion in the number of awards under the Commonwealth scholarship and fellowship plan. We could not afford to consider any general concession to students from other Commonwealth countries, although we share the view about the importance of student mobility and educational interchange expressed by the Heads of Commonwealth Governments at their meeting in New Delhi last year.

Sir Paul Bryan

Has not the time come to concede that the decision in 1979 by our Government to charge full fees to overseas students has proved to be wrong?

Mr. Brooke

The Government welcome overseas students, but do not believe that they should receive an indiscriminate subsidy from the British taxpayer. We are, however, committed to schemes of targeted support for particular students and for particular countries with historic relations with the United Kingdom. Details of the way in which these schemes are developing were given by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Will the Minister reconsider his earlier answer? Ought he not to be appalled at the idea that a 7 per cent. drop in overseas students could mean that 7 per cent. fewer orders will be placed by those students when they return home and begin work, and that such a loss of exports might well lose this country far more than has been saved by putting up the fees?

Mr. Brooke

I cited the 7 per cent. as a demonstration of how highly our postgraduate education is valued. The particular point on foreign policy put by the hon. Member is obviously one for my right hon. and learned Friend.

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