HC Deb 19 March 1985 vol 75 cc762-3
2. Mr. David Atkinson

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to complete his review of student grants.

4. Mr. Stern

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to publish a consultation document on the future funding of higher education by parents and students.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Peter Brooke)

As my right hon. Friend announced on 24 January 1985, a consultative paper will be issued as soon as practicable. After an appropriate period of consultation, the Government will decide on any changes which they may wish to introduce and will publish proposals accordingly.

Mr. Atkinson

Will my hon. Friend, in his review, investigate what savings can be made, perhaps by computerisation, to reduce the current bureaucratic duplication of the administration of student grants that goes on both by the university departments concerned and by education authorities?

Mr. Brooke

Local education authorities administer the system effectively. We shall have to consider the administrative implications of any changes in the awards system arising out of the review.

Mr. Fatchett

What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that the widespread anxieties that are felt about the real level of student grants and about the Government's possible intention to move to a student loans system will be taken into account, and that a future system will ensure that children from low income families have a right of access to higher education?

Mr. Brooke

My right hon. Friend has always made it clear that the review will take into account the interests of both the taxpayer and parents. I am always slightly puzzled by remarks from Opposition Members about low income families, in view of the fact that they bequeathed to us a parental contribution scale that was regressive in its effect.

Mr. Stern

In his review, will my hon. Friend take into account the strong desire of parents, students and, as expressed this week, the Association of University Teachers for an expansion of higher education? Does he agree that the only way to achieve that is to find a fresh source of funding which does not involve either the taxpayer or a forced levy on parents?

Mr. Brooke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for opening up the possibilities of the review. The review will cover all possibilities.

Mr. Wilson

If it proves impossible for the Under-Secretary of State to complete the review before the next academic session, and bearing in mind that, in real terms, the grant has fallen over five successive years, will he undertake to give a top-up to the proposed grant for 1985–86 so that students are not placed in a position of virtual poverty?

Mr. Brooke

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has already announced the grant levels for 1985–86. We shall have to see how we get along in terms of the timing of the consultation.

Mr. Rhodes James

Will my hon. Friend, who has many friends on both sides of the House, look especially in his review at the problem of discretionary grants and the inequities between one county and another?

Mr. Brooke

I cannot give my hon. Friend a commitment that the review will be that wide. I understand his interest in the matter.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that this review is a sham because all the money will be pre-empted today in the Budget? Does he accept that what is really needed is more money for student grants in order to give students a decent basic income? If the hon. Gentleman cannot find that much money, will he at least return student grants to their 1979 real value?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman knows that £600 million is spent on student support at the present time. That is the most generous level of support in any Western country.

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory

Will my hon. Friend affirm the general principle that, where possible, students should be funded by their parents and not by other people's parents in the form of the general taxpayer?

Mr. Brooke

The consultative paper will not prejudge any particular method of student support. Parental contributions may well continue to have a role to play in student support in the future.