§ Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.10.14 pm
§ Mr. David Howell
I was in the middle of a word at 10 o'clock, so to assist the Hansard writers I will go back to the beginning of the sentence.
My distinguished predecessor as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Sir Anthony Kershaw, showed, with his Committee, an intensive interest in the funding of overseas students, and the Select Committee was concerned, in the 1980s, about the reactions and complaints of a number of countries around the world some time after the decision had been made to abandon the indiscriminate subsidy for fees.
The Committee concluded, and the House accepts, that this is one public investment that the Government really should be anxious to make overseas. It will enable tomorrow's technicians and shapers of policy, industry and society throughout the developing world and the great markets of Asia, which will be the dominant centre of the global economy in the next 10 or 20 years, to come to this country. They will go through higher education in our universities and other institutions, as well as take post graduate courses. That correct view has been held by hon. Members on both sides of the House, because we have much to offer and much to gain from ensuring that there is a massive flow of overseas students coming through our institutions of higher education. We have the technical expertise and the skills to offer. Those are the heart needs of the aid and development process.
If I were pressed to say where the public and private resources could most usefully go over all the areas of overseas development, I would say rather less in grants and loans and rather more in technical assistance in training and skills and higher education provided to those who then help to shape and develop their own societies. We have much to offer. It is one of the key ways in which we can make our contribution to development in the world. We can also ensure that markets are kept open and that the climate for investment and enterprise is maintained across the planet.
We also have much to gain for other obvious reasons. One should not be apologetic. There will be benefits for out national aims and objectives, about which we should not be shy. A whole generation of people will come to our universities and other institutions of higher education. They will return to their countries and think in terms of our standards and skills, products and services. When they need them, they will look to this country. That must open up opportunities for us to compete in the markets of the world and to hold up our heads in the immensely competitive conditions facing us in the future.
That is precisely why our competitor countries, who also want their place in the sun and the 21st century, are greatly expanding their programmes to encourage students to come from overseas to their universities. It is fascinating to see the way in which a formerly closed country such as Japan, which was extraordinarily inward looking even five years ago, where one saw few overseas students, is now opening its universities and higher education to students. Japan is planning to bring in many overseas students through industry or Government support. A new Japanese empire is emerging. Not everyone necessarily welcomes it. 853 It is spreading, in economic terms, across the whole of south-east Asia and across eastern Asia, and it has reached many other parts of the world. It is on a scale and has a dynamic that no-one could have dreamed of 10 years ago. it has close links with Japanese standards and technical skills. It makes an ironic mockery of the pattern and history of the first half of this century, when nations such as Japan tried to grab by force, and often surrendered to force in these areas. Now these will be the dynamic and growing areas of the next 30 years. Thousands of students and would-be students are flocking to Japan's universities to learn the technical skills and patterns that will govern their decisions in later life.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)
Is it not a fact that, because of the rate of exchange, students find it much cheaper to go to the United States than to come here?
§ Mr. Howell
My colleagues on the Select Committee heard that point of view, but exchange rates go up and down. The cheap dollar has had some advantages but it is not as cheap as it was and it may grow stronger vis-a-vis other currencies. What my hon. Friend suggests has an effect, but it is marginal.
Against that background of the desire to have a healthy flow of overseas students, in the early 1980s, after the decision to remove indiscriminate fee support was taken, there was—this cannot be disguised—a substantial drop in the number of students coming here.
The predecessor Committee to the present Select Committee examined that issue and got the impression that the programme was going backwards. That Committee found, when travelling to places such as Hong Kong and Malaysia, some extremely outspoken complaints that vital links had been broken, and it was not immediately seen how they would be restored. However, the process of restoration has steadily been going on and gradually the numbers have risen again.
The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley gave some figures, but I did not immediately recognise them. No doubt they were right on the basis on which he used them, but it was not the basis on which figures were given by officials of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Select Committee.
The Committee was told on 1 March that the number of foreign students in our universities now was considerably higher than in 1978—the previous peak. We were told that, the number is now 45,600 students in universities, whereas the previous peak was 38,900.
That is the good news. The less good news is that we were told that whereas in 1978 there were 22,000 in polytechnics, that had declined to 15,000. It was suggested to the Committee that that reflected, among other things, a changing pattern of demand from the developing countries. It was pointed out, for example, that a number of polytechnic and post-school institutions had developed at a great rate in the developing countries, in newly industrialised economies and in various parts of Asia, so that the demand for such educational places in this country had fallen.
It was pointed out that the demand for places in universities had risen and had apparently been met. The previous concern was that our universities were no longer providing places for thousands of people from overseas who would go home and carry with them what they had 854 learnt here—the values as well as the skills—and apply it to the development of their societies, industries and commerce. That concern must now be less because the numbers have not only picked up but have overtaken the previous numbers.
Those were all matters to which the present Select Committee returned briefly when looking at the Estimates a year ago, and the Committee commented on them in its fourth report. As is customary, a reply came from the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, making observations on our report, but there must have been a slip-up because, although our report mentioned the finance of overseas students, the reply did not. This led to an exchange of letters—"Dear Geoffrey", "Dear David", "Dear Kenneth", "Dear David", and so on—all of which are printed in the Select Committee minutes of evidence, which have just been published. From these there flowed our decision to have a brief hearing, at which the numbers I have just given were elucidated. This indicates that things are on the mend—changing and improving.
The Secretary of State for Education wrote to the Committee. He was aware of our concern about overseas students and, in particular, about the question of what was happening all these years after the removal of the policy of indiscriminate subsidy for all overseas students. In his letter he said that he could see no grounds for any reconsideration of the policy. However, if one listens closely—this certainly applies to anyone who listened to some of the excellent evidence that was given to the Select. Committee—one can hear the distinct sound of gears being shifted. I believe that there is some change of emphasis. Indeed, my right hon. Friend has confirmed that that is so.
With the transfer of funds from the Overseas Development Administration to the scholarship award system under the FCO, we are witnessing a definite shift, which I think is welcome. I do not fully understand the precise intentions of the strategies, but it seems to me that it is a realistic recognition of the fact that the overseas students in our universities need to come not only from the least developed and poorest countries. This is not just a development programme in the most narrow sense; it is also a programme designed to forge links with, and open up opportunities in, semi-developed countries with the newly industrialised economies that I have mentioned. We have been told that we have more students from Hong Kong than ever before. We have more also from some countries—mainly in eastern Europe—where we have done very little business and had very little influence for half a century. These countries, in an intellectual and political sense, are miserably undeveloped. They will not like me for saying so, but by our standards they are. Anything that we can do to seize the new opportunities and move through the new doors and windows that must now be opening in the frozen Communist bloc, which has been virtually cut off from the trading system of the world for more than half a century, must be good.
If this change of Government policy, this shift of resources, together with the development of the FCO special award scholarship, leads in that direction, and if the expansion of the partnership between Government and the private sector in the provision of resources leads to more scholarships and awards for people from what, a long time ago, we called the iron curtain countries, that will be a very good thing.
855 In general, of course, the private sector is beginning to play a more vigorous part—working with the Government and indeed taking its own initiatives—in bringing people here for higher education. That must be a good thing. Of course, in that respect we are only following France—which does this on a major scale—Germany and Japan. The familiar pattern is emerging everywhere: the public sector and the private sector mobilising themselves to work together towards goals that are partly to do with public policy and partly to do with the expansion of commerce. They are working together, in new and very successful ways, to achieve what, just a decade ago, were believed to be social goals that could be pursued only at the taxpayers' expense.
All in all, there is a changing picture—perhaps "change of policy" is too precise—in the approach to bringing overseas students here. The numbers overall—and, again, we could have a debate about the precise basis—reflect a substantial rise in those coming to the universities, and a fall in those coming to the polytechnics. It is a pattern which is less alarming than perhaps it seemed a few years ago. The complaints may not have gone completely in Kuala Lumpur or even in Hong Kong but the justification for them is less. It has to be conceded that there is vigour and life in the programme, although I believe that some of my colleagues on the Select Committee will still rightly insist that we should keep an eye on the subject and that we could do better.
§ Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)
The right hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), the Chairman of the Select Committee, has given what one might call conditional approval to Government policy. He was right to point out that it is not yet clear that the results of the cuts of the early part of the decade have been entirely restored in all sectors. The polytechnic sector is the obvious example. It is notable and disappointing that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office did not see fit explicitly to deal with that in its response. I hope that in future, as a matter of principle and of expressing support for the concept of paying for students to come to this country, support will be visible in responses or documents initiated by the FCO itself.
The general view has been clearly evidenced by what has been said. Funding of students to come here, particularly from the Third and Fourth worlds, is one of the best signs of our commitment to development and one of the most positive ways in which we can give specific, up-to-date and pertinent help. My intervention in the Minister's remarks was to suggest that the Government should look more and more to ways in which we can use this policy to assist in our overseas development programme and less to benefit our own domestic prospects. I hope that I am not misrepresenting the right hon. Member for Guildford when I say that I inferred the same from his speech. I am not suggesting that the policy should disappear, but I have a general concern that we do not adequately balance and prioritise between those two naturally complementary policies and that we tend always to put our interests above those of the countries from which the students come.
856 I wondered whether the Minister would take the opportunity of this debate to deal more specifically with certain matters. The minutes of a recent Select Committee meeting confirm that the Government plan to phase out the FCO's country and territory support schemes. That is what officials of the FCO said, and there is concern about the implications. For example, I should like to know that support for Cyprus, and for other territories and countries where there are no universities, will be continued to the same financial extent.
I understand that there is to be a transfer of schemes rather than the removal of schemes. None the less, the funding criteria are different. If the proposal is that there should be a transfer, as it were, from the specific budget introduced for countries such as Cyprus and Malaysia in 1983 by the then Foreign Secretary, now Lord Pym, to the main FCO special award scholarship budget, some of the advantages of the selective scheme for countries and territories with which we have a particular relationship will be lost. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's comments on the timetable and on the commitment to Malaysia, Cyprus, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. I understand that there is no doubt that the commitment to Hong Kong will remain.
A second specific matter with which the Minister might deal is whether it will be possible in the near future to extend the ORSAS scheme to polytechnics. The point was made from the Labour Front Bench that at the moment it is not possible. Here I declare an interest—there is no university in my constituency, but there is a polytechnic. That is not, however, why I raise the matter. It is because there is much growth in polytechnics in technical subjects such as engineering which seem to be beneficial. I therefore hope that ORSAS will be extended to polytechnics.
When I and two colleagues from the Conservative and Labour parties visited South Africa, we found that the scheme for funding the education of black South Africans was especially welcomed. If I can attract the Minister's attention, I would urge the Minister to consider whether it is possible to expand the black South African scheme further as it is much appreciated and needed. When my colleagues from the House and I were talking to church, political and educational leaders in southern Africa and especially in South Africa, it was notable that one of the ways in which we could best assist was in the training and teaching of members of the majority black South African community. I therefore urge the Government to give favourable consideration to the expansion of that scheme as I am sure that it has great potential.
Speaking perhaps more from the point of view of my educational responsibilities than from a foreign affairs interest, one of my concerns is that some of the changes in the totals of overseas students in institutions here look as though they may fundamentally affect the security of the overseas student programme within some institutions. For example, I note that the projections for University college, Cardiff—I am aware that the University of Wales has had financial difficulties—are that whereas in 1986–87 there were 1,442 overseas students, by 1991–92 the figure will be down by 368. I wonder whether it would be appropriate to look again at the way in which a large number of university institutions—I am not talking about polytechnics—will lose quite substantial numbers of overseas students. On the face of it, that does not appear necessarily to be justified. I understand that within the educational debate in Britain there are sometimes arguments for rationalising courses, but that does not necessarily mean that so many 857 institutions should be affected by reductions in overseas students. Overseas students do not just contribute their particular training needs and experience; but they add to the dimension of that university or institution of higher education. I can say that as someone who spent a year studying abroad and benefited greatly.
The Minister did not allude to the concerns expressed about the recent announcement of the imminent 10 per cent. increase in fees. I understand that one of its implications will be that from next year universities will be free to set their own student fees and that there will therefore be much more of a free market for fee setting. It would be helpful if the Minister could comment on the expected consequences of that as at present there is a fixed regime and a more competitive scheme would clearly have many more unpredictable consequences.
I have a further concern, based principally on constituency experience, that there are still often inadequate support mechanisms for people who come here. That has various manifestations. I am concerned that there are disreputable institutions purporting to be good institutions of further education which have not yet been dealt with by the Education Reform Act 1988. To be honest, some institutions—especially language schools—fleece their students. No approval, either implicit or explicit, should be given to such institutions. I am aware that that is not the principal destination of the category of people about whom we are talking, but not insubstantial numbers of foreign students nevertheless end up in clearly disreputable institutions. That problem needs further attention, not just from the Minister's Department but from the Department of Education and Science. I am not being critical of that Department as the problem has not been ignored, but there are still such institutions recruiting unjustifiably.
The other problem brought to our attention in our mail and from the advice centres, especially in urban areas which have large numbers of ethnic minority communities, including large numbers of overseas students, is that sometimes it would be beneficial if the Home Office were less restrictive in its rules forbidding any sort of work experience. People who come here to study for a university degree or to take a higher education course would often benefit greatly from being able to combine some work experience with their studies. I am not suggesting that they should come here and then have a series of jobs, but they could do some form of work linked with their course, whether it he a sandwich course or some other type. I do not expect an immediate response, but I hope that the Minister, his colleagues and Home Office Ministers will consider the rules which, at the moment, often inhibit people who could benefit greatly from a slightly broader mix of experience, both academic and practical.
I hope that the Government will continue the course that the Chairman of the Select Committee has encouraged them to follow, and will increase the budget for overseas students and the number of countries and programmes which benefit from it. That is one of the most obvious ways of being seen to be committed to the proper and long-term development of less advantaged and less prosperous countries. We owe it to those countries to give of our academic and economic richness. I hope that the programme will be substantially expanded in years to come.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale)
In tonight's previous debate the Select Committee on Agriculture congratulated itself on the fact that we could discuss a report which had been published only last week. We should express some satisfaction on the fact that we are debating now a subject on which the key document before the House was published only yesterday.
This has been, and continues to be, a helpful debate on what I regard as a vital subject. I wonder whether the Minister has considered why we are having it. Perhaps the principal reason is that the Select Committee's previous report was ignored by the Foreign Office in its reply, which I regret. I hope that the Minister will tell his departmental colleagues that they should not behave in that way.
I have long experience of departmental Select Committees and served on the Crossman Select Committees in the 1960s, when we had some pithy debates on Government action. In 1979 and 1980 I played a major part with Lord St. John of Fawsley, the then Leader of the House, in setting up the current family of Select Committees which I believe in passionately. They play an important part in the life of the House.
I hope that the Minister will tell his officials that, in future, they should learn to understand that Select Committees can bite—this one in particular is prepared to make its teeth meet. They should not impose a discourtesy on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee such as they did on this occasion. I make that comment as a warning and I hope that the Minister will tell his officials that the Select Committee members will not tolerate being treated like this in the future.
I especially want to applaud the specific foreign policy and developmental objectives which are set out in paragraph 3 of the paper presented to the Select Committee by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In view of some of the comments, most of which I strongly agree with, it is right to begin by applauding the Foreign Office's general objectives, which are towin influential friends overseas by enabling future leaders, decision makers and opinion forrners from all walks of life to study in the United Kingdom … help the development of manpower skills and resources in developing countries … promote the security and prosperity of the United Kingdom by cultivating good political and commercial relations with other countries.My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) earlier made an intervention on precisely this point. I warmly support what she said. My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) made the same crucial point. It seems to have been included in the Foreign Office's objectives.
Travelling abroad and observing the political and commercial life of other countries, one often discovers that—surprise, surprise—the people are using the methods and equipment of the countries in which they were trained. Educating such people is the best investment that we can possibly make. I well remember, in a previous incarnation, visiting Malaysia a few years ago. I vividly remember the resentment and ill feeling there.
I rejoice that the overall trend of expenditure on overseas students is increasing so dramatically. I congratulate the Foreign Office and the other Departments concerned on the figures, which are clearly set out on page 7 of the Select Committee's minutes of evidence. They are worth repeating to the House. The 859 amount spent on overseas students has risen from £79.65 million in 1985–86 to £111.41 million in 1988–89. At the same time, the number of award holders has increased from 17,918 to 22,757. That is a commendable increase, of which the Government are entitled to be proud.
I asked the Minister's officials a question in the Committee which proved difficult for them to answer then. After the public expenditure survey committee, last autumn, when the figures were discussed by all the Departments concerned—the ODA, the Foreign Office, the British Council, the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Trade and Industry—the figures for the trend over the next few years must have been clear. An official helpfully told the Committee that, for the Foreign Office's part, we could expect an extra £10 million, involving an extra 1,000 students, in the next two or three years, over and above the 1988 figures.
It would help the Committee and the House to know the precise projections of expenditure and the number of award holders that may be expected in the next few years—the figures, in short, which are covered in the PESC and the White Paper. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) asked a specific question about this; he had an advantage that I did not enjoy when I was in the Select Committee—a copy of the White Paper before him. The answer that he got was not very clear. I do not criticise that, but if the Minister could give us a clearer one it would help the Government's case, if nothing else.
A matter that I raised in the Committee and which has been mentioned by hon. Members this evening is the proportion of award holders who come from developing countries. That number is of crucial interest to the House. In general, we believe that the bulk of the effort should be directed towards these students. We were again given a most helpful answer, which is on page 12 of the Select Committee's report, and we were told that £93 million out of the £110 million goes to students from developing countries. We were also told that about 18,000 of the 22,750 students come from developing countries. That sounded fine and I was delighted to hear that figure.
However, the figure was somewhat blurred when, in reply to the question of my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford, we were told that some of those students come from Hong Kong. I do not regard Hong Kong as a developing country and I wonder whether my hon. Friend will be kind enough to give us figures—and I have to put this in vague terms myself—for the amount of money and the number of students who come from real developing countries, rather than from countries such as Hong Kong. It is important that we should know the proportion that goes to the students for whom we believe help is most needed. I am not saying that we should not help students from more developed countries, but I am sure that we would like most of the help to go to the countries that need it most.
My final point is one that we discussed with the officials in the Select Committee and concerns the priorities given in developing countries to assisting people in training for the basic and essential vocations. I hope that the Government will do all that they can—in a tactful way, of course—to channel students who come here from developing countries into those studies that are most appropriate to the countries concerned. I do not need to 860 lecture the House on the fact that developing countries need, above all, to develop their basic industries, agriculture, education system and infrastructure, rather than some of the more fancy pursuits and studies which some students may be tempted to pursue. It was made clear by the officials that that is difficult and must be handled tactfully. I take that point, but I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to tell us that every effort is made by our posts abroad, who handle these matters in the front line, to channel the studies of students who come here into the pursuits and studies that are most essential for the development and future prosperity of the countries from which they come.
I have mentioned various points that I would like to have spoken on at greater length. However, if my hon. Friend would reply to them, I should be most grateful.
§ Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
I wish only to underline a few of the points that the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) has made forcefully. He began by drawing the House's attention to the objectives that were stated in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office memorandum. The first was to "win influential friends overseas". I must tell the Minister that the Government's actions in the early 1980s did anything but win friendship overseas. The impact of the nature of their actions, the lack of consultation and the alienation and resentment they incurred in communities that naturally had friendships with Britain and, normally, with our Government was drastic.
In the Select Committee, we had to spend some time in looking at the patchwork of support, outlined in annex A, which is now given to students and which is, in some respects, an admission of the disastrous impact of the bull-in-the-china-shop policy that was followed in the early 1980s. Since then, we have rightly spent a good deal of time repairing the damage created by those early absurdities and the failure to consult, or to achieve a sensible evolution of policy rather than its destruction. In terms of objective number one—"win influential friends overseas"—we have, I hope, learnt the lessons of the early 1980s. The patchwork of available schemes includes the fee support scheme—known in our parlance as the Pym scheme—a damage limitation exercise designed to repair the damage caused by the initial decisions.
My second point concerns the Government's relationship to Select Committee reports. I am a recent convert to Select Committees, having become a member of one after more than 20 years in the House. I made a deliberate choice to leave the Front Bench, on which I had spent the best part of my parliamentary career in either government or opposition, because it was the only way in which to go on to a Select Committee. Having done so, I feel that it is extremely important for Governments to accept that enormous effort and often unanimous recommendations must be taken seriously. They must not be brushed aside, ignored or—as in this case—not even answered properly. I hope that, if it does nothing else, the debate will underline again the demand from those who serve on Select Committees that Governments should care about how they and their recommendations are treated.
My third point is this. Although it was the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale who actually 861 asked the question, we all wanted to learn not only how we were making good the damage of the early 1980s but how we compared with France, the Federal Republic of Germany, Italy and others. The distinguished official appearing before us replied:I fear we do not have to hand any up-to-date figures, and if you really would like those I think we would have to offer to do that afterwards.That is in paragraph 36 of the report.
We emphasise that we wish to follow that up. Almost all the Committee's members looked rather surprised that no such comparisons and monitoring were taking place. Miss Pestell went on—rightly—to point out the difficulties of making such comparisons, but I think that it is widely recognised that we are involved in a competitive game. Like the right hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, I believe that we should ensure that students from poor Botswana are given the best possible support, as well as those from Hong Kong and the developing nations in which our distinguished Chairman has a particular interest.
We must believe passionately in giving support to the poorest countries. Students from Botswana should feel that Britain is still a home to which they can come to obtain skills and further their education, and a country such as ours has an intrinsic moral duty and responsibility to help. I was astonished that we were not watching our competitors, and that the information requested, quite properly, by the Committee had not been provided. I hope when the Minister replies he will reaffirm the commitment to produce a further submission to the Select Committee, so that we can have some further knowledge of these comparisons.
I should like to make a personal point, which illustrates something else that emerged from the evidence. No one wants to make comparisons with the early 1980s, but it is valuable, I think, to note that different types of students are coming to this country seeking different types of courses at different levels of education, and we cannot go back to the situation as it was between 1978 and 1981.
I am rather glad that things are changing. I once had the dubious privilege of being an examiner for the Cambridge board and at Christmas time A-level papers used to arrive from deepest Malaysia and, unbelievably, from Nigeria in the midde of the civil war, when, as I used to read in The Sunday Times, there was genocide going on. There were students scribbling away in missionary schools in the heart of Nigeria answering four A-level questions on the British constitution and history such as "Discuss the future development of the English parish council". I am delighted that, gradually, the Malaysians and Nigerians are developing an examination system free from nonsense of that kind. One detects the evolution of education systems in Africa and Asia and the removal of the nonsenses that occurred, as when I used to examine young A-level students on the English local government system. I am glad in some ways that the nations concerned are freeing themselves from that sort of curious relationship.
When I was "Minister for decolonisation", as I used to call myself, I preached the concept of re-engagement of relationships in modern terms, and I think that within the whole area of education of overseas students we can re-engage in a very modern sense with a large number of students from a large number of countries in different parts of the world.
§ 11.2 pm
§ Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)
I have great pleasure in following the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). Such is the camaraderie of the Foreign Affairs Committee that I have to say that I agree with virtually every word he has said and certainly would not take him to task on anything.
Many figures have been bandied around tonight and, generally speaking, I have the feeling that we have lost out in terms of our potential in this field in recent years, and we are not attracting now those people that we could, and indeed should, have attracted. We are doing very well and all the figures commend themselves but, if one takes 1979 as a high water mark of successive Government's historical legacy, colonial legacy and everything else, it was an indiscriminate policy of subsidy, of benefits to every student, but there were many people who came here at that time who have subsequently gone elsewhere. Our eastern friends, as many hon. Members of the Committee know better than I, have gone to the United States; many middle easterners have gone to the United States; many Africans have gone to all sorts of odd places—if I may say so, respectfully—even to East Germany and the Soviet Union. That seems to me to mean that we have something to answer for, bearing in mind our potential.
I would like to say a few words, as have right hon. and hon. Friends, on the importance of this matter politically and economically. On the political front—and I say this after a lifetime of frequent contact with foreigners, to put it mildly—the country of education is usually the second country for life. That is an important fact that one must take hold of.
The other side of the coin is social obligation, a point made by the hon. Members for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. I am pleased with the Government's southern Africa programme and may that continue. It is something that hon. Members on both sides of the House would support.
There are always two dimensions—the social and the political. Any Government must follow both sensibly. Let me give two examples, the second of which may be familiar to some hon. Members. My first example concerns developing countries. Temple-Morris's French is not very good. When he went to Algeria he was struggling. In Paris he understands better what comes back from his somewhat imperfect French. To cut the story short, it was a great relief, when the conversation turned to offshore gas, suddenly to find three, four or five young gentlemen who all came from Manchester—the polytechnic as well as the university, which has a bearing on the figures presented to the Select Committee—speaking with somewhat Lancastrian accents, or perhaps even worse, but something that I could understand better than the French. That will mean something to various colleagues of mine who have been to different parts of the world. Young men return to their own countries arid not only speak English and respond to things British but buy British equipment.
My second example is an extreme one in relation to the most developed countries. After a heavy day during the Select Committee's visit to Washington we had a mixed tea party with the Senate foreign relations committee. Out of some five senators who attended, no fewer than two were 863 Rhodes scholars. That was not in any small way why they took the trouble to attend. We do not want to miss both sides of the equation.
The policy of successive Governments up to 1979 was one, to use a disparaging term, of indiscriminate subsidy, or, to use a somewhat more encouraging term, of special terms for overseas students. At that time I said, and do so again, that I was unhappy with the decision that was taken. I lobbied Lord Pym during 1982–83 and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office scholarships and award scheme were welcome. The selective basis is almost universally accepted, but it is the amount of money being spent on that basis that is important. I often wish that the Foreign Office, for all its eloquence before the Select Committee and in my general contact with it, had a budget to match its aspirations.
It is the Overseas Development Administration's budget that is providing the funds. In 1988–89 there was £83 million for 13,500 students, dwarfing anything that the Foreign Office is doing on the more political front. At the moment the Foreign Office budget is £16 million direct, going up next year to £20 million. But most of that increase of £4 million will again be ODA, not Foreign Office money.
There is a mistake here. I do not deny that those in command are, through the most elegant creative accounting, doing a good job within their power and ability. But I somehow get the impression that they have not got their head; that they cannot quite get out of the system that which they should do and that which the issue commands. We still have not got away from the slightly doctrinaire syndromes of 1979 and thereafter, which we must do.
Being doctrinaire on the other side for a moment, I would commend private sector involvement. There is nothing new in this. In my university days, many of our old companies with middle east interests had schemes which were far more imaginative and productive than those that we have at present. I hope that we can involve industry. I hope that the Foreign Office will preserve its dominance and its influence in the overall system, but there is much work to be done. The Department of Trade and Industry is now entering the stream. It is now coming in with—I can never resist referring to this—its peculiarly vulgar writing paper that it has decided to take on, and it is regaling everyone with the fact that it is to introduce its own schemes. If it can do so, all well and good, but British industry must be made to see the possibilities, and, from odd bits of evidence that we had, it seems to be a slightly uphill struggle. I hope that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can lead the DTI on this. When it comes to available money, the DTI's budget is far greater, even though at present its commitment is far smaller. I hope, nevertheless, that we can work together because there is much to be done, and our efforts in this direction will, in the end, prevent many people from going to America or elsewhere when they should be coming here.
As regards the future, the Foreign and Commonwealth budget—it always comes down to that—is very small. It must be fought for and, in my view, it is never fought for quite enough. Never has so little money been poured into the land of such great opportunity. That is something with which I dare say my hon. Friend the Parliamentary 864 Under-Secretary of State would thoroughly agree. So we must try to be behind him in his efforts, because I feel that the Department is trying its very best. I still think that what is at stake is comparatively unrecognised. We have enormous potential. Our country has much to give, and much more to give than at present it is permitted to give.
We must, therefore, have sufficient funding, and anything that can be done to that end I will certainly do.
§ Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher)
Confining my remarks to just a few minutes makes me feel a little like people in Nigeria sitting examinations under the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) must have felt trying to work out how to answer a question on the British rate support grant in four minutes. It must have taxed their ingenuity. When I came to the Select Committee and looked at the complex list of Government support schemes for overseas students in the United Kingdom, the rate support grant seemed almost a doddle. The complexity of the various schemes seemed to test not only my colleagues and myself but also some of the officials who were endeavouring to explain them to us. That is why there were one or two difficulties about the answers to some of the questions that we put, but I am sure that all will be resolved in due course with supplementary memoranda.
One aspect to which I should like to draw attention today is grant transfer between the Overseas Development Administration and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the various criteria listed. I have no time to go into detail, but on page 17 of the minutes of evidence dated 1 March 1989 this was raised in questions which I and my colleagues asked. The criteria are clear—that ODA money is still being disbursed under the FCO programme to developing countries, and there is no leakage. Nevertheless, the criteria are worth examining in detail. For the sake of brevity, however, I merely draw attention to the comments made by the officials and reported on page 17 of the report.
The other interesting aspect is that, although the number of overseas students in the United Kingdom receiving Government support in the year 1988–89 given in the evidence is roughly 22,700, the total number of overseas students receiving higher education in this country is about 57,000, a figure given in a written reply to me on 6 March. So there is a very large number of overseas students in this country—and I welcome this—who are not dependent on Government grants. I hope that the number obviously attracted directly by institutions of higher education in Britain will continue to grow.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) mentioned the political importance of encouraging students from countries with which we want to foster a long-term political relationship, and where for the first time we can determine the selection procedure for such students. This is particularly the case with various eastern European countries to which he referred. I entirely endorse his remarks. Given that we have stated that there are political objectives in the criteria that we use for FCO grants, we should use them in our long-term interests. I especially believe that eastern Europe, where there is an enormous thirst for British education, is vitally important.
The British Council is doing a first-class job in eastern Europe, which will improve now that it has been voted extra funds for that purpose, but although the British 865 Council is taking education to people in eastern Europe, some students must be brought to the higher centres of learning in Britain. I hope that the Government will consider increasing funds for that purpose. We should be making a long-term investment by bringing future leaders of other countries to this country, and the Foreign Office should recognise that financially more than it does at present.
I have tried to confine my remarks to the required time by not covering the many other matters to which I had hoped to refer.
§ Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)
I shall make four brief points in the time that remains.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor), I am very concerned about the transfers from the ODA budget to the FCO budget. I am particularly worried about the reason given by officials in evidence to the Committee—that the ODA could not select the candidates that it considered most appropriate to come to Britain to take up scholarships under its TCDC programme, and therefore it was transferring them to the FCO so that the FCO could select the right people for Britain to try to influence in terms of future relationships between Britain and other countries. Clearly that is a political, not a developmental, objective.
The evidence has shown that the Foreign Office and the ODA want to continue that practice, so there will be a serious reduction in the ODA budget. It seems to be quite wrong that the British administrators of the ODA's TCDC scheme are not influential in selecting the candidates to take up British scholarships. I ask the ODA to reconsider the position whereby British scholarships are awarded at local universities, thus depriving those who benefit from the scholarships of the experience of coming to Britain and benefiting from learning about its culture and its objectives, and making friendships which are likely to last a lifetime and influence their purchasing and other loyalties in future.
It is clear that we have a major task in offering scholarships to eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. We are not providing anything like sufficient money to promote scholarships from those countries to Britain, which I consider will play a crucial part in developing peaceful and productive relationships between Britain and the Soviet Union in the advantageous circumstances which are developing between our two countries.
I commend the DTI scheme, which should be got under way as quickly as possible and should concentrate on management, production and personnel management techniques which are lacking in most of the developing countries.
In transferring scholarships from the ODA to the FCO it is said that they are held in the poorest countries. When we asked in which countries they were held, the countries cited were Egypt, Brazil, China and Turkey. Although China is very poor, those are not countries we would normally think of as developing countries.
When we were able to offer scholarship places in our universities and technical colleges without asking for full-cost fees, we were influencing a much larger population of students in Commonwealth countries. We now offer cut-price fees to EEC students. I strongly believe that we should restore to the Commonwealth the privilege 866 of similarly benefiting from the EEC scheme, and that we should put the Commonwealth and the EEC on the same basis. We should certainly ensure that all our dependencies are on that basis. In that way, we shall be able to ensure the continuation of British influence and culture in many of the countries that we have traditionally supported.
§ Mr. John Bowis (Battersea)
I am moved to speak by the reminiscences of the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), when he recalled his student days spent with Dr. Banda and others. I recollect my own student days, when I shared a university with Mr. Tariq Ali—and also shared the occasional demonstration with him. Mr. Tariq Ali may have learnt something from those days—I know that I did. He could have bought the university, never mind needing a grant to attend it.
In the next room to mine at university there was a white South African, and two doors away there was a black Nigerian. That better sums up tonight's debate—the concept of people from two different parts of Africa bringing something to our country, and taking away something that—as I know from meeting them again—has lasted over the years. Most important of all, we learnt something from each other that might stand that continent in good stead in the longer term.
We have a good record, and we must build upon it. If there is any criticism of my hon. Friend it is that it is such a good story, but we want more of it. I hope that my few words serve to emphasise that message. It is right to target on student need rather than on just places, and to specify our aims in bringing overseas students to this country. They include winning friends and influencing people, helping developing countries, and assisting British trade. Another element, which has not been mentioned, is exporting English English. If we export English English as opposed to American English, or any other kind of English, that too will help our position in the world.
§ Mr. Bowis
I use the terra English English in the broadest sense, and I would include the best broad Scots, if that applies.
Perhaps my hon. Friend will bear in mind a possible university of the Commonwealth and what that could do for English and for our relationships with other countries. My message is that, while we should certainly invite students from the Commonwealth and from Anglophone countries, we should do more in terms of trade and of exporting the English language to other countries of the world, including Francophone and Hispanic countries.
We must consider also the lands of central and southern America, of Indo-China, and of the middle east. That is what Japan does. There are few countries where Japanese is spoken, but Japan still has a reputation around the world. Similarly, we should not confine our efforts only to the English-speaking world.
I reinforce the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) concerning southern Africa. The scheme that operates there, which I have seen in action, is excellent. There are about 170 students under the present scheme. One thinks of the 2 million people in Soweto, and of those 867 in the camps around Cape Town. There is an enormous need for our support and education. I hope that my hon. Friend will expand that scheme. If he sets out to do that, he will have the support of the whole House.
§ Mr. Anthony Coombs (Wyre Forest)
Although the cultural, economic and educational benefits for our universities of accepting overseas students are well recognised, more must be done. Although there are now 48,000 students in our country compared with 38,000 in 1978, the United States with four times our population has 342,000 students, France, with about the same population has 133,000, and West Germany has 72,000. If we are to double the proportion of 18-year-olds in higher education in the next 10 years, the proportion overseas should also be doubled.
Although the 1979 exercise was more rushed than one would have liked, its implications were good to the extent that it rationalised higher education students. The figures show that between 1978 and 1985 the number of non-advanced students undertaking GCSE, CSE and FCE studies dropped from 23,000 to 5,000. At least that rationalisation has forced greater bilateral agreements between countries such as the United Kingdom and Malaysia and China. It is interesting to note that a consortium of northern universities and polytechnics already has a significant bilateral programme with Malaysia, especially for law students. The same applies to 60 universities and polytechnics which, backed by British Petroleum, Glaxo, ICI and Shell, are developing with Taiwan the equivalent of a consular education counselling service in Taipei.
The marketing of our university student places abroad must be far more professional than at present, and the university mission services overseas must be uprated, in conjunction with our educational institutions and universities. We must also target our aid in relation to university students abroad much more accurately. We tend to look towards the Commonwealth countries on the Indian subcontinent and in Africa, but only 1.5 per cent. of overseas students coming to this country are from the burgeoning continent of south America, with its economic and political opportunities. Indeed, the number of students from Venezuela and Brazil decreased significantly between 1979 and 1985. Our universities must adopt far more modular higher education courses so that students from abroad can jump on and jump off, although to be fair that line is already taken for retraining mature students.
We should also use far more private finance. It is disappointing that there are only 17 joint initiatives with the private sector. The Department of Trade and Industry's trade-related scholarships need to be upgraded. It is disappointing that there are only 83 of them at present. It is interesting to note that the Overseas Students Trust wanted an increase of £200,000 per year to £10 million per year. There is also far more to be done on the tripartite schemes that were mentioned in the evidence to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is engaged in schemes, including those involving ICI at Oxford university and BICC with the Cranfield institute of technology. If more can be done 868 in that way, the £120 million of public funds that are used to attract overseas students to this country can be trebled or even quadrupled by private sector funds from industry.
§ Mr. Eggar
With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker, could I say first to hon. Members and to members of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs that no discourtesy was intended to the Committee in omitting to pick up points made by the Select Committee. I assure the Committee that we shall watch this matter very carefully in future. I take the points made in particular by my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling).
The evidence for our oversight is that we believe we have a very good story to tell in relation to overseas students. We had no reason, and certainly no intention or wish, to disguise from the Committee what we were doing. The general support from members of the Committee and from hon. Members is evidence of their recognition of what we have been doing in the past three years.
I shall deal rapidly with as many questions as possible that have been raised during this brief debate. I undertake to reply in writing to my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell), the Chairman of the Select Committee, with regard to the points with which I shall not be able to deal during my remarks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor) remarked on the complexity of the schemes. I agree that they are complex. We have considered ways to simplify them and have concluded that various schemes used subtly together can meet most requirements in different countries. We want to concentrate on increased targeting, using our existing schemes. Perhaps in the future we shall narrow the number of schemes but we want to continue as we are for the present.
Several hon. Members spoke about the need to expand in eastern Europe. In this financial year, ending in April, we will have spent £167,000 in scholarship schemes in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Next year we intend to spend £702,000. In other words, the amount is increasing rapidly and we intend to continue that trend.
Hon. Members commented on the transfer of ODA money to the diplomatic wing for use through the FCO scholarships and awards scheme. This is a good example of our deliberately selecting the most effective way of delivering scholarships to a number of aid recipient countries. The awards will be targeted on a number of countries of importance to Britain and on candidates of high quality who can and will make a real contribution in important areas of their own countries' development.
The ODA money—the transferred money—will be disbursed according to the provisions of the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980. This transfer does not mean a reduction in ODA programmes. On the contrary, the ODA has provided funds to the diplomatic wing in addition to existing money that is being spent by the ODA. In other words, it is a use of extra money that the ODA has transferred to the diplomatic wing.
The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) spoke of the drop in the number of students at further education colleges. His hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands) dealt effectively with that point. In most developing countries there has been a rapid increase in the 869 number of further education courses available, and it must be right that those courses should be followed in the developing countries. Students are then available to come and study at university or higher education level in the United Kingdom.
The reason for the delay in holding another round table was that there were comments about the structure of the round table following its last meeting. Consultations are going on with the NGOs and others to try to find a more satisfactory framework that would be more acceptable and productive from everybody's point of view.
The hon. Members for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley and for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) commented on the overseas research students award scheme and questioned whether that might be extended to polytechnics. That is under review now and we must await the outcome of that review.
A number of hon. Members spoke about the EPS and ECS recruitment schemes. I am told that the Department of Education and Science believes that decisions on recruitment policies should be left to institutions. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provided a small amount of pump priming money to get those recruitment schemes off the ground, in conjunction with the British Council.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mr. Coombs) about the need for universities to improve their marketing techniques for overseas students. The comparison between the techniques used by American and British universities does not redound to the credit of our universities.
The hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley spoke about the fund for international student co-operation, of which, I gather, he is an ex-employee. I wish to place on record our thanks to FISC and its trustees for the work that they have done over the years. We have completed a detailed review of FISC and we believe that there is no need for that body to continue its work, and we wish to redeploy the funds directly for other assistance in the student world. The grant will, therefore, end in 1989.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House commented on the fee support schemes. We believe that those schemes have fulfilled their purpose—
§ It being two hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put, pursuant to the Order [3 March].