HC Deb 10 December 1991 vol 200 cc720-1
5. Rev. Martin Smyth

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will review the operation of the present system of discretionary awards for those undertaking courses for second degrees.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Alan Howarth)

Detailed arrangements for postgraduate student support are kept under review, but we have no present plans for major changes.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Does the Minister expect that while the award system is kept under review and resources are scarce, some consideration should be given to students who come from poor backgrounds and achieve high marks but are turned down because of a shortage of places? Does he accept in particular that there is a problem involving students from Northern Ireland who have attended English universities and been recommended for further degrees and second awards, but are turned down because they are from Northern Ireland?

Mr. Howarth

The hon. Gentleman raises two points. He recently raised two cases on behalf of his constituents. I appreciate his concern that the practical operation of the system for conferring postgraduate awards on Northern Ireland residents can be confusing and may create difficulties. I am grateful to him for drawing my attention to that. The practicalities are being considered by the research councils in the Department of Education in Northern Ireland. I hope that arrangements will be introduced which will be more convenient for Northern Ireland residents. As for the criteria for granting postgraduate awards, postgraduate study and research are academically demanding and candidates should be selected by competition to ensure that the resources available are used as effectively as possible.

Sir John Farr

Will my hon. Friend look at the issue again? In England there are cases where degree holders cannot get jobs and are therefore forced to attend further education courses to try to improve their qualifications. Will my hon. Friend look at the matter in light of the present strained position in the jobs market?

Mr. Howarth

The overall number of postgraduate awards has considerably increased over the years. Between 1979–80 and 1990–91, the total of new studentships awarded by research councils rose by almost 28 per cent. We must consider priorities for public expenditure on education, as elsewhere. It is questionable whether it would be a topmost priority for us in the context of present economic circumstances to urge a substantial increase in the overall funding of postgraduate study.

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