HC Deb 19 May 1992 vol 208 cc134-5
5. Mr. Barry Field

To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will make a statement on participation rates in further and higher education.

Mr. Forman

Participation in further and higher education is at record levels and rising. This year, provisional information indicates that 87 per cent. of 16-year-olds and 74 per cent. of 17-year-olds are participating in some form of education and training, including both schools and colleges. That compares with 67 per cent. and 52 per cent. respectively in 1979. The participation rate for young people in full-time higher education has doubled since 1979, from one in eight to one in four. We expect it to be one in three by the end of the decade.

Mr. Field

Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the Government's great success stories has been the tremendous increase in the number of students going on to further and higher education? Will he arrange to give more publicity to the access funds that the Government have made available to assist students with their studies? Will he also consider discussions with the Secretary of State for National Heritage, to find out whether some of the national lottery funds could be made available to students pursuing a career in the arts, for example opera, so that they can sing the praises of the Government's educational policies to Opposition parties?

Mr. Forman

I agree with my hon. Friend. He is right to draw attention to the Government's success record in expanding further and higher education. He will know that access funds cover about 90,000 students in further and higher education and that three out of four applications for help are successful. As for his ingenious proposal for support from the national lottery, it is far too early to say anything about that. As he showed by his question, he knows that that is essentially a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for National Heritage.

Mr. Turner

Does the Minister agree that participation rates in higher and especially in further education would be greatly helped, first, if the Government had not cut funds to colleges this financial year and, secondly, if there were not such heavy constraints on unemployed people, who are exempt from taking higher and further education courses under the 21-hour rule?

Mr. Forman

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman takes that line, given that nine out of 10 of our 16-year-olds, and about three out of four 17-year-olds are in further education and training. Our record compares favourably with that of other countries.

Mr. Brooke

Although the participation rates that my right hon. Friend described are gratifying, is he satisfied with the number of people securing qualifications for higher education in mathematics and scientific subjects?

Mr. Forman

One can never be satisfied with the rate of qualification and one would always wish to see even greater progress made. However, I believe that the reforms of the national curriculum and the changes that we made in the Further and Higher Education Act all create a valid framework that will assist greater progress.