HC Deb 21 October 1992 vol 212 cc429-30
9. Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland how many Scottish students are entering higher education in the current year.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton)

In 1990–91, the latest year for which final figures are available, 26,690 full-time and 23,183 part-time Scottish students entered undergraduate higher education courses in the United Kingdom. The figures show a rise of 30 per cent. in full-time entrants since 1980–81. Estimates for 1991–92 indicate continued growth.

Mr. Marshall

That is a very welcome answer. Does my hon. Friend remember the forecast made when the student loan scheme was introduced—that it would discourage students from going to university? Does his statement not suggest that those who made that forecast were bad forecasters as well as being misguided educationists?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

My hon. Friend is correct. About 260,000 loans have been made, and 37 per cent. of eligible students took out loans in 1991–92. The take-up rate is expected to rise, which we believe is welcome and will help to increase access to higher education.

Mr. Connarty

Does the Secretary of State not realise from his correspondence with me that many students who have obtained places on postgraduate courses have been denied grants because the Government have not allocated an adequate amount of money for that purpose? Will he do something about it?

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

Our present package of maintenance grants, loans and free tuition remains one of the most generous in the western world. If we were greatly to increase the resources allocated to grants, we should reduce access to higher education. I believe that to increase and widen access to higher education is generally welcomed throughout Britain. In Scotland, one in four school leavers achieves the qualifications to go on to higher education. Ten years ago it was one in six. Before many years have passed it will be one in three. We want to encourage that process and make certain that it becomes a reality.

Mr. McFall

Does not the educational prosperity of these 50,000 students depend on quality staff, and is not it time to think again when a moderate person such as Sir William Kerr Fraser, principal of Glasgow university and a distinguished former Permanent Secretary at the Scottish Office, says that the Government's cynical action in stopping the university pay deal will do severe damage to academic motivation and morale? Does the Minister agree with Sir William and his fellow Scottish principals that a system that has shown a 30 per cent. decline in university salaries—related to average earnings—in the past 12 years will undoubtedly lead to a third-rate higher education system? Do not the student community and lecturers deserve better, or are the university lecturers and miners being treated equally? Both are being contemptuously trampled on by this disreputable Government.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton

I congratulate the hon. Member on his elevation to the Front Bench. We believe that pay levels should be sufficient to recruit, retain and motivate staff of the required quality. There is no evidence of general recruitment and retention difficulties.