HC Deb 14 December 1993 vol 234 cc819-21
6. Rev. Martin Smyth

To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will give the global amounts paid for tertiary education in England and Wales for the past three years for eligible students from the European Union; and if he will give the figures for individual countries.

Mr. Boswell

In 1991–92, total spending by the Department on higher education was in excess of £5,000 million. The amount attributable to students from other European Community member states studying in England and Wales is estimated on the basis of average unit costs at approximately £105 million. The numbers from individual member states are given in Department for Education statistical bulletins available in the Library. British nationals studying elsewhere in the European Community enjoy reciprocal rights.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Do they enjoy reciprocal arrangements in all other European Community countries? Is it not a fact that we carry a fair part of the European budget and also subsidise the education of students from some of those countries to the detriment of our own budgetary requirements?

Mr. Boswell

I can confirm that we are obliged, under the Gravier judgment of 1985 by the European Court of Justice, to provide nationals of other European Community member states with access to higher education on the same terms as nationals of the host state. The United Kingdom has implemented that judgment at some cost to its Exchequer. Other EC member states have an obligation to comply with it.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

While welcoming the fact that European students find our institutions so excellent that they wish to come here, may I ask my hon. Friend to ensure that they do not do so at the expense of our mature students? Will he consider the case of one of my constituents, who is over 50 and has been made redundant? He had a 14-year-old child, and he and his wife worked out that they could just, by the skin of their teeth, afford to go to university. When they heard that there was to be a cut of 10 per cent. in the grant and the husband was not eligible for a loan, they realised that that would put an end to his career. Could mature students who are over 50 be included in the loan system now that the grants are to be cut?

Mr. Boswell

My hon. Friend ingeniously introduces an additional issue related to the student support package. It has never been our practice to extend the loan scheme to the over-50s, on the ground that they have a comparatively short career ahead of them to repay their loans. However, I note the point that my hon. Friend made. From the student numbers that we have been able to put through our system and from the fast expansion in the number of mature students—about 150 per cent. in the past eight years—I can assure my hon. Friend that there is ample access to higher education in Britain for Britain's mature and other students, as well as those that we take from other European Community countries.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Rather than moaning about the number of foreign students coming to British institutions, should we not encourage our young people to study in institutions in other countries, particularly Community countries? Is not one barrier to that process the fact that we still teach languages in our schools so incompetently that many young people do not feel able to take advantage of such educational facilities? What steps do the Government intend to take to improve that vital part of our young people's education?

Mr. Boswell

It is rather interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman attacking teachers for their incompetence in delivering modern language teaching. I have not heard much of that in the past. The Government have introduced a requirement under the national curriculum for the teaching of a modern foreign language. We are actively exploring with our European partners the possibility of changes in the higher education programmes of the Community—for example, the Lingua programme—for the purpose of exploring the objective that we share, which is to encourage a proper, reciprocal, two-way flow of students. That involves Europeans wishing to study in the United Kingdom and equally our students wishing to study in European institutions.

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