HC Deb 02 February 1993 vol 218 cc130-1
6. Mr. Ashton

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what percentage of university graduates left university last year and went straight into full-time employment.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Further and Higher Education (Mr. Tim Boswell)

Of those first-degree students whose first destination is known, about 50 per cent. went into full or part-time employment in the United Kingdom or overseas in 1991, the latest year for which figures are available.

Mr. Ashton

Is the Minister aware that the figures that I have obtained from the Library are very different? According to my figures, of 70,000 graduates, only 32,000 obtained jobs; the rest had to go on studying, because they could not find work—apart from the 7,000 who were still on the dole six months later.

Is the Minister aware that unemployment among graduates has risen by 50 per cent. in three years? Why are we training these youngsters? Are we doing it to provide the best-educated dole queue in the world so that the Japanese can come in and exploit them as there is no minimum wage? What is the purpose of it all?

Mr. Boswell

The purpose of education is long term. It is to secure a trained, skilled and motivated work force in which graduates will play a leading part in terms of their chances of employment and their salary structure in the years to come. The hon. Gentleman has taken the worst possible construction of the figures. He has not, for example, looked at the "Graduate Employment Prospects Review" for the current year which, while stating that this is a difficult year, says that we are in a difficult but not impossible situation and that employers are optimistic about the future. The hon. Gentleman should not use the disappointments of today to dissuade people from going to college to build for their tomorrow and for the country's future.

Mr. Hawkins

Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the fact that there are more than 40 per cent. more students in higher education now than there were in 1980? Will he also join me in condemning the reduction in grant for students, especially mature students, by the Labour-controlled Lancashire county council?

Mr. Boswell

I accept my hon. Friend's first point. There has been a huge expansion in graduate numbers, and I make no apology for that, as I do not want to return to elitism—I want people to go to college if they are qualified to do so.

As for further education and the discretionary awards in Lancashire, that is a matter for the council but also for the electors in May. I am sure that the electors of Lancashire will draw the appropriate conclusions.

Mr. Rooker

Does the Minister accept that investment in higher education is investment in the human capital of the nation, but that there may be a threat to the quality of that investment in higher education and to the quality of future graduates if the funding council is given control of quality in universities? Will not that pose a threat to academic freedom throughout the country—a threat which is as unacceptable from the right as it would be from the left? Self-regulation is good enough for the City, and in respect of quality it is better that self-regulation comes from the universities rather than being imposed on them by the funders, which would pose a threat to the quality of future graduates.

Mr. Boswell

I agree with the hon. Gentleman about one objective—that investment in higher education is clearly an investment in the country's future. That is right. With respect, however, I disagree with him on his point about quality and the analogy that he drew with the City. So far as I know, the City does not run on taxpayers' money—[Interruption.] Higher education is financed with several billion pounds of taxpayers' money and we wish to ensure proper value for money—not on my account, but through the Universities Funding Council, which is to establish an independent and proper system of assessment of the quality delivered.

Mr. John Marshall

Will my hon. Friend confirm that since the introduction of student loans there has been a substantial increase in the number of students going to university? Does that not give the lie to the prophets of doom whose forecasts were as inaccurate as their policies are unacceptable?

Mr. Boswell

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. We want people to go to university. We are delivering that, and the quality and standards in universities to go with it. We have no apology to make.