HC Deb 01 March 1994 vol 238 cc767-8
4. Mr. Hicks

To ask the Secretary of State for Education how many students were undertaking courses of higher education 10 years ago and at the latest available date; and if he will make a statement.

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

We need high take-up of appropriate and demanding vocational qualifications in the next three years if we are to achieve the challenging national targets for education and training. Our aim is that one in four 16-year-olds should be starting general national vocational qualification courses in 1996. Our longer-term aim is for half of all 16 and 17-year-olds to take GNVQ courses at foundation, intermediate or advanced level.

Mr. Hicks

I am not sure about my hon. Friend's response to my question—

Hon. Members

It was the wrong answer.

Madam Speaker

Order. May I ask the Minister to look at his answer? We are on Question 4.

Mr. Boswell


Madam Speaker

Order. We all make mistakes. Come along.

Mr. Boswell

I am grateful for your indulgence, Madam Speaker.

The Government's policies have led to record student numbers in higher education. Total student numbers in England rose from some 718,000 students in 1982–83 to 1,201,000 in 1992–93—a massive increase of more than 67 per cent.

Mr. Hicks

That sounds a darned sight better answer than the previous one.

Despite the unease that some of us felt about the introduction of student loans, will my hon. Friend say how the level of funding for students in higher education here compares with that for their equivalents in our European partners? Secondly, will he give an assurance that there is no suggestion that our students should be charged part of their tuition fees?

Mr. Boswell

Our student funding package, both in grants and in loans, compares most favourably with those of all our European counterparts and I assure my hon. Friend that the Government have no plans to introduce tuition fees.

Mr. Grocott

Would not it be a good idea if, in line with their thoughts in recent years, the Government started publishing league tables of ministerial competence? It might be helpful if, as well as publishing statistics comparing the number of places in higher education now with the number 10 years ago, they published statistics on the opportunities for school leavers now compared with those a decade ago. Is not it crystal clear that many pupils make the choice simply because there is no alternative open to them? Is not it time that the Government started expanding real opportunities and real choice for school leavers?

Mr. Boswell

It would be an excellent idea for Departments to publish comparative tables; our Department, under my right hon. Friend, would come high. Also, we have a good record in relation to school leavers. For a start, we now have a comprehensive range of vocational qualifications to supplement the well-tried academic qualifications and there has been an expansion in the number of school leavers over the past five years. We have the highest staying-on rate and young people have ranges of qualifications which they will find of great benefit in their future careers.

Mr. Forman

Is my hon. Friend aware that a recent development that will please many students who are benefiting from higher education is the Government's decision to modify their proposals for student union reform and to introduce a sensible code of practice and the right of students to opt-out? Will he confirm that that is now the Government's policy?

Mr. Boswell

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. We now offer a programme, based on the principles set out by my right hon. Friend, of choice, accountability and democracy in student unions and the control of excesses by codes of practice determined by the institutions. That, too, is positive news for students in higher and further education.

Mr. Bryan Davies

Does not the Government clampdown on expansion in higher education mean that institutions are reluctant to make firm offers until A-level results are known? Does not that mean chaos in August for students and for institutions?

Mr. Boswell

Many people would like to see greater certainty in that matter and would like to base all offers on actual rather than prospective or projected qualifications. Our student numbers are at record levels and, if that is a clampdown, it merely reinforces a record level of student numbers.

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