HC Deb 27 March 1996 vol 274 cc1026-7
12. Sir Irvine Patnick

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the number of students in further and higher education in Scotland; and what is the current ratio of school leavers to the number entering higher education. [21331]

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

Forty-three per cent. of Scottish school leavers enter higher education and the total number of students in higher and further education is 413,000.

Sir Irvine Patnick

Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures exceed not only the forecast in the 1987 White Paper, but also that in the 1991 White Paper, by an astonishing amount?

Mr. Robertson

My hon. Friend is right to refer to the record expansion in the further and higher education sectors. It is important to remember that that has been achieved without any compromise on the quality of teaching, which is a tribute to the professionalism of the staff in both sectors.

Mr. Maxton

Is there to be a separate Scottish committee to undertake a review of higher education such as will be undertaken by the Dearing committee in England and Wales? If not, what will the Scottish membership of the Dearing committee be?

Mr. Robertson

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are keeping in close touch with the Dearing committee. There will be a separate Scottish input to it, and we are consulting widely with our colleagues in the Department for Education and Employment on the broad terms of reference and the membership. Scottish input will be sought.

Mr. George Robertson

It was understood that the Dearing committee on higher education would be conducted on a bipartisan basis. I hope that that will apply in Scotland as well as to the English Department for Education and Employment.

The House is entitled to know a little more than the Minister has said so far about what the membership of the Dearing committee will be, and how a specific Scottish dimension will be recognised. After all, we have a completely different primary and secondary school system and a different degree structure north of the border. Can the hon. Gentleman be precise about the timetable? When will the Dearing committee's terms of reference and membership be announced? When shall we know who will represent Scottish interests on it?

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for the broad ideas behind the Dearing committee. We expect it to start work after Easter and to report by the summer of 1997. The responses received to last year's consultations on the purpose, size and shape of higher education, especially the Scottish responses, will be made available to the committee. We are now consulting widely on membership, and the committee will embrace both consumers and producers of higher education.

We are seeking comments from Scottish interests on the composition and draft terms of reference of the committee, and on behalf of the Secretary of State I extend to the hon. Gentleman, and to the hon. Member for Monklands, East (Mrs. Liddell) an invitation to discuss their ideas on those subjects, so that the peculiar and specific needs of the higher education sector—

Mr. Wallace

Does the invitation extend to all parties?

Mr. Robertson

Yes. They can all have their say before we finally agree on the terms of reference and the membership.