HC Deb 11 December 1997 vol 302 cc1176-7
10. Mr. Andrew George

What recent representations he has received on the provision of higher education facilities in Cornwall. [18756]

Dr. Howells

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received a number of representations in recent months either supporting or opposing the university of Exeter's plans to establish a campus in Cornwall.

Mr. George

I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he recognise that there is popular demand for a university campus college in Cornwall, as demonstrated last night by the presentation of a popular petition to the House? The need to provide proper investment in higher education in Cornwall is also demonstrated by the fact that, pro rata, it has the longest waiting list in the country for Open university courses. There are also other reasons to support the request.

Does the Minister accept that it is no longer acceptable simply to ignore the strategic need to provide proper higher education resources in Cornwall and places like it by simply saying that it is a matter for the Higher Education Funding Council for England? He should also bear in mind the fact that the Secretary of State expressed strong support for the university of Exeter initiative prior to the election.

Dr. Howells

My right hon. Friend certainly gave that support. I can recall going a year ago to what one might call inland Cornwall and being shocked by the deprivation that I saw down there: it is one of the poorest parts of these islands. We recognise that higher education and its expansion, and further education and its expansion, can have a dynamic effect on economies in that state. We should like to see every effort made to try to raise those funds; we are barred by statute from telling any institution what it can or cannot do with its funding. We have certainly made inquiries of the Higher Education Funding Council to find out how it regards the project. We wish success to every attempt that is made to raise the sort of money required to expand higher education in Cornwall.

Mrs. Browning

While I welcome what the Minister has said about greater provision for higher education in Cornwall, which will be welcome throughout the west country, does he not realise that it his Government's policy that will penalise areas, particularly Cornwall? He will know, I hope, that average wages in Cornwall are 77.7 per cent. of the average in Great Britain. It is young people from families on lower incomes who will have the greatest difficulty now that the Government have rejected the Dearing recommendations and are about to force those young people, not only to pay tuition fees that will be repaid on a loan, but to pay 100 per cent. of their maintenance grant. It is precisely areas such as Cornwall which will notice first that fewer of their younger people are entering higher education.

Dr. Howells

It is a pleasure to answer the hon. Lady, and I will tell her why. Labour Members have known for years that people have been working on rice money, starvation money, which is why we are introducing the national minimum wage. It is why we shall ensure that young people in Cornwall will benefit from the new deal and from training; the new deal will be a tremendous investment. We believe that our proposals for the funding of higher education will increase the pitiably low percentage of young people from lower income families who currently enter higher education.