HC Deb 11 December 1997 vol 302 cc1173-4
8. Mr. Burnett

How the collection of tuition fees is to be managed and by whom; and what estimate he has made of the cost.[18753]

Dr. Howells

Under our new funding arrangements, universities and colleges will collect private contributions to tuition fees from full-time undergraduate students, building on the arrangements that they already have in place for collecting fees from part-time, postgraduate and overseas students. The higher education funding plans for 1998–99 assumed that institutions in England would collect £130 million from private contributions to fees. That figure allowed for costs of about 5 per cent. for collection, and for any default.

Mr. Burnett

Sir Ron Dearing's recommendation that students should contribute towards their tuition fees has one important caveat: that the cash raised should be hypothecated to the higher education budget. Does the Minister agree?

Dr. Howells

We have already informed universities that the money that they collect will be used in universities to drive up standards, to help with the running of universities. We hope that that will continue. We are interested in lifelong learning. We want universities to be part of a seamless education structure that will allow people to enter university from many directions different from those from which they now enter. That is an important component of all our new schemes.

Mr. Steinberg

My hon. Friend probably knows that I oppose the introduction of tuition fees. I am wise enough to know that my opposition alone will not stop them coming in, but can he give a guarantee that if they are to be levied they will go solely to higher and further education? If they go into the Exchequer generally, they will be no more than a tax on education.

Dr. Howells

I can give my hon. Friend that guarantee. He opposes tuition fees, but presumably he does not support the present arrangement, or the ones that led to it, whereby a young person from a family in one of the two lowest socio-economic groups has a two in 10 chance of a university education while someone from a professional or managerial family has a seven or eight in 10 chance. That cannot be right, and that is why we are making the changes.

Mr. Willetts

The Minister has just made it clear that tuition fees are a tax on higher education to pay for further education, as people had feared. How does he expect to run reliable means tests on students who come from outside Britain, and how much it will cost to do so?

Dr. Howells

The hon. Gentleman is known as "two brains", so he will understand that we are members of the European Union and that, as such, we have to abide by European Union law and that that task already has to be carried out. It will be carried out by an agency equipped to do the job. I do not know what mystery there is about that. We will certainly be able do it. The Government will presumably abide by it because it is the letter of the law.