HC Deb 26 February 1998 vol 307 cc490-1
14. Mrs. Virginia Bottomley

When he plans to meet the chairman of the Standing Conference of Principals to discuss higher education funding. [29892]

Dr. Howells

My right. hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no plans to meet the chairman of the Standing Conference of Principals, but the Department is in close contact with all the higher education representative bodies.

Mrs. Bottomley

I hope that the Secretary of State will urgently review that decision. My constituent, the excellent Professor Norman Taylor, principal of the outstanding Surrey institute of art and design, expects to meet the Secretary of State shortly. The Secretary of State will be aware that students already feel betrayed because, far from accepting the Dearing recommendations—as the Prime Minister rather ill-judgedly asserted yesterday—the Government have rejected Dearing and are abolishing student maintenance grants and hitting the poorest students harder. The principals will make it clear that they are fed up with the mountain of propaganda. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where's the question?"] I hope that the Minister will be able to give some reassurance—that is a question—that the beneficiary of those measures will be higher education and not the Treasury.

Dr. Howells

I am aware, Madam Speaker, that you have asked us to deal only with questions. We have just heard a good speech, although I did not believe a word of it. If we are going to talk about betrayal, we believe that the betrayal of students was the reduction by a quarter in funding per unit over the previous 10 years. That was nothing short of a disgrace, and we are going to reverse that.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

When my hon. Friend does meet the principals, will he bear in mind that top-up fees will deter students from lower-income families? Will he stand firm in ensuring that having no top-up fees becomes part of the Government's strategy?

Dr. Howells

I can give my hon. Friend an absolute assurance that top-up fees play no part whatsoever in our proposals.