HC Deb 29 January 1998 vol 305 cc483-4
1. Mr. Chidgey

What plans he has to extend student loan provision to students studying part time on equivalent undergraduate courses. [24179]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Dr. Kim Howells)

There are no current plans to extend student loans to part-time students, most of whom are employed and are therefore able to support themselves. However, for the first time, we are making significant sums available to part timers through access funds.

Mr. Chidgey

Given that the Government have accepted the Tories' spending plans for the next two years, can the Minister explain why he is unable to give an assurance that part-time students should be able to access student loans in the life of this Parliament, given that the Government's Teaching and Higher Education Bill, currently in another place, makes exactly that provision?

Dr. Howells

The Bill makes that provision because we have a great deal of sympathy with the evidence that is emerging on behalf of part-time students, and we are ensuring that they are adequately provided for so that they may undertake and complete the courses that they desire to complete. However, the hon. Gentleman does not understand that his plan—which, of course, will once again be paid for out of the magic penny that the Liberals are always spouting on about—will result in payments being made that will be a deadweight because, as he must have heard me say, most part-time students are already employed. That is why Lord Dearing did not recommend such a measure in his inquiry into further education.

Mr. Gordon Marsden

I welcome the Minister's assurance on the widening of access to loans, but may I ask that the Department continues to keep the matter sympathetically under review? I draw his attention especially to the increasing numbers of part-time students who are studying in the new universities, and to the courses that they are fulfilling. It is important—especially given the many women on such courses—that access to, and encouragement to serve on, those courses, continues.

Dr. Howells

I can assure my hon. Friend that we are fully aware of the important part that part-time study plays in lifelong learning. That is why we have doubled access funds to £36 million and extended provision to accommodate part-timers.

Mr. St. Aubyn

Is the Minister aware of efforts by the Select Committee on Education and Employment to find ways of accelerating and increasing the amount of genuinely private funding that might be used to fund student loans? Does he agree that, if such efforts were successful, more money might be provided for access funds and for higher education? Will the Department for Education and Employment undertake to support any such efforts?

Dr. Howells

We shall always examine such evidence and we are keen for private enterprise to play a much greater part in ensuring that its employees receive every opportunity for education at all levels. The best firms in the country are already doing so.