HC Deb 04 May 2000 vol 349 cc289-90
13. Mr. Robert Syms (Poole)

What recent representations he has received on the financing of higher education. [119636]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Malcolm Wicks)

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received a number of representations on funding for higher education. His announcement on 23 November 1999 outlined the Government's plans up to 2001–02. To maintain the high quality of our higher education and to encourage research and innovation, we plan to invest more than £1 billion extra over the four years from April 1998—an increase of 11 per cent. in real terms.

Mr. Syms

Can the Minister confirm that the last Labour manifesto did not mention that higher education would be given a lower priority under the present Government than it was given under the Conservative Government? A recent parliamentary answer revealed that the last Conservative Government spent 1.29 per cent. of gross domestic product on higher education. The present Government are spending 1.14 per cent. of GDP on higher education. Perhaps the Minister will assure the House that the Government will be more honest about that dismal failure.

Mr. Wicks

Of course, GDP has increased substantially under the present Government and expenditure in universities is increasing in real terms. If the Conservatives are interested in statistics, let me say that, between 1989 and 1997—the Tory years—there was a real-terms reduction of 36 per cent. per unit cost. That was the reality during the Tory years. That meant—let me spell it out—£2,553 per student. We will maintain quality while seeing numbers rise in our universities.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Is my hon. Friend aware that more than 1,000 Scottish students go to the universities of Durham, Northumbria at Newcastle and Newcastle Upon Tyne? Does he share my unease that Scottish students may not find it as easy as they did to go on the course that is deemed correct for them and, equally, the concern about English students who might be going to Scottish universities? What is the Government's attitude to the present financing arrangements?

Mr. Wicks

The logic of devolution is that the different Governments in this country and in Scotland may make different judgments about the funding of higher education and student finance. We should not grumble about that diversity. In this country, we are confident that our funding system is fair to students and their parents and fair to the taxpayer. It is fair because some 40 per cent. of students are not having to pay tuition fees in this country.

On the broader point, I am confident that there will be a proper flow of students from both England and Wales to Scotland and vice versa. That has always been a strength of the system and it will be maintained.