HL Deb 19 January 1967 vol 279 cc214-7

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the first Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government on what grounds the fees of overseas students at British Universities have been increased.]


My Lords, the Government do not lay down the fees to be charged by the universities. They have, however, decided that the next quinquennial settlement of recurrent grant to universities should assume a fee income of £250 a year from overseas students beginning courses in the next academic year. To avoid hardship, the increase in the fee assumed for those who have already started on courses which extend into the next academic year will be limited to £50 a year for the remainder of their present course. This decision was taken in the light of the recommendations of the Robbins Committee and the Select Committee on Estimates that the general level of fees should be increased so that they met at least 20 per cent. of expenditure. In the case of most United Kingdom students the general effect of such an increase would be to transfer expenditure from central Government to local government and thus would go counter to the Government's policy of trying to limit the rate burden.

However, the existing fee structure results in a concealed subsidy to overseas students at United Kingdom universities which grew from £3.4 million in 1955–56 to about £12 million in 1965–66. The Government were unable to contemplate an indefinite increase in this subsidy and reluctantly concluded that some increase in the fees for overseas students was justified. Even with the increased fee the element of subsidy to overseas students will be greater than it was five years ago.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that Answer, and appreciating the concession which has been made to existing students, may I ask him whether it would not be possible to differentiate between overseas students from Europe, North America and Australia, who should not need this concession, and students from the developing countries, many of whom will be put in very great difficulties by the trebled fees which are to be charged?


Yes, my Lords. I ought to stress that no additional cost will fall on students who are now, or will be in the future, financed from British official sources, including the British Council. Moreover, the Government will reimburse the additional £50 payable by students who have already started their courses and are financed by the Governments of developing countries.


My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether he realises the very great concern felt at this increase by teaching institutions, such as the Royal College of Art, and by universities, such as Essex University, which have been endeavouring to attract to this country students from overseas? Have the Government taken into consideration any representations made to them by the Vice-Chancellors' Committee? Have they consulted the Vice-Chancellors' Committee? And have they undertaken any consultation concerning the effects of this change with any educational authorities likely to be affected by it?


My Lords, the Government are aware, of course, of the feeling that has been expressed by various people and organisations, and I have no doubt that the considerations which lie behind that feeling were taken into account by the Robbins Committee and the Select Committee on Estimates. But, even accepting the points that have been made by the various individuals and by the Press, and also direct to the Minister, I should have thought it was reasonable to say that some increase is essential and that the increase proposed is not an unreasonable one. Moreover, the off-setting arrangement which I described, both in the original Answer and in my answer to the supplementary question, is a highly selective one.


My Lords, I appreciate the difficulties, and I understand that many of those students who come even from developing countries have parents such as oil sheikhs who can well afford to pay the higher fees; but is it not also the case that the Governments of developing countries are compelled to limit their scholarships, and to cut them down, and that in addition to those students who come with Government scholarships there are many others who are coming here by the sacrifice of their parents and living in very great difficulties in this country? Would it not be possible to come to an arrangement with the British Council, or with other responsible organisations, that in the case of recommended students the lower fees should still be maintained in the future?


My Lords, what the noble Lord is saying is that there is a case for increasing the fees of some students and not of others. The effect of these proposals will be that some students will pay an increased fee. I feel we should get this matter in proper perspective. As I think my noble friend indicated in his first supplementary question, 30 per cent. of overseas students come from countries such as the United States, Canada and the Scandinavian countries, and they are well able to pay a higher fee. In fact, many come to this country precisely because they get their university education here at a lower cost than is obtainable in their own country. And it is interesting to see the figures that Dr. Byatt quoted in a letter to The Times yesterday, in which he said that in the case of the London School of Economics, of 812 regular overseas students, no fewer than 451 came from Europe, North America and Australasia. The element of subsidy to those students ought in present circumstances not to be increased at the rate that would have been necessary owing to increased costs generally. So far as those coming from developing countries are concerned, if they are sponsored by the O.D.M. or the British Council, as I have already said, no additional cost would fall upon them.


For future students?


My Lords, I think we should be very careful not to introduce the sort of colour discrimination advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether his last reply indicates that this will apply to future students as well as to existing students?


What I said earlier, my Lords, was that no additional cost would fall on students who, now or in the future, are financed from British official sources.


My Lords, while agreeing with what the noble Lord, Lord Molson, said about Lord Brockway's suggestion, I would ask: Are the Government aware that there is a great deal of anxiety, particularly in Scottish universities, over unsponsored students who have already started their courses? I think we all agree that something must be done about the future, but would the Government look into the problem of the existing students, of whom there are not many but to whom great hardship will ensue?


My Lords, I thought I had made it clear that to those students who have already started their courses the increase will be limited to £50 a year, and if they are students from developing countries that £50 will be reimbursed.


My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the Government, before coming to this decision, made any estimate of the value of the services provided by men who have come to this country on these grants and afterwards stayed on to work in the universities, particularly in the medical and science faculties, and indeed in the medical and other services in this country—in other words the brain-drain in reverse?


My Lords, I am sure all these considerations were taken into account, and nothing that I have said about students coming from overseas should be construed as meaning that we do not welcome them or that their presence here is not highly valuable to students generally.


My Lords, what will be the net saving to the Government of this measure?


My Lords, it will be something of the order of £2½ million a year. That will be the net saving when the scheme is fully effective.