HL Deb 05 July 1979 vol 401 cc576-633

6.34 p.m.

Lord ALPORT rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what is their policy with regard to the admission of overseas students to British universities. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. Although I hold office at the City University, any views I may express are not necessarily those of the university or of the vice-chancellor, the council or the senate. It is true that we have a substantial number of overseas students attracted to our engineering and technological departments, to our business school and to the centre for banking and international finance. It is also true that, with only one other university, we did not increase fees for our overseas students when the first increase was authorised three or four years ago. More recently we have, along with other universities, used available resources in the shape of a hardship fund to enable students from overseas to continue their studies when a further increase was ordained.

I would not contest the claim of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that London University is an élite institution, but he will, I am sure, recognise that a university such as the City, closely associated with the professional expertise of the City of London as a world financial centre, with 100 years of experience of training engineers and technologists, and soon to incorporate Gresham College from which sprang the Royal Society, has its own claims to significance in the field of contemporary higher education and has a particular attraction to young men and women from overseas.

When I occupied the lowliest post in the Government of the late Lord Avon, Assistant Postmaster General, I remember that the Iranian Minister of Posts and Telegraphs came to London to purchase equipment to modernise his whole national network. I asked him why he came to us rather than go to Germany or the United States. He said, " It is simply because I took my degree in England. I know your country. I know your abilities, and you are the country from which I would like to make the purchase ". Last September, when visiting Peking as a private citizen I called on the vice-chancellor of the Peking Technological University. I had a friendly, almost an affectionate, reception. I said, " Do you know England? " "Oh yes ", he said, " I was trained at the City and Guilds in London ". My Lords, you and I know that a young man or woman whose formative years are lived in any particular intellectual or cultural environment will carry the influence of those early years to the grave. I regard every young man or woman who comes here from overseas to receive his or her higher education as a long-term asset to this country. If that young man or woman feels that he or she owes an intellectual debt to an institution in any particular country it is a debt which will in time be paid.

It is difficult, I suppose, to evaluate the influence of the able, and no doubt much admired, vice-chancellor of the Peking Technological University, but I am certain that there must be many among his students who will rise to great responsibility in a country of immense political and material potential, knowing that their vice-chancellor owed his success and his initial training to a British institution, who will feel a particular and special sense of interest in our country. How much more will those young men and women feel a sense of affinity if they themselves have been able to come here for some of their training.

Her Majesty's Government are rightly intent on investing resources in sources of economic growth and political influence in the future. Growth depends on our ability to trade in a highly competitive world. It depends on whether in our relations with markets abroad there are those in government, in business and in commerce in the countries the world over who would prefer to deal with us rather than with the Russians or the Americans, or the French or the Japanese. We have no longer the advantage of control over vast areas of the globe as we had in the era of the Commonwealth and Empire. No doubt we must sharpen our competitive ability. But also we need the friendship and the interest of men and women who in the next 50 years will be in charge of the economic and commercial life of the countries with which we are trading. How better to ensure that than to receive them with open arms to our educational institutions and our universities of Great Britain? A distinguished ambassador this week said to me that the increase in fees for overseas students which has now been announced would certainly drive the students from his country to seek higher education elsewhere.

I ask the Minister of State whether she would prefer that students from overseas should go to the universities in Russia, East Germany, France or the United States in order to save £6 million, which represents about one-fiftieth of the annual loss of the Steel Corporation; or does she think that an investment in the higher education of overseas students here is a good investment? That is the argument which I would put to those who believe in cost-effectiveness and in the application of market forces to higher education, but it is not the argument which should, in my opinion, determine the policy of Her Majesty's Government in encouraging students from overseas to come to British universities.

Let me make it clear that the decision of the Labour Government to reduce the number of overseas undergraduates by 1981–82 to the 14,000 of 1975–76, together with the decision of the present Government to increase fees for overseas students by 33⅓ per cent., places on universities here an intolerable burden and will raise an insurmountable barrier against those from poorer countries and poorer Commonwealth and foreign families who wish to seek higher education here.

Surely we in Britain are not so miserably impoverished that, having lost an empire, we are not even able to provide for young men and women from the developing countries of the Commonwealth the educational advantages which they desperately need I say " the Commonwealth " because in my opinion we have a special obligation to them. However, my thoughts include all the countries of the third world.

I have tried in my earlier remarks to outline the hard-headed " nation of shop-keepers" considerations—the self-interest indeed which any Government in Britain inevitably and perhaps properly applies to public issues. But, frankly, I do not think that this nation, and particularly its young people, will be content with such measurements of policy. I do not think that a Conservative Government, who now shoulder the mantle of national leadership, should be happy to acquire the reputation of a Government who go out of their way to inflict very real hardships upon those from overseas who today study at their great institutions of learning, and, moreover, to prevent others who seek to do so in the future. That seems to me, as I have said, to be what the policy of the present Government and that of their Socialist predecessors are designed to do.

Therefore, the following are the questions which I ask my noble friend. First, is it the Government's policy to encourage or to deter students from overseas from obtaining higher education in Great Britain. Secondly, is it the Government's policy to follow their predecessors aim to limit the total of overseas students in 1981–82 to the same figure as 1975–76? I would add, in parenthesis, that I regard that decision as a direct interference in the independence of judgment and decision on the part of those responsible for the conduct of the affairs of the universities herein Great Britain. Thirdly, as an increase of fees for overseas students of 33⅓ per cent. will mean that any university, which feels a proper responsibility for those who have committed themselves to its charge, must give financial support in the case of hardship, will the Government, through the University Grants Committee, make an appropriate allowance to the hardship funds which each of us will have to establish? In the case of my university I would say at a guess that it will be about £100,000.

I know that one must not ask too much of Governments, particularly when they have just embarked on a particular line of policy. And I accept, as any reasonable person in this country should, that no one, whether they be United Kingdom born or whether they be from overseas, can be immune from inflation at present. But I ask the Government whether they will undertake to ensure that the increase of 20 per cent. will apply only to students entering universities in this country from overseas in September next, and that for those already here only the 9 per cent. originally announced will be applied to their fees. Moreover, will the Government ensure that the funds available to the British Council are sufficient to provide as many studentships as were available before the present increase in fees was introduced? Will the Government at the same time take account of the declining numbers of post-graduate research students and their importance both to the United Kingdom and to their countries of origin?

I ask no more of my noble friend than an answer in writing for the information of my university and, I hope, for its reassurance as to the wisdom and vision of Her Majesty's Government. I, of course, supported the Government elected in May in their policy of cutting State expenditure, but I hoped that they would not take the old-fashioned, blunt instrument of Treasury tradition by making cuts across the board regardless of the longer-term consequences. I hoped that there would be some intelligent system of priorities resulting from studies undertaken during the leisured years of Opposition.

In the world of education, the policy of any Government must be seen to be intelligent and fair. The decision of the Labour Government to straitjacket the numbers of overseas students by 1981–82 to the total for 1975–76 was not intelligent. The decision of the present Government to increase the fees of overseas students by a total of 33⅓ per cent. is not fair either to the students who have committed themselves and their academic careers to the universities of Great Britain or to those who are responsible for the integrity and management of our universities here, whose renown after all spreads over a commonwealth of learning covering the whole world.

I therefore pray that my noble friend, whatever may be in her brief—if I may say so without being impertinent in any way—will undertake with the Secretary of State to consider the representations which are made to her this evening from speakers from all sides of the House, whose only object is to ensure that this country remains a centre of academic leadership to which young men and women from all over the world are able to come to prepare for their life's careers.

National interests, as well as our reputation for fair dealing and academic enlightenment, are directly involved in the answer which my noble friend will give. If the Government get it wrong, however, I must warn them that they will alienate the whole world of higher education here and abroad on which, I believe, the successful future of this country directly depends.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, I echo every word which the noble Lord, Lord Alport, has so eloquently said and more especially if—and I hope that they will not do so—the Government insist upon pursuing what I think is a thoroughly reactionary line. I hope they will at least make provision for a very adequate hardship fund which was not the case previously. Once again we discuss the condition of overseas students in this country and once again, as chairman of the United Kingdom Council for Overseas Students Affairs (UKCOSA) and a patron of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth, I should like to emphasise—as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Alport, emphasised—that, by and large these students represent a great potential asset to this country, not only because of the many millions of pounds (perhaps now about £250 million) they spend here annually, thus assisting naturally our balance of payments, but also because of the evident advantage to us of their making propaganda in favour of Britain when they return to their own lands; that is to say, of course, if they have been happy here during their stay. To these advantages—and this is something which I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Alport, pointed out, but which is very relevant—must be added the very real contribution to national research of the postgraduate overseas students.

Unfortunately there has always been a prejudice in this country against overseas students. The great majority, after all, are coloured, and many in this country believe that we have too many coloured people here as it is. A well-disposed earnest overseas student, intent on succeding in his course and then returning to his country, cannot easily be distinguished from an unemployed citizen of Great Britain of Asian or Caribbean descent, and unfortunately is often treated in the same way, irrespective of the great efforts of the Race Relations Board. Even when they are recognised as overseas students, they are—quite irrationally—suspected of taking the bread out of deserving British students' mouths.

I earnestly trust that the new Government will not be unduly influenced by such unworthy thoughts as these, which are common in this country, even though they may have a certain electoral appeal. Of course, there are some students who disappear and thus, in the long run, become illegal immigrants. But they constitute a very small proportion of the whole student body of, say, 80,000. If the measures to prevent them staying on illegally in this country are insufficient, that abuse should be rectified. But what is undeniable, as it seems to me, is that we should do everything in our power to make the stay of overseas students in this country profitable and rewarding both to ourselves and to them. For that reason we should obviously avoid taking any steps that would have the effect of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Unfortunately, the Government have suddenly produced measures which will probably do precisely that. They have raised the fees of all students by, as I undertsand it, 33 per cent. There is, as I need hardly say, no acceptable basis for such an increase, which goes far beyond the inflationary effects on any notional cost of educating the overseas students, and must therefore be designed solely as a means of restricting their present numbers and even heavily reducing them.

Nevertheless, although I have always questioned the fiat statement that the cost of educating foreign students in this country is about £100 million a year—for that assumption would seem to include such things as the upkeep of buildings and, indeed, the maintenance of professors, which would have to be incurred even if there were no overseas students—I do not deny that we might consider reducing the total number of students somewhat below the present level of 80,000, though not perhaps to the 1975–76 level, which is, I think, the present intention. If that is so, there are two ways of accomplishing the end. One is the brutal, sledgehammer method of raising fees, even for those who have aleady come to this country on certain financial assumptions, thus causing acute distress and the maximum amount of ill-will. The other is by some system of selective quotas, agreed with the universities and centres of learning in this country. That is a principle which is not easy to apply in practice, but there is no reason why it should not be taken seriously by the Government in close co-operation with the education authorities concerned.

In any case, before reaching any definite conclusion, will not the Government agree to have talks with their EEC partners with the object of achieving a common attitude towards overseas students?—thereby perhaps doing something to spread the load if the resources here are considered to be in any way inadequate. As I know from talks with the Commission, it has very useful proposals to make in this connection. In Germany I believe that Herr Strauss seems to have good ideas and in France there is always the admirable Mme. Weill, although, as I understand it, she is no longer a Minister.

Another profitable line which might be explored is that of diverting some of the monies now devoted to overseas aid to a system of scholarships for students from the less developed countries of the Commonwealth. Perhaps certain abuses in the distribution of our aid have now been corrected, but even so there is a certain volume of informed thought which thinks that it is, to a considerable extent, still misdirected. Therefore, if such aid could now be directed towards the maintenance of deserving overseas students, not only would our own balance of payments be improved, but a very genuine form of assistance to the less developed countries in the Commonwealth could be achieved. Perhaps Mr. Neil Marten, of whose skill none of us has any doubt, might take this possibility into account?

I must say that it seems rather odd that at the precise moment when the Government, and indeed Her Majesty the Queen, are attaching such importance to the Commonwealth Conference in Lusaka, we should be doing something—and perhaps even planning something more—which is designed to create the maximum of in a large number of Commonwealth countries, many of the poorer ones not relishing, to say the least, the necessity of now baling out many of their young hopefuls in this country.

I leave to the last any mention of the proposal put to the Secretary of State for Education and Science by UKCOSA and the CEC nearly two years ago for the constitution of some kind of advisory commission for co-ordinating general policy as regards overseas students. We should indeed like to hear fairly soon what the new Government think of these proposals and, if possible, we should like to talk to them, quite informally, before they make up their minds. I know that they have come to power to some extent on what is called an " anti-Quango ticket ", but even if the proposed commission would be a Quango, it would be a very inexpensive one! What is really needed is only the appointment of someone in the Government's confidence who could give impartial advice on the whole policy to be followed, on the assumption, of course, that overseas students are a body which, as such, should be encouraged and helped, and not regarded as some kind of abuse—though, equally, if there are abuses they might well be considered by the impartial adviser and solutions recommended by him.

The fact remains that if the Government do not like the proposal for a commission, or some variant of the idea, they must do something to improve the present system of decision-making so far as the whole overseas body of students is concerned. I believe that they will—it may be that I am wrong—find hardly any responsible academic who approves of the present system in which a dozen departments all seem to have their own conflicting ideas about how overseas students should be handled, with the resulting abundance of confusion and distress. I know, for instance, that the British Council, if consulted, would supply very considerable evidence to this effect.

When they were last in office the Tories did, indeed, take a welcome step by appointing Anthony Kershaw, then a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as a sort of co-ordinator of the various departmental policies. Although he did not have the possibilities that might be open to an advisory consultant of the type which we now recommend, for some time he did much useful work which was much appreciated by the student body. Therefore, if as I say, the idea of some kind of advisory commission is rejected—and we still earnestly hope that it will not be—please, Tories, in your wisdom appoint some successor to Kershaw who will enjoy the same confidence in academic and student circles as was enjoyed by that excellent man. We much look forward to hearing what I believe must be the first indication of the new Government's views on a most important issue. We recognise that, as yet, they have not had much time to consider it and that their conclusions may, therefore, only be provisional; but we trust that they will be constructive and forward-looking.

7 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of CHELMSFORD

My Lords, there must be many in this Chamber and elsewhere who would deem it quite impossible for a large group of bishops to agree unanimously about any subject. Recently we had a meeting of most of the Anglican Bishops of England, Scotland and Wales, as a result of which on their behalf the Archbishop wrote to the Secretary of State on this subject. They said: The welfare and proper development of many overseas countries depends on the building up of an educated leadership, and we believe that this country's continued contribution to that end, through the availability of educational opportunities, far outweighs any economies that may be effected by the present proposals. We are also concerned "— and I have heard this in other places— over the contraction in Research within our own centres of learning, and of the impoverishment both for our own society and for overseas societies which will ensue from greatly reduced exchange ". This letter received support from a number of fellow bishops overseas who share this concern. One such, the Bishop of West Malaysia, has a son in Chelmsford, of all places, because in that part of the world Chelmsford is the mecca to which you go if you want to become a member of the Institute of Secretaries. We entertain him and his friends at home, and naturally they are deeply disturbed. They cannot see how from that impoverished part of the world there can be many students forthcoming in future.

There are many issues here. Most of them have been raised already: the financial and commercial considerations; the political, ethical, cultural and educational considerations. We have had the facts set out to us. Obviously there is going to be a very big drop in the numbers, and equally obviously this is intended. It is going to change the whole pattern of overseas work in this country, and also the pattern of what our institutions of higher learning can do about it.

One effect will be to reduce the numbers who can come from the poor countries, whereas the wealthy countries—there are many now which can afford to send students—will take more places, and a further disturbance and lack of balance will ensue. The places of education themselves are very disturbed about the effect of the drop in numbers. I was in a polytechnic in my diocese recently. They are in great disorder, wondering how to establish their curricula this autumn in view of the drop that is coming.

We must all of us recognise the urgent need for the Government to plan to increase national prosperity, and the need which is laid upon them for brave decisions. But surely we must not surrender long-term idealism which, even in the imperial days of this land, was part of our motivation—and a great part. We must not surrrender that, just for commercial ends. Renewed prosperity, for which we hope, must needs be put to the service of the whole world. The scaling down of the student body is of far greater significance than the cut in overseas aid, regrettable though that is. The money saved by cutting down the number of students is small compared with the other.

Why do they want to come to this country anyway? Obviously, basically, to qualify themselves the better to make good in life for themselves; to return to their own lands, and increase the prosperity of those lands. I ask what greater contribution this country can make to world prosperity than to help in this way. It is more than a matter of college curricula. Lessons are not confined to the laboratory or to the classroom. When these young men and women come here, they will learn informally about our society; about us as a people; about our culture. They will discover values and goals by which we live. One sometimes is a little daunted wondering what kinds of values and goals they may pick up.

What is the alternative? Had he been here, the Bishop of Saint Albans would have spoken to this, because he has just returned from a long tour of Eastern Europe and Russia in connection with the Orthodox Patriarchates. He visited Belgrade, Sofia, Bucharest and Moscow. He tells me that going to universities in all those places, as he did, he discovered large numbers of students from the third world, and among them large numbers of Commonwealth students doing courses of four, five, or six years in many different disciplines.

He said he found that many of them had problems of adjustment, and uncertainties about their future, finding themselves in a totally alien society. But he also says that he found on the part of none of them any anxiety about money. They were being looked after very nicely. Nor, he said, were they bothered about failure in hospitality, and that ill accords with what we heard the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, say, of our own hospitable habits—although there is much given, but not enough.

They find themselves in lands committed by their Governments to atheistic philosophies which are strange to them, though many of them are not Christians. They find themselves among proponents of Marxist-Leninist Communism, with an avowed aim to convert the world to their way of thinking and acting. These young men and women will go back to their own places again, bearing this message in many cases. It must have a considerable effect upon them, just as exposure to our society must have a different but considerable effect.

To put it at its lowest—and I just repeat now what the noble Lord, Lord Alport, said—it is a commercial thing. I found a quotation of an African over here on a course. He said: As a production engineer, in the future I am likely to look to Britain for machine tools and other products. If I had gone to Germany for my training would shop in Germany ". But there is so much more to it than that. We—we hear this so often—are having to cope with our imperial past. The presence of foreigners in any society reflects the place of that society in the world. The black presence in Britain is the consequence of British colonial history, and so the changing pattern of overseas students reflects the changing position of Britain as a world power. Now we are an international provider of technical services, and a very valuable contribution this is.

The presence of overseas students raises for us the question as to the extent to which we can accept that new role, and how we are to fulfil its moral and/or commercial obligations. For example, is education for people from developing countries to be seen as a form of aid? Or entirely in commercial terms? Or as a proper opportunity for sharing in prosperity? It is relatively easy to give. We all get a warm feeling when we are able to give something away, and there is ample evidence of the desire and the will in this country to give to those in need. We have seen a tremendous leap forward in donations, for instance, to Christian Aid and War on Want, and all the other charitable institutions. It is much harder to receive than to give. It hurts to give, but it is devilish difficult graciously to receive.

We must know that, while aid is necessary, it is given these days in other ways. It is not just money doled out. Where did I see the advertisement? " You don't give a man a fish, you give him a fishing rod so that he can discover his own dignity ". What the poor countries need is not for us to give them dole, even if we can afford it, but to help them build up their own lands so as to give them the dignity of independence, independence of charity, for their own survival as peoples and as people.

In any event, the rich diversity which they bring is another contribution when they come. They come bringing their own gifts—of human experience, culture, religious insights which enrich us all, and of knowledge, and their manners and customs, which we sometimes find bizarre and in some cases offensive, are theirs and we may learn from them. We have much to learn from them of the extended family and the respect which they pay to their senior citizens. We have much to learn of their culture and history, and surely all of us in this Chamber have experienced our own gain by our intercourse with such people and the enriching and deepening of our own lives and experience.

A final point which really lies outside any expertise I have: we sent two letters from the bishops, one about aid and the other about students, one to the Minister of Overseas Development and the other to the Secretary of State for Education and Science. I gather that if we went a little further we might be dealing with matters, or be on the fringe of so doing, which involve the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I wonder whether we do not need a Minister of some kind to consolidate these questions.

7.13 p.m.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, against the background of general policy so eloquently deployed by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, to whom we are all greatly indebted, it seems to me that there are probably four main issues on which we should like to take the mind of the Government. The first of course is the immediate matter of fairness and justice to students who are either already in mid-course or to whom firm offers have been made for the next academic year. The next area of concern is the arbitrary effect of the measures taken by both the previous Government and the present one on particular institutions or particular courses within those institutions.

Thirdly, we should learn what is their view on the relationship, within the context of overseas student expenditure, between expenditure on the non-advanced courses, which are mainly in the public sector, and the advanced courses, which are partly in the public sector, in polytechnics and colleges, and partly in the universities. Finally, one would wish to know what is the basic policy of the Government towards the reception of overseas students in this country. If there are to be, as there may well be, further economies in the university system, on what principles are they likely to affect overseas students?

The immediate concern of course—this has been touched on by several speakers already in the debate—is for what many people feel to be the obligation (not a legal one but an obligation of honour) towards overseas students who are already here or to whom firm offers of places have been made. So far, the universities have been told of the increases in fees which are to be demanded, but nothing specific has been vouchsafed on what extra resources, if any, will be made available to meet hardship cases. The universities simply do not know within what conditions they are expected to operate, and time is running out. Personal and academic decisions have to be taken; we are already at the end of term and still no hard information has been given.

A Press notice dated 12th June was issued from the Department of Education and Science in which reference was made to discussions on details which were to take place between the Department and the local authorities, on the one hand, and with the University Grants Committee, on the other. I am a member of the UGC, although naturally I do not speak for them on this occasion. But I can assure the House that while the UGC has been given information, it has not been asked for an opinion. I say that because I think it should be put on record, otherwise those concerned who might have seen the Press notice might have been under some misapprehension.

Many university administrators to whom I have spoken are frankly resentful at being put in a position where they can tell the students by how much the fees are going up but they have no idea what resources may be available to their own universities to meet any particular hardship cases. This situation is extremely damaging to our good name in all the countries from which our overseas students come, and this failure to give both sides of the equation at the outset—the scale of fees and what may be allowed as a counterbalance—is very much to he regretted. Rumour has it that the total allowance towards hardships in the university sector will possibly be about £300,000—this is compared with a cut of some £6 million—and perhaps the noble Baroness in her reply will be able to give us some more authentic information on this point. I assure her it is extremely urgent.

Apart from this immediate problem, there is the action of this Government and their predecessor in using methods which take no account of the different circumstances in different universities. In the case of Mrs. Williams, she chose to use student numbers as her blunt instrument; the present Government are using cash fees as theirs. Neither takes account of the possible effect on our university system. The base line of overseas students in 1975–76, which was the instrument of the previous Administration, can be extraordinarily arbitrary, and perhaps I may take a few examples from the university colleges of Wales, with which I am most familiar, and we can see this very clearly indeed.

In University College, Cardiff, for example, where they have a very high proportion of overseas students, the major increases in student numbers in fact occurred immediately after 1975–76, and so any cut based on that has had a completely disproportionate effect. Similarly in Swansea, which also has a very notable record in work for overseas students, it just happened, purely fortuitously, that 1975–76 was a year in which they had relatively few students. One would wish to know whether the present Government are proposing to maintain the student number approach or whether they are going to rely exclusively on higher fees. At the moment, as we understand it, the student number consideration is still operative.

At the present time the universities do not know what attitude will be taken on particular courses which have been instituted in some universities at the request of the Department of Education and Science itself or at the request of the British Council. These courses are tailored directly for overseas students or are dependent on them for their viability. Again, I draw my examples from the university colleges of Wales. In Cardiff, for instance, there is a course for in-service teachers which was established in its present form at the request of the DES. In fact only about one-third of the students attending that course are from overseas, but the fees that they now pay cover about half of the direct costs of the course. If, because of the increase in fees, the numbers of overseas students drop, the course, which provides as to two-thirds for United Kingdom-based students, will cease to be self-financing as far as direct costs go. The university will have to consider very carefully whether it can possibly afford to carry it on for United Kingdom students.

At the University of Wales Institute of Science and Technology there is a post-graduate diploma course in teaching English as a foreign language. The British Council is very closely associated with this. There is also a course there in town planning, particularly geared to conditions in East Asia because UWIST is one of the four or five places in the United Kingdom which have been asked to establish courses directly tailored to the needs of students from particular areas of the world where the physical conditions may be different from those in this country; and East Asia was the area allocated to UWIST. What is to be done with that course, unless the British Council is to receive sufficient funds to be able to sustain the students who are attending it? At the moment nobody knows.

All these courses are such obviously good invisible exports. I have here a copy of a letter sent by the Principal of University College, Cardiff to the chairman of the University Grants Committee. I may say that I received it from the Cardiff end, not from the London end. It is pointed out in the letter that as a deliberate matter of policy University College has set out to provide courses to meet the demand from overseas, and has built up a high reputation in and maintained close academic links with a number of developing countries. If that special relationship is now to be broken because students will not be able to afford to come here, many years of patient effort will have been wasted and the college's reputation could be irretrievably damaged. I am quite certain that examples of that kind could be adduced from many other universities in the United Kingdom.

There are some very important self-financing courses which are not affected, nor were they affected by the demands of the previous Administration, and which are outwith the calculations. I have in mind, for instance, the Centre for Development Studies at Swansea, or the diploma course in port and shipping administration at UWIST. We hope that these will continue, but that is simply not true of a number of other courses, some of which are particularly tailored for overseas students and some of which are jointly for overseas and United Kingdom students. So one must ask the Government to look very urgently at the other side of the equation, as to what provision is being made to sustain courses which will be particularly affected, and what resources will be made available to the British Council or the development programme for this purpose.

This brings me to the third issue; namely, the balance between the advanced and the non-advanced courses. It is calculated that at present there are 85,000 overseas students in this country, of whom 19,000 (in round figures) are post-graduates, 38,000 are undergraduates (or the equivalent), and 28,000 are here on non-advanced courses. It is of course true that non-advanced courses are less expensive; incidentally, the fees also are lower. Nevertheless, 28,000 students on non-advanced courses is a very considerable number. It seems to me—and I think that the general tenor of the debate would support this view—that if we are considering this matter in terms of investment for the United Kingdom, and possible future benefits, probably the post-graduate courses are the most important. They are also the ones, plainly, which are the most difficult to establish or to sustain in the countries of the developing world themselves, whereas by now the majority of those countries may well be in a position to provide non-advanced courses themselves, or it might be much more economical for us, in concert, one would hope, with many other countries, to aid such work in those countries, rather than to bring students here.

There is also the consideration that if a student comes here and spends three years on a non-advanced course, he or she can then establish a resident's claim to grants for higher education. I suggest that if we have to economise in this sphere, it really is essential to make quite certain that the post-graduate courses do not suffer. It may be more difficult politically, but it seems to me that that is a matter of policy which really ought to be tackled, and I hope very much that we will have an assurance from the Minister that that is being done.

Finally, my Lords, what of the future? It is a very crude approach to make decisions purely in money terms or purely in number terms, but if further economies are to be enforced on the universities, at least they ought to be told what is the policy of Her Majesty's Government towards overseas students. Are they to be kept as a proportion of home students? Is it to be a pure function of the market? Is it to be a function of the aid programme? One appreciates that the present Government have not had much time to consider their stance, but they have lost no time at all in putting up the fees.

I very earnestly ask the noble Baroness who is to reply that, if she is unable this evening to answer that more wide-ranging question—and I appreciate that she may not feel able to do so—she should take it very seriously indeed; and I hope that on some future occasion we are able to ask her the results of her consideration.

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, I must start by saying that in this debate I speak only for myself, and I must say most emphatically that I do not speak for the University of London, or indeed the majority of universities at large. Ever since Mr. Crosland introduced in 1967 a differential scheme for overseas students, I have been out of step with the vast majority of my colleagues in the universities on this matter. I was then the only Member of your Lordships' House who supported him during the debate we had. I did so because I knew that, faced with the 1967 cuts, he wanted to find funds from within the DES vote for the black area schools. I said then that if I had to choose, I would put the interests of immigrant children in deprived schools in our country before the interests of students in higher education from other countries; and I have not changed my mind.

On the general principle may I say that I do not see how one can argue that the Government have no right to impose a ceiling on the number of overseas students in institutions of higher education. The numbers have risen year by year. Year after year the DES asked universities, polytechnics, and colleges not to increase the numbers. The numbers continued to rise. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, referred to an ambassador who said to him that the 30 per cent. increase would drive students away from our shores, to Russia and to other Communist countries. I am bound to say that the 300 per cent. increase made by the Labour Government in 1975 had no such effect, except that of a mild hiccough.

In some undergraduate courses in the public sector the vast majority of students are from overseas; and so they are in a few universities at the post-graduate level. Of course we want students to come here from overseas. Of course Government acknowledges the spin-off benefits referred to this evening. But can any responsible Member of your Lordships' House seriously deny that the Government, as the guardian of the taxpayers' money, are entitled to declare that only so much shall be available for the education of overseas students?


My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord merely to say that of course the Government have the right to do whatever they like. They cart do any foolish thing, or anything which they conceive to be in the national interest but which other people consider is not in the national interest. But that does not justify the noble Lord's argument.


My Lords, may I put another question to the noble Lord, Lord Alport? If he takes that view, what else in higher education does he want to cut? Because the noble Lord is advocating simply additional public expenditure, which this present Government, under a mandate on which they won a general election, are trying to cut.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord should read my speech. He may have listened to it perhaps not as attentively as I should have liked, because I in fact accepted that they had a right to increase, and would indeed make additions to, the fees of overseas students; but I asked them to mitigate that increase in a way which I thought, at any rate, might bring it within the realms of fairness so far as the overseas students are concerned.


My Lords, I shall try to meet the noble Lord's point in a later part of my speech. Could I continue by saying that the last Labour Government favoured a quota, and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady David, will accept that five letter word as a description of what was done. Theoretically, of course, universities were free to admit any number they liked, but they were told that if they were above target they would not receive any additional money for doing so. But the UGC was a little more explicit. Universities were told that, if a substantial number were admitted above target, then that would be taken as evidence of slack in the system and the university's grant would be in danger of being cut—and if that is not a quota I should like to know what is.

At this point, my Lords, I must put to the noble Baroness the same question as has already been put to her this evening. Does the increase by 31 per cent. of the overseas student fees indicate a change of policy? Will the UGC be informed next year that there will now be no quota but that the fees will again be raised by another percentage? In other words, is a quota being abandoned in favour of rationing by the purse? Or will fees be raised again, over and above the rate of inflation, and the quota retained?

When I come to fees I am afraid that, again, I am as hopelessly out of step here as I was over the quota, because I am bound to declare that I have never seen any prima facie reason why a differential fee should not be charged, except in the case of EEC students under treaty obligations. The state universities in the USA and provincial universities in Canada charge a differential for out-state students; and if home as well as overseas student fees were raised to the same level, large numbers of our own boys and girls would never get to a university or college. It is equally true that if overseas students' fees were kept at exactly the same level as home fees, the proportion of home under-graduates would fall even further, and many students from social classes 4 and 5—the very students which at any rate I want to encourage to enter higher education—would be excluded. Are we being asked tonight to admit even greater numbers of extremely clever Chinese students from Hong Kong and Malaysia in preference to our own children from sixth-forms of comprehensive schools?

I do not want to be misunderstood though I recognise that I shall be misunderstood. All students are by definition poor, only some are poorer than others. But let us study the facts of this matter—and I hope that the right reverend Prelate will allow me to take issue with him on this point. Ask any registrar in the University of London, by far the largest centre for overseas students, and he will tell you that the students from the third world countries invariably come from their well-to-do families. How could it be otherwise? Whereas there are indeed poor students from North America; students whose parents earn comparatively little in their own country and whose children have to earn and save and pay their own way through college in order to come to take post-graduate courses here—and I know that the late Secretary of State, Mrs. Shirley Williams, was one of the first to recognise this point.

But, having said this, I want to say to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, that we are very much in his debt for having opened up this subject tonight. I know that some noble Lords may have a solution to this problem, which is to create a certain number of scholarships for overseas students which would fall on the Ministry of Overseas Development Vote. A fee which represents the true cost of a student place could be charged, and the MOD could earmark part of their funds to subsidise the fees of students from the third world. Now, if we assume, as I think we must assume, seeing that the present Government are determined to cut public expenditure, that there are no additional funds for MOD, what does this mean? It means presumably that Malawi, for example, would be told that they would be able to buy scholarships instead of, say, lorries. In effect, this means favouring academic institutions at the expense of British industry. It may be that that is the right thing to do, but I think that that is what it means. But if Britain withdrew material aid and substituted for it sub-sidised places in higher education, will not third world countries declare that they, and they alone, should nominate the recipients of this aid? Universities will not like that.

It was always rumoured that Mrs. Shirley Williams, when she was Secretary of State, was on the point of imposing a set of national quotas, so that so many would go to poor third world countries, so many to OPEC countries, so many to North American countries. I am bound to say that such a scheme would have been a nightmare for universities and polytechnics to administer. Overseas students are admitted by departments, and not by a central registrar. 1 have just asked Dr. John Black, the principal of Bedford College, London, to make a study of this problem, and it is clear from his admirable report, a copy of which I should be very glad to give to the noble Baroness if she wishes, that whatever system of monitoring is adopted, or however much admission procedures are centralised, any method of control is likely to be hit or miss.

The margin of error could be as high as 15 per cent.—far higher than the 6 per cent. which I think the UGC was ready to allow. UCCA forms do not reveal a student's status; that can be established only during the admission process. What is even odder is that the USR form, which the UGC require universities to fill up, includes only a proportion of students of overseas domicile. The proportion may be as low as 55 per cent., because all sorts of students who come from overseas are not really classified as such. That is a point which I beg noble Lords to bear in mind; there are numbers of students classified as overseas who in fact have been in this country for two years, and, therefore, although they come from overseas, are classified as home students.

It is at this point that I am afraid I have to say to the noble Baroness that I must leave her side and put some questions to her which are in a rather different tenor. Large increases in fees produce genuine cases of hardship, and it does not improve the temper of staff or of students to be told that a hardship fund exists which, on inspection, turns out to be, not an additional pot of gold but an injunction by the UGC on universities to find the money themselves by digging into their pockets, which the Government are busy picking. I mean by this that no doubt the UGC will tell us that a certain sum from our fund is earmarked to be a hardship fund; or, if it is not earmarked, it is notified as such. Of course, that means that that will naturally be spent on hardships; one could not dream of spending it on anything else. But I will come back in a moment to the difficulties of administering a hardship fund.

Can I ask the noble Baroness about this hardship fund? The experience of administering hardship funds is really very sobering. I found that to be so when I tried to administer the last one, after 1975. First of all, an enormous amount of work was cast upon the registrar and his staff—a staff depleted, I may say, by years of cuts in the university's budget. Then, secondly it is impossible in most cases to check the truth of the applicants' claim for hardship. In the case of one ethnic group, I could only conclude that a plague had struck the country or that a quite exceptional economic catastrophe, both unreported in the Press, had occurred, because all the students from this group reported either that their father had died or that their business had gone bankrupt and that they were therefore unable to provide the additional funds required for the increase in fees. Of course, there were many other cases in which there was genuine hardship. But it was impossible to separate those whom one suspected were telling a tall tale from those who were genuinely unable to raise the extra money.

May I move to the second question which I want to put to the noble Baroness. The Government is filled with those who have sent their children to independent schools. Can they not follow the practice of the public schools, who now inform parents in good time of any proposed increase in fees? I know that the Government were elected at an awkward time not merely for the Labour Party but for the universities; and the Government may well say that they had no alternative to acting as they did. But the universities had already told students that they had a place at a stated fee and the universities are now having to tell them that this fee will be increased.

Next, may I plead that if the Government intend to continue to impose quotas, they should relax entirely the quota on post-graduate overseas students. MSc courses are particularly valuable for these students and no British student is excluded—and that is the point—because home student numbers are controlled at the post-graduate level by the number of studentships awarded by the Research Councils or by the departments. Furthermore, the overseas post-graduates who study for the PhD in scientific departments are invaluable members of research teams. Cut them out and you remove pairs of hands and you remove brains which vitalise scientific departments. I have said that a strong case exists for limiting undergraduate intake. Can the Minister at any rate give an assurance this evening that the principle of post-graduate quotas will be re-examined? After all, if the Government are asking education and the arts to bring in private enterprise to help in funding them, is this not a laudable way to do it? It helps the universities, does not disadvantage home students and increases the funds available for research.

Finally, may I plead that some institutions or even departments within universities be treated as special cases? London University is bound by the quota but we are greatly embarrassed by the fact that there are certain institutions—the School of Oriental and African Studies, the London School of Economics, Imperial College, the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the British Post-graduate Medical Federation—which are institutions which by their charters or their nature were always intended to provide special facilities for students from overseas. Will the Government please consider asking the UGC to invite the universities to make out, if they so wish, a special case for any particular unit or department which was set up to provide special facilities for those from overseas? I believe that this would create a great deal of goodwill while, at present, I am afraid that, on this issue, successive Governments have created only ill-will in the universities.

My Lords, that is the gist of the questions that I want to put to the noble Baroness. I remain, as I say, unrepentant on the general principle, but I believe that there are actions which could be taken by Government which would change the situation materially for the better for overseas students of a particular type, for the universities themselves and, I believe, for the Government, in the goodwill that they could create within the universities.

7.45 p.m.


My Lords, as always, people are in favour of cutting public expenditure except for the thing that they are specially interested in. So it is, as we have heard tonight, with education. I note that the present Secretary of State already has been reported in the educational Press as fighting valiantly against cuts in his Department's estimates. Presumably the authors of those reports assume that the Secretary of State fought the election on a private manifesto. This Government got in, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, pointed out, on a Manifesto designed to cut public expenditure.

Within that general context, overseas students do present an exceptionally difficult problem. We are, I suppose, all of us, opposed to discrimination which looks racial or national in any way. We are most of us aware that overseas students represent a valuable contribution to our intellectual community. That the university without foreign students is a rotten university, seems to me to be a self-evident proposition. Furthermore, I think we all accept that students educated here are usually among the best ambassadors for Britain that there could be. That being said, I do not find myself persuaded by the argument that overseas students are really invisible exports, but, by any criterion one can think of, they are undoubtedly invisible imports which may or may not eventually lead to exports.

It must be said that the evidence of the past 100 years, to which the noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, frequently draws attention in economic debates, hardly suggests that our record in having foreign students in this country has noticeably helped our overseas trade position.


My Lords, would the noble Lord not recognise that these students bring in a great deal of money to this country? Is that not to be set off against the account?


My Lords, there is a difference between gross and net. It is also true that when foreign visitors come here and spend money on hotels, they eat asparagus grown in Israel; and that bit of asparagus is attributed to Israel's balance of payments while the rest of their expenditure is attributed to their own country. I am sorry, but if the noble Lord mutters throughout the time I am speaking, it is impossible for me to answer his question.

Why is this discriminatory policy adopted by successive Governments? It has been maintained as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, pointed out, for 12 years. Like the noble Lord, Lord Annan, at a very early stage I was concerned with Tony Crosland's decision to introduce the discriminatory charges; so I thought that it might be helpful if I gave some of the background as I see it. At this hour and having been in the Chamber all the afternoon, I shall not detain your Lordships for very long but I think what I have to say is relevant.

Before the war, the universities and colleges got much of their then very small income from fees; the UGC grant was only a topping up of their incomes. Students then largely paid their fees themselves, often with two or three scholarships. I myself had three scholarships at Cambridge. They also had to get a maintenance grant to live on or else be kept by their parents. The present position arises from the post-war problem when the great bulk of students were ex-servicemen who had all their fees paid and also got maintenance grants given to them out of the ex-servicemen's scheme. From 1948 onwards, almost all British students were raised, as it were, to the status of ex-servicemen. At that stage, with most of the fees received by universities and colleges paid by the State or the local authorities, over 90 per cent. of the income of the universities came directly from the UGC. The fee had become a purely nominal concept which could have been abolished and made the accounting easier, rather like the penny which is charged when one goes into Kew Gardens which does not even pay the man who collects it.

In 1966, in one of the nation's perennial financial crises, it became clear that not only was the number of British students 10 times greater than it had been 20 years before, but that very large numbers of overseas students were being educated freely at the expense of the taxpayers. So with a little half-hearted compromise—which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has just specified to your Lordships—the fees were raised. The fees for the British students continued for the most part to be paid by local authorities or by the State out of public funds, while the overseas students paid more because their fees were differentially raised. That is where the problem arose. It is very important that this has so far been a bi-partisan policy because the fees were last raised on this discriminatory basis by Shirley Williams.

The argument at that time for this discrimination—and I remember it very clearly—was threefold: first, it was asked whether, if we wanted to subsidise foreign students, it was not best to choose carefully the students to whom we wanted to give this pretty hefty subsidy. Should it not best be directed at those students who actually needed help? There are many foreign students—and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, 100 per cent.—especially those from very poor countries, who are from extremely rich families.


My Lords, is the noble Lord suggesting that the majority of students from poor countries come from rich families?


My Lords, if the noble Lord would listen and would stop interrupting he would have heard that I said " many ". Of course I did not say " all ". I said " many " students. The people one sees in Oxford and Cambridge are not the people from the villages, they are the people from the big houses; and the people who have come by and large—almost overwhelmingly—from the really poor countries have been well off. Quite candidly, the principle seems a perfectly acceptable one. I see no reason why the rich should not pay something towards the cost of their education.

Next, I come to the shift to fees as a source of university income as a way of relating total university income to student demand. That seems to me not too unacceptable as a way of regulating the way in which universities receive income. Lastly—and this is the point which has been raised by all Peers so far—there is the device of putting up fees as a way of choking off overseas demand for places. Clearly that was the most questionable part of the matter. It has been questioned very vigorously tonight. The fee has in fact been used to some degree as a substitute for effective immigration control, and frequently in some areas has been a substitute for effective admissions policies.

Nevertheless, if the way in which universities and colleges are to be financed is increasingly to be from fees rather than direct grants from the UGC or local authorities then, so far as universities are concerned, there is no real difference in shifting over from the grant basis to the fee basis because, so far as British students are concerned, over 95 per cent. of the fee income comes from the same pocket. It comes eventually from the taxpayer. The increased fee does, as noble Lords have pointed out, raise a serious obstacle to overseas students who wish to come here, whether they come from rich or poor countries, or whether they come from rich or poor families.

An issue of principle has been raised tonight. Clearly, as a nation we are—and particularly those engaged in university education—against discrimination. As so often happens, that principle comes up against another: we cannot subsidise everybody from overseas indiscriminately. The nub of the question really is: what is the urgency of the matter in the present situation? Frankly, so far, the balance of the evidence does not suggest to me, apart from matters to which I shall refer in a minute, that this question of fees has been the most serious issue in the welfare of overseas students.

Many of the important questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, were highly relevant and should be studied very carefully by the Government and institutions concerned. Student welfare is of central importance. I must reiterate the point which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, so effectively made: the most extraordinary thing is that every time the fees have been raised the number of students has increased I can only conclude that higher education is what economists term the superior good: as the price rises so does the demand, rather as it does for old masters. I must confess that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and I are the odd men out tonight perhaps because we work in universities rather than listen to what universities say. I am supporting both Mrs. Williams and the present Secretary of State in their general policy.

I want now, having supported the Minister on the Front Bench—less effectively probably than the noble Lord, Lord Annan, but no less sincerely—to say that I think there are immediate difficulties and problems. First of all, what is irritating is the way that these decisions have been taken—not only by the present Government but repeatedly in financial crises—so late in the day that the invitations for the students for the next academic year have already been issued. The admissions process is effectively completed round about Christmas time for a good many students. There is also the great question of bad faith which affects the students already on course. Whether one agrees or disagrees with the arguments which have been advanced tonight about discrimination in fees, it seems to me that the question of bad faith for students already on the course is a serious one. It is parallel to the sudden cancelling of studentships already promised to named individuals by research councils which has just happened as a result of recent Government cuts.

There we have a classic case of a problem arising from political events and the timing of an election. To any of us who have worked in universities throughout this period of cuts the foreign student is a familiar red herring advanced at such times by the Department to safeguard from the ravenous Treasury Ministers animals which, so far as the Department is concerned, are far more sacred than foreign students.

That is a pity on two counts: it is very hard luck on existing students, and it is bad luck on the reputation of this country overseas when this sort of thing happens without any plan. I strongly support what other people have said. Nevertheless, the elections cannot be chosen to coincide exactly with the long vacation so that universities can get a year's notice.

I have written out a lot of questions to put to the Minister but they are exactly the same as those posed by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, so will the Minister take from me the fact that the questions the noble Lord, Lord Annan, posed to her are very much the questions that practical people working in the universities and colleges are asking up and down the country. Even if she cannot give an answer tonight—and I know that it is not within her own ministerial responsibility and that it is early days yet—it would be good and reassuring if we could go back to our colleagues and say that the Department is looking into these matters and that we shall have a proper longer-term policy eventually. Whether or not we like the particular policy is a matter for subsequent discussion.

7.59 p.m.


My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for giving us a chance to debate this subject again. This is the third time I have spoken about overseas students, and I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in her reply is going to confound my sense of déjà vu. I should like to concentrate in detail on two main longer-term points: namely, costs to this country of overseas students, and then the subject of quotas.

Part of my sense of déjà vu arises from the recurring disagreement, in this debate and in newspapers about the true cost of overseas students to this country. I hope the noble Baroness can give us her opinion of the precision of the figure of £94 million per annum, which seems to be the officially quoted element of subsidy. Perhaps it should not be expected that she should take into account wider effects outside her Department's responsibility, as other estimates of cost do.

I find it depressing, to say the least, that argument founders at this basic level of the simply different assumptions that are brought to bear. On this issue of cost, what is needed is a much greater consensus brought about by detailed and intelligent analysis of the effect on cost both within and outside the universities—the effects within depending, for example, on the nature of the subject, contribution to research, marginal considerations and so on, and the effects outside the universities being, for example, foreign exchange, later technological spin-offs back to this country, and so on. Some of these facts are difficult to quantify, but I am optimistic that very much more detailed work could be done.

In an attempt to achieve a more widely accepted consensus on cost, may I put a modest proposal to the Government?— namely, that they should encourage some organisation, probably voluntarily funded, to conduct a detailed investigation into this particular aspect of overseas students; that is, the cost to the country. The main object would be to achieve as much of a common base line as possible that could be accepted by all sides and, beyond that, to make explicit differing assumptions that have been brought to bear on discussions of cost. That may sound naively simple, but I think that is the sort of information that is desperately needed in this area.

If it is not the practice of the Government to promote such enterprises directly, and if they could not get, for example, the University Grants Committee to promote it, then I would hope that some respected body such as the Committee of Vice-Chancellors could encourage the creation of such an investigation. The essential thing would be that, at least at its formation, it was respected by all sides. I know there have been attempts at producing general cost figures but only by interested parties, with results that have not convinced other sides. My aim in this, beyond hoping for some sort of consensus, is to provide a base for an informed public opinion and to make differing assumptions explicit, particularly the many facets that are the concern of different Government departments.

At the moment, when the Government issue figures for rises in overseas students' fees, the amount of subsidy of £94 million, or whatever, appears as an inexorable figure; and on that basis the public can only make a simplistic judgment. The issue is much more complex, and this at least should be an area where academic inquiry and greater intellectual honesty are possible. It would be those latter grounds—of the integrity and force of the conclusions—that I would hope the Government would be convinced by, if they chose not to be involved themselves in any such investigation.

Before I go on to my second point of quotas, may I say to the noble Baroness that I found it refreshing to discover last week in the Guardian that other views, critical of the Government's recent action can emanate from Smith Square. A statement was issued by the Federation of Conservative Students (whose president I see is someone called Mark Carlisle) and it said: The Federation … believes that the universal increases in overseas student fees are both inefficient and inequitable. Localised quotas and universal fee increases merely lead to institutional imbalance and hardship funds that are expensive to administer. It goes on later: In the short-term the Federation is urging the Government to limit the fee increases to those overseas students commencing courses in 1979–80 and, if not, to ensure that full guidance is given to the institutions for the provision of adequate hardship funds. That raises a number of issues which I do not myself want to go into. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, gave excellent examples of the problems of administering hardship funds; but I think it is understandable and healthy if younger Conservatives do feel that a less political and longer-term view of the problem should be taken.

If I now mention the word " quota ", I am not referring to regressive or punitive quota systems. There have been harsh experiences of these at the non-university level, but, as I understand it, in universities a semi-informal quota has been in operation. The working of this system seems to take place largely behind closed doors, sometimes with the help of nods and winks; and, if I can give a rather extreme analogy, this may stem from the same reasons that society tacitly allowed doctors privately to take decisions about euthanasia. Different criteria and standards may prevail in different parts of the country but, broadly speaking, we may think that they get it right—although in fact we cannot ever judge that properly. But as also in the case of student quotas, it is easier not to have to parade and justify in public a whole set of value judgments on which choices are based.

I fully realise the difficulties of formalising any system of quotas but, provided they are not regressive, such a method has always seemed to me preferable to rationing by a punitive level of fee. So I am supporting flexible and humane quotas that can respond to the needs of particular institutions. Some courage will be needed to articulate just how criteria can be applied, particularly as in the past—sometimes justifiably—the word " quota " has elicited automatic student hostility. If quotas are to gain any respectability, the trend must be that they become more openly administered and I hope the Government will encourage that trend in practical and sympathetic ways.

Finally, I would also ask the Government to take a very much longer-term view of the whole problem and not to sacrifice to short-term political advantage one of our most valuable contributions to the world. We have not only past traditions and standards to offer. In the future we also want to be in a position to offer and influence the development of computer-based technology and micro-processors in the developing world. The Question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, in this House yesterday on the way in which the French are training their teachers in computer methods is a significant pointer that we should note, both for our own use and for the future likely requirements of overseas students.

To sum up, my Lords, on both costs and quotas, I am asking the Government to make more information available, or rather to create the atmosphere in which such open government is encouraged.

8.7 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I should like to join in the thanks which have been extended to the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for the very excellent way in which he opened this debate. He left, for me at least, and no doubt for many who have spoken, very little to say in a brief speech. But I should like to say to the right reverend Prelate that in 1961 when I was in China, under a very different régime, there were a whole lot of Africans there and I said " Good morning " to them when I was visiting the Great Wall, and they replied. When I returned I found they were not allowed to speak one single word to me. Things have changed in Peking now but that was the atmosphere, and I agree that it is very dangerous to allow these people to get a completely different aspect of life if we can offer them a better alternative in this country.

I should like also to say that I am speaking from personal experience. I was in Malaya for many years, and one of my duties there was to recommend students to come to this country. Of course, I saw them when they came back and heard their views and heard how they had, or had not, benefited from all their contacts. I also heard about their difficulties and later we were able to help perhaps with a better selection of students the next time. I should like to assure the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, that they were not the rich. This in fact was soon after the war and we had actually to help them with their clothes from the welfare stores. Those were the types of person who were intelligent and who we thought would benefit from coming over to this country. It is interesting that Malaysian students now make up the greatest number of foreign students in this country.

When I was living in Devonport I used to have students from Dartmouth to stay with me in the Christmas Recess. I would ask the Minister to let me know whether the Ministry of Defence is also putting up the fees for these overseas students. They have been a very good contact and I still keep in touch with many of them. I was also for many years in the other place joint chairman of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth, and for 20 years I served on the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which has given me the chance of visiting most of the countries. When MPs come from these countries for courses run by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, or meet in conferences overseas, they have one great thing in common; most of them have been educated in this country and they get down to business quite quickly. Whether they come from India or Africa, they have many interests in common, a common language and no interpreters are needed. This is a tremendous help in keeping peace between countries.

I should like to suggest to the Minister that she should get in touch with the many Commonwealth countries, and explain that the Government need to save £6 million a year—although we have to remember that there will still be £94 million being paid by taxes in this country—and ask whether they would agree to a certain sum of money being allocated for students in our aid programme. I think that this would be worth while. Very few of us have knowledge of how this aid programme is spent, but I do not think there would be any better way of spending it than in sending students to this country. They would then be able to go back and play their part in providing better standards in their own countries, so that less people would need help in the future.

What is generally forgotten—although I think it was mentioned in passing by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn—is the invisible earnings that come to this country from these students, while they are actually here. Recently, a competition was held by UKCOSA, when more than 80 students wrote essays. One of the students wrote, Outside the Communist and the non-English speaking countries, Britain is the last country I would choose to study in. Fortunately, he changed his essay and vindicated his study here. But I should like to point out that he came from Nigeria and had the greatest difficulty. He gave me a detailed list of what he had to get to come to this country, and explained how he had to scrounge and borrow money to do it. He was a teacher in his own country and was given leave to come here. He ended up by agreeing that he had really benefited and had changed his mind. He said: I think it would be in order to reflect on the rightness of my decision in 1975 to come to Britain. I think it was the best decision made at the right time. That is somebody who changed his views about life. I remember the story about Mark Twain, who said that he had " pulled through another day ". That man has pulled through his days and has gone back contented. There was a girl student who said: " I do not regret coming to the United Kingdom. When I first came I was a girl from a sheltered background. I have become more independent with a broader outlook on life, not so hasty to pass judgment and realising that between black and white there are many shades of grey ".

I put down two questions for Written Answer and I shall not repeat them. But one of the main difficulties for authorities is changes in policies which aggravate people overseas and in this country; and reorganisation is very difficult. I attended a meeting chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, which was addressed by Sir Roy Marshall. Sir Roy Marshall is a very helpful and wise person in these matters, and is the Secretary-General of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. He said: The form which rationing by the purse has taken since 1967 is the imposition of differential fees—higher for overseas students than home students. No institution wants to do this: by their constitutions, whether created by Royal Charter or otherwise, they have the power to fix their own tuition fees and left to themselves they would not have introduced differential fees. They do not like having two classes of members, one paying a higher fee than the other. Such a system is divisive and disruptive: it raises problems of definition on the borderline (who is a home student, and who overseas) and it has proved ineffective in reducing numbers. Nor has it put any extra money in the hands of the institutions: they simply get less from the government. Yet institutions have had to do what they do not like, for government has calculated grant to them on the basis that they will charge differential fees at a specified level. Government recognises this autonomy but can hardly be said to respect it. I should also like to suggest that the historical association and the continuing relationship with the Commonwealth is of special concern to the developing countries. There are quite a number of countries, including France, which charge nothing at all to their students. The other day, I heard the example of the Cameroons. As your Lordships know, the Cameroons is half-French and half-English, and they joined together after a referendum. It will be very odd if the English-speaking ones come to England and have to pay fees, and the French-speaking ones go to France and pay no fees.

The hardship grant, which at one time was £10 million, certainly never reached those in need. I remember the time when in Plymouth we had a lot of Biafrans. Could I get any money to help them pay their fees? It was practically impossible. But during the revolution in Nigeria they were cut off from their home supply. It is extremely difficult to deal with hardship. Therefore, I should like to ask the Minister whether she will consider contacting the countries and settling matters direct with them, which would be much better. I should also like her to see whether she can help Commonwealth students through aid with less aid for non-Commonwealth students, except for a few very poor developing countries, such as Indonesia and Thailand, whose students have been coming here for some years and who still need help if their countries are ever to succeed in becoming prosperous and improving their standard of living. I hope that the Minister will be able to reply to those few suggestions, if not now, at a later stage.

8.17 p.m.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, I shall be very brief, but having worked for 30 years in an academic institution with a very high percentage of overseas students from all over the globe, I feel that I simply must speak to urge the Government again about this policy and, at least, if they have to make economies, to make them in a rather different way. I wonder whether these economies in the costs of overseas students have really been accurately assessed, and I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, that we need to look at these sums in a number of different ways.

Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, is right, in that the moment a student is accepted he is an import, rather than an export. But that is the beginning of the story and not the end. I have taught both rich students from American and Arab countries, and extremely poor ones. The very rich students—I am generalising from a small sample—are so pursued by rich relations that I should think that the benefit to the balance of payments, from all the cousins, sisters and aunts who turn up and spend money here, far outweighs anything we pay on subsidising their fees while they are living here.

Then, again, there is the long-term issue. From my experience over 30 years, and the contacts which students maintain with the institutions which have taught them, the pleasure with which they come back and the encouragement they give to other people to come here and trade here, I am sure that this must add up to something very substantial. To take only one example of the way in which old students return back to the place in which they were taught, that great new library that the LSE has opened, partly as a result of Government help—it would never have gone up only with Government help—is largely a result of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, going around the globe visiting old LSE overseas students, who subscribed magnificently to get that library up in the centre of London. That is one small example, but it is symbolic of the kind of return that overseas students make as the years go by, which is extraordinarily difficult to cost. So I question whether the amount of money which it is said we have to expend without adequate return from overseas students is a genuine figure.

Then there is the question of the value to our institutions of having overseas students. I can certainly testify about what it means to United Kingdom students—who still tend to be fairly insular—to have the experience of studying with, getting to know and establishing real friendships with, people from overseas. At that stage in their lives they develop relationships which they would never develop in any other way. There is no question but that there is an academic advantage when students of good quality come from overseas to join in the life at one of our universities. It is a real benefit both to home students as well as to students who conic from overseas. I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, that most of the students are rich. Of course, some of them are very rich—


My Lords, with great respect to the noble Baroness, what I said was that many students are rich. It is a general truth, I think, that in poor countries the great majority of people can scarcely afford to move from their own villages. My experience as a university lecturer for 25 years and as one who has visited 40 underdeveloped countries, many of them frequently, is that the great majority of the people who are able to get money together to come over here come from the better-off classes.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, there are the " better off " and the " better off ", are there not, and some of them are very wealthy people. I agree, of course, that we do not get the sweepers from Calcutta. Nor do we get the sweepers from the East End of London, if it comes to that. However, we do get people—I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, has had the same experience—from very modest families who have scraped together the money, with fifth cousins putting up the money, to make it possible for their relatives to come to this country. The number of brothers who have been over here who are sending younger brothers to this country and paying for their education in this country out of their British earnings is, in my experience, considerable. I do not have the overall statistics, but certainly it is not the experience of those institutions in which I have worked that overseas students are all rich people. They are not the poorest of the poor, but certainly they are not the richest of the rich. They are not people who can easily put their hands into their pockets, or into their fathers' pockets, and find the extra money which is now being asked from them.


My Lords, this is a slightly barren argument. If what the noble Baroness says is true, it is very odd, since the Robbins Report showed that the social classes from the United Kingdom who enter the London School of Economics make this institution one of the most exclusive Socialist institutions in this country.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, it is not the purpose of our debate this evening to discuss the class structure of the London School of Economics, exciting though that would be. I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, that he said " many " and not " most ". However, we are becoming slightly purist in the distinctions that we are making. A considerable number of overseas students do not come from the wealthiest classes, and they would certainly find that it was very difficult to find this money.

I understand the desire of the Government to cut back on public expenditure. Provided that it is cut back in the right place I agree with it. However, we still pour money into things from which there can be no future return. The phrase " lame ducks " is overworked, but we are still wasting money in many directions, and we know that we are. We are subsidising industries in this country for which there is no future. If we cut out that kind of wasteful expenditure we shall not need to worry so much about what we spend on overseas students.

May I make two practical points about what might amount, in these sorry circumstances, to a modification—supporting what I believe has already been said by other speakers, but underlining it, if I may. First, while I believe that it is wrong to put up these fees, if one wants to restrict expenditure it is better to look hard at standards: to make sure that people do not come to our universities—this applies to United Kingdom students as well as to overseas students—who are not of a standard fully to benefit from that ecucation. Therefore, the selection of students for our academic institutions, both from overseas as well as from home, is a matter which needs to be looked at.

Furthermore, we need to look at the way in which overseas students are selected so that the ones who come here are those who can really benefit. This is very important. I am the first to agree that it is very difficult to get this right. Those of us who have worked upon the problem know how difficult it is. It is wasteful of resources to admit into our universities, either from overseas or from this country, people—and I believe it to be a small percentage—who are not going to benefit very much from the education they receive while they are here.

If we have to make this economy, may I implore the Government not to make it at the expense of the graduate students. Increasingly, the university institutions of developing countries are able to give adequate—and, one hopes, more than adequate as time goes on—undergraduate instruction. However, it is very difficult for them, simply because of the numbers and the facilities available, to give the kind of graduate courses and higher degree courses which the brighter of their graduates ought to have. These are the people who, having had the advantage of higher degree and post-graduate work of one kind or another in this country, go back to their own countries to take up positions of leadership and to formulate and apply policies in those developing countries. They are key people—the ones whom, above all others, we ought to be assisting and in whose path we should put no obstacles. If we have to discriminate, let us discriminate between the undergraduate group and the postgraduate group.

Finally, I have heard at least two other speakers—unfortunately, I was unable to be here for the whole of the debate—make the point that surely it would be sensible, if there is no other way around the problem, to divert some of the aid towards financing students. Those of us who have had anything to do with the question of aid know that by no means all of it is used for the best purpose. Let me leave it at that. May I ask the Government to consider whether or not some of that money could be earmarked at least for graduate students to come to this country and bear no increase in their fees.

8.27 p.m.


My Lords, I appreciate that the hour is very late. Consequently one has to compress what one has to say into a few short sentences. First, may I compliment and thank the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for having asked this Unstarred Question. I should like to speak about many of the matters which have been raised, but time is not available.

The House ought to know that I am speaking now as the vice-president of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. The Association believes that the current subsidy presently borne by local education authorities in the non-university sector should be removed. The current subsidy will remain so long as the fees, which are normally determined upon the Secretary of State's recommendation, remain at less than full cost. Even the 22 per cent. increase in the fees for overseas students which was announced last month by the Government for the 1979–80 academic year will produce fees which cover only some 40 per cent. of the cost of tuition. Yet overseas students' fees are already quite high, and the differential over home students' fees looks unfairly discriminatory.

The Association argues that what is needed is a radical shift in policy, under which overseas students would normally be charged full cost fees. Any subsidy would be overt—I shall have something to say about that matter in a few minutes—and when met in the United Kingdom would be a charge on central government resources. Some overseas students, as we have already heard, come from wealthy families or from States which are amply able to give full grants for study in the United Kingdom. We feel that overseas students who do not have such support, including many from developing countries, ought to be supported by the United Kingdom as an act of national policy.

With regard to the benefits which overseas students bring to a college, the Association of Municipal Authorities confirm that they are real but that they cannot be quantified in cash terms. One of the most solidly economic, as distinct from humanitarian or cultural advantages, is realised when the student qualifies and returns home, as we have already heard, with skills learned on British equipment and British machinery, possibly in the workshops of industry as well as in college. But that is an economic advantage to the United Kingdom and not to the college or to its local education authority. They also call upon the Government to rationalise and so make fairer the various and incompatible definitions of overseas students in several branches of the law—immigration, fees, awards and race relations. One could of course elaborate considerably upon these points but I do not propose to do so.

There are two other points I should like to raise. First, I should like to commend what my noble friend Lady White has said. I am particularly interested in the university and college of which she has spoken and I need hardly say that I endorse her views. I happen to be a governor of one of them. Secondly, I think the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, was right but I am not quite sure whether she covered the whole point of what I think ought to be done with regard to the admission of overseas students.

The House will not be surprised when I say that I am deeply disturbed about the way in which some students are sent over here specifically for the purpose of creating political difficulties. We have a large number of students who are subsidised by some Arab countries to come here with the specific purpose of creating difficulties, both from the ordinary political point of view and from the point of view of anti-Semitic movements. This is the case not only in this country. Arab monies are being spent on the campuses of many other countries, in particular America, and I think the Government should look closely into the question of whether a student is really coming here for the purpose of study at all, or whether he or she is coming here for the purpose of carrying on a political campaign, much of which, in my view, is very detrimental to the interests of our own country. I hope the Government will give very careful consideration to this point.

I could give instances of where universities are today passing resolutions of a very serious nature politically, but it is too late tonight to go into that detail. I shall, however, be happy to provide the noble Baroness, Lady Young, with any information that she may want. I can assure this House that it is an extremely serious matter and, in my view, it is really disreputable to utilise our universities and campuses for the purpose of carrying on antagonistic and bitter racial difficulties.

8.34 p.m.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, like other speakers I welcome this debate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Alport, for initiating it. We are all anxious to know what this Government's intentions are for the future, particularly in the light of the swingeing increases in overseas students' fees recently announced for 1979–80. I was surprised that the noble Lord had confined his Question to students in universities, when we have so many in the maintained sector of higher education. In 1977–78 there were 35,200 in universities and 22,900 in further education. In 1978–79 there were 36,500 in universities and 21,000 in further education. All these, surely, should be under discussion at the same time. In fact, references have been made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford and by my noble friend Lady White to that section.

If I may make an aside, I have constantly been surprised, when listening to debates in this House on a number of subjects—the shortage of engineers, the reluctance of graduates to go into industry, our lack of skilled manpower—that the role of the maintained sector, a very important role for the country's economic welfare, was so seldom referred to. We are very well endowed in this Chamber with vice-chancellors and others from the university world, and very delightful they are, but I sometimes wonder whether, in order to redress the balance a little, it might not be a good thing if we had one or two Members (because I do not believe that we have any) who had immediate and personal experience of the work done in polytechnics and colleges of higher education.

Having listened to the debate in this House last July, and having read earlier debates in this and another place on this subject, I have no doubt that certain things are agreed on by all parties, although on others there is disagreement. The most important thing that I hope we are all agreed upon is that we welcome overseas students to this country and we want to have them here; and enthusiasm has been shown here tonight. I think this is for three reasons: first, a multicultural mix is undoubtedly good for educational establishments in that it has both educational and social advantages for both sides.

Secondly, students who come here to study and go back to their own countries are at any rate eventually, I would tell the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, a valuable export. They not only enrich those countries with the knowledge and experience and technical skills they have gained, but they also take back information about our trade and industry and about our art and literature which will give positive help and encouragement to our trade and exports and make for good and friendly relations—assuming, of course, that they have had a happy time here. I hope the suggestions made in the survey prepared by the Grubb institute in 1976–77 have been acted on. Thirdly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, they themselves and their families and friends who visit them here, contribute large sums of money to our economy. Some people claim that more is contributed than they cost in subsidies (a figure of around £100 million) to the taxpayer and ratepayer.

So much for areas of agreement: now for the disagreements. First, on the differential between the fees of home and overseas students. Of course, there were violent feelings in 1967 when Tony Crosland introduced it. My party looked on it, at best, as a very regrettable necessity in the light of the economic circumstances. Mrs. Williams said in a speech on 19th December 1978 to the World University Service conference that in 1979–80 fees were to be kept at the same level, in real terms, as for 1978–79 and that the increase would be no greater than that. She had earlier said in a speech in another place, on 25th November 1976, when announcing changes in the fee structure for 1977–78 —and I now quote: We are thus not able immediately to eliminate the fee differential between home students and overseas students on courses at these levels. She was referring to higher level courses. But I ask the House to observe that the differential will be much narrowed. … Our policy remains to work towards the abolition of the differential as soon as economic circumstances permit."—[Official Report, Commons, 25/11/76; co1. 188.] I know that that remained Mrs. Williams's policy and it still is the policy of the Labour Party—that we should move towards a phasing out of the differential.

What this Conservative Government have done is to increase the differential substantially. Instead of the 9 per cent. increase envisaged by the last Government and announced in Circular 3/79, they have raised it by 21½8 per cent. for post-graduates and 22½1 per cent. for undergraduates and higher level courses. What is the aim of this Government? Is it to move towards charging the full economic cost for all overseas students? That is what Dr. Rhodes Boyson, now the Minister responsible for higher education, advocated at one point. But in the same debate in another place from which I have just quoted. Mr. St. John-Stevas regretted that Mrs. Williams had not been able to do what Mr. Mulley had said he hoped to do and let the differential cease. I quote: … it is that proposal from which the Secretary of State is now departing. I do not think that I shall be alone in considering that to be a retrograde step."—[Official Report, Commons, 25/11/76; col. 203.] Mr. St. John-Stevas then wanted to be rid of the differential. Whose voice is going to be listened to now? And are the increases to be compensated for by increases in the overseas aid budget?

We must remember that the differential is very unpopular among all students here. I also was going to quote the Federation of Conservative Students, which the noble Viscount mentioned. Those Conservative students were particularly anxious for the students who were going to have fee increases in mid-course. The vice-chancellors and principals have also expressed their displeasure.

The Government have said that a hardship fund will operate, and many speakers have mentioned this. The noble Baroness was kind enough to send me a message from her office yesterday to say that the fund would he just off £800,000. I think we all want to know how this will work. Presumably the University Grants Committee will be told that they have some of it in their grants, and, in the maintained sector, I suppose there will be a sum allowed in the rate support grant. I look forward to elucidation from the noble Baroness on this point. If the money is put into the rate support grant I think there is no real evidence that it will be used for this purpose. From my experience of working on a local authority, it is very difficult to get a respectable sum into the discretionary grant budget. And when hardship cases do come up, the buck is often passed back to the college where the student is, the message being, " You can give a grant but you can find it out of your own budget "; and that budget of course is being squeezed and squeezed.

One last point on the differential. It gets very bad publicity abroad, where it is widely reported and commented on adversely. It is important to remember what the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, said about the Queen's proposed visit to Zambia. The second point of disagreement is the quota. Again there are not many who like it. I think possibly the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was not altogether against it, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey. But it was put on with reluctance.


My Lords, as the noble Baroness has mentioned me twice perhaps she will be kind enough to give way. I am actually against the quota. What is coming out from the speech of the noble Baroness is that all parties in office are against differentials and quotas and all parties in Government are in favour of them.

Baroness DAVID

My Lords, I do not think that is quite so. I am sorry I got it wrong so far as the noble Lord was concerned. I was about to say that I think we must allow that the DES has the ultimate responsibility to plan the overall size and structure of the higher education service. In parenthesis, I should like to ask the noble Baroness if we are going to hear anything about the Oakes Report shortly. Of course, in the document Higher Education into the 1990s (a Discussion Document) the DES under the last Government was doing just that, trying to make an overall plan. It seems reasonable that there should be some guidance about the percentage of foreign students, but there must be flexibility, because educational institutions differ so greatly in organisation and requirements. Some can cope with a higher proportion of overseas students than others, and it is most important that the final selection should be made by the individual institution, which best knows the standards and the mix that will suit its particular quality and needs. Here I think the point the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made about standards is extremely important.

Of course, it was because of pressure of applications for places, the high increases in numbers between 1970–71, when there were 24,000 overseas students in higher education, and 1975–76 when there were 48,000, that some action seemed necessary. But to keep the facts in proportion it should be remembered that the total number of students had been rising very rapidly. The total number in higher education in Great Britain in 1970–71 was 446,300, in 1976–77 it was 516,000. It was the time of great expansion generally.

The Labour Government announced that there would be resources through grants to universities and rate support grant sufficient to maintain the same number as in 1976. But the policy has not been rigidly enforced; a flexible approach has been allowed, as the figures for overseas students in the last three years show; 54,900 in 1976–77, 58,100 in 1977–78 and 57,500 in 1978–79. It is obvious that a quota is very difficult to adhere to and control, and it creates great difficulties for certain universities and colleges and particularly some departments in them, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, emphasised. Again I ask, what is this Government intending to do? Is it going to control applications and numbers, and is the policy to be the same for post-graduates and undergraduates? I think a good case has been made by other speakers for looking on post-graduates quite separately.

The third area of disagreement is on funding and discrimination. Which Government Departments, assuming overseas students are to be subsidised, should pay and how much? How much should the ratepayer be expected to contribute? There are four different groups of students: rich students from rich countries, rich students from poor countries, poor students from rich countries, poor students from poor countries. Are they all to be treated alike? Most poor students from poor countries come under their own steam with no Government grant from their own countries. There may be students who want to come who will not be backed by their own governments if they are not in sympathy with those in power at the moment. And we have to remember our obligations to our European partners in the EEC. Subsidy has been indiscriminate. Should it remain so? Who should get help and who should make the decisions? How should what funds there are be best spent? The problems, administrative as well as moral, are immense.

One would like to see a simplified structure. No wonder the complexities cause delay in proposals coming forward. Interdepartmental agreement had to be reached; many departments are involved. Trading relations have to be considered, and the reactions of the students and those teaching in the universities and colleges. Any sudden change can have very dramatic effects. We had not succeeded in coming up with a set of proposals that satisfied us by the time Parliament was dissolved in April. It is over to the new Government now, and I look forward, though with some trepidation, to what the noble Baroness has to say.

8.48 p.m.


My Lords, at the end of this debate I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, would actually believe me if I said I was very grateful to him for introducing this Unstarred Question this evening, but I am sure he will appreciate it when I say that I do think it is an important matter he has raised. I think it quite right that the very real strength of feeling shown in the debate this evening should be expressed, and at this stage in the Government's life. I know that the debate will be studied very carefully by my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State. I recognise that a great many important and interesting suggestions have been made.

I hope the House will appreciate it if I do not comment on all those matters; that does not mean to say that they will not be taken into careful consideration when we are looking at our future policy. Like the noble Baroness, Lady David, I was very struck by one suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, about the importance of standards of entry for our institutions. I would, however, before going further, like to say how much I appreciated the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and my noble friend Lord Vaizey.

The noble Lord, Lord Alport, has raised a number of points and I hope in the course of my remarks to answer them all. If I do not answer points on which he would like further information I will, of course, write to him upon them. I have already said that this is an important subject, and your Lordships' House has demonstrated its interest in it on a number of occasions in the last few years. I would say at the outset that the Government share this interest and concern on the question of overseas students. But it would be right to say that this interest and concern must be tempered by practical considerations.

Free academic interchange is a noble ideal extending back to medieval times. But, there cannot, I suspect ever have been a time when practical considerations did not enter into the picture. Nowadays, with our present economic problems, it must be all the more obvious that complete freedom of access—in effect an open-ended commitment—is now out of the question. We have always been a net importer of young people who have wanted to study at our institutions of learning. This is not merely a matter of history, of the legacy of Empire and Commonwealth. It has a solid foundation also in the excellence of our educational system—a fact of which we should all be rightly proud. Indeed, it is not only a metter of pride, but one of responsibility. We recognise that, within the pattern of worldwide student interchange, we have an obligation to play our part, and we must be prepared to share our educational system with students throughout the world.

As many noble Lords have recognised in the course of this debate, there may be incidental benefits to us all in this in the form of an enlightened self-interest. Because, as so many noble Lords have argued, provided (and this, I think, is a vital proviso) we ensure that foreign students are made welcome and are given the kind of education they and their countries need, we shall not only create for ourselves a valuable fund of international goodwill, but may also obtain significant, if unquantifiable, commercial advantages. That point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, who gave several examples from his own experience, and it was also made by the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn.

I recognise also that having overseas students serves to enlarge the horizon of our own student population and of our own institutions of learning—something of which we are, perhaps, still very much in need. In saying that I am only echoing what many noble Lords have said this evening. However, I wanted to make it clear that we, in the Government, share these ideals. What I have to add is that a certain hard reality must also intervene.

I should like to say at the beginning of my remarks that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, and the noble Baroness, Lady White, raised the point about a residence claim. I would not in any way wish the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, on this matter to be taken as a correct interpretation of Conservative policy on immigration. The fact about residence claims by students on non-advanced courses, is that, by being on a non-advanced course for three years, and so acquiring three years' residence, they can then go on to a mandatory award. In fact, it is not quite as simple as that. It is a rather more complex matter involving what is known as " ordinary residence ", and that has a legal interpretation. If I may, I shall write to the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, and to the noble Baroness, Lady White, on this matter as they did particularly raise it.

Until three years ago, succesive Governments allowed the situation over the increase of students to develop naturally. I do not in any way wish to criticise that—it was our accepted tradition. But by 1976 it became clear that the scale of provision for overseas students was, in fact, outpacing our resources. It is worth looking at the figures. Between 1970–71 and 1978–79, the number of overseas students more than doubled—in the universities alone they increased from 18,000 to 36,500 and in all our institutions from 32,000 to 85,000.

A great deal has been said about the effect of the increase of fees and the cost, but as the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, and the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, the curious fact is that, as it has become increasingly expensive to come here, so the total number of students has increased. If we look at the total number of students today, we find that in the universities there are 18,400 post-graduate students and 18,100 undergraduates, making a total of 36,500 students in all. That accounts for approximately 10 per cent. of all students in the universities, and, if one did a type of arithmetical, broad calculation, one might almost say that it was the equivalent of four universities. If one considers the students in the polytechnics, there are 1,000 post-graduate students and 20,000 in other advanced further education establishments. That, again, is quite a proportion of the polytechnic population.

Interestingly, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, made clear, a limit was imposed through the University Grants Committee, but the fact is that there has never been a shortage of overseas students, and the latest figures suggest that 8,500 more students are in our universities than has been allowed for by the grant formula. I give this information because it is a matter of fact and something that we must consider as a background to this whole debate. For, however much we wish to fulfil our international obligations, a development of this magnitude presents immense problems, not only for the institutions themselves, but for those responsible for funding them—in the case of the universities the Exchequer, and in the case of maintained institutions very largely the local education authorities, which means of course, the ratepayers as well as the taxpayers.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt but I do so in order to get the record straight because it is important. Will the noble Baroness tell us whether the 8,000 that she mentioned, as though they were also a problem, are not either self-financing in the proper sense of that word or directly exchanged?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I cannot answer that particular question; I can only say that the total numbers that I have been given—and I believe them to be accurate—indicate that there are 8,500 more students than the grant formula would have allowed for in the universities.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, would the noble Baroness try to make it clear that they are not necessarily any burden?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I was not arguing that they were a burden. That was not the point. I was merely saying that, whatever one may say about the rise in fees or otherwise, it has not had the effect of diminishing the numbers of students coming here. That was my argument and I think that the figures bear it out.

As a result of the increase in the numbers of students, the previous Administration, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, explained very clearly to us, came to the conclusion that it must impose a limit on the numbers of overseas students. In fact, it was decided—and this is a point that the noble Lord, Lord Alport, raised, and I think that what I am about to say will answer one of his questions—that it would be the policy of the former Labour Government to reduce the numbers of overseas students to the 1975–76 level by 1978–79. I think that I should make it clear that we intend to continue that policy pending further consideration of a longer-term policy—that is to say, financial provision for both universities and maintained establishments has been geared to the number of overseas students which the Government consider the country can afford.

I should like to add some further figures lest this should be thought to be unduly restrictive. I should place on record that the total provided for in the current year was 72,000, compared with the figure of 32,000 only 8 years ago. Therefore, that is the situation and, I think, the answer to the first question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alport, although as I have indicated the numbers, in fact, are not diminishing but are still increasing.

The second point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alport—in fact it was raised by every Member of your Lordships' House who spoke—was the question of the increase of the tuition fees for overseas students which has just been announced. I must place on record that I and my colleagues accept the very real difficulties that face universities, polytechnics and other institutions of further education, and the difficulties that will arise for the students themselves. However, I feel that I should say something further about the background of the situation.

For two years these fees had been held at the same real cost—that is to say, they had gone up only in step with rising prices. As part of the contribution which the education service had to make when we were considering the Government's economic policies, we were faced with the need to reduce expenditure on a number of heads and one of those was the charge made to overseas students. I shall not pretend to the House that this was an easy choice or one that any of us would like to have to introduce. But the fact was that we had to make some sacrifices in order to reduce public expenditure. If we had continued to spare visitors from abroad, the burden would have had to fall still more heavily on other sectors of the education budget provided for our own students.

I recognise that the timing of this has not been helpful. The fact that the general election took place at the end of the academic year, when decisions about next year's students would have already been made, makes it that much more difficult. However, the Government recognise these difficulties. Having made the decision to increase the fees, let me say that the average overseas student will still only be paying for some 40 per cent. of the cost of his course, and the remaining 60 per cent. is a charge on public funds, either by the rate-payer or by the taxpayer.

A number of noble Lords asked me how the total subsidy for overseas students has been made up. I think it was the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, who quoted the figure of £94 million as the official figure. That is not quite accurate. The figure within the education budget has been given as more than £100 million. I can only assume that the £94 million has come about by subtracting the £6 million from £100 million. The fact is that the figure is now certainly higher than that, and in a recent Answer to a Written Question in another place my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave the figure as being £130 million. I am aware of the very interesting economic discussion that went on between my noble friend Lord Vaizey and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, as to whether or not that was a true figure. I do not intend to add to that very interesting debate. But the fact is it is what the cost is to the education budget; for our purposes this evening that is what we are talking about. A considerable amount of subsidy is being given to overseas students.

I should like to turn now to the question of hardship, which again has been raised by a number of noble Lords. The total amount which has been given towards hardship is £500,000 for the remaining financial year and £800,000 for the full academic year. This will be divided equally between the universities and the other institutions as a contribution to those who suffer hardship. It is also right to say that the students to whom I have referred are by no means all the students. Many overseas students, for whom the United Kingdom Government take responsibility, come as part of the aid programme. I should like to confirm that their tuition fees will, as in the past, always be paid in full. It might be helpful if, at this point, I were to say a little more about them.

Our aim is to help developing countries to build up their own manpower resources, wherever possible through their own institutions. Where training in the United Kingdom is appropriate, we provide it mainly through our technical co-operation arrangements with individual countries, under which some 9,000 students are brought here every year on courses relevant to their country's development priorities. The selection of students and trainees is agreed between Her Majesty's Government and the over-seas governments. A further 6,000 students are supported under other aid-funded schemes, including British Council scholarships, the British contribution to the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan, Inter-University Council arrangements and support for refugee students from certain countries.

The ODA has also helped some students in need outside these schemes: chiefly privately sponsored students from developing countries. Full fee support was furnished under the Overseas Students Fees Award Scheme, which was first introduced in 1968–69, but which is now being phased out. Under the Fee Support Scheme, introduced for the academic year 1977–78, up to 600 new awards have been available annually for selected privately supported post-graduate students from developing countries, on courses of developmental value, who are recommended by their colleges and who have suffered hardship as a result of fee increases of recent years.

Training for development is an essential function of the aid programme and in general we expect to continue to provide support for overseas students, subject to periodic review in relation to changing priorities and to the money available. Therefore, many of the poor students come in this way and will continue to have their fees paid in full. I hope that that will be of some assurance to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford who particularly asked about the poor students.

I felt that it would be unwise to go very far in the debate which we had across the Floor of the House on whether or not there are any or many poor students. But if one actually looks at the cost of being an overseas student in round figures and if one takes, for example, a post-graduate student, the fees now would be £1,230 a year. The maintenance of the student will probably be £2,000 a year; it might be a little less but he will be living here for 52 weeks of the year. He will have his air fare to pay for in order to get here, which will probably be another £350. Therefore, in round figures, the total cost would be £3,580 a year and slightly less, of course, if he goes home only at the end of his studies. The latest fee increase of £220 amounts to 6 per cent. of that total budget and even if one assumes that he lived in rather more spartan conditions and journeyed home only once in a three-year course, involving a budget of £2,850, the proportion of the fee increase within that would be about 8 per cent. Therefore, one must see the fee increase in relation to the total budget.


My Lords, is the noble Baroness taking into account the rise in the cost of living?

Baroness YOUNG

My Lords, I have deliberately given very general round figures. However, I hope that I have said enough to indicate that it is never a cheap proposition to be an overseas student, and within the whole budget the actual increase of the fees is a relatively small proportion. I have been asked by many noble Lords who have spoken this evening about the Government's overall policy on overseas students. I regret that at this stage of the Government's life we are not ready to give a definitive answer to that question. I have indicated our general line on numbers, but I would not want this to be taken as our last word on the subject.

A number of Ministries are concerned in the policy for overseas students—a point referred to again by a number of your Lordships, and no doubt one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Janner, speaking on behalf of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. There are the Foreign Secretary; Home Secretary; Treasury Ministers; the Secretaries of State for Industry, for Trade, as well as the education Ministers. What I can say is that I will promise the closest liaison between their departments in the formulation of policy. All I ask from those who are very concerned about, and in many instances critical of, our policies is a recognition that the policy that we have adopted this summer must have regard to economic facts and to the pressures on the education budget in particular.

I should like to reaffirm that the Government will take careful account of all the points that have been raised in the House tonight. We shall give due importance to the deserved reputation of our universities and other public institutions as internationally renowned centres of learning. We recognise particularly the valuable contribution which post-graduate overseas students can make to research in medicine, in science, and technology. Their presence here, and that of their compatriots studying at lower educational levels, can forge lasting friendships between individuals and between our country and theirs.

We shall also take full account of the longer-term trade benefits which may well accrue, as well as the more immediate ones which can arise from the educational element in package deals which secure major contracts for the United Kingdom. In framing future policy the Government will bear in mind how much we have to offer as a country to the education of students from abroad. But I hope I shall also carry the sympathy of the House in saying that we must ensure that our contribution is within our means and not more than we can afford out of the funds available for the whole of our education service, and particularly our students at home.