HL Deb 26 October 1983 vol 444 cc248-50

2.52 p.m.

Lord Gladwyn

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, at the forthcoming meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers in New Delhi, they will take the lead in giving effect to:—

(a) the Report of the Commonwealth Standing Committee on Student Mobility, and

(b) the recommendations of the House of Commons Select Committee on Trade and Industry that encouragement and support should be given to schemes by British businessmen to assist with the education and training of students and officials from overseas.

Baroness Young

My Lords, we have already taken a lead in giving effect to most recommendations in the Report of the Commonwealth Standing Committee on Student Mobility. The agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting has yet to be fixed, but if as we expect the subject is included we shall be glad to encourage the rest of the Commonwealth to make similar commitments to our own.

Paragraph 32 of the Committee on Trade and Industry's Report noted with pleasure the Overseas Development Administration's support of the scheme initiated by British businessmen in Malaysia. Subject to the availability of funds, we will continue to support and encourage British businessmen who wish to assist with the education and training of students and officials from overseas.

Lord Gladwyn

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that not very encouraging reply. The idea behind my Question was to suggest that they should take the initiative. In all circumstances they should be responsible for bringing this matter to the conference in New Delhi for the purpose of debating it. I am not sure whether that is the case. But are not the Government anyhow fully aware of the great importance of encouraging trade and hence the whole economic development of the poorer countries, by making use of the latest teaching techniques and notably what is called "distance teaching" involving the use of video tapes and so on? Do they realise that it would eventually pay them handsomely if they here and now were to offer to make some special financial provision to further this desirable end?

Secondly, have the Government read and are they prepared to accept the recommendations on student mobility of a very useful conference organised in Melbourne last August by the Commonwealth Students' Conference?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I had hoped from my original Answer that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, would recognise that the Government have made a very considerable contribution in this matter. We made available £46 million in February for awards to overseas students, of which more than half has been allocated to the Commonwealth. We have the Scholarship and Fellowship Plan which will take up about £6 million of that £46 million that I have already indicated, and the ODA's Technical Cooperation and Training Programme is being expanded by £21 million over the three years. This, we feel, is a major contribution. Of course, I recognise the noble Lord's point about distance teaching and video tapes, but that is a specialised aspect of this matter, although I see the point that he has made.

On the question of the Commonwealth conference in Melbourne, I am aware that it took place and I hope that it recognised that the British Government have made a major contribution to the education of Commonwealth students.

Lord Oram

My Lords, does the noble Baroness recall the very serious loss of face that the Government suffered over the earlier question of overseas students' fees? On that occasion the parsimonious attitude of the Government led to a tremendous loss of goodwill overseas and to an upsurge of protest in this country from all parts of the political spectrum. Will the noble Baroness assure us in more forthright terms than her answers have so far given, that the Government will take a much more positive attitude on the two reports to which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, has referred?

Baroness Young

My Lords, the reasons why the Government took their original stand on the question of overseas student fees was the very considerable cost to the taxpayer in this country of an unlimited subsidy to overseas students. I do not think that I can put it more clearly than to indicate that last February this large sum of money was made available for the purposes of helping overseas students and that over half will go to countries from the Commonwealth.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the cutting back of grants to overseas students in fact began under her Government's predecessors—under the Labour Administration?

Baroness Young

My Lords. I thank the noble Baroness for that intervention. In fact, of course, the differential between the home fee and the overseas student's fee was started by the Labour Government in about, I think, 1969.