HL Deb 01 June 1992 vol 537 cc709-10

2.54 p.m.

Baroness Nicol asked Her Majesty's Government:

What is the purpose of the review presently being conducted of the funding of overseas students; when the results are likely to be known and published; and what changes are likely to be effected as a consequence of the review.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the purpose of the ODA's review of training of overseas students is to improve the effectiveness of expenditure on training and consequently of the projects and programmes of which training usually forms a part. The final report is expected to be available in June and I shall arrange for a copy to be sent to the noble Baroness and for copies to be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The main changes will address the need to provide clear objectives for training assignments and to evaluate the impact of training on a more systematic basis.

Baroness Nicol

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. Can she say what effect she expects the changes that have taken place to have; for example, on the career progression of key civil servants, which will have been adversely affected by the policy of limiting British Council grants to qualifying projects? This prevents many key personnel from obtaining relevant and necessary qualifications in the United Kingdom. Can she say what consultations took place before the decision was made? For example, was the Co-operative College consulted?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, training civil servants from developing countries is a priority of the ODA. We support many senior civil servants on courses in the United Kingdom every year. We gain the maximum impact by building the training into other activities which ensure that those who receive the training can make the best use of it; for example, by training others and by mutually supporting each other on their return home. We are aware that in the schemes of service of staff of co-operative departments in some developing countries—I spoke to the noble Baroness on this point—qualifications awarded by the Co-operative College, Loughborough, are shown as requirements for promotion, but we are not aware that any civil servants' careers have been adversely affected since acceptable other qualifications are also available from institutions elsewhere.

Baroness David

My Lords, is it not the case that the effect of this change of policy has been to deprive those countries which for whatever reason do not have approved projects from qualifying for scholarships for their nationals whom they would like to have trained in the United Kingdom? Is that not a short-sighted policy from our own point of view? Does the Minister realise what bad feeling there is in the Commonwealth when they have to pay full fees for overseas students while EC students pay home fees? There is a great deal of resentment. Is that policy wise?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the noble Baroness talks about policy. I am talking about a review of the policy that is going on at the moment. With regard to the more favourable fee regimes in the major student receiving countries, we must await the discussions that are to take place, but Britain's policy has been to charge to overseas students and their sponsors the full cost of their education here.

Lord Thomson of Monifieth

My Lords, will the Minister bear in mind that there is now a welcome and important expansion in student exchanges within the European Community and from the European Community to East and Central Europe? However, will the Government ensure that this does not impact adversely on the educational help that is given to the third world?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am delighted to hear what the noble Lord has said.

Lord Judd

My Lords, I am sure the House appreciates the sympathetic tones with which the noble Baroness is replying. Quite apart from the needs of the third world, to which higher education can make a very important contribution, is it not also important to remember that the presence of overseas students in higher education here enhances the quality of higher education in the United Kingdom as we prepare for our part in the world? Does she not agree that students returning to the third world and elsewhere abroad who are well disposed towards Britain represent good markets for Britain as we battle for our place within the world?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, training is the single largest element of the aid programme. Although it is reviewed and evaluated regularly, the major review that we are undertaking takes a broad look at overall policy. During 1990–91, the latest year for which figures are available, some 12,500 study fellows from developing countries studied in Britain under the aid programme at a cost of £104 million, including management costs. That speaks for the good will that we are endeavouring to engender through giving students the education that their governments require them to have.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell the House whether the review to which she referred will include a special review of the needs of South African students in preparation for servicing a democratic society in that country?

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, waits for a few more weeks, when the review will be published. At that time he will be able to see for himself.