§ 4.16 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. The Bill we are debating today makes radical proposals which, seen together with measures introduced in another place, aim to drive up standards across the whole spectrum of education. The Bill will enhance the effectiveness and the standing of the teaching profession. It will secure fair funding in higher education and reform student support. It will ensure that employed young people can continue to learn.
The Government believe fully in the virtues of consultation. We have radical ideas and plans and the energy and commitment to make them a reality. But we do not believe that we have a monopoly of wisdom. The proposals before us today and in the School Standards and Framework Bill we have introduced in another place have been exposed to public comment through a massive exercise in consultation which has produced a big response. For example, almost 250 universities, colleges, local authorities and others responded to our consultations on the national inquiry into higher education and our own proposals. Just as importantly, we have heard from thousands of parents. We have listened very carefully to what people have had to say. There was clear support for our view that the further expansion of higher education cannot be afforded on the basis of current funding arrangements and future costs should be shared between those who benefit and that a new deal for teachers is long overdue.
Teachers are our greatest educational resource. Teachers, in particular, head teachers, are at the heart of our drive to raise standards. This Bill, and indeed the Government's wider policies, are intended to give them the tools they need to do the job and to do it well. This Government listen to teachers and we intend to work in partnership with them. The provisions set out in the first part of the Bill represent measures which they tell us will help them to do their job better.
254 We all know that the strength and quality of the head teacher can be the deciding factor in a school's success or failure. As the chief inspector has said,the weakest schools are invariably the victims of poor management and weak leadership. The converse is true in successful schools".We are working to develop new training programmes for heads already in schools to raise the standards of all to those of the best. But we believe it is right to move now to ensure that all those coming new to school headship have the knowledge and skills in management and leadership they will need to lead their schools successfully from day one. Clause 12 will therefore enable the Secretary of State to require that all first-time heads should hold a professional headship qualification designated for that purpose.
Good management training is already available for teachers. We believe it is right, however, to look for a single national headship qualification to represent the common quality standard we should expect of all new heads. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already said—but let me place it on the record here—that, subject to further development and continued positive feedback from the current pilot, we expect the Teacher Training Agency's national professional qualification for headship to be the required headship qualification in due course.
As well as ensuring the quality of our new heads, we must also ensure the quality of all new teachers. We have already strengthened initial teacher training. We have launched a new core curriculum to underpin the skills which all new primary teachers must have mastered in the crucial areas of English and mathematics. We have set new standards which trainers must ensure that all student teachers have reached at the end of their training. We must, however, be certain that all training provision meets the standards we have laid down. There can be no excuse for complacency or for risking short-changing students; or indeed the pupils they may find themselves teaching. We must therefore ensure that all teacher training provision—both initial and in-service—is open to full and rigorous inspection by Ofsted so that any shortcomings can be identified and action taken.
As your Lordships may be aware, statutory provision already exists for Her Majesty's Chief Inspector to inspect teacher training, in the form of a letter of assignment made under the School Inspections Act 1996. Regrettably, those existing rights and duties have been questioned or challenged by a small minority of institutions who have sought to delay or question inspectors' access to undertake inspections. Clause 14, therefore, restates the existing statutory position on the face of primary legislation, reinforced by a statutory right of access at all reasonable times. This is not about providing an unfettered or unreasonable right of entry, and relates to inspecting teacher training courses only. There is no question of inspectors having a right of entry to higher education institutions to inspect other higher education. This Government fully recognise and respect the proper freedom and autonomy of institutions.
New teachers face a demanding challenge in taking control of their own class for the first time when they enter teaching. There may well be areas where they need 255 additional support and guidance, or time to work with other, more experienced, teachers to fine-tune their skills. Even with this support, a limited number of new teachers may not prove able to deliver the consistent high quality performance on the job that we expect. Clause 13 provides for all newly qualified teachers to have satisfactorily completed an induction period (normally a year) as a condition to continued employment.
This Government are determined to restore pride and professionalism to the teaching profession. There has long been agreement that a key element in this is the establishment of a general teaching council. Clauses 1 to 11 give effect to our commitment to establish a GTC.
The council will offer teachers a clear professional voice, independent of government, but working with us to raise standards. For too long, teachers have had too little say in determining the shape and future of their profession. Now, for the first time, teachers will have a body advising government on the range of professional issues of concern to them: from recruitment and supply, through training and induction, to professional development. We expect the GTC to promote a positive image of teaching to help us to celebrate the best in teaching and to help inspire others to come and join this most demanding and rewarding of careers. The GTC will represent the highest professional standards and will be charged with establishing a register of those qualified to teach. An effective GTC will be an engine for change and a driving force in our new deal for teachers.
These are important proposals both for the teaching profession and as a key element in our wider programme for raising standards in schools. They build on the proposals in the Excellence in Schools White Paper which we published in July and the extensive and helpful consultations we have had since then. They complement the School Standards and Framework Bill we have introduced in another place.
I now move on to the higher education provisions within this Bill. There is a crisis in higher education funding. While student numbers have risen by 70 per cent. since 1989, funding per student has fallen by a quarter. Maintaining and, in time, increasing student numbers cannot be afforded on the basis of current funding arrangements. Moreover, pressures on funding are making it difficult to sustain the world renowned teaching and research capacity of our universities and colleges. Carrying on as we are is not an option.
Even the previous government recognised that something had to be done. In May last year, they appointed the national committee of inquiry under Sir Ron Dearing. We supported this. In our manifesto we said:The costs of student maintenance should be repaid by graduates on an income-related basis, from the career success to which higher education has contributed".We also made clear that we would await Dearing's recommendations before acting.
Much has already been achieved since Dearing reported in July. On the same day, we announced our intention to introduce contributions from students and 256 their families towards tuition fees, but with important safeguards, in particular for those with lower incomes. We announced that loans would replace grants and that there would be special help for those facing particular hardship. We announced that loan repayments would be linked to graduate income. We also began a consultation period on those proposals in tandem with the consultation on Sir Ron Dearing's report. In September, we announced £165 million extra for students and universities in 1998–99 to improve standards and to make a start on increasing student numbers once again. This will ensure that for 1998–99 all the income raised from fees will be used for higher education.
We are also determined to improve participation in higher education. There is no evidence that loans deter access. Since the introduction of the current loan scheme in 1990, student numbers have increased considerably. In the first five years of the loan scheme, participation in higher education among students from lower income families increased by 69 per cent. compared with an increase of 27 per cent. among those from higher income families. Yet nearly 80 per cent. of those from the professional social group go to university, compared with just 17 per cent. from families with few or no skills. So we start from a very low base. September's extra money included a £36 million access package for part-time students and those facing particular hardship, and £4 million to enable an extra 1,000 students to participate through sub-degree programmes. Since then, we have announced an extra £83 million for further education, which plays a vital role in boosting access. And the Higher Education Funding Council has already been asked to take forward Dearing's recommendation that additional funding for places should be targeted at institutions which plan to improve access. To ensure that the public know of our proposals, we have sent out well over half a million leaflets and are running a free telephone helpline which has taken 22,000 calls. We have advertised in newspapers and on the radio. And my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has written to all second year A-level students.
The Bill before us today provides, in Clause 16, new powers for the Secretary of State to provide financial support by way of grant or loans to students on higher or further education courses. In particular, it provides for any increase in financial support for fees, and hence any increase in private contributions above the rate of inflation, to be subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses. This should offer the "rigorous public review" called for by the Dearing inquiry, without the additional bureaucracy of an independent committee.
It means further safeguards for students and their families as tuition fee contributions are introduced. By linking contributions to income, we will also ensure that the least well-off—some 30 per cent. where parental income is taken into account—will pay nothing towards their fees. A further third will pay only part of the fees. Only the remainder will pay the full £1,000 a year. At least three-quarters of the cost of tuition will continue to be met from public funds. Contributions towards tuition fees will not be a deterrent to less well-off families. They will not have to pay them.
257 Our new arrangements will involve no higher contribution to fees and maintenance during the course of studies from any student or family. Students will be entitled to means-tested maintenance loans of at least £1,000 a year more as a result. In 1998–99 a student living away from home will be eligible for £2,735 in loans in a full year, and could be eligible for a grant in that year of £810. In addition, a discretionary hardship loan of £250 will be available for those who need it. Crucially, repayments under this new scheme will be on an income-contingent basis. Until, and unless, their gross income reaches £10,000 a year, graduates will repay nothing. For many graduates, it will mean lower monthly repayments spread over a longer period; and if a graduate's gross income drops below £10,000 a year, repayments will be suspended.
Clause 16 enables loan repayments to be collected with the assistance of the Inland Revenue, as recommended by Dearing. This will help to reduce the level of default and will offer graduates a more manageable system of repayment. But graduates should not equate their repayment with tax. Once it is repaid, that is it. Further details of the scheme are being worked out and will be announced.
There is one area relating to loans where I should tell the House now that the Government may be seeking an amendment to the Bill, and that is interest rates. We have absolutely no intention of introducing interest rates above the level of the RPI. However, because collections will be arranged through the Inland Revenue there are technical difficulties which will make it impossible to accrue interest from day to day, as provided for in the current loans legislation. We are currently considering how the interest arrangements should work in order to achieve our policy intention, and expect to bring forward an amendment to clarify this in due course.
Clause 16 also enables the Secretary of State to determine who should administer the student support arrangements. This is a task currently performed by the local education authorities and the Student Loans Company. We are presently working closely with their representatives to sort out the details of the arrangements and hope to make an announcement shortly. Our aim is to make the student support system more efficient and cost-effective in providing a service to students and universities.
Through Clauses 16 and 17 of this Bill we seek to discontinue discretionary awards made under Sections 1(6) and 2 of the Education Act 1962 and allow for new arrangements. Local education authorities will be fully involved in the development of future arrangements.
Clause 17 provides for discontinuing mandatory and discretionary awards and the current system of student loans. It also provides for transitional student support arrangements to enable existing students to complete their courses under the same arrangements which applied when they started.
Clause 18 of the Bill gives the Secretary of State a reserve power to control top-up fees. This power is not an attack on academic freedom or university autonomy. It does not give the Secretary of State power to set 258 university fees. It simply ensures that tuition will continue to be free for students from lower-income families and that parents will be expected to contribute no more than under present arrangements. Universities will retain all their essential freedoms, including the freedom to set fees for various categories of students. In the interests of equity and in return for the £3.5 billion in annual grant from the taxpayer, this legislation is intended only to limit the fees that institutions charge home and EU full-time undergraduates and PGCE students.
I know that there is concern that this or some other government might use the power sought in Clause 18 to control fee levels for other students for whom no financial support will be available, such as the generality of part-timers and postgraduates and even for overseas students. Let me make quite clear from the outset that that is not our intention. I repeat that we do not intend to set universities' fee levels for such students. My officials have had a discussion today with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals in response to a letter from the committee expressing its concern about the scope of the clause. Let me assure the House that we have already taken a close look at the current drafting of the clause, and we are prepared to clarify it through an appropriate amendment at Committee stage with a view to ensuring that our intentions are quite clear.
But let me leave your Lordships in no doubt either that top-up fees play no part in our plans. We hope we never have to use this power. But it is necessary for us to have it in reserve to reassure students and their parents that we are determined that access to higher education is on the basis of academic merit, not ability to pay. This is a pledge we cannot and will not break.
Clause 19 provides for the higher education funding councils to give funding to higher education institutions for them to distribute to connected institutions.
Clause 20 defines key terms used in the Bill relating to higher and further education, and Clauses 21 and 22 implement the Government's policy in this area in relation to Scotland.
I turn now to Part III of the Bill, which underpins our commitment that all young people should be encouraged to get the skills and qualifications they need for their future. Clauses 23 and 24 provide that 16 and 17 year-olds in a job will be entitled to appropriate time to pursue approved qualifications in the workplace, at college or with a private training provider. This measure is a vital part of our "Investing in Young People" strategy, which will tackle the problem of underachievement among 16 to 19 year-olds. Currently only 45 per cent. of our 16 year-olds achieve level 2 qualifications—that is, five good GCSEs, an Intermediate GNVQ or an NVQ level 2—the essential foundation for lifelong "employability". Even by the age of 19 only 70 per cent. have these qualifications. This is a waste of talent that cannot be allowed to continue.
Our long-term aim is that all young people who are able to should achieve NVQ level 2 or equivalent to equip them for the world of work and as a starting point for continued learning. Part III of the Bill tackles the 259 problem of the group of young people who, having underachieved at school, leave at 16 and 17 to get a job. Some employers will train them, develop them and offer good career opportunities. The Government appreciate the vision of those employers who already provide excellent training opportunities for their young employees. But for other young people their formal education or training ends the day they leave school. This is bad for them, bad for business and bad for society.
Clauses 23 and 24 of the Bill will insert new sections into the Employment Rights Act 1996. Those aged 16 or 17 who are not in full-time secondary or further education and who have not achieved a certain standard in their education or training will be entitled to take paid time off during working hours to study or train for a qualification which will help them towards achieving that standard. Interpretation of the new entitlement will be both sensible and flexible. In particular, I want to make clear that the phrase "time off'—which is required to enable young people to access this new right—does not necessarily mean time away from the workplace. The Bill does not accord greater status to any particular route. Study or training can indeed be undertaken in the workplace whether actually on the job or elsewhere on site, but it can also take place in a college, with an approved training provider or through open or distance learning. The time that a young person can have will be what is reasonable in all the circumstances, with account taken of the requirements of the course or training as well as the circumstances of the employer's business. We shall continue to consult and discuss with employers and all the other key partners to build on what is already happening and share existing good practice.
In summary, our principal intentions in bringing forward the Bill are threefold. First, we want to improve the future chances of young people who are in work. Secondly, we want to construct student support arrangements that will take us into the next century and put in place higher education of which we can all be proud which is properly funded and in which the damage done by the previous government is put to rights. We want to expand the system and widen access and opportunity. To do that it is right that young people who benefit from our world-class system make a contribution. Thirdly, we want and are determined to see the highest possible standards in our teaching profession. It is still a strong and great profession. We shall make it stronger and greater still—a profession which young people are proud to join.
Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Baroness Blackstone.)
§ 4.43 p.m.
My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for introducing the Bill. I agree with her that it is an important measure. I also extend my very best wishes to the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell of Babergh, on her maiden speech to which all noble Lords look forward.
260 The Bill covers six significant areas of education and training. Much in the Bill is left to future regulations, and we shall need to probe the Government's intention as to those especially as it is understood that most will be by negative resolution. That said, we support large parts of the legislation, particularly the establishment of a general teaching council for England and Wales. We welcome and believe in the principle of self-regulation and the establishment of a professional body for teachers. It is an important acknowledgement of the central and overriding importance of the part that teachers play in the education system. They need and deserve our support. We need a profession of high standard and status. We wish to see an organisation that is equivalent to the General Medical Council or the Law Society.
We also support the development of a special qualification for head teachers. I agree with the noble Baroness that the quality of the head is a good measure of the success of the school. We are all aware of the great responsibility that heads carry today and their changed and enhanced role. They have the responsibility for delivery of the national curriculum in a world of league tables and the financial management of schools and for staff and relations with governors and parents. We live in an age which daily grows more litigious. Often it is the head who must bear the brunt of this. No one can doubt the value and importance of training for the job.
We support, too, the more technical proposals that require newly-qualified teachers to complete an induction period successfully before qualified teacher status is confirmed. We all know about—and wish we had an answer to—the problem of bad teachers. We hope that this particular proposal will help. We support the power to give chief inspectors in England, Wales and Scotland the power to inspect initial and in-service teacher training. Both these proposals encourage high standards which we all want to see and with which we all agree.
Turning to Part II of the Bill, I cannot say the same. I assume that it is meant to be a response to the Dearing Report. I am bound to say to the Government that in the university world today the proposals have caused an unprecedented degree of anger and dismay. Those who teach in the universities are appalled in particular by Clause 18 and the impact on those who study of tuition fees and the ending of maintenance grants.
I turn to the general teaching council. Although we welcome it in principle there are areas we wish to examine further. We are strongly supported by the NAHT and others in saying that the general teaching council should have more than an advisory role both to admit teachers and, more importantly, to debar them. This power is essential to its effectiveness and particularly in respect of how it is perceived by the outside world. The same is true of its advisory powers on competence, teacher conduct and medical fitness. Curiously enough, there is no definition in the Bill of its purpose or function. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, who is unable to stay to the end of the debate and therefore cannot take part, has drawn my attention to this important omission. Surely. the purpose 261 must be to enhance and maintain educational standards in the interests of pupils. Nor is there any mention of the disabled, yet those who are disabled or who have special educational requirements have needs that teachers must meet. Nor, curiously enough, is there a single mention of a pupil. Of its composition, we see a list in Clause 1(4). But who are the general public? Is this a modern statement of that important man or woman on the Clapham omnibus? Should not the council include employers, other than employers of teachers, industry representatives and parents? What about the independent sector? I welcome the desire of the Government to build bridges between the two sectors and believe that teachers must be free to move between each sector of the education service. Others will speak of the general teaching council in Scotland. and I hope that we can learn from their experience. One matter that seems clear is that its members should be elected in their individual right and not as representatives of trade unions.
I turn next to head teachers. I have long supported the idea of a course for head teachers and those who wish to become heads. Here I declare an interest as Chancellor of the University of Greenwich which has started a course, the National Professional Qualification for Headship (NPQH), developed by the Teacher Training Authority for teachers preparing for headship. The qualification is based on an agreed set of national standards for heads covering key areas: the development of the school; learning and teaching; people and resources; and efficiency and effectiveness. That started in November and I very much hope that it will prove to be of real value.
Of course, we want to ask questions. Should the course be compulsory? Who should be able to go on it? I understand that the latest figures for those going on courses indicate that there are more applicants from secondary than primary schools, yet there are far more primary schools and their needs are very great. There is also concern about its date of introduction and how it will start. Heads have warned me that it is still difficult to recruit heads to schools. We do not want to make it more difficult.
I come now to Clause 23. We all support the principle that everyone should have education and training up to the highest level of the individual's ability. How that is carried out will vary. But there are dangers in the proposals. On the Government's own estimate, the cost is believed to be between £60 million and £130 million for employers. That is hardly an incentive, particularly for small firms from where most of the new jobs will come, to take on young people. We would not want more young people to be unemployed as a result of what is proposed: that would be contrary to the suggestion made in the clause. We need to look at the matter closely.
I turn now to Part II and higher education. I am sorry to have to say it, but much of the Government's higher education policy this summer has been not far short of a fiasco. I find Clause 18 astonishing. I am pleased to hear from the Minister that the Government are considering an amendment to it. Many of us taking part in today's debate will remember clearly the Education 262 Act 1992. I see the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Peston, to name just two. There were long debates on academic freedom, and quite rightly so. Indeed, I believe that the Minister took a somewhat different view when Master of Birkbeck College. Yet we have these draconian powers for the Secretary of State. It will be interesting to see how many noble Lords who spoke at such length, and who berated the previous government, stand on the same principles now. We shall see.
I am glad that the CVCP has been to the DfEE. In its brief it states:The Bill grants the Secretary of State unprecedented and far-reaching powers which go beyond what is necessary to rule out `top up' fees".Further it states:The Bill exempts all of clause 18 from the checks and balances contained in the 1992 Act".One must ask why. We have not had a convincing answer.
Academic freedom is fundamental to university life and thought. The arrangements after the 1992 Act strike the right balance between the independence of the universities and the proper powers of the funding councils and the Secretary of State in respect of funding. The Bill permits the Secretary of State to impose requirements on individual universities with regard to particular courses. I am glad to hear—if I understood correctly—that powers which might have prevented universities making normal charges for things such as field courses and laboratories are to be excluded. All that introduces uncertainty and makes academic planning more difficult.
What is worse, powers to control the funding of universities will be exercised by ministerial discretion under Section 68 of the 1992 Act and will be challengeable, if at all, by judicial review in the courts. It represents an extreme example of unaccountable executive control. I understand that the vice-chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge believe that as their particular circumstances are radically different, because of the differentiation between the universities and the colleges, the Bill may be hybrid and are considering a legal challenge in the European Court. What a state of affairs to have arrived at. Nothing in the Dearing Report presaged that, and we shall return to it all in Committee.
The imposition of the £1,000 tuition fee, and the ending of maintenance grants, compound the difficulty. We have already had the problems of the gap year, and the real anxieties of the Scottish universities, with the most incredible decisions about discrimination against students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I shall make my position clear. We on this side of the House support, in general, the Dearing Report recommendations, although we believe firmly that the money raised from the fees should go to the universities and should not be clawed back by the Government. That of course is not what the Government are proposing. To me, it is incredible that they should propose tuition fees at all.
263 I remind myself that no less a person than the Prime Minister said on 14th April:Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education.".The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on 24th April said:We are quite clear that tuition costs must be met by the state".No wonder supporters of the Labour Party are demoralised, following immediately on the heels of the débâcle over lone parents in another place yesterday. The proposal comes from a party which asked for trust: just six months ago it won the election to a large extent on that pledge. We now of course see that there is a new meaning to the word "trust". One might almost call it "blind trust" even if it is not on an off-shore island like Guernsey but in the UK.
Coupled with the ending of the maintenance grant, the effect on poorer students will be serious. All except the very rich will end up with large debts. I understand that recruitment for next year is already down. I have heard figures varying from 7 per cent. to 16 per cent. Perhaps the Government will tell us the figure. If it is down at all, that is counter to everything that the Government have said and what the Minister said today about education being at the heart of government policy. I remind Members on the Labour Benches that the great rise in the number of students, the rise in the staying-on rates at school, and the tremendous achievements in education that there were under the Conservative government are matters of which we on this side of the House are proud and they are fortunate to have inherited.
The tuition fees and maintenance will affect students. As I said, I am Chancellor of Greenwich University where many students are poor and come from the ethnic minorities. They will not find it easy. When we return to the Bill in Committee, I shall have figures to show that matters are not as straightforward as they have been put before us. I understand that the gross income for a family identified as poor is £35,000 per year for the husband and wife. Today, that is not a large income from which to pay anything for tuition. There are other issues. The BMA has expressed particular concern about medical students. I hope that we shall not look at the letter from the Secretary of State, Mr. Blunkett, to all sixth formers, which implies that universities might be able to help financially and suggests that they might without difficulty arrange to have the fees paid monthly, although, as we all know, that would add a considerable administrative burden.
There are many speakers so I shall conclude. There is a great deal to which we will need to return at later stages of the Bill. We shall want to have a detailed look at the general teaching council and the head teachers' courses. We shall make a number of constructive proposals. I hope that the Government will think again about Clause 18—I was glad to hear what the Minister said on that point—and sections of Part II. We shall table amendments on those points. We believe that Clause 18, in particular, is important. We hope that there will be genuine second thoughts. It would be a pity if 264 the good and valuable parts of the Bill were to be spoilt by taking what is one of the most fundamental principles of the academic world—academic freedom—and disposing of it in this cavalier manner.
§ 4.59 p.m.
§ Lord Tope
My Lords, I, too, start by thanking the Minister for her full and good explanation of the Bill and its various provisions, for such an early indication that the Government are listening to the representations made to them and may be a little flexible in improving some parts of the Bill. When I heard that there were to be not one but two education Bills, and that one of them was to start in your Lordships' House, I had mixed feelings. Having now had a chance to look at the Bill, I am pleased that this Bill is starting in your Lordships' House. The Bill is good in some parts but bad in others and it contains a mass of enabling legislation. It will benefit greatly from the calm and informed consideration of your Lordships; a consideration which—dare I say?—it may not receive to the same extent in the other place.
I look forward to being able to clarify the Government's intentions in respect of a number of provisions. We must consider continuously where it is appropriate to place greater safeguards on the face of the Bill in order to ensure that some of those intentions cannot later be misused by successive governments.
We must make much needed improvements to a number of clauses. I am sure that the Minister will listen to all the points which are made, but I confess to being less sure that the Government are willing to respond flexibly to them. However. I hope that they will do so because the Bill is greatly in need of improvement in many respects. I shall refer to a few of them today.
I wish to thank the many organisations which during the past few days have provided us with excellent briefing material. It is a measure of the interest in the Bill outside your Lordships' House, and that is hardly surprising. The briefing material has raised many useful and important points. I shall not be able to cover all of them today but I am sure, too, that we shall return to them at later stages. I am sure that other noble Lords will raise many of the points.
The Bill contains a mass of enabling legislation. Therefore, it is difficult to give an unqualified welcome to any of its provisions without a better understanding of the Government's intentions. However, I wish to begin on a positive note and give as positive a welcome as possible to some of the provisions. We on these Benches have long called for qualifications for entrant head teachers and we strongly support that proposal. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned, we have concerns about access to training for such qualifications and the fact that there are more registrations from secondary schools than from the more numerous primary schools. We are concerned about the equally important elements of training for existing head teachers. Those are proper concerns, but we welcome the provisions relating to qualifications for head teachers.
265 We also welcome the proposal to introduce an induction period for newly qualified teachers, a provision for which we have been calling for a long time. I had intended to ask the Minister whether the induction period would be one year, but I heard her say in opening that that would normally be the case. Perhaps in reply the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, will tell the House the circumstances in which he envisages that that might not be the case. My noble friend Lady Maddock will speak on that matter in greater depth and with greater knowledge and experience than I have.
Another aspect of the Bill to which we give an unqualified welcome is the provision for time off from work for 16 and 17 year-olds. My party has been calling for that for many years.
I expected and would have wished to give an unqualified welcome to the provisions for a general teaching council. Only a few months ago I argued from these Benches for the establishment of such a council. Indeed, I recall moving an amendment to give effect to that proposal in the final education Bill of the previous government. I also recall that the amendment was strongly resisted by that government on the ground that there was no case for a council. Therefore, I must in passing welcome the astonishing conversion of the Opposition to the establishment of a general teaching council. The time has long past since teachers should have had their professionalism recognised by the establishment of an independent professional body with a high reputation. That is why I expected to be welcoming the provisions in the Bill.
However, I am concerned because, so far as one can understand the Government's intentions, that will not be the case. We fear that according to the proposals in the Bill, the general teaching council will be Mr. Blunkett's poodle. Worse than that, it will be a toothless poodle which has had its teeth drawn by the terms of the Bill. The Bill is littered with phrases such as "the Secretary of State may". We on these Benches wish to see more of the phrase "the council may". We believe that the teaching council should be responsible for its own composition. We shall be interested to hear whether the Government envisage the membership comprising a majority of teachers. Their intention is unclear.
We believe that to a large extent the teaching council should he independently funded through teachers' subscriptions. If teachers are not to feel resentful at having to pay subscriptions they must believe that they are subscribing to a worthwhile body which properly represents their professional interests. We believe that the council should elect its own chair and appoint its own chief officer. It must be responsible for the register of teachers and not only for the administration. It must be responsible for devising a code of professional conduct and it must have powers of disbarment on the grounds of incompetence or misconduct. It is not enough for it to offer advice to the Secretary of State. Many other crucial issues affecting the profession are entirely proper for the consideration of a general teaching council: for example, the curriculum, the examination system and not least the funding of education in this country.
266 There is also a shortfall in the scope of powers in the English GTC compared with the GTC for Wales. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that. For instance, the Welsh GTC, as set out in Clause 7, can promote recruitment to the teaching profession and continuing professional development for teachers. Liberal Democrats remain strongly committed to that. Furthermore, the Welsh GTC is allowed to give advice, to organise conferences and lectures and to arrange for the publication of material in any form. The English GTC has none of those powers, and in our view it should have. I suspect that one of the reasons for the difference may be connected with the future of the Welsh teacher training agency. Perhaps that will be clarified.
Whatever the reasons, we believe that the English GTC should have those powers and we shall be interested to hear what the Minister sees as the future relationship between the GTC and the teacher training agency. Above all, the GTC must be independent with real powers and not just another quango beholden to the Secretary of State. That is what we fear from the limited descriptions in the Bill.
I turn to the more vexed subject of tuition fees. First, I must make it clear that the Liberal Democrats remain implacably opposed to the charging of tuition fees. We believe that it breaches a vital principle and that tuition should be free. Under the present arrangements, I see the charge not so much as a fee but as a tax. As a local authority leader who lived through the community charge, which was not a charge for services but was avowedly a tax, I see little difference in principle between that and the tuition fee. I suspect that it might more appropriately be called "the student poll tax".
The Government claim that no student will be worse off under the new arrangements. However, I venture to suggest that they are not living in the real world in so far as concerns the current arrangements. The present grant plus loan does not cover the reasonable expenses of many students, who are forced to top up with loans from commercial banks. I have previously declared an interest as the parent of two owners—if that is the right word—of student loans. Others make ends meet by working during the university terms: for example, stacking supermarket shelves and so on.
Just as many parents in reality have not made a parental contribution, whether wilfully or through lack of funds, it is bound to be an additional disincentive to young people embarking on higher education. We may well argue, and continue to argue, about the extent to which applications have fallen this year. We can argue about the figures but it is a fact that those applications have fallen; and that is not surprising. One of the reasons for that fall must be the disincentive of the £1,000 tuition fee.
I suspect that another reason is a lack of understanding and lack of clarity in relation to exactly what the arrangements are to be. If tuition fees are to he introduced, and we remain opposed to them, I urge the Government to provide clarification of the administrative arrangements to local education 267 authorities, universities and, above all, to the students themselves. If it must happen, the sooner that is done the better.
Reference has been made already to the anomaly—and that is perhaps too kind a word—with regard to Scotland whereby a student from Northumbria pays £4,000 for his tuition in Scotland whereas the student from Umbria pays only £3,000. to quote an example from an earlier debate in which I participated. In your Lordships' House on a number of occasions we have asked not only whether that is fair, which demonstrably it is not, but whether it is legal. We have yet to have a clear answer.
I remain puzzled and confused as to why it is considered necessary for medical students to pay for year four but apparently not for years five and six. I hasten to add that we do not believe that they should be paying for any of those but I should still be interested to hear from the Minister why the Government believe that it is appropriate to pay to year four but not to years five and six.
I turn to the equally vexed question of top-up fees. It must follow logically that if we are opposed to tuition fees then so we are opposed also to top-up fees. I am grateful to the Minister for saying in her opening remarks that the Government have no intention of allowing top-up fees. I was extremely pleased to hear from the CVCP that,No universities have plans to introduce so-called top up fees".We believe that universities should not be allowed to do so but we share the concerns of the CVCP and many others about the nature and scope of measures in the Bill and especially Clause 18. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, spoke extremely eloquently and forcefully about those and I could not better that. However, I share those concerns and shall wish to join in expressing those concerns.
I join the noble Baroness, Lady Young, also in expressing gratitude to the Minister for indicating that the Government will be introducing amendments to Clause 18 in Committee. We shall look at those amendments very carefully and with considerable interest. But it is still likely to leave much to be desired.
The Bill includes wide-ranging reserve powers which extend significantly the Secretary of State's powers to attach conditions to the funding of universities. Those unprecedented and far-reaching powers go far beyond what is necessary to rule out top-up fees. Indeed, shortly before coming into the Chamber, I was handed a letter from a person at university who referred to them, probably rightly, as,outrageous powers of intrusion. They seem to us an absolutely unwarranted increase in state powers".The Minister reassured us that that is not the Government's intention and of course we accept wholeheartedly that assurance. But it may be that it is not as difficult to contemplate now as it might have been yesterday that we may not always have the same government. We may not always have the same benevolent Ministers here. I can see looks of shock and horror on the faces of noble Lords on the Benches 268 opposite, but that is a possibility. It is always a good test of any proposed legislation to imagine what it would be like in the hands of a government less inclined to smile at those references and more inclined to make use of such powers in ways which may not have been intended when they were introduced but nevertheless are permitted by the legislation.
The Government plan to override hard-won safeguards to the relationship between the funding councils, the universities and the Minister contained in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. Those safeguards are essential to maintain the necessary checks and balances in those relationships. Under Clause 18, it is now technically possible, if not the intention, for the Secretary of State to interfere with fees charged at a particular university for a particular course. If he chose, he could price a particular course out of the market. I accept that that is not the intention, but that is the danger that we are concerned about in the phrasing of this particular legislation. We shall seek to deal with that in Committee.
I conclude by saying that we are anxious also about the clauses legalising the inspection by Ofsted of universities as PGCE course providers. That may be seen as an infringement of academic freedom, and understandably so. Provided that Ofsted is inspecting only the vocational training element of such courses, we feel that that may be appropriate but we shall need to examine that in much more detail.
In summary, the Liberal Democrat approach to this Bill is to promote our belief in the independence and professionalism of teachers, whether they be in schools, colleges or universities. We wish to see that enshrined in the arrangements for the general teaching council which trusts teachers to behave professionally and responsibly; in arrangements for teacher qualifications which teachers themselves approve; and in plans to assist the funding of universities which do not take away from those institutions their important freedoms.
The Government need to make a certain leap of faith in those matters. Under the previous administration, we had a culture which was sometimes one of hatred, ridicule and contempt for teachers. That has led to a massive walk-out in which huge numbers of talented and experienced teachers have taken early retirement or found other things to do. We have no doubt on these Benches that unless the Government can make that leap of faith to trust the profession, that haemorrhage will continue.
There is much work to do on this Bill but do it we must to ensure that it leaves us in a better condition than it has arrived here today.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of Ripon
My Lords, I look forward to the many contributions to be made to this afternoon's debate in your Lordships' House and in particular to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell of Babergh. I thank the Minister for her very clear introduction to the Bill.
I speak as chairman of the Church of England Board of Education and as chair of the Churches Joint Education Policy Committee, representing the 269 educational interests of all churches. I welcome the broad outlines of the Bill. Before commenting on it, I thank the Government for the way in which they have responded to the concerns of the Churches in the matter of school structures. In particular, the Churches have warmly welcomed the Government's decision to change the categories into which schools will be placed. Instead of the former categories of aided, foundation and community, we now have new categories of voluntary, foundation and community. That change came about after much negotiation and, indeed, after some media reporting. With the other changes which have been incorporated, the Churches are largely satisfied with the proposed legislation. There are still some issues to be debated but we have much more satisfactory proposals than had seemed probable at an earlier stage. All of that is for debate when the school standards Bill reaches your Lordships' House.
Concern for structures should not be allowed to draw attention away from the chief concern of government in education; namely, to raise standards. The Churches share that concern. Probably the chief element in the raising of standards is the numbers and calibre of the teaching profession. Recent figures on teacher recruitment give cause for concern, indeed alarm. Without a good calibre of entrants into the ranks of teachers, and without sufficient numbers, quality education cannot be delivered. That is true for Church schools, many of which are already delivering excellent provision. Our concern is not only for Church schools but for all schools—the total educational scene. The raising of morale is key in the attraction of good candidates for people are not likely to consider a career in a profession where morale is low. In targeting education, and more particularly teachers, as the cause of society's woes—which, in my view is a totally false analysis—society has not helped the teaching profession.
The proposal for a general teaching council will go some way towards raising the perception of teachers as a professional group and of teaching as a career worthy of consideration by men and women of calibre. I salute teachers, many of whom are working in circumstances of great difficulty and are demonstrating commitment and ability. We look for ways of swelling their ranks, not diminishing them as is happening at present. I therefore support the general thrust of the Bill's proposals for such a council.
However, I am concerned that the Bill makes no mention of Church representation in the constitution of the council. Indeed, one third of all schools in England are Church foundations and one quarter of all pupils in the primary and secondary sectors are educated in them. The Church contribution to educational provision is a massive one and there is a strong case for this to be reflected in the constitution of the council. Both my predecessor, Bishop Michael Adie, and I have been involved in the preparations for the council and have been supportive of its establishment. I look for a proper recognition of the role of the Churches in its constitution.
270 Like other noble Lords who have spoken before me, I looked in vain for any power by the council to remove teachers from the register. Clause 2(4) gives powers only to make recommendations to the Secretary of State. I should also like to know what the relationship will be between the council and the Teacher Training Agency. Will the agency retain responsibility for the training and professional development of teachers? These comments, and those made by my predecessors in today's debate, raise the question of whether the GTC goes far enough or whether the profession should be pressing for a Royal College of teachers incorporated by charter.
The proposal to require heads to possess a professional head teachers' qualification is clearly right. The Church colleges of higher education are already involved in training and assessment leading to such a qualification and look forward to continuing that provision. However, there are some practical issues which will need to be determined. For example, how long a period will there be before that requirement is mandatory? Too swift an implementation may cause difficulties for the appointment of heads in the immediate future. Moreover, as has already been mentioned, there is a difficulty about the release of teachers to undertake work for such a qualification. It is not easy, especially at primary level, for schools to provide cover for the purpose. I believe that to be one of the reasons for the differentiation of take-up between primary and secondary teachers. I welcome the provision for a satisfactory induction period for teachers. With the noble Lord, Lord Tope, I hope that that period will be a mandatory year.
The Bill also makes provision for inspection by Ofsted of institutions delivering initial and in-service teacher training. A major provider of that delivery is the Church colleges of higher education, within which one-third of primary teachers and one-fifth of all teachers are trained. Clearly the principle of inspection is right, but there are concerns about the sweeping powers which Clause 14 gives to the chief inspector. Clause 14(5) gives him the right of entry to premises of such an institution and the right to inspect and take copies of any records and other documents.
We have had an assurance from the Minister that, in relation to that right of entry, the power will only be used for such parts of the institution as relate to teacher training. I would be grateful for an assurance that that will also cover the part of the Bill relating to inspection, and the copying of records and other documents. In both cases it would seem to me that a sentence on the face of the Bill would give the protection which is needed.
On the matter of higher education and further education financing I wish to say little, except that it is essential that any money from tuition fees is directed into the higher education and further education sectors. The latter sector, one of great importance and often overlooked, is even more underfunded than the higher education sector. Additional funding is desperately needed. I would find it a little difficult to follow the noble Lord, Lord Tope, down the road of comparison with the poll tax. It would seem to me to he clear that 271 that comparison cannot be maintained in two respects. First, it does not apply to all graduates; and, secondly, it does not apply in all circumstances.
Nevertheless, the question of whether fees and loans will restrict access is clearly a key one. It is not only a matter of affordability; it is also a matter of attitude towards loans. Perhaps I may give your Lordships one instance: we need to discover the attitude of members of the Asian community towards the taking out of loans. Clearly, proper monitoring will have to take place in order to ensure that access is in fact being widened to include proper proportions from all parts of our society and not being narrowed.
Despite the concerns and apprehensions which I have expressed over particular provisions in the Bill, I welcome its general thrust. Those of us involved in the Church-founded delivery, both of teacher training and of primary and secondary education, look forward to working in partnership to ensure, maintain and improve the standards of excellence which our society needs and our young people deserve.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Baroness Rendell of Babergh
My Lords, I should like to begin by expressing my appreciation of the welcome extended to me on my introduction into your Lordships' House and my gratitude for the kindness and much-needed guidance which helped me through my initial awe and apprehension. An instance of that kindness happened the day after my introduction, an occasion of some ceremonial and of great moment to me. One of my noble friends leant across and whispered to me, "The body is in the library". That reference was, of course, directed to what I do for a living. It put me at my ease and lightened the atmosphere for me. It was both gracious and timely.
However, on a more serious note, the body must be in the library, or rather the living must be, if we are to achieve a society of educated and fulfilled people. The first writing known was marks on clay tablets made 6,000 years ago. The first recorded instance in Western literature of reading silently to oneself was made a millennium and a half ago in Augustine's description of Ambrose with his book. "When he read", said Augustine, "his eyes scanned the page and his heart sought out the meaning but his voice was silent and his tongue was still".
A century has passed since Britain proclaimed itself literate—the first nation to do so. Today, roughly one in seven adults is semi-literate or illiterate. He or she can read a headline in a newspaper but not the small print on a guarantee or policy, the bottom line in more ways than one. More than one-third of all 11 year-olds fall short of the expected reading standard for their age group. I know one of them. He is now an excellent driver of heavy goods vehicles, but his reading skills are minimal. One of the motives for the Government's literacy strategy is that 80 per cent. of 11 year-olds should reach that standard by the year 2002. Here I must declare an interest for I have written many books, some 272 of them indeed incorporating bodies in libraries or less salubrious places. If I am spared, I hope to write many more.
The year 1998–99 will be the year of reading—its object is to take a giant step forward and achieve no less than a transformation in the way that people regard books and reading. April 23rd, Shakespeare's birthday, will be World Book Day and it is hoped that the launch of the year of reading will be held at Shakespeare's Globe. The whole community will be involved: publishers, booksellers, business and industry, authors, myself included, young people's role models from sport and the media, as well as teachers and teacher trainers. Encouragement to read will be directed at everyone and every child in school will be given a voucher to help with the purchase of reading matter.
Those children who will be 11 in 2002 are six now and in need—particularly if their parents are ill equipped to initiate them—of special attention from teachers. In line with what my noble friend the Minister said just now, there must be no repetition of what happened last week when two institutions were found to be responsible for allowing incompetent students to become qualified primary school teachers. That is especially pertinent as the competence they failed to demonstrate was in the teaching of reading.
Reading may be the most important skill we are taught and the most vital we are taught to teach, for learning to read is a rite of passage out of ignorance and dependency. Illiteracy or a poor level of literacy breeds shame and low self-esteem and is one of the elements in social exclusion. With certain rare exceptions, all education begins with learning to read. The Government's ideal, as we know, is education, education, education. I have written many books, but it is not my books for which I now put in a plea but for non-fiction and works of reference—those which I dread to see surviving only on the shelves of learned libraries.
It is good that every child in school should have a computer. We live in an age of technology and a computer is a wonderful thing. I have used one myself for 12 years. One of the goals of the literacy crusade is that children should be able to read computer screens. But the wonders of the Internet and other information sources should not be allowed to take the place of the dictionary, the encyclopaedia and the thesaurus. I have a god-daughter aged 16 who is currently studying for her A-levels. I asked her preference, expecting an answer in favour of technology, knowing her to be highly computer literate and having called her in for help with such problems as invalid parameters and disappearing text. To my surprise she came down in favour of the book. There is no comparison in her view between bright but arid windows and icons and words on paper where the eye may linger at will or be distracted by just as fascinating new knowledge further down or over the page. Let us have computers by all means but books too, and books not as curiosities from a former age.
To be literate is to begin a process of turning the soul's eye towards the light. Someone has said that all the troubles of the world would cease if everyone stayed 273 at home and shut themselves up in their rooms. I amend that and say that many of the world's troubles would be eased if people stayed at home more often and read a book.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Lord Baker of Dorking
My Lords, on behalf of all Members of the House I congratulate the noble Baroness on her splendid and eloquent maiden speech which was a wonderful exposition of the importance of the written word and the book as one of the central pillars of any civilization.
The noble Baroness has written many books. I have read some of them but I cannot say that I have read all of them because her output is prodigious. She also has a pseudonym. I have reviewed some of her books and I am glad to say that they were favourable reviews. It is one of the pleasures of this House that people such as the noble Baroness are appointed to be Members of it. It is one of the ironic twists of fate that two of our leading detective novelists are both in this House on alternate sides. It is immensely encouraging to know that the capacity to deceive right up to the last chapter is not a prerogative of one party. The noble Baroness states in her curriculum vitae that she is a firm socialist. I am sure that will be a measure of support to some Members on her side of the House.
This Bill is an interesting and important Bill but it is also a difficult Bill to interpret. I speak as someone who has laboured in the vineyard of education legislation. Parts of this Bill are dense and those that are not dense are obscure. I would hope that on the very day when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the Government have announced a policy of freedom of information, the Government might help the deliberation of the Bill in this House by placing in the Library of the House of Lords their Notes on Clauses. I am not asking for the sentences at the bottom which refer to the "line to take"; I am asking for the explanation of the clauses so that we could at least know what the Government intend on some of these clauses, even if they know that themselves.
I want to speak mainly about higher education, but I shall refer first to the General Teaching Council. I have always believed that teaching is one of the noblest professions in our country. Several members of my family have been teachers over several decades. The great majority of teachers in our country have the highest professional standards. If they can be enhanced, solidified or codified in some way by this council, that can do no harm. However, I must add that at the end of the day I suspect it will not do much good either. However, I hope I may lay one uncontroversial view upon the table. If one is to codify, as it were, the standards of the teaching profession, then, just like GPs, the Law Society—earlier I think I saw the noble Lord, Lord Peston, nod when the Law Society was mentioned, and I see that he is nodding now—and the Bar Council, teachers may be encouraged to have the same professional standard; namely, to deny themselves the withdrawal of their labour. Nothing so demeans their 274 professional status than a teacher threatening to strike. I have said that that is an uncontroversial matter and I am sure that Ministers will consider it.
I turn now to the funding of higher education. This Bill is important but I believe that it could be damaging. There are two principles which govern the funding of higher education. The first is that the student should contribute something towards it because the student who benefits from higher education and obtains a degree will start work much higher up the ladder. Most of them are likely to earn much higher salaries than people who have not benefited from higher education. Why should those people whose taxes support the students, and who will never benefit from higher education themselves, pay while the students who are the beneficiaries of higher education do not? The second principle is that the funding of higher education should be shared between three groups in society: students, the state and students' families, if they can afford it.
Those two principles are now accepted by the Government. They were not accepted in 1988 when I introduced student loans. They were only reluctantly accepted in 1992 but now the Government not only accept the principles but have built upon them. However, there are certain implications here. If one is to increase costs for the student, one must ensure that it is not a deterrent to those students who cannot afford the costs. I believe that the best way of dealing with that would be to retain the system of grants coupled with access funds. The Government wish to go another way. They propose means tested tuition fees. If I may say so, I think that will involve them in much trouble. I believe that decision was rather a knee-jerk reaction in the giddy month of May and I suspect that they will come to regret it. However, that is the way they are going.
The Minister who is to reply to the debate may explain the position of European students as regards means-tested fees. That is quite a difficult area. Are we to means test students from Rome and France who study at our universities? That question has not arisen before but it is one of the considerations if we are to have means-tested fees. I am delighted that the loans will now be recovered by the Inland Revenue. As the noble Baroness knows, I explained in the debate last week that I was not successful in persuading the Inland Revenue to do that. It was a pity that I could not persuade the then Chancellor of the Exchequer to do that. I congratulate the noble Baroness on her eloquence, or I congratulate someone on his or her eloquence, in persuading the Chancellor to do that as it is by far the easiest way to collect the loans. I warmly welcome that step, but that is where my welcome ends.
I believe that tuition fees should go directly back into higher education. The surest way to do that is to ensure that the fees levied by the universities and colleges remain with those colleges. Why should those fees go back into the general kitty and not necessarily the kitty of the funding councils? Those fees can be lost in the general pool of Treasury expenditure. Unless the fees remain with the institutions, there can be no guarantee.
Why do I say that? I say that because when I introduced student loans and per capita funding for the universities, I always had in mind that one day the 275 system would evolve and develop so that funding councils would not be needed. The system would be self regulatory through per capita funding and fees, with access funds for those students who could not afford the fees. I believe that that would be the best system for higher education in our country. We are moving closer towards it. Per capita funding was a beginning. Loans took the matter a little further. Tuition fees take it a little further. In, say, five or 10 years' time, I hope that we shall attain that situation.
If the individual institutions are allowed to keep the tuition fees, it means that in 1998–99 the institutions will be able to keep £150 million, which goes some way towards bridging the Dearing gap of £360 million shortfall in funding in that year. In the next year the institutions would raise £250 million. In 2000–2001, they would raise £400 million. As the Bill is debated and the argument becomes more widely known, I hope that we shall be able to amend the Bill in that regard.
As regards top up fees, I regret that the Government have taken the line that they have in Clause 18. It is a rather absurd ideological bar. I can see why they have done so. The Government felt that the introduction of tuition fees was a step far enough; they could not go further. However, they wished to put some constraint upon the universities and colleges in the charging of fees. I believe that that is to be regretted. I favour the discretion as to the level of fees being left with the universities, colleges, or even the heads of department. If the institutions can attract sufficient numbers of students, and as long as there are guarantees of access funds and grants to ensure that poor but able students are not denied entry, that would be a much better system.
I believe that the limitations in Clause 18 which deny universities and colleges the right to charge top-up fees offends against natural justice. For all I know, they might offend against their ancient charters and ancient rights. I remember the difficulty when I sought to end academic tenure. It took many years because of the ancient rights of the institutions. I hope that those ancient rights of the institutions may be strong enough to resist this provision.
I hope that the draconian powers of Clause 18 will be modified. The Minister stated that she had a meeting today with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors. The noble Baroness promised some amendments. I am sure that many amendments will be put forward. Clause 18 shifts the balance of legislation since the 1988 and 1992 Acts back to give the Minister and her successors power. In my view it is too much power—power over the funding council by means of direction. I believe that there is a genuine threat to academic freedom in these matters. I do not think that that is the right way to go forward. I believe that these parts of the Bill are shabby, shaming and insulting to our universities. I hope that not only will the Government have second thoughts about them, but that this House will insist that they have second thoughts about them.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I wish to concentrate on the second part of the Bill. I thought it was a little rich of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to denounce the Government with such force on the question of universities. Since 1981, universities have been under continuous attack by the Conservative Party. Conservative governments treated them with contempt and did much to discredit them in the eyes of the public. Today the universities are at the bottom of the pile of the present Government's priorities. It is inevitable. I can hardly blame the Government for that. Universities have had to realise that the Government put before their needs the needs of nursery schools, the reduction in the size of classes in primary schools, the expenditure on improving literacy and numeracy throughout the state system, and further education. I welcome Part III of the Bill. It is absolutely vital if we are to translate education into productivity. As a result of those priorities, universities will receive only one eighth of what the Dearing Committee said was the irreducible minimum.
Meanwhile, university staff have seen the salaries of teachers in the schools rise since 1985 by 30 per cent. when their own salaries rose by 10 per cent. They have been forced to teach five times as many students as they did in 1980 and have been given no extra money to reward what the ignorant marketeers who confuse higher education with business call an increase in productivity. And on top of that Conservative governments imposed a pyramid of bureaucracy about which I shall speak later.
Nevertheless, I want to congratulate the Government on a number of points. Clearly the principle of the Bill is right. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, made the point. For a number of years now sensible men and women have accepted that graduates earn on average more than non-graduates. Those who benefit from higher education should contribute more to it financially. I remember the senior tutor of my college at Cambridge arguing in the early 1950s that public schoolboys were being deterred from applying for Cambridge because they did not qualify for a grant. The Anderson Committee was set up. It altered all that, recommending that grants should be paid to everyone. That sort of thinking made the costs of higher education ruinously high. Now all students must in theory pay. But I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara—I am sorry he is not in his place today—will accept that the Minister has made it clear that the really poor student from a really poor family will pay nothing towards his tuition fees. It is more difficult for those students who are not exactly poor but nevertheless not well off and who will have to pay. In fact it is estimated that only one third of students will pay the full tuition fee of £1,000 a year. I wish to ask one question. Can the Government confirm that medical students will not have to pay tuition fees for the last three years of their time in medical school?
Like the noble Lord, Lord Baker, I congratulate the Government on having defeated the Inland Revenue. It must have been an heroic and bloody battle. For years the Inland Revenue opposed any scheme that meant that repayment of loans could be collected through the 277 operation of income tax. I am delighted to see, too, that the Government have set a perfectly realistic figure of £10,000 a year beyond which the repayment of loans will be obligatory. It is a much fairer scheme than the one set up by the previous government.
The noble Baroness is under attack about Clause 18. I agree with those who have questioned the clause. What has happened is the usual thing. It happened under the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Baker. The usual thing is that the civil servants seize the opportunity of a new Bill to cut back the independence of universities. They will now be able to interfere with the cost of examinations and field courses. Naturally the noble Baroness denies that this will happen. But the civil servants always want to be able to have the powers to do those things. I know that this issue will be debated in Committee, and I think it is right that it should be.
The Government Chief Whip advised me that I should not speak in the debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff on Oxford and Cambridge fees when I told him that I could not stay to the end of the debate as I had an inescapable function to attend at the University of London. I shall not speak further about that attempt to bully Cross-Benchers who have a rather different role in this House from that of those who accept a party whip and who, when they are younger, are very often in positions where they have inevitable obligations, entered into months before, and therefore cannot attend to the end of a debate. For the 32 years that I have been in this House I have never known a time when a genuine apology was not acceptable.
The rumours are that the department has already decided that the payment of college fees at Oxbridge should be stopped. I recognise that other universities are licking their chops in the hope of getting their fingers into that pot of gold. I also see that the department has begun to realise that changing the present system will not be all that easy. You cannot cut off part of a don's salary and his expectations at a stroke. If the Government do so, they will be sued for breach of contract. That was a lesson learnt in 1981. Moreover, if the Oxbridge differential goes, the two universities will be able to claim quite a considerable number of senior lectureships—that is a post current in all civic universities but rightly unknown in the college fee economy of Oxbridge. If you abolish college fees, you will be forced on grounds of common equity to grant parity of grade, especially since senior lecturers command the salaries of readers and salary is a reward for good teaching. Will the Minister, in replying, confirm that Oxbridge will not be treated worse than other universities if, in fact, college fees go?
I hope that the Government will not attach too great weight, when they consider the matter, to the argument that the ancient universities do not admit a sufficient proportion of students from state schools. Until the direct grant and grammar schools changed their status at the time the state system became comprehensive, they were in no way bad. They took well over 60 per cent. from the state system. However, when comprehensive education became current throughout the state system, they faced a difficult problem.
278 My own college, King's, admits 80 per cent. of its undergraduates from the state system. It can be done. It requires a great deal of hard work and very intensive teaching. There was no lack of, or drop in, quality. For five years running, King's came top of the colleges league table in the final year of the tripos. I admit that other colleges at Cambridge—I say nothing about Oxford—began rather late in the day to try and increase their intake of state sixth formers. But anyone who attended the seminar on the issue that took place last week will hardly doubt that they are in earnest and doing all that they can. They are up against a problem; namely, the prejudice of head teachers, and indeed of sixth form teachers, in state schools who have decided that Oxbridge is not the place for their pupils. They imagine that Oxbridge still resembles Evelyn Waugh's marvellous description in the first chapter of Decline and Fall. It really has changed since those days.
Perhaps I may tease the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for just one moment. The noble Lord had some rather harsh things to say about Oxbridge in the recent debate. However, he did not reveal that half the students at the LSE come from abroad, and only a quarter from state schools. That is much below the Oxbridge figure.
What can the Government do to help universities? We should prefer not to have the extra charge for tuition fees. But there are endless demands on government in the education sector, to say nothing of the welfare and social security sector. Granted that the money cannot be found, unless of course there is an increase in direct taxation, what can the noble Baroness and her colleagues do to help universities? There is one thing that could be done—and a hoarse cheer would come from the universities, even though their financial plight and the salaries of dons are so deplorable, if it happened. The Government could get off their backs, wind up the quality assessment agency, abolish the funding councils—the DfEE practically does the job now—and stop trying to micro-manage the universities. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, made a very good point. What is a research assessment exercise for? Surely the research councils are more competent to judge where the money should go. All I am asking is that the Government simply follow the policy set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, on the National Health Service; namely, thin down the bureaucracy and, if possible, in many areas, abolish it.
I can guess what those in the department will say. They will throw up their hands in dismay and say, "Doesn't he know that the universities must be made accountable?" Accountable? The books and accounts of the universities have always been open to inspection. Only in one case has there ever been a scandal in the university sector—in University College, Cardiff, many years ago. To protest that universities must be accountable was the kind of offal that Conservative governments used to shovel onto our plates and ask us to eat. I ask the Minister: when was there last an outcry about the disgracefully low standard of teaching in the universities? When was there an outcry about the feebleness of British research? Was it at the time when Britain regularly featured in the Nobel Prize list? We do not win so many Nobel Prizes today. The Minister 279 knows as well as I do that the number of a don's publications is not as significant as their quality. And how does the higher education statistical agency assess quality? Yes, indeed, there was a need to monitor and improve the level of teaching in the schools. But when was there a similar furore about university standards? The noble Baroness knows perfectly well that there never was such an outcry. She has been the head of a London college—and a great one—and I am sure that she deplored what Conservative governments were doing during all those years when the Labour Party was in opposition. What they were doing was master-minding a decline in every part of higher education except in numbers.
Yet that, I suspect, is the line that the Government may he forced to take. Because the Conservatives have lowered standards and made the life of the dons a misery by intrusive, unnecessary form-filling, and because such form-filling has led to chicanery and taking petty advantages of the system, dons have been turned into the equivalent of tax avoiders. Because of that, power has shifted from the dons, who teach and research, to the administrators, who try to put unreasonable and time-wasting government diktats into effect. An inquisition was imposed upon the universities. Enter the inquisition; exit loyalty.
The quality management teams excite derision from both dons and businessmen on councils. Their inspectors demand that every course be comparable to every other course in all universities. Managers complain when students fail in their exams. Why? Because, if they are sent down, their fees will be lost. In 1994–95, the drop-out rate in British universities had risen to 20 per cent. Is it any wonder when the staff-student ratio has risen to 1:20?
We need to continue to expand higher education, but I implore the Government not to force universities immediately to take more students. During all my years in universities, I have spoken up for more students to he admitted and have denounced the Kingsley Amises who said, "More means worse". Now I say festina lente, hasten slowly; do not worsen staff-student ratios still further. You will not get an educated workforce if you do; you will get a workforce which waves a piece of parchment as evidence that it has been through the mill. British universities will become no different from the universities on the Continent where students never meet their teachers.
Do not forget that in France, Germany and America there are élite institutions. We too have élite institutions: University College London, Imperial College. the LSE, Edinburgh, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Sussex. Essex—oh yes, and Oxford and Cambridge. Remember that it is the direct impact of the don, the teacher, upon the student's mind that educates a student. How can a don find time these days to make that impact personally on even a handful of his students when he is so badgered and blackguarded by the bureaucracy? I know that I owe absolutely everything to my teachers. They made me want to learn and, if I got above myself, they told me how much more I had to learn. They taught me not merely about books; they taught me about life. I owe a 280 debt to my teachers that I can never repay, to those who taught me to think more clearly, to feel more deeply, to hope and to put my trust in life.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Lord Plant of Highfield
My Lords, perhaps I may be the first from these Benches to congratulate my noble friend Lady Rendell on her splendid maiden speech.
My speech will concentrate on those aspects of the Bill which deal with higher education. Before I embark upon that discussion, perhaps I may say how much I welcome the proposals in Parts I and III of the Bill. Part I will go a long way towards restoring the professionalism of teachers and the sense of pride in the teaching profession which is vital for the recruitment of good quality graduates as future teachers. Part III will help with the development of employability skills, which are absolutely critical to economic performance.
Since I shall concentrate on the higher education sections of the Bill, I should declare an interest. I am Master of St. Catherine's College at the University of Oxford and Pro Chancellor of Southampton University.
After a good deal of heart-searching, I should like to offer my support to the new regime in respect of student payment of the £1,000 tuition fee. As the Dearing Report makes clear, and as everyone involved in universities knows, universities face a real funding crisis. Given the expansion of the sector, the Government's attitude towards constraints on taxation and their own entirely defensible priorities for funding from taxation in education, I do not see that there is any real alternative to charging undergraduates for part of their tuition fees, subject, as is proposed in the Bill, to the ability eventually to pay through an appropriate level of salary. It is true that higher education is in a broad sense a public good and central to the development of employability skills, high level skills of all kinds and competitiveness in the economy, as the Dearing Report makes clear, and therefore should be generously supported out of taxation. Nevertheless a degree produces private benefits for the person taking it in terms of projected higher salary levels. The Government's proposals make the repayment dependent on that higher salary being earned.
I realise that many noble Lords will be concerned about access, as I am. On this issue I say just two things. First, there is not much point in extending access to something which is bound to decline in quality if the funding regime remains as it is. Those of us who teach in universities are aware of the extraordinary pressure that the rapid and inexorable decline in the unit of resource has produced in universities. If we are to encourage more participation and wider access to universities and to university teaching, which maintains their quality, the funding must be found. I believe that the only realistic way of finding that funding is through a system such as that proposed by the Government.
Secondly, for good or ill, attitudes towards debt have changed over the past 20 years or so, particularly when debt can be seen as an investment in one's own career and financial prospects. I came from a family with a very modest income. My parents were extremely averse 281 to debt, to the extent that my father never took out a mortgage. I can imagine that, had I been faced with a large debt when I went to university in 1963, I would probably not have gone. I might have become a deck-hand learner, as virtually everyone else did in my class at a school near Grimsby docks, although I think I am fortunate, given my lack of physical co-ordination, that I chose a different career. I might well have not gone to university in those circumstances, against the background of that culture. I believe that attitudes towards indebtedness have now changed. With the idea of investing in a career which is likely to produce differentially higher rewards, I believe that there is now a case for changing the basis of funding in the way now proposed by the Government. I shall support the Government's proposals, although that will not make me very popular with the undergraduates at my college.
Having said that, however, I believe that prospective students will only want to incur debt—or, preferably, invest in relation to their future—for high quality courses and high quality provision: that is to say, forms of provision and of teaching which are seen as high quality not just by the student, important though that is, but also by prospective employers. The Government's proposals should drive up standards of teaching and may have a stark message for some courses in some universities. I, and, I am sure, many other noble Lords who have been involved in external examining over the years, believe that that is probably all to the good. The myth that all courses are the same and of the same quality and therefore should be funded at the same level seems to me precisely that: a myth. One is faced with a highly differentiated product. If students have to pay a flat tuition fee for what is a highly differentiated product, some of the products which are not up to it will suffer as a result, and I believe that that is a very good thing.
It is vital that, if we go ahead with this set of proposals, the money raised through the £1,000 charge should go back to the universities. The whole argument against top-up fees is that we now have in hand a solution to the problem of funding. If the £1,000 a year charge is the solution to the problem of funding and we do not need top-up fees, it is essential that that money should go back to the universities. That is also essential for the moral and political justification of the charge. While I do not accept the analogy with the poll tax made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, I believe that he had a point about its being more like a tax rather than a charge if it goes into a general pot. Given that the justification for this charge is that it will help to meet the funding problems of universities and relates to the services and benefits the students receive from universities, it is right and proper that the money should go back to the universities. If it does not, the funding problem will not be solved and the pressure for top-up fees will re-emerge. It is therefore vital that there is a clear, transparent link between charging the fee and solving the financial problems of universities.
If there is one area where I am concerned about the impact of the charge—and 1 draw it to my noble friend's attention, not in any sense for an answer today, but for reflection—it is in relation to the recruitment of UK 282 graduate students. If someone has spent three or four years studying for a first degree and incurred a large debt as a result of that, there is a strong disincentive for that person to go on and do graduate work. That graduate work may be important for the individual concerned or for the country at large; but the point I want to emphasise is that it could be critical for the financial viability of some areas of some universities. If the accumulation of debt deters recruitment of graduates, we will find that universities with large graduate schools that see a drop off in UK graduate recruitment experience severe difficulties.
I want to spend a moment—no more—registering a concern as to whether the Dearing Report and the Government's response to it deal effectively with the global role that many universities and some departments in even more universities play. The funding of universities is not like the funding of hospitals or other parts of the education system. There is a global academic market place—I do not like the phrase in this context—in which universities operate in terms of recruitment of staff, the publication of research, co-operation between researchers and so forth. Dearing did a splendid job in terms of looking at the requirements of the higher education system within the United Kingdom. I am not sure that the report properly addressed the questions as to how universities have to compete in that global context and fund themselves to be able to do so. Unless the money from the charge comes back to the universities, those universities competing in that global context will put on pressure for top-up fees.
I return to my point. Essentially, the charge is a legitimate charge, but it must be linked to solving the funding crisis, otherwise the top-up fee pressure will recur. I would very much regret that. but it will come back, particularly from those institutions that have to compete in the world market.
A lot has been said regarding the draconian powers the Government are proposing to take in relation to the set of fees in the clauses in the Bill. I am worried about some of those and would like those fears to be allayed, as no doubt they will be, through various amendments proposed at the Committee stage. I have three specific worries and can flag them now, though I shall not dwell on them.
I assume from my noble friend's opening remarks that the position of overseas students is clear, though it is not clear in the Bill. Secondly, in relation to the position of funding and benefaction, the Government legitimately want to see a fair funding environment and a level playing field of funding. Fair enough. But while there are what someone once called capitalist acts between consenting adults, people will offer benefactions and investments to universities. They are bound to create differences in the playing field, whether we like it or not. I am assuming that nothing in the Bill will change the present practice of not thinking that moneys raised from fund raising will be set off against block grant calculations.
Thirdly, we need more of a definition than the Bill contains as to what a fee is, particularly in relation to board and lodging. I am assuming—it seems pretty 283 obvious from the Bill—that board and lodging is not included. It does not say that and I shall be grateful for some clarification on that point.
This is an important Bill for the future of universities. I support the general thrust of what the Government are trying to do but I want the link between what they are doing and the solving of the funding crisis to be made absolutely transparent.
§ 6.16 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, wearing another hat, has on many occasions given me great pleasure. She is also responsible, if she will forgive me for saying so, for writing which is sometimes too good to give pleasure. Along with St. Augustine, to whom she referred, she made me think as hard as anybody about the nature of evil, among other things. She has shown today that both those skills are ones of which your Lordships' House will be able to take advantage—I hope on many occasions.
Before discussing the Bill I must declare an interest as Professor of History at King's College. My college is very much concerned by some of the contents of this Bill: in particular by the contents of Clauses 14 and 18. I hope that it will be in part reassured by what the Minister said about the contents of an amendment to Clause 17, though it will naturally be anxious to see the content of that amendment. However, I must say reassured "in part".
We are under a great temptation today, which we have not always resisted, to twit each other for things we did before the experience of changing places. Since the general election I have had many occasions to reflect on the work of Sir Lewis Namier, who, if I may summarise him extremely crudely, said that although one group of people called themselves Whigs and another called themselves Tories, the values of government were always those of what he called the "court and treasury party"—the Robin Butlers, Richard Bransons and Ron Dearings of their day—and the values of the opposition were always those of what he called the "country party". That seems to me to be still true. But when we reflect upon it we must decide how we handle that information.
Governments—this Government are no exception—are always tempted to argue that the values of government are necessarily right because of superior knowledge. They talk of tough decisions. But talking of a tough decision does not tell us which way we ought to make it.
It is true that over the centuries people at large have not realised what things cost. Therefore, when that is the point at issue, there is a tendency for governments to be right. In that context, when the Minister says that we cannot continue as we are, I hear her. On the other hand, government are not always right; they have an interest of their own which may be opposed to that of the community as a whole. In particular, government breed three ugly sisters: secrecy, cost cutting and control. I join with what my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill said about the pleasure with which he heard the 284 assault today by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor on the first of those three ugly sisters; but the other two are alive and well on ministerial Benches. Where they are concerned, I think there is a real reason for having doubts about the Bill.
When I consider what should have been in a higher education Bill, there are two things which I think desperately need to be tackled. One is to reverse the cut in unit costs per student given to universities. The Minister gave a figure of 25 per cent. for that. The CVCP gives a figure of 40 per cent. I have no doubt that this depends on the method of calculation and that we shall talk more about it. These cuts have been justified in the name of efficiency. Anyone who tries to use the lifts in my college will feel sarcastic about the notion of efficiency. They are made by a firm called Platt Schindiler. The lifts which are out of order are known as Platt Schindiler's list. We are told that by the year 2000, 79 per cent. of universities are expected to be in deficit. That is not just a matter of lifts. It is a matter of libraries, of equipment and of rain coming in through the roof. Those things are serious.
The other aspect which desperately needs to be reversed is the cut in the level of student support, which is some 20 per cent. below the minimum subsistence level. As recently as yesterday I was listening to two students whose work is becoming seriously run-down because, as a result of the amount of time they have to spend earning money during term, they simply do not have the energy to do the work that is needed. Customers in London shops in December are not always the most courteous of people. There is nothing about reversing those things at all.
Obviously, something needs to be done. I recall an exchange I had with the noble Earl, Lord Caithness, during the proceedings in 1990 on the Education (Student Loans) Bill. He said to me: "I hope the noble Earl understands that there is a limit to what the public purse can afford". I said: "Of course I do, but I hope the noble Earl understands that the country cannot have more students than it can afford".
The previous government, in the last part of their existence, put a cap on expansion. I wonder whether that is a more sensible approach than the one the present Government are adopting; and if they are determined to go on with expansion, whether they might consider channelling more of it into open and distance learning. They might remember Tawney's law: the more people have any qualification, the less it is worth and the more people want it.
The next aspect that concerns me—and mention of the Education (Student Loans) Bill brings it back to mind—is the way in which the Bill is drafted. It is a skeleton Bill; and I would add skeletons to theCornish Litany:From ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties And things that go bump in the night, Good Lord, deliver us!".Let us have a look at Clause 18(4), which I hope may be the one on which the Minister's amendment will purchase: 285A condition under this subsection shall require the governing body of any such institution to secure that the fees payable to the institution by any specified class of persons in respect of any specified matters in connection with their attending courses of any specified description are equal to the prescribed amount".As Serjeant Buzfuz said in Bardell v. Pickwick, "Gentlemen, what does this mean?". I appreciate the offer of the amendment, but what is wrong is the method of legislation. This is void for uncertainty. One simply cannot know what Ministers may do under this provision. While it is now clear that this House may vote against a regulation, it is a blunt instrument. What is usually needed is amendment. As my noble friend Lord Tordoff once put it, one cannot amend regulations; that is the nature of the beast. So we simply do not know what we are getting.
I share the misgivings which have been expressed about Clause 14 and so does the department of education in my own college. Plutarch tells the story of a painter who painted a picture of a woman which he showed to a cobbler. The cobbler said, "You've got the shoe wrong". So he altered it. The cobbler then said, "You've got her face wrong". He said, "No, I won't alter that".
I heard what the noble Baroness says about the restrictions of the scope of this clause. I am interested. But the Secretary of State said at the beginning of the Government's term of office that he intends to change from the centre the way reading is taught. That was in the Secretary of State's article in the Daily Mirror in the first week of the Government. I have it at home. I can produce the words if needed. It made my blood run cold. It was quoted again last week by Professor Pring at a conference at the Institute of Education. When the Government are thinking in those terms, can they make the distinction between practice and academic research which any defence of academic freedom demands? I doubt it. I understand the argument that there must be inspection. Why do we not consider the possibility that the general teaching council can do it?
I share my party's objection to tuition fees. When I arrived in the United States in 1979 I read an article by Russell Baker in the New York Times. To those who are not familiar with him, he is the equivalent of Miles Kington and Rory Bremner rolled into one. He was describing a father attending his son's graduation ceremony and bursting into tears on the spot at hearing that his son wanted to go to graduate school. I decided then that I did not want us to go down that road. I have not changed my mind.
I shall deal only with two points about tuition fees. One is hypothecation. I heard the noble Baroness's assurances, but assurances are not proof against the Treasury. They are not proof against successor Parliaments. In 1436 another place for the first time voted an income tax. The other place was so afraid that it might be done again that it resolved that it should not be entered in the records for fear it might be taken for a precedent. To the fury of historians, it was not entered in the records.
The other point that concerns me is parental consent. These fees are chargeable on the parent, but the parent does not always consent. I recall a pupil who did not 286 get his maintenance contribution paid because his parents were putting all the money into his sister's independent school fees. He ended up working himself to exhaustion. He set fire to his flat, burnt all his notes and had to go down. I recall another person, a neighbour of mine, from an Indian family whose father is not prepared to have her live away from home, so she spends four hours a day commuting to university. Think of the financial power used to reinforce that kind of authority.
We also heard in the pensions debate on 15th October that people are likely to be expected to make much bigger contributions than hitherto to their personal pensions. That and the obligation to pay tuition fees are—I shall not say contradictory—potentially divergent. That point requires some thought.
My particular objections are concentrated on Clause 18. Universities are not nationalised industries. They are private corporations. As part of academic freedom one must decide what is necessary for a degree. That means it must be free to the university to decide what it costs, for academic reasons and also for market reasons. In any sensible market there is a negotiation between a buyer who knows how much he can pay and a seller who knows how much that money will buy. Presumably, both of them will budge a little if the alternative is no sale. But although the Treasury does not seem to realise it, there is such a thing as a true cost below which the job cannot be done at all. If one considers the safety of cut-price airlines, one may perhaps be reminded of that point.
As regards the power to charge top-up fees, no university that I know wishes to do so. I echo what the noble Baroness said about the clause itself. She said, "We do not want to use this power, but we need the reserve power". We feel that quite as strongly as the noble Baroness does, because as long as we have that power it is something which is part of the negotiation in the public spending round, as last year's public spending settlement illustrates very clearly indeed. If that goes, the Treasury controls both the buyer's and the seller's side of the equation.
I appreciate that the noble Baroness is technically right that the university is still free to set its own level, but that is only so if it is prepared to go out of the state sector altogether. It may well be that certain universities will feel that they need to take that road because they can no longer supply quality education, competitive in an international market, at the rate which the Treasury is prepared to pay. In my view that would be a disaster. But closing the doors finally of institutions, some of which are older than Parliament itself, would also be a disaster. If Clause 18 remains in the Bill one or other of those disasters will happen.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Lord Walton of Detchant
My Lords, in general terms there are many features of this Bill which are welcome, but I have reservations about specific points of detail which I now hope to explain.
As many of your Lordships are aware, from 1990 I have chaired the Hamlyn Foundation National Commission on Education. We published our first 287 report, Learning to Succeed, in 1993. Many features of this Bill are in accord with our recommendations. We strongly recommended that a general teaching council for England and Wales should be created, particularly in view of the perceived success of the council already in existence in Scotland. This Bill proposes two councils, one for England and one for Wales. I am delighted that this long-overdue development is to become a reality.
I was myself president of the General Medical Council from 1982 to 1989. The Medical Act, which first established that council in 1858, has been extensively modified on many occasions, even within the past few years, to give that body increasing powers over education, registration, conduct, regulation and professional performance of registered medical practitioners. I have no doubt that the creation of two new general teaching councils will do much to counter the current malaise in some sections of the teaching profession and to enhance its status and responsibility in the public eye.
I also played a part in assisting the passage through your Lordships' House of Bills for the statutory regulation of osteopaths and chiropractors. I am pleased to see that the General Osteopathic and Chiropractic Councils are now in being and are assuming their specific responsibilities. Professional self-regulation is a cornerstone of a learned and civilised society, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, said some years ago. It is timely that the teaching profession should now, like so many others, be so regulated.
The clauses in this Bill relating to the registration of teachers, to the definition of a qualified teacher, those which deal with the appointment and training of head teachers and the authority which such councils should have over standards of teaching, of conduct, training, career development, performance, management and of recruitment to the profession, are all of fundamental importance, as is the responsibility which the councils will have relating to medical fitness to teach.
Your Lordships may also be aware of discussions led by the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, about the establishment of a college of teachers, a complementary body concerned with academic development rather than with regulation.
My concerns about the proposed framework set out in this Bill relate to the fact that so much is to be prescribed by regulation. The constitution of the council, including the crucial issue of the number of lay members not themselves in the teaching profession, and the question as to whether all teachers, as defined in the Education Reform Act 1988, will be eligible for registration must be clarified.
But the extensive authority vested in the Secretary of State is a matter of great concern. The medical, dental, nursing, osteopathic and chiropractic Acts are much more specific in relation to sensitive issues such as constitution and membership and the council's authority over training, conduct, health and performance, as well as registration. And as a point of principle, these bodies are each answerable not to a Secretary of State, but to 288 the Privy Council, which must approve rules, constitution and electoral schemes. The right of appeal against suspension or erasure from the register rests with the judicial committee of that body.
I must therefore ask the Minister whether this first and welcome step towards the creation of two general teaching councils will leave these important issues to be dealt with under regulations approved by the Secretary of State, or whether it is envisaged that further primary legislation, comparable to that already in existence in relation to other professions, is intended to follow. Much discussion is inevitable before even the first set of regulations on constitution are framed as this is a very large profession. Issues relating to the magnitude of the initial financial subvention from government to enable the two councils to be established, but also relating to the annual registration fee, remain to be resolved.
Perhaps my principal concern, on which I hope the noble Baroness can reassure me, relates to the massive powers vested in the Secretary of State. It is vital that the powers of such regulatory bodies should never be subject to modification by political whim when governments change.
Perhaps I may now turn to issues of higher and further education, with again an expression of general welcome coupled with anxiety over points of detail. In an ideal world, if government finance were infinite, I believe that all education, through primary, secondary, higher and further education as well as continuing education throughout life, should be free and provided from the public purse. This country has had a proud record of paying fees to higher education institutions from public funds and has also, for many years, provided generous maintenance grants to students from lower income families.
However, when the National Commission on Education examined unit costs in dollars per annum in higher education in several countries, the figures for 1988 were: France, 3,780; Germany, 5,085; the UK, 7,960; Japan, 2,504; USA, 4,301; and Sweden, 6,334. Only the Netherlands, at 9,542, was more generous than the UK, and the OECD average was 5,534. Analysis revealed that the large size of the UK subvention was largely the result of student maintenance grants and fees. After the most earnest and careful consideration, therefore, accepting that in the past few years we have seen a major expansion in higher education, with upwards of 30 per cent. of young people now participating, we reluctantly concluded that this country could no longer afford to maintain existing levels of fee payment and student maintenance support. We therefore proposed, and Dearing in a sense accepted, that each student should be required to pay a flat-rate contribution of £1,000 per annum towards university fees which must, we recommended, be credited to the funds of the individual universities, but that in addition maintenance grants should be slowly phased out and replaced by loans.
We also recommended that the contribution to fees should be included in such loans, but we were very unhappy with the existing loans system introduced by the previous government and, as I said in your 289 Lordships' House last week when debating the Education (Student Loans) Bill, it was our firm recommendation that, instead of repayments having to be made at regular intervals over five years, it would be much better if repayments could be made through the tax or national insurance system. We did not propose a life-time graduate tax on the Australian model, but suggested that once an individual's income after graduation had reached a certain threshold a surcharge should be applied through PAYE until the loan was paid off. However, there must be an agreement that the clock would stop if the individual's income fell below the threshold or he or she were temporarily unemployed, for whatever reason.
The previous government told us that the tax system was not intended for debt collection, and when I asked a supplementary question in your Lordships' House recently the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, gave me the same answer. Happily, the Government have had a sensible change of heart in that in Clause 16, as we have heard, provision is to be made for repayment through the PAYE system. May I ask the Minister to clarify what special arrangements are proposed to assist students from low-income families as well as those such as medical, dental and architectural students on five and six-year courses, who may face an intolerable burden of debt?
The proposal that the loan system should be extended into the further education sector is also welcome. It is an area of growing importance and effectiveness in training our workforce to meet the demands of a learning society. It is a sector in which fee payment has generally been the rule and upon which the country's future prosperity and economic viability depends.
I was also pleased to note that, as the national commission recommended, young people who enter employment after leaving school should be allowed time away from work, or in work, for further education in order to acquire the skills which today's employers increasingly demand. Through credit accumulation and transfer, they will be enabled to work towards the acquisition of one of the many higher qualifications through the NVQ system, but the interests of employers, and especially of small and medium-sized enterprises, must be protected.
To return to higher education, I must, like others, express my personal concern about Clause 18, which specifically precludes any higher or further education institution from charging what are colloquially referred to as "top-up fees". Such a blanket ban could have a potentially serious effect on the future of some of our most successful higher education institutions. Over the past 10 to 15 years we have seen a gradual erosion of the unit of resource in higher education, now in real terms reduced by about 40 per cent.; staff:student ratios have deteriorated; universities have had increasing difficulty in maintaining high quality teaching and, above all, research, and they have found it difficult to keep pace with industrial competitors overseas, particularly in science, because of their inability to replace ageing equipment or to buy new equipment at the cutting edge of technology. The UK has a proud record of inward investment in science because of the 290 perceived strength of the UK science base in our universities. We also have an outstanding reputation in medical research, a field in which today's development in basic laboratory science often brings tomorrow's practical development in patient care.
However, inquiries carried out by your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology have demonstrated that clinical academic medicine, upon which the future of such research crucially depends, is now in a parlous state with more than 50 clinical chairs vacant for lack of suitable applicants. Funding constraint is only one factor but, for a variety of reasons, clinical academics have found that the time available for teaching and research has been gravely eroded. The medical schools have found it exceptionally difficult to maintain a credible research identity, as witnessed by their relative lack of success, particularly in the undergraduate schools, in the last research assessment exercise.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, referred to the question of Oxbridge college fees. I was unfortunately unable to speak in the debate introduced recently in your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, as I was undertaking a professional commitment overseas. Having spent much of my professional life in clinical academic medicine in the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, I was then somewhat sceptical about the value of the Oxbridge college fee but, after moving to Oxford as Warden of Green College in 1983, I became progressively more convinced of its importance. There has been much loose press comment suggesting that Oxbridge fees cost £35 million. That is inaccurate, as the grants from the Higher Education Funding Council to Oxford and Cambridge are approximately 90 per cent. per capita of those to other universities which provide the sporting, cultural, catering and other facilities which in Oxbridge are provided by the colleges. Admittedly, if one adds the college fee, the figure approaches 110 per cent. Nevertheless, the actual additional cost of the fees is £17 million, not £35 million. Graduate colleges such as Green College, which have no access to the endowments of the richer colleges, would be damaged almost beyond survival if the college fee were withdrawn.
For very many reasons, UK universities are suffering financially, as are their seriously underpaid and undervalued teaching staff. If the Bill goes ahead, it is vital that some of the money saved by phasing out student maintenance grants, and certainly all of that resulting from the fee contribution, must be available to those higher education institutions if they are to preserve the intellectual achievements and research influence which have been so much a feature of British higher education. If restriction of public finance for higher and further education is to be the order of the day, it would be foolish—indeed, potentially devastating—to prevent universities by statute from ever, even as a last resort, charging additional fees which could themselves be covered by additional loans.
I must conclude with a personal and provisional apology. Since I became a Member of your Lordships' House eight years ago, I have been fully aware of the convention that if one puts down one's name to speak 291 in a debate one must stay throughout. I have always endeavoured to comply with that convention and I heard the statement from the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees last week on this very topic. My apology is provisional because I may be able to stay, but the other thing that I have learnt in eight years is that one is never able to predict with any degree of confidence when a debate will begin and, even less, when it is likely to end. I am faced late tonight with a train journey to Oxford and a 20-mile drive to my home in Burford. I must be in Oxford tomorrow to attend the funeral of Lord Dainton, representing the Cross-Bench Peers. Hence I trust that the House will, in these exceptional circumstances, accept my apology if I have to leave before the end of the debate. I believe that it would be unfortunate if one was compelled in such circumstances to withdraw one's name from the list of speakers, thus effectively being disenfranchised from speaking on topics of great importance.
§ 6.48 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
My Lords, I should like first to congratulate my noble friend Lady Rendell of Babergh on her superb maiden speech, which I hope made us all feel that we shall want to hear her again and again. I hope that the body is not in the Library—and that it is often here, and speaking.
I must declare an interest. Like the noble Earl, Lord Russell, I am a university teacher. Indeed, having entered primary school at the age of six, I have never left the education sector. I have never done a job outside it and my only job in this country has been at the London School of Economics. So, some of my remarks will come from the heart. It has been said that teaching is a noble profession. It must be, because it is so badly paid. If it were not a noble profession no one would want to enter it.
Much to the surprise of my noble friend on the Front Bench, I support the Bill. When I was a student in India there was no free higher education. It was a very poor country with very poor people but we all paid and went to college. There were lots of colleges, some good and some bad. These colleges had different fees. There was some element of subsidy but by and large it was not free. From India I went to the United States. I could not come here. Although in the halcyon days of 1961 the fees were low, there were no scholarships. Therefore, I went to the United States where I obtained a full scholarship. The United States also has a very diverse system with different fees. There is very little federal support of higher education but a good deal of access. Access in the United States has been much higher than in this country until very recently. Access has nothing to do with the level of fees; it is to do with the quality of secondary school education, access to capital markets, the ability to earn money and the ability of institutions to charge different fees. For example, one can have a Harvard that charges very high fees and there may be ordinary two-year colleges.
One of the great problems of the British higher education system in which I have toiled for 32 years is that it imposes excessive uniformity. Because of that 292 one must treat all universities as if they are the same. One then gets into funding problems because as universities come on stream one must pretend that they are alike and provide similar courses. Once one has a uniform system one must have inspecting bodies that tell one that courses must be alike if they are to get public money.
I very much enjoyed the radical speech of the noble Lord, Lord Annan. I wish that I lived in a world where he ruled. I served in a university while he ruled as Vice-Chancellor of London. His was a very good speech. What we have now is an anomalous state funding system that cannot deal with quantity. As it deals with quantity so it lets go of quality. Academic freedom in this country ended in about 1981. For the first 15 years of my life here as a teacher I did not have to worry about money in relation to my students, research and so on. In about 1980 or 1981 there was a drastic change in the funding of foreign students. The LSE suffered a 37 per cent. cut in total revenue. It had to go out and recruit. In answer to the rather teasing question posed by the noble Lord, we do not have endowments. We were not founded by Henry VIII. We have to get out there and make our living.
A good deal has been said about £4,000 being the average higher education fee and that students should be asked to pay one quarter of it. I do not believe that the cost of higher education is £4,000 but £8,000. That is what a foreign student pays. A non-EU student coming to a British university pays more than £8,000. Not all of them come from rich countries; many come from very poor countries. They subsidise the students from rich countries. Foreign students from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, India or wherever pay £8,500 to maintain free higher education in this country. Thank God I did not go to a British university, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said to me the other day.
I see equity in a much wider context than the narrow confines of 18 year-olds going into full time university education as the only people who are entitled to free higher education. Part-timers and mature students are not so entitled. Therefore, free higher education does not exist in this country. If one is to defend that freedom one must be quite clear as to how limited it is. It is almost a privilege that we are defending.
When I hear about welfare dependency it is interesting that it is always stoutly defended for the middle classes whereas for the poor it is always attacked. Mortgage interest relief and higher education are always defended. When it comes to higher education parents who send their children to private schools get on their hind legs and say that they cannot possibly be asked to pay it when they have just spent £15.000 sending their little brats to private schools. They say that they should be entitled to free higher education.
However, I do not believe that in an ideal world parents' income is a very good criterion to judge poverty or otherwise. Students should pay against their future income. In terms of future income, there are many fewer inequalities of students in terms of parents' income than would be the case in an ideal world. But we do not live in an ideal world. Since 1988 the nominal value of a 293 unit of resource—I speak only of "nominal" because when we get down to real people we begin to play games with statistics, and I can play that game too—has gone down from £7,000 to £4,000 per student. That is a big resource gap. That gap will not be closed in a short time. Therefore, the Government are to be congratulated on having tackled the first part of the problem. We are on our way back by having agreed that some people at some time should pay for some part of their education—a quarter of the unit of resource, which is one eighth of what it really costs to give quality education to students.
As many noble Lords have said, one welcomes the fact that there is now a proper system of collecting repayments. The Inland Revenue will collect them. I have been in favour of tuition fees since about 1987, if not for ever. In 1987 my colleagues at the London School of Economics, Dr. Barr, Mr. Crawford and Mr. Barnes, published studies which showed that one could finance higher education by an income-contingent loan system which, unlike a mortgage, could be financed by 1p in the pound on the National Insurance contribution. Over a cohort of students, not individually, the debt would be paid back. But that is much too complex economics to convince the Treasury. The Treasury will have to he educated again and again that cash flow is different from income, but at least a beginning has been made. Having got this far in a very nice way, one should concentrate on discussing the principles of classification of income from loans that the Government will receive. One hears the complicated stories about the way in which the Government will account for the income from higher education. The Education and Employment Committee of another place in its third report has considered this issue. That committee explored the idea that to reclassify the income from loans and taking it off the Government's accounts in such a way that it does not go into the PSBR will somehow release resources. There is here a paradox. A grant-maintained school can borrow against its assets and spend the money but it does not go into the PSBR. A university is not a public body. If a university goes bankrupt the Secretary of State for Education does not have the responsibility to bail it out. He may or may not do it, but he does not have that statutory responsibility, unlike the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Health in relation to a health trust.
Although we are not considered to be part of the public sector we are still bound by rules which apply to public sector borrowing. That is an anomaly. If these loans were given by universities as private bodies—if universities had an arrangement with the banks to give loans—and they could recover those loans somehow through the Inland Revenue system, the monies would come back to the universities and we would not have all this palaver of the Treasury telling them that they cannot do this or that.
The treatment of higher education loans presents a problem. Should they be treated as capital spending? If they are treated as capital spending one can borrow against them, according to the economic golden rule which was rightly adopted by my right honourable 294 friend the Chancellor. According to the golden rule, one can have capital spending. After the Bill we shall need to think about the treatment of higher education loans.
We have reached a stage, but there are further stages ahead. We should not stop here, because the tremendous resource deficit which has built up over the past 10 years cannot be eliminated in one bite. We shall have to explore other avenues of increasing contributions from the students, or the Government, towards higher education. The Dearing Report suggests that the matter be revisited after five years. That suggestion should be taken seriously by my noble friend the Minister. In 2002 we should have another hard look at how far we have improved the funding of higher education. Of course, if the funding improves before then, I shall welcome that. The Bill is a good and sensible first step. There is still some distance to go, but I welcome the Bill immensely.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, I shall begin by underlining the worry about the Bill expressed by other noble Lords. It is that so much of the detail will be known only when the regulations are seen. At the moment we are faced with generalities. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, was kind when he talked about a skeleton. The Bill reminds me more of one of the photographs one sees of an archaeological discovery, where the skeletons of those who once existed are visible only as shadows in the sand. In the Bill we are dealing with shadows in the sand. We do not know whether they are sinister or beneficent.
So many powers are reserved in the Bill to the Secretary of State that, in contrast, the dictatorial Statute of Proclamations of Henry VIII looks almost like an amateur effort at control. However. let us cast the runes and look in the sand to see what we can dig out.
I agree that, in principle, the general teaching council can be welcomed. It is good that the teaching profession should have a body designed to foster and develop the highest professional standards. Here again, the devil is in the detail. Whether the council is successful will depend upon its membership and powers. Unless the Minister wants to face a horde of amendments—I endorse the comments of my noble friend Lord Baker—we should see more detail.
As a former teacher for 34 years, let me say what a teacher will face with such a council. A wide range of views exists within the teaching profession as to what constitutes the highest standard. In that, the teaching profession differs from medicine and the law. Noble Lords will be aware that at present there are disputes as to the best way to teach reading. There are arguments as to the value of whole-class teaching—whether to teach in groups. My daughter who has begun teaching faces that problem at the moment. My own subject, history, was beset by controversy during the 30-odd years that I taught it. The battles I describe are as nothing compared to the battles I experienced. We teachers are, I fear, members of a fragmented and at times disputatious profession. So the powers, membership and style of the new council will have to be handled with care.
295 Although we can give a general welcome to the Bill. the fact that it contains no detail is a flaw. I cannot join noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches and say that it is marvellous just because it is called a general teaching council.
The same vagueness is apparent in Clause 12 which sets out the plan for a professional qualification for head teachers. That is a good idea. But whether the qualification will be good or bad will depend upon how it is arranged. A head teacher's role is diverse. I survived as a head teacher for 17 years, possibly more by good luck than good management.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I still find it hard to say what factors secured my survival. If the Minister were to ask me to prepare a paper on what would make a successful head teacher, I should reply by asking her to prepare a paper on what makes a successful politician, because they have something of the same characteristics. The council could, if mishandled, become a burdensome and not very useful exercise.
We live in an age that believes in techniques, more than previous ages have done. The shelves of bookshops are full of books that tell you how you can be transformed. I saw one the other day. It said that if one read that book one could become a leader of men. I have not yet read it, but one will see the effect as time goes on. If we are to make the ideal head teacher, the detail must be apparent to the House before we give the proposal a general welcome. Otherwise, it will just become another load on teachers.
We shall want to look closely at the structure. We need to know how much time will be provided for teachers who wish to take the qualification; whether it will be compulsory; who will pay; who will select; and whether local authorities are to be pre-judgers of the head teachers. Many successful head teachers whom I have known had little experience before they started, but once they had the job they proved that there were geniuses at it.
We all welcome a period of induction, but we would want to ensure that it was monitored properly. I should like to know from the Minister how she regards the present training-in-schools scheme where people are trained on the job and how that will relate to the period of induction.
I turn now to the delicate area of finance. We know that the Government intend to charge a tuition fee of £1,000, with means testing for poorer students, and replace the existing maintenance grant with a loan. The general feeling in some parts of the House seems to be that that will not be too much of a burden. Although it may be a narrow concern. I still worry, as I have said previously, about the position of a graduate. He or she may be the child of poor parents who do not own their own home and perhaps live in a council house. That graduate might decide to work in a primary school. Such graduates are valuable citizens. We want to encourage 296 them to go into primary schools, so we must make it possible for them to do so. The graduate would earn about £16,000 a year when he or she started teaching. I accept that a repayment of between £30 and £40 a month—I believe that is what the means testing would lead to—is not, on the surface, arduous. That repayment takes place over a long period through the tax system.
I got in touch confidentially with three banks. I put to them the position of such a person. I asked whether they would be able to give that person, who would have a debt of £12,000, a mortgage. I enter a warning about that debt of £12,000. Noble Lords will be aware that when one lives away from home one often has to hold the flat in which one lives, albeit one shares it with others, for a whole year. People are often ruthless over the rents they charge students. My daughter was at Manchester. If she had had to pay for everything, she would have emerged with a debt larger than £12,000.
The banks pointed out that with such a loan it would be very hard for a person to get a mortgage. The result is that a teacher earning £16,000 a year and living in London would have little prospect of owning his own property. If he married a graduate his position would be worse. Therefore, thought must be given to the fact that such a debt might discourage poor families from encouraging their children to go to university. The noble Lord, Lord Plant, underestimated the enormous fear of debt which exists among poor families. My family—and I agree that it was many years ago—would never have let me get into such a position. In many areas of the country, the thought of debt is horrifying.
I wish that the Government had kept to the suggestions in the Dearing Report, and we shall be proposing amendments to that effect. That would have satisfied most of the need and would have left the person in my example with a much smaller debt.
We welcome the inspection of teacher training and would wish it to begin as soon as possible. Above all, we want absolute assurances that the money gained by these new measures will go straight into the institutions of education. It would be a disaster if it became the subject of the annual row with the Treasury. Nothing would be gained. We must remember that as a result of the abolition of maintenance grants about £1.5 billion is in circulation.
The Minister has given assurances which I respect, but I hope that she will say more precisely that the Treasury has stated that the money will go straight to the institutions of education and will not be diverted to other government needs. If not, I can assure your Lordships that the money will vanish elsewhere.
I said at the beginning of my speech that to a large extent the Bill is unsatisfactory merely because of its vagueness, and I illustrated some examples. Unless we are to sit in this House until three o'clock in the morning dealing with a multitude of amendments which try to put flesh on the skeleton, I urge the Minister to do so or to give us an analysis of the archaeology.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Lord Quirk
My Lords, teachers have taken a lot of stick over the past decade, and if the shortcomings of a 297 few have caused the many to feel undervalued, anything that will help this vast majority of teachers to hold their heads high and assert their professional pride is greatly to be welcomed. So, as many noble Lords have said, it is good that, just as doctors have their General Medical Council, there should be at last a general teaching council.
I welcome also a second major provision in the Bill, strongly endorsing the role of Ofsted, a body which has also come in for its share of stick but which has fully earned the confidence of the present Government as it did of the last. But much clarification is needed of the functions of the GTC and Ofsted as they are set forth in the Bill. The GTC is to advise on standards of teaching and teacher training, but so must Ofsted—along with the DfEE's own new instruments, the Standards Task Force and the Standards and Effectiveness Unit. We need assurance that lines of responsibility will be clear and that these various bodies will not get in each other's hair.
The GTC is to advise on teacher training—but again so is Ofsted and of course there is the Teacher Training Agency, not mentioned in the Bill but it is known that Mr. Blunkett has sent a lengthy letter within recent weeks reaffirming the TTA'scentral role … to draw up and implement effective policies across all aspects of teacher recruitment, teacher training, and teaching standards".Again, we need assurance that all this has been thought through and that there is no danger of crossed wires.
So—subject to a lot of clarification—Part I of the Bill consists of provisions which I very much welcome. Part II is something else, and I am plainly not alone in so thinking. I note that the Minister said that the Government will be introducing amendments around Clauses 17 and 18 and we look forward to going into those matters in greater detail at the Committee stage. But I for one shall need to hear better arguments than have been advanced so far for levying a flat tuition fee but prohibiting top-up fees. And I look for clarification on the matter of extra fees already charged—for field trips, modern language study abroad, and the like. It is some relief that the new fee is to be demitted in respect of certain professional degrees such as nursing and that the PGCE will also escape. But why stop there? We are desperately short of good recruits for main-stream teaching degrees. We are also short of secondary teachers in several subject areas such as maths and modern languages. Why not use the new tuition fee as a device to influence student choice of degree? For example, if graduates in maths or modern languages are not as plentiful as graduates in, say, media studies, why not for some years exempt maths and modern languages from all or part of the £1,000 fee?
One might object of course that not all graduates in maths and German go on to become school teachers. But many do, and if the TTA's campaigns and the GTC's recruitment role are successful, many more must. Indeed, it is to be hoped that the GTC will speedily and profoundly influence universities to work more closely with the profession that so many of their graduates will join.
298 A couple of years ago, Patricia Spacks. president of the Modern Language Association, told American universities that they must accept,responsibility for what happens in earlier years of education",and she added:The current attempt to articulate national standards … for secondary schools dramatises the consequences of the vagueness and multiplicity that currently mark higher education".Perish the thought that any such remarks could be directed at British universities—though they are not all that far from the thought expressed last week by Mary Lord, policy head of the Training and Enterprise Council. She insists that our universities should,build work-related learning into every undergraduate curriculum".This may strike professors of classics or philosophy as a tad extreme, but we must not forget that university dons have always been concerned with the future career of their students. Straightforward, of course, with medicine and law, but less so with science and arts, where professors (and I speak in confessional mode) have perhaps concentrated on their students' potential in research rather than on their future needs in other careers, especially school teaching. Today, with a participation rate set to rise towards 40 per cent. and with a hundred universities, formally undifferentiated and with many if not most strenuously insisting on such a seamless HE raiment, we are plainly into mass higher education and all that this entails.
Of course, it must continue to be from our BAs and BScs that future FBAs and FRSs will be elected and blue skies research pursued successfully. But far more of our graduates will become school teachers and it is in the interests of us all that this should be so and that this future career pattern be very much in the mind of those guiding their steps as undergraduates.
It makes sense therefore that those responsible for designing BA and BSc curricula and those responsible for monitoring quality in undergraduate teaching should seek liaison with Ofsted, with the new GTC, and perhaps in due course with the proposed institute for teaching and learning so that those graduates who choose to enter teaching can go on to their professional courses confidently equipped with the subject knowledge and skills that they will need.
I end by restating the points on which I hope the Minister will in due course respond. They concern clarifying the role of the GTC in relation to existing bodies; the justification for a flat tuition fee but no top-up fees; the question of minor fees for field study and the like; and the reduction of or exemption from the flat tuition fee in strategic relation to national need.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, I shall say a few words about the general teaching council proposals, the proposed induction period and the general effect of Clauses 16 to 22 on universities and their students.
As the Minister and other noble Lords have said, a general teaching council for England and Wales has been talked about for some time. Teachers were delighted when they realised that it was in the Labour Party manifesto and now here it is in this Bill.
299 The question that Parliament must now ask itself is that which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked; namely, whether this general teaching council, as proposed, will have the effect intended? Are we sure it will be a council worth having? Will it be worth the teachers' subscriptions, the effort of elections, the time spent away from classrooms and the public money required initially to set it up? The noble Lord, Lord Plant, thought that it would be worth it.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tope. What the Bill proposes is no more than a creature of the Secretary of State: it is an advisory body advising on a wide front; a body which keeps a register but which does not determine who is eligible to be on the register and does not decide who is to be removed from it.
In a helpful brief from the Local Government Association. it quotes the Minister for School Standards as saying that the general teaching council is intended,to restore the morale of teachers who for too long have had too little say in determining the shape and future of their profession".The association expressed the view—and again, it is a view echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Tope—that if the general teaching council is to have success in that role, it will need to be trusted and given real powers over the register, over standards of professional conduct and have responsibility for the professional framework.
The noble Lord, Lord Walton, made a plea for a body answerable to the Privy Council, more like those bodies in the medical profession. The right reverend Prelate toyed with that idea too. I believe that such autonomy is desirable but may be some way off for teachers. Yet surely if the Government's immediate aim is to be realised, teachers should at least be given responsibility now of the kind that they have had for a long time in Scotland. Since 1966, the GTC in Scotland, with a large majority of teacher members elected by teachers, has had strong executive powers. For example, it decides who is to be on the register. It must be emphasised that no-one can teach at all in a state school in Scotland unless he or she is registered. It decides who is registered as a probationer; who is to be removed from the register for reasons of incompetence, health, misbehaviour and so on; and it operates a statutory appeals system.
I am sorry that neither the Minister of State nor the Scottish Office Minister are able to be here at this moment. They must eat, as we all must. But when the Minister winds up, he will perhaps be able to say why the Government are not proposing at least that level of autonomy for this GTC. Are they perhaps afraid that teachers would not rise adequately to the occasion; that they would not find themselves able to be sufficiently detached about registration, tough enough about discipline, competence and removal from the register? If those are the department's fears, I suggest they should look more carefully than perhaps they already have to the north of the United Kingdom. Scottish education has its problems, none of us denies that, but the General Teaching Council there appears to work smoothly. These days, teacher politics come into it during the electoral process, but thereafter the elected teacher 300 members operate in a properly professional way. They are detached and tough in their decision-making. Interestingly, I have found from the teachers to whom I have talked recently that it is the registration and disciplinary work done on their behalf that those teachers know most about and value most.
If the Government have it in mind to test out the profession south of the Border by first creating an advisory body and if that works, adding executive powers later, I suggest that they are going about it in the most alarming way. To add powers, even such as exist in Scotland. to decide literally who can teach children and who cannot, by means of a statutory instrument—and if I read Clauses 5 and 25 correctly, worse still, under the negative resolution procedure—is downright dangerous. Surely there would need to be careful discussion, made possible only by the introduction of further primary legislation, before such draconian powers are transferred.
But I ask the Government why they do not send a more encouraging message now. Why do they not trust English and Welsh teachers as those in Scotland are trusted? Why do they not give them the responsibility right away? It will be extremely interesting to hear anything from the Minister about that. We shall certainly pursue that matter in Committee.
On the proposal in Clause 13 for an induction year, I simply ask whether one year is enough. In Scotland the probation period has long been two years and compulsory, with reports at the end of each year. Perhaps in Committee we should make some comparisons between that system and the proposed system.
Much has been said about the clauses relating to universities and there will be much more to examine in Committee. I simply say now that the great worries expressed to me are that, contrary to what the Minister said about fair funding for students—she said that right at the beginning of her speech—it seems to me and many other people that there is enormous unfairness built into the student funding proposals, and with the loan repayment arrangements not on the face of the Bill, there is doubt too.
With the removal of maintenance grants, a decision flying in the face of all the work of the Dearing Committee, there is a clear intention to influence students to attend university from home. That will diminish choice and opportunity for many students and it will greatly damage the quality of what is on offer at a number of our most successful universities where a mix of students' home addresses is so important to the educational experience.
Students' reaction to these matters are interestingly set out in a survey of 500 students carried out by the Edinburgh University Students' Association in October. At that time, 38.5 per cent. of the sample taken across the UK felt that, under the Government scheme, they would be less likely to, or would not, enter into higher education; 45 per cent. of Scottish students and 40 per cent. of other UK students felt that the proposals would discourage them from studying for an honours degree in Scotland. The figures for applications for this 301 year will be known next week. As my noble friend Lady Young said, the rumours are rife but perhaps we should leave discussion of those figures until the Committee stage.
Clauses 18 and 22, which would prevent universities charging extra for home and European Union students on pain of having taxpayers' funding removed, even if the university could find ways which would not inhibit access, seem to be likely to be extremely counter productive. I shall read with interest what the Minister said in her opening speech and also what the noble Lord will say in reply. I wonder whether the Government realise just how much university behaviour has changed during the past few years and how much the quality of their offerings is now dependent on their considerable and developing entrepreneurial skills—skills devoted not to limiting access but to widening it. However, we shall pursue that matter in Committee. I believe that this rather strange reversion to Soviet socialist thinking that the Government have produced will be very bad for students. I hope that they will think again. I much look forward to participating in further stages of the Bill.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Lord Davies of Oldham
My Lords, for the first time in a career at Westminster which goes back to 1974, I find myself declaring an interest. I do so somewhat prematurely because it is not until 1st January that I will take up the chairmanship of the Further Education Funding Council. It is clear, therefore, that my remarks this evening will reflect an element of that interest and, more particularly, the feeling I have had over many years that we underestimate the significance of further education when we consider the other crucial areas of education—schools and higher education.
We should recognise, even with this Bill in which clearly the major issues of controversy revolve around student finance in Part II, that Part III can only be delivered to an extent by the contribution of further education colleges. Of course, some employers will fulfil their obligation of adequate training for their 16 and 17 year-old employees; indeed, many do so. But this important part of the Bill, which gives expression to the concept of life-long learning for everyone and which recognises that skill levels for everyone in our society are absolutely essential in the world of employment of the future, requires us to make proficient both 16 and 17 year-olds. Many of them at present—about 30 per cent.—leave education and receive no training at all and will, under the terms of the Bill, be able to place an obligation on their employer to get the necessary skill levels either provided at the place of work or elsewhere. Of course, that "elsewhere" will frequently be at a college.
I am grateful for the fact that other speakers in the debate have mentioned aspects of further education against a background where, quite clearly, the real issues of controversy are those involving higher education. Let us be quite clear about the position with regard to higher education support. As was made clear earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, the original concept of student support which was largely unique to this country was brought about in 1959 by the Anderson Committee. In 302 fact, it was the most lavish form of individual support for students anywhere in the developed world. But that structure was bound to come under strain when we moved from a position of a relatively small percentage of the population enjoying higher education to the position today where we have 30 per cent. with a cap because, without that cap, people knocking at the doors would seek to get access now. The Government have responded by saying quite clearly that they intend to remove the cap to encourage increased opportunity in higher education.
However, the Government have not made such a commitment without willing the resources which higher education will need to sustain quality. That is why the Dearing Report was full of urgent requirements upon government. That is why there has been such a rush. Criticism has been voiced this evening that the Government have somewhat rushed their fences as regards their proposals on student support. The simple fact is that higher education institutions could not wait. The result of the budgetary settlements we have at present, and the promise contained in Part II as regards the new financial arrangements for students in higher education, is that some resources have been made available immediately to higher education and some also to further education against a background of most parlous need.
Therefore, in my view, the Government are to be congratulated on the proposals. We should recognise that the controversial issue of the cap upon tuition fees is part of the bargain. I listened carefully to the argument presented by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in which he said that no one in the university world wanted to produce top-up fees "but don't take away from us the bargaining weapon with the Treasury whereby we might threaten to do so." I do not believe that that argument can be sustained. The issue of higher education was serious and the situation had become so parlous that, unless the Government found resources from elsewhere and made new arrangements with regard to students, higher education institutions felt that they would be obliged to introduce top-up fees. I do not regard that as an idle threat. I do not know whether the Government do; or, indeed, whether anyone should do so. It is but a presentation by higher education of what it thought the state of play was at that time.
However, the bargain strikes both ways. If the Government grasp the nettle, the very unpleasant nettle of introducing a fresh arrangement for student support and maintenance, and if they propose to introduce the tuition fee—not desirable developments as I am sure all of us would admit, but necessary—then they would have the right to turn to higher education and say, "Of course, we will also safeguard the validity of that tuition fee and the bargain with students entering higher education that institutions cannot rack up that tuition fee beyond the £1,000 which has been established." That is the necessary part of the bargain to release resources into higher education. It formed part of the negotiations with the CVCP and other sectors of higher education and it was proposed to the previous government. This Government have learnt lessons from that. It is the necessary framework within which we go forward.
303 But we do so against a background where none of us is comfortable with the difficulty of presenting the new arrangements to prospective students. I cannot pretend that I know families from modest backgrounds who regard with equanimity incurring these costs of higher education. However, the biggest single constraint on people from modest backgrounds entering higher education is to limit the places as they will be outbid by others. There is also the problem of hardship for students from modest backgrounds while they are at university. The National Union of Students has accurately stated that the previous arrangements of maintenance grants and loans were not sufficient adequately to sustain students in higher education.
We shall not solve that problem overnight but it should be recognised that when the new arrangements are in place students will be several hundred pounds better off than they are now. The payback period will not comprise the short-term mortgage which students clearly rejected. After all, only 60 per cent. of students have availed themselves of the short-term mortgage loan. That has been rejected by students. In its place the Government are proposing a long-term repayment scheme which is income contingent and which will be collected through the Inland Revenue. That is a settlement which guarantees resources for higher education and at the same time enables us to expand higher education, to increase opportunity and to preserve and maintain quality in higher education. In my view the Government are to be congratulated on having grasped those difficult issues and on having tackled them within the framework of this Bill.
The part of the Bill which has so far commanded more general support from this House concerns the general teaching council. I have no doubt at all that in Committee we shall have to focus more clearly on the role which the general teaching council is to play. Some have said this evening that the concept was mooted five or 10 years ago. I certainly know people who have worked hard on the concept over the past decade. When I was a teacher in a secondary school more than 30 years ago I recall debate on the necessity of establishing a general professional body to put the teaching profession foursquare with other professions. The fact that such a council has not been established is, I believe, one of the contributory factors of the general malaise in teaching. We all recognise that we now face a crisis in education which will require drastic action on the part of government to remedy. I refer not just to this Bill but also to the schools Bill which we shall discuss later in the Session when it arrives in this House.
I recognise that the Committee stage of this Bill will probably be long, arduous, detailed and full. I urge the House to recognise the merits of the Bill. It creates a framework which enables us to look forward to adequate resources for further and higher education. The Bill provides the opportunity for this country to move into the next millennium on the basis of the concept of lifelong learning. We all know that that is the essential concept for our future society.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, when one has sat through 15 speeches one becomes increasingly worried as to whether one will have anything new to say. I am happy to be able to assure your Lordships that nothing I say has been said in the previous speeches, with all of which, to some extent, I disagree.
The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, reminded us, by referring to his sad engagement tomorrow, of the loss that we have sustained in the death of Lord Dainton whose contribution to a debate of this kind would have been invaluable. In a sympathetic obituary in a newspaper the writer stated that Lord Dainton disagreed with me when I claimed that the state was always a bad paymaster for higher education. The author did not, however, make the point that our argument took place in the 1960s when Lord Dainton was confident that in the University Grants Committee of that day an unbreakable barrier had been erected between the power of the state and the functioning of individual universities. In later years, as noble Lords will remember, Lord Dainton's approach became a very different one.
It seems to me that we have to look at the problem at a rather different level than has so far been attempted. That is to say that what we face is a system—this has, of course, been referred to—which was designed (and worked fairly satisfactorily) for a relatively small sector of higher education which has been adapted quite suddenly, over a decade or even less, to a mass education system without proper regard to the financial and other consequences. The danger of simply letting that go has resulted in the possibility, which I think is inherent in this Bill, of some simply saying, "We shall be like some of our continental neighbours". We shall have a system in which the unit of resource is tiny, where students rarely see their professors let alone are taught by them, as is the case in Italy, in parts of Germany and, to a large extent, in France. These countries have, of course, tackled that problem in various ways: the French by exempting from the constraints of expenditure the grandes écoles; the Italians, where they can afford it, by sending their offspring to study abroad; and the Germans increasingly by founding independent universities outside the state system. Naturally, with my background, I regard that as a rather desirable event.
I suggest—I have suggested this in this House before—that the model we should look at and the area we should study is not continental Europe but the United States of America. In the United States you have both a mass system of higher education—and in some states an even higher participation than is planned for this country—and institutions of world class with which, as the noble Lord, Lord Walton, says, we have to compete if we are to retain in this country a science base, or even a scholarship base. Otherwise the advantages the system can offer, both materially and perhaps in atmosphere, will be too much for us.
We have to ask how the system works in the United States. First, it is a system of infinite variety. There have been many professions by Ministers and their 305 spokesmen that they believe in a variety of institutions of higher education. But nothing in the Bill or in other policies suggests that that is a genuine belief. Secondly—it is a point of equal importance—there is a three-fold system of funding: from the public purse by the states themselves, in many cases the creators of some of the institutions or systems; from the federal government with a variety of objectives; and from the students or their families. It is difficult to appreciate the fact that in total it means that in the United States a great deal more money is being spent on higher education, even allowing for the greater population and wealth of that country than we are contemplating, and that families and students are prepared to accept the fact that it is fair to demand from them some of the input which will result in social or economic promotion. It cannot be argued seriously that those practices are a harrier to access. Although there are problems in some areas with particular ethnic minorities, access is widespread in most American states. That access extends, for the brightest students, to the great prestigious universities
How is it done? To put it bluntly, the institutions charge the wealthier students what the market will bear and from what they receive they syphon off money to enable people who cannot pay the fees to attend the institutions free. Various universities have devices to do that. We need not go into them now. It is an accepted principle. Even given our different circumstances, I believe that that is the kind of system which we should be considering.
I do not often agree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, but on this occasion I do. The middle classes—if one puts it that way—will have to accept that free higher education can no longer be a perk. It is also true, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai pointed out, that simply to mulct overseas students in order to provide education for UK students is to some extent morally undesirable.
For that reason I would not support the idea of a government £1,000. For one thing, I do not trust the Treasury. From the record of central government, I see no reason to believe that you can bind the supreme financial authority. Unless the money was handed over in cash to the institution on the day that the student arrived, I would think that it was not a good way to proceed. I much prefer the alternative. Let us stop all this talk about top-up fees. No one talks about top-up fees at Harvard, Yale or Princeton. Where they can and should, institutions will charge fees appropriate to the quality of the education they are offering and with regard to the capacity of students to pay. That would eliminate the Treasury. It would mean that different students from different backgrounds would no doubt wish to raise loans. At least there is now the possibility of a loans system which would be repayable through a simple mechanism. But we could discard all the talk about what happens to the £1,000.
Therefore, it seems to me that by prohibiting universities from charging fees, Clause 18 of the Bill is going in exactly the wrong direction. The institutions should be encouraged to do that. They should be encouraged to find out in this way how much more this 306 country as a whole is prepared to pay for its status in higher education. It would also correspond with what I think was mentioned by one previous speaker: that in the scientific field in particular universities are becoming increasingly entrepreneurial. If Cambridge is now made a major centre of research in computers, why should Cambridge University not charge fees to people who will benefit from that important investment?
We cannot have it both ways. If we choose to have a state system, we will have a system which continental experience shows us will be one of downgrading—uniformity without excellence. Alternatively, we can go the other way and aim for a system of variety financed in a multiplicity of ways in which the business of the Department for Education would simply be to reckon the proportion of the general funding for education it can extract from the Treasury and devote to higher education. Limit the Secretary of State, my Lords. Limit the funding councils. Let the universities fight for their freedom. If some of them fall by the wayside, so be it.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the debate in a clear and concise way. I wish to make an apology, to say a few brief remarks, and to highlight some aspects of the Bill. In doing so, I shall ask some questions.
First, I owe the Minister an apology for the reception I gave her Statement on the publication of the Dearing Report. In mitigation, I can only say that my heart ruled my head. I saw the Government's position then as selling the principle of free higher education. On mature consideration, I can now see that that pass was sold by the previous Conservative Government some time ago. I can see now that we cannot go back; we can only go forward from where we are.
I was one of the lucky ones who was given the opportunity of higher education in the white heat of Harold Wilson's technological revolution. All the education and training I received did not cost me a penny. Most of my peer group went on to highly paid jobs. That is not surprising when only 15 per cent. or thereabouts of young people 30 years ago had the benefit of higher education. I have never earned much more than the national average wage; but in my case, as with quite a number of people, my reward was in having interesting jobs and a sense of making a valuable contribution to society through voluntary work.
However, the situation is different now. Thirty per cent. of our young people are in higher education, and the aim is to increase that figure to 50 per cent. The implication of 50 per cent. of people being highly paid is that the rest of the population would have to be in poverty. We have to lower our expectations in terms of financial rewards for graduates and find ways of relieving the burden of cost to students in higher education.
Another difficulty facing us is the lack of relevance to industry and commerce of higher education. Too many people believe that it is merely a middle-class finishing school and has very little relevance to the world of work. In some cases it has the wrong relevance, as 307 witnessed in the career progression of Oxbridge graduates compared with better qualified graduates from other higher education institutions. It is worth remembering that the engines of growth of the Industrial Revolution were the mechanics institutes and not the universities of the day.
I wish to comment on certain aspects of the Bill. I welcome the proposed establishment of the general teaching council, and in particular hope that it will lead to the recognition by society of the value and importance of teachers, in the way that the General Medical Council has helped to enhance the reputation of the medical profession.
My query is: why should there be a general teaching council for Scotland, one for Wales, one for England and presumably, eventually, one for each of the English regions when they have their own regional government? In this connection, what is the situation in Germany and France? Do those countries have one or many bodies governing their teaching professions? Further, what are the implications for pan-European recognition of professional teaching qualifications?
Chapter II introduces the requirement for new head teachers to have a professional headship qualification, and I welcome that. However, given the worries that many people had that under the previous government's LMS schemes we risked having school managers rather than head teachers, I hope that we may either receive very strong assurances or have it written on the face of the Bill that a head teacher should be at least a qualified teacher.
Chapters I and II of Part II are the meat of the Bill. They give the Government powers to introduce higher education tuition fees and maintenance loans instead of grants. One of the reasons I support the Government's policy in this area is that we now have the example of the way in which nurses and professionals allied to medicine are to be treated. As I understand it, in their case tuition fees will be waived and they will in effect be paid a grant instead of having to borrow their maintenance costs. Student teachers will receive similar help. I commend those arrangements, and hope that similar schemes can be evolved with other employers in industry and commerce to ensure that business pays a fair share of the costs of educating and training the people that it needs to help make Britain great again.
I can see two advantages in those provisions: first, because students will not have to bear the costs of studying, they will not need to demand very high salaries in order to repay those costs; and secondly, they will provide an incentive for industry and commerce to ensure that the courses for which they will effectively be paying are relevant to the needs of their businesses.
My questions to the Government are these. Have discussions been started with industry and commerce—for example, with the CBI and other industrial organisations—to set up these arrangements? Has the Treasury been consulted in order to ensure that there are no problems with the tax authorities that may create disincentives to industry and commerce playing their part.
308 In relation to this part of the Bill there is another question that I must ask. It relates to students who are the sons and daughters of very rich parents. I accept that those students will have to pay the £1,000 annual tuition fee. But will they qualify for the approximately £3,500 a year income-contingent interest-free maintenance loan? To put it another way, shall we be paying rich students £2,500 per annum net, interest free, for them to invest and make money with?
If higher education graduates are to be paid higher salaries than their peers, why set the repayment threshold at half average earnings? Why not set the repayment threshold at at least average earnings. if not above, if they are to be earning higher sums of money?
Part III of the Bill introduces paid time off for young people to study or train. That is one of the most magnificent features of the Bill. It is marvellous. It offers a real engine for growth in modern apprenticeships to provide the skilled workforce that our country needs so desperately for the future.
I have one small query in regard to proposed new Section 63A(i)(c) of the Employment Rights Act, which implies that the provision will apply only if the young person has not achieved a certain level of education. My worry is that that might prove to be a bar on employment for young people who did not do very well at school, and that there will be an incentive for employers to make sure that their employees have the minimum qualification and therefore they will not need to give them time off for study. With that reservation, which may be discussed in Committee, I welcome Part III of the Bill.
The Bill contains some very useful provisions. It forms part of the Government's package of measures to ensure that education and training, particularly of young people, is there to enable them to play their full part in building a better society for all of us in the 21st century. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ 8.7 p.m.
§ The Earl of Limerick
My Lords, I believe that we generally agree that the Government deserve credit for biting some quite hard bullets in response to the dire picture of under-funding that was revealed in the Dearing Report, and many aspects of the Bill are to be welcomed. I hope that those words may be remembered when I make less obliging remarks about particulars in the Bill.
In entering this debate I declare two interests. First, for several years I have been chairman of the board of governors of London Guildhall University, formerly the City of London Polytechnic. Secondly, I am finishing a term as chairman of the Committee of University Chairmen, a position to which I was elected by my colleague chairmen three years ago.
I shall resist the temptation to range widely, as some speakers have done, and address the Bill that is before us. I shall confine my remarks to two substantial points arising from the Bill: the student fee, its collection and who ultimately benefits from it; and, secondly, the powers sought by the Secretary of State under Clause 18.
309 Universities are under-funded for their present purposes, let alone for the expansion in numbers sought by the Government. That is common ground. It was Sir Ron Dearing's clear and principal conclusion. I say nothing about Oxford and Cambridge, although I am an Oxford graduate. Plenty of others have done that recently. But I do speak with some passion about the likes of the former City Poly, which has the misfortune to he the worst endowed of the 100 universities in England and Wales. It has been a real struggle, against a background of cuts in course funding for universities of more than 40 per cent. in real terms over the past 20 years, the major impact falling over the past six years, and of further "efficiency gains" still being sought, albeit that Dearing's judgment was accepted that cuts exceeding 1 per cent. for the two coming years would he unsustainable.
I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Davies, properly conscious of his forthcoming responsibilities at the FEFC, recognise the urgency of the funding crisis. For years those responsible for the finances of HE and FE institutions waited for Dearing in the hope that he would produce from the hat some rabbit which the Government had not been able to discover or were not prepared to grasp. His main recommendations surprised very few.
The only sources of higher education funding are central government, local government and students and their families. It was made clear that nothing further could be expected from the first two, so Sir Ron Dearing turned to the third and proposed a student fee at the level of £1,000 a year. That is deemed equal to about 25 per cent. of tuition costs.
Patterns vary but in our case, if we can recover the indicated fees, it would initially add only £2 million a year, or 5 per cent., to our total funded income. On the other hand, we are faced with a complex and undoubtedly expensive bureaucracy for maintaining records and collecting money from students and local education authorities and predictably also for debt collection. We thus become unremunerated revenue collectors. The question is, for whose benefit?
If I heard her correctly, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said that for 1998-99 all income from fees will remain with the HE institutions. I was looking to her for confirmation, but I see that she is not in her place to give it. If that is the case, that assurance is welcome. But what of subsequent years, as fees build up over the three or four-year period?
Certain provisions in the Bill sit uneasily together. First, the Secretary of State is telling universities individually that they may not, without penalty, charge the students the fees which they might themselves wish to charge, the so-called top-up fees. Secondly, he is telling all universities that they not only may but must charge, and be responsible for collecting, the fee which is determined to be appropriate. However, unless universities can specifically be assured to the contrary, they will remain sceptical about the fact that they will continue in the long term to enjoy one penny piece of extra revenue in consequence of the cost and effort involved in collecting the fee. I follow the noble Lord, 310 Lord Plant, in that argument. In the absence of such assurance, universities with hard pressed budgets may prefer to be excused the onus of collecting the fee at all if it is to become simply an alternative source of taxation, as was foreseen by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Therein lies my own ambivalence on the issue of top-up fees.
Dearing's purpose was that student fees should add pro tanto to the income of the universities which educated them. This view was shared by those education Ministers of whose views I am aware. The reality is that the funding council allocation is made annually by the DfEE from within its own Treasury grant. There is nothing to say that Treasury Ministers, having discovered a new source of revenue, will allow the net benefit to remain with the DfEE. There is no hypothecation. The DfEE grant could simply be cut by a comparable amount and universities might end up as unremunerated tax collectors, to no benefit, getting the worst of all possible worlds.
Mr. Blunkett is to be applauded for his enthusiastic pursuit of Mr. Blair's priority of "education, education, education"; but other departmental Ministers also have priorities, such as the health service and social security, and the Treasury is the arbiter. Furthermore, even if my fears are unjustified and there is no cut in the DtEE allocation as a result of new fee income, it is generally understood that the needs of further education institutions are even more pressing than those of higher education. Might the fees payable to HE institutions be the source of some cross-subsidy?
Universities have welcomed the advent of student fees as representing the only foreseeable source of the extra revenue they so urgently need. If they are to be lumbered with the cost and bureaucracy of collecting the fees, they are surely entitled to an assurance that they will continue to secure full benefit from the amount collected. I shall listen with great interest to the Government's response on this point. I hope I shall be told that my suspicions are unworthy.
I turn now to Clause 18. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, conceded in her opening that this clause requires some restrictive amendment. It certainly does. Although somewhat disarmed, my feelings are sufficiently strong that I shall express them. I believe the blanket authority which the Secretary of State seeks to restrict funding without further reference to Parliament to be both excessive and unwarranted. I know that that opinion is shared by other university chairmen. Our concern is that, as it stands, Clause 18 could be selectively used to instruct funding councils to cease to provide money to particular universities, for particular courses or even for particular courses in particular universities, a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. This is not consistent either with academic freedom or with the need to encourage diversity. Of course, we are told that the power would not be so used, but the unacceptable fact is that it could be.
My understanding is that the principal concern of the Secretary of State is to enable him to prevent any institution which may choose to charge top-up fees to 311 its undesignated students continuing to receive support from public funds, at least to the extent of the top-up fees charged. I have no quarrel with that.
Not without some ambivalence, I am against top-up fees, believing, as the Secretary of State does, and as Sir Ron Dearing strongly urges, that universities should be adequately funded for their purpose from public funds, except to the extent in future that all of them will be in receipt of additional student fees for tuition. Mr. Blunkett is a man of principle, determination and honour. I have no doubt that he is entirely sincere in saying that he has no intention of abusing a power given by Parliament in any of the other selective and damaging ways that would be open to him. He might even go so far as to say that he would use that power only to negate the charging of top-up fees. If that is his purpose, it should be explicitly stated and the power which Parliament gives to him restricted accordingly. One does not deploy the heavy artillery to shoot a rabbit.
Such wide powers would raise a further, unintended danger; that is, the prospect that diversity and innovation would be inhibited. No one, even Sir Ron Dearing, can foresee, for example, how the electronic media may affect further and higher education in the future, but new approaches may well rely upon private funding. Universities will simply not risk their time, effort and money if they are liable to face appeals to the Secretary of State under Clause 18 or are forced to seek legal clearances, case by case, to their entitlement to each new funding prospect. The powers sought in the Bill risk freezing what needs to be a fluid and developing pattern. Furthermore, the mere existence of these powers threatens, and might even override, the statutory duty imposed upon funding councils by the 1992 Act to:have regard to the desirability of not discouraging any institution … from maintaining or developing its funding from other sources".Finally, there is the constitutional argument. Parliament has over the centuries been properly reluctant to give too wide an authority to any Secretary of State, and the powers sought by Mr. Blunkett in Clause 18 are unwarrantably wide. What is asked by the Executive exceeds both reason and need. That should be the answer of Parliament. It was the answer given when comparable powers were sought by a Conservative Secretary of State in the Further and Higher Education Bill in 1992. That attempt was rebuffed by Parliament and the message should be repeated.
I suggest that there is a way forward. Discussion ahead of Committee stage—the Minister has already hinted at this—should be able to identify amendments which would achieve the Secretary of State's principal object in relation to top-up fees without going unnecessarily wide. Any government spending £3.5 billion annually on higher education naturally need to ensure that it is properly spent for that purpose. But if matters of academic judgment of institutions or courses are involved, they should be made by funding councils, to whom a delegated authority in general terms has already been given and whose membership is chosen so that the councils are qualified to make such judgments. That would apply equally to a judgment of 312 which charges made to students against the cost of providing services are or are not deemed to be top-up fees—a question of detailed complexity.
Several of the purposes of this Bill are commendable. But it will only become a good Act of Parliament if its serious deficiencies are corrected.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws
My Lords though I congratulate the Government on this important piece of legislation, like the noble Lord, Lord Walton, I was a commissioner on the National Commission on Education and would like to endorse his support of the Bill which echoes a number of the recommendations of the commission's report. The creation of a general teaching council will do much to raise morale within the teaching profession and improve the status of teachers who felt profoundly undermined by the policies and negativity of the last Government.
I recently chaired a committee for a further education funding council on widening participation in education. Our report—Learning Works—deals with the ways in which many people fail to take part in the great journey that education offers. We welcome particularly the right of time off to study and train for 16 to 18 year-olds and I know that the further education sector will rise to the occasion in making that provision.
However, I rise to speak on the issue of student funding in higher education. I am one of the chancellors of a new university. I feel strongly that the media coverage which has attached to this issue has distorted the reasoning behind the reform. It has failed to give adequate coverage to the detail. Student numbers, as many people have said, have rocketed over the past few years in response to the last government's policy, and for that I give them credit. That expansion brought with it not only the need to meet institutional costs, but also the requirement to foot the bill for student support in terms of fees, maintenance grants and student loans.
The last government put forward no funding strategy to underpin the costs of expansion other than driving down unit costs. The effect upon universities has been devastating. Finances have been pared to the bone and it has had an enormously demoralising effect upon academics who feel that it is a devaluation of their vital role. Yet, as my noble friend said in introducing the Bill, our higher education system has been the jewel in our educational crown. If we wish to maintain high quality and a world class system, we must fund that system properly.
When the crisis in higher education developed, the last government's response was to cap the growth in higher education rather than take courage in their hands as this Government have done. The system of higher education created in the 1960s, of which I was a beneficiary like other noble Lords, is no longer working even for the poorest students. The value of the maintenance grant was at its peak when it was introduced in 1962–63. But at that time only one in 10 of our school pupils went to university; now one in three are entering higher education.
313 The value of the maintenance grant is now not enough for a student to live on. That has already been dealt with by other noble Lords and I do not intend to repeat it. Students are now extremely hard up. Even when they take out a loan, many have to work casually and arrive in lectures exhausted. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, many parents do not make up their children's grant to the statutory level and they are placed in genuine financial difficulty.
This Government recognise the crisis that exists in higher education; it is a crisis not only for student support, but also for the institutions seeking to deliver quality education. The loan system introduced by the last government created a frightening burden for many people. It was not income related. There was no "stop-the-clock" arrangement for women taking time off, for instance, to have children. The Government were therefore presented with a real problem with which to grapple; the problem of finding a better way of helping students and continuing to provide for expansion so that many more students come into higher education.
I find it alarming to hear a number of noble Lords in this House say that the cap should continue. Is it realised how many working class students are currently participating in higher education? Is it realised that the majority of students in higher education remain, as they always have been, children from the more privileged sections of our society? The numbers of children from lower social classes participating in higher education remains a scandal.
The majority of students to whom I spoke when I was chairing the committee on further and higher education for the national commission, who actually are in hardship, expressed the view that they would rather have a decent living now and the opportunity of repaying as long as the repayment could be over a period of time and was not at extortionate levels. They recognised—I ask that the opportunity be given for the National Union of Students to consider this more closely—that it may be in the interests of many students to have that sort of slow repayment system rather than the system which exists at the current levels.
What concerns those who are involved in institutions is not just the poverty of their students, but also the quality of what is being made available which is endangered by the inadequacy of funding. If we look at the expansion of the numbers, which must be welcomed in a society which is seeking to provide equity in education; if we welcome that expansion and see that many women now participate who did not previously; that we have many more mature students—40 per cent. of our students are now over 25; we must recognise that if we have that richness coming into our universities, they deserve the same high quality as those of us who have gone through the process ahead of them.
Places in higher education in the United Kingdom have always been occupied by a disproportionate number of people from families in the upper income bracket. Research shows that people from families in social classes 1 and 2 are currently four times more likely to apply to university than those in classes 3, 4 314 and 5. It is a pattern which has changed little since the war and certainly little since I came in—a child of the working classes.
The overall picture for social class is of a barely changing world. That means that the households in the top income bracket on average receive subsidies through higher education study away from home that are 10 times greater than households in the bottom income bracket. Despite the fact that the top income groups take less advantage of state schools, they are still substantially favoured overall by educational benefits. The highest education subsidies in this nation fall to the best off.
A new balance must be struck and that is what this Bill does. Contributions to fees should be made by those from better-off families. The £1,000 contribution is, in my view, at the right level. One-third of all students will pay no fees. The money brought into the system will benefit the institutions; it will benefit all students; and it will help to create access to higher education for many who are currently excluded.
I am committed to the widening of participation in education. Like my noble friend Lord Monkswell, I came to this issue with trepidation and concern because I was a beneficiary of the system which allowed for grants. Many people from working class families are fearful of higher education. Some place no value on higher education. Some just feel excluded from it. The feeling in some groups in our society is that higher education is not for the likes of them. That view is still firmly entrenched. We have to tackle it.
Concern that this change may create even more fear among poor families and poor applicants is real. I recognise it. Debt is frightening to working class people. The noble Lord, Lord Plant, is right to acknowledge that many more people nowadays see investment in education as an investment for the future. It is important that we spread the word on that. We have to work hard to try to create a wider invitation into education for poor applicants.
Squaring that circle is difficult. At the moment, those from less well off families are going into the new universities. They are going into universities which are on their own doorstep. Those universities are suffering most. The quality is threatened most there. Why should they be receiving something different from that which is received by other students? Money is needed to ensure that what they get is as good as that which anyone else gets.
When similar changes were introduced in Australia equity considerations were critical to the design of the new student fee and funding system. To ensure that access was not adversely affected and that there were no unintended consequences of the new scheme, the Australian Government committed themselves to regular monitoring. That regular monitoring has been carried out by an independent body. I recommend to the Government that they look at creating a regular monitoring body to ensure that those who traditionally have not participated have access.
315 Good advice and guidance for potential students and outreach projects must be at the heart of any programme of inclusion in education. I have understood from previous debates in the House that many universities are creating much better relations with schools. They are inviting teachers in. I hope that this will happen more in the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge where there is the intractable problem that for many students that world seems remote and uninviting. The invitation to working class children and young people to participate has to be of a different order from that which is made to those in the private sector.
In Australia the changes were closely monitored. What is interesting is that reports to date have concluded that the scheme has had little effect on the decisions of particular educationally disadvantaged groups to participate in higher education. That, at least, is some encouragement.
I am alarmed to hear so many people take issue with the Government for introducing Clause 18. If the Government are to prevent higher education remaining something which is only available to middle class families, the issue of top-up fees is one in which they must engage. It is clear that the effect of top-up fees would be to decrease access. I support the Government in maintaining Clause 18. It is a principled stance against top-up fees.
Under the Bill some sections of society will be called on to make a greater personal contribution to the cost of the system. But they do so in the interests of maintaining quality. They do so to allow for the continued expansion which is crucial if we want to see working class participation and if we want to see a regeneration of the nation. But it will also mean that we will provide incentives and encouragement because quality will be available at local level in universities to which working class people are more likely to go.
I congratulate the noble Baroness on her courage and her vision. I believe that in the Bill the head and the heart come together. It is an important and necessary reform. I am glad to see the Government engage with such a difficult issue.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, at this stage in the discussion of a Bill it would be easy to repeat what has been said before. I shall try to restrict my comments to the area of students with disability and summarise my attitude towards the rest of the Bill as briefly as possible.
A general teaching council is probably a good thing provided it is a watchdog for a profession that is somewhat grumpy, provided its teeth are in good order and provided it is territorial. If it becomes someone's pet, no matter how big it is—poodle or great dane—it will be useless. Correct training for head teachers should have happened a long time ago. If it is said that we managed to get good results in the past and therefore we do not need this in the future, we ignore the fact that very bad head teachers came through every now and then. We should take the provision on board.
316 I turn to Part II of the Bill. I have always thought the idea of taking time out of the working lives of 16 and 17 year-olds to be a good one. I have thought it was a good idea ever since I saw it in one of my party's policy documents. However, when it comes to the idea of fees being charged for higher education, I just cannot buy it. I have always thought that higher education should be free. That was my experience when I went through the tail-end of the golden age of financial support for students in the late 1980s. I feel that that should be allowed for other people. When it comes to other areas of student support, the Government may be starting from a dodgy platform. I feel that a little more courage and a greater will to resist the Treasury might solve the problem in another way.
I wish to concentrate on disabled students. The reason they should be given special consideration is simply that they need support and help. We are talking about groups of people with special problems. That has been accepted not only in terms of education but in terms of all other sections of society. Two important pieces of legislation are the Disability Discrimination Act and the code of practice under the Education Act 1994. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, should take a degree of credit for helping the code of practice come into being. Indeed, the whole House can, having given her the necessary support to bludgeon it past the then government.
We have accepted that, in terms of work and services, disabled people have particular problems. In education, too, there are problems which need specific help and support. In higher and further education we have already accepted that need. All I am seeking—I hope I am pushing at an open door—is confirmation from the Government on three issues. First, will the student disability allowance be extended to groups, as recommended by Dearing? Will it be extended to part-time students? Many people with disabilities find themselves doing part-time degrees for a variety of reasons. For example, they may have mobility problems or learning impairment difficulties. They will take a longer time to get through the courses. That is something that does occur. I believe that having an extension made will greatly assist them.
Secondly, will the disability allowance also be extended to postgraduates? If one is prepared to educate a person to the first degree stage, why not to the second? It is merely a continuation of the logic of the argument. Thirdly, if someone sustains a disability subsequent to obtaining a first degree—for example, a person loses his sight—will that person receive a disability allowance and extra funding to take on a second degree and further training? That is very much in the spirit of everything that has gone before.
As regards the repayment of debt and the repayment levels, I hope that the Government will give a full commitment that they are not prepared to take into account any allowances and benefits that are given when calculating repayments. There is also the question of extra expenditure if a person is wheelchair bound or incontinent and has to have extra clothing. Will that higher cost of living be taken into account? This attitude 317 towards disability will merely bring the higher education sector into line with everything else that has been done and which is increasingly being striven for.
I hope that the Government will be able to give favourable responses. If they cannot I can guarantee to the House that we shall he returning to these issues at all other stages of the Bill.
§ 8.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Perry of Southwark
My Lords, out of respect to the lateness of the hour and the fact that there are many noble Lords waiting to speak, I shall confine my own remarks to Part II of the Bill while giving a genuinely warm welcome to Parts I and III. The proposals there are imaginative and well directed. 1, for one, wish the Government very well with what they are doing.
The problem is Part II of the Bill, as many noble Lords have said. Like other noble Lords, I am confident that the Government's intentions are very good. They have recognised that there is a crisis both with student funding and with the funding of universities. They are trying to address those problems. The difficulty is that I do not believe that the provisions in the Bill as it stands succeed in either respect.
In recent years I have reluctantly come to the view that it is right that students should make a contribution to the costs of their own higher education because they benefit from it. It is for their own private good as well as the public good. I believe that the majority of students might have just accepted the £1,000 contribution either from their own or their parents' pockets or, for those students who are very poor, the state paying that sum. I believe students have come to accept that that is a necessary part of bringing more money into the provision of higher education for the very large number of people who now seek it. The trouble is, of course, that there is no guarantee that the money will go to the provision of their own higher education. Without that assurance I believe that we have the makings of a student rebellion on our hands of mammoth proportions.
If students are required to pay, as many will have to do, including those whose parents are on the cusp, so to speak, and can only just afford it, and they then discover that the money is not going to improve their own experience of higher education, it will be a very serious matter indeed. I, for one, would support the students' anger if such a thing were to come to pass.
That brings me to Clause 18 about which many noble Lords have spoken. I welcome very much the Minister's promise in her introduction that she intends to look again at the wording of the clause. I know that we all welcome that. My difficulty is that I believe the clause needs more than rewording: it needs to go entirely. I do not wish to be over-dramatic, but I believe that the Secretary of State is taking draconian powers. I am sure that the current Secretary of State has no intention of using the powers in anything but the most beneficent way. But that is not the point. Legislation stands on the books for others of more malevolent intentions.
Again, without wanting to be over-dramatic, I remind the House that the first acts of the Nazi government in Hitler's Germany were to take control of the 318 universities. The first act of the cultural revolution in China was to take control of the universities. Dictatorship always attacks freedom of thought which academics represent within society. We are providing a tool for those who would be the enemies of free thought if we allow Clause 18 to go through in its present form. So I ask the House to take a very stern view of the clause, recognising at the same time that the present Government have no wish to do any of these terrible things with it.
I come to a more parochial point about Clause 18. In this Second Reading debate it is important to write into the record the very particular concerns which my own university, the University of Cambridge, has, having taken legal advice, that the Bill is of a hybrid nature. Clause 18 enables the Secretary of State to impose a condition on his grant to the Higher Education Funding Council that the institutions receiving grants from the council shall secure that the fees payable to the institution are equal to the prescribed amount. The clause aggregates for that purpose the fees payable to the institution with those payable to connected institutions.
The provision uniquely discriminates against the University of Cambridge, about which I speak. I do not speak for the University of Oxford which, I am sure, will speak for itself. Several of the Cambridge colleges have both the power and the duty under their statutes to charge their students tuition fees, those charges being currently in excess of the sum which the Secretary of State has indicated will be prescribed under Clause 16 of the Bill. The colleges are legally independent from the university and Cambridge, unlike most other universities, is likely to find itself subject to a condition under Clause 18 with which it cannot comply and which puts at risk its whole grant from the Higher Education Funding Council.
The university appreciates that the Secretary of State has under consideration the future of college fees in consequence of Recommendation 74 of the Dearing Report. Both the university and the colleges wish very much to work with him in a way which will respect his need to control public expenditure and his intention that fees do not fall personally upon publicly funded undergraduates beyond the levels prescribed under Clause 16 as well as respecting their own proper constitutional relationship. They are concerned, however, with the present drafting of Clause 18, which is especially prejudicial to the University of Cambridge. I therefore seek an assurance from the Secretary of State that, in considering the general concerns expressed by the CVCP and by many of us in the House today, he will also look further at the clause with the apprehensions of the University of Cambridge in mind.
§ 8.48 p.m.
§ Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede
My Lords, I wish to confine my comments this evening to three aspects of this Bill: the general teaching council, the new system of support for students and the right to time off for study for 16 and 17 year-olds. I warmly welcome the Government's intention to establish a GTC. In the days of the previous Administration no education Bill was 319 complete without a set of opposition amendments to establish a GTC. These amendments were traditionally and invariably rejected. That was before the Damascene conversion before the last election, although I have to say, judging by some of the speeches tonight, namely, from the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that that conversion may be somewhat less than wholehearted.
Raising the status of the teaching profession and the drive to raise standards are inextricably linked although a direct link will be difficult to quantify. I cannot imagine raising and protecting standards without developing and valuing the professional judgment of our teachers.
Other key professions are represented by professional bodies. The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, spoke about that in detail. It is right that the establishment of the GTC should be seen as a vote of confidence in our teachers. The GTC must establish itself as a distinct body with a distinct voice, and not as a talking shop for existing organisations. It is for this reason that I would argue that teachers should be in a minority on the GTC—at least in its initial phases. It should be a teaching council, not a teachers' council. Many other professional bodies have lay members, and parents would undoubtedly be suitable lay members of the GTC. I would understand if the Government did not want to prescribe the exact interests to be represented on the GTC, but they should undertake, at least in the initial stages, to ensure that no single group holds the majority.
Perhaps I should be a little blunter. There is, I am sorry to say, still some suspicion among some parents—this has been expressed to me—that teachers may put their own interests above those of the children. I do not hold that view at all and I go out of my way to defend teachers from such accusations. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that such suspicions exist, and I believe that if the GTC is to grow in stature it needs to be above suspicion. Therefore, teachers should be in a minority on it. The role of the GTC can, and will, evolve as it grows in stature and authority.
I believe that it is right that the Government should put only enabling clauses on the face of the Bill. I thought it a bit rich of the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Addington, to talk about "toothless poodles" and the like while congratulating the Government on putting forward an enabling Bill. I should have thought that the GTC would be able to carve out its own agenda for its evolution and clearly establish itself as separate from government. I believe that such provisions show a greater vote of confidence from the Government than would seeking to be excessively prescriptive at this early stage.
I turn now to the new system for student support. I should say at the outset that I wholeheartedly support the Government's proposals. I endorse many of the speeches made by my noble friends this evening. However, in spite of what the Government have said, and in spite particularly of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, about there being no particular principle involved in the charging of fees for higher education, I believe that a Rubicon is being crossed in 320 this Bill. Free higher education, like a free National Health Service, was something about which I used to boast to my American colleagues and others. It was special and it was an achievement, but I accept that ultimately it is not defensible in the face of the Government's wider aspirations for further and higher education.
That brings me to those aspirations. I believe that the Government could have done a better job in spelling out the benefits of moving to a partial fee system. In particular, they could have set themselves some targets—not only to monitor their own success but, more importantly, to illustrate what they believe to be the benefits of fees.
My noble friends Lady Kennedy and Lord Davies said that increased access was a highly desirable result of the Bill. One target I would have set is that 40 per cent. of 18 to 21 year-olds should be in full-time education at some defined point in the future. Other targets could, and should, be set and publicised. I believe that that would help the Government in presenting their case to the public at large.
I refer now to the right to time off for study and training for 16 and 17 year-olds which, of course, I support wholeheartedly. Yesterday I received a letter from the CBI addressed to "Dear Peer", which was not a very good start. The letter was less than wholehearted in its support for this measure. It spoke of a disincentive to employers to employ 16 and 17 year-olds. I hope that the Government will not pay attention to such complaints, especially when one considers that increased maternity rights have not led to any decrease in the number of women in the workplace. I believe that educated 16 and 17 year-olds are more employable than uneducated ones.
The CBI did, however, raise another point when it wrote that off-the-job learning has a greater status in the Bill than on-the-job learning. I know that my noble friend Lady Blackstone addressed that point in opening the debate, particularly when referring to Clauses 23 and 24. Nevertheless, I should be grateful if my noble friend Lord Whitty will confirm that on-the-job learning will be possible under the Bill. I am sure that he will do so, but I must make the point that many young people will have been turned off by classrooms and will learn better through on-the-job training. Perhaps I may express one note of caution: there are unscrupulous employers who would use this as a loophole for not providing proper training. There should be a proper method of certification to ensure that on-the-job training is what it says it is.
I welcome the Bill. It contains many important measures. I look forward to many late nights discussing it and its details. I wish my noble friend the greatest good luck in piloting it through this House.
§ 8.56 p.m.
§ Baroness Park of Monmouth
My Lords, I share the general concern about the apparently arbitrary and authoritarian nature of Clause 18, which removes the vital checks and balances which were so hardly won in 1992 and which, I fear, severely undermines the 321 independence of the universities. I am disturbed too by the opaque nature of the Bill—it might almost have been drafted in Brussels—and by its lack of transparency. Have the Government considered the legal problems which must arise if it is true that there are to be no top-up charges in contravention of several Royal Charters of long standing? Can the Secretary of State really assume unlimited powers (based on nothing but ministerial discretion) to penalise institutions which are already suffering severely from a lack of money for capital equipment and underfunded research?
I referred in the Oxford and Cambridge debate in this House to the possible closure of good but poor colleges without substantial endowment if the fees decision goes against us. I believe in intellectual elitism and I do not wish to see the opportunity of access to excellence diminished. I hope very much that the final decision has not been taken and that the issue will be freely debated here in the context of Clause 18.
I have always strongly advocated a move to income-related repayment. I warmly congratulate the Government on achieving that, but I wonder whether there has been time for the administration to be properly organised. Nothing will be worse for student morale than serious muddles and delays such as they experienced four years ago. It is deeply unfortunate that the maintenance grant, which was gradually falling, has now been so abruptly abolished just when tuition fees come in. There continues to be real hardship and the sort of strain on undergraduates which leads to poor academic work and wasted opportunities. I greatly regret the fact that, like the last Government, this Government will not consider the simple solution of restoring housing benefit. But I know that that is a hopeless quest.
Students and universities alike feel concern about the speed with which the new measures are expected to take effect. Although the local education authorities will, I understand, continue to help to administer the scheme, the Student Loans Company seems likely to be swamped by inquiries and will presumably be operating as before, through computers, the post and the telephone. There was a terrible mess over that before. It needs a much more regional structure. I wonder whether there are any plans for that.
Meanwhile, according to the pamphlet issued to would-be students, the universities will be administering the £1,000 tuition fee—another task to be added to their administrative load. Equally, they will administer access funds while the Student Loans Company administers the £250 hardship loan. How, may I ask? According to the admirably effective Edinburgh University Students Association, the Scottish universities expect to have to spend £100 on each means-tested tuition fee on collection, not tuition. According to a review that it carried out in schools in Scotland, 68.5 per cent. of head teachers thought that the percentage of students from their schools entering higher education would fall because of the tuition fee. Seventy per cent. expected a similar fall because of the abolition of the grants system. Ninety-one per cent. of them feared that the Government's proposals would not provide equal access to higher education whatever the financial circumstances. I am sure that the Government do not 322 want that, although unfortunately it appears from the Bill that the Government intend to take arbitrary and unnecessary powers and to take them fast. I hope that during Committee stage the Government will disprove that and will listen to and consult both students and the institutions, and perhaps even be ready to defer implementation of the scheme for a year. Students have moved a long way towards accepting the rationale of loans and repayment, but they must feel that the administration of the system is fair and just. Incidentally, they regret as I do that they cannot borrow to pay the tuition fee in cases where parents cannot or will not pay it. Everyone in universities has met such parents.
The Bill must not defeat itself by turning out graduates who are still too poor to use their academic experience as it is meant to be used. I hope that we can rely on what the Minister said in her opening speech and that the Government will respect the proper autonomy of institutions.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde
My Lords, I rise to support the thrust of the Bill. The Bill takes some courageous steps. Quite frankly, anyone who is interested in the long-term future of higher education will back it. The Minister will probably have a difficult ride on the Front Bench.
I should perhaps declare an interest. I was a member of the Dearing Committee. Of the 17 members of that committee, 10 came from the higher education sector. The committee made 93 recommendations, every one of which, including that relating to tuition fees, was the subject of unanimous agreement. There was no minority report. The Dearing Committee was concerned with higher education in a learning society, not higher education in parts of society but throughout Britain as a cohesive community. That point is sometimes lost in the debates that take place on the future of higher education.
I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is in her place. I was astonished by some of her contribution today. The last time that the subject of higher education was looked at was in 1961 when the Robbins Report considered the matter. At that time only one in 10 in our community entered higher education. In those days higher education usually meant that a full-time student aged 18 went to university and was away from home. Today higher education does not mean that. Thirty per cent. of the population enter higher education. However, they do not have the same profile as those who entered higher education during the Robbins era. Less than 50 per cent. of students now in higher education have that traditional profile. It is on that group that most of this debate has concentrated.
The proposals in this Bill are progressive; they are about creating a fairer society and access to the learning society with which the Dearing Report was concerned. The noble Baroness, Lady Young—
My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Baroness. She has referred to me on two occasions. To make my position absolutely clear, 323 the fact that today there are tremendous numbers of students in universities is due entirely to Conservative policies. I make no apology for that. I believe that it was quite right. As Chancellor of the University of Greenwich I am only too well aware of the proportion of students taking part-time degrees, the number of people from ethnic minorities taking degrees and the number of people taking degrees who are the first in their families ever to have considered university education. All of that has resulted from Conservative policies.
§ Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde
My Lords, I did refer to the noble Baroness a second time but before I could go on to give details the noble Baroness interjected. Perhaps I may continue.
The Dearing Committee was set up because higher education was in crisis. Funding for students has reduced by 40 per cent. over the past 20 years. For 19 of those years those now in opposition were in government in this country. It was at a time when the Government assumed that spending on higher education would drop by 6.5 per cent. in real terms over the years 1998 to 2000. In the few months that they have been in office the present Government have put in something like £165 million. In 1993 a cap was put on higher education. Subsequently there has been a withdrawal of almost all public funding for capital expenditure. I find it difficult to believe that higher education has been passed to the present Government in a pretty good state. I challenge that. Certainly, that was not the evidence that the Dearing Committee heard. On the contrary, it was said that the 6.5 per cent. reduction could not be achieved. It was also said that higher education was in crisis. It is also a fact that, despite a number of the statements that have been made, the proportion of the gross national product of this country spent on higher education has not changed by a fraction of 1 per cent. in the past 20 years.
I support the Bill. The Bill may give rise to some difficult decisions. There is no doubt that we have reached the crossroads in higher education. I should like to refer to three particular aspects of the Bill. First, I refer to the general teaching council. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede has covered much of what I would have said. But it is also a matter of the professionalism of the teachers in this sector. It is absolutely essential that we go down this route. It may not be clear; perhaps not all of the t's have been crossed and the i's dotted. However, we must have this council to improve teaching and courses.
As a member of the Dearing Committee I found the subject of tuition fees difficult. I, too, believed that we had free higher education. We do not, and we have not had it for many years. The bulk of the money that is put into higher education is being spent on the less than 50 per cent. of students who are in full-time education. The Bill will change that.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but she is the only member of the Dearing Committee who will be speaking 324 this evening. Is she happy with her Government's decision not to follow the Dearing Committee recommendation to charge 25 per cent. but keep the maintenance grant? I am sorry to burden the noble Baroness with this matter, but I am interested to know whether she is committed to the Government who have rejected her own committee's recommendation.
§ Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde
My Lords, I am convinced that the Government are committed to higher education. At the end of the process, higher education will have a much better future than it had when the Dearing Committee was set up.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, I am sorry to press the noble Baroness, who is a great friend. She has not answered my question. Does she agree with it?
§ Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde
My Lords, I agree with the introduction of tuition fees. I note also that the elimination of the maintenance grant was a decision taken by the previous government and not this government.
§ Lord Pilkington of Oxenford
My Lords, I am sorry to keep interrupting, but the Dearing Committee recommended keeping half what remained of the maintenance grant. I do not believe that the noble Baroness heard my speech. I am worried about people earning £16,000 a year. The decision the Government have made hits them. The Dearing Committee pointed out the difficulties. I fear that the noble Baroness still has not answered me. I shall not stand up again, I promise.
§ Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde
My Lords, I do not mind answering any questions that the noble Lord chooses to ask. The Dearing Report recommended tuition fees for all students. The Government's proposal will protect lower income students from working families, because the loan is income contingent. That was not proposed by the Dearing Committee in the way that the Government have put forward.
We have seen the introduction of a system whereby part-time higher education students in further education colleges—some higher education is delivered in some parts of this country through the further education system—have to pay their tuition fees while full-time higher education students do not. We have the Open University, introduced by a Labour government, which is rightly lauded and which is a great success. I declare that I am a member of the OU council. OU students have to pay tuition fees to obtain a degree. Many of them have to work and bring up a family at the same time as studying. The Bill will bring an end to many of those inconsistencies.
Top-up fees have generated a great deal of criticism. I hope that the Government have the courage to stick to their proposal in the Bill. I say that probably for different reasons from those raised by noble Lords who have spoken against them. The package that the 325 Government have put forward includes a pledge to parents that, with the introduction of tuition fees, they will have nothing else to contribute.
While on the Dearing Committee I heard the Russell Group mentioned for the first time. It is doing first class work, but there is a degree of elitism in it. In a small society such as ours that needs social cohesion and a learning society, the introduction of top-up fees would create an elite structure within the HE system. Establishments in poor areas will be unable to find students who can afford top-up fees while other universities will continue to provide courses, charge whatever top-up fee they wish, and still attract students—many of them from abroad.
I may be challenged on this, but the student profile of some of the universities advocating top-up fees does not reflect society in general in Britain today. That may be a factor. If noble Lords on the Benches opposite are so committed to introducing top-up fees, why did not the previous government introduce them? Higher education has a wonderful ability to survive, despite all the cutbacks. The crisis in higher education is not new. The Dearing Committee was set up because the previous government, with all due respect, did not know what to do about the crisis. The financial crisis existed, so why not allow top-up fees? Many universities wanted to introduce them but they were prevented from doing so.
Several noble Lords spoke about the independence of universities. I agree that academic freedom is very important. However, to give individual universities complete freedom would not solve some of the existing crises. Between 58 and 70 per cent. of university expenditure is on staff and the estate. According to the National Audit Office, the average utilisation of the estates is 30 per cent.—25 per cent. if universities are really efficient—and the value is said to be £30 billion. That cannot be an effective use of taxpayers' resources. The issue is covered in the Dearing Report, and I suggest that it is another reason for saying yes to academic freedom but that taxpayers should have a centralised say in how resources are spent.
Finally, I turn to the day release provisions. It is an imaginative move, which I did not expect but welcome. It is essential and I can understand the CBI objecting to it. When one compares the record of employers in this country with those in Europe and note what has been spent on training employees, there is not much to grumble about. The financial implications point to a cost of between £60 million and £130 million a year. That would soon be won back and justified by having a more skilled and committed workforce who are able to contribute in the higher value work that we need in Britain today. That is an investment in business.
I, too, look forward to the Committee stage when no doubt changes will be made to the Bill. However, the central thrust of tuition fees, top-up fees and other proposals should be welcomed. When looking back in 10 years' time we will see that the Bill was a major step in protecting our universities for the future.
§ 9.16 p.m.
§ Lord Butterfield
My Lords, I rise rather surprised. This is the third education Bill debate I have entered into since I was raised to this wonderful Chamber in 1988. However, it is the first time that I have ever spoken on education before 1 a.m. If your Lordships think that this is a late debate, wait until we reach the Committee stage.
I claim an interest in the Bill because, if your Lordships were historians and went to the original amendment proposing a general teaching council you would find that I and the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, among others, proposed it. The proposal in 1992 fell on stony ground. I shall be commenting on the requirements of the GTC because Lord Dainton, who died recently, had agreed to make certain points in this debate. As a result of my long association with Professor Tomlinson and with Roger Haslam, the GTC secretary, I was asked—I shall not say press ganged—to pick up the threads which the late Lord Dainton would have been weaving now before your Lordships.
When the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon mentioned the GTC and a college of teachers, when my noble friend Lord Walton said that he had to leave because tomorrow morning he is to attend the sad event of Lord Dainton's funeral, and when the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, mentioned Lord Dainton I felt I must tell your Lordships what Lord Dainton intended to propose. My comments come from him and I fully support what he wanted to put forward.
I wish to make it clear that most of the people to whom I have spoken are not so much in favour of the teachers being retained in a minority on the general teaching council. I have detected a strong feeling in the various meetings that I have gone to that if teachers are in the minority, they will feel, in a word, "smothered".
I shall now make the points which were to be made by Lord Dainton. He preceded me in the vice-chancellor's office at Nottingham. He always pleased me when he used to say, "Well, I don't know the solution to that problem. It needs a good dose of socialism". So I hope that I shall not draw too much fire from the Government Benches.
Lord Dainton would have wanted me to say that there should be a majority of registered teachers on the council and not a minority, as has been suggested; that all teachers in all schools, maintained and independent, should be included in the register—that in accordance with the views of all the organisations representing teachers and head teachers on the provisional GTC the council be empowered to include on the register of teachers all those teaching in nursery education; further education, and all trainers of teachers in higher education. All council members should be elected from constituencies for which they have responsibility; and initially, those teacher constituencies are mainly based on teacher and head teacher unions and professional associations, because that is the source of 90 per cent. of the council's teaching members. After the initial Nolan procedures, the appointment of the chair of the council should be made by the council itself. It is hoped that Government should fund the work of the general 327 teaching council in proportion of the representation of the non-teacher members of the council. The teaching members of the council would be the voice of teachers to he considered by government, while the voice of the educational service would be the views of the full council.
I am very proud to have been given the responsibility to read those points into the record. I now wish to turn to the remarks made about the possibility of a Royal College of Teachers as a parallel development of teachers by teachers for teachers, funded by teachers. That suggestion comes from a 19th century organisation, the College of Preceptors.
If you were a young lady or gentleman going off to, say, India at the end of the Victorian era to teach, to help you get your job, you might want some statement about your standing and recognition as a teacher in the UK from the College of Preceptors. The noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, and I have been closely associated with the College of Preceptors and the noble Viscount has been helping their interest in establishing a college of teachers by calling meetings in the House of people who are interested. Indeed, the noble Viscount and I put to the House the suggestion of the establishment of a college of teachers.
The College of Preceptors has now established an interim council, which noble Lords should know is laying plans for a college of teachers as soon as is reasonably practicable. It is hoped that it will ensure that teachers have a route for expressing their academic concerns rather than employment or registration responsibilities which can be done through their trade unions or local authority associations.
I have told the College of Preceptors—and I know that the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, who cannot be here this evening because he has 'flu, agrees with me—that we are very proud and see ourselves as crusaders who will do our best to support education and teaching.
I should now like to say a few words on university finances. I shall begin with access problems at Oxbridge. I grew up in Stechford which is part of Birmingham and, I believe, composed of social classes 5, 6 and 7. My father was a petrol pump attendant. However, I was extremely lucky, the Lord smiled on me and I managed to obtain scholarships. I want your Lordships to know that I have been in college life at Cambridge, and am anxious to try to get more people to come from those social classes to Oxbridge.
We heard earlier from the former Provost of King's College, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, how he managed to get a very high proportion of his intake from non-public schools; that is to say, non-independent schools. However, we are meeting difficulties in that respect. When we go out and ask people to apply—and I am sure that, if she were here, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, would nod in agreement—we find that there is enormous propaganda against people going to Oxbridge. I do not know how we shall get around that problem. We shall probably have to ask the Government for guidance on the best way forward—they have a 328 wonderful organisation in association with their Minister without Portfolio—to find out how to get people to at least pay attention to such a possibility.
The last comment that I shall make before I sit down is to point out that there is of course a difference between Oxford and Cambridge and that there are charters in many of the colleges in Cambridge. That is one reason why there has been such a fuss and bother in Cambridge about the possibility of the hybridity of this Bill. I hope that that will be sorted out between the lawyers in the department and those in the university who understand such matters better than I do.
When I set out today to come here for the debate, I told my wife that I would be very late home. I did not expect to be speaking so early in the evening. She asked, "Why is it that when there is an education Bill hundreds of people put down their names to speak and you all go on for hours in defence of universities?" She is an American, went to Harvard and does not really understand our problems. However, I believe that I have now convinced her that so many of us want to enter into these debates because we feel compelled to defend the academic freedom that began with Socrates so long ago.
We must remember that the universities were the first ports of call for all those people who came over from Germany because of the terrible suppression under Hitler. People in the universities heard more about what was going on in other universities; for example, the awful sufferings of the Jews. Again, through our contact with people in Russian universities under the old regime, we were very conscious that certain great people in the university world just "disappeared". I believe that the 100,000 students who left the People's Republic of China and came here or went to America, carried many clear indications that, whenever they can, universities are wise to stand up for their academic freedom.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior
My Lords, at this time of night and at this point in the debate much of what one wished to say about the generalities of the Bill has already been said by other speakers. I shall not, therefore, tempt the patience of your Lordships by repeating those points, except to say that I add my great welcome to the extended loan scheme which is proposed and which I addressed in another debate some time ago. I shall concentrate on Part II of the Bill and in particular on the question of top-up fees; and I shall address the possible impact of Clause 18 on veterinary education in the United Kingdom.
The clause is intended to prevent institutions charging top-up fees in excess of the £1,000 annual tuition fee proposed by the Government. Should this be applied to graduate entrants to veterinary courses in the country, at least in four of the six veterinary schools, it would make it totally uneconomic for those schools to recruit graduate students. That point was recognised by the principal of the University of Glasgow, Professor Graeme Davies, who mentioned this in respect to those individuals who were self-financing their studies in Glasgow and elsewhere.
329 I shall explain the reasons for this. For many years there has been great pressure as regards entrance to veterinary schools in the United Kingdom. It is frequently said that it is more difficult to enter veterinary medicine than it is to enter medicine. The number of veterinary students who are funded by the funding councils—about 420 per annum—falls well short of the national need. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons continues to register more graduates of veterinary schools from outside the United Kingdom than from United Kingdom veterinary schools. There is a pressing need to increase the output. To some extent the shortfall is made up by admitting students who are already science graduates and who have already benefited from state supported higher education.
In four of the six veterinary schools in the country such students are charged full cost fees, which vary between the schools, but in no case do they average less than £10,000 a year. This practice has been in existence for some seven years. I should declare an interest here as a former dean of the veterinary faculty in the University of Cambridge, now retired. Noble Lords may be interested to know that Cambridge does not practise this scheme of top-up fees because it would disadvantage some students who are unable to afford the top-up fees. The average charge of £10,000 per year should be compared with the cost of educating a veterinary student which, according to the English Higher Education Funding Council, is £11,700 per annum. I should emphasise that these are the self-funded students referred to by Professor Graeme Davies of Glasgow.
Overseas students, including contract students from countries such as Iceland and Norway pay similar fees, but they of course return to their native lands after the course, whereas the graduate students who pay the top-up fees remain in this country. There is no shortage of applicants or acceptances for the places—despite this being a costly second bite of the cherry, so to speak—such is the high demand for places in the veterinary schools.
These full costs are ploughed back into the provision of clinical facilities in the veterinary schools to enable students to master their clinical skills. It is here that veterinary education differs considerably from medical education and indeed dictates the necessity for such top-up fees. In the medical field, teaching hospitals are provided by the National Health Service and a subsidy of up to £40,000 per student per annum is provided through the Service Increment for Teaching Scheme (SIFT). The total amount of that was increased two years ago by £40 million, and last year by a further £40 million.
In veterinary education there is no SIFT. There is no National Health Service to provide the teaching hospitals. All the hospitals, the staff, equipment, nurses, medicines and bandages have to be supplied out of the funding provided by the funding councils and any income generated from clinical services. Should veterinary schools be denied that source of income, which is increasingly important as resources provided by the funding councils continue to fall, it will be quite uneconomical for veterinary schools to recruit such 330 graduates. The corollary for that is that a number of people will be denied access to education leading to the veterinary profession, and the annual output of veterinarians in the United Kingdom would be reduced.
An alternative to such top-up fees would be to charge all students for certain clinical facilities, as, for example, in the subjects of French, architecture and engineering. However, one would not wish to go in that direction.
Finally, if the restriction on top-up fees is to be enacted, I hope that it will apply only to new entrants to the veterinary courses and not to those who have previously undertaken a science degree and who come in as graduates. They are about 10 per cent. of the student population. Those individuals have already benefited from state support for higher education and now wish to pursue a professional qualification through a self-funded mechanism.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, in general but not in every particular I give a warm welcome to the Bill. There are many things in it that we have wanted and for which we have been asking for a long time. Chief among those is the general teaching council. Those of us involved with education policy making have worked for decades for a general teaching council and have failed. My noble friend and her fellow Ministers are to be congratulated. If they are asked one day, "What did you do during the first Blair Government?" I hope that they will be able to say, "A great many things". But even if they could not say that, they will be able to claim, "We set up the general teaching council". Before we end these deliberations, I may answer that same question about myself.
When the House sits as a Committee, we shall examine the general teaching council in detail. But even if it has imperfections in its opening phase, we must assume that like all institutions the council will evolve. It would be wrong to damn it, let alone kill it, because it starts off with some deficiencies. It will in due course have to change. I am confident that it will get off to a good start and will develop in a satisfactory way. In particular it can and should be a body that lays a new professional foundation for teaching and will set the high standards for teachers for which we all aim.
One factor that troubles me about your Lordships' House is that among us we do not have—perhaps we have never had in my time—a teacher from a state school. Our deliberations on these matters might well have been improved had we had one or more such people.
I also welcome the training of head teachers. I still stand in awe of those who were my teachers and head teachers. Unlike some of my friends, I still find it impossible to think of them except as Mr. X or Mrs. Y. One or two of my old friends still refer to their teachers by their Christian names. To me that is inconceivable. I regard my teachers as great people and wish it to remain that way. What has to be said about head teachers is how much over our lifetimes their jobs have changed. The Bill is an attempt to help them cope with the incredibly complex world with which they now have 331 to deal. Perhaps I may make my usual point on teachers: we all know full well that when our children succeed it is because they are clever, and when they fail it is because of their teachers. That is always worth remembering.
I am also very keen on the induction period for new teachers, but above all on the provision entitling all 16 and 17 year-olds to paid time off in order to study or train for appropriate qualifications. It is a major step forward, and one which I hope the House will support. We shall examine the proposals in more detail in Committee.
I, too, was concerned about the views of the CBI on young people. As my noble friend Lord Ponsonby said, it is vital that all employers play a full and honest part. Unlike many of my friends, I am less than impressed with the contribution that businessmen might make to policy-making in our country. But I am certain that we must not allow the business community to sabotage this initiative on grounds of cost. To paraphrase yet again my favourite economist, Adam Smith: businessmen are always concerned about cost, except when it comes to raising their own salaries. That is the positive side.
In preparing for today's debate I discovered to my horror that I wrote my first paper on student loans some 35 years ago. It expressed what was then very much a minority view. I note ruefully that many of my friends who opposed those ideas most strongly have since risen to senior positions in public life and are now, so far as I can see, enthusiastic supporters of the proposals in the Bill.
In relation to the matters upon which I shall criticise the Government, it took me a short while to appreciate that if we were looking at loans to replace maintenance grants, which was the original area in which we worked, then logic required us to look at tuition fees as well. So in this area I regard my credentials as not all that bad. I must add that, over the years, further consideration has led me and others to realise that many of our earlier thoughts on the question of grants and loans were rather simpliste.
On the question of contingent loans replacing maintenance grants, I have no difficulty. As I said, we advocated it for an enormous period of time and I am not ready to change my mind on that. I shall not bore the House, but the matter is a good deal more complicated than some people think.
However, my real worry relates to the subject of tuition fees. Let me begin with my noble friend the Minister. My difficulty is that she and I have been comrades in arms on all education matters for as long as I can remember, and it is with deep sadness that I have to say that on this occasion we differ. But more to the point, for the first time in all my years in this House I find myself in disagreement with every single one of my noble friends who have spoken. I believe that they are mistaken on the subject of tuition fees—or rather, their views differ from mine. The more I heard them speak, the more I thought that perhaps I was wrong. Then I thought some more and decided that they were wrong. However, there is time between now and 332 the Committee stage of the Bill and I promise my noble friends that during the Recess I shall think about the matter yet again to see if I can find a valid case for what the Government propose.
It may be that those of us who wish to examine the issue of tuition fees in detail and analyse the problems are wasting our time. It is a fact that higher education is seriously under-financed. It is also true that the Treasury refuses to provide the extra funds needed. It is obvious that, to get anywhere at all, the Secretary of State was bounced into accepting tuition fees. In my judgment he has since then sought to bounce the rest of us. It looks as if for the present the Treasury is determining higher education policy and Ministers are merely the Treasury's handmaidens. When my noble friend replies, perhaps he can confirm whether that is so. If that is the case, I for one should be prepared to stop and not further waste your Lordships' time either now or subsequently by pointing out the principles involved and the consequences of the Government's proposed actions.
However, it is my judgment that we ought to examine the matter. In particular—and here I differ fundamentally with my noble friends—I believe that there is nothing necessary about the policy which the Government propose to adopt. There are no underlying forces in our society which make us introduce tuition fees. If we do so, we do it because we want to. We ourselves did not pay tuition fees—I certainly did not. We need a better explanation than any offered by my noble friends, and in particular by the Government, as to why, when we did not pay, our successors should do so. The argument that we were few and our successors are many has no logic to it and certainly no ethical foundation that I can think of.
Let me assume for the moment that the subject is worth debating. I start with the Dearing Report. I must warn my noble friend that I am not impressed with that report. It devotes much space to student finance and tuition fees but its treatment has at least two major deficiencies. It offers no serious analytical foundation for the discussion of the subject and little or no evidence on crucial matters. A serious analytical foundation would require at least two things. First, it would require some theory of what determines a person to try to enter higher education, what determines the choice of subject and what determines the specific institution or institutions he or she applies to. Secondly, it would require some theory of how higher education institutions determine what they do and whom they admit. I am again being very acerbic, but I listened to the pathetic remarks made by the various heads of Oxford and Cambridge colleges; their desperate attempts to recruit people from the state sector carry very little weight with me. Dearing did not even bother to go into such matters.
Viewing what happens as a form of market, albeit a rather complicated one, what can we say about demand and supply? We can ask the questions, but at the moment we have nothing like a set of answers. Dearing and those who have spoken today, including my noble friends, look at the average student and point out what he or she earns as a return on the investment in higher education. Like others long ago, that is exactly how I looked at the subject. I pointed out, as my noble friends have done, that the average beneficiary is middle 333 class, that entry into the system has an upper income group bias, and that what is true in general is true of certain universities in particular. It is easy to move from that to the rather left wing proposition that therefore more of the costs should be borne by the individuals who gain.
That is exactly the line I took 25 years ago and more. Unfortunately, the fact that the average student gains and the average student comes from a higher economic class is not a satisfactory point. What matters—it is perfectly obvious—are the marginal students, and they are not those students. The marginal students come from poor backgrounds; they come from certain other minorities in our society. If we introduce a financing system which we justify by saying it hits the average, its devastating weakness will be that, though it may hit the average, it will also deter the marginal students. The marginal students are the students my noble friends said that they wanted to help and that is why they are mistaken in supporting this policy.
If I can he personal, particularly on the subject of higher education—others referred to it—I was the first member of my family to go for higher education. Most of my friends at the time were also the first members of their families to go on to higher education. If the word "fee" had been mentioned to us when we were 17 or 18 I am absolutely certain that we would not have gone to university. I have no doubt about that at all. Though we were clever boys then, if someone had outlined the whole argument about investment, rates of return and how we would gain, we still would not have gone. We lived in a milieu where education was free or one did not do it.
Many of our successors are like that today. I reject this policy on the grounds that my noble friends have offered me nothing that will make me believe that they will not be deterred in the way that I would have been. Let me say, cynically, that I may well have been better off not going to university. I may have made a lot of money and entered your Lordships' House via the businessman route, which is the lesson nowadays. So it would not necessarily have been a catastrophe; but it might have been.
The only other aspect that I want to dwell on—for some noble Lords it is late; I have sat here for hours so it does not feel that late for me—is the fact that there is a terrible administrative mess in all of this. Policies seem to have been made on the hoof and I am bound to say—looking towards the officials—that I do not believe the officials remotely understood what they were getting themselves into or, more to the point, letting my noble friends and my ministerial colleagues in for. It is a mess and the mess is not yet over. They will find further difficulties the further they go.
Most extraordinary of all is the idea that we are actually going to expect students from the European Community to fill in parental means forms; that someone will monitor them and we will then check the incomes. The whole idea is mad.
One reason why I favoured the student loan scheme was that I hoped that we could end the notion of parental contribution. I realise that there are problems with 334 income distribution. But one would argue that students now are all adults; they are 18 or more and we should take a totally forward look at how we finance the whole thing. The relevant incomes are those of the students and not those of the parents. I have one other warning for my noble friend—I am sorry that she was led down this path. Sticking with this parental means test nonsense has thrown away the one great benefit of the contingent loan scheme.
I shall make one last point. We use the expression "tuition fees". I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tope; they are not tuition fees. That is a complete misnomer. The right reverend Prelate doubted what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, as did my noble friend Lord Plant. I was Reader in public finance in the University of London for a while so I believe that I know what a tax is. This is a tax on entering higher education. It is a poll tax. It may have an income adjustment, but it is a straightforward poll tax. These charges are not related to either marginal or average costs; they are not related to the institution that will be paid them or the subject; they are certainly not a market equilibrating device. Therefore we ought not to be discussing it. We ought to be discussing whether we should put a tax on entry into higher education. If we want to impose such a tax, we should then say at what rate the tax should be levied. Finally, we should say what should be the criteria, if any, for exemption.
My grandchildren or great grandchildren will ask "What did Maurice Peston do during the first Blair Government?" I will say that I did not contribute very much at all, but I did stand up for rationality and I did stand up for looking at problems sensibly, from a Labour Party point of view.
§ 9.55 p.m.
§ Baroness Maddock
My Lords, as one who made a maiden speech only last week, I begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, on her maiden speech. I found it extremely refreshing. It was good to hear someone emphasising the importance of education to enable us all to live fulfilled lives. I particularly enjoyed her words about the joy, pleasure and knowledge that we can get from books. I also enjoyed the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, not least because he was voicing opinions which my noble friend Lord Tope put forward earlier in the debate, opinions with which I entirely agreed, particularly on the right of adults at 18 to be considered adults and independent of their parents.
Uppermost in the minds of many noble Lords today have been the aspects of the Bill dealing primarily with higher education, particularly the autonomy of higher education institutions and the charging of tuition fees. Perhaps I may remind the House that the Bill is the Teaching and Higher Education Bill. My noble friend Lord Tope eloquently put the case for not charging tuition fees and the problems Liberal Democrats believe will ensue should we go forward on that basis.
Before I tackle some of the detail of the Bill, I wish to air one or two issues about the development of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, touched on some of 335 the points I wish to make. A generous interpretation of events leading up to the Bill might be that the Government are new, are anxious to raise standards in our schools and colleges and want to involve as many interests as possible in ensuring that we arrive at legislation that will be lasting, that will be good and that will achieve high standards for our young people—future generations. Indeed, in introducing the Bill the Minister told us that wide consultation had taken place and that the Government had listened. But given the anxieties expressed today, one could almost conclude that it had been rather hurriedly put together, with insufficient consultation with those affected by the passing of such legislation. Noble Lords will be able to draw their own conclusions as the debate ends tonight and as we continue to debate the Bill as it passes through the House.
There is undoubtedly a great deal of consensus surrounding the setting up of a general teaching council, the reintroduction of an induction period for newly trained teachers and having a qualification for head teachers that will recognise the special skills needed for head teachers to be successful. However, when we look more closely at the Bill, we see at times a lack of clarity of purpose. That has given rise to many of the anxieties that have been expressed today. Not only my colleagues but others outside the House are worried that our new Government are taking on too many mantles of the old government; not least, they want to stick to the same spending targets. But in this piece of legislation we see that they are also taking on the mantles of the previous government in giving a great deal of power to Ministers in centralising our system of education.
Liberal Democrats—there seems to be confusion among some noble Lords, but the noble Lord, Lord Tope, believes this, too—have proposed for a long time setting up a general teaching council. Many of the professional bodies which represent teachers are also in favour of it, but questions surround the issue. Many people believe that the Government's proposals fall short of the sort of body that teachers want and deserve. A general teaching council needs authority and autonomy if our teachers are to feel that the Government are prepared to trust them. We should see the Government putting their trust in teachers to try to regulate their own profession.
The various bodies representing teachers have raised with us many issues. They emphasise that they want accountability and independence. But there is one other area about which the professional bodies are concerned and that is the keeping of the register and the fact that they will not be directly involved in removing people from it. It would be helpful if the Government could comment on this. Many of the professional bodies believe that the general teaching council should not be merely a policeman to the profession but that it should be involved in all areas to do with teaching and education. There is a lack of clarity in the Bill as to how the council will be made up. That point has been raised tonight by many other speakers.
336 The Professional Association of Teachers is particularly concerned that the body should be independent. It is concerned that if we are not careful we shall get yet another quango. I hope that in winding up the Minister will be able to answer some of the queries, before we reach Committee stage. I hope that the Government will allow amendments, as was said earlier by one noble Lord, to put flesh on to the bones of parts of the Bill.
I now turn to an area which interests me greatly. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, commented that there was no teacher in the House. I have not practised teaching in schools for some years now, but I trained as a teacher in the 1960s. I remember getting a certificate at the end of my probationary year which said that I was now a fully qualified teacher. However, I can also remember not entirely understanding exactly on what basis I had achieved the certificate at the end of my first year. I believe that the re-introduction of an induction period is an opportunity to deal with the problems that surround quality and quality assurance. It is an important part of ensuring that we have higher standards in our schools.
Although it is not written clearly in the Bill, in her opening comments the Minister told us that the induction period would be 12 months. Does that mean when we reach Committee stage that there will be an amendment to clarify that in Clause 13? It looks as though that clause can be changed.
There is also a lack of clarity surrounding the status of teachers doing their introductory year as regards membership on the list to be held by the general teaching council. Another problem concerns standards and qualifications for head teachers. Insisting on a qualification for new head teachers is something that we on these Benches have long believed to be essential.
I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, who asked what made a good head teacher. In my early teaching days, I was fortunate enough to do my probationary year, as it was called in those days, in a school which had an extremely good headmistress. That meant that the school was run in an orderly fashion. The head teacher had a presence—that is the only way that I can describe it—which affected all of us in that school. It meant that certain standards were expected and it made my job as a probationary teacher so much easier. Indeed, I think that it enabled me to make a reasonable start on my secondary school teaching career.
That experience contrasted sharply with the atmosphere in another school at which I taught. I shall never forget arriving at that school on the first morning for assembly. I had been abroad with my husband and was starting there at the beginning of term. I did not know what sort of school it was, and when I arrived at the hall I found the curtains hanging in shreds. When the headmistress walked into the hall, the children did not even stop talking. It was a stark contrast with the way in which the head had behaved at my first school. I knew from that moment that I would have to fight my corner in my classroom, because whatever the head did would not help me. Thank goodness I had had a better experience at my first school. If I had not, I am sure that I would have gone under. I hope that that anecdote will help to clarify what goes to make a good head teacher.
337 We on these Benches have a couple of queries about the proposals with regard to head teachers. First, what plans do the Government have to extend the qualifications to head teachers already in post? I believe that others are also concerned about that point.
Secondly, I would like to ask about who will pay. That is not made clear. Noble Lords have already expressed concern that this point is of particular importance in primary schools where it is difficult to fund cover if the head wants to go off to gain the NPQH. We know that not many are coming forward from primary schools, yet there are many more primary heads than there are secondary heads.
The problem with speaking late in a long debate is that there is very little new to say. However, I hope that I am now about to introduce a new aspect and one about which I feel particularly strongly. I refer to what help we are to give to those who undertake higher education part-time. A couple of noble Lords have referred to this briefly. I suppose that I should have declared an interest earlier when referring to fees, in that one of my daughters already has a loan and another is likely to take out one. My interest here is that when my eldest daughter was born I took a part-time postgraduate qualification. Fortunately, the job that I had just given up and my husband's income enabled us to pay the fees for that course, but everyone is not in that position. However, we need to develop a flexible workforce where people can continually develop their skills and gain new qualifications and, dare I say it, we want to help single mothers to get back into work on earnings that are greater than their benefits. That is why we need to consider this area which I know that Dearing highlighted.
The problem for the Government is resources. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has told us that a recent London Economics Report, which was commissioned by the Open University, analysed the funding implications of giving half a million part-time students access to the same loans deal as full-timers. It concluded that to do so would cost the Government an extra 0.5 per cent. per annum in the short term and 1.5 per cent. per annum in the long term.
Another important area on which the noble Lord, Lord Desai, touched earlier was how the Government dealt with public spending and what headings they used. Dearing talked about this. Only yesterday the Select Committee on Education and Employment in another place reiterated the points that Dearing had made. Currently in the public accounts the Treasury classifies all lending to students as grants but takes no account of the fact that a large proportion will be repaid. If the Government do not look at that fairly soon it will become a problem. To fail to take this opportunity to deal with the matter is short-sighted. I hope that when the Minister replies he will give an indication of how the Government view this and where they are going.
This debate has shown that there are many areas that noble Lords want to pursue during the Committee stage and that tonight will not be the only late debate. I hope that the Government listen to what has been said and will give some indications before Committee stage, 338 perhaps even tonight. I look forward—I think—to taking part in those debates. I have enjoyed a baptism of fire in my second speech in this House. I have had to make a winding-up speech on behalf of the Liberal Democrats on education having been housing spokesman in another place. However, I have felt very much at home here. The debates have been held late at night and it has been difficult to get something to eat. I thought this was a different place, but perhaps it is not. I look forward to carrying on with this Bill late into the night on another day.
§ 10.12 p.m.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I am full of admiration for the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, for a brilliant performance in her second or third week as a Front Bench speaker for her party in this House. It is a great tribute to the way in which she has entered into the work of the House. We look forward to those nights, albeit they may be very late, when we work together. I also join with other noble Lords in warmly congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell of Babergh, on her maiden speech. She enjoys exceptional talent and has kept us awake many a night gripped by the prolific writing in which she has engaged over the years. She has said that she intends to continue that for some time yet. Not only did I enjoy the speech of the noble Baroness but I believe that what she said was fundamental. I agree with her about the centrality and importance of reading not simply for enjoyment but as the cornerstone to all learning. I look forward very much to hearing more from the noble Baroness in future debates.
I pay a warm tribute to my noble friend Lord Pilkington who in the past few days has suffered a serious personal tragedy. He has returned today to take part in this debate because he too believes that it is important. I thank him very much indeed because I know that this has not been an easy time for him.
We are discussing the Bill in a vacuum. On almost every page the Secretary of State takes powers to regulate. We are left with some of the detail from Green Papers, White Papers, television and radio interviews, Answers to Questions in Parliament and what we read in the newspapers. My noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking thought that it would be helpful to have Notes on Clauses if they were available. I have a copy of the Notes on Clauses but I am afraid that they throw little light on the detail that will follow in secondary legislation. It is that information which is lacking in both the Bill and the Notes on Clauses.
The Bill is hardly enlightening. It poses many questions about what really matters, and the devil is in the detail. There are aspects of the Bill which, in principle, we support. However, the method and the details of implementation will be crucial as to whether our support can be sustained over time.
The financial memorandum does not deal adequately with all the costs of implementation—a point mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. Therefore, as the Bill progresses through its stages, the costs and sources of the funds will be challenged.
339 Clauses 1 to 11 deal with the general teaching council. We support the development of a greater professional status for teachers. We welcome the idea of a general teaching council. We shall, however, as I said, look carefully at the Government's proposals for its constitution and remit—neither of which are addressed in sufficient detail in the Bill—to assure ourselves that the new body will contribute to professional standards, professional education and teaching quality, and that it will not become a kind of pay rations body, a creature of the Secretary of State, or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, just a quango.
The noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Peston and my noble friend Lord Butterfield, for understandable reasons, chided me obliquely for having in the past opposed a general teaching council.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. I did not chide her. I would not dream of chiding her. It never occurred to me to chide her.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, because he and I enjoyed coming to the House at the same time. It was a noble Lord on the opposite Benches who chided me. I can understand why. I was the person, on the other side of the House, who was usually receiving proposals from various parts of the House about a general teaching council. I hope that all noble Lords who know me well, and certainly my noble friend Lord Butterfield, will be aware that whenever I argued against it, it was not against the principle that there should be a body responsible—I have always thought of teachers, by teachers, for teachers—for professional standards, the quality of teaching and professionalism. People will jump hurdles to become a member of that body, and there should be powers to remove teachers from that body. Those proposals were never on offer in this House, and for those reasons I have always had reservations.
I have reservations about those bodies that grow out of government. I have always been attracted to the idea—I am interested in what will come from the College of Preceptors—of this body rising from the body of teachers themselves, and not from some bureaucratic organisation or government. Regulations are to be made. When will the House see them? It is important, in relation to many parts of the Bill, that we see some of the regulations in draft as we proceed because it is only by seeing some of the Government's detailed ideas that our debates will make sense.
From the little we can glean from the Bill, the proposed general teaching council will be predominantly an advisory body. In fact, as I have suggested, it will be a creature of the Secretary of State. I am puzzled by some of the Bill's provisions. For example, references to registration in Clause 3(2) appear to imply that registration will be voluntary. Is that so? However, Clause 4 (2)(c) sets out that regulations will make provision as to,the registration, on the establishment of the register, of persons who have not made such applications".340 There is to be a register of people who do apply to be registered and a register of people who do not apply. If the general teaching council keeps the register of those who do apply, who keeps the register of those who do not apply? Why do they keep the register at all? What information will be kept on the non-applicants' register? Where does the private sector fit in to all these proposals?
Clause 5 gives the Secretary of State the power to impose any additional functions. Is that included as a reserve power just in case one day in the future something may come along which sounds like a good idea, or has the Secretary of State in mind something particular which may follow on from the proposals?
An issue that has not been discussed today is the Welsh dimension. What will be the role of the Welsh assembly in these matters? Will it, for example, be free to interpret secondary legislation independent from the Secretary of State for Education? How does that fit with the explicit powers of direction by the Secretary of State for Education? I understand that the Welsh assembly will be free to interpret not primary but secondary legislation, so it would be helpful to know where the assembly fits into the proposals.
Clause 10 provides for employers to be required to deduct fees for the GTC at source. Will those who do not apply for registration, referred to in Clause 4(2)(c), be free to opt out of paying a fee, or is it likely that there is a fee to be paid by non-applicants in order to cover the cost of those who do not wish to register for the general teaching council?
Probing a little further on the establishment of the GTC, who will determine the qualifications for a person to start practising as a newly qualified teacher? Who, for example, will determine the training requirements for the professional development of teachers? Who will determine standards and codes of practice for the personal conduct of teachers? What will the role of the GTC be in all of that? What will the process be for determining whether the standards have or have not been upheld by individual teachers? Do the Government envisage, for example, giving the GTC at some time powers to remove teachers who fall short of professional competence or conduct? If so, the Bill needs revising substantially.
I turn to Clause 12 and the training for head teachers. I warmly welcome the measure and agree with it in principle. I, too, believe that training for headship is a good thing. However, I have concerns about the compulsory nature of the provision. Until we know what the provision is, it will be difficult to agree its compulsory nature. Other concerns include who will pay for the training, which teachers will receive the training and who will select the teachers trained. Perhaps as an aside, as someone who was involved in a local authority for a long time, I may say that I can remember the negative side of teachers being beholden to advisers who would come in and out of the school and choose the possible candidates for headships, deputy headships and heads of departments. I remember the bad feeling which grew up among the teachers that somehow or other the way in which they were being selected was very 341 subjective and not objective in any way. It set up a tension between many of the teachers. Those who felt capable but were not being selected were not "in" with the LEA advisers at the time. We would not want to see that history repeated.
Will self-selection for the training be acceptable? Will there, for example, be a menu of qualifying courses? Given that the gaps in knowledge and experience will differ from teacher to teacher, will there be a system of exemption from the requirements or will there be flexibility in precisely what qualification a teacher requires in order to be a candidate for headship? A compulsory monolithic qualification would present an unwelcome rigidity. Would, for example, a person coming from the state or independent sector, displaying all the competences and qualities for headship, be required to gain a specific Secretary-of-State-approved qualification?
I believe that the induction period provided in Clause 13 is a good idea in principle. However, like the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, I ask what period of induction is envisaged by the Government and whether they can give the rationale for choosing a particular period.
There is reference in Clause 13(2)(c) to the pre-qualified teacher being employed as,a teacher … to he assessed for the purpose of deciding whether he has satisfactorily completed an induction period".Does that mean that probationary teachers, as I prefer to call them, will he employed as full members of staff? If that is not the case, there is a very real cost involved. If they are to be employed as full members of staff before it has been decided that they are competent to teach, that presents a real conundrum for the Government and it would be helpful to have some clarification.
In principle we support Clauses 14 and 15 on the inspection of teacher training. We also believe that commencement should coincide with the passing of the Bill. We cannot see a reason for any delay whatever. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, referred to the debate about this matter within the higher education sector. I am aware that there are tensions arising as regards whether Ofsted should be given the task of inspection, whether the recommendations of the Sutherland Report should be followed or whether we should retain the present system of higher education inspection. On balance, we agree that Ofsted should carry that responsibility and that it should be statutory.
I could not refute more strongly the accusation made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, that my government, when in power, showed only contempt for teachers. My noble friends, like my noble friend Lady Young and the people I worked with in ministerial teams, have the highest regard for teachers. In fact, most of our energies have been engaged in trying to find ways in which to make sure that the best teachers are recognised and that other teachers who are not so good are brought up to the standards of the best.
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, referred also to the exodus from teaching. Perhaps I may give some reasons for many teachers leaving the profession. There was the introduction of trendy teaching methods in the 1960s, following through into the 1970s and 1980s, and the 342 move away from traditional teaching. I reacted warmly to the examples given from the experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. Consequentially, there was a rise of poor discipline in schools. Children were free to do "their own thing" which took child-centred to absurd lengths. There was the discouragement of competition and the abolition of testing so that positions in class were discouraged; the discouragement of the teaching of reading by the phonics method; the discouragement of teaching basic tables as a basis for understanding numeracy; spelling and grammar were deemed to thwart progress. There existed a great deal of political correctness in the system. I was a parent of children in school, a local authority member, a member of a school council and a member of the council of local education authorities. I can tell the noble Lord that that philosophy was not only given wholehearted and enthusiastic support by the Labour and the Liberal Democrat parties but was positively promulgated by them.
If one was in a local authority, and more significantly, in a school which resisted such fashions, one was deeply grateful. But for many parents and children it was a game of chance. It coincided also with almost no choice of school available to parents. The children who were most let down at that time were many of our children from urban areas.
Before addressing the issue of student fees and loans, will the Minister take the opportunity to provide the latest information on college fees for Oxford and Cambridge?
The introduction of tuition fees in Clauses 16 to 22 and the abolition of grants—because I want to couple those—is unacceptable. We prefer the Dearing recommendations which were rejected with unseemly haste—within a matter of hours—by the Secretary of State. The present proposals are in such disarray. It is unacceptable that students who are applying at this time for university places do not know, nor are likely to know for certain until the Bill has Royal Assent and the regulations receive parliamentary approval, the details of the financial arrangments. I wish to impress upon the Minister this evening that draft regulations must be placed in the Library of both Houses well before the first day in Committee. I put the noble Baroness on notice that if they are not, I shall be calling for a delay in the handling of the Bill.
What we now understand, not from the Bill but from what we have gleaned, is that there is to be a means-tested tuition fee applied differentially and there is to be the abolition of maintenance grants. Clause 18 is extraordinarily draconian and acts as a sword of Damocles over our free-standing, independent, chartered institutions. Let us make no mistake about it: the impact of the powers taken by the Secretary of State to impose conditions goes very much wider than the noble Baroness indicated and, I have to say, will inevitably impact on academic freedom in our universities. I would prefer to see it out of the Bill, rather than amended.
I turn now to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, on Second Reading of the student loans Bill. Why on earth are we creating a new piece of legislation, concurrently with this Bill, which includes a 343 measure to repeal it on Royal Assent, if the Bill contains—as it does—transitional arrangements for the present system? Could not the Government have addressed the changes necessary for the management of student loans in this one Bill?
We oppose the abolition of the present levels of maintenance grants and we shall do so by bringing forward amendments to place safeguards on the face of the Bill for those families whose income is sufficiently modest to qualify for maintenance grants under the present system to continue to receive them. Applications for places in higher education are already affected by the Government's proposals. Frankly, the proposals fly in the face of what we all believed was a concern of the Labour Party, both new and old; namely, to encourage bright young people from all backgrounds to benefit from higher education. These proposals actually mean that students from low-income families will leave university with the greatest burden of debt. How can the Minister justify that?
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, talked about the financial plight of students with great feeling. There is not another penny for students in the proposals now before us. In fact, those who presently receive grant for maintenance will lose it and will be required to borrow the difference. For the students referred to by the noble Baroness—those whose parents are expected to support their sons and daughters but who do not—there is no extension of loan facility. They will have to go out and borrow on the market and will actually be worse off. There is nothing in the Bill to alleviate that situation. The consequences for students as a result of these proposals will be to lose grants and face increased loans with an extended period over which to repay. Indeed, some students will be repaying loans over many decades.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, regretted the fact that there were no state teachers. However, if, for example, the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, had not mentioned the fact that she was a teacher, I would have probably guessed that she was. That applies also to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, to my noble friend Lady Perry and my noble friend Lord Mackay who sometimes sits with me on these Benches; and, indeed, to many others. We should not, of course, forget the noble Lords, Lord Glenamara, and Lord Dormand of Easington. There are quite a number in the House—
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I should point out to the noble Baroness that most of those she has just mentioned have not been near a classroom for many years. I was in fact referring to practising teachers.
§ Baroness Blatch
Nevertheless, my Lords, there are a number of people who have teaching experience. We also have governors and parents of children who are in school or in college and university.
Following the unilateral pronouncement of the Scottish Minister which created a different system for the setting of fees, we shall challenge the principle and the proposal of differential fees for UK students within the European Community. There is no justification— 344 and, I believe, possibly no legal basis—for treating a student from France, Scotland or Southern Ireland differently from a student living in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.
I move on to consider gap-year students. There has been a considerable lack of understanding of the impact of these proposals on students who take a year out before entering university. There have been a number of changes concerning gap-year students. However, for clarification, can the Minister say whether those students who will have the tuition fee waived in the year 1998-99 will also enjoy the benefit of the present system of maintenance grants?
Local authorities, too, are in a state of flux. I believe that they will continue to means test applicants for loans and grants, although I understand that is in the melting pot. But how are they expected to means test families of overseas applicants? If they are successful in means testing the families of Italian students—something that even the Italian Government have not managed to do over many years—they really will deserve a bouquet.
We shall seek to ensure that all of the income generated by the introduction of fees is dedicated to higher education. If it is not, then the Secretary of State is wrong in his claim that the fee is not a tax. If the money is exclusively generated from higher education students and not dedicated to higher education institutions, it cannot be anything other than a tax on higher education students and their families. When the noble Baroness said that the tuition fees would go direct to the university that each student attends, I believe she was referring to a mere technicality because my understanding is that the money will be clawed back, pound for pound, and then reallocated. It would be helpful to have clarification on that point.
As regards the impact of the new funding system on the public sector borrowing requirement, I was interested to read the Select Committee report on this area of funding. Is there any example of a situation where public money is loaned and collected by a public body, for example the Inland Revenue, which is not counted against PSBR? Under the system that is proposed there will be large cash flow costs to the Exchequer which must impact on the PSBR. Will the Minister tell the House what are the intentions of the Treasury in this matter? Does the Inland Revenue have a system already up and running to deal with a measure that will be in place in a matter of months?
As regards the pay-back arrangements, will there be a point at which the debt owed by a student will be written off over a period, and if so what will that period be? At the moment it is the age of 50, or a period of 25 years, whichever comes first. What size of fund will be created for the £250 additional hardship grant available to students under the new proposals? Who will administer it? Who will determine the level of hardship that will qualify for such grant, and is it new money?
I turn to Clause 23 and the entitlement for 16 and 17 year-olds, and indeed some 18 year-olds, to time off work, with pay, for studies. That is a laudable aim and I agree with everyone who has talked about the desirability of that measure. However, I see this in the 345 context of burdens on business. The right to time off is an entitlement. To give paid time off poses an obligation on an employer irrespective of cost and irrespective of whether a small, medium-sized, or large employer can afford the expense of that. When consulted, employers asked for flexibility but there does not appear to be scope for that in the Bill. This Government are no friend to small and medium-sized businesses. They are imposing many measures—for example, the minimum wage, social chapter provisions, working time directives, paternal leave and maternal leave. I could go on. The cost of this measure was deemed to be derisory—£80 million to £130 million—but one has to add that to the cost of the other measures that employers will have to fund. Frankly, this is another example of a policy where the intention is laudable but the policy is counter productive. Employers will be cautious about employing a 16 or 17 year-old who does not have a government decreed standard of education, as opposed to one who does. We shall oppose the imposition of this further burden on business while helping the Government to look for ways and means to ensure that these young people gain their qualifications.
Like many who voted on 1st May, I am baffled by these policies. In the run up to the election the Government asked the electorate to take them on trust. The Government said that they would not remove single parent allowances, but yesterday they did so. Right in the middle of the election the Prime Minister said that he would not introduce tuition fees. We now have a proposal to introduce tuition fees. The Government wish to widen access but these proposals have produced the reverse effect. The Government have argued for fairness. How can it be fair to hit the students from the lowest income families the hardest? The Government wish to promote greater professionalism for teachers. Yet the Secretary of State has taken many powers of direction over the life of a teacher, not only in this Bill through the general teaching council but also through the Schools Standards and Framework Bill. We shall have a lot of fun when that Bill comes to this House. The Government profess to be friendly to business. Yet Clauses 23 and 24 add another cost and another practical burden on business. This Government are without principles, and, frankly, their policies lack consistency.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, will she accept that the number of questions she has asked in a Second Reading debate is unacceptable? She has put my noble friend in a quite impossible position by asking up to 50 extremely detailed questions, some at the level of minutiae which the noble Baroness should raise at the Committee stage of the Bill and not at Second Reading. Had I done so when I was principal spokesman on education in Opposition, she would have refused to answer them and would have been very critical.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, first, having sat on that side of the House, I can say with some feeling that the Front Bench spokesman for the Opposition did it to me every single Second Reading speech. If the noble 346 Baroness has time in between dealing with her red boxes, she can turn up Second Reading speeches and look at the long list of questions.
Secondly, Second Reading speeches are about flagging up our concerns and putting the Government on notice about specific anxieties we have. As a Minister I found it enormously helpful to know what the concerns were so that between Second Reading and the first day of Committee I could do some homework and return better prepared for the first day in Committee.
Thirdly, a large number of my questions were repeated by many noble Lords who have spoken in the House today; many questions were repetitious. I shall not be offended if the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, says at the Dispatch Box that he is sorry he cannot answer all those questions tonight. but that he will read Hansard carefully, and that he and the noble Baroness will come back better prepared at the Committee stage of the Bill.
§ 10.42 p.m.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, this has been a stimulating debate, witnessed by the fact that we are all still awake. From the discussions we have had there is no doubt that we shall have many late nights on this issue. The House has a good and proud tradition of concern for higher education and for the teaching profession. The proposals in the Bill and the debate today take that tradition further.
First, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Rendell of Babergh on her effective maiden speech. It reminded us what education policy is about. Teenage and adult illiteracy is a stark reminder of the failure of an education system; and there are too many such failures in our society today. It is fitting that the reminder should come from a new Peeress who is herself very literary, very literate and—I was going to say very "literable" but that might rule me out from ever taking part in any education debate—very readable. We welcome her into our midst and welcome that timely reminder of what education is about.
It has been a complex debate. Perhaps I may indicate how I shall deal with the comments. First, there are clearly two areas which raise points of principle for noble Lords: tuition fees and top-up fees. I shall deal with those two issues first, upfront and in some detail, if I may. Then there is the general teaching council on which there seems to be broad consensus about the principle and a lot of anxiety and misunderstanding on the details. I shall deal with that. If I have time I shall deal with the other areas of the legislation in the sequence of the Bill.
On tuition fees, maintenance costs and related matters, we have had a good explanation by my noble friend Lord Davies, and the noble Lord, Lord Walton. They reminded us of how we reached the present position. My noble friend Lady Dean explained the background to the Dearing Report. We are facing up to a situation whereby, unlike the time when some noble Lords were in higher education and were among only 5 per cent. of the population, the age cohort now has 30 per cent. of people in higher education.
347 I was relieved in that I had expected an attack from the Left all the way through this debate but had to wait for my noble friend Lord Peston and the Liberal Bench at the end of the debate to raise anxieties of principle on a front that I was standing ready to deal with. I understand the position that they take. They must be arguing that the system we propose, and proposed by Dearing—given that there is a cash problem within the higher education system as a result of the higher take-up—and the whole question of tuition fees would be better dealt with by higher (as the Liberals would say) or more progressive (as my noble friend Lord Peston would say) taxation.
I understand that argument, and it is possible that I have been sympathetic to it in the past. But that was not the policy on which the Labour Party went into the election. That was quite clear; and it is quite clear that we have to act on the basis of what already exists. What I cannot understand is why my noble friend Lord Peston objects to the changes that we have made to the "dog's breakfast" situation that we inherited, and which in a sense move in his direction. Those changes are income-contingent. The fees will be paid by those who can afford to pay them. It means that the 30 per cent. of people who are in higher education will not be subsidised by the 70 per cent. who are not. And it means that we begin to tackle the problem outlined by my noble friend Lady Kennedy; namely, that under the previous situation the higher subsidies went to the better-off. We are therefore talking about a very progressive system of payment for higher education at a time when we want more and more people to enter that field.
The loans repayment system, as compared with the one we inherited, will mean slower repayments, and will be better geared to the income of graduates. It will also make it more sure—a request that noble Lords have repeatedly made clear—that the money goes to the educational institutions.
I was also slightly surprised that my noble friend Lord Peston advocated the abolition of parental contributions. Providing subsidised loans to cover total living costs would be extremely regressive and would surely be counter to my noble friend's intention. I was also surprised that the Liberals appeared to support that view.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, if the Minister does not want to abolish parental contributions, does he propose to introduce compulsion that parents should pay them?
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, we expect, as has been the case for many years in regard to both grants and loans, that parents should make that contribution.
In deciding to support the Dearing Committee's recommendations—
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt my noble friend. I take it, then, that my noble friend is saying that 18 year-olds are not adults and are not to be treated as adults for tax purposes, and that we are living in the past. We have discussed this matter. He does not 348 have to answer; I am merely making a little trouble. When we come to the Committee stage we can go into all these matters in some detail. However, I must state my position; namely, my great desire for the Government, of which I am a great supporter, not to be stupid.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, so far as parental contributions are concerned, I understand my noble friend's point. We are maintaining the situation as it is. That is the essence of our policy. However, it is a much more progressive policy. Compared with those who do not obtain qualifications, graduates receive about 20 per cent. more than the equivalent age cohort. So at £24,000 a year, they receive £4,000 more than an equivalent non-graduate. Out of that we are asking people to repay about £100 a month. That does not seem unreasonable.
We have adopted the Dearing Committee's recommendations, with three very important safeguards, which also ought to appeal to my noble friend Lord Peston but which he does not seem entirely to have accepted. Tuition will continue to be free for the one in three dependent students who come from lower income families. His concern about the marginal student is addressed directly and explicitly in that area. Moreover, while some full-time students will pay up to £1,000 a year. no family will have to pay a higher up-front bill than under the present arrangements; and there will certainly be no increase above the rate of inflation.
Our proposals will mean more money for universities. We have made clear that the savings will go to universities—
§ Baroness Blatch
All of them? My Lords, I apologise profusely for having spoken from a sedentary position, but the noble Lord said something important. We have all been very concerned about this point. Will the money, pound for pound, that is collected through tuition fees be returned to the home university of the student?
§ Lord Whitty
Yes. We have already made the commitment in the £165 million we have ploughed back into university education.
My Lords, concerns were expressed by the noble Lord. Lord Tope, the noble Earl, Lord Limerick, the noble Baroness, Lady Park, and others about the administration of the system. We are currently considering the Dearing Committee's recommendations for a student support agency and we expect to make an announcement shortly. We have to weigh the potential gains in terms of efficiency and simplicity against the benefits of building on the existing systems and the expertise within local authorities.
The noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, raised questions regarding the application rate by students in the light of the slightly misleading publicity about the changes. It is as yet too early to make an overall assessment of the effect. If there has been a reduction in applications, it follows an upward blip last year in applications for entry into 349 college this year which resulted from some earlier miscommunication of what was intended. The two will cancel each other out, in our opinion.
The noble Baroness asked about the student loans Bill. I need to clarify this point because the noble Lord, Lord Tope, raised it at an earlier stage. The student loans Bill will amend the current student loans legislation—that is, the 1990 Act—to allow the existing student loan debt to be sold to the private sector. Loans to students who entered the higher education system before 1998 will continue to be made under the existing legislation, including the new Bill. That means that the 1990 Act, together with the 1997 Bill which we debated last week, will remain on the statute book for the purposes of those students who are already in the system for at least another five or six years.
§ Lord Tope
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for trying to clarify this point. My recollection is that the effect of the final words in the Bill before us tonight is to repeal the whole of what will become the student loans Act 1997. I understood the Minister to say just now that it would be effective for another five years. We have recognised tonight that the process of the Bill will take some time, but I suggest that we might have finished it within five years.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, as will become clear as we debate the Bill and other Bills, there will be saving provisions which will maintain in force the provisions relating to students already within the system.
I was asked a number of detailed questions on the position with regard to student loans. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, asked whether the Government accept the Dearing recommendations about disabled students. The Government have announced that disabled students' allowances will continue as grants and that from 1998-99 they will not be means tested. We are currently considering a recommendation that these allowances should be extended to other areas.
The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, asked about self-financing systems, particularly for veterinary students. We have no intention of using the powers to control the levels for students for whom no public financial support will be available.
I was asked about medical and dental students. The NHS will continue to provide income-related bursaries for living costs and we shall meet students' tuition fees and contributions for periods in excess of four years.
A number of concerns have been expressed which are perhaps better addressed during the course of the Committee stage of the Bill. I emphasise that the move in relation to tuition fees will provide a system whereby we shall have a progressive means of paying for those fees and which will ensure that the least well-off families will benefit from it and that the money thereby saved will come back to higher education. I believe that that deserves the support of the whole House.
I come on to another area of principle which relates to top-up fees—Clause 18 of the Bill. Many noble Lords. with varying degrees of passion, argued against the inclusion in this Bill of a power for the Secretary of 350 State to control top-up fees. An allegation was made that my noble friend Lady Blackstone had previously opposed them herself. She assures me that, even when in a previous capacity, she always opposed the principle of top-up fees.
The reserve power that we require in this Bill to control top-up fees is a power we hope we never have to use; but we need to have it in reserve. We are not seeking a power to set university and college fee levels. We are seeking a reserve power to require. as a condition of public grant, that universities and colleges limit the fees that they charge to students. This is in no way a clause that attacks academic freedom in any meaningful use of that word. Universities will remain responsible for deciding the courses; they will retain their essential freedom to decide which students to admit, which staff to appoint and what to teach students.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, does the Minister understand that it is not possible to decide the content of the course if one has no say in the cost?
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, the question is whether Parliament has the right to impose conditions on the public purse's grant to an academic institution. If that is regarded as an abuse of academic freedom, then I do not understand the use of the word.
I must proceed. I have taken many interventions and I need to proceed. I do not believe that academic freedom is the issue under Clause 18. But I need to reiterate why we oppose top-up fees. We have to introduce this clause because home full-time undergraduates need reassurance. They and their parents need assurance that tuition will continue to be free for students from low income families, and that tuition fees for students from middle income families will be kept at an affordable level. They need an assurance that parents are not expected to contribute more than at present. Above all, they need to be sure that both entry and choice of higher education will be on the basis of academic merit and not on the ability to pay.
Our view on that matter was set out well before the general election. In our document on lifelong learning we made clear our views that, while top-up tuition fees for students would represent an immediate source of income to institutions to offset their problems, the introduction of such fees at the point of access would be an unfair and unsustainable solution. We stick with that view. It is not in any sense an attempt to undermine university autonomy. We respect universities' autonomy and do not intend to attack academic freedom.
Perhaps I can speak briefly about the resources that arise from this. The Government need to be able, if necessary, to control the top-up fees that universities may consider charging. Principally, we are referring to home, full-time undergraduates and postgraduate certificate of education students. It is not in any sense our purpose to control fees generally for part-time students, for postgraduate students, for board and lodging charges or for overseas students to whom we have given no direct financial support.
351 I repeat my noble friend's words. Officials have discussed the scope of this clause with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and we have taken a close look at the current drafting. We are prepared to try to clarify this through an appropriate amendment at Committee stage to ensure that safeguards are built in and that our intentions are clear. I hope your Lordships will accept that commitment. We will look at it again at Committee stage.
§ Lord Baker of Dorking
My Lords, before the Minister leaves the question of fees, will he just answer one question? He said several times this evening in reply to other questions that he is giving guarantees that the money raised from fees generally will be fed back to the system of higher education. Does that mean specifically that if, say, Hull University raised £100,000 in tuition fees, that Hull University will receive £100,000 back?
§ Lord Baker of Dorking
My Lords, if that is the case, would it not be sensible to leave the fees with the universities and colleges that collect them?
§ 11 p.m.
§ Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton
My Lords, I wonder whether I may crave your Lordships' indulgence not to have repeated interventions from one speaker at this stage. It is extremely late.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, on a point of order, the duty Whip of the day, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, is certainly within her rights to appeal to us to finish early or to curtail the points we have to make. But I want to say that this day has been put aside for a very, very important Bill. There are no rules on Second Reading. As long as we have queries on Second Reading, we can come back with questions to the Minister. It is not a convention of the House that points of clarification are refused.
§ Baroness Blatch
My Lords, I do have a right to make a point of order. Therefore, I do not know what new rule has been brought into play by the duty Whip to curtail points of clarification.
§ Lord Whitty
My Lords, clearly, if it is in order for noble Lords to raise questions, or to attempt to raise questions, it is also in order and in the tradition of the House for me not to give way. I have given way on a large number of questions so far. I do not intend to give way further on any points or questions.
The noble Earl, Lord Limerick, was suspicious that universities would not get back the fees which they receive from local authorities. The Government will take account of this, along with the needs of the higher 352 education sector and of course wider public expenditure considerations, in deciding the level of grant in the Higher Education Funding Council. We have made clear that the savings from the introduction of tuition fees will be used to improve quality, standards and opportunity for all in higher and further education. We have honoured that pledge by announcing an extra £165 million for higher education in 1998.
The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, raised the question of part-time students. I regret that we are in the situation where the Dearing Committee concluded that extending loans to part-time students should not be a priority, particularly as a high proportion of part-time students are in employment and therefore able to support themselves.
On further education, I welcome the recent appointment of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, as chairman of the FEFC. The Government have also welcomed the publication earlier this year of the Kennedy Report, Learning Works, from my noble friend Lady Kennedy. Further education makes a vital contribution to the education and training of people of all ages and to the Government's objective of life-long learning. We are committed to supporting and strengthening the work of the FE sector.
Having dealt with top-up fees, I can now go on to the general teaching council. Questions were asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, and others. It was welcomed, I note, by the noble Baroness, Lady Young, although in slightly less ringing tones by the noble Lords, Lord Baker and Lord Pilkington. I believe there is a general consensus in the House that the general teaching council should go ahead. It will bring together and reflect the interests of all of those who have a stake in ensuring the highest possible standard of teaching. It will include parents and employers. The teacher voice will be central but it will not in any sense be a super union or simply a talking shop or a body to defend the way things are. We are pleased that the teaching unions have generally welcomed our proposal to establish a GTC and we will want to work with all those who are interested in higher standards in education.
Questions were asked about the initial functions and the fact that there is no detail in some of the areas of the GTC. It is a deliberate part of our policy that we should establish the GTC first, with powers and duties which it can immediately undertake. The provisions we have put forward are therefore the initial core functions. When it is established—probably in the year 2000—we intend that the Teacher Training Agency, which will clearly have to have a relationship with the GTC, will retain its existing statutory functions and continue to pursue the major new remit we have recently set for it. We expect the TTA and the council to develop a strong partnership. Clause 5 allows the addition of further functions to the GTC related to those on the face of the Bill.
In response to various questions about this, further extension of the GTC's powers would require further primary legislation. We would not rule that out for the future, should it be justified. It could further reinforce 353 and underpin the major role that we see for the council. But let us now focus on getting it off the ground, working on a step-by-step basis to increase its role and authority.
As regards the composition of the council, we intend to consult widely with all elements of education. It is vital that we get it right so that the GTC does indeed command respect within the profession and beyond. It is too important an issue to be rushed. There will of course be detailed proposals on the composition put before this House. It is likely to be a combination of direct elections, nomination by major representative bodies and appointments made direct by the Secretary of State.
I was asked about the register. The GTC should be for all teachers who are employed in the maintained sector. That is how other professional associations operate. Teachers who have qualified status will be able to register with the GTC as long as they have not been barred from the profession and they have paid their registration fee.
I was asked about the powers of the GTC in barring teachers. The Bill provides that it should advise on barring teachers it considers are not up to standard, but Ministers will retain the final decision. It is important to retain the best features of a system which currently works well. It is true that other professional bodies have such powers, but they have generally been introduced as regards the regulation of a profession where none has existed before. The GTC faces a different task and we need to consider whether it would improve on the existing system. It may be possible to review this area once the GTC has established itself.
I was asked about the separate provisions relating to Wales. Because there is no effective operation of a GTC in Wales and the need to provide for the role of the Welsh assembly, which will be free to set regulations, the situation in Wales will be somewhat different and therefore the powers of the GTC provided for in this Bill are different for Wales from those for England. I was asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, when the regulations will be available. We intend to consult widely on them and only then will we see them.
I need also to respond to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, about a college of teachers. I believe that the noble Lord will be aware that my honourable friend Stephen Byers met with the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote. He indicated the Government's general view on the subject. The Government would not stand in the way of teachers establishing such a voluntary membership body, which will be funded primarily by subscriptions. We want to support any initiative which advances the professionalism of teachers.
For now it is important to focus on the setting up of a general teaching council and define what its role and responsibilities would be. So we can offer only a qualified endorsement of the proposal to establish a college of teachers and we must be careful not to create confusion.
Partly because of the interruptions I have little time to deal with the other elements of the Bill. As regards the mandatory headship qualification, Clause 12, 354 I believe that that has received a general welcome in this House. There were a number of queries from the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, and others. Clearly, we need to assess the success so far of the national professional qualification for headship and base the qualifications on that. At this stage it is difficult to predict what time scale will be required for the acquisition of candidates for headship. It is mandatory to have that qualification. We shall be moving as rapidly as we can to that situation. We are not, however, intending to extend the mandatory qualification to serving heads.
There are questions of release, of paying for it, and the effect on the recruitment of head teachers which we shall have to take very carefully into account. As regards inductions, the introduction of an effective period was generally welcomed in this House. It will need to be operated somewhat differently and have a greater support system than the old probationary period to which the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, referred.
Some anxieties have been expressed about Clauses 14 and 15 on the right of inspection of teacher training facilities, but there was general understanding of the reasons we need that. The previous government had already provided inspection by statutory means by Ofsted and teacher training provisions. However, there have been a number of problems and we are seeking to guarantee through primary legislation the necessary access at reasonable times for inspectors to do their job. We recognise that there are sensitivities and anxieties, as the noble Earl, Lord Russell, pointed out. There is already a complaints procedure, but we shall study those concerns carefully to see whether we can do anything else to reassure the institutions affected.
I turn finally to the time off for study provisions. It has to be right to invest in all our young people and, in general, in principle, that has received positive endorsement from the Chamber. Interpretation of the new entitlement will be both sensible and flexible. In particular, we have made it clear that the phrase "time off which is required to enable young people to access the new right" does not necessarily mean time away from the workplace. The Bill does not afford greater status to any particular route. We can reassure the CBI and others on that point.
Turning to the concerns of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, the right to study is for a relevant qualification. That means that the quality of study at the workplace will be ensured by the new employment right. We shall continue to consult with the CBI and others to build on what is already happening and to ensure that the right is turned into a reality. This is an important and impressive part of the Bill. Far too many of our young people leave school at 16 and 17. It is bad for them, for the economy and for society. If the Bill did nothing else, that alone would be a major legislative achievement of which we could be proud.
I regret that due both to my own fault and to the many interventions this reply has been slightly disjointed. However, I hope that I have managed to cover most of the points raised. I apologise if I have not fully covered some points. I shall read noble Lords' contributions in 355 Hansard to see whether it would be sensible to give them a written answer. We shall have another opportunity to consider such points in Committee.
In conclusion, the Bill aims to enhance the standing of the teaching profession; to secure fair funding in higher education; to provide new hope for unqualified young workers and to reform student support. It delivers key pledges made by the Government in opposition and in power. I commend the Bill to your Lordships for a Second Reading.
On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.