HL Deb 04 November 1997 vol 582 cc1343-68

4.39 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether their proposals for fees at universities in Scotland offer equality of access to students across the United Kingdom.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest as an honorary graduate of two universities affected by the Question: the Universities of St. Andrews and Dundee. I also warmly welcome to this short debate a most knowledgeable list of speakers, particularly my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas who has chosen this occasion to make his maiden speech. I am sure we all look forward to hearing him.

Details of the Government's proposals for higher education students' tuition fees are so far only partly known. Much, we understand, is still to be decided. My Question is focused on a single point regarding a decision that has been made and which seems to me to require urgent further attention from the Government. Alarming implications of that decision are already arising:—implications for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland aspiring to go to a Scottish university next year but now having serious doubts and cancelling exploratory visits; implications for the universities themselves, which may lose those students; considerable implications for the Scottish economy; and, most importantly, for the way United Kingdom devolution is likely to develop in the future.

I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, is to reply to the Question. As a Scottish Office Minister and a previous Vice-Principal of Aberdeen University, he will speak for the Government as a whole but will clearly understand the Scottish perspective.

When, just before the Recess, the Dearing Report was published, the Government announced simultaneously that from 1998 undergraduates without means-tested exemption would be required to contribute £1,000 a year towards their tuition fees. The Government added that they would be looking in particular at the circumstances in Scotland, where the honours degree takes four years as opposed to three years elsewhere.

Last week, on 27th October, Mr. Brian Wilson, Minister for Education at the Scottish Office, announced that, for the sake of equity, honours degree students living in Scotland would only be required to contribute for three years of their tuition at Scottish universities. The fourth year would be free, and for medical and dental students the fifth and sixth years would also be free. That welcome decision—it is extremely welcome in Scotland—did not apply, Mr. Wilson stated, to students from England, Wales or Northern Ireland, his comment being, The question of whether students from elsewhere in the United Kingdom coming to study in Scotland will receive a similar concession will depend on those who provide their support"— whatever that means.

The questions I ask the Minister this afternoon are as follows. First, it seems strange that a student from Dover can be charged more for a given course than a student from Calais or a student from Scotland. Is the decision legal under domestic law, human rights law or the Maastricht Treaty? I shall be grateful if the Minister can give me an answer to that question. Secondly, legal requirement or no, do the Government consider it right or indeed wise not to include all United Kingdom students taking an honours degree in Scotland in this United Kingdom taxpayer funded concession?

Writing in this week's House Magazine, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, reminds us that, in considering funding reform for universities, fairness is at the heart of government thinking and equity is their watchword. Is this fair? Is it equity? And is it wise?

In an article in the Scotsman on 29th October, Mr. Brian Wilson, far from accepting that there was any principle at stake, dismissed the many protests as "hyperbolic nonsense". His grounds were that the numbers affected would be small; a third would be exempted through means testing and, of the rest, a high proportion would find the extra £1,000 "a mere inconvenience". With respect to Mr. Wilson, that is not the point. At this moment 6,000 or more young people at school south of the Border are considering the pros and cons of applying to Scots universities. No one can tell them precisely what the tuition will cost them. In any case, the word has gone round that for non-Scots Scotland may be a more expensive option.

Currently 17 per cent. of Scots undergraduates—23,000 or a little less—are United Kingdom incomers. But at Edinburgh (Mr. Gordon Brown's university) they represent 48 per cent.; at St. Andrews 45 per cent.; at Dundee (Mr. Brian Wilson's university) 36 per cent.; and at Stirling 32 per cent. If young people's reaction is to diminish that mix, what will that do to the Scottish educational experience? What will it do to universities that depend on incoming students' residence fees, to the Scottish economy which gains some £100 million a year from their spending, and to the Scottish community where many of them stay on to live and work?

It is not possible to say precisely how many students south of the Border will stay away. My submission is that, whatever that number may be, the Government's position on this is wrong, particularly at this moment when legislation is awaited for a devolved Scots parliament—a parliament which will be 95 per cent. funded by United Kingdom taxpayers as a whole. Surely at this time the Government should be demonstrating to all our people the potential advantages to them of devolution and the increasingly varied opportunities it will offer to citizens across the United Kingdom.

If between now and the setting up of a Scots parliament the Prime Minister is to allow Scottish Office Ministers to proclaim "Fortress Scotland" in this way, if he is to allow—as may well be the problem in this case—Ministers in departments like education and employment south of the Border to refuse to co-operate with a devolved parliament north of the Border, even if that department is willing to pay, it is a poor outlook for devolution.

Likewise, if the Prime Minister is to allow that sort of behaviour, one can see an erosion of the open, welcoming encouragement of cross-Border flow which is the key to Scotland's character, to its universities and, incidentally, a key to incomers' enjoyment of Scotland. It is also, to my mind, a key to making devolution a success.

On this matter the Government are sending out depressing signals. Only the Scottish Nationalists are smiling. I look forward with great interest to the Minister's reply.

4.48 p.m.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, I was delighted to be able to add my name to the list of speakers in this important debate. I did so in order to beg the Minister to convey to his colleagues the feelings of this House on the matter and the feelings of the people of Scotland, particularly the academic community.

I live in St. Andrews. Its university is not large, but it is a university founded in 1410. The intake of non-Scottish students to the University of St. Andrews is 41 per cent. That is good for St. Andrews; it is good for the educational community to have that kind of mix in their courses. St. Andrews provides a broader based degree course which is not repeated in most of the English universities. Students who wish to take advantage of that course and who live in England will have to pay the extra £1,000 per annum.

The noble Baroness pointed out that there are 22,000 full-time UK undergraduate students of non-Scottish domicile in Scottish higher education. That is not a very large number. Mr. Brian Wilson said, "We are concerned with a small number". If it is a small number, why make a fuss about it? If it is a small number, why make Scottish education more expensive than studying in England? Thirty per cent. of students at Dundee University come from outside Scotland. Of those, 14 per cent. come from Northern Ireland. The students who come to Dundee University from Northern Ireland will be required to pay the extra £1,000. However, students who come from southern Ireland will not be required to pay the extra £1,000. That is anomalous and totally indefensible.

It has been said that students who come up to Scottish universities from England are well able to pay the extra £1,000. That is not the experience of St. Andrews University. The great majority of students who come up from England to study at St. Andrews University are not from public schools and are not necessarily from homes where the parents can afford to pay the extra.

Anything that makes Scottish education more expensive affects their ability to recruit students. Recruiting students is a highly competitive business. The funding of universities depends on attracting a sufficient number of students to make the courses viable. This proposal makes Scottish education less attractive and to that extent affects the academic community and the whole provision of education in Scotland.

Lots of people admire, and some even prefer, Scottish education. There is no reason in the world why it should be made less attractive. As has been said, this is a gift to the SNP. I regard the SNP as a great menace, politically and socially. Anything that encourages its kind of propaganda should certainly not be encouraged by the Government. I am therefore delighted to support the proposition so admirably presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour.

4.53 p.m.

Lord Alderdice

My Lords, in speaking to this Unstarred Question, I must first declare an interest as an honorary lecturer in the medical faculty of Queen's University, Belfast. It might be assumed from that remark that I would be rather glad to try to find any reason why students should stay in Northern Ireland and not be attracted away to universities in Scotland. However, there are two reasons why I feel extremely unhappy about the proposition that has come forward.

First, there has traditionally been a considerable run of students to Scotland from Northern Ireland. It is not just a matter of our recent difficulties. Indeed, in the early days the two key pillars of Queen's University, Belfast, were theology and medicine. In both cases those who established the courses took their initial training in Scotland and came across to Northern Ireland. That long and distinguished tradition considerably informed the philosophy of education in Northern Ireland, and for the better. In more recent years there have been other reasons for students going to Scotland and other places. Parents and families, particularly in the Protestant community, began to feel there was little long-term future for young people and so encouraged them to leave. That was not a happy circumstance but, in the view of many, it was not an entirely unrealistic one either.

The number of students involved is quite considerable. Currently, around 5,500 students from Northern Ireland attend institutions of higher education in Scotland. From a population of 1.5 million, that is a considerable proportion. To be disadvantaged in the way that has been announced will not improve the morale of young people and their families in Northern Ireland; it will make them feel a little more unwanted in a part of the United Kingdom where they have always felt extremely welcome.

It is not the case that the young people who have sought education in Scotland have done so because they were unable, because of their academic ability or lack of it, to find places in Northern Ireland. On the contrary: as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, many have sought it because they appreciate Scottish education and value it very much. It is also the case that some of the courses available in Scottish education are not available in the smaller pool of courses in Northern Ireland. In effect, this measure will deny to young people in Northern Ireland the opportunity to continue their education. As already stated, that will place them at a disadvantage compared with young people in the Republic of Ireland. It is an extraordinary proposition.

Secondly, I am concerned about medical students. Medicine courses are longer than other courses. What is often forgotten is that by the time it comes to year three, and certainly year four, the academic courses last, not for 30 weeks, which might allow medical students to earn some money during the other 20 weeks, but continue for 40 and in some cases for 50 weeks, making it completely impossible for medical students to earn money to help them continue through their courses. Is it the case—I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify the point because the medical profession is unclear about the implications even of the more recent statements—that it will be into year five before medical students receive any assistance? That will be much too late. They will have operated without the level of sustenance other students receive.

It will mean that in medicine, already in difficulties in terms of recruitment to general practice, academic medicine, and some of the other hospital specialties, those who can afford to enter will do so because it is a good and rewarding career. But it is not likely to ensure doctors coming forward in sufficient numbers and with a particular interest in working in the inner city areas which have considerable problems attracting doctors. Will this not result in medicine being outside the reach of those who have all the abilities, skills and aptitudes but not the financial resources? That is an extraordinary position for a Labour Government, new or otherwise.

I entirely support moves towards devolution. But if a devolved Scottish Parliament made a decision of this kind, I would remonstrate with it and try to persuade it otherwise. I might even hope there was a Northern Ireland Parliament from which I could do so. But I would rely on the United Kingdom Parliament to ensure that the different regional assemblies were paying attention to each other, working together and ensuring some commonality and harmony throughout the United Kingdom as a whole. I find it remarkable that it is the United Kingdom Parliament whose duty, increasingly with devolved governments, will be to keep the United Kingdom together, is bringing forward such a proposition on the way ahead—

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, may I respectfully remind the noble Lord that the speaking time limit is five minutes and that when five minutes shows on the Clock the time is complete.

Lord Alderdice

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness. I look forward to the replies and elucidation that I trust will come from the Government Benches.

5 p.m.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas

My Lords, I am very glad to be here as a new Peer and it is an honour to participate in today's debate. While serving as an MP in the other House I had an uncle in this House, Lord Selkirk, and I benefited from his wise counsel. I remember a former Prime Minister suggesting to me that Government Whips in the House of Commons should be able to influence the votes of their relatives in the House of Lords, but I must confess I never had any success on that score.

I realise that convention demands that maiden speeches should not be too controversial and I would not wish to depart from that convention, but in relation to this subject there are clear issues of principle. I speak in today's debate because I was for three years responsible for this subject at the Scottish Office. The detailed differences between Scots and English educational systems and student support gave rise to many lengthy conversations, and indeed these were not always straightforward. But always the test we applied was to ensure fairness and to avoid discrimination against any particular group.

One of the ironies of this debate is that many more school-leavers in Scotland are staying on an extra year at school. There is therefore a trend for school-leavers in Scotland to opt for a three-year degree course as many are now going to university a year later. But the difficulty has arisen in relation to four-year honours degree courses in Scotland, as the noble Baroness has said. I hope that Ministers will be prepared to look at this issue again, for three reasons.

First, the proposed arrangements are clearly discriminatory. For example, as has been pointed out, a student from Umbria in Italy would pay less than a student from Northumbria. It would be seen as an unfairness for students on the same course to have to pay different amounts depending on which side of the Border they happen to live, and it would give rise to a grievance and a feeling of being less than welcome.

Secondly, as well as the issue of unfairness, students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland bring in an enormous amount of income to Scottish universities. The McNicoll Report identified that the actual amount of income received by the Scottish universities from the students concerned from other parts of the United Kingdom was in the region of £110 million. But one has to add over and above that an extra £100 million which those students spent in or around university towns. If this perceived unfairness acted as a disincentive and deterred students from outside Scotland from attending Scots universities, that would undoubtedly damage Scots universities through loss of income. There is undoubtedly evidence that this is already happening, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has pointed out.

The Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals believes that the imposition of 33 per cent. more in fees will turn English, Welsh and Northern Irish students away, threatening the survival of courses and departments, and would be seen as an unwelcome signal.

Thirdly, the proposed decision would be subject to challenges in the European Court of Justice. The National Union of Students has already said that it would support any student who decided to take on the Government, and the principals of the Scots universities are also seeking legal opinion on this issue. I recall that I once had occasion to report a Secretary of State for Scotland to the Equal Opportunities Commission for discriminating against women. Not very long afterwards he decided to change his policy in that particular respect. I cannot help believing that it would be better if the Government took steps to look at this matter again before the European Court of Justice becomes involved.

It has, of course, been suggested that the numbers affected are small, but in 199–97 the figures were as high as 26,900 students from the rest of the United Kingdom studying in Scotland. So the numbers potentially affected are probably not so small. But whatever the numbers, it is the principle of fairness that matters. Universities should be universal for those who have the ability and inclination to achieve their full potential. They should provide the passport to jobs, fulfilment and success. We have outlawed discrimination against race, religion and sex. In this case, with Ministers of good will in their respective departments, resolving this specific problem really should not prove insurmountable. Surely this is the time for Ministers in the Department for Education and the Scottish Office to look again at this issue with a view to preventing discrimination in education with particular reference to university fees.

I thank the noble Baroness very much for the fact that she has raised this issue in debate as a Question today. I am grateful for the opportunity to have addressed the House.

5.5 p.m.

The Earl of Kintore

My Lords, I am sure that I speak for the whole House in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, on his maiden speech. As would be expected from a former Scottish Education Minister, it was well informed. It is always nice to welcome a fellow Scot to the House, and as I note that he has been in most of the departments of the Scottish Office, I am sure that he is very well informed on a number of other subjects. I hope that it will not be too long before we hear him again.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, for asking this Question. I shall listen with considerable interest to the Government's reply on how they expect their proposal not to pay fourth-year fees for United Kingdom students other than Scots studying at Scottish universities to escape a legal challenge.

I declare an interest as the father of two university-aged children, but neither will be affected by the Government's proposals. I also have the honour to hold an honorary doctorate from the University of Aberdeen, an ancient Scottish university, from where the Minister who is to answer the Question is on professorial leave of absence from a distinguished career as a teacher and leader.

Surely the answer to the noble Baroness's Question is that the Government's proposals for fees at universities in Scotland do not offer equality of access to all United Kingdom students. Few English, Welsh and Northern Irish students will consider coming to a Scottish university if they know that their fourth year of study is unfunded and that they may have to find £1,000 to complete their course. In the highly competitive environment of attracting the best students, Scottish universities will thus lose out, but much more significantly, the non-Scottish UK students and UK Limited could miss out on valuable qualifications.

I refer to the geology and petroleum geology course offered at Aberdeen University. Because the oil industry is based in Aberdeen, the university is probably one of the few British institutions with the technical, practical and geographic justification for offering this degree. But it must be available to all UK students, not just Scots.

The reasons for this are that the course is probably only offered at one other institution, so it is almost a national course, and because geology is an A-level subject, which results in an above-average proportion of professionally oriented students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland wishing to take the course.

I understand that there are already quite a lot of unfunded activities directly related to that course and if a further £1,000 had to be found, there is a danger that UK non-Scots students would cease to apply, with devastating results for the course and for the whole of the reputation of the United Kingdom for providing world-class, appropriately qualified, graduates for the oil industry.

I hope that the Government's reply will not include a proposal that non-Scottish UK students with A-levels should come in to the Scottish honours degree courses at the start of the second year. Sir Ron Garrick, who chaired the Dearing Inquiry in Scotland, queried why so few students took that route and was told that the A-level students wanted themselves to take the full course. Statistics reveal that students from south of the Border taking a four-year course gained markedly better qualifications than the average and got worthwhile jobs. Sir Ron Garrick went on to comment: That to me sounded like a wonderful selling point for the Scottish institutions—do the four years because look at the results you get". Unless another speaker says something untoward, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will persuade his honourable friend Mr. Brian Wilson, the Minister responsible for Scottish education in another place, that he should fund the full 120-weeks' study which is traditionally associated with the well-rounded Scottish honours degree for all UK students and that the 90-week study period has no place in the Scottish first degree.

5.10 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Carnegy for tabling this important Unstarred Question. I should like to add my congratulations to those that have been paid to the maiden speaker, my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas, whom we were delighted to hear.

My noble friend Lady Carnegy stated the problem clearly and I shall not repeat what she said. Perhaps I may advise the Minister that since the Government announced that a tuition fee of £1,000 is to be paid, this is the second difficulty that they have encountered, the first being over what is known as the "gap year", which I think that they have at last sorted out. We now have what the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, described as a totally indefensible proposition.

I have a particular interest in this debate as one of my daughters went to St. Andrews University. Like many other English students at Scottish universities, not only did she receive an excellent education but she made lifelong Scottish friends. She had opportunities at St. Andrews to take up outdoor pursuits such as mountaineering, in which she became very interested, and even skiing, which are not generally available at English universities.

As we know, thousands of English students go to Scottish universities and I am glad that many Scots are now coming to English universities. That is as it should be. Everyone interested in education knows the value of getting to know and of mixing with people of different cultures and backgrounds. It must surely be the right of any student to go to any university in the United Kingdom, provided that they are properly qualified for the course that they want to follow. They should not be financially penalised in any way. To discriminate in this extraordinary fashion against the English, the Welsh and students from Northern Ireland is not just unfair to them—although it is—but it seems to me that the fundamental difficultly is that such discrimination is against the best interests of the whole university system. There will be no winners anywhere from this proposition—in Scotland, in England, in Wales or in Northern Ireland.

However, I believe that the problem goes wider than that, as my noble friend Lady Carnegy pointed out. During the course of our long debates on the referendum in Scotland on devolution we were told time and again by the Government that it was not a precursor to an independent Scotland. I hope that that is true. However, a measure such as this sits very uneasily with what was said then. To someone like myself, it suggests that, far from looking outward, Scotland will be looking inward. When we know the importance of young people growing up and being influenced by each other's culture, that seems dangerous and damaging.

We have heard a great deal about the numbers involved. Before speaking, my attention was drawn to an article in the Scotsman, written by Mr. Brian Wilson, in which he took a rather emotional approach. He talked about 5,000 non-Scottish but UK graduates from Scottish universities. However, a letter that I have received from the acting principal at St. Andrews refers to 12,000 non-Scottish domiciled UK students. Today we have heard mention of 22,000 and 26,000 such students. This is a serious matter and it would be helpful to know exactly what number we are talking about.

I do not think, however, that it is a numbers game. It is serious for anybody to be denied an opportunity on financial grounds and I am bound to say that I find it very surprising that a Labour Government, even a New Labour Government, should adumbrate this extraordinary policy which is bad for individual students, bad for the university system as a whole and in which, as I said earlier, there will be no winners.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, like one or two previous speakers, I must declare an interest—nothing as grand as being awarded an honorary degree from a famous Scottish university, but simply the fact that I am a professor at the coalface at the University of St. Andrews—I hasten to add that it is an unpaid professorship—and that that has enabled me on visits there to assess the very high quality of its academic community. In addition, I have a granddaughter who is an undergraduate there. As she is in her fourth year, she is unaffected by the proposals. I have therefore seen a little of how this looks from the other end.

It seems a most extraordinary proposition to limit one of the factors which I think give particular quality to the University of St. Andrews, to Edinburgh University which, again, has a high proportion of students from other parts of the United Kingdom, and to Dundee University which, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, pointed out and as was pointed out to me by a very eminent figure in Northern Ireland, has very particular relations with that Province. After all, Scotland now has a complement of universities with very varied histories and of very different kinds. The University of St. Andrews is the third oldest university in the United Kingdom; others are quite new. The University of Glasgow is a very eminent institution and has been so since Adam Smith's day at least. It is true that there it is not a question of a £1,000 tuition fee because I understand that students there customarily brought a sack of oatmeal as the fee for their professor! The direct payment of professors might at least ensure that such an imposition as this would benefit the university and not merely fill holes in the Treasury. It seems extraordinary that anyone should wish—that any Scot or that any friend of Scotland should wish—to see an inroad made into that great feature of Scotland and its particular ways of handling higher education which, as the noble Earl said, are somewhat different from those in England and Wales.

The proposition that the privilege of escaping the fees should be extended from Scottish students to students in the European Union is peculiar. It is peculiar to give a preference to Dublin over Belfast. However, I am not at all sure that it is legal. I would be the last person to regret it if it were suddenly announced that the United Kingdom, including England, was ceasing to be part of the European Union, but the fact is that it is part of the European Union and therefore if the privilege of Scottish students is extended to citizens of other parts of the European Union surely that must include England. I would defy any lawyer to find a hole in that argument.

I therefore appeal to the Minister to tell his colleague in another place, whose statements on higher education suggest that he is not fully aware of the complexities inherent in the problem, that there is in this House and probably in the country unanimity in the view that in matters of higher education the United Kingdom is a single unit, and that the financing of it, whatever form it takes, must take that fact into account.

5.20 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, for introducing this subject and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, on his excellent maiden speech. His qualities in the other House were well recognised. It is a great advantage to this House that he now sits on the Benches here. As is the wont with maiden speakers, the noble Lord said that his contribution was non-controversial. Given the consensual views that have been expressed so far, he has certainly fulfilled that obligation. However, he was far too controversial for me. I shall put a point of view different from those expressed so far in this debate.

I emphasise that the deterrent effect of this aspect of the fees with regard to Scottish universities can be greatly exaggerated. One is talking about £1,000 spread over a 20-year repayment period under the Government's proposal. That £1,000 must be seen against the background where anyone who undertakes a four-year course at a Scots university already incurs substantial costs: the loss of earnings for the year in which they could have been employed if they had pursued a three-year course; the costs involved in maintaining themselves at university; and the additional cost, which is not insignificant in these days of privatised rail and the uncertain fare structure, of travel from England, Wales, Northern Ireland or Scotland to Scottish universities. There are substantial costs of which this particular feature is quite marginal.

I agree that if throughout student bodies and parents there is considerable alarm that students will undertake obligations that they cannot be expected to fulfil, then the cost will be borne by students, by Scottish universities and by the wider society. In replying to the debate it behoves the Minister to emphasise how the Government will succeed in communicating to students the fact that the introduction of fees is made necessary by the key priority of this Government to expand higher education further, not least among students or young people who come from deprived homes. They will not be put off by the costs of tuition because by definition they will be exempt from such fees. Those fees come into play only where parental income is £23,000 a year.

I assure the House that there is a large number of students who, if they were given the kind of support that they deserved at the age of 16 to sustain themselves in school—priorities that the Government have identified—and the support necessary in further education to get the necessary qualifications, would be in a position to enter higher education, including Scottish higher education where neither they nor their families would face additional costs because the resources of the household would be too low to bear those costs at the present time.

If there is a fear that the introduction of these fees will somehow produce a superfluity of places in British universities, in particular Scottish ones, with large numbers of students not taking up places which would otherwise be available, the answer lies in the Government producing policies that encourage wider participation by students from social groups who at present feature all too little in higher education.

I respect the points that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, as to the value of four-year degree courses. But the reason why Scottish higher education is different is that the preparation for it is different. One English student identified this aspect when writing in The Scotsman. She said that she had started in the second year of her degree. She did not believe that her education had suffered as a result and could not see why others could not do likewise. She said that she had gone to Scotland, as others would, because she valued the institutions and the courses, not their length. She identified the fact that her preparation on the basis of English A-level qualifications, particularly for anyone who spent three years in the sixth-form of an English school, had adequately prepared her for Scottish higher education. One must recognise the difference between the two.

Far from Ministers being criticised today for having introduced what is regarded in some areas as a major deterrent to young people entering Scottish higher education, Ministers have succeeded in protecting Scottish university degrees by ensuring that Scots have access to them on the basis of four years' support.

5.25 p.m.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

My Lords, first I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Carnegy for introducing this important matter, which I believe has wider implications than for Scotland alone. I also congratulate my noble friend Lord Selkirk on his admirable maiden speech.

I declare a personal interest, although not a financial one. One of my sons graduated from St. Andrews. So much did he enjoy the experience that currently I have a second son at St. Andrews who is greatly benefiting from the experience and thoroughly enjoying it. I support what has been said about the excellence of Scottish universities, and certainly the proportion of students who are not Scottish—about 40 per cent.—greatly benefit from the experience.

Initially, I was shocked by the real anomaly announced by the Government. When I read the debate in Hansard on 30th October I was impressed by a number of the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. The majority of Scottish students take four-year courses, whereas the majority of English students take three-year courses. Maybe there is a certain lack of justice in that in general Scottish students have to pay four times £1,000 whereas in general English students have to pay three times £1,000. I noted the logic that increasingly A-level students attending Scottish universities with those qualifications entered in the second year and therefore incurred only three years' worth of expenses.

As an aside, I am disappointed not to see the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, in her place this evening. There are no doubt excellent reasons, but the noble Baroness is the Minister responsible for higher education. It seems that part of the anomaly in this affair arises from the circumstance that it is in part a higher education matter and in part a Scottish matter. Therefore, we shall hear the noble Lord with responsibility for Scottish affairs in this House answering the debate. One wonders whether one is already entering an area of anomalies. If this represents the first fruits of devolution, bring me back the days of Queen Anne!

There are further anomalies. We have not yet heard about the Scottish students who attend English universities. I have always regarded it as a sad aspect of the educational system that a limited number of Scottish students attend English universities because of the differences in the school system. I have always regretted the fact that we do not see more Scottish students. There are many science courses in English universities that are four-year courses. Will Scottish students who attend four-year courses in English universities be paying their fourth £1,000 or not? No doubt a factual answer can be provided to that question.

I understand the problem as outlined by the noble Baroness. Lady Blackstone. The main point I make in this debate is that by setting up differentials at the margin a financial market in educational matters is being created. This is the first or perhaps the second example. We saw the difficulties produced by the gap-year enterprise; the sudden switch in the number of applications and students deciding to take up their places. The noble Lord opposite said that the £1,000 will be multiplied by other factors and added to a larger debt paid over 20 years and that difference will scarcely be noticed. I assure your Lordships that impoverished students notice the difference of £1,000 and these issues operate at the margin. It is to be anticipated that many students, probably wrongly, will be making their decisions on relatively small matters; that is, the £1,000 at the margin.

I wish to draw the attention, in particular of noble Lords opposite, to the fact that if we introduce £1,000 here and £1,000 there we shall be introducing a series of distortions into the educational system which will have serious effects. Applications in some universities have declined for next year. I see much of the logic of the Government's response to the Dearing Report and I am not arguing against it now. However, if by accident we introduce market forces into the British educational system we will be setting up a situation which will have dire consequences. Anomalies exist: we shall be playing at Scottish sixes and English sevens, and it will not add up.

5.31 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Carnegy, for introducing the debate. It is an important subject which deserves an airing. Furthermore, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Selkirk on his admirable speech. We look forward to hearing more from him.

Perhaps at the outset I may respond to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, who dismissed the issue of an extra £1,000 as derisory. Tell that to the students! The noble Lord entirely missed the point that the issue is one of unfairness; we are discussing the application of a policy of differential rates for the same course. The noble Lord also ignored the point that the proposal comes on top of the wholesale abolition of the maintenance grant and students from low income families will be most disadvantaged by the policy.

As recently as 14th April, in an article in the Evening Standard, Mr. Blair pledged that Labour had no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education. Indeed, during the election campaign—and I know because I was there—an unsuccessful Labour Party candidate spoke to a hall of sixth-form school-leavers and made the same pledge.

The Dearing Report was received, considered and rejected in unseemly haste. As a result of the Government's policy, those who have most to lose will be those about whom the Government purport to be most concerned—the least well off. There has also been a lack of openness and honesty in the debate. If it is the Government's intention to save all of the grant from maintenance costs and to levy £1,000 per student per year as a tax without guarantees that the money will be returned to higher education, they should say what their plans are—or is that a closely guarded secret of the Treasury? Perhaps the Minister will clarify the issue by telling the House the extent to which higher education will benefit from moneys saved at the expense of students and their families.

We have also seen a number of knee-jerk reactions since the introduction of the policy. First, we had the incredible gap-year fiasco. How could the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, not have predicted the reaction from students who had delayed taking up places at university for one year? Not for the first time did the Prime Minister have to come to the rescue of the noble Baroness by agreeing to delay by one year the introduction of fees for those gap-year students. Although we shall be discussing the issue at greater length next week, it is strongly rumoured that the Prime Minister has had to intervene in the plans of the noble Baroness to remove money from the Oxford and Cambridge colleges. Again, we look forward to clarification on that point.

However, the latest and, frankly, most absurd knee-jerk policy adjustment is the concession to Scotland. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, recently used the argument that some English students are entered in the second year of a Scottish degree course. Even if that were so, it is cold comfort for the students to whom it does not apply. The consequences of applying a two-tier policy will be to create wholly foreseeable inequalities. As was said most eloquently by my noble friends, Scottish, southern Irish, continental and European students will sit alongside English, Welsh and Northern Irish students on similar courses on the basis of differential fees. Not only is that unfair, the policy will act as a deterrent for many young people and that will impact adversely on our great Scottish universities.

I repeat a question which was posed by my noble friend Lady Carnegy. Is it within both the letter and the spirit of the Government's obligation under domestic and European laws of equality of access for students throughout the European countries to be charged differential fees for the same course? It would be most interesting to know precisely what was the legal advice on that point.

Do the Government envisage any decline in applications for places at universities? If so, do they have any contingency plans? Will the money saved and income raised from fees be returned to higher education, or will it simply be tax revenue for disposal by the Chancellor? What was the legal advice as regards differential fees? What system is in place to verify whether or not a gap-year student has undertaken three months voluntary work in order to qualify for the 1998–99 concession? How will the Government know that someone has undertaken voluntary work, and who will be administering the system? Is there any plan to legislate against higher education colleges charging top up fees?

As suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and my noble friend—

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, the time!

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I am finishing—this is my last sentence. As suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, and my noble friend Lady Carnegy, this policy plays into the hands of the SNP. The smile on the face of the SNP when the result of the Scottish referendum was announced was very wide indeed. However, the smile has positively broken into a look of pure ecstasy as a result of this ill-advised concession to Scottish, southern Irish and continental Europeans—

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, order! It is now seven minutes!

5.38 p.m.

Earl Howe

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Carnegy for tabling this important debate. She has posed a question which has far-reaching and worrying implications for many people, none more so than medical and dental students on whose behalf I venture to intervene tonight.

In that context, two main issues arise: first, the impact of tuition fees south of the Border and, secondly, the apparent inequality of treatment between Scottish medical students and those who live or study in other parts of the United Kingdom. Students of medicine and dentistry find themselves encumbered in a number of ways unique to those disciplines. Unavoidably, they have to go without professional earnings for five or six years. As was rightly pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, the length of their academic term combined with the intensity of their work means that they have little chance of supplementing their income through part-time employment. Their working expenses tend to be much higher than those of other students and when they take up their period of elective study, often overseas, medics have to fund themselves. For a whole host of reasons, the medic is disadvantaged—indeed, sometimes deterred—by the cost of his or her course of study.

Encouragingly, the Government went some way towards recognising the special features of medical training with their announcement on 23rd September that the tuition fees of medical and dental students from year five onwards will be met by the Department of Health and that new bursaries and loans will be available for those who most need them. Those are welcome initiatives as far as they go, although the adequacy of the bursaries and loans remains to be gauged once the details emerge. However, south of the Border we still have a yawning anomaly as regards tuition fees.

I deplore the Government's decision to introduce their proposals in the way that they did. But to have a situation where students doing a conventional three-year degree course pay one amount but medical students, who have to fund four years fees, pay one-third more is not only inequitable; it is a huge further deterrent to people contemplating a medical career. That is the last thing that we should be expecting them to do in the face of the special burdens which they already have to carry.

If we are to require students to contribute to the cost of tuition—and it seems that we are—will the Government re-examine the position of medical and dental students so as to ensure that at the very least they are treated fairly in comparison with other students?

That brings me to the Scottish dimension. There is a great deal of confusion in the medical community about the inequalities which the new system looks set to engender. On 27th October, the Scottish education Minister, Mr. Wilson, in a news release, conceded the principle that the fee contribution from Scottish graduates, who typically study for four years rather than three, should be on a par with the contribution for comparable qualifications gained elsewhere in the UK. He announced that to relieve Scottish students of the burden of paying for more than three years' worth of contributions, the Student Awards Agency for Scotland will pay the additional £1,000 arising in the final honours year. Where does that leave dental and medical students?

It would seem from the Government's proposals so far that Scottish medics will be exempt not only from the fifth and sixth years' fee contributions but from the fourth years' as well. In other words, medical students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland will have to pay four years' worth of fees but those from Scotland only three. Furthermore, when we refer to Scottish students in that context, we should remember that the preferential treatment in Scotland applies only to those whose home is in Scotland.

Those are gross anomalies. But somewhere along the line it is possible that misunderstandings may have arisen. Therefore, I ask the Minister, not necessarily today, to clarify in writing the following issues. Is it the case that all Scottish students will have to pay towards three years of their degree—in other words, a maximum of —3,000—whatever that degree may be? Will non-Scottish students studying at a Scottish medical school be eligible for treatment equal to that of their Scottish counterparts? If so, who will fund them?

Finally, on a more detailed point, I refer the Minister to the announcement in Mr. Wilson's press release that Scottish medical and dental students will be eligible for an NHS 50 per cent. means-tested bursary towards living costs in the fifth and sixth years. That is 50 per cent. of what?

The backdrop to that is the worrying picture of the declining recruitment that we are seeing currently in general practice, in academic medicine and in a number of hospital specialities. The last thing that we want—and by "we" I mean the country as a whole—is a set of funding arrangements which exacerbates those difficulties and creates manifest unfairness in different parts of the United Kingdom. I hope that the Government will be able to provide some reassurance.

5.42 p.m.

Lord Tope

My Lords, we are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, for initiating a debate that has been of great interest and markedly one-sided. I look forward to hearing the Minister's answer. I join in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, on his maiden speech which I listened to with particular interest because he speaks with a great deal of knowledge and experience of the subject which I do not claim to have.

I need to say at the outset, lest I should give the impression otherwise, that my party remains opposed to the imposition of tuition fees. That is a debate for another day. I shall not pursue the matter now except to say that were the fees not to be imposed it would not be necessary to have this debate today and the Government would not be in the mess in which they clearly find themselves again.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, and, indeed, every other speaker except one in the debate, has made the case very well and has in effect answered very fully the noble Baroness's Question. How can there be equality of access within the United Kingdom when a student from Dover has to pay more than a student from a Scottish town? A comparison was made between Dover and Calais and between Umbria and Northumbria. I was going to make a comparison between Umbria and Cumbria which seemed to go better. But the comparisons are there. It cannot be right that students from Paris, Rome or Athens pay less for tuition fees at a Scottish university than those from Carlisle. A colleague of mine remarked to me that that is perhaps why Edinburgh is described as the Athens of the North.

That cannot be equality of access. It has been suggested by other noble Lords that it also cannot be legal. We look forward to the Minister's answer on that point which must be forthcoming. I should have thought that it must fall foul of discrimination legislation, whether in this country or within the European Union. Indeed, I understand that the European Union is to introduce legislation next year which will enable people to take their own governments to court on grounds of discrimination. I know that the NUS and other interested bodies will undoubtedly pursue that course unless something is done.

Others have spoken with greater knowledge about the effect on Scottish universities. The figures have been given and I need not repeat them. I was pleased to hear the point made also that it is not only the profound effect on Scottish universities that has to be considered but also the effect on Scottish university towns. Too often, sometimes, in an education debate, we forget the wider picture. We forget that a local economy may depend greatly on a local university.

There is no doubt in my mind that an extra £1,000 will have a deterrent effect on students in relation to their decision whether or not to go to a Scottish university. None of us knows the extent of that; it is in the nature of things that those who oppose the measure will tend to exaggerate the effect while those who support it will say that the effect is negligible or there is no effect at all. That is not the point. The point is one of principle. Whether it is one person, 100 or 5,000 people being discriminated against, it is the principle which is the issue.

There is evidence to show that the effect will be significant. My noble friend Lord Alderdice spoke with great knowledge and experience of the probable effect in Northern Ireland and on students from Northern Ireland. I need not repeat that. I have said that I have no connections with Scottish universities. I have a connection with an English university in that my son is studying at one. No mention has been made in the debate of the possible effect on English universities. If students are discouraged in any numbers from going to Scottish universities and instead go to English universities, the effect on what is already overcrowding in a number of those universities will be even greater.

I heard today of the position at one university, not my son's, where the overcrowding is such that there are three students to a room without wardrobe accommodation and that some students are currently sleeping on the floor in the library. I am not in a position to suggest that that is typical. I hope very much that it is not. But that is direct personal experience at one English university. If we add to that, the situation will become worse. This whole problem results from a failure by the Government to think out competently the effects of their policies. Others speakers have referred to the fact that it is not the first such example; it is the second. The infamous gap year was the first. But this measure demonstrates clearly that the Government have not thought through the effects of their policy. It is dividing country against country, student against student and university against university. The matter could be cleared up tomorrow if the Government would only stand up to the Treasury and abandon this iniquitous policy.

5.48 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, I too start by congratulating my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour on raising this important topic this evening. Also, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas on his maiden speech. I am sure that we shall hear a great deal more from my noble friend, just as we heard a great deal from his noble kinsman Lord Selkirk in his day.

I am certain that this afternoon has not been a good afternoon for the Government. First, we had the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, trying to defend a policy which, had she been standing on this side of the House, she would have described as an abomination. And now we have the poor noble Lord, Lord Sewel, sent here to defend an education policy which, I am sure, if it had been put forward by a Conservative Government, he would have been lambasting from pillar to post. I am sorry for the poor noble Lord because I am sure that he has had little to do with the discussions. It should be his honourable friend Mr. Brian Wilson or the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, who is responsible for higher education. But it is the poor noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and I hope that he does not take too personally anything that has been said.

Mr. Brian Wilson, who is the Minister in charge of such matters at the Scottish Office, wrote an interesting article in The Scotsman recently in which he said that what he had heard—and I have no doubt he would encompass what has been said today—was "hyperbolic nonsense". Well, it takes one to know one. Over the years, Brian Wilson has written more hyperbolic nonsense than anyone else I know. If that is the best argument that he can put forward, it suggests to me that he is on quite weak grounds.

I thought it rather noticeable that the Government could not find a single Scottish Back-Bench Peer to come to talk in defence of this policy: I repeat, not a single one. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will remember my problems regarding my daughter in Italy during the referendum Bill. Perhaps I may pose the question that we have heard in a number of ways like this. I have two granddaughters. One lives in Italy and the other in Kent. If, in the fullness of time, they decide to follow in the footsteps of their parents and of their grandparent and attend the University of Glasgow, the one from Italy will be charged £3,000 and the one from Kent will be charged £4,000. When that proposition was put to Mr. Brian Wilson on the programme "The World Tonight" last week when he was debating with Professor Colin Vincent (an old friend of mine from my Glasgow University days), he clutched at straws. He was asked, "Why this anomaly?"—in that case regarding France—and replied, "Well, France is in the Common Market". The interviewer on the programme, who obviously had not been cleared by Mr. Alistair Campbell, responded, "Yes, but isn't England?".

I make that point seriously to the Minister. Is not England in the Common Market? Further, is this not the most ludicrous position? Coming as it does from a Minister in the Scottish Office who I genuinely believe is a unionist to the marrow of his bones, is this not a particularly silly position for him to find himself in simply because of the general incompetence of the Department for Education?

However, there is more to that unfairness. Let us consider the abolition of maintenance grants, which means that students from the West Highlands—which is where I come from and, indeed, where Brian Wilson and a number of other people involved in the Government come from—who have to leave home in order to go to university and pay away-from-home expenses will actually accumulate during their university degree a lot more debt than their cousins whose parents migrated from, let us say, Lewis to Glasgow and can go to their local university. Is that fair? I can tell the House that if a Conservative Government or any other government had proposed that, Brian Wilson would have been vitriolic on behalf of the students of Lewis and Harris and the West Highlands against that kind of discriminatory policy. He would have been vitriolic in the columns of the Herald and, indeed, in the West Highlands free press. Although I am being short in my remarks this evening because of the time limit imposed upon me, I also feel pretty vitriolic on behalf of people who have no option but to leave home in order to study at university.

There is an even dafter proposition behind the Government's policy; namely, that they will take parental income into account when it comes to deciding whether a student should pay the fees. But it is not on the parental income that one will have to pay back: it is on one's own graduate income during the years after leaving university. Do the Government have any evidence that students from an economically poor background do not graduate and do not in fact end up earning the same as or more than those students from an economically better-off background? I can see a situation where some graduates will actually be paying back far larger debts than their better paid bosses purely on the basis of their parents' income.

Whether it be because of the daftness of the position of English students at Scottish universities, the gross inequity as regards the students who live in rural areas or this amazing decision on pay back, I believe this to be a badly thought-out policy and, frankly, yesteryear the students of this country would have been marching in the streets in protest. When defending the student loan system at the beginning, I should confess to the House that, when I visited a university in Scotland I was slapped across the face by one indignant young lady student. I have to point out that that is the only time that a lady has slapped me across the face and that related to government grants. Frankly, the Government deserve to be slapped about the face by every student and every potential student in the country for this iniquitous policy.

5.55 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel)

My Lords, perhaps I may begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, on providing the House with the opportunity to debate this issue. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk of Douglas, on his maiden speech and welcome him to the House. There is often a difficulty when people join this House because, in some cases, the names change rather radically. Indeed, in this case, there has been such a radical name change. The noble Lord is well-known—fondly and warmly known—in Scotland throughout the whole of Scottish public life as Lord James. It will be quite difficult to stop using that particular nomenclature in the future. The noble Lord comes to us as a man who is known for his love of Scotland and also for his love of our parliamentary institutions. We welcome him most warmly.

When I came to study the Unstarred Question and observed the speakers' list, given my particular background and provenance I thought that perhaps the most prudent thing to do would be to answer it by saying, "Yes", and then throw myself upon the mercy of the examiners. However, I shall try something a little more robust. I should also make it clear that my noble friend Lady Blackstone is attending an important international conference with delegates from 60 countries. She is, quite rightly, attending that conference and it is only right, therefore, that I should be here answering the Question in this House because it is a Scottish Office matter. I have no difficulty or problem with that, although I may have with the answer.

We have had a deliberate, responsible, and, for the most part, well-informed debate. Indeed, I would have expected nothing less. Before I respond to the specific points raised, I should say that I hope to be able to take up most of them in my reply but, if not, I shall write to noble Lords separately. However, perhaps I may begin with a few general remarks.

First, why are we here? We are at this particular juncture in the issue of higher education financing because the Government are determined to put the whole of our higher education sector on a sound financial footing. That was not the case for many years under the previous administration when growth was encouraged. Of course, there is nothing wrong with encouraging growth in student numbers, but it far outstripped the growth in funding. The unit of resource per student went down and down and created the crisis which we inherited. We are dealing with that crisis and doing so effectively and robustly.

The changes which we have announced also lay the basis for resolving the paradox which the previous government failed to grasp; namely, that we have moved from an elite system of higher education which could relatively easily be funded on the basis of public taxation to a system of mass participation in higher education where, basically, the burden on public taxation would be too great. It is therefore quite proper that we now look to those who are beneficiaries of higher education to make a direct contribution. That is what we are doing in the proposals that we have put forward.

The bold and, I believe, inevitable decision to introduce a contribution to tuition fees would always have been difficult to implement technically, even if the country had one school system and one qualifications framework for entry into universities. But in Britain we do not have one school system. The Scottish school system is distinct, and the qualifications framework is also different in Scotland. People enter university at different stages of their intellectual development in Scotland and England and, I suspect, in Wales and Northern Ireland. The prevalence of the longer honours course in Scotland is the result of that. Our Scottish based students have traditionally entered university a year earlier than has been the case in the rest of the United Kingdom. Their entry qualification is broader. It is usually now about five highers, with each higher being taken over two terms, as opposed to the three A-levels in England which are taken over two years. Therefore we have breadth but we do not have the same degree of depth. That is the heritage that the Scottish student takes with him or her when he enters higher education.

At present we have these distinct systems but they interact flexibly. The Government wish to maintain that interaction and that flexibility. However, to do so the Government recognised that they had to remove the major anomaly, which was that many Scottish students would be left in a position of contributing more towards their tuition for a similar qualification as a result of simply following through the Scottish school system and the longer honours course. Resolving that major anomaly has, however, created a smaller one. I recognise that and I shall not argue that there is no problem. However, I shall argue that the problem has been exaggerated out of all proportion.

Let us begin at the beginning. The Question raised in this debate stems from the Garrick recommendation. Let us be clear precisely what Garrick said. His recommendation was the following. He stated: We recommend to the Secretary of State for Scotland that, if a graduate contribution is introduced, the Secretary of State should ensure that the contribution from Scottish graduates for qualifications gained in Scotland is equitable with the contribution for comparable qualifications gained elsewhere in the UK". That was the considered opinion of the Garrick Committee, whose members were drawn from higher education and the business sector in Scotland. The announcement made by the Government last Monday fulfilled that recommendation 100 per cent. We have lived up to the advice and recommendation that Garrick gave us.

The main Dearing Committee's recommendation was that only students entering higher education direct from the fifth year at school should be given such an exemption. A consequence of that recommendation is that it would favour the academically more able. One of the great successes of Scottish higher education in recent years has been the growth in participation from those who have taken a little longer to gain entry qualifications, either through longer attendance at school or through following a slightly different route such as an HNC or HND course at a further education college, or indeed entering higher education much later in life. The equity issue with which we in Scotland have least difficulty is that all of those groups should be given equitable treatment to those entering higher education direct from the fifth year.

Ensuring equity of treatment between students on different courses on each side of the Border, whatever their original domicile, is much more difficult. Concerns have been raised about the threat to cross-Border flows of students from elsewhere in the UK into Scottish higher education. Neither Dearing nor Garrick raised the issue of cross-Border flows as one of great concern, although they were clearly aware of it, as have been the Government in their deliberations on the issue. Let me make it absolutely clear that the Government and Scottish Office Ministers support the great cultural benefits that students from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, Europe and the rest of the world bring to our higher education system. We should like to see those flows maintained and, if possible, increased, and perhaps not necessarily concentrated at the University of St Andrews! They provide an important cultural diversity to student life that influences and remains with Scots students throughout their lives.

Despite these benefits and our encouragement for them, we are not fully convinced that equity is a driving argument behind giving a one-year concession to all students studying in Scotland. The Garrick Committee's recommendation for equity for comparable qualifications is based clearly on the consequences of the Scottish schools system. The principle of equity should stem from the fact that Scottish domiciled students, by and large, have school qualifications geared to entry into Scottish higher education institutions. That is why they do not tend to go to England in large numbers. We send comparatively few people south to England to study compared to those coming in the other direction. Scots must generally study four years for the typical honours degree as compared to three years in England. In this case when I refer to England I mean Wales and Northern Ireland, too. Equity, in our view, demands that those Scots should pay only £3,000 in Scotland because they are graduating with the comparable qualification of a student graduating from an English university with an honours degree. The qualification is the same and therefore the contribution should be the same.

There would be a great anomaly if Scottish students were required to pay £4,000 while English students paid £3,000 for the same level of qualification—the first honours degree. The Government were clear that this major anomaly had to be resolved, and we have done so. The announcement last Monday resolved the problem. However, there is a remaining anomaly; namely, that students with A-levels come to Scotland to study in a system not specifically tailored for them. That is the heart of the difficulty. As has been observed, this means that an English student could potentially pay £4,000 compared to only £3,000 for a Scot, or £3,000 if that English student had studied in England.

Of course we need to keep this in perspective. Those who are less well off do not need a special concession. They will already be exempt from tuition fees because of the means test. About 40 per cent. of students each year will gain total exemption. A further 30 per cent. will not pay the full amount. Many English students wish to benefit from the broader Scottish degree and are already willing to make a decision that costs them more. At the moment that extra year will cost them about £4,000 to £5,000 for their maintenance, plus a year of income forgone. Taken together that is about £20,000—much more than the maximum fee of £1,000. As I said, a small proportion will pay that maximum fee.

I now turn to an issue which has been raised by a number of noble Lords; namely, that of medical and dental students. They will face precisely the same contribution to tuition fees wherever they study and wherever they are from. The BMA was incorrect in its report in The Scotsman this morning. I repeat that the process is exactly the same as in England. There will be no difference in the way that medical students are treated in England, Scotland or anywhere else.

Sir Ron Garrick has said that students with A-levels may still wish to study for four years and benefit from the extra year. As a businessman his advice seems to be that Scottish universities would be better served making the case to potential applicants of the value of the four-year honours degree and not following their present course of telling potential customers that their product is not worth the extra! Our university principals should have confidence in their product and market it aggressively. Of course the structure of university degrees may change as time goes on. That is a matter for the universities and for the students as regards what they demand.

I return finally to the point made by my noble friend Lord Davies of Oldham. He referred to a letter in The Scotsman from an English student who had studied at Edinburgh University. She wrote that she could not see what all the fuss was about concerning student fees. She considered that the English education system was geared to the needs of English students and the Scottish system to the needs of Scottish students and that that explained the four-year system in Scotland and the three-year system in England. She said that anyone coming to Scotland was fully aware of that situation and they came for the quality of Scottish education. That student succeeded. She came to Scotland. She enjoyed Scotland. She entered in the second year.

That is part of the solution. If more universities and more students recognised that because of the difference of entry qualifications and the structure of Scottish degrees good A-levels could mean entry into the second year of an honours course, the problem would be largely resolved. That, I believe, is one of the challenges that Scottish higher education faces. But I am sure that it will continue to flourish; that it will continue to be an attractive option for students from England and elsewhere.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, is it possible to ask a question for clarification on medical fees before the noble Lord sits down?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, we have now exceeded the time allotted for the debate.

Lord Sewel

My Lords, I shall write to the noble Baroness.