HL Deb 29 November 2001 vol 629 cc447-9

Lord Hannay of Chiswick asked Her Majesty's Government:

How universities can contribute effectively to their review of public spending in higher education without knowing the outcome of their review of student finance.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland)

My Lords, there are always uncertainties in public spending rounds. Universities must make the best case that they can on the information that is available to them. But they can rest assured that the Government are alive to the links between student finance and institutional funding and will consult widely with them.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. I declare again my interest as pro-chancellor of the University of Birmingham. Is she aware that an income stream of £350 million a year is involved in the issue of student finance? How can universities participate effectively in the consultative process on the spending round if they do not know whether or not the funding is there for the future?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am aware of the funding stream. The estimate at the moment is £343 million. It will be for the Government to ensure in their proposals that they have demonstrated the link between that figure and the needs of universities. There is an understanding in the department of the importance of this income stream. The current review will be alive to that and will take it into account.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, is the noble Baroness suggesting that in the Chancellor's recent Pre-Budget Statement there is an open-ended commitment to whatever is the outcome of the review, or have parameters been set down within which the review has to report? What input have the universities had to date with officials in that review process?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, as the noble Baroness is aware, the review will continue until next year. It is important to ensure that the review works closely with all interested parties in determining what amounts of money are available to it. I am not aware of parameters as such, but of course officials within the department work closely at all times with other officials in government, not least with the Treasury.

As to whether universities have worked with the Government on the issue of the review, Universities UK and other organisations have had meetings with officials and have made representations. As noble Lords will be aware, when the review is ready to report it will consult widely with the universities and there will be many opportunities at that stage.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, I agree that this is a very important stream of funding for universities. But is the Minister aware that the extra income yielded by the imposition of tuition fees resulted in no net increase of resources to universities because of cuts elsewhere? Can we therefore believe the Government when they say that they will consider such an income stream? Is it not irrelevant now? Is not what we want a real promise from the Treasury that there will be a net increase in resources for universities in the next spending round?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was searching for an assurance that the Government are aware of the £343 million and its relationship to the overall strategy that universities are pursuing in terms of their funding. I believe that I have given that assurance. I am sure that noble Lords will come back to me if I have not.

The noble Baroness asks about overall funding for universities. It is very important that universities put forward their views and proposals for the spending review and that they are evidence based.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, is the Minister satisfied that English professors earn so much less than their contemporaries in other parts of the world? In consequence, they go to other countries. In the funding review will the Government bear in mind that £46,000 a year is not enough for the Regius Professor of History at Cambridge?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the issue of payments to professors and other teachers—however one wishes to describe them—is very important. I am fully alive to the issue in terms of ensuring that we continue to have lecturers, professors and other staff of the highest quality in our universities.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that the Government will implement all the proposals of the Bett report and that they will be properly funded?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, I am not in a position to do that. It is very important for the Government to consider all the proposals and to put forward recommendations, proposals and so on to universities, so that we can move forward on student finance and funding in a coherent way.

Lord Roberts of Conwy

My Lords, can the noble Baroness confirm that the Government's top priority in higher education is increased access to it?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, that is an important aspect of the Government's priorities. If I said that it is a top priority other noble Lords might say that the top priority should be ensuring that our universities are funded and we could be here potentially for some time. It is important that we widen access. Every noble Lord who has ever spoken on the subject agrees with that. We want to see the maximum participation for those for whom it is the appropriate pathway.

Lord Burnham

My Lords, would I be right in assuming from the reply given to my noble friend Lord Pilkington that the Government do not intend to do anything about the salaries of senior professors?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

My Lords, the noble Lord would not be right in assuming that. I am simply trying to ensure that when the review reports and when the comprehensive funding review reports, all the factors that noble Lords have raised will be taken into account and that there will be opportunity to consider these issues. Of course they are important. I would not suggest for one moment that they are not.

Back to