HL Deb 17 February 2003 vol 644 cc906-8

2.46 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe asked Her Majesty's Government:

What financial impact their policy on top-up fees will have on higher education in all areas of the United Kingdom.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, from 2006, English HE institutions will be allowed to determine the fees they charge up to an upper limit of £3,000. Any UK students choosing to undertake HE courses at English institutions for which variable fees are charged will be liable to pay fees. However, we will continue our current system of fee remission. Under proposed arrangements, students from both England and Wales will be able to defer payment of those fees until after graduation. We will discuss any cross-border White Paper implications with the devolved administrations.

Baroness Seccombe

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. However, does he agree that, so long as we have a tradition of UK students attending universities across the UK, they have a right to be treated equally and fairly?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, they certainly have a right to be treated fairly. However, as the noble Baroness will recognise, Scotland has a devolved administration and makes its own decisions with regard to its students. The Scots maintain that their system contains elements of great fairness. At this point, that system is different from the English and Welsh system. We will discuss with the Scots the implications of the development of our new scheme. However, I think the noble Baroness will recognise that the significance of devolution is that the Scots have the right to take decisions on behalf of their own students.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford

My Lords, does the Minister agree that any sensible and talented student in England or Wales would go to Scotland in view of the financial arrangements which Her Majesty's Government have introduced?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord may be presuming too much. I have a very high regard for the intelligence of English and Welsh students. The cross-border traffic has not greatly increased or been enhanced by the development of a fee structure in which the Scottish position has recently been identified as marginally more favourable to students. Students are still deciding where to go based on the quality of the course and on what they think of the university. As we know, some students, including one or two very famous ones, choose Scottish universities. However, Scottish students also come to English and Welsh universities.

Lord Neill of Bladen

My Lords, can the Minister throw any light on the practicalities? As he made clear, the scheme will come into force in 2006. The White Paper makes clear that no repayment by a student is required until they graduate and are earning £15,000. The courses last three, and, in many cases, four years. In the meantime, how are the universities to receive any fees? Will each university be paid per student over those four years by the loan company or by some other public source? The White Paper does not make that clear.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, it is clear that the scheme needs to be ushered in over a period and it will take time for the provisions of the White Paper to be implemented. The Government have substantially increased funding to 80 institutions over the period of the public spending review—the next three years. The Government are increasing expenditure on HE institutions by 6 per cent—several times above the level of inflation—to help to meet what noble Lords on all sides of the House recognise as the funding crisis in higher education. The increased resources apply to the short term. In the longer term funding will be met through government payment—that goes without saying—and the student contribution through the deferred fees scheme.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, does the Minister agree that he has spoken an awful lot of words but has not answered the noble Lord's question?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I am sorry if there is one noble Baroness whom I have not satisfied with my answer. I shall try once more. Noble Lords on all sides of the House have identified the fact that universities need more money; the Government are providing that.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the majority of that money is allocated to the science budget and not to teaching costs. Will the Minister give us figures on the increased unit funding per student for the next three years?

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I do not have those figures to hand. However, I emphasise that we debated these issues intensively only a short while ago when noble Lords in all parts of the House articulated demands for extra resources on behalf of our universities. Those extra resources are being met in the short term. A period of three years is short term in university terms but nevertheless represents a significant commitment on the part of the Government. The Government will increase resources by 6 per cent year on year. That seems to me a significant step in the right direction.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn

My Lords, we are into the 16th minute.

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