3 Page 9, line 18, at end insert—
() A condition under this section must require the governing body of the relevant institution to secure that, in respect of any qualifying course, the qualifying fees charged to a person do not exceed the basic amount if that person—
- had on or before 1st August 2005 received an offer of a place on a designated course or on a similar course which is no longer offered, in either case the first year of which begins before 1st September 2007, and whether conditional on obtaining specified qualifications or not; or
- had received an offer of a place on a designated course the first year of which begins before 1st September 2006, and—
- he was not able to take up the offer because a specified qualification or grade was not awarded to him,
- he appealed against the decision not to award the qualification or grade to him,
- the appeal was allowed after the last date when he could have taken up the offer, and
- as a result he was offered a place on the course for a year which begins on or after 1st September 2006 and before 1st September 2007.
§ () For the purposes of this section, a course is similar to a designated course, whether or not it is at the same institution, if—
- it leads to a degree or other qualification which is the same as the degree or other qualification which the designated course leads to, and
- the governing body of the institution at which the designated course would be studied is satisfied that the subject matter of the designated course is for the most part the same as the subject matter of the other course."
§ The Commons disagree to this amendment but propose the following amendments in lieu—
- Page 10, line 21, at end insert "and section (Transitional cases in which condition must not allow fees to exceed basic amount)"
- Page 10, line 41, at end insert the following new Clause—
§ "Transitional cases in which condition must not allow fees to exceed basic amount
- Section 23(1)(b) has effect in relation to the qualifying fees payable by a qualifying person in connection with his undertaking a qualifying course ("the relevant course") in a case where subsection (2) or (3) applies, even if those fees are payable in respect of an academic year which begins at a time when an English approved plan is in force in relation to the institution.
- This subsection applies where—
- the qualifying person had on or before 1st August 2005 received an offer, whether conditional on obtaining specified qualifications or not, of a place on the relevant course or a similar course, and
- the first academic year of the relevant course begins before 1st September 2007.
- the qualifying person had received an offer of a place on a qualifying course (whether or not at the same institution as the relevant course) the first academic year of which begins before 1st September 2006,
- he was unable to take up the offer because a specified qualification or grade was not awarded to him,
- he appealed against the decision not to award him the qualification or grade,
- the appeal was allowed after the last date on which he could have taken up the offer,
- as a result he was offered a place on the relevant course, and
- the first academic year of the relevant course begins after 31st August 2006 but before 1st September 2007.
- it appears to the governing body of the institution providing the relevant course that the subject-matter of the course is in whole or in part the same as the subject-matter of the original course, and
- except where the original course is no longer being provided, the relevant course is provided by the institution which was to have provided the original course."
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 3 to which the Commons have disagreed and do agree with the Commons in Amendments Nos. 3A and 3B in lieu thereof. 373 We recognise the genuine concern that noble Lords have expressed about the treatment of gap year students in 2006–07, and we have been swayed by the principled arguments that have been put forward. In the light of that, I am pleased to say that the Government accept the principle behind Amendment No. 3. Amendments Nos. 3A and 3B in lieu, which the Commons have voted to accept, reflect that. I assure noble Lords that they achieve the same policy intent as the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, while addressing some technical issues.
It was argued in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, that the advantage to students of putting this provision in the Bill would be to give them certainty, both about the fee regime and the student support package to which they are entitled. I fully accept that this is the fairest approach. By providing the protection sought in the noble Lord's amendment, which our amendment in lieu would provide, we avoid the risk that some students might choose to forgo a gap year in 2005, thus placing extra pressure on places in the higher education system for that year.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, also sought to protect that very small number of students who, because of a successful appeal against their A-level results, might miss out on a university place in 2005 and have to start instead in 2006. This is the right thing to do, and the government amendments in lieu offer this protection. Essentially, the students covered by the government amendments would be treated for student support purposes as if they began their course in 2005, and they will be liable for fees at the standard rate.
While the amendments in lieu fully maintain the intent of the noble Lord's amendment, there are a number of ways in which they differ in drafting and structure. First, the amendment passed by this House includes a reference to "years". This is replaced by "academic year" throughout, in line with the rest of the Bill. Secondly, the Lords amendment refers to "designated courses", but the courses to which the fee controls in the Bill apply, and to which the gap year exemptions should apply, are "qualifying courses". We have changed that term. Thirdly, we have structured the government amendments to reflect the structure throughout the rest of Part 3 of the Bill, linking it into the condition of grant in Clause 23(1). Our amendments in lieu make clear that Clause 23(1)(b), which limits fees to no more than the basic amount, still applies to these students, even when the institution has an access plan in place. Fourthly, the amendment passed in this House contained no provision for sanctions, should a higher education institution seek to charge higher fees to the gap year cohort. The amendments in lieu address that.
Finally, the amendment passed in this House is based on the first set of regulations made in 1998, rather than the regulations as they were subsequently amended. The amended regulations were slightly less restrictive in how they treated students who ended up studying a different course from the one for which they 374 were originally accepted. I am sure that noble Lords would want us to echo this approach, and that is what the amendments in lieu do.
We have had extremely fruitful discussion on this issue. We have listened to the arguments made in the course of debates, and we have been persuaded by the principle and spirit of the noble Lord's amendment. Our amendments in lieu reflect that, while ensuring that the protection offered to students is as watertight as possible. I hope that the House will agree with the amendments in lieu.
Moved, That the House do not insist on its Amendment No. 3 to which the Commons have disagreed and do agree with the Commons in Amendments Nos. 3A and 3B in lieu thereof.— (Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
§ Lord Forsyth of Drumlean
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for taking on board these concerns. She has been kind enough to point to the fact that the amendment was in my name, but it would be only right to point out that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, felt just as strongly about this. It has been something of a double act on our part.
I am also extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for doing the work of at least 200 journalists. This place and the other place seem to have lobby correspondents at every turn. I listened to the reporting of the consideration of Lords amendments by the Commons on "Yesterday in Parliament" at the time, and they managed not even to notice that the Government had made this major concession, which affects tens of thousands of families across the country. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, because it took her letter to the Times to draw the attention of the country to what was going on in this place in respect of this Bill. I do not know what all those journalists are doing. I know what they were not doing when the Commons were considering the Lords amendments, because I went to listen. Whatever they were doing. they were not in their places in the Press Gallery. However, that is a wider issue.
I should also say to the Minister that we toasted her health at a school function that I went to last weekend. Somehow, word of the change had got out. It is important not just for students currently doing AS-levels or Highers—the cohort that is affected—who want to take a gap year but for those who want to go straight to university, because otherwise there would have been a bulge.
In a little bit of role reversal, I am a bit worried about the technical drafting of the government amendment, and I should be grateful if the Minister could reassure me on two points. In the original amendment, I included a date of August, and my first question is whether students who apply through clearing will be covered by the provision. That will affect a number of students. I suspect that the answer may be "No". The second issue that concerns me is the fact that the Government have added some sanctions, should universities decide to charge increased fees to 375 students who take a gap year. What will the Government do to prevent universities offering fewer deferred places to that cohort of students, perhaps because of the incentive of the prospect of getting additional fees? Those are my two worries. I have no doubt that, given the spirit of what the Minister said, they can be covered in one way or another.
The Bill has been a great deal of work. It makes it very worth while to see the Government prepared to listen—albeit under a degree of pressure from this House—and to make a change that will make a huge difference to thousands of families throughout the country. The Minister could help me by indicating how many people she thinks will benefit from the Government's concession.
§ Lord Campbell-Savours
My Lords, I was one of three Labour Peers that voted for the amendment. I am glad that Ministers have changed their mind. I feel justified in what I did and am grateful, in particular, to the Minister for the work that she did in ensuring that the Government's position was changed.
§ Baroness Sharp of Guildford
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, said, we supported the amendment throughout, and we were very pleased when it was accepted by this House. We are doubly pleased that the Government have seen fit to continue with the amendment and recognise the wisdom of what we said about the large number of students who would be affected and the uncertainty that it would cause for institutions and students, unless the matter were made clear in the Bill. We are extremely pleased to see the amendment being made.
I was pleased to be able to clarify in the columns of the Times that it was this House that had passed the amendment. The other point that was worth making in the Times was that, in this House, it is not just when we take issues to a vote that we obtain concessions from the Government. In this case, in particular, we had a listening Minister, and there were other occasions on which she listened to us and some substantial concessions were made in this House. Some of the concessions made with regard to OFFA and the position of part-timers were significant and are worth flagging up.
I am grateful to the Government for retaining this change. It will benefit many students. I have had two or three telephone calls from parents who were delighted that the concession had been made. I thank the Minister for arguing for it with her counterparts in the other place.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
My Lords, it was kind of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, to toast my health. I could not agree more with him about the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford. I referred to it, but obviously not clearly enough. I also agree with him about the role of your Lordships' House. On this subject in particular, it has a substantial role to play. I am also grateful for the 376 acknowledgement of the work that I have done, although I should say that my colleagues in another place have listened and have been extremely helpful.
The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, asked me about a couple of specific points. The date of 1 August mirrors what was in the amendment that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness tabled, which was the same date as provided in 1998. In another place, they discussed different scenarios with regard to clearing. Rather than go through all of those, it is right, as the noble Lord indicated, that we do not plan to cover clearing students at this stage. That is mainly because it would, at best, be unusual for a student to take up an unfilled place through clearing and then seek to defer entry. That is not the purpose of clearing.
As I said, universities still have the right to exercise discretion in such cases. We have not taken that away; indeed, it is where we began. They could offer exemption in a particular case, if they felt that that was right. However, we will carry on talking about the issue with Universities UK and with UCAS. Noble Lords will probably know that we can do something about gap years without primary legislation, because of the way in which the Bill is structured. If those deliberations and discussions lead us to a view that we should do something more, we can. For the moment, we do not plan to, and we will carry on the discussions. I am sure that we would be interested to hear anything more that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean, has to say on the issue.
I was asked about the number of gap-year students who will be directly affected. Some 19,000 18 year-olds in the UK deferred entry from 2003–04 to 2004–05. About 26,000 students of all ages deferred entry. Taking the proportion of students in England from the UK figures, we estimate that about 28,000 students might defer entry and would be covered by the noble Lord's amendment. That is a significant figure. It may sound like a joke, but actually my babysitter is covered too.
§ Lord Forsyth of Drumlean
My Lords, I suspect that the Minister's babysitter may have had more influence than the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, and me put together. My recollection of how hard it was to get good babysitters would support that.
People who would have been denied a place if others had not taken a gap year will also benefit. However, I should like to press the Minister—she may be just coming to this point—about the anxiety that the universities may offer fewer deferred places.
§ Baroness Ashton of Upholland
My Lords, I was coming to that point. I must say to the noble Lord that the babysitter told me that only after we had made the decision. I shall point out to her the reference in Hansard; she will be very pleased.
Given the autonomy of universities, there is nothing that the Government could or should do to make universities do it. Our relationship with the universities continues to be a strong one, and I hope that we will address such issues with them directly. I am deeply 377 reluctant to say that the Government should interfere with the autonomy of the universities in the way in which they deal with admissions. I appreciate what the noble Lord says, but it is for universities to determine the issue. The Government will talk to the universities, support them and work with them, but it is not right that we should tell them what to do about it. I have great faith—I know that the noble Lord has too—that the universities will respond appropriately, as they have responded throughout our discussions.
I hope that noble Lords will agree with the amendments in lieu.
On Question, Motion agreed to.