HL Deb 13 May 2004 vol 661 cc391-434

11.30 a.m.

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

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

On Question, Motion agreed to. House in Committee accordingly.

[The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Brabazon of Tara) in the Chair.]

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 34: After Clause 19, insert the following new clause—

"EXTENSION OF SIX MONTH TIME LIMIT If in relation to proceedings or prospective proceedings under section 28V of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (c. 50) (enforcement, remedies and procedure), the dispute concerned is referred to a body designated by the Secretary of State under section 13(1) or the National Assembly for Wales under section 13(2) of the Higher Education Act 2004 before the end of the period of six months mentioned in paragraph 13(1) of Schedule 3 to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (enforcement and procedure), the period allowed by that sub-paragraph shall be extended by two months.

The noble Baroness said: I move the amendment on behalf of the Royal National Institute of the Blind and Skill, the National Bureau for Students with Disabilities. The issue in contention in relation to this amendment is what happens when two sets of appeal procedures overlap. As your Lordships know, under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, and the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, those with disabilities may ultimately appeal to the courts if they feel that their rights under either of those two Acts are not being met. However, once a university or a college's internal appeal procedures have been exhausted, there is only six months left in which to lodge any further appeal to the courts. The question is whether such an appeal to an independent adjudicator counts against the six months in relation to going to the courts.

The Minister's assurance in debate in the other place was that the clocks will be stayed until all internal procedures—and if necessary any appeal to the office of the independent adjudicator—are exhausted. He said that this should give the organisations who are concerned, and noble Lords, the guarantee and protection that if an individual makes it absolutely clear to the court that the matter is being considered by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, the court has the capacity to hold on to the case and not to say that under the DDA the complaint should fall because the time period has lapsed.

In this amendment, we are asking that just as when there is a referral under the DDA to the Disability Rights Commission for conciliation prior to resorting to the courts, on such occasions not only is the six-month clock not set ticking, but there will also be an extra two months granted to allow for time delays. Here, we are also asking that should there be an appeal to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator after the internal procedures have been completed, and again the clock is not set ticking for that six months, and that as with an appeal to the Disability Rights Commission, they should be granted an extra two months in the cases concerned.

In effect, this amendment and the following amendment, which was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, would bring student appeals resorting to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator into line with procedures under the DDA and the Disability Rights Commission. It would seem sensible to do this, and I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic to our suggestions. I beg to move.

Lord Skelmersdale

The amendment tabled by my noble friends Lord Forsyth and Lady Seccombe has been grouped with this amendment, and it covers the same situation as that described by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. It will come as no surprise to her or to the rest of the Committee that I prefer our somewhat simpler amendment, which seeks to amend the Disability Discrimination Act rather than this Bill. Both amendments cover a single point. As we established earlier this week, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 ultimately gives disabled students the right to go to the courts within a six-month period if recourse to all other complaints procedures have failed. This obviously will include the new independent complaints provisions envisaged by this Bill. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, I welcome the Government's assurance that complaints are likely to be dealt with within the six-month time scale and that anyway a disabled student can lodge a case with the courts and ask for it to be stayed while the case is going through the Independent Complaints Commission.

Why then, is this amendment, in whichever version it comes, necessary? The answer is that under the Disability Discrimination Act there is already a two-month extension of the time limit of six months that the Disability Rights Commission can take to consider a case before it goes to the conciliation service. If we have both the DDA and the Higher Education Act on the statute book, I know to whom I would refer a disabled student in contention. I accept the assurance given by the Minister in another place, which is in col. 110 of Hansard on 12 February, that the Government are sympathetic to and have been considering this issue. I would be grateful if the Minister could inform us where this consideration has got to.

Lord Triesman

I rise to intervene early, knowing that other noble Lords might wish to speak on this issue. I want to indicate immediately that the Government are prepared to be helpful, and it is probably as well for the purposes of the debate that I do so now.

First let me say that these are the last amendments on Part 2 of the Bill, and I thank all noble Lords for the really good debates that we have had on the new provisions on student complaints. I hope that all Members of the Committee have been reassured about the scope of academic judgment exclusion, and we have committed ourselves to come back on Report to address the role of the visitor in some kinds of staff conflict.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 34 and 35. I understand the concerns expressed by noble Lords that disabled students who have complaints about discrimination should not miss the opportunity to take their cases to court. I am therefore grateful to noble Lords for their amendments, which seek to extend the period by which cases under Part 4 of the Disability Discrimination Act must be submitted to court by two months, from six to eight months. This would apply where the student has referred the complaint to the designated operator. This is similar to the provisions in the DDA that extend the deadline for submitting complaints by two months for those claimants whose cases have been referred to approved conciliation.

Although conciliation is not the purpose of the operator, because it reaches decisions and makes recommendations, I appreciate the argument advanced by noble Lords that there are sufficient similarities and that the same principles should be involved in extending the time period that applies to both. Where a disabled student's case alleges continuing discrimination, such as how the institution handles a complaint, the student could argue that the six-month time limit should start from when the complaint was finally determined by the institution. However, where a disabled student's complaint relates to an alleged one-off act of discrimination, the six-month time limit will start from when this act was done. It is certainly possible that going through the internal processes of any institution, and then the reviewer, will push up against the six-month time limit.

Noble Lords will be aware that students can lodge their cases in the courts and ask for them to be stayed where they are being considered by a university or the OIA. We took account of these rights in drafting Schedule 2 to the Bill. This includes a provision in paragraph 3 which makes it possible for the scheme to refuse to hear complaints that have been taken to court if they are ongoing and have not been stayed. If they have been stayed, the scheme must deal with them. The student can seek to resolve the complaint through internal procedures and, if necessary, through the OIA without running the risk that the six-month time limit on DDA cases might elapse before the complaint comes. If it is not resolved from before they would get the opportunity to take it to a tribunal.

Nevertheless, despite these safeguards, noble Lords have made a strong case for having the same right to a two-month extension for disabled students who take their case to conciliation, or those who go to the reviewer. That is why we can be helpful on this occasion. Although I am sure that in every case noble Lords feel that their amendments will answer all the problems, we feel that they do not entirely do the trick. I ask noble Lords to withdraw them, so that the Government can return on Report with amendments of our own that can be considered at that stage.

Lord Skelmersdale

I am extremely grateful and I am sure that the noble Baroness is too. It is a nice surprise just occasionally to have a chink in the Government's armour. Naturally, I fully accept that the Government's drafting is considerably better than mine.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I too am grateful to the Minister for this concession. It is logical that in these circumstances the two sets of appeals to the Disability Rights Commission and to the office of the independent adjudicator should be aligned. I am very glad that the Minister and the Department have seen the logic, and I am extremely grateful to them for their concessions. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 35 not moved.]

Clause 20 agreed to.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean moved Amendment No. 36: After Clause 20, insert the following new clause

"NATIONAL TARGET FOR PARTICIPATION IN HIGHER EDUCATION (1) Before making any decision or publishing any regulations under this Act relating to student fees the Secretary of State shall, not later than 5th April in each calendar year, lay before Parliament a report, setting out—

  1. (a) a target proportion of persons born in the United Kingdom in each age cohort from 18 to 21 years who should participate in full-time courses of education at higher education institutions in the United Kingdom for each of the three forthcoming academic years;
  2. (b) the estimated total cost of providing for the education of those students, together with a statement of what increase in overall funding will be required to meet the target he has set and how he intends to meet that funding requirement.
(2) Before setting a target of 50 per cent participation or more under subsection (1)(a) the Secretary of State shall conduct or institute an inquiry into the impact of that target on the economy and on British universities and lay the results of that inquiry before both Houses of Parliament. (3) In carrying out any inquiry under subsection (2), the Secretary of State shall consult—
  1. (a) representatives of United Kingdom universities;
  2. (b) any individual higher education institution wishing to make representations to him;
  3. (c) representatives of business, trades and professions;
  4. 395
  5. (d) representatives of students.
(4) In carrying out the inquiry under subsection (2), the Secretary of State or persons appointed by him shall consider—
  1. (a) the affordability of his target;
  2. (b) such skills shortages as may be apparent in the economy;
  3. (c) prospects of employment for the number of graduates for which he is planning; and
  4. (d) the quality of courses offered at higher education institutions in the United Kingdom."

The noble Lord said: We have got off to a very good start this morning, so I live in hope in respect of Amendment No. 36. This amendment provides an opportunity to have a wide-ranging debate on the whole issue of access to higher education and whether the Government are right to set a target of 50 per cent. I am sure that the noble Baroness will be relieved to hear that I am not intending to initiate that myself. But there are a number of points which I would like to make in supporting this amendment.

First, there is a mistake in my amendment in that it refers to, age cohort from 18 to 21 years". That should be 18 to 30. I would love to blame the Public Bill Office or someone else, but sadly there is only myself to blame for that error. That refers to the Government's declared target of having 50 per cent of students in that cohort in place by their deadline of 2010.

I have no objection at all to us having 50 per cent or whatever percentage of students in higher education. My objection is to setting a specific target and not actually setting the means by which that target will be achieved. It would be difficult for me to object to having 50 per cent of students in higher education, as we had already achieved that in Scotland during my period in office, but we never set out to have that as a target. We achieved it, I venture to suggest, because perhaps the schools were a little bit better than they are in England, and perhaps the universities were a little bit better funded than they are in England. I was delighted when reading the Universities UK brief to see that there seems to be a degree of support for this amendment from Universities UK.

The purpose of the amendment is very simple. If the Government are going to set a target then they should set out how they intend to achieve that, and they should make clear that the means to achieve it—in terms of resources—are in place. What has happened is that progressively we have seen the unit of resource being reduced for the universities. It is all very fine and grand for Ministers and politicians to stand up at their party conferences and declare that they will have x percentage of young people benefiting from higher education, while leaving the institutions of higher education to do it on the same overall amount of resource, or, in this case, less per student. We had a very interesting debate during our last sitting on the problem of academic salaries. This amendment is, basically, to make the Government—if I could use a rather crude phrase—put their money where their mouth is, and set out how they will achieve it.

The amendment also focuses not just on affordability but on skills shortages. I will not weary your Lordships with clichés about plumbers, and so on, but there is undoubtedly a skills shortage in certain areas. There are many of us who question whether it really is right to send someone to university who may work very hard and do a degree in some subject which is not immediately attractive to the jobs market. They have worked very hard and under the proposals of the Bill they leave university very considerably in debt. When they go to the jobs market they find that there are no jobs in the way that they might have expected. Whereas perhaps if they had gone into further education, or indeed part-time education. they might have been better placed to help with our economy and help themselves.

We all know horror stories of people who have turned up to some institutions to find that the course that they thought they were coming to had been changed, and they end up doing a degree or—sadly, for some of them—drop out halfway through the course because of changes of that kind.

11.45 a.m.

The other point I would like to focus on—having said that I want to be brief—is that I am very concerned about the Government's 50 per cent target, not just because, other than nice words from the Chancellor, the means have not been willed, but because I see all kinds of additional pressures falling upon the universities which will make it even harder for them to achieve the Government's objectives. Some of the pressures arise from actions by the Government themselves.

I will draw attention to one area—the accession of the former Communist countries which joined the European Union to much celebration last week. That is a fantastic step forward, but it has implications for the universities and the Government's target. All the students from the 10 accession countries will be treated as home students. They will be paying fees of £1,150 per year instead of the overseas charges of £8,000 to £10,000. I believe in markets and I would be amazed if that did not result in a big increase in supply. Certainly the figures that have recently been published show a very substantial increase in the number of applications. Overall, applications for places in the autumn have risen by 3.1 per cent, compared with the same time last year, and 2.2 per cent among under-21s.

Of the former Soviet bloc, the biggest increase in applications is from Poland, which have gone up from 95 last year to 442. That is a 365 per cent increase. I suggest that not everybody in Poland may have heard of the opportunity that is now presenting itself. Slovakia's applications are up by 313 per cent; the Czech Republic by 176 per cent; Estonia by 229 per cent, and so on. Interest from Cyprus has more than doubled, with 1,458 students having made applications.

I know that the Higher Education Policy Institute has forecast an extra 30,000 students from the 10 accession countries. I do not wish to do the Government a disservice, but my reading of the House of Commons proceedings suggested that Ministers were not taking these figures particularly seriously. That prediction of 30,000 extra places by 2010—the Government's target date—is in line with this increase. It does not take a Brain of Britain to work out that there will be a huge attraction, that people will talk to each other about the opportunities, people will write articles and that these numbers will increase.

My concern—and the reason behind this amendment—is that the Government are not providing more funding for these predicted extra EU students. The universities have been told that they must also absorb the loss of overseas fees from about 6,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students from the 10 accession countries presently in the system.

So the purpose of this amendment is simply to help the Minister in her discussions with the Treasury and to ensure that the resources to which the Chancellor was so keen to give his commitment in his Statement the other day are made available. She and her department will then be able to deliver their declared policy, about which I have some doubts. Should the Minister decide that perhaps it is not wise to set a target of 50 per cent, but instead to concentrate on the principle of ensuring that youngsters are directed to those institutions offering them the best prospect of obtaining employment and making a contribution to themselves, their families and their country, I will cheer them to the rafters. However, while they stick to this policy, I cannot for the life of me see why the noble Baroness would not want this provision included on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Dearing

Long ago, when I was a civil servant responsible for providing briefing material to Ministers on Parliamentary Questions or on amendments to Bills, I was trained to consider whether a dirk might lie behind the cloak of the question. In applying that kind of thinking to the noble Lord's amendment, it occurs to me that this is a crafty wheeze on the part of the noble Scot to give advance warning to his compatriots in Scotland if there is any risk that England might ever catch up with Scottish participation rates.

I was invited to help on the review of the future of higher education in the United Kingdom, and as part of that we visited Scotland. I was impressed by two things: first, the rapidity with which participation had advanced there between the end of the 1980s to the mid-1990s—indeed, the years when the noble Lord was in office. Participation doubled in those years. In 1996, participation by Scottish 18 to 21 year-olds—the original wording of this clause until it was amended just now—stood at 42 per cent compared with around 30 per cent in England. The second good thing was the heavy emphasis placed on vocational higher education; that is, the proportion of students working for HNC and HND qualifications. In the Government's White Paper, the proposal that mattered to me was that the bulk of the expansion in England should be in vocational degrees.

Perhaps I may comment in regard to the White Paper that I recollect that the aim is not a target of 50 per cent participation, but progress towards that percentage among 18 to 30 year-olds. Indeed, I suggest to the noble Lord that, should he wish to amend his proposed new clause, it should include not only young people between the ages of 18 and 30, but also part-time higher education. If, as the noble Lord says, participation by full-time youngsters in Scotland now stands at a little over 50 per cent, then I would guess that were he to include part-time students between the ages of 18 and 30 years, the figure is probably cracking on towards 60 per cent. I congratulate the noble Lord on that.

I am glad that the noble Lord is not taking the line that it is a bad idea for England to follow the path taken by Scotland, but rather to ensure that the means are willed by the Government. Of course we all endorse that. I hope very much that we shall learn from Scottish practice. Recently I read the policy adopted by the Australian Government towards higher education. As I recall, it is entitled something like "Higher Education: Backing Australia". In his introduction to the report, the Minister quoted Winston Churchill from an address given to Harvard University in 1943: The empires of the future are the empires of the mind". It is very important that we create in all parts of the United Kingdom that wealth of the mind, which is the real wealth of any people.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

From these Benches I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing. We feel that it will be to the advantage of this country to expand the levels of achievement of our young people. Just as, in the 1880s, primary education and the attainment of basic levels of literacy and numeracy were regarded as necessary, today we want more than for our young people just to leave school able to read. write and understand the instructions on machinery which was perhaps the case in the 1950s when universal secondary education was introduced. Today we must go further than that. We need young people who can think for themselves, which means going beyond what is known as level 3—A levels and their vocational equivalents. Our young people need to be trained to levels of skill and technical competence that are the equivalent of level 4, which embrace—and it is important to make this clear—the old concept of the HND, comprising two years' study post A-levels. The HND was a highly regarded vocational qualification.

We regret the fact that, in a sense, the government White Paper reinforces what is already implicit in the English system, which is that the way to attain a qualification in higher education is to take A-levels and move on to university. What Members on these Benches would like to see is a far wider range of qualifications. We call this the "climbing frame to learning", which should be put in place from the age of 14 onwards, the point at which young people begin to think about what qualifications they will need for the future. So we welcome the widening of the agenda set out in the Tomlinson proposals on education for 14 to 19 year-olds being put forward by the Government.

We are very much with the proposed new clause in spirit because we see an inherent contradiction in what the Government are seeking to do—to widen participation and increase the element of social inclusion within our universities and yet at the same time to raise the money for those aims by increasing fees. As I say, to us this demonstrates an inherent contradiction in what the Government want to do. We feel strongly that the Government are willing the ends without willing the means. It is no bad thing to persuade them to do the latter as well.

Nevertheless, we have reservations because, like the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, we believe it necessary for the expansion to embrace part-time study as well as full-time education. The wording of subsection (1)(a) proposes targets relating to 18 to 21 year-olds, who should participate in full-time courses of education at higher education institutions". It is essential to widen that aim so that it embraces many routes. A young person at the age of 16 should be able to commit themselves to an apprenticeship and, from there, move on to take an HND. Perhaps the young person will take some time off, but they will be able to use that HND qualification as a stepping stone to taking a full-fledged honours degree and then, perhaps, a PhD. Such routes must be open to young people.

It is important to recognise that many young people consider it more attractive to think in terms of earning and learning. They may not be sure whether they want to pursue the university route. They should be able to dip their toes in the water by taking part-time courses to see whether they work for them, and then move on from that point.

We share many of the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and for that reason have some reservations about the amendment. In spirit, however, we are very much with it.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

Like other noble Lords, I welcome the expansion in higher education, provided that those who come into it do so willingly because they want to study their chosen subject and if they are properly able to benefit from it.

The biggest expansion in higher education took place between the end of the 1980s and the early 1990s. Those of us running institutions during that time can well remember both the heady excitement of the rate of that expansion—the numbers doubled in five years—and the quite terrific efforts that had to be made in order to accommodate so many students with dwindling funding per student. Although the money was increasing overall at the time, it worked out at less per student.


Therefore, I support my noble friend's amendment, because if expansion were to take place without the money, I do not believe that this time the university system could stand it. There was, as in the frequently quoted phrase, a little fat in the system as the 1980s came to an end, but there is not now, as we have all agreed. If expansion is to continue there must be proper funding to allow it.

I do not believe that it is right and proper for governments to set targets. Some of us go back a long way in higher education. I remember the time during the 1970s and 1980s when the Government were constantly setting targets by subject for the then-polytechnics. We were told how many engineering and science students we had to take, but the places were never filled.

However, the Government went on grinding out those targets year on year, which was nonsense and everyone knew that. Nevertheless, funding followed the targets for a few months and then, because the huge numbers of engineers that the Government thought they wanted could not be recruited throughout the 1970s in the great white heat—as I think it was known—of the technological revolution, the money was clawed back again. It was nonsense.

Expansion of higher education takes place because of decisions by individual young people who apply. It is based on improvement that takes place in schools and not on anything that higher education can do.

Baroness Lockwood

I was interested in the way the amendment was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. I accept the principle. If the Government are setting targets then there is clearly a responsibility to pay for those targets being realised. I suggest that had that principle been applied in the 1980s and early 1990s the universities would not be in the difficult position that they are in today.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

Forgive me for interrupting the noble Baroness, but she missed the point that I was making. We never had a specific target of 50 per cent; the Government have set a target of 50 per cent and therefore should be able to set out how it will be achieved. That is what the amendment seeks.

Baroness Lockwood

As the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, pointed out, this target is not a hard and fast target. It is progress towards a 50 per cent achievement. It encapsulates what was taking place in the higher education system. It has been estimated that even if nothing were done on access, by demographic factors alone there would be an additional demand of around 120,000 students by 2010. When we add to that the progress being made and the upward trend that we are seeing in A-levels, we are broadly moving towards the target without some of the policies that are being pursued in the universities to widen participation.

Nevertheless, having said that, the policies that universities are implementing are important because they are aimed at raising the expectations of young people and they are seeking ways and means by which those young people can attain higher levels of education and learning than at the present time. That equation must also be taken into account when we are thinking in terms of 50 per cent.

I would not wish to do anything that could detract from the importance of this movement forward towards 50 per cent, which I am confident will be achieved by 2010.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood

There are undercurrents in this discussion. Having been vice-chancellor of both London and Edinburgh Universities I would not want to be caught in the undercurrents of comparing Scottish and English higher education—a dangerous position to be in. Nonetheless, there is a clear issue here. I make one point about the Scottish expansion, which is that it was significantly aided by the work of the colleges of higher education and the range of courses that they provided. Perhaps there is something there that can be taken into the English context.

Just to show that I am even handed, I would caution the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, to be careful in comparing the merits of Scottish and English schools now. There may be a different story to tell, but that is another matter. The important essence of the amendment is that in either this or some other form there should be a proper reckoning of the gap between aspiration and affordability; means and ends.

This section of the Bill is set out to identify a means of dealing with a problem that has been widely recognised—including, I am glad to say, by the Government—that universities are under-funded. This is the offer on the table to increase the funding, but there is an inevitable concern, which will come up in later amendments, that any additional funding may not be seen as embodying what we have elsewhere called "additionality".

If, none the less, there is an annual proper open public discussion about the relation between aspiration and affordability, that will much help the cause to which the Bill is devoted.

Lord Winston

I want to be on both sides of the argument on the amendment. While I totally support the general idea of the expansion of participation in higher education, I have great sympathy for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. There is an issue that needs to be carefully thrashed out. One of the growing concerns within the universities is that we can confuse quantity with quality. One of the issues must be Britain's competitiveness in a global economy. There is a growing concern in our universities that we are not going to fund the quality we need to be competitive.

I am not going to ask whether that is true of Scotland; that would be an invidious question. But the situation in England is somewhat different at the present time. I am certain that if the expansion is to go ahead there must be a proper mechanism for exploring what it will mean to the economy of the universities and the economy of our country.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

Perhaps I may follow the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, who cautioned my noble friend Lord Forsyth about comparisons with Scotland. In the past 10 years the rapid expansion has presented problems. In some areas, according to a survey by Edinburgh and Strathclyde Universities, 40 per cent of graduates with jobs work in bars, shops and restaurants—they are not in graduate jobs that need a degree.

Ten years ago, 8,000 graduates could not find a job at all after obtaining their degrees. Last year, in 2003, 21,000 could not. The fitting of graduates to jobs is a problem if expansion is too rapid. I understand that the rapid expansion has meant that it has been a struggle in the top universities in Scotland to stay at the top of the UK and international league. Last year St Andrews University was the only one in the top 10.

If the Government are determined to chase that target with their top-down approach, the suggestions in the amendment are essential. It is probable that if universities were told that it was their job if possible to arrive at the 50 per cent target, they would each find their own way of doing so. Many are already doing so, as we know.

The target could probably be arrived at in a way better than the one suggested in the Bill—I indicated my feeling about this at Second Reading—but, if this is the way in which the Government seek to achieve it, the various parts of the amendment set out what they have to do. They have to work out the extra costs; they have to look at job prospects; they have to look at the effect on the economy; they have to look at the effect on university offerings; and they have to look at the effect on the remainder of United Kingdom university provision. We must always remember that it is a United Kingdom market and not only an England and Wales market.

The amendment sets out what the universities have to do. It seems to me, therefore, that this is not only a very good subject for debate, but a very good amendment.

Lord Taverne

I support the spirit of the amendment for a slightly different reason. As everyone agrees, the universities will continue to be very short of funds and there will be a considerable increase in the number of foreign students, particularly those from the European Union. This is to be greatly welcomed. However, in those circumstances, the large expansion in the number of students from Europe and overseas generally could be at the expense of students from the United Kingdom. One would not wish the Government's aim of expanding the number of students from the United Kingdom to be prejudiced by this. The situation should be monitored and the spirit of the amendment should be supported.

Lord Campbell-Savours

I shall intervene briefly to make what some may describe as a reactionary speech—but, over the years, I have learnt that what might appear reactionary today very often appears to be apposite and accurate in prediction tomorrow.

I have immense reservations about setting targets—or, as my noble friend described it, "moving towards targets". My reservations are based essentially on conversations I have had with my three sons over the last 10 years of their experiences in higher education, and on the experiences of the large number of young people they have brought into my homes in London and the Lake District to discuss these matters, particularly during the period leading up to the 1998 Bill and the changes it introduced. That was the only issue in the previous Parliament over which I had any reservation about voting in the Division Lobbies in favour of the Government's position. But I did so and, as a result, never voted against the Government in the previous Parliament. But on this issue the whole Bill goes far beyond what I regard as acceptable. Perhaps I may explain why.

My sons and their friends brought home stories of many young people engaged in higher education today who are simply unfit for it and who should never have been led into it. I am frightened that, under the provisions of the Bill we are now considering, many young people will be led into higher education; that they will end up dropping out and incurring debt. It is all right the Minister saying to me that this is not debt and that it comes under some other heading—but it is debt.

I paid for most of my sons' higher education, but they took out student loans and borrowed money from the banks. These were not large amounts of money, hut they regard the sums as debt. They are debt. Whatever happens in the future, young people will be lured—and I use the term "lured"—into higher education; they will leave it, and then regret the fact that they took on these obligations.

That is contrary to everything in which I believe as a democratic socialist. I still believe in some core principles. I believe that when young people leave school they should be in a position to fly out into the world as free as a bird and unencumbered by liability. But we are drawing some people into a liability that they will deeply regret in later life.

12.15 p.m.

I welcome the fact that there are those who go into higher education, come out, find employment and enjoy the benefits of it, and I welcome the expansion in relevant areas of education. But I am also told by university lecturers whom I know, mostly in the new universities, that they are being obliged to accept students that they do not want, that they do not believe should be there. They are under pressure within departments to provide qualifications that they do not believe the students deserve. If that is the case, why should we set a target that will push more people down a tube where, at the end, there is discontent among some students and lecturers?

I cannot understand the logic of a system where university lecturers are saying, "It is very difficult. We have these departments and want to build them up but, yes, we have reservations about all these young people coming in. But that is the way things are at the moment; at some stage in the future it will all change".

Another aspect that I find very worrying is what is going on today under the British apprenticeship scheme arrangements. The Conservative government in the mid-1990s introduced the modern apprenticeship scheme and the Labour Government very wisely developed it and built it into a major programme. I have followed that programme with some interest—indeed, I tabled some Questions recently, which my noble friend answered—but the statistics are very worrying. They show that nearly half of all young people leave modern apprenticeship programmes. Why are they leaving?

Yes, the other half go out into the world and no doubt develop their skills, as the noble Baroness said, and go on to take HNDs, degrees, and maybe postgraduate work as well—but why are they leaving? I shall tell you why. The pressure is on to increase the numbers going into apprenticeship training. That is all very well, but the intake of those going into apprenticeship training is being denuded of the very people who, years ago, provided our skills base and who, in my former constituency, run the companies that today are producing the wealth of the nation. Many of the companies in my former constituency of Workington in Cumbria are run by former apprentices, the present day equivalents of whom may well be diverted at the age of 18 or 19 into taking higher educational courses in subjects about which, in a matter of only a few years, they will say, "Why the hell did I bother? Why should I be engaged in this? I made a mistake when I was younger".

There is a responsibility to make sure that that does not happen. We are spoiling our apprenticeship programmes by diluting the currency and quality of the people who are being absorbed because others are being sucked into a regime which will bring them into debt. Many of them will regret going into the system that is currently being established. I am very sorry to say this to my noble friend, for whom I have great respect. I know that many of my colleagues in the House of Commons have immense respect for her and the work that she does, but I believe that this is the worst Bill introduced by the Labour Government since their election in 1997. I deeply regret that we have to debate it today.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville

While I do not go as far as the Scottish judge who used the phrase that a change for the better was a contradiction in terms, I share the conservatism of the noble Lord. Lord Campbell-Savours, in some of the comments that he has made. That said—I go back to 1979—I always thought it was churlish of the present Prime Minister when he said in the run-up and aftermath to the 1997 general election, "Education, education, education" and criticised the previous government for their administration of the schools, that he did not give them credit for the extraordinary expansion in entry to higher education which occurred in the 18 years in which we were in power. When we came into power in 1979, we inherited a participation rate of one in eight for those aged between 18 and 21—the figure originally quoted in my noble friend's proposed new clause. The rate was of course transformed during the course of the next 18 years.

In the early 1980s, after the Government had frozen university numbers, there was a significant growth in public sector higher education. As my noble friend Lady Perry said, the unit of resource in the public sector of higher education in the early 1990s steadily fell as a consequence. Then, when public sector higher education was released from the local authorities, it underwent a further. massive explosion, with huge consequences for the unit of resource.

There were further consequences. In the early 1990s, the Government took the decision—I was unhappy about it and I know that my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking had his own misgivings—to translate polytechnics and other institutes of higher education into universities. On the basis that if the new universities could manage with a lower unit of resource, so could the older universities, the Treasury cut the unit of resource for the older universities as well. That had a minor, and incidental, consequence in your Lordships' House about two years ago, when some of my noble friends were resisting the introduction of auxiliary constables under the Police Act. I remember quoting exactly what I have just said about what happened to the unit of resource in the old universities in the early 1990s. The noble Lord, Lord Rooker. memorably said in reply that that was entirely in line with his experience—that if it were possible for the Treasury to thwart and kill any good new idea at birth, it would take the opportunity. He then, memorably, got into trouble with the Treasury for having said it. However, because of what happened to the unit of resource in higher education in the 1990s, I support my noble friend's new clause vehemently.

I have one question born of ignorance for the Minister. When did the age cohort of 18 to 21, which was originally quoted by my noble friend in his new clause, give way to the age cohort of 18 to 30 as the figure that we would use for measurement purposes? What effect has that change had on the figures for part-time and mature student recruitment, which was one of the glories of our system—only shared with the United States—when our 18 to 21 figures were being unfavourably compared with other OECD countries?

Baroness Blackstone

I had not intended to speak in this debate, because I know that my noble friends on the Front Bench want to get on. However, I must respond to my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours.

He admitted to being reactionary. He said it and I agree: he was. I had thought earlier in the debate that we would have some consensus on all sides of the Committee about the need for more graduates in our economy. We need to provide young people with the opportunity to reach their potential and go into higher education. I do not accept for one minute what my noble friend has just said about the quality of what is being provided nor what he said about the ability of the majority of young people who gain university places to benefit from doing so. Of course, some will fall by the wayside, but I remind him that the drop-out rates in UK universities are the lowest in the world bar those in Japan. We have a rather good record of retaining students in our higher education system.

The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, was a little unfair on the Prime Minister in suggesting that he had never given credit to the previous government for expanding higher education. I believe that he did. I know that my right honourable friend David Blunkett did so as well. and I certainly did when I was the Minister who had responsibility for higher education. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, is nodding his head in agreement. However, we did say that insufficient funding was provided to back that expansion. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Baker, who was involved with it, would accept that it would have been good if the Treasury could have been persuaded to provide more funding. In the future, if we are to expand higher education further, we must of course try to ensure that the resources are there to make it really work.

In that sense, I am in some agreement with what I think lies behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. We are in Committee and we should really focus on the amendment rather than go into the subject of apprenticeships, which is not part of the Bill. I agree with my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours that apprenticeships are important and should be developed and expanded. However, I do not agree that there are not enough young people among the next 50 per cent who will not go into higher education with the potential to do well in apprenticeships. He was being far too gloomy about that.

I have no idea what the Minister will say about this amendment. The first part of it seems to be quite helpful, but it would not make much sense to legislate for an inquiry into the impact on the economy of the 50 per cent target. Hundreds of reports have been written on the economic advantages of investment in higher education. Surely we do not need to legislate for another one. I am sure that further studies will he done as we move towards that target.

Finally, I do not agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, who suggested that it was wrong to set targets. We have too many targets—that is a mistake that the Government have made—but this target is a general one and we should not have a problem with it. If one has a target of this kind, which has been set by the Government, one is far more likely to secure resources from the Treasury to support it than if one aims merely for a general expansion. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, looks surprised by what I said, but he should look back at what happened during the government of which he was a member, when rapid expansion took place, but the money was not found because no clear target had been set. The Secretary of State was unable to go to the Chancellor and say, "Look, we've made a commitment here and we really do need to find additional funding".

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

I thank the noble Baroness, but perhaps I may gently point out that I think she was the Minister for higher education who first introduced the idea of tuition fees. The unit of resource per student remained unchanged as a result. The additional resource that went into the system was pocketed by the Treasury, even though the Government had a target.

Baroness Blackstone

No, I do not accept that. The 1997–2001 government inherited plans in the Conservative government's Red Book for a reduction in the expenditure in universities; that is, the unit of resource was going to be further cut by, I think, 6.2 per cent. The Government were able to reduce those "efficiency savings"—a term used by the Treasury—to 2 per cent as had been recommended by the noble Lord. Lord Dearing. Additional government funds were provided. One could argue that perhaps they were not enough, but it is not true that a simple balancing act was done between the extra money that came in from fee income and what was provided by the public purse.

Lord Quirk

While I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that there is little point in trying to institute an inquiry into the impact on the economy of the 50 per cent target, it would be highly relevant to have an inquiry into its impact on the economy of the universities. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville. Of course, this is not a suitable point at which to discuss part-time students. However, part-time students are relevant to that target, because universities are being encouraged, and will be financially helped, to increase their numbers of full-time students, but they will not be encouraged to increase their numbers of part-time students.

Just as it has been mentioned that EU applications will affect the fulfilment of the target within universities, so also a decline in the number of part-time students—which might be encouraged by the legislation which we have in front of us—will affect that target. When I say it will affect the applications by part-time students, of course the Government will say, "No. part-time students are not affected by this". But they will be affected.

Whether the Universities UK acknowledges this or not, universities up and down the country cannot afford to go on charging the same fees for part-time study as they do at the moment. It is much more likely, as has been announced in the University of Leeds, for example, that they will seek out pari passu increase, so that they will be charging £1,500 a head for part-time students. The University of Leeds has demonstrated that this will mean that many students currently doing part-time courses—sometimes with the help of their employers—will no longer be able to do so.

It is perfectly possible that the Government will be able to reply convincingly that some part-time students will get additional help. I know this is not the point of the debate to be discussing part-time students, but it is relevant in connection with targets. Some part-time students will indeed get help, but the point of growth—the point that we surely wish to encourage in the development of higher education with this major segment of part-time education—is the people that are going to be disadvantaged by this particular target.

12.30 p.m.

Lord Sewel

I hope the Minister in replying to the debate on this amendment will address whether in fact the amendment is capable of being implemented. The amendment is phrased throughout in terms of the United Kingdom. There is a real sense in which the higher education system is a United Kingdom system, but the fact is that higher education is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Executive.

I wonder whether the requirements placed on the Secretary of State by the amendment would be capable of being carried out by him, when he has no locus in terms of higher education in Scotland—and, I think, very limited locus in terms of higher education in Wales. I am not sure whether the Secretary of State would be able to do what the amendment asks and requires him to do, and in that in case it would be a fundamentally flawed amendment.

Lord Eatwell

I made the plea in our debate on Monday that the resource being generated by the increase in fees should not be spent over and over again. There has emerged a consensus in this debate that any expansion should be accompanied by resource. Will the Minister acknowledge when she replies to the debate that the increase in fees is intended to attack under-funding of universities as currently constituted, and not to fund the expansion that is being discussed? How will the expansion he funded?

Lord Wilson of Dinton

I, too, endorse the question of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, and add a word very briefly on the question of targetry. We now have quite a lot of experience of targetry over the past few years, and we can now learn that it is a much more difficult activity than perhaps used to be thought.

There are three particular dangers which I think are relevant in this debate. First, if you set a target and pursue it too rigidly, you may well find that you distort other behaviour and that other things get lost in the process. Second, if you do not provide the resources, or resources are not available, for meeting the target, you have the law of unintended consequences—other things happen which you have not foreseen but which do damage. We have heard some of the dangers now, such as the effect on quality of teaching, the danger of drop-outs and the growth of debt.

The third danger is that if you meet your targets, you sometimes actually miss your objectives. You sometimes find that you hit the target but the thing you were trying to achieve in broad terms is not actually what you have achieved. I hope the Minister will address these issues when she sums up.

Lord Baker of Dorking

I remember the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, being in the Civil Service on the expenditure side when we Ministers went in to negotiate our expenditure. I seem to recollect that he was not entirely against targets in those days. As he is now against them—

Lord Wilson of Dinton

I hope that the noble Lord will recognise that I am saying, "we have learnt".

Noble Lords


Lord Baker of Dorking

"A Daniel come to judgment!" I quite agree.

I am against targets of all sorts in higher education, or in further education. When I was Secretary of State for Education, I did not give targets. Right at the end of my time there, I made a speech at Lancaster in which I forecast—it was not a target—that by 2000, university participation of the 18 year-old cohort, would go to about 33.3 per cent. It went to 35 per cent.

I did not set that as a target. What I said was that if you create the conditions within the universities—and in the polytechnics as well—you will get the sufficient demand welling up from 16 and 18 year-olds. What is really striking over the last 20 years in higher education history is that many young people at 16 believe that education does not come to an end there. It is probably one of the biggest social changes, and it does not necessarily come to an end at 18 either. They want themselves to go on, because they are sensible people and they know that if they get trained or get an additional skill they will get a better job and do better in life. Therefore, you have got this welling-up.

I have some sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, said. I did not agree with his final comment that this is the worst Bill the Government have introduced—there is quite a long candidate list for that particular description. However, I do believe that people are tempted into higher education who could he better off in further education. This is one of the reasons why I was the last Secretary of State to defend the boundary line between polytechnics and universities. The polytechnics were doing an excellent job, and I tried to elevate their status and support them as much as I could as Secretary of State. They had a noble and dignified role in the educational structure of our country. However, they were very worried about their status. If you go to the universities now, you will find that more than 50 per cent of the courses are vocational, and in some of the universities as high as 70 per cent are vocational.

To sum up, I think the Government are wrong to set a target of 50 per cent. Higher participation is going to come about as long as the universities are properly funded, as long as they have an ability to draw funds. This is why I support the Government's thrust on fees, as I believe the Minister knows, because this gives the universities an additional source of income, and that is what they need.

I am therefore against all such control. I believe the system should be free in itself. Students should have a student entitlement —a voucher, if you like—for arts, science and medicine. They should shop around themselves—that is the state's support to the student—and decide which course they want to go to. The universities should be free to select which children they want, to teach what they want, to appoint who they want and to charge what they want.

Baroness Blackstone

I want very quickly to respond to one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Baker. Some of what he has just said about 18 year-olds is probably true, but this target is not about 18 year-olds. It is about young people aged between 18 and 30. The vast majority of the additional numbers coming in will not he 18 year-olds going on to conventional courses in universities; they will in fact be 24, 25 and 26 year-olds, doing highly vocational foundation degrees which are being done not in universities but in FE colleges. We should remember that and bear it in mind when we think about the meaning and implications of this target.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on his clever amendment. I accept what he has said about the unintended part in relation to the 18 to 21 age group—which helped me to cross out quite a lot of my speaking notes—and his wish for it to involve 18 to 30 year-olds. My only regret is that this is worthy of a longer debate in your Lordships' House—perhaps of two and a half or five hours. Certainly I would like to contribute for a great deal of time on lots of the issues which have been quite rightly raised by noble Lords. I shall confine myself in some degree to the amendment, not least because it is my job to try to make progress in Committee on the Bill, but I recognise the sentiments. I urge any Members of the Committee who feel that I fail to do justice to their comments, or that the passion with which they have spoken has not been recognised, to put the matter down for further debate in the House. We could do it justice, with so many noble Lords who have such wide-ranging experience on it.

Let me begin by talking about the wonderful new word "targetry", which I did not know until today. I am very pleased to now have it in my arsenal of words. Let me be very clear: the 50 per cent target is for the Government, not institutions. I know that Members of the Committee have made that point, but it is very important. The target is working towards 50 per cent for 18 year-olds to 30 year-olds, which picks up the point made by my noble friend Lady Blackstone.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

I hope that the Minister will forgive me, but I have with me the statement made by Margaret Hodge regarding the Government's intentions. She said: The Government's policy is to increase participation so that by the end of the decade, 50 per cent of 18 to 30 year olds have the opportunity to experience higher education".— [Official Report, Commons, 11/2/02; col. 95W.] It is not a move in a direction or a trend, but a specific and clear target.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I am referring to the White Paper, which is not a change but a clarification—if the noble Lord wishes—about what we want. The White Paper is published by the Government about their intentions. It is very important that, if we read words that an individual Minister says, we remember that we do not know what the debate or context were. It is very difficult to be as clear as one would wish. Therefore, if I return to the text of the White Paper, I believe that I shall give clarity to the Committee about precisely what the Government meant. It is on that that we should rely in this context.

I make no apology for having ambition in the world of higher education to ensure that those able to benefit from it do so. However, we are not holding individual institutions or universities to account for that target. It is the aspiration of the Government. I am very pleased to say that we are moving towards that aspiration. The figures that we have for 2002–03 are that 44 per cent of that cohort is involved in higher education. Regardless of what the noble Lord said about the difference between Scottish and English schools, I think with tongue slightly in cheek, some credit should be given to the education system, which has improved. Members of the Committee will have heard me say many times that, in our primary system, the school that was best in 1997 was average in 2002–03. That is an important aspect of why young people now have the confidence and ability to go forward to university.

Robert Reich is often quoted in the House. I have had the privilege of listening to his work. Indeed, in the late 1980s, I was involved in global scenario planning. We looked very carefully, from outside of the government sector, into what the world would look like and where our position in it ought to be. It is very clear that we wish to position ourselves with a highly skilled workforce. To compete appropriately in a global economy, we need to make sure that we have the best possible skilled workforce.

Part of that skill is within our graduates. Evidence shows that, of the 13.5 million jobs expected to be filled by 2012, 6.8 million will require graduates. It is important to look at our place in the world and in the OECD countries. Many other countries already have higher participation rates than the UK. My first assertion to the Committee is that it is the job of government to look across the world economy, and to make some ambition a reality for where we wish to see our universities fitting into it and where we believe that the skills ought to be.

Many Members of the Committee have great experience of higher education from their work in the university sector, so I do not need to remind them of the benefits that come to the individuals from such education. Not least is the intrinsic value of the education, but they are more likely to be healthy, to vote in a democracy and to participate in our society. That should not be underestimated for our population.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and my noble friend Lady Blackstone said—I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, also referred to it on earning and learning—we are also thinking around the relevance and importance of foundation degrees. They are vocational. I shall need to write to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, on at least the first of the specific questions that he asked, to be absolutely clear about the change and when it came in. However, it is important not to mix up vocational and academic. Those doing medicine, veterinary science or whatever are pursuing vocational degrees. We sometimes try to juxtapose the two kinds of experience as though they are somehow very different. It is not as straightforward as that, but foundation degrees are critical. Last year, 12,000 people studied for foundation degrees. By 2006, there will be 50,000 places. It is worth saying that the target is for full-time and part-time students; we are not simply saying that everything has to be in one direction.

12.45 p.m.

Modern apprenticeships are critical. There are 250,000 young people on apprenticeships at the moment. About a quarter of all school leavers start an apprenticeship by the age of 21. Notwithstanding the comments made, we could have a separate debate—I would look forward to it—on apprenticeships. We are not talking about either/or, but both. We need to ensure that our young people have the opportunity to pursue the course appropriate for them. It is not our job to cap ambition in any way.

It is also worth remembering that, for those who wish to go into vocational trades—plumbers are usually mentioned at some point in our debates—we need to look at the levels of qualifications. I believe—I shall stand corrected on it if necessary—that if one is looking for a CORGI-registered plumber to fix one's central heating system, one is looking at level 3 qualifications in any event. We should recognise and support people being able, within their trades, to do more complex work and to get the benefit of pursuing their trades to a higher education level.

The amendment, with the correction given by the noble Lord, is about a requirement for the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on the "target proportion". We provide details of projected student numbers, together with information on planned institutional expenditure and student funding. There are already a number of opportunities for Parliament to scrutinise that work, such as the annual departmental report, where we set out planned spending and past performance. That is laid before Parliament and considered by the Education and Skills Committee.

The department is subject to regular scrutiny on value for money and efficiency by the National Audit Office. Those are important ways in which we are scrutinised. Examining the policies set out in the White Paper, the Select Committee invited a wide range of witnesses to participate and ask questions, including representatives from the universities and student representatives, and I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, also participated in that discussion. Within the system already, real efforts have been made to make sure that there is parliamentary scrutiny of the right kind.

The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, set out a question, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Dinton, about affordability. That was right and understandable. The intention of the Government is to inject real funds. That is what the Bill is about. It is based on background that Members of the Committee know very well by now—the report of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing—about how one gets a university system that is able to function, grow and develop. However, it is also important that universities be very clear that they wish the funding to give them flexibility.

The issue is not about expansion, as asked about by my noble friend Lord Eatwell; it is about giving universities the flexibility to be able to decide on what they wish to spend the resources. They might wish to improve academic salaries, an issue that will be of great importance on the fifth day in Committee. They may wish to expand, or have other kinds of investment. Our purpose is to try to improve the position of universities financially, through the Bill and the increases that we have already indicated that we shall be making. Members of the Committee will recognise, as I do, that we all have more to do, but those arc important steps.

I shall repeat the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said in his Budget Statement that, our university and student finance reforms will be matched by rising real-terms funding, to progress towards the 50 per cent target for students in higher education that would give thousands more students with qualifications the opportunities that they deserve. The settlement will maintain the level of real-terms student funding per head, and ensure that universities receive in full the benefit of additional revenue from the Government's higher education reforms-.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/3/04; col. 335.] That is as plain as it can he, and I am pleased to be able to read that out for the record. We absolutely accept that we need to make sure that we have the right kind of scrutiny in Parliament. We believe that we have that. We also have made statements about ensuring where the funding is coming from and indeed, making sure that the Chancellor's words are noted.

Noble Lords focused too on the issues of the European Union and the accession countries. It is worth saying that, in looking forward, we are monitoring very carefully and working very closely with UCAS to see what actually happens. Our projections are that we will see a one-off increase of about 8 per cent.

It is worth also saying that coming to the UK to study is not a cheap option. We do not provide support for maintenance costs, so those coming here need to meet those costs themselves. It is important that noble Lords realise what it is that those coming here will actually be receiving.

I hope I have addressed most of the points that have been raised, with apologies where I might not have done so. I will reflect on what has been said and follow up by correspondence any not dealt with to the satisfaction of noble Lords. We are committed to this government target. It is based on looking across the global economy and our place within it. It is based on looking at our colleagues in the OECD and seeing where we think our universities, working with us, will hope to see that expansion. We recognise that it is about working with the sector to ensure that, as we develop our plans, we are working as allies to support our students.

It is not about saying that those who go to university are one group and that those who do not are another. It is about recognising, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, recognised, that the strategy for 14 to 19 year-olds and the work of Mike Tomlinson is critical in this. It is also about ensuring that we have an economy that is fit for the 21st century. On that basis I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

We have had a very interesting debate. I am slightly puzzled by what the Minister had to say about whether the Government do indeed have a target, or whether the target is an aspiration, or whether it is something between an aspiration and a target. This is rather an important point. My own position, like that of my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking, is that we should not have a target, and that has been the position of the Opposition. I for one will cheer the Minister if the Government are moving their position from what it was declared to be in a Written Answer by Mrs Hodge only 18 months ago.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I will read exactly what is in the White Paper, which I believe is the situation: We will continue to increase participation towards 50 per cent of those aged 18 to 30, mainly through two-year work-focused foundation degrees".

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

I am grateful to the Minister, but Mrs Hodge said: The Government's policy is to increase participation so that by the end of the decade, 50 per cent of 18 to 30 year olds have the opportunity to experience higher education".—[Official Report, Commons, 11/2/02; col. 95W.] Is that no longer the Government's policy? When I read that out to the noble Baroness, she said that the Government's policy is set out in the White Paper. What is the position?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

The policy is set in the White Paper. One can take different ministerial statements out of different contexts. I do not know the written response that the noble Lord has. I think that there is very little difference between what my right honourable friend said and what I have just repeated from the White Paper. But if the noble Lord is confused then I will be categoric that it is the White Paper that sets out the Government's policy.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

I realise that in this House people are very courteous, but if I may gently suggest to the Minister that it does not sound to me as if it is me who is confused. I thought that the Government had a clear policy. The noble Baroness has quoted from page seven of the White Paper, but on page 57 it states: National economic imperatives support our target to increase participation in higher education towards 50 per cent of those aged 18 to 30 by the end of the decade Now that is not an aspiration; that is not "moving towards"; that is a specific target which is meant to be reached. I think it is extremely important that we are clear about whether the Government still have that target. If they have that target then I think they are mistaken, for the reasons that my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking spelled out. But if the Government's position is changing then I for one would welcome that.

It has been a curious debate. I suspect that if we were to test the opinion of the Committee the amendment might well find considerable support. I was very struck by what the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, had to say about the wording. She wanted more emphasis on the vocational aspects. Perhaps it might be better for us to return to this subject at a later stage. The noble Baroness and I might be able to find common cause on this matter, along with many others who share the concern that the spirit is willing but that the flesh, in the form of the Treasury, has proved particularly weak.

I was very struck by the strength of feeling on all sides of the Committee on the issue of targets and whether they work. Perhaps I may tell a story against myself. When I was Secretary of State for Scotland, my wife had an unfortunate accident while carrying one of my Red Boxes upstairs and she had to go to casualty at St. Thomas's Hospital in London. The following day I went to the tea-room and said, "A funny thing happened to me yesterday. I took Susan to the hospital, and we were seen within three minutes, but then sat there for five hours". One of the Back-Benchers said: "Which planet are you Ministers living on? You should realise you were being seen immediately to meet the targets, and the manager of the hospital is probably being given a bonus on the strength of it."

That is what I think the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, was talking about in terms of the law of unintended consequences and the dangers of targets. I hope that the Minister, having listened to speeches from around the Committee from noble Lords who are so directly involved in this area, might say to her colleagues that perhaps there is some wisdom in moving away from the Government's position on targets. Listening to her own remarks, perhaps she has already taken that on board.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

At the risk of the anecdote getting out of hand, as the former chair of a health authority, the reason for that would have been to assess whether the noble Lord's wife was seriously injured, and then determine whether she should be triaged.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

Strangely enough, that is what my officials told me at the time, but it did appear that the patient was seen within 15 minutes of going to hospital. But being seen is not the same thing as being treated. Institutions, if offered targets, rewards and resources on a particular basis, will organise themselves to meet the targets. That is sometimes not the same thing as was intended by those who set the targets.

I was hugely amused by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours. He and I have been sparring partners in the past. He began by describing himself as a reactionary, saying that he felt very strongly about these issues as a democratic socialist. I think I must be turning into a democratic socialist, because I agreed with almost every word he had to say. One point on which both he and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, laid emphasis is the issue of vocational education and apprenticeships and people not being cheated into doing the wrong thing and being landed with a very substantial financial commitment. The section of the White paper quoted by the noble Baroness actually lays emphasis on these so-called two-year foundation degrees.

I do not know whether the Minster is aware that there is actually great pressure to phase out the HNC and HND qualifications which were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and to replace them with these two-year foundation degrees. So here is another example of the law of unintended consequences of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson: that in order to meet the targets, we actually have people destroying the very courses which everyone agrees attract so much sympathy both in the House and elsewhere.

1 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

It is a matter of a name change. HNDs and HNCs are higher education, so the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is wrong in suggesting that foundation degrees have been introduced in order to reach the target and that there is an unintended consequence. When the decision was made, it was clear that HNDs and HNCs would be rebranded as foundation degrees. They are part of higher education, although they are undertaken mainly in further education colleges.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

After the noble Baroness's rather unkind attack on her noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, and, as I am supporting him, I suppose I deserve that. The noble Baroness said that it is a matter of a name change, and "vocational" versus "academic" is a matter of a name change. The point which I and her noble friend are trying to make is that there is too much emphasis on the academic for people who are not academic and not enough emphasis on the vocational. That is at the root of the failure of the Government's policy.

My noble friend Lord Brooke lamented the abolition of the binary line. I was in government when that was done. In politics, it is always a mistake to say that you have made a mistake, but on reflection it was a mistake and we are where we are now. Only the other day north of the Border, the Scottish Executive announced that it was to abolish the term "university" and to manage the funding councils. It seems that history is about to repeat itself in an undesirable way.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, kindly brought us to the central issue of discovering whether this really is a target. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, and despite the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, I was not setting out to argue that there was something inherently better about Scotland as compared with England, although I could well do so. The fact that education has been funded 25 per cent better per head, thanks to the generosity of English taxpayers, has probably been a factor in the improved performance, although it has not been improved by 25 per cent.

When the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, counselled me not to make comparisons between Scottish and English schools and suggested that there had been a change, I was not arguing that English schools had improved or that Scottish schools were worse. That would be a matter for the Scottish Executive and the Parliament to account for.

The noble Lord, Lord Winston, indicated his huge sympathy for the amendment and he made a key point; that we should be concerned about quality and not about quantity and concerned about putting round pegs in round holes.

My noble friend Lady Carnegy said that if the expansion was too rapid, graduates would not be able to get jobs. That has been a feature of the more rapid expansion in Scotland.

The noble Lord, Lord Quirk, was concerned to have an inquiry into the effect on the economy. Perhaps we could get our heads together on a suitable wording at a later date. There will be an opportunity in our considerations today to pick up some of the important points made about part-time students.

I am in complete agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, who indicated he was sympathetic. He made the point about the money being spent several times. Wherever I go, every letter that arrives seems to spend the money several times. The Minister's response was a little disappointing because she did not answer his specific question about how the resources are to he deployed and whether expansion will be funded separately. She focused on what the Chancellor had said, but I do not believe that in any way he made that kind of commitment.

It is a matter to which we shall return. I began my introduction of the amendment by saying that we did not want to have a wide-ranging debate. We have had a wide-ranging debate because I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, that this is one of the worst Bills brought forward by the Government. We have had a wide-ranging debate because there are far too many loose ends around this Bill which are not being addressed. I look forward to the Minister and her colleagues addressing them as the Bill continues its passage through the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn moved Amendment No. 37: Before Clause 21, insert the following new clause—

"NATIONAL BURSARY SCHEME (1) The Secretary of State shall undertake to pay by way of bursary the totality of the qualifying fees, including both the basic amount and the higher amount, payable by a student admitted to and following a qualifying course at a publicly funded university in England or Wales who is a member of a specified group which is under-represented in higher education. (2) In this section "specified group" in relation to students following any qualifying course means students resident in the United Kingdom whose own income and parental and spousal income when assessed by means of a means test as set out in student support regulations is less than a figure prescribed in regulations made by the Secretary of State.

The noble Lord said: The amendment is about access as much as it is about funding. I want to stress the point that the threshold I have in mind is £15,000. In other words, it is proposed that students from families whose income is less than £15,000 should not be obliged to pay tuition fees.

Curiously enough, although the Bill is involved with access it does little to deal with access directly. We have complex measures of checks and balances, universities are expected to provide bursaries, and there is £300 here and another sum there. However, those of us who have experience of university admissions are aware that for financial reasons many students are deterred even from applying to university.

Many of us who are in full agreement with the Government's views and have advocated them ourselves would like to see a higher intake of students from lower income families into higher education. The struggle is to obtain the applications, which is why so many resent the observations made, for instance, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Laura Spence affair. The problem is to get the applications from the lower-income-group students to the universities.

Nothing could be more of a deterrent to students to know that they are going to acquire a substantial loan because they have to borrow to meet the tuition fees. I believe that it was a retrograde step when the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, who is in her place, for the first time in post-war years broke the Robbins convention that tuition fees were paid for.

I shall not go down the path of the Liberal Democrats—this amendment is not intended to be a wrecking amendment. In many ways, I have much sympathy with the view that tuition fees across the board should still be paid for, even though maintenance should be dealt with otherwise. But that matter has been extensively debated in another place and it is not my intention today to introduce what might be regarded as a wrecking amendment.

However, it is an extraordinary transformation when up until 1998 all students from the UK who were properly qualified obtained state studentships and their fees were paid. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, gave us a 30 degree turn. Now we are turning another 150 degrees and all students are expected to pay top-up fees, even though there are arrangements for loans.

However, anyone who has discussed these matters with students from lower-income families knows that many of them are what is described today as "debt averse" and many students are wise to be so. Indeed, those students from lower-income families who aspire to go to university, who are prudent students and who would rather live by the rubric "Neither a borrower nor a lender be", are very much troubled by the obligation to take a substantial loan.

My amendment would do something about that. It is a modest step only, but in cases of students from families with an income of less than £15,000, it would cut through the Bill's monumental architecture of loans, Directors of Fair Access and so on. I am sure that if the appointed Director of Fair Access finds that all students with a familial income of less than £15,000 do not have to take out a loan as the fee is effectively waived, he or she will be very happy, as much of his or her work will have been achieved.

Moreover, if the amendment were agreed, I should be astonished if it did not find very substantial favour in another place. It seems iniquitous that, until just five years ago, Jimmy qualified for university, got his state studentship and then his fees were paid. Now the converse is the case in this monumentally retrogressive legislation.

I have spoken about admissions; I am surprised that we have come so far. I said that this was not a wrecking amendment, but I would like to make clear my intention, first, that the Government would pay for these bursaries. I do not intend that they should somehow be siphoned off from the universities themselves. Secondly, I was impressed by the remarks made at Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, about part-time students. Nothing in the amendment excludes part-time students; I intend that it should include them. If the amendment is put to the vote and finds favour with the Committee today, there will be time to introduce any necessary supplementary amendments. I doubt that any would be necessary, as it is perfectly clear that the amendment would apply to part-time students also.

I have said nothing about maintenance; nor do I expect to say anything on it. If I were rewriting the Bill, I might well ensure that it was written into the legislation that students in this very underprivileged group would also receive maintenance in some similar way. But one can only go so far in an amendment, and my intention has been to keep this one simple.

I should like to draw noble Lords' attention to the wording of the amendment. I have found it difficult to implement my intentions clearly. I have had to say that the intention is the £15,000 threshold; that is how the amendment reads. I should also mention that I have drawn on the wording of Clause 31(4) when I refer to the phrase, members of groups which, at the time when the plan is approved. are under-represented in higher education".

I have had to define that. It is not defined in the context of the Director of Fair Access. I would be very interested to hear what the Director of Fair Access will do about groups defined in other ways, such as ethnic minorities. I would be very happy for my amendment to apply to ethnic minorities, but I have tried to keep it simple and have set out to define such groups. The definition in the amendment is purely in financial terms, as I have already said. I have followed the wording elsewhere in the Bill and tried in that way to express the intention in the amendment.

I do not believe that my amendment conflicts with Amendment No. 86, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, with which it is grouped. The noble Lord speaks about a national bursary scheme, aspects of which might be funded through the universities. I have discussed the matter with him. As I understand it, the noble Lord does not disagree with me that, so far as concerns the threshold in the amendment, the intention is that the finances should be drawn not from universities but from the Treasury. It should increase the overall unit of resource.

That brings a second benefit: those universities expected under the Bill to set aside a significant proportion of their fee income to provide bursaries under the Bill's very complex architecture will be at least saved the expense of setting aside those finances for students in this most underprivileged group, up to the £15,000 threshold. That input will be by increasing the unit of resource.

1.15 p.m.

I very much look forward to hearing noble Lords' responses. I was so discourteous at an earlier stage as to refer to a very distinguished noble Lord opposite as complacent. I withdrew that remark and will not repeat it again. As my noble friend Lord Forsyth commented, Universities UK sometimes seems keener to support the Government than it is to support the universities—in earlier stages of the Bill, at any rate. The term "complaisant"—I shall not make the same mistake twice—might well be assigned to Universities UK. I have had the privilege of seeing its briefing on these amendments. I can anticipate—though, I hope, not inappropriately—what the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, will say. I am a little shocked that Universities UK does not at once see the merit of the amendment, because it should be regarded as progressive rather than retrogressive.

The amendment, if agreed, would be welcomed by many in another place, including many government supporters. I suggest that if the amendment is agreed in this Committee it is unlikely to be brought back to the House of Lords after a vote in another place. I cannot imagine how the Government can justify the abolition of state studentships—that is what we are talking about—for students whose familial income is less than £15,000.

I do not feel the need to go any further, as that would he to call into jeopardy the structure of the Bill. This is not intended as a wrecking amendment but it is deeply critical of the Government. They have gone so far down the course initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that they will now impose a burden of debt on even this underprivileged group of students, who are most in need of encouragement in access terms. I beg to move.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

My name is also attached to the amendment. I should like to add my thoughts only briefly, as most of the points have been covered so well by my noble friend Lord Renfrew.

We welcome the Government's proposal to include some bursary assistance for the maintenance of students in the very poorest categories. The amendment is in no way intended to remove from universities the duty being laid upon them to continue to offer a proportion of their fee income for bursaries to students.

This additional proposal is very much welcomed by the new, post-1992 universities and supported by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (NATFHE). The post-1992 universities and NATFHE have made the point strongly that there will he inequality in the funding of students if it relies entirely on the universities' contribution from their fee. Universities that charge less than £2,700 in fees under the Government's proposals will not have any obligation to provide bursaries. I am sure that they will want to do so, but they will inevitably have less money with which to do it. The wealthier universities, which are also the ones most likely to be able to charge the full £3,000 fee and still recruit, will be able to provide generous bursaries, whereas poorer universities, which take in the majority of poorer students, will have less funding with which to provide bursaries. That is inequitable for the students.

I want to see poor students guaranteed the same size of bursary, no matter which university they go to and even if they pay slightly lower fees. The only way to do that is to have a national scheme that guarantees the same amount for every student. I support the amendment wholeheartedly, and I hope that the Committee will do so as well.

Lord Rix

My amendment, Amendment No. 86, is grouped with Amendment No. 37, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, so I hope that this is an appropriate time to intervene. I shall speak in support of the noble Lord's amendment, and I shall speak also to Amendment No. 86. Both amendments are about bursary schemes, and both are capable of standing by themselves.

The principal tasks of universities have been, are and will be teaching and research. Additionally, for centuries, universities have provided financial support for students by means informal as well as formal, but that is not one of their principal tasks, nor should it become so. I have been asked whether my amendment proposes that universities should he banned from continuing to make their own arrangements for such support. That is neither my intention nor the effect of my amendment. My amendment would remove the possibility of the Director of Fair Access interfering in the particular arrangements that universities make for themselves, in order that the Government may more naturally turn to the possibilities of making fair national arrangements.

Since Beveridge, if not before, we have looked to the state to be the main provider of redress against financial inequalities, either directly or with the assistance of local government. That provides for fair and consistent treatment for all. The Government's proposals do not provide for fair and consistent treatment for all in the matter of bursaries. Rather, they inevitably lead to a situation in which students in similar circumstances receive different—perhaps significantly different—packages of support.

Under the Government's arrangements, universities such as the University of East London, of which I am chancellor, may end up administering a small bursary of £300 to as many as 60 per cent of their students, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, said. Universities that have yet to make the progress in widening participation that East London has will be asked to do more. That inevitably means that the size of the bursary will vary from university to university. Elite universities will have a lot of money to spend and few students to spend it on. Universities with a widening participation mission will be able to spend less but will have many more deserving candidates for bursaries. Ability to pay is not even remotely matched to need to pay. That arises, not, as we are used to seeing, because some benefactor in the 18th century has created a fund that may be applied only to the sons of distressed Anglican clergy from Suffolk, but rather as a deliberate act of government policy.

How can such a policy have been adopted by this Government? Has the spirit of Screaming Lord Sutch found sanctuary in the appropriately named Sanctuary Buildings in Great Smith Street? The Government have strongly defended their proposals, but I have yet to hear a government spokesman acknowledge that variable bursaries for similar students will be the outcome of their policy.

We face the irony that a Bill designed to promote variable fees is likely to produce a near-universal standard fee of £3,000 a year but highly variable bursaries. It would be fairer, less costly and less open to fraud were the Government to take the 10 per cent of the extra fee income that, they suggest, universities should devote to bursaries and apply it themselves to student support, either through supplementing the reintroduced student grant arrangements or through a national bursary scheme of the sort proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn.

The amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, would secure a national bursary scheme. My amendment would allow, for a national bursary scheme and remove a temptation from government to fall into the second-class policy solution of imposed variable bursary schemes. It is debatable, but there is perhaps a role for games of chance in our national life. If so, they should be confined to the likes of Lotto, not OFFA.

Lord Campbell-Savours

I shall use the debate on the amendment to draw attention to a matter that caused some confusion prior to Report in the other House. The department issued a press release that set out, in some detail in a table, the amount of assistance with living costs that was to be made available to families. I want to ask my noble friend a couple of questions about that. When I asked colleagues at the other end about the matter, no one knew the answer. There was general disagreement about whether my interpretation was correct; some agreed that it was, and some did not.

The table says that no maintenance grant is available. Then, it says: From September 2004: All those with family income less than £15.200 will get £1000 grants".

That group is said to be, around 30% of full time students".

The table then says: All those with family income between £15,201 and £21,185 will get a partial grant (around another 10% will benefit)".

In other words, all those with family income under £21,185—I have added the two figures together—will get a grant of one form or another, the total figure being 40 per cent of full-time students. Is that the full 18-to-30 group, or is it only the 18-to-21 part? Many colleagues believe that it might be only the 18-to-21 group. If it is, they do not accept the figures.

Can my noble friend tell us precisely what that refers to? Is it the lower group only? If it is, the press release is arguing that 30 per cent of all United Kingdom HE students between 18 and 31—including those in families in which two people are working—have a gross parental income of less than 15,000 a year. That is a ludicrous figure. I wonder whether we could have clarification today. It will influence what I might want to say when we come to the major debate on student fees.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe

I was involved in several discussions on the subject as chief executive of Universities UK. I declare that interest. The noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, chose to attack Universities UK for not representing the interests of universities. Although I agree that it is well-nigh impossible to get all 120 vice-chancellors or heads of institution to concur all the time, I can assure the noble Lord that the vast majority of vice-chancellors, including many from the post-92 institutions support the arguments in Universities UK's briefing.

In our discussions, we considered several models for the best way of ensuring that students were properly supported, including a national bursary scheme. All the schemes that we considered had problems and would have raised objections from parts of the sector. Top-slicing income, which would be one way of achieving what the noble Lord suggests, would compromise the issue of additionality, which, I hope, we will return to. The idea that all universities should contribute to a central pot would limit the potential for universities to use bursaries in support of the recruitment efforts of individual higher education institutions. Under the current system, they can do so now.

I think that, in his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, is suggesting full-fee support for poor students. A poor student will pay no contribution to fees while a student, and, even as a graduate, will repay the fees that they owe only when they can afford to do so, in the same way as any other students will, when they reach a certain level of income.

The graduate contribution scheme, which is what the Government propose, allows us to shift our focus away from the cost of fees, which are not payable when a student is at university, to the cost of maintenance, which is. Does the noble Lord not agree that it is better to provide support for students to help them with their living costs and allow them to repay their fees only when they can afford to do so?

1.30 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My noble friend Lord Renfrew was not referring to the question of the effect on the poorest families of paying back later when someone has graduated. He was talking about an inducement for the poorest families to encourage their young people to go to university. This is about an incentive for young people. Many people in another place and I suspect here, are very worried about whether that inducement is contained in the Bill. My noble friend is talking about extra money from the taxpayer to provide that inducement.

Some universities, the ones with a large number of people who will not have to pay anything back, will gain from the Bill. That was said at a meeting with Universities UK, which I attended. One vice-chancellor said that around 70 per cent of his students would not incur a debt in relation to fees. That was very interesting. However, surely this is about universities which are not in that position. It seemed to me that coming from the University of Cambridge my noble friend would understand very well the position of the poorest families who might have someone who would qualify for Cambridge and would benefit enormously from going there but would be completely put off by the prospect of incurring a debt. This is a very worthwhile amendment as an inducement for such people.

Lord Dearing

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, for letting me off the charge of being complacent. He may be less satisfied with me today, but I shall do my best. I shall concentrate, if I may, on his amendment.

It seems to me that we have to go back to basic principles. I begin with the principle that to be admitted to a university is a privilege that is not open to all citizens. It is open only to those who, by attitudes and standards of learning achieved as a young person, qualify for entry. In gaining entry they get benefits that are denied to most of our young people. First, they benefit from an enhancement in the quality of life they will have because of what higher education has given to them, which is precious. Secondly, research has shown that graduates are able to enter areas of employment which are less subject to unemployment than the generality and in most cases, not all, will have the prospect of higher earnings throughout life. So, whether the entrant comes from a poor or wealthy background, higher education confers benefits which are not available as a right, such as the National Health Service, to all citizens.

Therefore, it is equitable to turn to young people after graduation, not before, and to say, on an income contingent basis, "We are looking to you to contribute something in return". That is a form of contribution, paid through the tax system. It is equitable to ask those young people whether from poor or rich backgrounds to contribute on an income-contingent basis. However—this is relevant to attracting students—that should be upfront money. The repayments are made afterwards. The upfront money needs to be for maintenance because their families cannot afford to support them in a way which more prosperous families can. That is the logical way to help young people from poor families, not by saying, "You should not have to contribute afterwards, but here is some money upfront".

Perhaps the Government were not crafty enough, but they have not received credit for one thing they have done for those who want to promote access—I dare say all of us in this House belong to this club—and who want more people from poor backgrounds to come into further and higher education. The key to that is getting children to stay on at school after 16. We have a very low retention rate over the age of 16. The Government announced in the White Paper that they would provide grants of up to £1,500 per year for boys and girls of 16 plus to help with maintenance. That has given their families £3,000 which has not been available in the past and which is very relevant to encouraging them to stay on until 18 to obtain their two A-levels and GNVQs.

The Government's package starts off by saying that they would provide £1,000 towards maintenance and £1,200 towards tuition fees. They increased the £1,000 to £1,500 so the £1,200 plus the £1,500 has become £2,700 upfront. It is said to those universities whose departments have chosen to go for the top level of fee, £3,000, "You must, as a minimum, grant a bursary of £300". So, a boy or girl from a poor home knows that they will be no worse off than they are at present. They will have come forward with an extra £1,500 per year in the previous two years and the terms of the loan scheme have been improved.

The structure of the Government's proposals is right. It is fair and equitable to all young people in our society and is the right way to go. Although I may be seen as complacent, I hope very much that the noble Lord will see that it is based on the principle of equity and of encouraging access to our universities. I shall not comment on the standard bursary scheme. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, has already commented on that.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth

My rumbling stomach makes me reluctant to intervene and I shall be brief. I have been watching—I hope this is parliamentary language—the Forsyth/Ashton Punch and Judy show this week. I cannot declare an interest as a governor of Portsmouth University because I no longer hold that post, but the Board of Education of the Church of England has considered this area. When I first read the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, I realised straightaway that it had very noble aspirations. However, unless I am totally mistaken, I think it will have the unintended consequence of causing unfairness when it wants to do the opposite; that is, it will provide everything for a few and much less for many others.

On previous occasions I have highlighted the need for more attention to be given to the cut-off point in the Bill. However, I am not sure that the amendment will achieve what it intends to deliver. Therefore, after much careful thought, I am unable to support it.

Lord Winston

Like the right reverend Prelate, I, too, missed my breakfast and I will be extremely brief. I always seem to miss my breakfast when coming to this place. I feel very strongly that universities like the one represent as Chancellor of Sheffield Hallam might be at a disadvantage with a national bursary scheme of this kind. There is always the possibility that the university might end up having to pay bursaries from its own funds. It seems to me that a university which may have 50 per cent of its students funded would be at a very severe disadvantage. The money would be spent on bursaries and not on the education of its students. Therefore, we need to consider the amendment very carefully.

Baroness Blackstone

I should like to follow up on what the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, has just said. Essentially there are two choices. You can say to students from poor families that you do not expect them to contribute to tuition fees, but that you do expect them to take out loans for maintenance—the scheme introduced by the Labour Government in 1998. Or you can say, as the current Labour Government are going to do, that you are going to give students loans for fees because you want them to contribute to tuition costs; that they will only have to pay them back on an income-contingent basis after they graduate; and that you will give them bursaries for maintenance. There are merits in both routes. The Government have decided to go down the second of those routes.

It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, is slightly confusing the incomes of parents. who (lid have to contribute under the old scheme if their incomes were above a certain level but not if the) were not, with the later incomes of graduates. I think that we need to be absolutely clear that there is a distinction. So I am not able to support the noble Lord's amendment.

However, I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, a question that he can perhaps reply to later. This morning we have talked a lot about unintended consequences. I believe that there is an unintended consequence of what he proposes—that, were the amendment to be agreed to, the British taxpayer would have to provide support for European Union students, who, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said are going to come into this country in large numbers. The cost of that would be considerable because, under the Treaty of Rome, EU students have to be treated like home students with respect to fees. They do not have to be treated in the same way regarding maintenance. We should be very careful about that matter. That alone makes the amendment very risky and dangerous.

However, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rix. I am sorry that the amendments have been grouped together, as they really are about very different things. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, is talking about the requirement that universities charging more than £2,700 should contribute to bursaries for poor students. That will lead to variable amounts of support for poor students, which I think is inequitable—and I very much support what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said about that. In that respect some universities will be left with far bigger bills than others will.

I am sorry not to agree with what my noble friend Lady Warwick said about Universities UK. She made its position clear. I recognise that there is a lot of disagreement among vice-chancellors on this.

However, I hope that the Government will take on board what the noble Lord, Lord Rix, said and look at the matter very carefully. In that context can the Minister tell the Committee the position regarding the investigations about whether the Student Loans Company can provide individual universities with data on parental incomes of students who might be eligible for bursaries? We really should not pass a Bill to legislate the proposed changes until we are clear about that.

If we were to do so, as I understand it, every university in the country would have to carry out a means test. That would be extraordinarily wasteful and a displacement of the work they ought to be doing in teaching students and undertaking research. It may well be possible to do this—but we have not been given any clear statement of that in relation to data protection problems. Until we have that, it makes the case for the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, even stronger.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I do not wish to hold up the Committee for any length of time because I know everyone wishes to go to lunch. While we on these Benches have some sympathy with the amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, we are of course the authors of the wrecking amendments referred to earlier, which we shall be considering later this afternoon.

Our preference is for a no fee position. I am also at the moment unclear about the position on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, on the Government's proposals. Does he propose that his amendment should stand and that in addition there would be maintenance grants, as the Government already propose?

1.45 p.m.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

If the noble Baroness will permit me to intervene very briefly—yes.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford

I am glad to have that clarification. I had some considerable reservations about it. We have no reservations about the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rix, which, like the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, these Benches support.

As it stands, I am not confident that the wording of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, is such that it would be possible to support it.

Baroness Seccombe

I shall also try and be as fast as possible. Although I sympathise with the principle behind these amendments, I am particularly concerned with the centralising effect they would have. Throughout the Bill we are supporting the independence and freedom of the universities. I believe that higher education institutions must make their own decisions about the kind of support that they offer. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, in answer to points raised in debate by my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale, said that the Government provide 75 per cent of the standard national course costs to the Learning and Skills Council to pass on to the further education institutions. Each college is able to set its own policy on how it applies these funds.

I have difficulty with an amendment that, as I understand it, enables the Secretary of State to dictate who falls into the category of an "under-represented" group. It would give the Secretary of State enormous power and it could lead so easily to social engineering.

We agree that students should not be discriminated against because they cannot afford to pay fees, but we do not agree that students' circumstances should be judged by parental incomes. In fact, I believe that the proposed government scheme believes that too, as under the legislation before the Committee it is the student who will begin to pay the debt on attaining an income of £ 15,000.

I should be grateful if my noble friend Lord Renfrew could answer one or two questions. Does he believe that the level of the national bursary should be raised when the cap is lifted on the current £3.000 limit? How much money does he envisage would be needed for the amendment? Would it include fees for those students who have been accepted on a lengthier professional course, such as medicine, dentistry or veterinary science?

Finally, I assume that, as the Bill devolves power to Wales, the national bursary would only refer to English students. Has it been considered how this may fit with schemes in the devolved regions? It seems that it could be helpful if we could discuss this matter with my noble friend.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

Perhaps I may begin by answering a few questions that have been raised. Both amendments—and I accept they come from different directions—look at the question of a national bursary scheme. As noble Lords have indicated, we agree that poorer students need support from central government. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, was kind enough to tell us that she is producing wrecking amendments later—an interesting admission I thought. but there we go. I am also very mindful of the eating habits of your Lordships and I am very worried about those who arrive here without breakfast. So I intend to be reasonably brief.

I think that we shall have an interesting debate later today around the whole question of fees. So I hope it is not impertinent to say to the Committee that I shall leave much of my speech on that area until later.

I think that it is important to indicate that we are providing support from 2006–07 of £2,700 to all of the students indicated. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours asked whether it applies for the 18 to 21, or 18 to 30, age groups—it applies to all students of any age in England and Wales. It is not age-related in terms of the £ 1,000.

Lord Campbell-Savours

If that is the case, could we have a figure for the 18 to 21s, parental, gross and all income?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

I am sure that we could, but I cannot give that immediately. I will write to the noble Lord and place a copy in the Library of the House.

Lord Campbell-Savours

I am sorry to press my noble friend, but could that perhaps be done in the next few days?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland

It certainly can be done in the next few days. My intention with all letters is to ensure that they are sent before the next Committee day. I trust that the noble Lord will have the answer, so far as I am able to give it, before Monday. That may be a promise that I—or others—will live to regret later.

My noble friend Lady Blackstone put it very well that it is important to be clear that we remove the payment of fees up front, and that students repay when they are able to, with all the cut-offs that we have indicated; that if you do not earn £15,000, you do not pay; if you drop below, you do not pay; after 25 years it is written off; and at the age of 65 it is written off. We are saying that it is for graduates to pay, and it is for us to try to support through university students in the poorest group. We have got that right.

I know that noble Lords are concerned about whether one has one bursary scheme or different ones. The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, described the situation of a student wishing to go to Cambridge. We know that there will be additional bursaries of up to £4,000 that have already been announced. I am proud of those significant steps that are being taken by that university, and by other universities such as the University of Surrey. These are important ways in which we address not only the issue of poverty. but real cultural resistance in some of our communities to students thinking that university is where they should be. Financial incentives of this kind are important. We have always said, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, was right in saying, that it is about not centralising and about recognising the individuality of institutions. Dare I say it, we must recognise that institutions need to go to different lengths in terms of addressing the problems, about which they know themselves, involved with ensuring that they get the right kind of applications from different students.

I also agree that we should be cautious of the definition that would be indicated. The noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, talked about ethnic minority students in particular. I refer him to the draft letter of guidance from the Secretary of State. The details are for the institutions to decide, that they will look at many groups of students who might benefit. They might wish to give particular support to under-represented groups, some ethnic minorities, those with children, those with elder care responsibilities, or those with disabilities, but we are not requiring bursaries in the same way that we are proposing for poorer students, and it is for institutions to look at that themselves.

We carefully considered the issue of a national bursary scheme. This was under consideration in the department for some time. We discussed the way in which that might work in practice with a range of institutions. We decided against it because we think that there are difficulties with the principle and the practice, not least because the purpose of the Bill is to seek to provide greater autonomy for institutions to charge variable fees, hand in hand with the responsibility to protect access for poorer students. A national bursary scheme goes against the principle of institutions being individually autonomous and responsible, not just for their fees, but for how they move to protect access. A national bursary scheme would be taking from one institution to give to another. Those institutions that might be expected to contribute most might understandably feel that it is their students and their own access agenda that should benefit from additional fee income, particularly where they voluntarily go beyond what the Director of Fair Access is looking for in the minimum.

We could end up with three levels of support; a national bursary scheme, that provided by the state, and any institutional bursaries on top. This is not the way in which we wish to go. Many institutions are becoming increasingly successful in encouraging alumni and other benefactors to contribute to their bursary schemes. A national bursary scheme might be less attractive than individuals or other bodies contributing to the institution's bursary scheme.

I understand and recognise the concerns of noble Lords that the greatest proportion of students from poorer backgrounds should not he disadvantaged, but that is without foundation. We recognise that those institutions that have an excellent track record in providing for students from poorer backgrounds will have that recognised in the work that the Director of Fair Access undertakes. We have indicated that the minimum of the £300 difference between the £2,700 and the £3,000 for those courses where that maximum is applied may well be for some institutions the most that we are expecting them to do.

All in all, we have considered this carefully. It is important to ensure that there are examples of good bursary schemes, and we are working with Universities UK on their design, in the hope that we can take those forward. I have noted the question asked by my noble friend about the Student Loans Company. I understand that a working group is looking at that at the moment, and I do not have the detailed information that the noble Baroness has asked for. She has made it plain that from her perspective this is critical information. I shall endeavour to get that information as fast as I possibly can, and not only provide it to the noble Baroness, but put it in the Library of the House so that noble Lords will be able to see it.

A national bursary scheme cuts across important independent, autonomous decisions by institutions. It is not the right way to go forward. On that basis, we hope that noble Lords will not press their amendments.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

I am grateful to the Minister for her careful reply, which made a number of important points. I am grateful to noble Lords who have spoken in support of the points that I made, particularly to my noble friend Lady Perry and my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. I am a little disappointed at the tenor of the debate. I suspect that we are all feeling a shade dyspeptic at this time, and I am a little bewildered at the work of the usual channels in arranging that the lunchtime debate, which is to follow, will take place shortly after 2 p.m., rather than after 1 pm., which might have been to the convenience of noble Lords. A number of noble Lords who have a close interest in the university world were prominent on various Benches until 12.30 or 12.45, but their absence has become somewhat marked.

I have other disappointments. Having heard a most relevant speech from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, earlier, I thought that I was addressing a matter of principle, and I was highly disappointed that he did not address the principle that I was addressing, although he had a technical question to which it was interesting to hear the answer. I have great respect for the comments of the right reverend Prelate. He is right that when you introduce a threshold, you do come kicking up against it. This is true of all thresholds, and it would certainly be the case with this one. I will refer to that again in a moment. If we are dealing with family income, it always seemed a little unjust that one family that may have £500 a year income more than another is saddled with the burdens in this case of student loans, which would not be the case for those under the £15,000 threshold to which I was referring. I agree with the right reverend Prelate, and with my noble friend Lady Seccombe. If we are going to have a threshold, that is the price that you pay.

My noble friend Lady Seccombe asked me a number of questions. It would be my hope that the principle, if applied, would apply in Wales. I did not dare to venture into Scotland, or Northern Ireland, but it should apply also in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but I see my noble friend Lady Carnegy looking a shade suspiciously at me, so I will say no more about that, except that I wish that we had a situation in the United Kingdom where we could think of these things in higher education in aggregate. In reply to my noble friend Lady Seccombe, I intend that this provision would apply to courses of longer duration, such as medicine or veterinary science.

The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, asked me a pertinent question. I am not sure if it is possible to frame the amendment in such a way, as one might wish to do, to see the fee waiver accruing to students of United Kingdom origin. The noble Baroness has a valid point. I remind her, and I remind the Government, that there are many of us who wonder whether that is a chicken that will come home to roost with the Government's arrangements.

I look forward very much to hearing about the recovery schemes which the Government will implement for students of European Union nationality, but not British nationality. I do not know what government agency will operate in Poland, Lithuania, Slovenia or Slovakia, and I will be very interested to hear about that. Although I can see that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has an important point. it is a point that cuts not only into my amendment, but into the Government in general.

I was puzzled by the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I have great enthusiasm for the University of Sheffield Hallam, and wish him well in his distinguished role. The intention—which I think I made very clear in my speech—was that these funds would come from the Government. I am not in a position to give a precise figure, but it will be a substantial figure. I could go away and do the calculation, and perhaps I should have done, but we are talking of £ 100 million from the Treasury to make that possible. The figure will be substantial. The noble Baroness could probably pluck the figure accurately from the air. But the funds would be from the Government; they would not be from the University of Sheffield Hallam. So I was puzzled by the noble Lord's intervention.

The points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and those made in a most sympathetic manner by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, really go to the heart of the matter. The question is, what is going to work? I agree with the equitability. I agree that if you look at the situation across the board, it is entirely reasonable that all students of whatever background will not be saddled with parental income. We are talking about an ideal world where students are not saddled by where they have come from, nor saddled by the parental background. I agree also with the points about education from 16 to 18. That point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. If she claims to be speaking for British universities, I am sure that she is. It is not my role to question that, but it is my role to question the wisdom of the position being taken.

If the Government seriously wish to attract students into higher education from the group which I identified very specifically, then they will have to do more than they are now. I agree with the ideal world which the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, described. I entirely agree with the equitability. But if you look at those universities—and I am in one—which have been trying consistently for many years to attract students from lower income cohorts in terms of familial income, it is not working. There is nothing which the Director of Fair Access can do other than what he will do, which is, roughly speaking, oblige universities—including the University of Sheffield Hallam if it charges a top-up fee—to make available the bursaries which I have been proposing from their own budgets.

Lord Winston

I hope, as I was named, that the Committee will forgive me for briefly interrupting. We are considering two amendments and it is not clear from the wording that that impost might eventually land on the universities' finances. That will be a disaster for so many universities and that is the real problem with these amendments.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

I hope I had dealt with that point and so had the noble Lord, Lord Rix. We foresaw that problem. I take the logic of the point made, but I hope that I have made my own position on the matter very clear. Perhaps at the risk of repetition—I realise that we all would like some lunch soon—I will try to conclude. I have made it crystal clear that my amendment would not be an impost on universities. I am sorry that the amendments have been paired. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, whose amendment has found support, was able to distinguish his amendment from mine on that matter, so I am sorry that that point may have caused difficulty.

I must come to my conclusion, which is that, despite the ideal world with the principle of equitability, as described by the noble Lord and with which I agree, it will not work. The proof that it will not work is that it has not worked. Until 1998, students had state studentships and their state scholarship component for the maintenance. It did not work in encouraging more applications from low-income families, it is not working now, and it will not work. So I am sorry that the Bill will not succeed in its objectives and I am very disappointed that there have not been more voices on this matter. There are not many people on the Benches opposite, so perhaps not many voices could be expected to be raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Winston, indicates the Conservative Benches. I have had two very stirring speeches of support, although it is true that I could have wished to have been more comprehensively supported by my own Front Bench. I encourage the noble Lord, Lord Rix—if the pairing can be dissolved—to leave his amendment in position: I will not go into technicalities. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 21 agreed to.

Lord Triesman

I beg to move that the House he resumed and in moving the Motion I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before five minutes past three.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.