HC Deb 06 July 1989 vol 156 cc290-1W
Mr. Greg Knight

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what has been the outcome of his consultations on shifting the balance of public funding of higher education to fees; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Kenneth Baker

The proposals in the consultation paper "Shifting the Balance of Public Funding of Higher Education to Fees" have been widely welcomed. In the light of this positive response, the Government have decided to increase the full-time undergraduate tuition fee met through mandatory awards from its 1989–90 level of £607 to £1,675 in 1990–91. I am writing as follows today to the chairmen of the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council and Universities Funding Council.The Government's consultation paper "Shifting the Balance of Public Funding of Higher Education to Fees" was published on 25 April. The Department has received over 150 responses, including that from the Council for which I am grateful. The overwhelming majority of the responses supported the proposed increase in the publicly funded fee. In the light of this reaction, I have announced today the Government's intention to proceed with the shift. The flat-rate fee for full-time undergraduate students met under the mandatory awards arrangements will be set at £1,675 for the academic year 1990–91. Officials are writing separately to the Council's Chief Executive about the corresponding deduction which will need to be made from the Council's grant and some other technical issues. A key issue raised by the proposals is the financing of part-time courses and full-time courses not designated under the awards regulations. The Government fully recognises the importance of the continuing availability of these courses in increasing and diversifying higher education opportunities. As the consultation paper makes clear, the shift of funds from central grant to fees will be in respect of students on designated courses with awards. We intend to maintain the level of funds made available to the Funding Councils for the support of part-time and full-time non-designated courses. I look to the Council in turn to discharge its funding responsibility so as to ensure that support for places on these courses is at least maintained, and I welcome the PCFC's recent decision to provide some enhancement of the resources available for funding part-time places in 1990–91. It is important that the Council's funding methods are such that there need be no increase in fees for these courses in line with the planned increase in the publicly funded full-time fee, though it will remain the case that the level at which fees are set is a matter for individual institutions. I should like also to respond to the concern that has been expressed in the responses about the position of full-time self-financing students who are on designated courses but are not themselves eligible for a mandatory award, usually by virtue of previous study. For students who are already enrolled (ie who started their courses in the academic year 1989–90 or before) there will, as with those on non-designated courses, be no shift of funds as a result of the switch. Therefore there will be no financial pressure on the system to charge such students more in real terms than they are paying at present. It ought to be possible for the Council and institutions together to translate this policy into detailed practice, so affording the protection envisaged for this group of students in the consultation paper. For new self-financing students on designated courses, it will continue to be for institutions to set the fee charged. That is something they will do in the light of local circumstances, including the interests of the students concerned. It would be quite contrary to the general thrust of the Government's policies to seek to impose a standard line on institutions. In view of the widespread interest generated by the consultation paper, I am releasing the text of this letter to the Press.

The deadline for comments on the consultation paper's second proposal to introduce differentiated fees in 1991–92 expires at the end of July. I will inform the House of the Government's conclusions on that consultation in due course.

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