HC Deb 26 April 2004 vol 420 cc803-4W
Huw Irranca-Davies

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Skills what measures are in place in the proposed higher education reforms to ensure that students from(a) less advantaged and (b) other family backgrounds can attend the higher education institution of their choice. [165425]

Alan Johnson

We remain committed to fair access and believe that all those who have the potential to benefit from higher education should have the opportunity to do so. The social class gap among those entering higher education is unacceptably wide, particularly at the extremes. We are putting in place a range of measures, several of them through the HE Bill (so subject to Parliamentary approval), that support students' prospects of attending the higher education institution (HEI) of their choice.

(a) For students from less advantaged backgrounds, we will provide help in a number of ways: by introducing a new Higher Education Grant, worth up to £1,000 a year, for new students who start courses from this September. Students with a family income of £15,200 or less will receive the full £1,000 grant, and those from families with income from £15,201 to £21,185 will qualify for a partial grant; by proposals to raise the maximum rate of the student maintenance loan to match median student expenditure on basic living items as measured by the latest Student Income and Expenditure Survey. The biggest increase will be for those students living independently in London. The loans will continue to be means tested as now for those from higher family income backgrounds. The higher rate of maintenance loans will be available to both new students and those who entered higher education prior to 2006; by proposals to introduce a new maintenance grant, for new students starting courses from 2006/07, of up to £2,700. This will benefit students from low income households thereby helping broaden access to higher education. We are proposing that an element of this new grant will be in substitution for the maintenance loan. In addition, students may choose to reduce the level of maintenance loan they apply for still further in the light of this new grant being made available and, in doing so, reduce their outstanding debt; by continuing to provide additional targeted financial support for vulnerable students via higher education institutions through the Access to Learning Fund. This will ensure that more of them are able to access and remain in higher education; by requiring any institution that wants to charge higher variable fees to give more help to poorer students, in terms of bursaries and other financial support, to do outreach work to encourage a wide range of students to apply to higher education, and to provide clear information on the financial help available to those from the poorest backgrounds. Details will be set out in an access plan, and agreed with the Director of Fair Access; by the operation, from August 2004, of the new integrated Aimhigher programme. This will help to raise young people's levels of educational attainment and aspirations. It will include supporting a range of activities that bring young people into contact with higher education institutions and their students, helping them to better appreciate what higher education involves and the likely benefits of undertaking it.

(b) For those front all family backgrounds there are a range of other measures that will help prospective students make and pursue their choice of higher education institution: provision of support on tuition fees—from 2006, all full-time undergraduate students will be entitled to defer payment of fees until after they graduate and are earning more than £15,000. Repayments will then be made under a generously subsidised, income-contingent repayments system, with no real rate of interest; development with the National Union of Students of a new guide which will help students understand and access the range of information available and so make more effective decisions and choices; the availability, from 2004/05 onwards, of much more information about the quality and standards of academic provision at institutions. This will be readily accessible to applicants via a Teaching Quality Information (TQI) website, and will ensure that potential students have access to key information about institutions to inform their choice of HE institution and course.