Select Committee on Education and Employment Fourth Report


MINUTES OF PROCEEDINGS OF THE EDUCATION SUB-COMMITTEE RELATING TO THE REPORT

THURSDAY 18 JANUARY 2001

Members present:

Mr Barry Sheerman, in the Chair


Charlotte AtkinsHelen Jones
Valerie DaveyMr Stephen O'Brien
Mr Michael FosterMr Nick St Aubyn
Dr Evan Harris


  Draft Report [Higher Education: Access], proposed by the Chairman, brought up and read.

  Ordered, That the draft Report be read a second time, paragraph by paragraph.

  Paragraphs 1 to 10 read and agreed to.

  Paragraph 11 read as follows:

"On 25 May 2000, the Chancellor of the Exchequer ignited a wide-ranging debate on access to higher education by describing it as "scandalous" that the University of Oxford had turned down an applicant "using an interview system more reminiscent of the old boy network and the old school tie than genuine justice in our society... It is about time for an end to that old Britain where what matters more are the privileges you are born with rather than the potential you actually have... it is now time that these old universities open their doors to women and people from all backgrounds. We are determined that in the next ten years, the majority of young people will be able to get higher education." We decided not to examine in detail the individual case of the young woman cited in the Chancellor's remarks, although we suspect it was not the most apposite example which he could have chosen. We welcomed the opportunity for public debate on the question of access to higher education that this provided."

Amendment proposed, in line 11, at the end, to insert the words "We have, however, not received any evidence in the course of this inquiry which supports the Chancellor's accusation of "the old boy network and the old school tie" operating at the University of Oxford".—(Mr Nick St Aubyn.)

Question put, that the Amendment be made.

The Sub-committee divided.


Ayes, 3Noes, 4
Dr Evan HarrisCharlotte Atkins
Mr Stephen O'Brien Valerie Davey
Mr Nick St AubynMr Michael Foster
Helen Jones


  Paragraph agreed to.

  Paragraphs 12 to 25 read and agreed to.

  Paragraphs 26 and 27 read, consolidated, and agreed to (now paragraph 26).

  Paragraphs 28 to 31 read and agreed to (now paragraphs 27 to 30).

  A paragraph—(Dr Evan Harris)—brought up and read, as follows:

    "It is difficult to understand how the Government can believe that providing grants to 16-19 year olds from low-income families, living with their family, can incentivise them to stay in education but that 18-21 year olds from low-income families could not be similarly incentivised to stay on in education by going to university."

Question put, that the paragraph be read a second time.

The Sub-committee divided.


Ayes, 3Noes, 3
Dr Evan HarrisCharlotte Atkins
Mr Stephen O'Brien Mr Michael Foster
Mr Nick St AubynHelen Jones

  Whereupon the Chairman declared himself with the Noes.

  Paragraph 32 agreed to (now paragraph 31).

  Ordered, That further consideration of the Chairman's draft Report be now adjourned.—

(Charlotte Atkins.)

  Report to be further considered upon Wednesday 24 January.



WEDNESDAY 24 JANUARY 2001

Members present:


Mr Barry Sheerman, in the Chair
Charlotte AtkinsHelen Jones
Valerie DaveyMr Gordon Marsden
Mr Michael FosterMr Stephen O'Brien
Dr Evan HarrisMr Nick St Aubyn



Consideration of the Chairman's draft Report (Higher Education: Access) resumed.

Paragraph 33 read as follows:

    "We were told by Dr Philip Evans of the Independent Schools Council that while only 20 per cent of A Level candidates were from the independent sector (albeit including some from disadvantaged backgrounds on assisted places and other scholarships) those candidates obtained 30 per cent of top A Level scores, increasing to 40 per cent in some subjects, and indeed, 50 per cent in a few. The corollary is that, with 80 per cent A Level students, the maintained sector is not producing proportionately as many qualified potential university applicants. This suggests that part of the answer will be continuing the drive to improve performance in the maintained sector."

An Amendment made.

Another Amendment proposed, in line 8, at the end, to insert the words "Regardless of the amount of university outreach work or additional targeted access funding and student financial support, it would be easier for applications (particularly to the more selective universities) to reach proportionality with the number of pupils in each sector if results in maintained schools approach those in independent schools. This would create more proportionately sized qualified cohorts of potential applicants to these universities."—(Dr Evan Harris.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.


The Sub-committee divided.


Ayes, 5Noes, 2
Mr Michael FosterCharlotte Atkins
Dr Evan HarrisValerie Davey
Mr Gordon Marsden
Mr Stephen O'Brien
Mr Nick St Aubyn


  Paragraph, as amended, agreed to (now paragraph 32).

  Paragraphs 34 to 40 read and agreed to (now paragraphs 33 to 39).

  Paragraph 41 read, amended, and agreed to (now paragraph 40).

  Paragraphs 42 to 71 read and agreed to (now paragraphs 41 to 70).

  Other paragraphs—(Dr Evan Harris)—brought up and read, as follows:

"The effect of tuition fees

The Sub-committee received some evidence to suggest that student contributions to tuition fees, even with means-tested assistance to meet the cost, could act as a deterrent to entering higher education. The Cubie Committee reported that "From the extensive public hearing throughout Scotland, and in spite of the means-testing of the contribution which means that they will not have to make any such contribution, there is no doubt that many presently excluded groups see tuition fees as yet another impediment to access" (Cubie Report, Section 10, paragraph 32). They concluded that "our research and the results of our consultation process emphasize the burden and inequity presented by the requirement to pay a contribution at the beginning of each year" (Cubie Report, Executive Summary, pages 12-13).

It can also be argued that since students often do not know their parents' income, they will not know whether their families are exempt from the need to find the up-front fee. This may act as an obstacle to participation even for those students whose families would not be liable to contribute. In this context we note that the Northern Ireland administration has extended the exemption from fees to "encourage students from low-income families into college and university education." (BBC News Report—15 December 2000, Shaun Farren, Education Minister).

Although fees are supposed to be paid by the family, recently published DfEE-sponsored research relating to the first year of the new system of student contributions to student fees reported that "of the students whose parents were assessed to pay something towards their fees ... 20 per cent received less than the assessed amount and so faced a shortfall of £579 on average." (Callender and Kemp, Changing Student Finances: Income Expenditure and the Take up of Student Loans among full and part time higher education students in 1998/9, DfEE Research Report RR 213, December 2000, page xxiv). The researchers also found that "for various reasons 10 per cent personally paid £803 on average towards their fees. Most financed their fees through their student loans despite the fact that loans were meant to be exclusively for maintenance". Although the means-test for the student contribution for tuition fees was designed to avoid a deterrent effect on applications from those from low-income backgrounds, there is at least a prima facie case that this has affected access at least to a limited extent. We note that although Government maintains that there is no such deterrent effect of the introduction of tuition fees, there is no research available to provide confidence in that conclusion.

The Minister told the Sub-committee that she did not think that the Scottish experience "had many implications directly for the rest of the UK" or relevance for policy in England and Wales (Q.263). This appears to be a premature conclusion to draw when comparative data might support her contention that fees have no effect just as it might well support the opposite view. The Government should at least seek enlightenment from the diversity created by devolution."

Question put, That the paragraphs be read a second time.

The Sub-committee divided.


Ayes, 1Noes, 5
Dr Evan HarrisCharlotte Atkins
Valerie Davey
Mr Michael Foster
Mr Gordon Marsden
Mr Stephen O'Brien


  Paragraph 72 read, amended, and agreed to (now paragraph 71).

  Other paragraphs—(Dr Evan Harris)—brought up, and read the first and second time as follows:

"The impact of maintenance grants and debt aversion

The Sub-committee received a great deal of evidence, both written and oral, that the abolition of maintenance grants for students from low-income backgrounds and their replacement by additional loans had had a negative impact on participation rates from low-income groups. In the DfEE-funded research report, the researchers found that "most full-time students, however, did think that their friends might have decided against university because of the changes in student funding and finances. 61 per cent of full-time students agreed with the statement that 'Changes to student funding have deterred some of my friends from coming to university'. The proportion of students agreeing with this statement was highest among students from social classes IV and V (68 per cent), black students (68 per cent), and women aged 25 and over (68 per cent), the very focus of widening participation strategies." (Callender and Kemp, Changing Student Finances: Income Expenditure and the Take up of Student Loans among full and part time higher education students in 1998/9, DfEE Research Report RR 213, December 2000, page xvi, Executive Summary).

Dr John Brennan, Director of Further Education Development, Association of Colleges, told the Sub-committee that: "If we are interested in getting many more young people into higher education¼ we are seeking to draw into the group those for whom debt aversion is a serious issue, and¼ you need a system which has an element of loan and an element of grant in it, and grants specifically targeted upon those who are coming from the poorest backgrounds and face the biggest difficulties" (Q.893). Mr Andrew Pakes, President, National Union of Students, told the Sub-committee that he supported the re-introduction of some non-repayable state support "as it fits our principle that that money should be targeted to those people most in need, namely in this case mature students and students from lower income backgrounds¼ (in England and Wales) application figures, especially from mature students, indicate that potential students are being deterred"(Q.61).

Professor Maggie Woodrow's work for the CVCP showed that the absence of the grant to lower income groups was a particular concern for students because "loans were quite out of proportion to the normal spending for low-income groups¼ If we are the people who say we want more lower income students coming into higher education, there is a top priority to get these students in, should we not be trying to get them in in a way that is sensitive to their cultural norms and not just say, 'They will get used to it.'"(CVCP, From Elitism to Inclusion, May 1998). The Four Counties Group of Higher Education Institutions in their report found evidence that student finance as a significant factor in low participation areas. For example, in their Norwich report, they found that "Finance is a huge issue is many deprived households. Loan structure locks into a culture of a fear of debt". In the report on the Thurrock district they stated that "There is certainly a concern of financial effect on those from lower socioeconomic groups, often immediate monetary priorities". Professor Green in his oral evidence agreed that these concerns may be a factor in the cold spots versus hot spots difference in his Report (Q.478).

The issue of maintenance grants was at the heart of the Report of the Cubie Committee who concluded "to maximise opportunities for all¼ the student support system must change and should be more focused and better targeted. To counter 'loan aversion' and facilitate greater access, we propose the introduction of non-repayable bursaries for some full-time higher education students¼Only in this way will the universities and colleges help attract students from under-represented groups". We note that maintenance grants have been restored in Scotland and in Northern Ireland.

We are convinced of the Government's determination and sincerity in tackling the under-representation of low-income groups in Higher Education, but we find that the balance of evidence suggests that the abolition of maintenance grants, in the context of the current objective of expanding Higher Education and increasing participation, may well have had a deleterious effect on access and will continue to do so.

We welcome the fact that the Government appears to have recognised this by the introduction of a relatively small number of Opportunity Bursaries and additional provisions for mature students. However, restoration of the maintenance grants would appear to be a significant part of the overall solution to under-participation and we recommend that the Government should take this step.

Amendment proposed, in line 53, to leave out the words "restoration of the maintenance grants" and insert the words "a more imaginative system of student financial support".—(Mr Nick St Aubyn.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Sub-committee divided.


Ayes, 4Noes, 1
Charlotte AtkinsDr Evan Harris
Mr Gordon Marsden
Mr Stephen O'Brien
Mr Nick St Aubyn


  Question put, That the paragraphs, as amended, be inserted in the Report.

  The Sub-committee divided.


Ayes, 3Noes, 4
Dr Evan HarrisCharlotte Atkins
Mr Stephen O'Brien Valerie Davey
Mr Nick St AubynMr Michael Foster
Mr Gordon Marsden


Paragraphs 73 to 78 read and agreed to (now paragraphs 72 to 77).

Paragraph 79 read as follows:

"The outcomes of all these processes may be considered by an admissions committee or panel within a department or faculty, and the relative merits of candidates discussed in detail before a recommendation or decision is made. Some universities have to select in this way for every course they offer, although the ratio of qualified applicants to places can vary a great deal between subjects. In every university there are at least some over­subscribed courses, whilst in other subjects in the same institution it may be a struggle to find adequately qualified candidates to fill all the places on offer. Where a large number of applicants for an over­subscribed course all have top­level qualifications, for example three or more A levels with A grades and 10 or more A* grade passes at GCSE, it can be difficult to distinguish between claims. Students from educational backgrounds associated, in the past, with academic success may find it easier to be accepted by institutions which rely too heavily on practices which have served them well enough in the past."

Amendment proposed, in line 12,at the end, to insert the words "This may well have applied to such institutions as the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the past, but the evidence the Sub-committee heard supports the view that this is no longer the case.".—(Mr Nick St Aubyn.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Sub-committee divided.


Ayes, 3Noes, 4
Dr Evan HarrisCharlotte Atkins
Mr Stephen O'Brien Valerie Davey
Mr Nick St AubynMr Michael Foster
Mr Gordon Marsden


  Paragraph agreed to (now paragraph 78).

  Paragraph 80 read, amended, and agreed to (now paragraph 79).

  Paragraphs 81 to 92 read and agreed to (now paragraphs 80 to 91).

  Paragraph 93 read as follows:

"Baroness Blackstone, Minister for Higher Education, acknowledged that universities have become hugely more flexible than they were 10 or 15 years ago in recognising a wider range of qualifications. She was delighted that most universities were going to make use of the new tariff, but did not believe that using or not using the tariff itself would be an impediment to access. We strongly regret that some universities do not appear prepared to use the proposed UCAS tariff as part of a strategy to achieve wider participation. We welcome the initiative taken by UCAS to develop a tariff-based system to provide a means of recognising the range of qualifications which now provide students with the necessary preparation for study in higher education. We recommend that UCAS should consider the inclusion of GCSE and equivalent qualifications in the tariff."

Amendments made.

Another Amendment proposed, in line 8, to leave out from the word "education." to the end of the paragraph.—(Mr Nick St Aubyn.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Sub-committee divided.


Ayes, 4Noes, 1
Valerie DaveyMr Gordon Marsden
Dr Evan Harris
Mr Stephen O'Brien
Mr Nick St Aubyn


  Paragraph, as amended, agreed to (now paragraph 92).

  Paragraphs 94 to 98 read and agreed to (now paragraphs 93 to 97).

  Another paragraph—(Dr Evan Harris)—brought up, read the first and second time, amended, and inserted (now paragraph 98).

  Paragraph 99 read and agreed to.

  Paragraph 100 read, amended, and agreed to.

  Paragraphs 101 to 105 read and agreed to.

  Paragraph 106 read, amended, and agreed to.

  Paragraph 107 read and agreed to.

  Paragraph 108 read as follows:

"We do not see the necessity to give special treatment to England's two oldest universities within a national university admissions system. The special status enjoyed by Oxbridge can also act as a deterrent to applications. It is therefore unhelpful for UCAS to set Oxbridge apart by setting a separate and earlier date each year for applications to those universities, which only reinforces the out-dated idea that Oxford and Cambridge are set apart from the rest of the higher education sector. We recommend that UCAS should apply the same closing date to applications for all universities, including all medical and veterinary schools. This reform should be introduced at the earliest possible date."

Amendment proposed, in line 2, to leave out the word "can" and insert the word "might".—(Mr Nick St Aubyn.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Sub-committee divided.


Ayes, 5Noes, 2
Dr Evan HarrisValerie Davey
Helen JonesMr Michael Foster
Mr Gordon Marsden
Mr Stephen O'Brien
Mr Nick St Aubyn

Another Amendment proposed, in line 8, at the end, to insert the words " ,mindful of the effect this may have on those who intend to apply to university post-qualification and who may intend to take a year out.".—(Mr Nick St Aubyn.)

Question put, That the Amendment be made.

The Sub-committee divided.


Ayes, 2Noes, 5
Mr Stephen O'Brien Valerie Davey
Mr Nick St AubynMr Michael Foster
Dr Evan Harris
Helen Jones
Mr Gordon Marsden



Question put, That the paragraph, as amended, stand part of the Report.

The Sub-committee divided.


Ayes, 5Noes, 2
Valerie DaveyMr Stephen O'Brien
Mr Michael FosterMr Nick St Aubyn
Dr Evan Harris
Helen Jones
Mr Gordon Marsden


  Paragraph, as amended, agreed to.


  Paragraph 109 read as follows:

"We believe that the present college-based admissions system is a significant barrier to the timely response to criticisms of the low proportion of suitably qualified students from lower socio-economic backgrounds admitted to many colleges. The college-based system of admission to Oxbridge should not be used as an excuse for inaction. We recommend that HEFCE's performance indicators for Oxford and Cambridge should be dis-aggregated to college level so that the performance of each college in widening access can be assessed."

Amendment proposed, in line 1, to leave out the word "is" and insert the words "might be".—(The Chairman.)

The Sub-committee divided.


Ayes, 3Noes, 2
Mr Michael FosterValerie Davey
Dr Evan HarrisHelen Jones
Mr Gordon Marsden

Another Amendment proposed, in line 1, to leave out from the word "a" to the word "The" in line 3 and insert the words "barrier that deters suitably qualified candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds".—(Dr Evan Harris.)

The Sub-committee divided.


Ayes, 1Noes, 4
Dr Evan HarrisValerie Davey
Helen Jones
Mr Michael Foster
Mr Gordon Marsden


Question put, That the paragraph, as amended, stand part of the Report.

The Sub-committee divided.


Ayes, 4Noes, 3
Valerie DaveyDr Evan Harris
Mr Michael FosterMr Stephen O'Brien
Helen JonesMr Nick St Aubyn
Mr Gordon Marsden

Paragraphs 110 to 114 (now paragraphs 112 to 116) read and agreed to.

Annexes agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put, That the Report, as amended, be the Report of the Sub-committee to the Committee.—(The Chairman.)

The Sub-committee divided.


Ayes, 3Noes, 3
Valerie DaveyDr Evan Harris
Helen JonesMr Stephen O'Brien
Mr Gordon MarsdenMr Nick St Aubyn

Whereupon the Chairman declared himself with the Ayes.

Ordered, That the Chairman do make the Report to the Committee.


 
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