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Professional Qualifications (Access)

7. Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): If she will make a statement on schemes to improve access to professional qualifications in (a) health and (b) education for people working in low–paid jobs in those fields. [31406]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning (Margaret Hodge): Good progress is being made in both health and education to extend access and opportunity to individuals to gain professional qualifications. We have several initiatives in place and we are developing more. For instance, in the national health service, low-paid staff can receive £150 towards work-related training. In education, we are developing a new qualifications framework; we have foundation degrees in place; and we are funding a range of pilot projects to discover better work-based routes for gaining professional qualifications.

Fiona Mactaggart: A few days ago, I gave 117 teaching assistants in the Slough education action zone certificates for training courses that they had been on. Many of them would be capable of gaining professional qualifications, including qualified teacher status. What action will my hon. Friend's Department take to help areas such as mine that have a teacher shortage and have some very talented people who lack education qualifications to work in their schools? We need to provide a ladder of qualifications to give us in the end the teachers we so seriously need.

Margaret Hodge: First, I congratulate those people to whom my hon. Friend gave those certificates. That is the important first step in the progression, perhaps finally towards a career as a teacher. We have a whole range of ladders—I call them climbing frames, because people can

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go across as well as up—to develop and progress within one's career. The fact that we now have nearly 100,000 teaching assistants working through local education authorities gives those people the opportunity to progress.

There are many innovative examples that I could share with the House. Let me cite just one: Lancashire LEA has 130 teaching assistants this year who will get their qualifications to become teachers and will work in the primary sector, and it is now seeing how it can extend those opportunities to people in the secondary sector.

Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth): Does the Minister accept that many low-paid workers can supplement their incomes by learning, for example, aromatherapy, which is taught in my constituency, or perhaps herbal medicine, or reiki—channelled energy—which is becoming increasingly popular? Will she ensure that there are joined-up discussions with the Department of Health to ensure that some of those courses get help? Will she remind the Secretary of State that there are 50,000 complementary practitioners in Britain wanting to work in the health service?

Margaret Hodge: We have frequent discussions with the Department of Health about training opportunities, and we are working closely with that Department to create opportunities through the NHS university, which will develop over time. I share the hon. Gentleman's view that, also over time, we should bring complementary medicines into the health service.

Overseas Students

8. Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): What recent discussions she has had with the university sector about standards in the awarding of degrees by UK universities to students studying overseas; and if she will make a statement. [31407]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): My Department has regular discussions with the sector about the standard of UK degrees. For courses delivered overseas, universities should abide by the Quality Assurance Agency's code of practice on the academic management of collaborative programmes.

Kevin Brennan: Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that there may be a temptation for some universities, in an understandable desire to improve their financial position, to skimp a little on standards for overseas degrees? Does she share my particular concern that the monitoring of standards may not be good enough for some degrees being taught in foreign languages overseas? Will she agree to keep a close eye on the situation and ensure that degrees from British universities are of as high a standard when they are awarded to students overseas as they are in the UK?

Estelle Morris: I would share my hon. Friend's concern if we did not have the Quality Assurance Agency, which is responsible for monitoring standards. I agree with him that it is essential that standards are monitored, and where there is a franchise arrangement, and the place of learning is some distance from the parent organisation, we will always ensure that standards are maintained. I must say to my hon. Friend that it is right for universities

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in the UK to offer their courses abroad—that is the nature of the world in which we live—and I am immensely proud of how popular many UK university courses are abroad. I do take my hon. Friend's point, and the work of the QAA is vital for standards.

Higher Education (Wales)

9. Adam Price (East Carmarthen and Dinefwr): What plans she has to implement the National Assembly for Wales's proposals for the restructuring of higher education in Wales. [31408]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning (Margaret Hodge): Policy on higher education in Wales is a matter for the National Assembly for Wales. I understand that the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning in the Assembly will shortly make a response to the recent policy review of higher education, in the form of a 10-year strategy for higher education in Wales.

Adam Price: I thank the Minister for her reply, but I am puzzled by it—and also by the quotation in The Western Mail from the departmental spokesman, who said:

to implement the proposals of the National Assembly's higher education review. That is the most important review of higher education in Wales since the establishment of the university of Wales, and we are constantly told that the knowledge base is vital to the economic future of areas such as Wales, yet the Department also tells us that there is no legislative time for the National Assembly's proposals. Does the Minister not agree that decisions on the future of higher education should be made in Wales, and will she give the Assembly the directive powers over the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales that it has asked for?

Margaret Hodge: The Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning in Wales has not asked us to extend any powers, because she has not yet responded to the consultation paper that has been under consideration in Wales. If and when she does, and if and when she asks us for additional powers, we will consider the request. I must also point out that almost half of Welsh undergraduates study in English higher education institutions.

Performance and Innovation Unit

10. Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield): What steps she is taking to improve the co-ordination of her Department with the performance and innovation unit. [31409]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Estelle Morris): Officials and Ministers in our Department are in regular contact with the performance and innovation unit about its current and future work programme. When specific PIU projects relate to departmental policy, both Ministers and officials have close working relationships with the PIU. For example, the Under–Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (John Healey),

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who has responsibility for adult skills, was sponsor Minister for the recently published PIU report on adult skills.

Mr. Sheerman: My right hon. Friend will know that the Select Committee's job is to track the Executive and hold them to account. Can she help us to gain access to more information about what is happening in the PIU and in No. 10 generally, because increasingly we see decisions being made, influence being exercised and policy being formed in places that we have not been able to reach through the traditional Select Committee methods? Can my right hon. Friend help us, even by telling us in detail what education policy groups are meeting and working on those subjects in the PIU and through other avenues in No. 10?

Estelle Morris: With the greatest respect, if my hon. Friend is having difficulty securing information in his capacity as Chairman of the Education and Skills Committee, that is a matter for him, not for me. My Department has close working relationships with units, organisations and other Departments throughout Whitehall. At the end of the day, we are in the same Government and we follow the same policies, but I should make it absolutely clear that my Ministers and I take decisions on education and skills. Responsibility and accountability rest with us.

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