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Chris Grayling: My hon. Friend makes an important and powerful point. It is replicated by another important professionvets. As the Minister said, vets do not get any support from the Government. The proposals have caused great anxiety in the veterinary profession. He will be aware that the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons expressed great concern about the White Paper. It said that it would
"deter many young people from applying to study veterinary medicine in the future and deter graduates from entering careers in areas of greatest public interest where salaries are lowest, i.e. in veterinary research, in farm and livestock animal practice, and from rural-based practices in general."
The Minister will remember how serious the shortage of public sector vets was during the outbreak of foot and mouth disease, and how much more difficult it made the task of combating the disease. How will levying higher fees over six years on young vets attract more people into key public sector roles in the veterinary profession? It is madness.
The British Veterinary Association recently carried out a survey on the costs today of going through a six-year course. The study found that 45 per cent. of current veterinary students would seriously have reconsidered even starting had they known how much debt was involved. The report on the study said:
"This is very bad news for the profession and should cause great concern to the Government but nobody seems to be paying attention."
The Royal Institute of British Architects published figures recently estimating average debts of £57,000 if tuition fees at the Government's planned level are introduced. Top-up fees of £3,000 a year, living costs of £6,000 or £7,000, particularly in London, multiplied over a six-year course, comfortably add up to £50,000 or £60,000. That is a massive increase on the previous estimate by the RIBA 18 months ago and represents a powerful deterrent to those wishing to enter the architecture profession. I encourage the Minister to look at the letter in Building earlier this year from a consultant in Kent, which states:
"I want to express my outrage at the government's proposal to increase tuition fees to undergraduates.
With our industry failing to attract and retain bright young graduates, we will be forced to look abroad to find our future leaders.
Consultancies are already faced with a chronic skills shortage and should the government steamroller this proposal through, it will lead to nothing short of an industry meltdown."
The Minister mentioned the medical profession. I commend to him the communication that was sent to all of us by the chairman of the British Medical Association's medical students committee. He said not only that he was concerned about the impact of higher debt on doctors but that he believed that the Government's measures would have a significant
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adverse effect, as has been mentioned, on efforts to bring people from all backgrounds into the medical profession.
I give the Minister further food for thought. I suspect that he has not really thought about this properly. It was articulated well by Lord Campbell-Savours in the other place. Many of those who do the Government's foundation degrees, a two-year course, and follow through into higher education to finish that experience will go beyond the three years. They will be faced with three, four or five years of costs. The Minister says that he is planning to widen participation. Is it really his intention that those people should end up paying fees over a prolonged period? If he does not believe that will happen, he should just talk to the vice-chancellors of some of the universities offering foundation courses. He will be surprised at the fees that they are planning to charge after the autumn of 2006.
The higher education sector does not trust the Government not to claw the money back, and the professions are profoundly anxious about the impact of the Government's proposals on their opportunity to recruit. Both the amendments drive to the heart of those concerns. They deserve the support of the House and it is to the discredit of the Government that they are so determined to stand against them.
Mr. Willis: These are the two key amendments from the other place. They go to the heart of the Bill and the principles behind it. The Liberal Democrats accept that the Minister and Baroness Ashton have approached the whole Bill with much sensitivity and attempted to address all the main issues. I do not believe that they have won the argument on fees, and we will continue to fight that case, including at the next general election, but it is not a case for today.
The other principle relating to the Bill is that now that the votes on fees in this House and another place have been won, we want to guarantee that the money coming from those fees is additional. The whole principle behind Lords amendment No. 4 is to seek to guarantee additionality. There is no doubt that in another place, Lord Phillips of Sudbury and my noble Friend Baroness Sharp, who did tremendous work on our behalf in the House of Lords, supported by Lord Dearingwho is certainly not a lightweight in these matters, having produced the Dearing report back in 1997Baroness Warwick, the chief executive of Universities UK, Lord Ricks, and Lord Campbell-Savours all supported the simple principle that additionality must be written in as part and parcel of the legislation.
Why did those peers do that? Why did all those people, with their backgrounds and expertise, allperhaps with the exception of my noble Friend Baroness Sharpgreat supporters of the Government in their own ways, say that we had to have that written into the legislation? That is not simply because we do not believe the Government, although the Bill is a betrayal of the 2001 manifesto. There is a belief that the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 was also a betrayal of the statements made by the then Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett). He promised at
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that time that the money from tuition fees would be additional income to our universities. The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) was absolutely right to say that we have seen not only what is really replacement funding through fees, over the years from 1998 to 200203, but a reduction in the percentage of GDP that the state spends on higher education. Had it not been for the introduction of tuition fees in 1998, we would have seen our universities suffer worse cuts than the 6 per cent. cuts that the Conservatives predicted when they left office. Lords amendment No. 4 asks the Government to make it clear that they mean what they say, by being prepared to include that in the Bill.
Why does the Minister persist in the ludicrous argument that he cannot bind a future Government to the spending commitments? This Bill's implications start with a future Governmentthey are likely to start after the general election in 2005, so these measures will bind a future Government, future generations of students and future universities into those spending commitments.
Alan Howarth: The hon. Gentleman's position is an assault on the authority of this House, and the arguments that his party and the Conservative party have put forward are arguments to undermine the authority of this House on the occasions in the parliamentary calendar when we vote on estimates. We have the Government's word that the funding will be additional. Of course it is up to the House of Commons to monitor that, but we have the opportunity in our conventional procedures, year by year, to vote on estimates and to hold the Government to account in that respect.
"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, 17 March 2004; Vol. 419, c. 335.]
That is a clear statement by the Chancellor that not only will funding be maintained in real terms but the money that the Bill will bring in will be additional resources. Why cannot the Government translate that into a simple clause in the Bill to guarantee it? That is all we are asking for, and all that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, representing the Conservative party, is asking for. That is the principle behind the amendment.
Lords amendment No. 2 deals with the issue of the fourth year. I listened to the debate on Third Reading yesterday in the other place. The Minister is right that the issue of who should pay for the additional resourcingwhether it be £130 million or £180 millionis relevant. I believe that we have the right to know where the resources stipulated in amendments should come from. Clearly, there are two ways of paying: either through the Higher Education Funding Council or by the universities themselves.
Throughout the passage of the Bill, the Government have continually claimed that the introduction of differential or top-up fees will give universities the flexibility to be able to meet their differing
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circumstances. The Secretary of State, who is now in his place, said when the White Paper was issued last year, that Departments such as the Home Office, the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills would engage with the Bill to provide the bursaries and support that students studying beyond three years would require. Yet as the Bill has progressed, we have heard absolutely nothing about that. Lords amendment No. 2 is simply an attempt to make the Government put into practice what they promised in the White Paper and during the Bill's passage. In tonight's vote, I hope that both Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 4 will be supported and the Government's opposition to them rejected.
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