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Lord Glenamara: My Lords, my noble friend Lady Blackstone has a tremendous capacity for saying the most disagreeable things in the sweetest possible way, but even her considerable charms cannot disguise the stark reality of what she has said today. I have been a member of the Labour Party--and have been proud to be a member of the Labour Party--nearly all of my adult life, but I am not proud today. I am ashamed of what the Government are proposing to do. I am ashamed that my Labour Government propose to erect two enormous barriers between young people from working-class homes and higher education. That is precisely what the Government propose to do. I believe that over the lifetime of a Parliament it will deter tens of thousands of young people from poorer homes from entering higher education.
If the scheme is put into operation, a newly qualified graduate from a poorer home will leave college with a debt of anything between £10,000 and £15,000. If he comes from a well-off home and his parents have financed him he will have no debt at all. Young graduates often marry young graduates. If they do, the debt will be twice as much--it may be £30,000--at a time when they hope to buy houses, have children and so on.
That this should happen is utterly wrong. It sickens me. I do not know whether I can remain in a party and support a government who are prepared to do this to their own people. The people to be hammered are those who have created the Labour Party and sustained it throughout this century. They will be penalised in a terrible way. I remind the Minister that not all graduates will be the highly paid fat-cat lawyers that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor spoke about or doctors or merchant bankers. A great many will be school teachers, physiotherapists, nurses and social workers. I know that because I confer degrees on hundreds of such graduates each year. They will not receive high salaries but very modest ones. The intention is to place the burden of this enormous millstone upon them.
I protest about this. I am shamed by it. I very much regret that a Labour Government have done it without any mandate or consultation. They have introduced the change on the same day as the report comes out. This is absolutely wrong, and I protest about it in the strongest possible terms.
I deal first with my noble friend's last point that this has been carried out without a mandate. The Labour Party agreed with the Conservative Government last year that it was right to set up the Dearing Committee to inquire into the future of higher education. The manifesto clearly set out that agreement and said that we would await the findings of the Dearing Committee. The committee has recommended that tuition fees should be charged to all students. We have modified that proposal in a way that I should have thought my noble friend would have recognised as being highly desirable. We have said that no low income student or student from a low income family should be required to pay fees.
We clearly set out in our manifesto that we considered that the present system of maintenance grants and loans was not working well. That was there, and I am surprised that my noble friend appears to have missed it. The electorate was consulted on the matter. We decided to pursue the objective which was set out in Lifelong Learning and in the manifesto, on which we consulted the National Union of Students and obtained its support. My noble friend also neglects to point out--the matter was set out in the Statement, and I am surprised that he has chosen to ignore it--that already many thousands of the 2 million students in further education are required to pay a contribution towards their tuition. These are the most disadvantaged students in the further education system. They are the ones for whom we believe it is right to have a more level playing field. I am amazed that my noble friend objects to that.
I am also amazed that my noble friend has chosen to ignore the fact that there are ½ million part-time students in higher education. I have experience of such students. For many years they have been asked to pay a contribution to their education out of taxed income. Does my noble friend believe that it is equitable to have the kind of system that we had before, in which a minority of students--in other words, those on full-time undergraduate courses--receive their tuition free while virtually all other students, including nearly all post-graduates, are asked to contribute? I end by asking my noble friend whether he accepts that the previous system, under which the taxpayer, who did not benefit from higher education but was asked to subsidise very extensively students who did, was regressive.
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, this is a sad day for higher education. It may be that there are elements within this that are inevitable, but it should be recognised that in this country for 50 years we have had a system under which well qualified students who achieve university admission have not had to pay tuition fees if they are in full-time higher education. It is a sad day that that system should end. But in view of the increasing number of students in higher education perhaps it should end. I express sympathy for the noble Baroness that it falls to her as a distinguished academic
Perhaps I may refer to two anxieties. The first concerns excellence. Although it was a short Statement, we did not hear very much about research. That word scarcely passed the lips of the noble Baroness. I should like to be assured that the shortfall in research that is currently so acute will be met. We have received no assurance of any kind in that respect.
My second anxiety is very close to that of the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara. Is it the case that, although for low income families and students with a low income background there will be alleviation of the tuition charge to be imposed through means tests, nonetheless these students will clock up a debt on all of their maintenance? I hope that the noble Baroness can say a little more about that. Perhaps I may give a brief example of what worries me. I put this in the form of a question to the noble Baroness. Imagine a student who enters university, does three years mathematics and goes on to do a Ph.D. in mathematics. He then becomes a school teacher. That person will have a debt of at least £18,000 at current rates of maintenance, to which may be added tuition charges. Will that person be able to get a mortgage when he enters the teaching profession? I very much share some of the anxieties that the noble Lord has expressed.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am a little surprised by the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, that the word "research" scarcely passed my lips. The Statement said that the Government would be consulting on all aspects of the Dearing Report and did not wish to give any kind of lead today. I made that absolutely clear.
I replied to the question about research put by the noble Lord, Lord McNally. The Government are extremely concerned that the shortfall left by the Government that the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, supported, our predecessors, should be looked at sympathetically. He went on to ask about the alleviation of the tuition charge through means tests. We shall be alleviating it. I repeat that no low income students will pay the tuition fee. As at present, students will take out loans to cover the cost of their maintenance. The National Union of Students has accepted that it is reasonable that students should be asked to do that. The noble Lord shakes his head, but I can assure him that those negotiations with the NUS took place before the election. The noble Lord may not be aware of it but those negotiations did take place.
I do not know from where the noble Lord gets the figure of £18,000 that he quoted. If a student were to go on to do a Ph.D. in mathematics, there are different systems for supporting postgraduate students. It is ill-considered of the noble Lord to throw that in. We are talking about a scheme for the support of undergraduate students. Any graduate on a low income will not-- I repeat again--be asked to pay. The scheme run by the previous government, whom he supported, asked students to pay back much sooner, much more and over
Lord Dahrendorf: My Lords, I shall talk about principles, which is all that we can do this afternoon not having read the report. Perhaps I may ask the Minister one simple question. I am strongly in favour of opening the gates of higher education. I have always defended education as a civil right. I appreciate also that as we go beyond 30 per cent., financing becomes a different problem from what it was for 6 per cent., 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. I have learnt also that expansion runs the risk of abolishing the differentiation which is also necessary. A truly successful system of higher education has different levels of higher education. One of the great weaknesses of expansion on the European Continent is that it has levelled the higher education system to the extent that we could fill every place in this country's universities with a continental applicant--a refugee from that system. One of the strengths of the American system is that it is differentiated. What principle will the Government follow when it comes to creating a system which is both open and differentiated, both available to all and able to offer the best in special education and research opportunities?
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