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Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest as an honorary graduate of two universities affected by the Question: the Universities of St. Andrews and Dundee. I also warmly welcome to this short debate a most knowledgeable list of speakers, particularly my noble friend Lord Selkirk of Douglas who has chosen this occasion to make his maiden speech. I am sure we all look forward to hearing him.
Details of the Government's proposals for higher education students' tuition fees are so far only partly known. Much, we understand, is still to be decided. My Question is focused on a single point regarding a decision that has been made and which seems to me to require urgent further attention from the Government. Alarming implications of that decision are already arising:--implications for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland aspiring to go to a Scottish university next year but now having serious doubts and cancelling exploratory visits; implications for the universities themselves, which may lose those students; considerable implications for the Scottish economy; and, most importantly, for the way United Kingdom devolution is likely to develop in the future.
I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, is to reply to the Question. As a Scottish Office Minister and a previous Vice-Principal of Aberdeen University, he will speak for the Government as a whole but will clearly understand the Scottish perspective.
When, just before the Recess, the Dearing Report was published, the Government announced simultaneously that from 1998 undergraduates without means-tested exemption would be required to contribute £1,000 a year
Last week, on 27th October, Mr. Brian Wilson, Minister for Education at the Scottish Office, announced that, for the sake of equity, honours degree students living in Scotland would only be required to contribute for three years of their tuition at Scottish universities. The fourth year would be free, and for medical and dental students the fifth and sixth years would also be free. That welcome decision--it is extremely welcome in Scotland--did not apply, Mr. Wilson stated, to students from England, Wales or Northern Ireland, his comment being,
The questions I ask the Minister this afternoon are as follows. First, it seems strange that a student from Dover can be charged more for a given course than a student from Calais or a student from Scotland. Is the decision legal under domestic law, human rights law or the Maastricht Treaty? I shall be grateful if the Minister can give me an answer to that question. Secondly, legal requirement or no, do the Government consider it right or indeed wise not to include all United Kingdom students taking an honours degree in Scotland in this United Kingdom taxpayer funded concession?
Writing in this week's House Magazine, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, reminds us that, in considering funding reform for universities, fairness is at the heart of government thinking and equity is their watchword. Is this fair? Is it equity? And is it wise?
In an article in the Scotsman on 29th October, Mr. Brian Wilson, far from accepting that there was any principle at stake, dismissed the many protests as "hyperbolic nonsense". His grounds were that the numbers affected would be small; a third would be exempted through means testing and, of the rest, a high proportion would find the extra £1,000 "a mere inconvenience". With respect to Mr. Wilson, that is not the point. At this moment 6,000 or more young people at school south of the Border are considering the pros and cons of applying to Scots universities. No one can tell them precisely what the tuition will cost them. In any case, the word has gone round that for non-Scots Scotland may be a more expensive option.
Currently 17 per cent. of Scots undergraduates--23,000 or a little less--are United Kingdom incomers. But at Edinburgh (Mr. Gordon Brown's university) they represent 48 per cent.; at St. Andrews 45 per cent.; at Dundee (Mr. Brian Wilson's university) 36 per cent.; and at Stirling 32 per cent. If young people's reaction is to diminish that mix, what will that do to the Scottish educational experience? What will it do to universities that depend on incoming students' residence fees, to the Scottish economy which gains some £100 million a year from their spending, and to the Scottish community where many of them stay on to live and work?
It is not possible to say precisely how many students south of the Border will stay away. My submission is that, whatever that number may be, the Government's position on this is wrong, particularly at this moment when legislation is awaited for a devolved Scots parliament--a parliament which will be 95 per cent. funded by United Kingdom taxpayers as a whole. Surely at this time the Government should be demonstrating to all our people the potential advantages to them of devolution and the increasingly varied opportunities it will offer to citizens across the United Kingdom.
If between now and the setting up of a Scots parliament the Prime Minister is to allow Scottish Office Ministers to proclaim "Fortress Scotland" in this way, if he is to allow--as may well be the problem in this case--Ministers in departments like education and employment south of the Border to refuse to co-operate with a devolved parliament north of the Border, even if that department is willing to pay, it is a poor outlook for devolution.
Likewise, if the Prime Minister is to allow that sort of behaviour, one can see an erosion of the open, welcoming encouragement of cross-Border flow which is the key to Scotland's character, to its universities and, incidentally, a key to incomers' enjoyment of Scotland. It is also, to my mind, a key to making devolution a success.
Lord Taylor of Gryfe: My Lords, I was delighted to be able to add my name to the list of speakers in this important debate. I did so in order to beg the Minister to convey to his colleagues the feelings of this House on the matter and the feelings of the people of Scotland, particularly the academic community.
I live in St. Andrews. Its university is not large, but it is a university founded in 1410. The intake of non-Scottish students to the University of St. Andrews is 41 per cent. That is good for St. Andrews; it is good for the educational community to have that kind of mix in their courses. St. Andrews provides a broader based degree course which is not repeated in most of the English universities. Students who wish to take advantage of that course and who live in England will have to pay the extra £1,000 per annum.
The noble Baroness pointed out that there are 22,000 full-time UK undergraduate students of non-Scottish domicile in Scottish higher education. That is not a very large number. Mr. Brian Wilson said, "We are concerned with a small number". If it is a small number, why make a fuss about it? If it is a small number, why make Scottish education more expensive than studying in England? Thirty per cent. of students at Dundee University come from outside Scotland. Of those, 14 per cent. come from Northern Ireland. The students who come to Dundee University from Northern Ireland will be required to pay the extra £1,000. However, students
It has been said that students who come up to Scottish universities from England are well able to pay the extra £1,000. That is not the experience of St. Andrews University. The great majority of students who come up from England to study at St. Andrews University are not from public schools and are not necessarily from homes where the parents can afford to pay the extra.
Anything that makes Scottish education more expensive affects their ability to recruit students. Recruiting students is a highly competitive business. The funding of universities depends on attracting a sufficient number of students to make the courses viable. This proposal makes Scottish education less attractive and to that extent affects the academic community and the whole provision of education in Scotland.
Lots of people admire, and some even prefer, Scottish education. There is no reason in the world why it should be made less attractive. As has been said, this is a gift to the SNP. I regard the SNP as a great menace, politically and socially. Anything that encourages its kind of propaganda should certainly not be encouraged by the Government. I am therefore delighted to support the proposition so admirably presented by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, in speaking to this Unstarred Question, I must first declare an interest as an honorary lecturer in the medical faculty of Queen's University, Belfast. It might be assumed from that remark that I would be rather glad to try to find any reason why students should stay in Northern Ireland and not be attracted away to universities in Scotland. However, there are two reasons why I feel extremely unhappy about the proposition that has come forward.
First, there has traditionally been a considerable run of students to Scotland from Northern Ireland. It is not just a matter of our recent difficulties. Indeed, in the early days the two key pillars of Queen's University, Belfast, were theology and medicine. In both cases those who established the courses took their initial training in Scotland and came across to Northern Ireland. That long and distinguished tradition considerably informed the philosophy of education in Northern Ireland, and for the better. In more recent years there have been other reasons for students going to Scotland and other places. Parents and families, particularly in the Protestant community, began to feel there was little long-term future for young people and so encouraged them to leave. That was not a happy circumstance but, in the view of many, it was not an entirely unrealistic one either.
The number of students involved is quite considerable. Currently, around 5,500 students from Northern Ireland attend institutions of higher education in Scotland. From a population of 1.5 million, that is a considerable proportion. To be disadvantaged in the way that has been announced will not improve the morale of
It is not the case that the young people who have sought education in Scotland have done so because they were unable, because of their academic ability or lack of it, to find places in Northern Ireland. On the contrary: as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, many have sought it because they appreciate Scottish education and value it very much. It is also the case that some of the courses available in Scottish education are not available in the smaller pool of courses in Northern Ireland. In effect, this measure will deny to young people in Northern Ireland the opportunity to continue their education. As already stated, that will place them at a disadvantage compared with young people in the Republic of Ireland. It is an extraordinary proposition.
Secondly, I am concerned about medical students. Medicine courses are longer than other courses. What is often forgotten is that by the time it comes to year three, and certainly year four, the academic courses last, not for 30 weeks, which might allow medical students to earn some money during the other 20 weeks, but continue for 40 and in some cases for 50 weeks, making it completely impossible for medical students to earn money to help them continue through their courses. Is it the case--I should be grateful if the Minister could clarify the point because the medical profession is unclear about the implications even of the more recent statements--that it will be into year five before medical students receive any assistance? That will be much too late. They will have operated without the level of sustenance other students receive.
It will mean that in medicine, already in difficulties in terms of recruitment to general practice, academic medicine, and some of the other hospital specialties, those who can afford to enter will do so because it is a good and rewarding career. But it is not likely to ensure doctors coming forward in sufficient numbers and with a particular interest in working in the inner city areas which have considerable problems attracting doctors. Will this not result in medicine being outside the reach of those who have all the abilities, skills and aptitudes but not the financial resources? That is an extraordinary position for a Labour Government, new or otherwise.
I entirely support moves towards devolution. But if a devolved Scottish Parliament made a decision of this kind, I would remonstrate with it and try to persuade it otherwise. I might even hope there was a Northern Ireland Parliament from which I could do so. But I would rely on the United Kingdom Parliament to ensure that the different regional assemblies were paying attention to each other, working together and ensuring some commonality and harmony throughout the United Kingdom as a whole. I find it remarkable that it is the United Kingdom Parliament whose duty, increasingly
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