Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Perhaps I may make the point clear to the noble Lord. The question is whether the position of a French student with French nationality, and therefore protected by the Maastricht Treaty, who resides in England will remain the same as that of the French student residing in France who goes to the same university in Scotland.

Lord Sewel: If the French student residing in England establishes an English domicile he will be treated as an English-domiciled student. The French student residing in France will not be treated as an English-domiciled student. That is the difference.

Finally, the noble Baroness asked who would pay. We can give a convoluted answer to that, but essentially the answer routes its way back to the good old Scottish Office. The Scottish Office eventually will pay for that extra year. The institutions will be compensated for it.

In making the general point in support of the Government's position, let me recognise for a start that there will always be practical administrative difficulties in bringing about an articulation between two school systems and two university systems that are inherently different. The Scottish schools system, with its tradition of "highers", prepares students particularly for a Scottish higher education career. English A-levels do a very good job within the English system.

22 Jan 1998 : Column 1707

The difficulty is that students in Scotland tend to go to university earlier, around the age of 17. They tend to have done four or five highers, so there is breadth but a lack of depth. The higher has been criticised in the past as being a "two-term dash". It does not provide the same depth of knowledge in a subject as does the A-level--which I hope has not changed too much since my day. In England, three A-levels are taken over a two-year period: breadth is sacrificed, but, it is argued, there is considerably more depth.

For that essential reason, in the Scottish higher education system, universities have traditionally offered four-year degrees. I do not wish to be disparaging, but it could be argued in a popular, colloquial sense that the first year is designed almost to "make up" for the lack of depth that is achieved with the one-year or two-term higher.

We were faced with the anomaly of Scottish domiciled students and English domiciled students coming through different school systems, passing through two different university systems and reaching an end point--the end point judgment being the first degree. We took the view that it would be a gross anomaly if a Scottish student and an English student were to pay more in tuition fees for ending up at the same point; namely, the achievement of their first degree. Our view was that that should not happen, and that there should be a common amount of £3,000 for Scottish domiciled students taking a degree in a Scottish university.

That, I admit, did not resolve the smaller anomaly of the English student going to a Scottish university. It is indeed a smaller anomaly and not of great moment. It has to be recognised that 40 per cent. of students are unlikely to pay anything at all towards the £1,000 because of the means-tested element.

It is also the case that English students currently going to Scottish universities are effectively bearing a greater cost than the £1,000 a year. By choosing to go to a Scottish university rather than an English university, they are forgoing one year's income; in many cases they are taking out an additional year's loan. So the sum total, as it were, the cost to the English domiciled student going to a Scottish university, is already somewhere in the region of £15,000 to £20,000. The £1,000 is a marginal addition to that sum. The figures that we have seen this year indicate that the system we are introducing has certainly not--differentially--deterred English domiciled students from applying to Scottish universities.

I take issue with my former colleagues, as reported by the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, regarding the principal of Heriot-Watt University and, I understand, the principal of Dundee University. I have to say bluntly to those distinguished members of the academic community that my view, based on experience, is that a little application and a little imagination would clearly enable well-qualified English students with A-levels to join school-based Scottish university courses in their second year with virtually no disruption at all. It simply requires the application and imagination of which I am sure the Scottish universities are capable. My message

22 Jan 1998 : Column 1708

to them is: stop whingeing, indicate that you have a good product and go out and sell it. I oppose the amendments.

Earl Russell: The Minister said that he asserted with confidence that the Government were capable of meeting any challenge in European law. He may learn over the next five years, or however long it may be, that when a Minister says, "The Government are confident", he is saying, "We are quite sure we are right but we cannot really tell why". I have heard a great many Ministers say that. At least half of them have lost the case in court. If this should be one of those cases, will the Minister review the quality of advice on European law available to his department?

Lord Sewel: Of course; but I have to reflect upon the fact that the Ministers to whom, I am sure, the noble Earl refers are, of course, members of the party opposite.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I suspect that the legal advice came from exactly the same sources, so perhaps I should warn the noble Lord to be careful.

I am pleased to hear from the Minister that applications to Scottish universities from other parts of the United Kingdom have not fallen in the way that the totality appears to have fallen. I hope that that will be borne out. To a small extent that removes one of my anxieties. However, it in no way gets round the problem of fairness. The longer I listened to the Minister, the more turns to the argument I came across. The noble Lord, Lord Lewis, made an interesting point that an increasing number of English universities were providing four-year degree courses. What will happen when English students find that they have to pay £4,000 to go to their local university whereas a Scottish student undertaking a course of the same length at a Scottish university has to pay only £3,000? I believe they will say that it is unfair on the English student attending an English university.

On the question of entry into the second year, I think the Minister assumes that there will be a continuum between school and university. In many cases people do not do honours degrees in subjects which they studied, or indeed could have studied to any extent, at school. My recollection is that to be allowed into the single ordinary mathematics class at a Scottish university one needs to have a mathematics qualification from school, but that is not necessarily the case with many other subjects, where a school qualification is not required for entry. Some of the science courses do not require a qualification in the particular subject but may require it in mathematics. It is not true to say that with a bit of application students could get into the second year. In many cases students will choose courses and subjects for which they have to start at the beginning.

I was not in the least convinced--nor, I suspect, was the noble Earl, Lord Russell--by the legal argument. I cannot reconcile it with what was said earlier this afternoon by the noble Baroness's colleague with regard to affluence testing. Here I must say to my noble friend Lady Blatch that she must become more politically correct; we now have to say "affluence testing", not

22 Jan 1998 : Column 1709

"means testing". With regard to means testing, we are told that youngsters from the European Union who come to Britain would have to be means tested, otherwise we should be found to be infringing European law. I cannot believe that it is the same lawyer who gave the Government that advice and the advice on the Scottish position. Perhaps the Minister will tell the Committee whether these two questions were taken to the same lawyer. I do not believe they were. The advice seems to me, as a layman, to be contradictory. If one case fell foul of European law, I believe that the other would.

As to the argument that the school system in England is different from the school system in Scotland, that is indeed the case. I am not entirely sure that the same could be said for Northern Ireland. The school system in all the other European countries is different from the school system in Scotland, so why is the argument only applicable to the rest of the United Kingdom and not to the rest of the European Union? I am sorry to tell the Minister that he has not convinced me at all. I know that my fire ought not to be directed at him because his colleagues in the other departments have the responsibility on this issue.

I note that he did not answer my questions about how much it would cost the Department for Education and Employment in England and Wales and how much it would cost the Northern Ireland department to right this wrong. I appreciate that perhaps he was not able to answer that, and I would be grateful if he could write to me about these issues. However, I have to say that whether it be about my scattered family or about the amazing position of a couple of families, one living on the north side of the Border and the other on the other side of the Border, and one being asked to pay £1,000 more than the other, it really is a ludicrous position. I can tell the Minister that he is only hearing about my scattered family because of some of the daft things the Government do. If he does not want to hear about this matter again, I hope he will sort this out inside government and come forward with a fair and equitable arrangement for all the youngsters in what remains, may I remind him as one of the ministers of the Scottish Office, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 97, not moved.]


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page