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Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I fear that we are conducting the debate on this amendment under a false premise, or so it seems from several of the points noble Lords have made. Those who have opposed the amendment and supported the Government's current framework have repeatedly talked about students making a contribution to their own education. But there is no guarantee whatever that the £1,000 which they pay as a fee will be used for their own education. From an answer that was given by education Ministers in another place we already know that £19 million of the fees paid by students out of their private money or out of their parents' private money next year will go into further education. It will not help their own education. That is a totally different principle. This is asking higher education students to make a contribution to the Exchequer. I think we should conduct our debate under honest terms with regard to where this money will actually go.

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, from the sunny air of the London School of Economics, with its huge intake of students from private education, talked about middle-class students. Not all universities are like that. As he was speaking, I thought back to my previous job when I was vice-chancellor and before that the director of the South Bank, which took its students from Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham. Many of the students came from desperately poor backgrounds and desperately poor homes. To them, taking the loans which they had to take for their maintenance was extremely painful.

I am not talking about the minor deprivation of not being able to drink all night in the bar. I am thinking of the day when one of the university nurses came to see me. She was very upset. She said that she was concerned about a young woman in her 'twenties who was very tired and had collapsed in class. On careful questioning over some time, the woman finally burst into tears and

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said, "I have a choice between feeding myself and feeding my four year-old child. I fed my child. I have not eaten today". That is real poverty.

We cannot separate the question of the loan of £1,000 which students might have to take from what my noble friend Lord Renfrew has called the double whammy. Students are also losing the £2,000 or the £1,800 of their maintenance grant, which means that they will be extremely heavily in debt when they finish. There are many students, particularly mature women, who will not take on that kind of loan. They will be denied access to higher education.

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I hope your Lordships will reject this amendment for very much the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Desai. When the noble Lord decides that he will support the Government, it is almost a case of any port in a storm. But I very much agree with the line he was taking.

This debate is something of a Second Reading on tuition fees. I see that the noble Baroness the Minister is nodding. Well, she has made it so because tuition fees are not mentioned in the Bill and so it is difficult to address the issues which have been raised by several noble Lords on both sides of the House.

I support the Government in one respect. I believe it is appropriate to bring in tuition fees, though I think they are doing it in the wrong way. All governments have some difficulty in funding higher education properly. The previous government are to be criticised for the way they did not fund higher education properly for the last two or three years of their term. When I was responsible for this matter, I tried to provide funds on a growing level, and I succeeded in so doing. But every government, including the one of the noble Baroness, will find it difficult to provide the amount of money that higher education needs. Therefore, I look upon tuition fees as one way--and only one way--of doing it.

The cost of higher education should be borne in our society by three elements: the state, yes; the family, yes if it can afford it; and also the student. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, I believe the student is the primary beneficiary of higher education. Someone who has benefited from higher education certainly starts much higher up the ladder in society, whatever they may be doing, than someone who has not. Therefore, I accept the principle.

As regards whether it is a deterrent, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, quite rightly drew the attention of the House to the fact that in the Ivy League universities there is the principle of high fees with high scholarships. That is a system which, as the noble Baroness knows, has taken about 100 years to develop. The slow build-up of scholarships and endowments in America has allowed that system to develop. I would not pretend that that system exists and can be replicated in Britain today. When I first put forward the idea of student loans I insisted on having access funds, which would allow the institutions to help students who had financial difficulties. I am glad to note that the present Government have increased the access funds. I was hoping to start on the road to the university system

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which the Americans now have. They are well down that road. The endowments that go with access funds and scholarships are the way forward.

I do not believe that a relatively modest tuition fee deters young people from going on to higher education. When I first put forward the proposals for student loans, the Liberal Party--as it did today--made dire forecasts of a drop in applications, but that has not happened. The rate of increase in the number of applications to institutions of higher education over the past 10 years is unlikely to be matched in future. As a result of that increase, more students have participated, and I believe that that is the way forward.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. Is he aware that a large majority of the people whom I am at present teaching, when they arrive at university, believe, because the idea of students grants is deep in the culture, that they can manage without the loan? They learn better. But until they learn better before they come up we will not know the effect on access in the long term.

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, the noble Earl helps me to my next point. He mentioned grants, which is where I believe the Government have got it wrong. I believe that maintenance grants should be retained. However, there is the double whammy to which my noble friends Lord Renfrew and Lady Perry referred. She was the vice-chancellor of a polytechnic, as it was then, when I introduced the loan scheme. It is a double whammy to impose a very high loan and to take away the maintenance grant. That is wrong.

The Government have a very botched-up proposal in means-tested top-up fees. It is going to be an administrative nightmare. For a start, one has to bring in 70,000 European students. So many people will be involved that I can only assume that it is part of the Government's welfare-to-work programme in order to reduce the number of unemployed people who can speak Greek, Portuguese and the rest. I believe that to be totally wrong. I would like to see retention of the maintenance grant--possibly increased slightly. Maintenance grants can be beautifully fudged, as I well know. They could be increased slightly to allow for the top-up fee. Amendment No. 50 on the Marshalled List allows that alternative, which is better than this amendment.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, we have now debated this part of the Bill three times and, far from my worries being lessened as the Government have responded to our questions and probing, I feel more concerned. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, has made me feel even more concerned. It is very difficult to compare exactly where we are now in Britain in relation to America. I am also not quite sure whether the noble Lord realises that one of the problems with paying tuition fees is that the Government are not setting up a grants system for students to borrow money for the fees. However, I agree with him entirely about the difficulties

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that 16 year-olds have in staying on in education. I believe that the arguments that the noble Lord used in respect of 16 year-olds could equally apply to those going into higher education.

There are several things that I am concerned about. I am still concerned at the lack of clarity surrounding the Bill, particularly the unknown regulations which are yet to come. Only last week the Department for Education and Employment produced a document in response to Dearing, which stated:

    "In today's publication we respond as promised to other aspects of the Dearing Report not dealt with in the statement to the House in July or in subsequent clarifications relating to the new structure of funding and student maintenance".

The Government are still trying to rush things through. In responding to what has happened in the House the Government have been tabling amendments very close to the wire. I still feel very concerned.

We have all had letters from people outside the House. Perhaps I may quote from a letter received from Southampton University. I do that partly because I was pushed incredibly hard to do so, having once represented that area as a local councillor. The letter says that they are,

    "extremely concerned that the Government's proposals for fees are poorly thought through. Indeed, peers, MPs and students will not know the details and the true cost of the system until after the Bill has been passed and the regulations are published".

It is not only these Benches that are concerned on this matter. We all have a fund of similar letters.

I am also concerned about the timetable. Perhaps I may declare an interest here. On Monday my daughter received an offer of a place to return to university for the second time. In her letter there was no indication, on taking up the offer, what might be in store for her as regards fees. That information has not filtered through. Someone who is at school now is kept fairly well informed. My daughter has been working. She applied to university again, but the situation is not very clear. I am not even convinced that people outside this House would be in a better position to understand exactly what is going to happen even if they read the full proceedings of the House or the very long documents that we have seen clarifying further how the grants and fees will be dealt with by local authorities and universities.

I am still concerned that many will be discouraged when they try to find the tuition fees. They may not take up higher education because it will be too difficult. I believe that many families will find it difficult. Next October 40 per cent. of students will be asked to pay the full £1,000 up front. That will put many families into great difficulty. The Government have made concessions to families in real poverty, but some of the families which will have to find this money are not very well off. The Government maintain that there will be no difference. Families that made a parental contribution to maintenance will now pay for tuition fees. But paying a little month by month for your children is a very different matter from having to find, when budgets are tight, £1,000 up front. That is a large amount to be paid at once. Someone described it to me as throwing a six before one can even start the game. I think that puts it very nicely. If, like myself, one has been foolish enough

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to have less than a three-year gap between children, one may well have to find £2,000 up front, with years of continuing great difficulty.

Bad as the situation is for those who are thoroughly committed to supporting their children through university, it is much worse for parents who cannot or will not pay £1,000. We may be dealing with parents who take the view that their child is an adult and should not be taking any more money from the family but bringing it in. It was also mentioned this afternoon that some families still believe that girls should stay at home. It is women, particularly mature women, who will be hit by many of the proposals that are going through the House. We may be dealing with parents or a spouse who wants to put pressure on the student in some other way. We may be dealing with parents who have been comfortably off and in good jobs. But we know that the job market is very uncertain at the moment. What happens then? We also know that many small businesses go into receivership, and the children affected may find great difficulty.

The fact remains that under the current arrangements a very significant proportion of students do not get help with their maintenance from their parents. When Ministers have been pressed to say what would happen to those students whose parents refuse to pay the £1,000, they have admitted that those students will have to take out commercial loans for their fees or give up the idea of going to university. It has been said that the new arrangement will not put off students from going to university, but it is well documented that, since we began our proceedings on this Bill, the number of applications has dropped by between 18 and 20 per cent. What worries me most is that that large drop comes mainly from the mature age group--that is, those over the age of 25.

The Government have tried to calm us as the Bill has been going through, but today they have heard many of our fears. Indeed, they have heard not only from many Members of your Lordships' House, but also from universities, students and their families. People's fears are still as great as ever despite everything that has been said over many weeks. We are particularly concerned about the problems of implementing the new system, and especially about its effect on access to higher education for all.

I have received many letters and communications from people outside the House. Perhaps a letter I received today from a mother in Stockport best sums up what the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, said earlier. That mother writes about how she is against the proposals. At the end of her letter she states:

    "Both my husband and I are from working class backgrounds and took full advantage of our educations to be able to support ourselves and family. We have both come a long way from our roots in council homes, subsidies and social security. But I truly don't see any way this could happen for children nowadays from this background. Taking away the right to a decent education from children with very few privileges anyway is an act of an uncaring, short-sighted, money-orientated government. I beg you to try to change its mind".

If the Government do not respond positively, what I shall find most difficult to come to terms with is the fact that we shall be taking a step that I never thought to see in this country. I refer to the fact that people will no

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longer have access to free higher education. I would never have imagined that such a step would be taken by a Labour Government in this country and I hope that they will turn their back on it before it is too late.

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