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Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords; the noble Baroness is quite right. However, perhaps I may point out to her that it is a very small group. The vast majority of students over the age of 25 study part time. We are concerned about the situation and we shall try to do everything we can to ensure that the kind of information we have been able to get to younger applicants--for example, on access courses--is given to older applicants. It is a little more difficult to identify them and, therefore, it is not an easy task. However, we are addressing the problem.
Perhaps I may tell the House that the latest figures show that applications are down by about 3 per cent. overall and less than 1 per cent. as regards students under the age of 21. All that must be looked at in the context of a situation where there was a 6 per cent. increase in the number entering university last October over and above the numbers that were expected. Therefore, I really do not think that this is accurate--
The targeted support that we propose will offer help where it is most needed and raise the money required to improve quality, standards and opportunities for all in further and higher education. I hope that those who have contributed to today's debate and who asked specific questions--for example, the question posed by my noble friend Lord Dormand in respect of which he quoted tables used to determine parental contributions--will forgive me if I do not go into what would be very complex replies. However, I can tell my noble friend--I repeat what I said earlier--that approximately 30 per cent. of parents will make no contribution to tuition, while about another 30 per cent. will only make a partial contribution. So there is a substantial number of parents who will be paying nothing like the full fees.
Various questions were raised regarding the position of teachers. I should tell the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that fees will be based on parental income and not on the future possible earnings of students. However, low-paid teachers will not be expected to pay back their maintenance loans if their level of income does not justify it.
The amendments before the House would run counter to the fair funding arrangements for higher education which the Government intend to introduce. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said that the amendments were a device to expound the views of his party.
Lord Dahrendorf: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I ask for some clarification--I must be a bit thick here--of her answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. Is tuition fee income additional funding for higher education, or not?
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, and with the leave of the House, I make a specific point about how years at university are counted. There are many examples of people who do three years' higher education training, sometimes in preparation for studying medicine or dentistry, or people who for one reason or another undertake a second degree. Is the first year of the second course considered to be the fourth, fifth or sixth year, as opposed to the first, second or third year, for the purposes of tuition fees? How will the Government view an extra year at university when a student is re-taking a year, either because of illness or because that student simply did not make the grade in a particular year at university?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the arrangements will be as they are at present. A student who decides to take a second first degree, having already been supported from public funds, will be expected to make a contribution and indeed to provide for his own maintenance support. The noble Baroness referred to a re-take year. If someone has been ill and there is clear medical evidence of that, that would of course be taken into account and that person would not be expected to pay twice over.
Lord Tope: My Lords, we have had a full debate of nearly two hours in prime time in your Lordships' House. It has been a useful opportunity to discuss the whole issue of tuition fees. I hope I may correct the Minister. I think I quite clearly said at the beginning that the amendment was not a device for me to discuss my party's policies. Indeed I said specifically that the amendments, and certainly any vote, did not concern my party's policies, but comprised an opportunity to debate the whole issue of tuition fees. As the Bill has been drafted, it is difficult to frame an amendment that enables us to do that. That was, and is, the purpose of this amendment.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate which I know will be read with great interest outside this House. I am of course grateful to the Minister for her reply to it. She has not convinced me by her arguments--I think she would expect that to be the case--and I am tempted to re-open the debate and answer all the points she has made. However, that is not appropriate after such a long debate. I shall make just a couple of points. The Minister suggested that, because part-timers have to pay fees now, everyone else should. We are about to address the issue of part-timers on the next amendment.
I refer again to the "thin end of the wedge" argument. I say again that if we abandon this principle now, there is no reason why everyone over the age of compulsory education--that is, 16--should not have to pay fees sooner or later. That is a point which your Lordships need to bear in mind. If these amendments are accepted, one effect will be that the Government will have to think again about what they are going to do and how they will deal with the situation. I am sorry that the Conservative Front Bench does not feel able to support the amendment on this occasion, although I hear with interest that perhaps on Third Reading we may be able to move them a little closer to our position. Given the recent pronouncements of their leader, I had hoped they would be able to support us on this amendment. I hope that many Back-Benchers from the Conservative Party will feel able to do so for no better reason than that made in a memorable speech by the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara; namely, that the amendments may not be perfect, but they are not only the best opportunity but the only opportunity for your Lordships to express a view on the important issue of tuition fees. For that reason--
Lord Tope: My Lords, I am advised that the noble Baroness is out of order to intervene at this stage, although I would have given way to her. I was about to say that it is not only the best opportunity for your Lordships to express a view on this issue but it is also the only opportunity. For that reason I believe it is vitally important that we now test the opinion of the House.
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.