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Baroness Young: My Lords, I believe that this debate illustrates extremely well the value of your Lordships' House. We have heard a sequence of contributions from noble Lords beginning with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, my noble friends Lord Beloff and Lord Baker and the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who have had extensive experience of the university world. They know how things work. I speak here as a university person one removed, although I know a little about the universities. My anxiety is threefold. This is such a serious worry that I very much hope that the noble Baroness will consider the matter further. First, Clause 18 puts universities in a straitjacket. If there is one thing that universities do not want if they are to flourish it is uniformity. If one is to achieve excellence one must have diversity, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said. That gives one the best of everything. Universities can specialise in what they believe they do best. To prevent the universities from getting extra money will hinder academic freedom.

The second point about which I am concerned is that which has already been very well made by my noble friend Lord Baker. We are legislating for the future. One does not know what the future may bring. Who would have thought 10 years ago when I was an education Minister that one-third of young people would be in higher education at all, let alone an even greater proportion? I have been married for a very long time to a scientist. Scientists will always say that one never quite knows where the frontier will be or from where the next development will come. Therefore one requires flexibility for these courses.

I do not know what the noble Earl will decide to do with this amendment, but I believe it raises such a very serious matter for the whole future of the education system that the matter must be looked at again.

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Although I welcome the amendment in relation to the courses, it is a small part of a much bigger problem and needs careful thought.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood--

Noble Lords: Oh!

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, as spokesman on the other side of the Chamber, I believe that I am entitled to respond to an amendment.

The noble Baroness referred to and prayed in aid the CVCP. I do not know what her words were, but I know that words were carefully brokered between the CVCP and the Government. The committee admits to "being reasonably" satisfied rather than very happy. I am sure that the Minister will also pray in aid the CVCP. However, having met its representatives and had discussions with them throughout the progress of the Bill, I know that there is deep puzzlement throughout the higher education sector about the stand which the CVCP is taking on behalf of higher education. Given that what we agree in this Chamber will stay on the statute book for a long time, I say only that 10 years down the line it may regret not having made a better and more effective stand for the right of academic freedom in higher education.

Although I greatly respect the views of the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, perhaps I may say a few words in order to justify an amendment won earlier tonight in respect of maintenance. There is nothing strange about the amendment. When individual students leave university having undertaken the same course, students from lower income families should not be disproportionately disadvantaged compared with their fellow students who may well come from a more affluent family. It would be deeply unfair if a student from a poor family, irrespective of tuition fees, had to borrow all his maintenance money whereas a student from an affluent family had to borrow only half. That would be unfair and the amendment corrected the situation.

Earlier the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, promised to bring forward an amendment. There is a read-across from that amendment to the debate we are now having on Clause 18. That amendment must be seen and considered by this House before the Bill moves to another place. My noble friend has made known her concerns about the issue not only tonight but on Second Reading and in Committee. It is not beyond the wit, certainly of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to spell out the Government's intentions and what they hope to achieve. I hope that between now and 10th March it will be possible for us to see an amendment, even if it is not perfect. It is important that we do so before the Bill leaves here for another place. If the Government do not come forward with an amendment, this House will have lost its only opportunity to discuss its merits and to give voice to the concerns of my noble friend Lady Perry.

Whatever the Government say, their proposals in the Bill and their intention to use its powers will in practice, although I accept not technically, be setting fees at

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universities. I accept the criticisms made about previous governments and it will be interesting to see how much more generous the present Government are. However, one cannot rule out tight settlements in future by a Chancellor of the Exchequer. In fact, I could almost write part of the Chancellor's Budget speech next year. At the back of my mind, I can almost hear him saying that in 1998-99 higher education received an extra £165 million and it cannot expect such generosity every year. That £165 million is a one-off payment and there has been no promise that it will be built into the base revenues of higher education. I do not believe that that promise can be given, but if it is not, not only must one make up the £165 million into the future, but there must be additional moneys.

If there is a tax settlement in future, the straitjacket referred to by my noble friends Lady Young, Lord Baker and others will be real. Where are the universities to go? The fact that there are to be no top-up fees is to be written on the face of the Bill if it is passed in its present form. There has been a promise that the proportion of tuition fees paid for by students is not expected to rise in real terms beyond 25 per cent.; but that is not to be on the face of the Bill. Therefore, I advise those students who are anxious to see Clause 18 remain part of the Bill to be careful because they will be extremely vulnerable in the future. If there is to be more finance to fund higher education, if it does not come from the Treasury and cannot come from top-up fees, it will have to come from the students. That 25 per cent., willy-nilly, will be raised beyond the limit intended by the Government.

If that does not happen, something must give. My noble friend Lady Park referred to the academic programme. First, it will affect staffing and then the course programmes. All the other points about quality then come into play. It is a straitjacket. So far, the Minister has been unable to explain the scope of Clause 18. That was a question put directly by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and my noble friend Lord Limerick, who is not present this evening. I ask the noble Baroness whether she is able to enlighten us further this evening on the absolute extent of the scope of this clause.

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I find it very strange that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and his noble friends should seek to leave out Clause 18. I found his metaphors somewhat perplexing too. They were all transport metaphors. We moved from parachutes to submarines and Aeroflot all within the space of two or three minutes.

I have tried also, without success, to find some consistency in the noble Earl's approach to future funding arrangements for higher education. On the one hand, he and his noble friends are opposed to students' contributions to fees. On the other, they are seeking to leave out Clause 18. In doing that, they are opposing the safeguard which is designed to protect students from being asked to pay additional top-up fees. Where is the logic in that? It is quite extraordinary.

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I remind the House of the purpose of Clause 18. Contrary to some of the claims made both in your Lordships' House and outside, Clause 18 is not about altering the relationships between government and the universities. Rather, it is just one component, albeit--and I am perfectly happy to admit this--an important component of new arrangements to secure adequate and appropriate funding for higher education in the 21st century.

The noble Lord, Lord Baker, quite rightly raised issues about the quality of higher education and underlined its importance. I agree with him 100 per cent. about that. However, the Government recognise also that the funding of universities over the past few years has been totally inadequate. The government of which the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, and the noble Lord, Lord Baker, were members did not recognise the inadequacy of the funding that was provided for universities. If they had, we should not be in the position in which we are today. We might not even be charging tuition fees because the universities would be properly funded.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes that point but it was precisely because there needed to be some very serious, fundamental thinking about the funding of higher education that Dearing was commissioned with all-party support. There was absolute agreement across all parties that more money had to be found for education. Later, we shall be discussing how we can secure additional money to remain in higher education. But it is not true to say that we did not recognise the problem. We certainly did, which is why we commissioned the report, the recommendations of which gave rise to this Bill.


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