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Lord Dearing: My Lords, in speaking in support of the Conservative amendment in the previous debate, I described myself as the villain of this show. I think I am the excoriated villain of this issue.

When the committee was considering what principles it should work from, one of those it chose was to seek greater equity between all the citizens of the United Kingdom. In its recommendations it sought to gain greater equity between students going to further education and higher education--that was one of the justifications for introducing tuition fees, as there are in further education--and greater equity between part-time and full-time students. Part-timers are often paid; full-timers are not.

In expanding that principle we came to perhaps a very simple view that all students--wherever they were, whatever the course was and whatever the course cost--should make the same contribution. Whether it was a one-year course, a two-year course, a three-year course or a four-year course, it should be a straight, flat £1,000. One could say that was unfair to those taking a one-year

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course because they would not get government subsidies like other citizens for three or four-year courses. But it seemed a simple principle and one which was equitable. Therefore, we said that that should be the principle.

However, in the case of Scotland we recognised that a number of students had not had the advantage of an extra two years after compulsory schooling at public expense. So we recommended to the Government that Scottish students who had only one year's education after statutory schooling, many of whom under current arrangements would choose to take a four-year honours degree, should not make a tuition contribution for one of their years in higher education. That was fair do's. Then we said that beyond that it would be a matter for consideration for the Secretary of State for Scotland. He exercises his discretion in relation to the funding of the universities and in relation to participation. We thought that this would be another occasion. Perhaps we had in mind that if he exercised his discretion it should be more widely than he has chosen to do it. But I would say this to the House. If the House were minded to the view that if a course is for four years the student should be let off one year, I would point out that there are many programmes in England, in Wales and in Northern Ireland that last for four years. The cost would not be £2 million. I do not know what the cost would be, but it might be 10 times £2 million.

Therefore, in debating this issue we have to consider that the extension of that principle might widen programmes throughout the United Kingdom and that we would be breaking the very simple and equitable principle that for every year you make a contribution.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I have an interest to declare. I was an English student who went to a Scottish university. I left just over a decade ago. When I reached Scotland I discovered just how different the Scottish system is. People talk about taking out the first year. After I was halfway through the first year I was told that I could have done that. The reason it is there is that it is a four-year course. It is unit constructed and has the option of becoming an ordinary degree after three years and goes into honours at the end of the second year. It is a very different beast to the English degree. One of its strengths is that students do not have to specialise straight away. They can find out the subjects they are good at under university conditions. Students do not have to go straight in and decide the minute they arrive. I transferred, quite ironically, from politics to history.

The system is so different. It is designed to fulfil different educational functions. Furthermore, the system is not dependent on the very narrow A-level examination. I have heard much in this House and beyond as to just how limiting A-levels can be. If you fail those exams or you change around you suddenly find yourself in a strait-jacket. The Scottish system allows broader entrance. It is a system which answers many of the questions which we are asking about our own higher education system.

The idea of fairness has been dealt with very well by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. Why should someone who comes from outside the Scottish system but from inside the United Kingdom be treated

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differently from someone who comes from outside the Scottish system but from inside the European Union? That is ridiculous. The Scottish system has many supportive features and thus creates better educational opportunities. The universities are very much the property of their communities--that was certainly true at Aberdeen University--in a way that has not been achieved in England. In England there is the idea that you bus in your students. In Scotland they are predominantly for locals. When a university is expanded to take in students from outside, I have a nagging suspicion that you end up damaging a local community and a local resource. We can always bandy around statistics, but there is always that danger.

The more one looks at this the more it becomes apparent that, for what is effectively about a quarter of what the National Lottery gives away every weekend, the Government are prepared to damage opportunities for people from England to experience a different type of education system that allows them greater variation in their choice of subjects and the chance to get the right course. I support the Motion.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, I shall be very brief. I declare an interest because I am an unofficial guardian of two orphans who attend Edinburgh University. Those of the friends of the family who can afford to make some contribution are finding it fairly difficult to do so. For that and many other reasons, I support the Motion.

Lord Rowallan: My Lords, I rise with great diffidence to support my noble friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I have voted only once before in all the proceedings on the Bill. That was on this very issue first time round. I feel it is a total travesty and a complete nonsense to discriminate in the way that the Government propose. Twenty-two thousand students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland currently study in Scotland. I gather that the latest figures show that in the Scottish institutions entries are down by 4.5 per cent., while the number of English students entering the second year is up by 99 per cent. At a time when we are trying to promote a Scottish parliament, there is something seriously wrong if we are discriminating against Scottish universities and discriminating against students from within the United Kingdom. I sincerely hope that the House strongly supports my noble friend.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest. I am chair of the Further Education Funding Council (England), although I believe that that position has nothing at all to do with my contribution to this debate. Far from regarding the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, as the villain of the piece, I regard him as the hero of the exercise in identifying proper, fair and equitable support and funding for each student.

Let us get the position clear as regards Scotland and the case which has been deployed from the Opposition Benches. I feel a great deal more secure when the Opposition are debating this issue now rather than something like the previous amendment when it was

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suggested that their concern was overwhelmingly for those from poorer backgrounds. That is an issue which scarcely categorised the past 18 years of the previous administration. But now we are clear that the Opposition are talking about the defence of a middle-class perk. After all, those from poorer backgrounds are not affected by this issue because the Government have taken the position adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, with a guarantee that no tuition fees will be charged for those who come from poorer backgrounds. So the issue does not obtain as regards that category of student.

Therefore, we are talking about students who come from homes which are in a position to make some kind of contribution. Let us be clear, for example, about the kind of contribution that can be made by the parents of the grand-daughter of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. They are already indicating that they are prepared to support the young person for four years instead of three. There will be additional costs involved from forgone earnings.

Noble Lords will recognise that a very high percentage of students who attend Scottish universities from England come from the southern counties and the more prosperous parts of southern England. Is that entirely surprising? Inevitably over a four-year period extra costs are involved in regular travel from and to their homes and the Scottish universities. That cannot be a marginal cost when one considers, for example, the journey to St. Andrews.

We are talking about a proposition which states that the Government should be supporting students who come from backgrounds in which the additional costs involved in going to Scottish higher education have been, or will be, absorbed. It is maintained that it would be quite unfair, if not catastrophic, if the Government withdrew their subsidy in that regard.

This issue cannot be calamitous for Scottish universities. Either the numbers are so limited at present that the potential loss of support is no great matter, or if there are significant numbers, it is quite clear that extra subsidy has been going from the state to support the students. But there is no subsidy the other way. I understand the argument of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, about the advantages of cross-fertilisation by people from different parts of the United Kingdom, but I have not heard of a proposal in recent years suggesting that a very significant subsidy should be given to Scottish students to encourage them to attend English universities. That has always been regarded as a matter of choice on their part and not for society, the government and the taxpayer to subsidise. Therefore, why should it be suggested that subsidy should be considered the other way round?

The answer for the Scottish universities is quite clear. All the figures we have at the moment show that there is no reduction in applications to Scottish universities in the light of the new proposals. The argument put forward in the last debate is surely right. Of all the issues which condition whether people go into higher education and where they choose to go, the marginal costs that we are talking about are not at stake when students make a decision. If such decisions, however

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marginal, prove to be somewhat damaging to Scottish universities I oblige them to widen their appeal to students from poorer backgrounds in England who would be able to go to the universities without the extra impost. I suggest that would be a development that we would all welcome.


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