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The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, many of your Lordships have a keen interest in this Statement. Perhaps I may respectfully remind your Lordships of what was recently reconfirmed by
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I shall be brief. I was not trying to implyalthough I understand that this is the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherlandthat the transfer of funds is somehow negative for universities. I was trying to allude to the fact that universities have different strengths. We are keen to ensure that the quality of teaching is high throughout universities, but that those for which it is an area on which they have a particular focus have the opportunity to become centres of excellence in teaching, able to spread that practice. We feel strongly about that. If there are statistics such as the noble Lord describes, I shall of course send a copy of them to him and place one in the Library.
The issue of access is the nub of developing a system that will enable us to provide for all our young people who are capable of getting into university. As ever, the scheme is put together in an attempt to deal with all the different issues. It will not be entirely to the taste of all noble Lordsof that I am sure. But I hope that it will be recognisedit will certainly be monitored in this wayas a way in which we can put together our university sector to enhance its research, teaching and knowledge transfer skills, and provide a sound financial basis for years to come on which we can grow our education system and university sector.
The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, I have three brief questions. The first is procedural. Does the Minister agree that pre-selection of Statements should go wider than the Official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats on such occasions? There is a huge amount of frustration about that in the HouseI certainly speak for my brother Bishops.
I have two further brief questions. How can an access regulator be conducive to academic freedomwithout employing the language of the Royal Navy about a long screwdriver? Secondly, with both a graduate tax and top-up fees, are we not returning to the lamentable days that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, and I rememberwe have Edinburgh University in commonof that rather old-fashioned English false hierarchy of higher education?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, my noble and learned friend the Leader of the House will consider the wider issue of Statements. For my part, I was glad to give the right reverend Prelate a copy of the Statement before I began, although I should have preferred it if he had been able to read it beforehand.
On the regulator and the question of academic freedom, I tried to make the point that the regulator presents an opportunity. We have talked to a number of vice-chancellors who have welcomed the proposal for universities to work alongside a regulator who can support their initiatives to widen access. The regulator will be someone who can work with the universities to develop their strengths across the sector. As we all
The regulator will also provide protection that is wanted by other noble Lords who are concerned that universities may simply treble the fees and take those who feel that they are able to pay a high fee because of their parental background. The White Paper is about ensuring that we have a basis on which to address those questions.
There is a fundamental difference between our proposals and a graduate tax, which is that people pay a graduate tax continuously once they reach the income level; our proposals concern paying back what people themselves have borrowed to attend university.
Lord Carrington: My Lords, I declare an interest as chancellor of a university. The proposals are partly due to the underfunding of universities. How and when will universities get their money? Will they have to wait until students pay?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: No, my Lords. The Government will give universities the money at the students' point of entry. The loan relationship will be between the student and the Government, not the university. Universities will receive the money up front, which I am sure will please them enormously.
Lord Winston: My Lords, in describing the missions of universities as being research, knowledge transfer and, perhaps most importantly, teaching, have not my noble friend and the Government forgotten something extremely important? Universities are also about the general culture of our society, the wellbeing of the people who live in it and the process of personal expansion. The accent on wealth in society may do great damage to university education.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am sorry if my noble friend feels that in presenting the Statement I placed too much emphasis on wealthI did not mean to do so. Our universities play a critical role in the wealth-creation and economic standing of our nation. We should recognise and applaud that, as we have tried to do in many ways. I fully accept what my noble friend says about universities being a broadly based set of institutions with a deep impact on the culturaland, I would argue, spirituallife of our nation. We cherish that and want it to grow and expand.
Lord Rix: My Lords, I must declare an interest as Chancellor of the University of East London, a university that follows the criteria apparently favoured by the Government. It has many students from poorer and non-academic backgrounds, from ethnic minorities and mature students. However, being a new university, it receives approximately 50 per cent less funding than universities that are only a few years older. Does the White Paper address that anomaly?
On a more general point, we are trying to recognise that different universities have different strengths. I applaud the work of the noble Lord's university in ensuring that it reaches out to students, but to ensure that we recognise universities' different strengths, we must place our resources and emphasis on enabling them to rise to their challenges and develop the skills that they know best.
Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, why should the Minister believe that her access regulator will better know how to judge the potential of candidates for making effective use of a university education than universities themselves? Would it not be a national disgrace, to use her words, if the system were to penalise well-educated young people from good schools in order to assist the possible but unproved potential of others who come from bad schools, where standards need to be dramatically increasedagain, to use her words?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, it would be completely wrong for the regulator to be considering the detail, as it were. We want the regulator, who will work alongside the universities, to have a strategic approach to the issue of access. When I say "detail", I mean effectively sitting in on interviews. That would be wholly inappropriate.
We want to recognise the potential of our young peopleand, indeed, of some of our older peopleand enable them to access higher education. We do not want to penalise young people because of their background, in whatever way, but, rather, offer opportunities to enter university to young people who would benefit from itand benefit the nation.
Lord Desai: My Lords, I welcome the White Paper. Can my noble friend reassure me that the drastic 40 per cent cut in unit of resource per student that occurred under the previous Conservative government will now be reversed, and that universities will be better funded because this Government have at last tackled the problem of university finance?
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we are trying to tackle that. There are detailed figures that I hesitate to give to your Lordships' House without the benefit of having them in front of me. What I can say is that we calculate from an index of 100 in 200203 a rise to 106.8an almost 7 per cent increase in that unit of funding.
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