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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Earl will be aware of the income and expenditure survey which we published yesterday. I think it says very clearly that we are right to abolish upfront fees because of their impact. Too many students are having to find 700 in upfront fees each year because their parents are not paying the assessed contribution themselves. That is very important.

We believe that students' standard of living has risen over the past four years. Noble Lords will know from the survey that that is an important aspect. We believe the student loan generally does what it should, although we will of course look very carefully at the survey's findings. We need to make sure that we get away from the idea that it is okay to borrow for the purposes of consumption but not for investment.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, does not the report published yesterday from Professor Callender of South Bank University, showing that it is the poorest students who leave universities with the highest debts, underline very strongly the point that if we are moving to higher tuition fees there has to be a system of bursaries which enables the better-off parents effectively to subsidise the education of the less well off? Only in that way will it be possible to achieve proper access to our great universities.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I believe that my noble friend would accept that the combination of the abolition of upfront fees—which will have an impact on all students—the addition of a grant available to students from low-income backgrounds and a bursary scheme which we are currently discussing, through Universities UK and other means, will provide very generous support to those students whom we are trying to attract, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, quite rightly indicated. This combination is a fundamental part of ensuring a university system that is well funded and able to provide good, high-quality higher education for all students, and that those who are able to go to university are encouraged to do so.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, is the Minister concerned about the rise in drop-out rates of students? Does the department believe there is any correlation between that and levels of debt?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I do not have the detailed information on that. The noble Baroness, as always, raises an important point. I will, if I may, write to her with information on drop-out rates. We have been looking at this. It is my understanding that we do not see a correlation, but I will write to her and put a copy of my letter in the Library.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, I declare an interest as vice-dean of the University of Wales College

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of Medicine. Across all the healthcare courses in our university, 50 per cent of students are graduating with debts of more than 17,000. The students are concerned that recruitment to some courses such as radiography will become increasingly difficult again with the size of debt. Is this of concern to the Government, and how are they planning to monitor the supply of healthcare professionals?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the Department of Health is of course very concerned to ensure that it has the right quality and number of healthcare professionals coming through courses. I know that it will take a great interest in that. Part of the issue for variable fees is to allow institutions to be able to lower fees as well as increase them, thereby looking at where shortages occur in our economic life and with regard to students entering courses. This may well be an area which the department would consider. I remind noble Lords that that is different from traditional debt. This is about investment in one's future as a student and a graduate. Students will not pay back anything until they are earning a minimum of 15,000, and then they will pay back only what they have borrowed.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, are the Government concerned that a lower proportion of students are going away from home to university and are instead going to the university next to their home to save money? Of course, while many will always do that, many have also had the increased benefit of going to a different university somewhere else. Are the Government concerned that that proportion is dropping?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, it is important that families, particularly students, have the right kind of choice about where they move. I accept the noble Baroness's point that a proportion of students have always gone to university close to home.

We will be looking very carefully at what impact all our proposals are having, as will the higher education institutions. However, we have to be wary of making an assumption that one factor leads on to another and that what we are seeing is a direct result of the strategy we have in place.

Lord Eatwell: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that as a result of a bursary scheme that is already in place, established by the colleges of Cambridge, for someone from a financially disadvantaged background, the University of Cambridge is now the cheapest university in Britain to attend?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I pay tribute to what the University of Cambridge has done, as, indeed, have many other universities. But we still have to look very carefully at the percentage of students who are applying to universities and the barriers to their application, and remove those barriers. I think noble Lords would accept that that is a key concern. Higher education institutions have a very

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important role in ensuring that the numbers of students from varying backgrounds who are able to go to university because they have the qualifications and ability are doing so in the right proportions, and then the universities can accept them.

Jewish Communities: Security

2.56 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What additional steps they will take to protect Jewish and other communities in view of the attacks on the synagogues in Istanbul and other recent terrorist attacks.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Metropolitan Police report that in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Istanbul, a senior Metropolitan Police officer met members of the Jewish community. Generally, advice is issued, when appropriate, to regional police chief officers in response to security assessment and in consideration of current events. All forces are encouraged to work closely with community contacts on security issues. Community involvement is a key strand to the police counter-terrorism effort.

The Community Security Trust meets with the police to address concerns and promote a co-ordinated response to anti-semitic incidents.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer. Does he recognise the very great and sad recent change in the nature of racist attacks? They tend no longer to be simply racist or anti-semitic shouts or attacks on individuals. Indeed, in the past week they have included the attacks on the synagogues in Istanbul, to which my noble friend referred, resulting in murders and injuries, as well as the attack on the Jewish school in Paris. There is very great concern among the smaller communities in this country at the growth of this sort of terrorism.

Has my noble friend seen the lead article on the front page of The Times today that a terrorist suspect in custody told detectives of a 15 to 20-strong cell of Algerian supporters of Al'Qaeda, ready to launch a terrorist attack? Their intended targets are understood to be synagogues in London and Manchester. What steps are Her Majesty's Government proposing to take to meet what is regarded as a very serious and growing concern?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we recognise that this is a very serious and growing concern. Anti-semitic attacks have, sadly, increased over the last few years. We are aware of the article in The Times. Only yesterday, a special meeting took place involving police officers from the specialist departments, ACPO and Jewish communities to discuss security issues, particularly in the light of recent events. Obviously we

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will be ever vigilant because of the very real and profound concerns which understandably exist within the Jewish community.

Baroness Miller of Hendon: Does the Minister agree that the current anti-American "stop the war" demonstrations could be better directed at those who are actually perpetrating warlike acts? In Iraq, for instance, there are attacks on the soldiers and the citizens, there have been attacks on synagogues, as the noble Lord, Lord Janner, said, especially in Turkey, and there is also the threat that something will be done in this country.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we all abhor anti-Americanism and recognise the strength of the special relationship. Of course, the noble Baroness is absolutely right that we should direct as much attention as possible to dealing with, tackling and preventing the various very serious threats to the Jewish community and other ethnic minority communities in our country.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Janner, for raising the matter. There is a serious concern among minorities to the extent that religious premises fail to receive adequate police protection. Is the Minister aware that only 10 days ago, in a temple in Ealing Road, two people entered while worship was going on, broke the statue of worship and shouted anti-Indian slogans? If we fail to protect those communities, they will take the law into their own hands, which would damage community relations. Is it not about time that the police provided adequate protection, not only to the temples, gurdwaras and mosques but to any of the places of worship that are so precious to minorities in this country?


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