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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for raising the issues that, as he rightly says, he raised on Report. I hope that he will forgive me; I started off on this Bill by trying to make him a happy Peer but have consistently made him unhappy ever since. I must say that he has also made me an unhappy Peer from time to time. I shall simply repeat what I said about the situation in England. I know that the noble Lord has degrouped his amendment, but he made a slight reference to Amendment No. 15 and, with the forbearance of the House, I shall make a similarly slight reference. There is one pot of money. Wherever the noble Lord puts the onus, it is one pot of money and the effect on universities is the same. We will debate that at greater length.
The passing of this amendment for Wales would create exactly the same problem that it would in England. That is twofold. First, the costs that we anticipate for England are roughly £180 million for universities to continue to offer the courses that they currently offer for more than three years. Secondly, it is a huge disincentive to offer courses, including sandwich courses, modern foreign language courses, engineering, veterinary and architectural courses. Noble Lords know those courses very well; indeed, institutions with which some noble Lords are connected offer them.
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I genuinely say to the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, that that is not the way to go. It is important to stick with the two principles for which I have tried to argue throughout the proceedings on the Bill. First, we are trying to ensure that we do not top-slice the money for universities, which I am afraid that both amendments would do. Secondly, we want to give universities the flexibility to offer the courses that they feel right and proper. Noble Lords have fought very hard and I hope that I have been supportive in ensuring that those two principles rest within the Bill.
I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment for Wales. It is for another place to consider what happens in England but I hope that noble Lords will understand the Government's position. It is important that we do not endanger four-year courses, nor make assumptions that there is additional money. There is one pot of money. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the unfailingly courteous way in which she puts her points. The doctrine of the one pot of money of inflexible size is at the heart of the Bill. It is a doctrine to which I hope to return at greater length on Amendment No. 15, which is really about who pays the money. I shall not speak to it now. I take the points made by the noble Baroness and, as I feel myself rather out of my depth in the affairs of Wales, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, when we debated part-time provision on Report, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said that he knew of no issue that attracted more solid consensus than the need to do something for part-timers. Many noble Lords have spoken on the issue on Report and during previous stages at the Bill. Sadly, there is not time to do them all credit. I shall mention a few and hope that others will forgive me.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said that there was a need for the director to take account of access to part-time education. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said that there needs to be a signal in the Bill to recognise an important growth area and a fact of modern life. The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, reminded us that the director needs to see the effects of the new system in an holistic manner. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, have been passionate throughout the Bill's progress in arguing the case for part-time students. My noble friend Lady Blackstone said that it was important not to pass a Bill that neglects to recognise the existence of part-time higher education
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and that the director had a duty to consider both kinds of students. As she reminded the House, part-time students make up 40 per cent of the student population.
I agree with those sentiments, and we have listened and responded. I agreed on Report to return with two amendments, which I have now tabled in my name for your Lordships' consideration. Amendment No. 3 explicitly extends to part-time higher education the role given to the director on Report of spreading good practice. Like my noble friend Lady Warwick, I have every expectation that many institutions will include part-time provision in their access plans. It is therefore eminently sensible for the director to consider the good work that they are doing and encourage good practice.
In considering good practice, the director will consider the whole range of what institutions are doing through their access plans in respect of part-time study: outreach to ensure that potential students are aware of the part-time options available; ways in which institutions provide financial support for part-time students; and information on the range of financial support available to them. I believe that that will be a very positive move to help institutions and their part-time students.
Amendment No. 4 confers on the director a duty to perform his functions in such a way as to promote and safeguard equality of opportunity in connection with access to higher education, including part-time education, in so far as his functions are exercisable in relation to it. On Report, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, tabled an amendment with similar intentions, which I could not accept because of a technicality. I was, however, glad that she had tabled it and accepted the principle behind it.
Although the director will focus principally on full-time students, because it is those fees that the director will regulate, I agree that his remit should extend to part-time students. Many institutions will want to include their study in their plans. This amendment makes clear that the director will take an interest in what institutions are doing to encourage students in both full-time and part-time education.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, as one of the main proponents of a similar amendment on Report, I am very grateful to the Minister for the amendments that she has now tabled. It is absolutely right that the director's remit should include part-timers and that it should be on the face of the Bill. When we discussed the matter on Report the Minister mentioned that that was not necessary, but, as the right reverend Prelate said, it is a signal and it is very important that it is in the Bill. I welcome the two amendments and thank the Minister for them.
The amendments are important. We also recognise that the survey of part-time students is being acceleratedwhich is also goodand that the
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director's remit starts here in 200506. However, institutions providing part-time education, particularly the two specialist institutions, the Open University and Birkbeck, face problems in attracting graduates to apply for courses.
We did not proceed further with the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, about pro-rata grants and loans to part-time students; we left it for the Government and HEFCE to sort out with the institutions. Nevertheless, for the moment, it leaves the institutions in a very difficult situation. I urge the Government to do their best to ensure that, in the negotiations between HEFCE and the institutions, HEFCE realises the importance of part-time education and its development.
As we discussed on Report, part-time education is the way of the future for many of the extra students who will come into higher education over the next few years. It is very important that the opportunity exists for those students, and that institutions such as Birkbeck and the Open University can flourish. It would be very sad if, as a result of the Bill, in the short term both institutions suffered.
Lord Rix: My Lords, it is always a pleasure, and sometimes a pleasant surprise, to be able to thank the Minister and the Government for changing their minds and accepting an amendment, even if they had to rewrite two amendments on this occasion. As we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, there are still many issues to be settled in regard to part-time education. But if the Government are as receptive to the remaining changes that are needed as they have been to these two amendments, I am sure that all will be possible in the very near future. I extend my grateful thanks, certainly on behalf of the university that I represent. I am sure that goes, too, for all the other universities which have many part-time students.
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