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Lord Tope: My Lords, I thought for a moment we were reliving the happy days of last summer and were to hear again about the noble Lord's grandchildren. We came very close to it. I shall not follow his remarks although I too have seen the figures to which he referred and draw the same inference. I look forward to answers either tonight from the Minister or in due course from the Quigley Committee.
I have been asked by my Scottish colleagues to raise a few points of concern, many of which I could just as well have raised in the previous debate. The first is of particular concern to Scotland. Regulation 5(2)(a) refers to students residing at university. This does seem to be a concern because in Scotland particularly there is to be an increasing amount of distance learning, particularly when the university of the Highlands and Islands comes more into being. That point was made in the debate in the other place. It appeared to be accepted by the Scottish Minister but I would welcome some comment from the Minister here tonight--perhaps a reassurance that the Government recognise the anxiety and that students involved in distance learning will not be disadvantaged, as might appear to be the case.
Next was raised the question of what was called student bureaucracy, or rather their ability to cope with bureaucracy. I referred earlier to the one-month limit on students completing their paperwork. My honourable friend in the other place, Donald Gorrie, has some experience of students, as indeed do I, and suggests that it is highly optimistic to expect most students to complete paperwork at all, let alone within one month. The response he received from the Minister was that learning to do their paperwork on time was a proper part
A similar requirement under Regulation 9(2)(f) is that students must inform the Secretary of State every time they change their address and telephone number. In my experience students do not always remember to inform their family of such changes, let alone the Secretary of State, who just possibly may not be on their mailing list. That seems to me a rather unrealistic requirement. I would be interested to hear the Minister's response as to how the Government intend to enforce that. It could be a helpful lesson for parents as well.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to both noble Lords for their response. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, was kind enough to refer to that half of me which is Scots in origin and the chief of my clan--the last one was called "Wee Lachie" when I visited him; I do not know what the present one is called. I have a problem with this. The reason that I do not do Scottish business is that I tend to recover a Scots
The noble Lord said that there is no reference to fees. Indeed, there is not. Fees are dealt with under the existing regulations which, to be precise, are the Student Allowance (Scotland) Regulations 1996 made under the Education (Scotland) Act 1980. He is quite right to say that future regulations will be the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament. I have no doubt that he is better equipped to anticipate what they might do than I am.
I must caution him as a maths teacher to beware of the figures that have been leaked to him by the National Union of Students from UCAS. If he had taken the trouble to go back to the figures for last year, he would have found that comparable figures available in February showed a reduction in applications for all sorts of courses at all sorts of universities--some were up and some were down, but in general they were down. The final result, as of October this year--for this year's entry--was an increase in students in Scotland of something like 4 per cent.
A major problem with the figures that he has been using--I say this to my noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney who seemed to think that there was something disgraceful about the Government's behaviour on this--is that the February figures, of course, are for applications rather than applicants. Individual students can make anything up to half a dozen applications and, therefore, there is no predictive value from the February figures to the results when the term actually starts. The Opposition fell into that trap last year and I am astonished that the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, as a former teacher of mathematics, should fall into the same trap this year.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I do not want this to go on, but I presumed, as they are UCAS's figures, that UCAS was comparing the figures at this time with the figures at the same time last year, so that it was applications at this time in both years. I accept the point made that the outturn is different, but I am long enough in the tooth not to compare new figures with last year's outturn.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, of course, the noble Lord is right. The comparison is this year with last year, but one of the possibilities that he ought to consider is that people are learning the system and are making fewer applications than they needed to at the same time last year. I speak modestly, as a statistician rather than a mathematician, but I am cautious about these things. The noble Lord seems to think that I shall be briefed to anticipate what the Quigley report will say. No such thing!
The noble Lord, Lord Tope, seemed to give some significance to the phrase "residing at a university". I am reminded that the Scots use the word "stay" for live or reside. We had better be careful about our language. When he is talking about the prospective university of the Highlands and Islands and the need for special consideration for distance learning, I can assure
I am surprised at what he said about bureaucracy and the difficulties for students in dealing with bureaucracy. The regulations simplify the system. At the moment there are two financial assessments, one by the local education authority, or in Scotland by the Student Awards Agency, and the other by the Student Loans Company. Now there will be only one financial assessment and I should have thought that the chances of students getting it right when there is only one will be greater than otherwise would be the case.
The noble Lord referred to the difficulty of keeping track of changes of address. All of us who have had children know that that is true. However, it is in students' own interests to give notification of changes of address, otherwise they simply will not get their grant or loan. Similarly, if they reside at their parents' home, it will be in their interests that that should be well known.
I shall certainly not anticipate the repayment regulations, as the noble Lord invites me to do. They will be published in good time and they will be subject to an eight-week consultation period so that they can be introduced in time for this financial year--in other words, they will come into effect by 1st August this year. I commend the regulations to the House.