The number of students in Northern Ireland receiving financial help from their parents towards the cost of their higher education is not known. The value of a scholarship paid from public funds to a student is subject to abatement if the net parental income is not less than £1,500—after taking into account certain allowances. In such a case the parent is expected to contribute to the student's maintenance.
Does not my hon. Friend think that it is a sad admission by the Government that they do not know how many parents have to make a contribution towards the maintenance of their sons and daughters at schools of higher education? Does he not accept that the system of parental contributions and the means test by which they have been assessed, which have been in operation for nearly 25 years, punish parents and students alike, and that there is a need for an annual review and an immediate need to increase the maximum grant for students, in order to take account of galloping inflation?
The arrangement in Northern Ireland hitherto has followed closely the pattern in Great Britain, and there is close liaison between the Ministry of Education and the Department of Education and Science. As my hon. Friend knows, my right hon. Friend has these matters currently under review, and any future arrangements made in Great Britain will obviously affect, and will be kept in liaison with, arrangements made in Northern Ireland.
Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that he must be aware by now of the considerable displeasure in the student body generally in Northern Ireland with the levels of grants? Since this is one of the few non-political types of agitation going on in Northern Ireland at the moment, does he not agree that it should be encouraged, and that he should immediately take steps to increase the grants so that we may have more non-political and less political agitation in the future?
I am not sure about the general proposition that we should encourage agitation. As to the proposal that student grants should be increased, this has been put forward. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has said that she is currently reviewing it, and the outcome will obviously influence the outcome in Northern Ireland.