National Union of Students

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Science – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th December 1976.

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Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Stirlingshire West 12:00 am, 7th December 1976

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she next intends to meet representatives of the National Union of Students.

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hertford and Stevenage

My hon. Friend the Minister of State will be meeting the President of the National Union of Students on 14th December. My Department has frequent meetings with the NUS on a number of questions, notably those relating to student grants.

Photo of Dennis Canavan Dennis Canavan , Stirlingshire West

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern of the NUS about the proposal to deprive students of social security benefits during the Christmas and Easter holidays? In view of the statement of my right hon. Friend when she was Shadow Minister for social services in 1971 that benefits should be regarded not as a charity or a donation but as an entitlement, will she approach the Secretary of State for Social Services with a view to rejecting these mean proposals, which will cause hardship to thousands of students and may cause some of them to discontinue their studies?

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hertford and Stevenage

I am sure my hon. Friend is aware that my predecessor, the present Secretary of State for Defence, increased the grants for short vacations up to £11·35 per week, which is the equivalent of a single non-householder's level of supplementary benefit. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is considering whether students with dependants and those responsible for rents should be provided with additional benefits. The withdrawal is related to the increase in student grants for short vacations.

Photo of Mr Nigel Forman Mr Nigel Forman , Sutton Carshalton

Will the Secretary of State impress upon the NUS the importance that the Government apparently attach to having a higher education system which meets the needs of British industry? What action is she taking to redress the difficult situation whereby fewer than 25 per cent. of university graduates find their way into industry and commerce?

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hertford and Stevenage

The situation has already begun to improve markedly. The current number of applications for full-time courses in engineering and technology in higher education has increased by 17 per cent. and the number accepted has increased by 8 per cent., showing an improvement in standards as well as in numbers. We are considering whether additional incentives should be given for engineering and technology courses, and we are studying the possibility of additional help to retrain teachers in subjects such as mathematics and science.

Photo of Mr John Ovenden Mr John Ovenden , Gravesend

When my right hon. Friend meets the President of the NUS, will she give an assurance that the Government's hardship scheme for students in the short vacations will not mean that benefits will be below those for students with dependants under the social security system?

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hertford and Stevenage

I cannot go beyond what I have said, because it is the Secretary of State for Social Services who must consider these matters in the light of the recent debate.

Photo of Alan Beith Alan Beith Opposition Whip (Commons)

Why was it that no Minister from the Deartment of Education and Science took part in the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill debate to explain how these proposals affected general education grant finances?

Photo of Mrs Shirley Williams Mrs Shirley Williams , Hertford and Stevenage

This matter was announced in detail in July. It was discussed with the NUS, and we were involved in other consultations on education matters. We felt that the advice already given had sufficed in this case.