The Government recognise the key contribution of part-time higher education, particularly in meeting the vocational needs of adults, and would encourage institutions and their providers to continue to accord a high priority to such provision.
Does the Minister agree that there can be few students more deserving of encouragement than those undertaking degree courses in the evening after a full day's work? Is he aware that Birkbeck college has provided a valuable service for such students, and that such a facility should be available in more centres? What will he do to enable such students to have the limited cost-effective financial assistance that they need?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman's remarks about the importance of and his praise for Birkbeck college. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary visited Birkbeck college the other day and has a special interest in such provisions. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman by telling him that the UGC's 1981 distribution recurrent grant and advice on numbers envisaged an overall increase in part-time university students by 1984–85. That will help places such as Birkbeck.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no power to make mandatory awards for part-time courses, except in certain limited cases of teacher training.
Is my hon. Friend aware that that is one of the most overriding reasons for reviewing and reforming our student maintenance system? There is no help for part-time students, who sacrifice a great deal, are highly motivated and usually want to do the vocational courses that the Government support.
I recognise my hon. Friend's interest and remind him of the recent revision in the 21-hour rule, which goes some way to meet that point. Local education authorities have the power to make discretionary grants.
In spite of his optimism, has the Minister seen the recent survey by Malcolm Tight on the provision of part-time study courses and the number of institutions that have gone back, not forward, in that respect? Does the Minister agree that there is a case for reviewing the full-time equivalent calculation in respect of financing such courses as well as re-examining mandatory awards?
I asgree with the hon. Gentleman. Mr. Tight's report is very interesting. We shall be considering its recommendations in the light of the response that we shall make to ACACE's proposal on the development of continuing educational opportunities for the next 20 years, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman has seen and finds interesting.
The calculation is difficult. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman by saying that the new national advisory body and the pooling committee are setting up a joint technical working group, which will consider equivalents.