Is my hon. Friend aware that there is much unhappiness among all parties and in British industry about the effect of charging young people from Commonwealth nations the full economic fee? Is there not a case for ensuring that young people from the new and old Commonwealth are treated at least as favourably as students who come from France's overseas territories? How can my hon. Friend justifly charging a student from British Guyana £6,000 a year to become a doctor whereas if he comes from French Guyana he must pay only £400 a year?
As my hon. Friend knows, the Government are urgently reviewing the results of the Overseas Students Trust review and hope to present the House with proposals soon. With regard to the relationship with European Community students, the balance is probably somewhere in Britain's favour, as the number of British students going to EC countries is more or less balanced by the reverse trade.
As several Commonwealth students who thought that they were overseas students have been turned into home students by the decision of the other place just before Christmas, how is it that, nearly at the end of January, the Minister still answers a parliamentary question by saying that he does not know how much money is involved for universities and local education authorities and that he does not know how many students are involved? Is he aware that some universities and some local education authorities do not know whether they must repay fees over two years? Does he realise that the Government's incompetence is causing critical financial problems?
It is a little hard to say that this is a case of incompetence. Even Governments of the hon. Gentleman's party have sometimes received legal decisions that are inconvenient for them. We shall issue guidance to local authorities and other interested authorities shortly.
I appreciate that the study is being pursued urgently, but is my hon. Friend able to help the House a little further by giving some idea of when he and his colleagues will make a joint decision on the matter so that there may be some rationalisation of financing overseas students in our universities and colleges?
When will the Government give an answer about the attempt to rationalise matters after the Scarman judgment? Will it be this academic term, this academic year or when?
Does my hon. Friend agree that by hard work, including tailoring courses to suit overseas students, Lancaster university now has more Commonwealth students than it had in either 1980 or 1981? Is he aware that within that total there are fewer Malaysians? Will he make further attempts to attract Commonwealth students, whom we value so much?
As my hon. Friend knows, I have twice visited Lancaster university and had discussions with the vice-chancellor. I have been very impressed by the successful effort that the university has made to attract more overseas students. I well understand my hon. Friend's reference to Malaysia. Discussions are taking place with other Departments.