The public expenditure plans announced by my right hon. Friend last November assumed that the proportion of young people entering higher education—which is now well over one in four—would remain broadly constant over the next three years. The plans also provided for the number of students in further education to increase by 25 per cent. over the next three years.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that response. Will he confirm that he intends to ensure that any reduction in tuition fees that a particular institution may suffer will be matched by an increase in the block grant and will he assure the House that he does not intend the process of consolidation in pupil numbers to put undue strain on institutions such as the university of Essex, in my constituency, which have hitherto planned for growth?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He will appreciate that we operate through the funding councils in the several countries of the United Kingdom, but I can confirm that, in making their funding dispositions, those bodies have had regard to the need for stability of the individual institutions. I also confirm that reductions in tuition fees for band 1 students have been exactly matched by an increase in the overall block grant. What is happening represents no more than a reorganisation of the system of payment to deal with the problems where students are taken on at the margin.
But does the Secretary of State accept that unless there is a change of Government—for which the country hopes and yearns—by the end of the decade, students at that time will be able to look forward to pursuing their courses in poverty in order to train for a life of poverty and unemployment under a Tory Administration, as present students do?
All that I can say to the hon. Gentleman, who goes back quite a long way, is that he might examine the record of the Labour Government, which he will remember. The fact is that the real amount of money available to the individual student—the total resources —is exactly comparable with what was available when the Government came to power in 1979. Since then, student numbers have risen from one in eight of the population to between one in three and one in four. The hon. Gentleman may want to be an elitist, but I do not. We are offering higher education to a greater proportion of our young people than have ever taken part in it; that will be of great value to the nation and will stand young people in good stead in their future careers.