Tuition Fees

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 1:39 pm on 18 February 1998.

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Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 1:39, 18 February 1998

What meetings he has had with student organisations in Wales to discuss tuition fees. [28403]

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

I met the National Union of Students in Wales to discuss the Government's proposals for the funding of higher education, which included the issue of tuition fees.

Photo of James Clappison James Clappison Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Does the Minister think that the prospect of paying tuition fees for a full five years—rather than for three or, at most, four years in the case of other courses—will make able Welsh sixth-form students more or less likely to choose veterinary science as a subject for study? Will the Minister meet representatives of Welsh veterinary students to discuss this question?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

I should be happy to meet representatives of Welsh students to discuss this or any other matter and, as I said, I have done so. The full five-year provision is made in respect of medical and dental students, but veterinary students are not covered. I have received no representations on the matter. If the hon. Gentleman— who is an English Member of Parliament—wishes to raise the issue, I suggest that he takes it up with an English Education Minister, not the Welsh one.

Photo of Mr Llew Smith Mr Llew Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent

Is the Minister concerned by recent figures which show that the introduction of tuition fees is deterring a number of adults from making applications to universities? Does he recognise that, for many adults, to be accepted by a university is a major achievement, but that to be unable to take up that opportunity because of tuition fees would be the ultimate tragedy?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

I would be concerned to find any adult or any other student in that predicament. If my hon. Friend has any examples, perhaps he could bring them to my attention. In Wales, more than one third of students are in families who will not be covered by any tuition fee. In addition, more than a further third are in families where the parents do not earn the requisite amount at which the full £1,000 will be levied. That means that only one quarter of students in Wales will pay the full £1,000 fee.

That message has to be got across to ensure that low-income students are not deterred from taking up a university place.

Photo of Mr Cynog Dafis Mr Cynog Dafis Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion

Is it not the case that the Government's proposals will do nothing to solve the problem of student poverty, to which the Minister began to refer? Even though students from low-income families are exempt from fees, they will lose the grant and will be that much worse off than they would be under the present arrangements. In any case, the total loan available to them will be well below what is necessary to survive for a year. How does this square with the Government's rhetoric about opening up opportunities for students from low-income families? By the way, what has happened to the White Paper on lifelong learning?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

The paper will be coming in the spring. The hon. Gentleman's specific point is legitimate, but no student from a low-income family should be deterred from taking up a university opportunity. The loan will be repayable only if the individual gains a job and earns more than £10,000 a year—and then over a long period when that individual is in work—so each individual from a low-income family will be better off than they are now. Under the present arrangements, students must take out loans which they must start to repay immediately they leave university. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will explain to his constituents that for low-income students, the proposed financial arrangements should be seen as an opportunity, rather than a handicap.

Photo of Michael Ancram Michael Ancram Shadow Secretary of State, Shadow Secretary of State

Would the Minister be prepared to issue a leaflet to Welsh students, explaining how the Prime Minister's assurance last April that he had no plans to introduce tuition fees can grammatically and logically be translated into, "We are not only going to introduce tuition fees but, for good measure, we will abolish the maintenance grant as well"? While he is doing that, could he explain why a student at a Scottish university who comes from Newport in Wales will have to pay £1,000 more in tuition fees than a student from Newport in the Republic of Ireland? Is that what the Prime Minister and the Government meant when they asked students to trust them?

Photo of Peter Hain Peter Hain Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Welsh Office)

May I say in the nicest possible way to the right hon. Gentleman that it comes ill from a Conservative party—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] He asked a series of questions, as it happens. The questions come ill from a member of the Conservative party which set up the Dearing committee to examine the crisis in higher education that the Conservative Government had created. The Dearing committee recommended that tuition fees should be introduced. We assessed that recommendation, and proposed a system that is both fair and logical. If we had not done so, we would have been saddled with a series of universities nearing bankruptcy, which is the fate that awaited them had the Conservatives retained power on 1 May.