Higher Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:10 pm on 14th September 2004.

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Photo of Alan Whitehead Alan Whitehead Labour, Southampton, Test 3:10 pm, 14th September 2004

Neither have I. As I granted Mr. Rendel, it is accepted that a substantial number of students, particularly part-time students, study at home. I have looked at the figures for students studying locally in my own city, at Southampton institute and Southampton university. There is an increasing trend, but it is by no means normal for students to study at home. It is by no means the case that most students study at home. As my hon. Friend says, to make that claim in order to bolster a policy that would greatly enhance that number is a bridge too far.

The hon. Member for Newbury may not have stated that students would normally attend a college or university near to where they lived or worked, but his leader, Mr. Kennedy, stated that in a speech to Liberal Future on 5 June 2003. The idea seems to be a fundamental part of the assumptions behind Liberal Democrat policy.

Whether or not one agrees with everything in the package proposed by the Labour Government, the policy is clear for students and universities. It is clear about access and the long-term future of universities, students and access. My concern this afternoon is to contrast that with two policies that, in varying ways, mortgage the future for the present. We need look no further than the extraordinary quote in the motion—I have not seen many such quotes in motions—which states that the

"Times Higher Education Supplement/Opinion Panel Research opinion poll of students . . . finds that 47 per cent. support the Liberal Democrats, 20 per cent. support Labour and 23 per cent. are backing the Conservatives".

That would largely explain the wildly over-extensive and substantially uncosted prospectus that the Liberal Democrats are presenting to students. Those who do not look at the detail may be taken in by it. It may be a clear election ploy to try and enhance the support of those people, but because the debate is all about details, it is essential to stick with the details. Those who look at them will realise that we should not mortgage the future of higher education for quick fixes. We should make sure that higher education is funded not just for current students who are voting in polls organised by The Times Higher Education Supplement, but for students in the next 30, 40 or 50 years who may benefit from their university and benefit the country, and for universities of which we can be proud.