Student Finance

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Skills – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 12th October 2006.

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Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Minister (Education) 10:30 am, 12th October 2006

What assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the "Aim Higher" programme in informing potential students of the financial support available to them.

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education), Department for Education and Skills

The new student finance package is better and fairer, giving more help to those who need it most. Assessment of our "Aim Higher" student finance information campaign has shown that awareness of tuition fee loans among potential students has increased significantly, and the assessment of other "Aim Higher" promotional activities, such as road shows, has been positive. We will continue our efforts to ensure that all students get the facts about what they are entitled to.

Photo of Stephen Williams Stephen Williams Shadow Minister (Education)

Under freedom of information rules, I have a copy of the media analysis of the "Aim Higher" campaign, which the Minister has referred to. Although he will take some comfort from the finding that his remarks were "consistently on message", he should be less comforted by the fact that the penetration of the message was highest among social class A and lowest among social classes D and E, which is the opposite of what the campaign was meant to achieve. Will he ensure that this year's campaign is directed at schools and colleges where participation in higher education is at its lowest?

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education), Department for Education and Skills

On the key indicator of awareness of the tuition fee loan, which is effectively the end of the up-front contribution to the tuition fee, awareness has risen from 75 per cent. to 84 per cent., which is significant. I will throw back the challenge: will the hon. Gentleman join us in explaining the benefits of the new system? I get tired of hearing that the Liberal Democrats oppose tuition fees, given that they support them in Scotland. There has recently been a very interesting publication by a Liberal Democrat think-tank—

Photo of David Kidney David Kidney PPS (Rt Hon David Miliband, Secretary of State), Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

There is a particularly low rate of going to university among children in care and care leavers. Will my hon. Friend assure the House that help will be given to local authorities in discharging their responsibilities towards children in care and care leavers in the form of "Aim Higher" advisers?

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education), Department for Education and Skills

We are examining that issue closely, because we need to ensure that all the information gets across to children in care. In the Green Paper, we announced our intention to give an additional bursary to students who come from care and who go on to higher education, which is a significant step forward.

Photo of Judy Mallaber Judy Mallaber Labour, Amber Valley

Does my hon. Friend agree that "Aim Higher" has a complex task in encouraging potential students? Will he applaud an initiative in Derbyshire, where potential underachievers at GCSE maths were taken to Derby university for additional training to get their grades up? Those children were also introduced to maths students at the university and some high-flying groups were shown videos about the jobs that might be available if they were to enter maths education. Will he encourage initiatives to get underachieving and well-achieving children into university, where they can get used to learning in that environment?

Photo of Bill Rammell Bill Rammell Minister of State (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education), Department for Education and Skills

I agree with my hon. Friend that we need more such initiatives. One of my frustrations is that too many young people who have the potential and aptitude to benefit from higher education still do not perceive it as an option for them. The "Aim Higher" programme targets young people and plants the seed of an interest in higher education, which is the direction that we should move in.