Tuition Fees

Part of Opposition Day — [7th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 9:01 pm on 30th November 2010.

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Photo of Iain Stewart Iain Stewart Conservative, Milton Keynes South 9:01 pm, 30th November 2010

I am not going to take any lectures from the Opposition about cutting money to universities when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's predecessor, the noble Lord Mandelson, cut some £900 million from the university budget just before the election.

What we are focusing on is what will be relevant for our higher and further education sectors. We must develop higher education options that respond to the fast-changing global economic environment. Long gone are the days when people got one degree that set them up in a job for life. People will have to retrain and reskill many times through their working lives. People will have more portfolio careers and will need more flexible training options to engage with our fast-emerging economic competitors. Improved support for part-time students is critical to encouraging people to study at lower intensities, combining work and studies in different proportions. I welcome the move to put in place a single, integrated system of finance and support.

I would like to raise one or two points of detail that my friends at the Open university have raised with me. The first, and most significant, is the definition of the intensity of a part-time course. The Government have announced that they will reduce the current level to the equivalent of one third of a full-time course, and that is a huge step forward. I must point out, however, that the Open university has more than 100 courses-they involve 25,000 students, mainly in science, technology, engineering and maths-that have an intensity level below one third. The Open university would like the intensity level to be set at about a quarter. I appreciate that that might be difficult to attain in a single step, but I hope that the Minister will at least consider averaging out the intensity level for the duration of a course, because students often want to start off at a lower intensity level until they become more comfortable with the subject, after which they can increase the proportion as the course progresses. I hope that that is a constructive comment that the Minister can take on board.