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Higher Education White Paper

Business, Innovation and Skills – in the House of Commons at 10:30 am on 13th January 2011.

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Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Conservative, Bexleyheath and Crayford 10:30 am, 13th January 2011

What progress he has made on preparations for the higher education White Paper; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson Conservative, North Swindon

What progress he has made on preparations for the higher education White Paper; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of Nicola Blackwood Nicola Blackwood Conservative, Oxford West and Abingdon

What progress he has made on preparations for the higher education White Paper; and if he will make a statement.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

We are consulting students, universities and other experts and will publish a White Paper in the early part of this year. It will set out how we will sustain our world-class universities, encourage them to deliver high-quality teaching and improve social mobility.

Photo of David Evennett David Evennett Conservative, Bexleyheath and Crayford

I thank my right hon. Friend. As he knows, a significant number of higher education courses are now being provided at further education colleges. Can he advise me whether the White Paper will build upon that?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

My hon. Friend was, of course, a lecturer in a further education college, and it is only right that he should remind us of the contribution that FE colleges can make. He is absolutely right, and we do hope to encourage higher education in further education institutions as part of our White Paper.

Photo of Justin Tomlinson Justin Tomlinson Conservative, North Swindon

In an ever more complex financial world, does the Minister agree that offering additional financial education will give universities a unique selling point in providing quality student support on post-study matters, and therefore should be considered as part of higher education pastoral support in the forthcoming White Paper?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about the importance of people having access to good financial advice. Of course, one thing that students can be advised is that in future, under the coalition's proposals, their monthly repayments on their student loans will be lower than under the current scheme.

Photo of Nicola Blackwood Nicola Blackwood Conservative, Oxford West and Abingdon

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has found that socio-economic disadvantage has already had an impact on academic outcomes by the age of 11, and that disadvantage explains a significant proportion of the gap in HE participation at 19 or 20. Does the Minister agree that simply expecting universities to bridge educational inequalities once they have become entrenched will not work? If so, how does he intend to work with relevant Departments, such as the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education, and with universities as they develop their access programmes, to try to break the link between socio-economic disadvantage in the early years and HE participation once and for all?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that that problem needs to be tackled at all stages of the educational process, in early years, at school and at university. I am pleased to inform the House today of a new initiative, an excellent collaboration between KPMG and the university of Durham, whereby school leavers will go straight into employment with KPMG while also studying at the university, with their fees paid by KPMG. That is an excellent example of the type of initiative that we want to see.

Photo of Adrian Bailey Adrian Bailey Chair, Business, Innovation and Skills Committee

What assessment has the Minister made of the disconnect between the cuts in higher education funding, particularly in the arts and humanities, and the delayed implementation of the education White Paper, which contains the new funding arrangements? Universities will have cuts before they get the new funding arrangements following that White Paper.

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

As I said earlier, it was clear in the grant letter that we sent to the Higher Education Funding Council for England that over the next few years, as the teaching grant income of universities falls, there will be increased income through the graduate contribution scheme. We believe that by the end of this Parliament, universities could well have a higher total income than they have at the moment.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

On graduate contributions, can it be right that we are asking students to pay more when some universities have clearly not sorted out their inefficiencies? For example, is it right for Oxford fellows to get a free lunch on the taxpayer?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

I think that we in the House have to be careful about free lunches. I do not know about the specific arrangements at Oxford, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman's wider point and appreciate his experience as a Minister in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. We are entitled to expect universities to make efficiency savings. There should be more contracting out; they should hold down their pensions costs-there is a lot that universities should do to hold down their costs. They should not simply pass them on to students in higher fees.

Photo of David Simpson David Simpson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills)

Further to the point on universities, how many children of servicemen and women killed on active duty are expected to be eligible for the new university scholarship scheme?

Photo of David Willetts David Willetts Minister of State (Universities and Science)

We obviously do not know, as the years progress, how many children in those tragic circumstances can benefit. I think some estimates suggest that the figure could be 100 a year at the peak of the scheme. Our commitment to the education of the children of servicemen who sadly lost their lives is an important sign of our commitment to maintaining the military covenant.