Opposition Day — [16th Allotted Day] — Student Maintenance Grants

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:23 pm on 19th January 2016.

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Photo of Seema Kennedy Seema Kennedy Conservative, South Ribble 3:23 pm, 19th January 2016

There can be absolutely no doubt about the Government’s commitment to building a highly educated, highly skilled society. That is part of our challenge—the challenge of the 21st century—to improve productivity. It was set out in the report, “Fixing the foundations”, by my right hon. Friends the Chancellor and the Business Secretary, and it is essential to our competitiveness in the world.

I remember the discussions 20 years ago, when I was an undergraduate, about how, with the introduction of tuition fees, admissions from all sections of society would tumble. That did not happen, and the change we are discussing will not happen either, as is borne out by the figures. Record numbers of students were admitted to university last year, and record numbers of disadvantaged students secured places last year: up from 13.6% in 2010 to a record high of 18.5% in 2015. The arguments made by Labour Members are simply not borne out by the statistics.

My hon. Friend Rebecca Harris set this out, but I repeat that the system needs changing. The needs of people from my constituency who leave the excellent Runshaw College—I invite the Minister to visit it—with A-levels and who start to pay tax straightaway need to be balanced with the needs of those who go to university. We must face the fact that university graduates benefit from such an investment—to the tune of £170,000 for men over a lifetime and of £250,000 for women over a lifetime.

We should consider very carefully the fact that we need more and more people to have a tertiary education. We must absolutely face the fact that as many people leave university in China with doctorates as leave university in the UK with degrees. It is therefore absolutely essential to increase the number of people going to university. We should bear in mind the words of the Robbins report, which stated that university education

“should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment”.

If the next motion is passed, I fear that there will be a cap on university numbers, which is not what we want. By limiting student numbers, it would be a cap on aspiration, and it would be bad for social mobility and bad for our economy. I ask Labour Members what they are offering—are they offering cuts or taxes elsewhere, or are they offering caps? I listened very carefully to them, but once again, answers came there none.