Post-18 Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:43 pm on 20th February 2018.

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Photo of Damian Hinds Damian Hinds The Secretary of State for Education 5:43 pm, 20th February 2018

I thank the hon. Lady very much indeed for her response. She asked a number of questions and I will try to get through as many of them as I can. She is right to identify the issues of part-time participation in higher education. One of the things the review will look at is the ways in which it is possible to carry on earning in the labour force while studying. The decline in part-time study predates the 2012 reforms and indeed the change of Government in 2010, so we need to look at some of the underlying causes.

The hon. Lady asked what the review will cover. The review will cover the complete range, but the Government also believe in a framework of fiscal responsibility, and rightly so. It is only when we have a strong economy that we can have a strong education system and that we can carry on investing in our public services in the way that we are doing.

The hon. Lady asked whether it is an independent review. It is a Government review and the Government are ultimately responsible to this House and democratically. We make the decisions, but those decisions are informed and advised by an independent panel, the composition of which she knows. The legislative requirements that would follow from any changes would follow the normal processes. The same goes for the statutory instrument she asked about.

I do not want to take up too much time, but I want to set one important thing straight. When we talk about having different fees for different courses, it is about ensuring diversity and choice in the marketplace. That exists along many different axes, including shorter courses, more part-time courses and courses delivered in different ways. It is absolutely not the same as saying that there is some distinction of worth to be drawn between arts courses and science courses. With how the world economy is changing, it is also true that we are going to need more STEM graduates and more people with expertise in coding and so on, but that is a different point.

I will finish by observing that there is no such thing as “free” in higher education. Somebody must pay, and there are only two types of people who can fund higher education: those who have benefited from it and will typically earn much more over their lifetimes, and those who have not. There is a public subsidy that goes towards higher education that rightly reflects the societal benefit, but it is also right that the people who benefit contribute to the cost. The Labour alternative is to have the tab picked up entirely by other taxpayers, many of whom will not have benefited from the advantages. That is regressive policy that would mean less money going to universities and fewer people going to university. It would be a policy for the few, not the many.