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Higher Education and Research Bill - Committee (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 25th January 2017.

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Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for Education) (Higher Education) 7:00 pm, 25th January 2017

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for bringing forward this amendment. I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is not in his place. I think the House is aware, as certainly I am, that he has worked assiduously in support of the Syrians. This is an important issue, and I realise that it is also a sensitive one, but it is already addressed within the student support regulations. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, talked about the importance of the UK being a warm welcoming country. I absolutely agree and I will make some very strong points on that matter in a subsequent debate, which I hope will take place today.

I am pleased to say that those who come to this country and obtain international protection are already able to access student support. Our regulations have for some time included provision for those granted refugee status or humanitarian protection and their family members. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham said, people who enter the UK under the Syrian vulnerable persons resettlement scheme are granted humanitarian protection. Like UK nationals, they are therefore eligible to obtain student support and home fee status after only three years’ residence in the UK. Persons on the programme are not precluded from applying for refugee status if they consider they meet the criteria. As Home Office officials said at the Public Accounts Committee on 7 November 2016, the department is aware of the issue and keeps it under active review. I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, understands that. I reassure the House that I have also had discussions with Home Office officials on this important matter, so there is joined-up thinking—if I may put it that way—between the DfE and the Home Office.

Those with refugee status are uniquely allowed to access student support immediately, a privilege not afforded to UK nationals or those granted other forms of leave. Recently, the Supreme Court upheld the Government’s policy of requiring most persons, including UK citizens, to be ordinarily lawfully resident in the UK for at least three years immediately prior to starting their course in order to be eligible for student support. It also upheld the Government’s case that it was legitimate to target the substantial taxpayer subsidy of student loans on those who are likely to remain in England—or at least the UK—indefinitely, so that the general public benefits of their tertiary education will ensue to the country’s advantage. The second part of the amendment would break that long-established policy by extending support to failed asylum seekers who, it has been decided, do not need our protection but have been granted temporary leave to remain in the UK. In other words, these are persons who have only recently established a connection to the UK, which may well prove temporary. This amendment would therefore allow people who may subsequently be required to leave the country to access taxpayer funding for their study.

I realise that this is a sensitive issue but I hope that with these explanations the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.