Education: Treating Students Fairly (Economic Affairs Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:38 pm on 16th January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 5:38 pm, 16th January 2019

My Lords, as those winding up, the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and I may be entitled to speak for up to 10 minutes but I shall attempt not to trespass for too long on your Lordships’ time. I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and his committee for producing such a thought-provoking and authoritative report. Reading it, I felt nostalgic for the ill-fated Liberal Democrat policy of no fees in the 2010 election—perhaps I should not remind noble Lords—which we had fully costed. I mused on how this report would have read if we had followed that policy. I cannot help feeling that it would not have been any more depressing than the picture before us here. We would have saved a deal of money on the Student Loans Company, administration and tracking down non-payers, and of course we would have avoided the £1.2 trillion of debt that will face Governments in years to come. I am glad that my noble friends Lord Sharkey and Lady Bowles talked about fees and funding, so I will not go further on that. And we are where we are; it is no use hankering for what might have been.

The timing of the Government’s response has meant that it has kicked into touch many of the questions pending on the Augar review. I am sure we will all be watching with even more interest the findings of that review, which is due to report in early 2019. Perhaps the Minister can give us a timescale for the report. Universities UK considers the review to be an important opportunity to ensure that all post-18 routes are properly supported and accessible, particularly to those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and that our post-18 system is effective at meeting current and future skills needs.

We see from the report that skill shortages, as the noble Lord, Lord Baker, has set out, are particularly acute in the gas, electricity and water industries, construction and manufacturing. To that I think we could add hospitality, agriculture and indeed STEM teaching posts; we are woefully short of STEM teachers. Access to any higher or further education should be fair, accessible and progressive, should support national and local productivity and economic growth by providing a sufficient supply of higher-level skills, should be stable and sustainable, with the cost shared between taxpayers and graduates—I will come back to that later—should be funded to cover both living and tuition costs, and should be easy to understand and transparent. Those are all eminently sensible conditions.

The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, spoke about funding inconsistencies. We also heard about funding from the noble Baronesses, Lady Deech and Lady Harding. Like my noble friend Lady Smith, I paid no fees for my Oxford degree, although curiously we did have to pay if we wanted a certificate so I still do not have one of those.