My Lords, I thank my noble friend for introducing these regulations in the manner that he did, and I draw noble Lords’ attention to my interests as set out in the register.
The United Kingdom has such phenomenal soft power. Undoubtedly, our higher education system is the brightest star in that soft power constellation. For obvious reasons, international student numbers will be decimated as a result of Covid-19, but they will come back at some stage. That is a great thing in terms of those who come over here and have a higher education experience in the UK. They stay, work, study further and contribute to this country, or go back to their own countries and are superb ambassadors for the United Kingdom.
These regulations make sense in the short term, but I want to ask my noble friend the Minister a number of questions. First, what consideration was given to the devolved nature of higher education and the impact that these regulations would have in that regard? Secondly, does the Minister agree that more could be done to better position apprenticeships in both a parallel and series way with higher education—so potentially, for some routes, apprenticeship and then into university, not just seeing an apprenticeship or a degree apprenticeship as a better route through? Thirdly, what impact does he believe these regulations will have on social mobility?
Finally, if he will indulge me, I have a question that goes slightly beyond the regulations. With the base rate currently at 10 basis points, what is the current interest rate being paid on student loans? Does the Minister believe that that rate is in any sense equitable, and what impact does he believe it will have on social mobility, widening participation and widening access to our fine higher education establishments in the United Kingdom?