While I appreciate the underlying economic rationale for capping numbers and stopping EU students accessing student loan fees, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Benjamin, it is regrettable and will have a profound effect on our higher education and specialist providers. I fear that higher education will become the reserve of the elite, including international students who can afford high fees for elite institutions. Therefore, the proposals of student number control may detrimentally impact widening participation, as has been said by noble Lords, and may further damage our reputation.
Given that students received information only during lockdown, they and education institutions were unprepared for the last-minute surge in demand, which could not have been predicted. It took some universities over the threshold and made some students fearful they would face substantially larger fees with loan guarantees, should they wish to study in the UK. In the light of Covid-19 restrictions, and our own students not being expected to return to universities until next year, will the Government afford some flexibilities, allowing universities, including higher education specialist providers, to revise their numbers to accommodate the application surge, and allowing students to be accepted for January 2021, and not September 2020, so that they feel safer to return to the UK?
I hope that the Minister will accept that these measures might increase class divisions and reduce social mobility in our higher education institutions. I hope, too, that he will heed the wisdom of many noble Lords who have spoken and who are as concerned as I am about further exacerbating social and racial inequalities. I wholeheartedly echo the question from the noble Lord, Holmes, about the excessive interest charged on loans to home students.