Clause 30 - General duties of relevant authority

Part of Higher Education Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 4th March 2004.

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Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Labour, Chatham and Aylesford 11:00 am, 4th March 2004

Amendment No. 268, which I tabled, concerns the extent of the Secretary of State's leverage or power in respect of OFFA. I want to make some comments on what else has been said. There will be no convincing Conservative Members that OFFA is anything other than a sinister form of manipulation. They are portraying the proposal as one for a Minister for admissions. We are not going to have that; that is the difference between Labour and Conservative Members.

The OFFA proposal presents a clear ideological difference. I understand why Conservative Members do not support it; it is a level of intervention that they think unnecessary. That is an entirely reasonable standpoint. However, we on the Labour Benches s believe that, as we are putting additional public money into our higher education institutions, it is reasonable for us to have a light-touch expectation that they will do their level best to widen participation—for all the reasons that we have agreed. Working-class kids from poor backgrounds should have the opportunity to go to university.

One can argue that the issue is attainment and about getting those two A-levels, but it is how you get the attainment—not you, Mr. Gale, I am sure that you have lots of attainment. How the young person arrives at that attainment relates not just to the school but to the wider community. As my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North said so eloquently, this is about universities being part of that wider family and spreading their influence. That will have an impact on schools, which will have an impact on individuals.

We have heard about lots of cases of best practice. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) said that perhaps we had heard too much about the elite universities and not enough about the former polytechnics. I referred to Greenwich university, which has a joint campus with Kent in the Medway towns in my constituency. Some excellent work has been done there: summer schools and a children's university, which has been inspiring. The vice-chancellor has taken part in graduation ceremonies for youngsters leaving the children's university, and all the parents have come to see that wonderful occasion.