Clause 30 - General duties of relevant authority

Part of Higher Education Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:30 am on 4th March 2004.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education) 9:30 am, 4th March 2004

The hon. Gentleman is correct, but the practical reality is that 90 per cent. of young people in this country who achieve two A-levels go to university. As a nation, under Governments of both persuasions—much of what has been done has been achieved under a Government of our persuasion—we have done a huge amount to widen participation. Are

we going to end up with an application process for universities that discriminates against people on the basis of social class?

Let me pray in aid somebody to whom some, but not all, Labour Members look up to and hold in estimation: the Prime Minister. Twelve months ago, during Prime Minister's questions, I asked the following question:

''There are increasing reports of pupils of high ability and achievement being turned down by universities because of their social background. How would the Prime Minister justify that to the people who are losing out?''

The response was:

''The simple point is that I would not. If universities are doing that, they are wrong. What is more, people should go to university based on their merit, whatever their class or background. That is what should happen . . . Well, the hon. Gentleman asked me a question and I have given him an answer.''—[Official Report, 26 February 2003; Vol. 400, c. 256-7.]

I completely agree with him.

I simply do not accept the point that the hon. Member for Bury, North makes about the difference between admissions and applications. If all the access regulator is about is saying to universities, ''Look, we want you to go out and make contact with lots of people, and talk to them about university,'' why did the Minister say what he did in the debate that took place about six weeks ago in Westminster Hall? It was a 30-minute debate and I came in to listen at the back. He said that the access regulator would have ''teeth''. It is clear that if the university sector does not deliver and manage to widen participation, the Government expect the regulator to step in and do something about it.