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

I am afraid that I do not accept that. Let me give the Minister a practical example of what he could have done. I promise that I shall not digress far, Mr. Gale.

We debated financing and top-up fees. The Government will spend more on the new student

support systems than will be raised from fees. If they had taken a small amount of the extra money that will be used to subsidise the student loan system to enable students to pay their fees, set up 20,000 or 30,000 bursaries at £3,000 or £4,000 a year for people from non-traditional backgrounds, and left everything else as it was, they would have had a much greater impact on participation than they will through anything that is in the Bill.

The Government believe that such problems are resolved by passing laws. My argument is straightforward: they are not. There is also a risk of creating injustices. One point on which I agree entirely with the Prime Minister is that there are losers as well as winners if covert or overt pressure is placed on universities to change the way in which they admit students.

The amendment is specifically designed to address the issue of academic ability defining people who go to university and to ensure that we do not create entry points for social reasons alone. We would insert the words

''ensure full access to higher education based upon academic ability and potential''.

We included the word ''potential'' as many universities look beyond immediate exam results for potential in the student.

We do not want a situation in which the regulator, in effect, imposes a plan by saying to a university, ''Produce a plan. Show me your targets.'' We do not know what would happen four, five or seven later if the university's proportion of students from non-traditional backgrounds had not changed a jot. What would happen to the university if plans were drawn up for an outreach programme but nothing much changed? The Minister said that the access regulator will have teeth. Would it be encouraged by the Government to step in again and ask for a tougher plan and more funds to be set aside for bursaries? It is not clear what would happen, which is a worry for Opposition Members and, I have no doubt, for universities because if the regulator truly will have teeth, the powers that are implicit in what the Government ask it to do must go beyond the formulation of an initial plan.