Clause 30 - General duties of relevant authority

Part of Higher Education Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:15 am on 4th March 2004.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Graham Allen Graham Allen Labour, Nottingham North 10:15 am, 4th March 2004

The hon. Gentleman is right to pick me up on my drafting. As he will know, when one is attempting to secure a debate in Committee, getting the amendment in is probably more important than getting the wording absolutely right. Even the Clerks cannot make a silk purse out of my sow's ear on OFFA.

Nevertheless, raising the issue of the broader discrimination that does take place, we are obviously now signatories to the European convention on human rights, and all the other things that flow from that. The aim is to draw in that wider sense of equity that we would all like to see in our society.

Amendment No. 221 states:

''Without prejudice to the performance of his duties under this section, the Director may take any action which he considers likely to promote fairer access to higher education.''

In a way, that gives the ability of initiation—by appointing someone, hopefully of extremely high calibre, who can address the problems, and not merely say ''if ever I get an access agreement I will

make a few points.'' We need someone of great ability, who can address the questions that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell put on our agenda earlier.

There is a problem with the numbers available. If we pass the Bill, it will make virtually no short-term difference to my constituents' prospects. There may be a number who have been put off by not having a grant, and I hope that their teachers will encourage them to go to university rather than go to work. But I do not anticipate that that will make a massive difference in the short term.

I have not always agreed with the directors of Ofsted. However, if we employ people of that calibre—who are capable of getting their teeth into those issues and coming up with answers and proposals in order to push Governments of any complexion—in the long term, we will have done a great service to those people who wish to go to university, but often feel that it is not for them.

Amendment No. 221 is the most important of those amendments. For the first time, it imposes a duty on the institution that would allow it to see where the problems are and tackle them.

As I said in my intervention on the hon. Gentleman, we should look not merely for ways into sixth forms and 14 to 16-year-old education, but further back down the food chain and make serious proposals about how that would work. We should make serious plans and proposals for outreach, using best practice. Committee members have been inundated with good practice from universities. We need that pull together to ensure that people use those best practices at the earliest opportunity.

We also need to look at specific disadvantaged groups. I am not referring solely to their socio-economic class. Sometimes their racial or gender specification are important. In my constituency, it is my experience that ethnic minorities and asylum seekers often act as role models for established non-traditional and traditional groups. Universities need to become partners with the local education authorities and become intimately involved with them, rather than viewing them as bodies that merely come in, look at the best talent and help those people get to university.

The Minister knows that the universities of Nottingham and Trent—both of which are close to my constituency—have attempted to build on six school sites that have to kick children out on to the streets at 16, and help them provide vocational training for 14 to 16-year-olds. I referred to those sites earlier. The provision needs to be extended to 14 to 18 or 19-year-olds, in order to keep those kids on site at 16. Those young people could then continue to study information technology, health and beauty, service industry skills, catering, motor engineering and so on. There should be a small offering on each of those constituencies.

To their credit, FE colleges in Nottinghamshire have agreed to brand a 14 to 18 centre on those school sites. The universities have also seen the problem that lies within 1 mile of the ivy-covered walls of Nottingham university's nice campus and Trent university's dynamic city centre campus. Many

Committee members have visited the former site. The universities have agreed to brand a centre on those school sites, even though it may appear to be of no relevance to them. That is not a talent-driven initiative, but is intended to help the community build vocational training that may not immediately appear to be of benefit to the universities.