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Power to make alternative payments

Part of Higher Education and Research Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 13th October 2016.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 3:15 pm, 13th October 2016

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The Minister could give serious consideration to such a proposal; I very much hope that he will.

As the Open University illustrates, all the evidence shows that shifting towards the requirement for loans to be given for a whole-course commitment was one that tipped too many people over the edge. The change in the arrangements that my hon. Friend has just outlined tipped too many people over the edge and contributed enormously to the dramatic decline in part-time student numbers. This issue is about widening participation. It is about the discussions we had earlier on credit accumulation and transfer. It is about giving people different entry routes into higher education. As the Minister keeps making the point validly, it is about having a more creative, more innovative, more wide-ranging view of our higher education system, but that requires exactly the sort of flexibility that my hon. Friend talks about, which the Open University was driven away from. I do hope the Minister will give serious consideration to the proposal in new clause 11 for module by module loans.

I will speak briefly to new clauses 13 and 14. I have the privilege of representing more students than any other Member of Parliament—I regularly make that point; I can see the weary faces—and it is a great privilege. I was hit with a wall of outrage when the Government introduced the retrospective changes. They were met with outrage and incredulity from many of the 36,000 students that I represent. Rachel Mercer wrote to me:

“I have been at University since 2014 and think it is completely outrageous—if true—” because she did not believe the Government could do something like this—

“that my loan may be rewritten....I have not seen anything which confirms these rumours...but the students I am friends with are all very worried and very angry!”

Emily Reed wrote:

“During my time”—