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Part of Higher Education and Research Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 13th October 2016.

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Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education) 3:45 pm, 13th October 2016

We have had a lengthy debate about issues that hon. Members and I have already debated on many occasions over the past year. I am sure they are familiar with many of the points I will make in response.

I will start with the overarching position, which is that Britain has some of the very best universities in the world and this Government are committed to putting them on a strong and sustainable financial footing to ensure that that continues. Our student funding regime achieves exactly the right balance between students, taxpayers and universities. Our decisions have allowed us to remove the cap on student numbers; we have increased up-front financial support to students and made above-inflation increases for some of the poorest; and I am proud to say that as a result of our decisions, more people, not fewer, are going to university, including record numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. As I have told the Committee before, the entry rate for the most disadvantaged 18-year-olds has risen under the current system to 18.5%, a record high. Disadvantaged young people in England are now a third more likely to enter university than they were when the coalition Government came into office. The system is progressive; it ensures that those who benefit the most from their education contribute more.

I was struck and a little disappointed that the shadow Secretary of State claimed that the Bill was silent on social mobility and widening participation. I do not think that that is the view of the Committee as a whole. I am surprised that she has not taken into account the various ways in which the Bill moves forward Government policy on widening participation. For her benefit, I will remind her of some of the key ways in which it does so. It makes equality of opportunity a core duty of the OFS. As we were discussing an hour or so ago, it places a transparency duty on providers, shining a spotlight on those that need to go further on social mobility. It introduces an alternative finance product so those who cannot access interest-bearing loans for religious reasons can access student finance. It mainstreams the director for access and participation’s role in the office for students, giving that important function the full suite of OFS levers and sanctions. It ensures that information collected by the admissions body can be used for research on social mobility. It enables new providers to enter the sector, providing greater diversity of provision for a wider range of students. Those are just some of the many ways in which the Bill takes us forward on social mobility, and I was disappointed that she did not acknowledge any of those.