Access to support for students recognised as needed protection

Higher Education and Research Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 18th October 2016.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must, within six months of the day on which this Act is passed, set out in regulations to apply across the UK the availability of financial support for higher education courses to students with certain immigration statuses.

(2) The regulations specified in subsection (1) must at a minimum

(a) make provision for all those who have been brought to the UK under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme or any equivalent scheme and their family members to access student loans on the same basis as refugees recognised in-country; and,

(b) make provision for those who have claimed asylum and been granted a form of leave to remain in the UK to be eligible—

(i) for home fees for a higher education course if they have been ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom and Islands since being granted leave; and,

(ii) for student loans for a higher education course, if they have been ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom and Islands since being granted leave and are ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom and Islands on the first day of the first academic term of that course.

(3) In this section “home fees” means fees for a higher education course charged to persons not considered as “qualifying persons” under regulations made under the Higher Education Act 2004.

(4) In this section “student loans” means loans made to students in connection with their undertaking of a higher education course under the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998.”—

This new Clause would allow all refugees resettled to the UK, as well as people seeking asylum granted forms of leave other than refugee status, to access student finance and home fees.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This may be the last topic we debate as part of our proceedings, but it is by no means the least. If carried, the new clause would not affect many people, but it would have a profound impact on those who were affected. It would allow all refugees resettled to the UK, as well as those young people who, having made an application for asylum, are granted a form of leave other than refugee status, to access student finance and home fees. That would be of particular benefit to the Syrian refugees who are being resettled in this country under the Government’s own plans. Only small numbers are affected, but those of us who represent universities will have dealt with cases in which people have tragically been denied opportunities to fulfil their potential in our university system. The provision would have a huge impact on individuals.

Let me explain the context. Currently, individuals with refugee status are able to access student finance and to qualify for home fees status from the moment they are awarded their protection. However, those with the slightly different status of humanitarian protection are treated differently. To receive financial support they have to be able to show that they have been ordinarily resident for at least three years at the start of the academic year. The group most affected are the Syrian refugees currently being resettled in the UK under the vulnerable person resettlement programme, because they are granted humanitarian protection rather than refugee status.

The result of the current position is that a young Syrian refugee arriving in the UK today does not qualify for student finance until the start of the 2020 academic year. The only exception is if they are resettled in Scotland, where the Scottish Government have introduced a special fees status for resettled Syrians, which allows them immediately to access student support. I commend them for that. Subsection (2)(a) of the new clause would ensure that all resettled refugees, no matter what status they are given or which nation of the UK they live in, would be able to access student support immediately. Subsection (2)(b) would make student finance available for those granted humanitarian protection after making an application for asylum.

As set out in the immigration rules, humanitarian protection is granted to people who would face a real risk of suffering harm if they were to return to their home country, including the risks of death, torture and inhumane treatment, or their life being at risk due to armed conflict. The future of those granted humanitarian protection after applying for asylum is clearly in the UK—this is where they will build their lives—so they should be allowed to access university education, not simply so that they can build their lives here but so that they can contribute fully to the society of which they will be part.

Subsection (2)(b) would also provide access to student finance and home fees status to people who have applied for asylum and then been granted another form of immigration leave. In such cases, the Government have accepted that the immediate future of those individuals is in the UK. They should be given every opportunity to contribute and to develop, yet they currently face significant hurdles in doing so because in 2012 the Government changed the rules so that potential university students in that situation could no longer get the student finance they had previously been able to access. They were also reclassified as international students, meaning that they would face—and have faced—much higher fees.

The Supreme Court found the rules discriminatory and as a result a new criterion of long residence was introduced. However, young people who have gone through the asylum process, including those who arrived as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, are unlikely to meet the long residence criterion and will have to watch while their school peers go off to university, leaving them behind with no opportunities. New clause 12 is not about creating special circumstances for refugees and other young people who have arrived in the UK seeking asylum. It would simply remove existing barriers that prevent young people who come to the UK seeking protection and who are capable of attending university from fulfilling their potential. It is a wrong we should right.

Photo of Roger Mullin Roger Mullin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 4:45 pm, 18th October 2016

I would like to say a few words in praise of the new clause. I have moved 10 amendments today. Many dozens of amendments have been tabled, but I think this is the most important one we face, because this is the one that speaks to who we are as a community and as a people. I would like to praise and thank the hon. Gentleman for his recognition of the work the Scottish Government have done in this field. I hope that any civilised society would see the need to support this measure.

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)

I also thank the hon. Member for Sheffield Central for tabling this new clause, which relates to access to support for students recognised as needing protection. I agree with the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath and recognise his commitment to this issue. It is one that is already addressed, however, within the student support regulations.

I am pleased to say that those who come to this country and obtain international protection are already able to access student support. Our regulations have for some time included provision for those granted refugee status or humanitarian protection and their family members. In addition, we have recently amended the regulations to allow those who have been in the UK as a matter of fact for at least half their lives or at least 20 years to access student support after three years of lawful residence.

Those persons entering the UK under the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme and granted humanitarian protection will be eligible, like UK nationals, to obtain student support and home fees status after only three years’ residence in the UK. Those with refugee status are uniquely allowed to access student support immediately—a privilege not afforded to UK nationals or those granted other forms of leave. There is a distinction in international law between such status and those in need of humanitarian protection.

Recently the Supreme Court upheld the Government’s policy of requiring most persons, including UK citizens, to be ordinarily lawfully resident in the UK for at least three years immediately prior to starting their course in order to be eligible for student support. That important rule establishes that generally the student has a solid connection with the UK before they are entitled to support and home fee rates. The second part of the amendment would, in effect, break that long-established policy by extending support to asylum seekers who have been granted temporary leave to remain only and who have only a recently established and potentially temporary connection to the UK. I therefore ask that the hon. Member for Sheffield Central withdraw the motion.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I am disappointed by the Government’s response. The Minister accurately described the position, which is that those who are granted refugee status gain eligibility from day one and those granted humanitarian protection have to wait three years. Until recently, the UK gave very few people humanitarian protection. The default option was refugee status. However, when the Government introduced the Syrian resettlement programme, they decided to give people five years’ humanitarian protection instead of refugee status, with the rights that that would previously have given them. The Government have never explained why. Humanitarian protection is usually given to those who do not quite meet the strict criteria of the refugee convention, but for whom it is not safe to return home. It cannot be the case that that applies to people brought here under the Government’s own programme for Syrian refugees.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Labour, Ilford North

Does my hon. Friend agree that the three-year rule not only holds up the educational progress of people who have often fled some of the most unimaginable situations but is no good for the UK? While their lives are on hold and they are unable to progress through education, they are not able to give something back, so this approach is self-defeating for the UK as well as for the individuals concerned.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

I very much agree: it is completely self-defeating. These are people who are going to make their lives here. The sooner they can start that process, the better. If it had not been for the Government’s move away from granting them refugee status, which in the past would have been the default norm, we would not be facing this problem.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

My hon. Friend makes a really important point. Some of these young people have had their education disrupted, tragically, by the whole conflict situation, and the sooner they can get back into full-time education, the better—not only for them, but for us as a country.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are not talking about very many people at all. It is a tiny number, but the opportunity to rebuild their lives after the tragedies they have lived through is extremely important to them.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

I place on record the Opposition’s support for my hon. Friend’s proposal and for the measured and dignified way in which he introduced it. I have no doubt that he could have cited a number of other harrowing stories. Does he share my distress at the Minister simply repeating what he said about leaving people in limbo, potentially for three years? Have the Minister and his officials nothing else to suggest to assist these young people to continue their education?

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

My hon. Friend is right. This limbo situation serves nobody. I would be happy to withdraw the new clause if the Minister could show us a different way forward that would address our concerns, but I am disappointed to hear the Government say simply that that limbo—that three-year delay, that position imposed on people simply because they have been given a technical classification of humanitarian protection rather than refugee status—is acceptable. I do not know whether the Minister wishes to intervene to suggest any movement on the issue.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

The Minister is shaking his head. I therefore wish to press new clause 12 to a vote.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 8, Noes 11.

Division number 17 Christmas Tree Industry — Access to support for students recognised as needed protection

Aye: 8 MPs

No: 11 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

That brings us to the end of the Committee’s consideration. My final duty is to report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

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)

On a point of order, Mr Hanson. My Department has today provided the Committee with an assessment of the implications of amendments made during Committee for the territorial extent and application of the Bill and for how it relates to the legislative competence of the devolved Administrations.

I also want to say that I am very pleased that the Bill has been scrutinised so thoroughly and in such a collegiate and generally good-humoured fashion. We sat a little late on Tuesday 11 October but adjourned early on Thursday 13 October and we have now completed the proceedings with four or five minutes to spare.

I thank Committee members personally for giving so much of their time and energy to the scrutiny of the Bill and for the constructive way in which they have engaged in debate. We have been listening carefully to all the points made during the Bill’s passage through Committee and are grateful for all the observations, comments and proposed amendments, even if we were not able to accept all of them—

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)

Or indeed any.

We have had a robust and well informed consideration of every part of the Bill, and the Committee has been admirably steered by you, Mr Hanson, and by the other Chairs, particularly Sir Edward Leigh. I pay tribute to the usual channels for the way in which they have co-ordinated our work and ensured that there was proper time for us to scrutinise all the Bill’s provisions fully and carefully.

Lastly, I thank and recognise the hard work of Hansard in recording our deliberations; the Clerks for their advice throughout the Committee stage; and my very hard-working and brilliant officials in the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Last, but by no means least, I thank the Doorkeepers for helping to keep us all in good order.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

Further to that point of order, Mr Hanson. I associate myself and my hon. Friends with, if not all the Minister’s comments, certainly those in respect of you and your fellow Chairs. We had an appearance from Mr Christopher Chope as well as seeing Sir Edward, of course.

I pay tribute to the Public Bill Office. Members will know—or might want to take note, because one of these days they might be on the Opposition Benches—that, for the Opposition and Government, the progress of Bill Committees is often like David versus Goliath in terms of the resources available. The Public Bill Office have been scrupulously fair and helpful in that respect, so I pay tribute to its staff.

I also pay tribute to the fantastic contribution of all my hon. Friends among the Opposition and, indeed, to the contribution of the Scottish National party Members, which has been important. We have endeavoured to scrutinise you—not you, Mr Hanson, but the Government, within an inch of their nine lives. We will continue to do so as the Bill progresses through Parliament.

I associate myself with what the Minister said about the efficiency and efficacy of the usual channels. I will not be quoting Enoch Powell’s statement about the Whips. I particularly thank our colleagues from Hansard and the Doorkeepers.

On behalf of Sir Edward Leigh, Mr Christopher Chope and myself, I thank colleagues for their good humour during the Committee. I particularly thank the Clerks who have supported the Committee, the Hansard reporters and the Doorkeepers.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose.