David Willetts: There is no picking or choosing. Universities have an equality duty. They have more funding for teaching, and they also have more funding in relation to access agreements—more than £700 million. Under the hon. Gentleman’s approach, that funding might not exist. Does he accept that, in my letter to the Office for Fair Access on how universities discharge their access obligations, I...
David Willetts: We are creating a system of vocational training to enable everyone to achieve their potential. We are on track to deliver 2 million apprenticeship starts. We have introduced traineeships for young people, we are supporting national colleges for key sectors and technologies and of course more than half of university students are doing a course that leads directly to a profession.
David Willetts: I met Doug Richards in a very upbeat mood only half an hour ago, and I can assure my hon. Friend that we agree with Doug Richards that employers should purchase apprenticeship training. We want providers to respond to businesses, not to Government. We have consulted widely on how to make that happen. We will publish details of our preferred payment mechanism and next steps in the autumn.
David Willetts: The Government believe in promoting apprenticeships across the public sector. Figures published today show an increase in the number of apprenticeships in that crucial age group.
David Willetts: We have had a range of reactions to our consultation, and the national bodies that represent businesses strongly support the proposals that we and in particular my excellent colleague the Minister for Skills and Enterprise are putting forward.
David Willetts: Let me be clear: we are committed to helping disabled students. We will expect universities to do more to discharge their direct responsibilities to disabled students. Often, improved provision by universities is a better way of helping disabled students than funding to individual students. We will maintain strong support for disabled students.
David Willetts: We are promoting research and development, innovation and manufacturing so the UK is a global leader in life sciences. Businesses in life sciences have announced more than £2 billion of investment since our strategy was launched.
David Willetts: I remember vividly that visit last month and congratulate my hon. Friend on his very good working relationships with local employers. He is right that our life sciences strategy is not simply about research and development, important though that is. It is also about supporting high-tech manufacturing and promoting more of that in the UK.
David Willetts: A major change is happening in the structure of the life sciences industry, with it moving away from having large, in-house R and D facilities. That trend is happening around the world. We have been particularly successful in this country in making sure that as that happens we promote alternative investment, and we are now seeing—for example, in the facility that Pfizer operated in...
David Willetts: UK Trade & Investment is promoting a highly competitive corporation tax regime, seeking investment in regeneration and infrastructure and emphasising the quality of our research base, all of which make us the best place in Europe to do business.
David Willetts: Our flexible labour market is one of the many reasons that foreign investors are keen to invest in the UK and we can always pursue that important agenda further. The latest independent assessment shows that the UK was the most successful country in Europe in attracting inward investment.
David Willetts: Let us be clear. We are consulting widely on these changes. The main change is that people should only be supported with extra services, rather than, for example, getting laptops indiscriminately, as they do at the moment. We are talking directly to the representative groups involved and students will not lose out by these changes.
David Willetts: May I begin by apologising to the hon. Member for Rochdale (Simon Danczuk) and to you, Mr Speaker, for not being able to be present for the start of the debate? I have just returned from a visit to the US and my flight was delayed, but I apologise to the hon. Gentleman and to the House. I have had a report of the remarks he made in the first minutes of his speech and I have, of course,...
David Willetts: As I said a moment ago, it will not be possible, sadly, to legislate in the time available, but I hope that my hon. Friend will take some comfort from the evidence showing that a substantial proportion of Muslim students are taking up our conventional fees and loans, and I believe they are doing so because our fees and loans are not actually commercial loans in any recognised sense of the...
David Willetts: We currently estimate the RAB charge to be around 45%. The estimate changes frequently in the light of new economic forecasts and will continue to change.
David Willetts: What we have achieved with our higher education reforms is significant savings to the taxpayer and extra income going to our universities. That is the right combination.
David Willetts: Let us be absolutely clear what today’s IFS report shows. It shows that people on lower earnings throughout their working lives are going to pay back less. That is a deliberate feature of our reforms which means that they are fairer and more progressive than the system we inherited from the Labour Government. Meanwhile, people who earn a lot during their working lives as a result of going...
David Willetts: Our higher education reforms have increased university income and reduced costs to taxpayers. In 2011, universities received £7.9 billion of income for teaching. Next year, they will receive £9.9 billion. Universities are now well funded, on a sustainable basis for the long term.
David Willetts: We now have record numbers of people applying to university. The funding is going to the courses that students choose. We are getting rid of controls on numbers of students. This system is financed by graduates—not students, but graduates—paying money back. That is the right way to finance our higher education. It is the system that all three parties have ended up proposing when they had...
David Willetts: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Although Scotland has about 8% of the nation’s GDP, it gets about 15% of the public research income that is allocated across institutions, because of the excellence of the research in institutions in Scotland. That works to the advantage of Scotland and to the advantage of the entire United Kingdom, and that is why we are better off together.