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House of Commons

Tuesday 4 July 1989

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker-- in the Chair ]

Oral Answers to Questions


Student Loans

1. Mr. Thurnham : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he now has any proposals to amend the payment deferment arrangements for student top-up loans to include suitable categories of disablement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson) : Under the arrangements we propose, deferment of repayment will depend on graduates' incomes. Disabled graduates will benefit from those arrangements in the same way as other graduates.

Mr. Thurnham : Will my hon. Friend confirm that disabled students will have full access to social security benefit? Will he re-examine the scheme to see whether he can provide disabled students with larger top-up loans and longer terms for repayment?

Mr. Jackson : I certainly confirm that, as the White Paper makes clear, disabled students will continue to be able to claim social security benefits and disability allowance, where appropriate. When we set the level of grants that will operate from September 1990, the question will have to be resolved of what to do about the existing allowances in the grant for disabled students. The Government will certainly consider the position sympathetically.

Mr. Ashley : Does the Minister recognise that additional costs for disabled students are very high and that the jobs that they will take up will not pay enough to allow them to repay loans? Therefore, instead of minor adjustments to student top-up loans, is not a complete reappraisal of the grants for disabled students required?

Mr. Jackson : Support for disabled people in general is a matter for the Secretary of State for Social Security. I know that he has considered the matter sympathetically and that there have been considerable improvements in recent years. I do not believe, however, that there is a case for substantial additions beyond the deferment of the obligation to repay that we propose for disabled people who have had the benefit of higher education. One has to think in terms of a category of disablement which is taken care of, dealing in general with people who are disabled

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and then the concessions that will be available to disabled students in terms of access to social security and additional allowances.

Mr. Gerald Bowden : I was slightly reassured by what my hon. Friend said about reconsidering grants to disabled students. In view of the representations that I and many hon. Members have received from deaf and blind students, we appreciate the excessive obstacles that they must overcome to take advantage of higher education in the same way as sighted and hearing students. Is there not a case for considering an entire reappraisal of the grant allocation to such students rather than the top-up loan scheme?

Mr. Jackson : There are already allowances for disabled students in the grant. We shall consider their future in the context of the overall review of the grant that will have to be made before the new regulations come into operation in September 1990. We shall certainly be looking at that sympathetically.

2. Mr. Pike : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received since his recent statement on student top-up loans.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker) : Since my statement on 19 June, I have received 63 representations.

Mr. Pike : Does the Secretary of State recognise that this policy is absolute folly and that it will reduce educational opportunities? Does he recognise, too, that it will go counter to the intention of the Secretary of State for Health to increase degree opportunities for nurses and that it will force more nurses out of higher education and back into traditional training, which will be worse for both the National Health Service and for nurses?

Mr. Baker : I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. As I have said on many occasions, we are the only developed country that does not have a system of top-up loans alongside grants. In all those other countries a higher proportion of the relevant age band goes into higher education. It has not acted as a disincentive in other countries, and I do not believe that it will here.

Mr. Pawsey : When my right hon. Friend responds to those representations, will he make a particular point of stressing that the top- up loan scheme will enable substantial additional numbers of students to go into higher education? Will he further make the point that there must be a limit to the amount of taxpayers' support available to students and that, therefore, we are finding a new form of funding? Will my right hon. Friend refer to the three access funds and, if it is at all possible, will he consider increasing them to more than the proposed £5 million each, totalling £15 million?

Mr. Baker : On the latter point, I note what my hon. Friend has said and I am sure that he appreciates that that will be a matter for discussion later in the year in the public expenditure survey round. I also note what my hon. Friend said about the level of access funds. On the other point that my hon. Friend made, I remind the House that the disentitlement to benefit next year for students will amount to about £65 million, but the extra resources available

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through top-up loans will amount to £167 million. That is a substantial increase and it means more money for more students.

Mr. Simon Hughes : Why was the Secretary of State economical with the truth when he answered questions on his statement of 17 June about the cost of top-up loans? Why did he talk about the start-up and administrative costs only and not include inflation, the cost to the Department of Education and Science and the ongoing running costs? Surely the reality is that with every additional student there will be additional costs far in excess of what he estimated. If the right hon. Gentleman does not come clean he will be shuffling off the coils of his office with the words of Sir Walter Scott ringing in his ears :

"O what a tangled web we weave,

When first we practise to deceive!"

Mr. Baker : The hon. Gentleman's contribution makes one thankful that the leadership of his party is in the hands that it is--and that is saying a great deal.

The hon. Gentleman's facts are wrong. I made my statement on 19 June, not on 17 June ; that was the first fact that he got wrong. The costs of the scheme are set out clearly in the White Paper, under the heading "Costs and Savings". Inflation is allowed for and the costs that I gave to the House are contained in the Price Waterhouse report on the recurrent and running costs. If the hon. Gentleman wants to engage in a serious debate on the matter he must first educate himself in the facts.

Mr. Marlow : I think I am right--my right hon. Friend will correct me if I am wrong--that higher education does not come free. Somebody must pay for it. As it is inappropriate that parents should be responsible for their adult children and also totally inappropriate that the vast majority of taxpayers, who do not enjoy and are unlikely to enjoy the benefits and privileges of higher education, should pay more than a certain amount for higher education, is it not right that those who are to receive the benefits and privileges of higher education should find some of the money for their own benefit and education?

Mr. Baker : My hon. Friend puts his finger on an important point. The White Paper said that in 1984 student support for living costs per year was about £700 a student in Britain, £70 in Germany and £30 in Japan. We have a generous system of support for students. We believe that it is reasonable for the costs of the living expenses of students to be borne by three parties : the state--the grants will continue--their parents, whom we assess for contributions, and the students themselves through what will be a generous top-up loan scheme.

Rev. Martin Smyth : Does the Minister recognise that there is concern in education circles about the scheme, which was notably expressed yesterday by the chancellor of the university of Ulster? Last week two leading academics said that they would welcome the interest-free loan for themselves because it was tax free, but were worried that poorer families would not wish to put themselves into debt.

Mr. Baker : Protections are built into the scheme, one of which is that the obligation to repay the top-up loan will not start for nine months until after a student has left university. There will be no obligation to repay until the salary of the graduate is at least 85 per cent. of the average national wage. At the moment there is almost no graduate

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unemployment and those graduates who are unemployed are so by choice. Most graduates have salaries a third to a half higher than the national average wage.

Mr. Andrew MacKay : Is my right hon. Friend aware that many taxpayers who have not had the benefit of further education and, as a consequence, are unlikely to have the same salary expectations as graduates, would see the top-up loan as a useful personal investment for students? They would resent paying the entire bill, as at present, for further education.

Mr. Baker : That is a very fair point. The Opposition want more generous and higher grants, but they must come out of taxable income, which is paid by many people who, as my hon. Friend said, have never been or are never likely to go to university or polytechnic. It is also unlikely that their families will do so. It is reasonable to say that people who attend higher education institutions should make a substantial investment in their own future. The Economist estimates that that investment has a pay off of about 24 per cent. It is entirely reasonable that students should be expected to make some contribution on terms that are the most generous of any top-up loan scheme that I have seen in the western world. I believe that our scheme will be very popular.

Mr. Straw : The Secretary of State is deliberately confusing his Back-Bench Members-- [Interruption.] Perhaps they are confused already. The right hon. Gentleman knows that the taxpayer will pay more for the new scheme than he currently pays for the student grant scheme, but the student will get less. It is another example of the shambles of the scheme.

If the right hon. Gentleman is so confident about the costings of the scheme, why does he not publish the Price Waterhouse report? Why does he not publish the detailed costings done by his Department, including debt collecting, set-up, depreciation, central Government and college costs? He knows that the costings in the White Paper are both selective and defective. Why does he not publish the costs of the indemnity which, according to last Saturday's Financial Times, is being demanded by the banks not only against a change of Government, but against a change of Government policy? What is the premium on that indemnity, or is the risk so great that no one will take it?

Mr. Baker : The risk of this Government changing and giving way to a Government who would be damaging to the country is not very substantial and would be an insurable risk.

The Price Waterhouse report was commissioned by the Committee of London and Scottish Bankers. I shall be having a word with the committee's chairman later. My preference is to publish the report and I hope to place copies of it in the Library later this week. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the statistics in the White Paper which set out the costings of the scheme. He must realise that the scheme will be welcomed by many hundreds of thousands of students, such as the 120,000 students who currently do not receive any grant because they are means-tested out of it ; the 160,000 students whose grants are reduced by the means test ; and the 50,000 students who do not receive mandatory awards. All those people will benefit substantially from the top-up loan scheme.

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Licensed Teachers

3. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what will be the minimum and maximum qualifications required to enable individuals to qualify for licensed teacher status ; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. John Butcher) : Candidates for licensed teacher status must have successfully completed at least two years full-time higher education or the part-time equivalent ; have attained a standard in English and mathematics equivalent to GCSE grade C ; and have reached the age of 26 before they take up their post as a licensed teacher.

Mr. Greenway : How many teachers does my hon. Friend expect to recruit into the classrooms through the device of licensed teachers? Will he expand upon his answer and give the House and the country an assurance that those taken into the scheme will be thoroughly and satisfactorily qualified to teach at the level to which they are assigned?

Mr. Butcher : I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. The beauty of the licensed teachers scheme is that there will be two years of training which will be assessed and, if satisfactorily completed, will permit that teacher to go into the classroom on a qualified and professional basis. That contrasts with the current position of no requirement for formal training. Indeed, a number of teachers who do not have formal training are already in the classrooms, although that is not to suggest that they are not very good teachers. Our objective is to broaden the catchment without eroding professional standards in the classroom.

Mr. Madel : What will be the compulsory age for retirement for licensed teachers, and will it be the same for men as for women?

Mr. Butcher : The retirement conditions that pertain for those who qualify through the traditional route will also pertain for those who come through the licensed teachers scheme. Our whole objective is that once licensed teachers are in the classroom, they should have equal opportunities, terms and conditions across the board.

Schools (Ancillary Workers)

4. Mr. Vaz : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he has received any representations concerning the pay of school secretaries and ancillary workers in schools ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Butcher : My right hon. Friend receives occasional letters on this subject.

Mr. Vaz : Does the Minister agree that the current salary scale for school secretaries is lamentably low? Does he further agree that the role of school secretaries has changed enormously during the past few years, both in their administrative and in their financial responsibilities? A constituent of mine, Mrs. Jenny Mould, who lives in Thurnby Lodge, is a school secretary and has to perform no fewer than 53 separate functions every day. Will the

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Minister consider setting up a national review of the pay and conditions of school secretaries in the light of the great changes that have recently occurred?

Mr. Butcher : I join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the work of school secretaries. Head teachers and staff rely on them and the vast majority discharge their duties very well indeed. We have no plans to change the way in which their pay is negotiated. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is done with the local authority associations and most local education authorities tend to go along with the pay and conditions so negotiated. As with many of those who supply education to our young people, their job is changing and that is why about £6 million of the £100 million training and equipment programme, which is part of local management for schools, will be for non-teaching staff, I hope that the secretaries will benefit from that.

Mr. Paice : As we move towards grant-maintained schools and more devolved management responsibility in schools, will not each school be able to make the necessary changes to its pay structure for ancillary staff to meet local circumstances and to match salaries to the job that is done?

Mr. Butcher : My hon. Friend is right. We wish to push responsibility upstream to where it is most required--the chief executive, the head and the governing body. They can make decisions on salaries across a range of activities in the best interests and given the particular needs of their school. That is a major improvement and one of the major advantages of local management for schools.

Teachers (Negotiating Rights)

5. Mr. Geraint Howells : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans he has to establish a new negotiating body for teachers' pay.

12. Mr. Flannery : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he has any plans to restore negotiating rights to the teaching profession ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Kenneth Baker : I am inviting the employers and the teacher unions to further meetings this month to discuss new pay determination arrangements.

Mr. Howells : The Secretary of State will be aware that there is an acute shortage of Welsh language teachers. What advice will he be giving the Secretary of State for Wales on pay, status and the low morale within the profession?

Mr. Baker : I visited a Welsh-language school only a fortnight ago and there was no low morale there. I was impressed with the calibre of its teaching. All its teachers spoke Welsh and the language of instruction was Welsh. They did not tell me that there was any shortage of Welsh teachers in that part of Wales.

Mr. Flannery : The Secretary of State will know that the Select Committee on Education, Arts and Science--not because it wants to but because it has to--is preparing a report on the growing shortage of teachers generally, not merely in the Welsh language. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the removal of the teaching profession's free negotiating rights contributed to the profession's low morale? Yet only now does he tell us that

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he will discuss it with the employers. Does he realise that the free trade unionism in a country such as Britain demands that negotiating rights be restored forthwith, which will in turn bring more teachers into the profession?

Mr. Baker : I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman remembers, but I had a drink with him on the Terrace last night along with the new general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Mr. Doug McAvoy. I told Mr. McAvoy that this month we would meet him and other union leaders to try to find a new machinery. There has not been much agreement, but I shall be putting proposals, as no doubt will he, and I hope that a way forward can be found.

Mr. Jacques Arnold : Does my right hon. Friend agree that we do not need a national negotiating body but rather regional pay, which will end the unfair treatment of many teachers in the south-east, particularly those who are beyond the reach of London weighting and the like? Should we not have regional pay and the regional funding to go with it?

Mr. Baker : My hon. Friend makes an important point which I shall discuss with the unions. Many local education authorities have already introduced incentives or inducements of one sort or another to help to recruit teachers, particularly in the south-east and in London. That recognises the regional and local differences in pay levels--which, as I said, is something that I shall discuss with the unions.

Mr. Anthony Coombs : Given the enormous variations in demand and supply in the country and the move away from national pay negotiations throughout the economy, is there not a strong argument for saying that national wage negotiations are a failed anachronism which should be replaced by school-based bargaining, founded on local knowledge of the demand for, and availability of, teachers?

Mr. Baker : There is some advantage in having a national allowances structure--an important change which we secured in 1987--whereby there is a main professional grade and five allowances over it. I do not want any future machinery to endanger that arrangement, as it is seen as the way forward for the profession. As I said when replying to the previous question, the need for a new negotiating body is raised again and again, and I am clear that whatever may emerge, any machinery must have considerable flexibility to allow for variations as between local education authorities, and as between different parts of the country.

Mr. Fatchett : When the Secretary of State enters into negotiations on the new pay machinery, will he acknowledge that taking away from teachers the right to bargain had a greater impact on their morale than any other decision made by the Government and led to its collapse? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake not to drag out those negotiations, and will he confirm that next year's pay settlement will come not from the interim advisory committee but will be settled across the negotiating table, between the employers and the teachers' representatives?

Mr. Baker : As the hon. Gentleman knows, I shall discuss all those matters with the unions and the employers in the next two or three weeks. I reject completely any

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suggestion that the teaching profession is suffering from low morale, on the evidence that each year 25,000 people enter the profession.

Mr. Fatchett : But how many leave it?

Mr. Baker : About the same number. If 25,000 people annually believe that teaching is an interesting and valuable profession, morale within it cannot be low. Since March 1986, teachers have enjoyed a 40 per cent. increase in pay, which is a major adjustment upwards. Many head teachers, for example, received a £2,000 per annum increase this year. That implies that the profession is better rewarded under this Government than it ever was under Labour.

Mr. Holt : When considering whether there should be regional negotiations, perhaps my right hon. Friend will take on board the remarks of the Nalgo official who has just negotiated a deal for his members with Northumbrian Water which he says is amicable, excellent and bodes well for the future?

Mr. Baker : That is very interesting, and I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of the trade union leaders whom I meet during the next few weeks. I am sure that the way forward for teachers' pay is a large number of incentive allowances to reward good teaching in the classroom and those teachers who give of their best--which is the great proportion of them--coupled with the flexibility that not only my hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) but other of my hon. Friends want to see.

Teacher Shortages

6. Ms. Gordon : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what discussions he has had with the Inner London education authority about teacher shortages.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Angela Rumbold) : My right hon. Friend met a delegation from the ILE led by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), on 13 June. I held a meeting with leaders of the inner London councils on 19 June. On both occasions, practical solutions to the shortages of teachers in London were discussed.

Ms. Gordon : Does the Minister realise that qualified teachers are leaving the profession in droves ; that former colleagues who are devoted teachers repeatedly tell me that they feel that they are used as scapegoats and are under intolerable pressures ; that in Tower Hamlets, where my constituency is located, 30 per cent. of the teaching staff-- [Hon. Members :-- "Reading".]--have handed in their resignations ; that there are at least 300 children without school places that we know of, and many more that we do not know of ; that the birth rate is increasing by 20 per cent. ; that there are about 1,000 children who will not have school teachers when the next term comes ; and that parents who are lucky enough to know that their children will have teachers are receiving letters from headteachers saying that they cannot guarantee-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Will the hon. Lady make it brief, please?

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Ms. Gordon : I shall make it as brief as I can, Mr. Speaker. Their teachers say that they cannot guarantee to operate the national curriculum, and are telling parents that there are a series of unacceptable measures such as sending children home on a rota basis.

Mr. Speaker : Order. I think that that is enough. [ Hon. Members- - : "Sit down."] I think that the hon. Lady should do so, in fairness to others.

Mrs. Rumbold : I know that the hon. Lady feels very strongly about these matters. I should tell her that the interim advisory committee, which studied teacher recruitment most recently, came up with exactly the same figures as it produced last year, and the evidence suggests that only 1 per cent. of the total teaching force leaves the profession.

When we discussed the matter with both ILEA and individual leaders of the inner London authorities that are taking over responsibility, we talked about methods of recruitment and retention. I remind the hon. Lady that recruiting teachers is a long-term planning matter, and I therefore rather regret that ILEA did not take it up earlier.

Mr. Tracey : Has my hon. Friend suggested to teachers--and, indeed, parents--that life will be much better under the new education authorities, especially when they are Conservative controlled?

Mrs. Rumbold : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. There is no doubt that the new education authorities, which are working hard in planning both for teacher recruitment and for the delivery of education to children in their boroughs, will provide much better education, especially in the Conservative-controlled boroughs.

Mr. Straw : Is the Minister aware that last Thursday, when I asked the Secretary of State how many teachers had submitted their resignations by 31 May 1989, the right hon. Gentleman replied in a written answer that the information was not available, and that the latest data on teacher resignations related to the year ending March 1987? How can the Secretary of State and the Minister dare to evade blame for the major and growing teacher crisis in inner London and elsewhere when, on the Secretary of State's admission, the information that he and the Minister have obtained on resignations is more than two years old?

Mrs. Rumbold : The information to which we referred was collected by ILEA. It is wrong to say that responsibility for the planning and recruitment of teacher numbers lies with the Government ; the local education authorities are the managers of the education service within their areas, and they know perfectly well that it takes at least a term to plan recruitment. ILEA, along with every other local authority, should have looked at the problem much earlier.

LEAs (Training Grants)

7. Mr. Morley : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans he has to increase the financial support available to local education authorities through the local education authority training grants scheme.

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Mrs. Rumbold : I announced our plans on 16 May, in a reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot). We propose to increase the expenditure which attracts the higher rate of grant by £36 million, or 43 per cent., and to reduce the expediture which attracts the lower rate of grant by £35 million, or 27 per cent.

Mr. Morley : Is the Minister aware that the total expenditure of the LEA training grant scheme between this year and next will be increased by only 1.4 per cent? That is a substantial cut in real terms. On top of that, the grant to LEAs for training schemes will be cut from 70 to 65 per cent., at a time when LEAs and teachers are being asked to do more and more training because of the national curriculum, local management systems and various schemes introduced by the Government. How will it help to expect them to do more and more with fewer and fewer resources, and how will that help teachers' morale?

Mrs. Rumbold : The training grant scheme needs to be looked at together with the other main specific grant programme--education support grants. Many of the ESG programmes also support training, and in 1990-91 training grants and education support grants will together support the largest ever specific education grant programme, costing £355 million.

Mr. Dunn : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is about time that we had a review of all aspects of training and training grants? Does she agree that it is strange that we should have four great Departments of state all involved with training, when we should really have one Department for training, which should be called the Department of Education and Training?

Mrs. Rumbold : I note my hon. Friend's views on the way in which departmental responsibilities for training should be organised. Bearing in mind the great sum that is spent on teacher training, it is vital that the money is well directed. It is a simple-minded illusion to suggest that more input means greater vaue. What really matters is the way in which the money is spent. We must ensure that training, including in-service training, is prepared and managed in such a way that it achieves the best possible results for teachers.

Mr. Win Griffiths : Does the Minister recognise that the question is about specific grants to local authorities for the training of teachers in service? Is he aware that at a time when local authorities are being asked to expand training for teachers--in view of the national curriculum, the new local financial management and other initiatives being taken by the Government for training teachers--rather than reducing expenditure in real terms, as is happening, and at the same time reducing the amount of money available to local authorities by way of direct support for other national priority areas, the Government should be massively increasing spending on teacher training, irrespective of Government spending in other areas?

Mrs. Rumbold : The hon. Gentleman sadly misunderstands the situation. There has been a huge increase in the amount of money for in- service training. It is vital for local authorities to study the way in which that money is managed to ensure that the best possible value is given to the teachers who receive the training. If that is not done,

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there will be no point in adding further resources in this sphere, for the management of the money governs the way in which the teachers benefit.

Higher Education (Students)

8. Mr. Irvine : To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what has been the increase in the number of students enrolled in universities and polytechnics since 1979.

Mr. Jackson : Compared with 1979, provisional figures for 1988 show an increase of around 130,000 higher education students at universities in Great Britain and at English and Welsh polytechnics. The increase is over 200,000 across all higher education in Great Britain.

Mr. Irvine : I thank my hon. Friend for those encouraging figures. Does he agree that they contrast favourably with the situation when Labour was last in power? [Interruption.] Will he confirm that despite all the fine words we hear about the devotion of Labour Members to higher education, when they were in power between 1974 and 1979 the number of students in higher education fell?

Mr. Jackson : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are moving towards having 1 million students. Not only are the absolute numbers increasing--which could be explicable because of demographic change--but participation rates have increased. I refer to participation rates of students overall--of mature students, part-time students, women students-- of every category of students one cares to name.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : If, as the Minister says, participation rates have increased, may I ask him to give the participation rate in 1979, and the present rate, of those who are qualified to participate? Is he aware that the tragedy behind the figures that he has given is that the number of working-class youngsters going into higher education has not increased and that the real problem is that not enough working-class youngsters stay on after 16 years of age? What are the Government doing to encourage them to stay on? Is the Minister aware that the loan scheme will discourage working-class youngsters from staying on beyond 16?

Mr. Jackson : Although there has been a slight increase in the participation rates from social classes 4 and 5 since 1979, the overall performance is extremely disappointing, in spite of 30 years of the most generous grants system in the world. That is one reason that leads the Government to believe that there is a case for the introduction of student loans.

Sir Peter Emery : Will my hon. Friend discuss with the Secretary of State and the authorities the ever-popular view that every polytechnic must become a university? It is very much better to be a leading polytechnic, such as Rolle college and other colleges of that nature, than to be one of the lesser universities. Encouragement should be given to maximising the benefits of polytechnic education which can relieve the pressure on universities.

Mr. Jackson : I agree with my hon. Friend. The Government and Parliament took the view in the

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Education Reform Act 1988 that there is a distinctive mission for the polytechnics, of which they are entitled to be very proud.

Mr. Andrew Smith : Can the Minister confirm that almost all the expansion to which he refers occurred in local authority polytechnics and colleges before the public expenditure cuts began to bite and before he became a Minister? If his Government's record is so good, why were there 5,000 fewer first degree students in universities in 1987 than there were in 1981, and why has the proportion of admissions from private schools over the last five years gone up while the proportion of admissions from comprehensives has gone down? Does he accept that the Government's shambles of a loans scheme makes these inequalities very much worse?

Mr. Jackson : I am very happy to join the hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to the polytechnics for the excellent work that they have done in expanding the number of their students. The Government do not determine how many students enter the universities. I have often referred to the fact that the unit cost of students at universities has increased since 1979.

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