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Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): Does the Minister accept that, over the years, English students in many parts of the country have made a choice to opt for a more expensive form of study by going to London, and that the state has properly recognised the additional cost and helped them to study in London? That is different from the example that he is setting forward, in which the state penalises students who choose a more expensive form of study.

Mr. Wilson: If the hon. Gentleman is referring to maintenance costs for students in London, I think that is an interesting issue, but not the one that we are discussing tonight. [Laughter.] With respect, we are not discussing a principle. We are not having an academic debate. We are discussing specific Lords amendments that deal with the one issue of the four-year degree in Scotland and--I shall come to this in a moment--the rest of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Ian Bruce: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Wilson: I will not give way. Perhaps if things are dull later, we can have some fun, but for the moment I will not give way.

If people went for a four-year honours degree course, they were of course going to be involved in greater costs than if they studied in other parts of the United Kingdom and did a three-year course. It is simply not credible--this is where the dishonesty lies in the argument--that the levying of fourth-year tuition fees on a means-tested basis will be a decisive factor in determining whether students go to a Scottish university.

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley): Do the figures on take-up which we have so far show any evidence that English and Welsh students have been disproportionately put off applying to Scottish universities? What are the proportionate changes for Scottish, England and Welsh student applications and for applications from the European Union?

Mr. Wilson: I can give my hon. Friend all the figures, but she makes the point in her question. There is not a shred of statistical evidence to suggest that the effect that has been predicted or wished for by Opposition Members is happening. To take one statistic, there are 33,000 applications from the rest of the United Kingdom to Scottish universities, compared to 27,000 from within Scotland. There is a proportionate increase in applications to Scottish universities from England and a numerical and

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proportionate increase in applications from Wales. Where is the evidence in any of that of the effect that hon. Members suggest?

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West): Perhaps I can be of assistance to my hon. Friend by giving him statistics that come straight from the Universities and Colleges Admission Service. Applications to Scottish universities are down 4.5 per cent. from last year. Applications to Scottish universities from England are down 4.1 per cent. and those from Northern Ireland are down 5.5 per cent.

Mr. Wilson: Characteristically, my hon. Friend quotes helpful figures. They show that the very modest increase from England is substantially less than the cross-border flow. We have said that there is a proportionate increase in applications from Scotland of people wishing to go to England, and a numerical increase in applications from Wales. There is a decrease in the number of people going from Scotland to English universities. If the logic of the Opposition's argument has anything to commend it, they will have to explain why there is a decrease, rather greater in numerical terms, in the number going from Scotland to England. People are clearly not deterred by fourth-year tuition fees, and it is nonsense to suggest that they will deter people. All the statistics refute the Opposition's case.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): Perhaps I could put a specific case. My dad and my granddad were brewers, and at one time the only United Kingdom university offering a brewing degree was Heriot-Watt. If a specific degree course is available only in a Scottish university, as may happen now or in future, why should an English, Welsh or Northern Irish student who wants to follow a perfectly proper degree course have to pay more than if the same course were on offer in an English, Welsh or Northern Irish university?

Mr. Wilson: It is all part of choice. The hon. Gentleman's grandfather chose to be a brewer. That was commendable, but it was a choice. I do not know the hon. Gentleman's antecedents but, given his mode of transport today, I assume that he has fairly humble origins. Some 40 per cent. of students in Scottish universities, from whichever part of the United Kingdom they come, will pay nothing at all in tuition fees. Perhaps the family brewing empire would have been able to start unhindered under these arrangements.

Mr. Ian Bruce: The Minister opened the debate on a note on which we could all agree when he said that Government policy should always be to get more people into university. The Minister has had a long plane trip from Scotland and I am sure that the House is grateful to him for turning up. Surely he knows that, next year, the number of people who will go to university will be down for the first time. Surely he realises that Government policy is wrong. He should correct it by accepting the Lords amendments.

Mr. Wilson: Rarely has a man waited so long to say so little, and the hon. Gentleman is wrong. We have applications, but we do not have admissions. Scottish universities could be filled several times over with current applicants, and there are more applications from the rest

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of the United Kingdom than from Scotland. We think that we have the right policy to get more money into higher education, and the next part of our job in overcoming Opposition misinformation is to make sure that potential students have access to accurate information and that applications are turned into admissions. We shall do exactly that.

Let us look at the figures and put the issue in perspective. There are many problems and challenges in education. There is a need to get more money in, to open up opportunities and to ensure that the 11 per cent. of people from lower-income backgrounds in higher education is brought nearer to the 80-plus per cent. of the top two social groups. Those are important issues, and I should have liked to hear the other place discuss them. It did not. It has not sent us a demand for more egalitarianism or more opportunity in education. There is not a word about that. The narrow issue affects a small number of people and has an influential pressure group made up of a small number--I might say a minority--of university principals who have the ear of some people in the House of Lords and in the Opposition. That is why the issue has been elevated to a high point of principle, which it is not.

On the basis of last year's admissions, about 6,000 students will come from the rest of the United Kingdom to Scottish universities. I have no doubt that there were 6,000 last year, and that there will be 6,000 next year when all the got-up excitement will be forgotten. The numbers will not change significantly, and between a third and 40 per cent. of those students will pay nothing in tuition fees and will be completely unaffected by the argument, except in the sense that they might be misled by Opposition Members into believing that they will pay tuition fees.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge) rose--

Mr. Wilson: I am trying to give a breakdown of the figures, but if the hon. Gentleman cannot contain himself I shall give way.

Mr. Randall: I am grateful to the Minister for his courtesy.

The Minister says that a small number of people discussed the issue in the other place. Why were there no Scottish Members on the Standing Committee from the Labour party, the Liberal Democrat party or the Scottish National party? I agree that Conservative Members are at a disadvantage. However, it would have been nice if some Scottish Members had debated these issues.

Mr. Wilson: The Committee's make-up is a matter for the Committee of Selection. I have no wish to cast aspersions on the minor parties. They can speak for themselves if they want. Although, in many ways, this issue affects the Department for Education and Employment more than us, whenever it has come here, it has focused on Scotland, so I have taken responsibility for answering at the Dispatch Box on the Floor of the House, and I do not shirk from that.

Several hon. Members rose--

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8.45 pm

Mr. Wilson: I want to finish the breakdown.

A third of those students will pay nothing at all over the four years, so there is no impact. Some will pay very small amounts, because it is a means-tested system. Again, I go back to the point that anyone who thinks that that will be the decisive factor in determining whether students go to Edinburgh, St. Andrews or a university in England is not living in the real world. Many students take an honours degree and they are not affected either. There are others who enter in the second year and they are not affected either. When we take all those categories out, at most, we are talking about 1,200 students from England, who will be asked to pay £1,000 extra over the four years.

It is of interest to know where those students come from--what backgrounds they come from and whether this is likely to be a burden on their shoulders, which will be crucial in determining the outcome--so I made some inquiries into the top four schools supplying students to Edinburgh and St. Andrews universities. My hon. Friends should listen to this point, because they will get some idea. They will be listening anxiously for schools in their constituency to find out if it is their constituents who will be affected.

The pecking order of schools supplying students from England to Edinburgh and St. Andrews universities is: No. 1, Eton college; No. 2, Wellington college; No. 3, Charterhouse; and, No. 4, Westminster school. That tells us something about the wonderful, egalitarian education system that we have in Scotland. There is only one school in Scotland that sends more pupils to Edinburgh and St. Andrews universities combined than Eton college: George Watson's college in Edinburgh. If that is an egalitarian system, which we have to defend in the Division Lobby tonight, I want no part of that defence.

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