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35. Mr. Burgon: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment under what circumstances the services provided by the proposed Joint Venture Company will return to the sole control of Leeds local education authority. 
Ms Estelle Morris: Leeds City Council, the Local Education Authority, will be responsible for ensuring that services to schools, pupils and parents in Leeds are delivered on its behalf to an agreed specification under the contractual arrangement with the proposed joint venture company. The joint venture company will take day-to-day responsibility for delivery, and will have the power to take the necessary operational decisions. The contract will be for a fixed period, not yet determined. Towards the end
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Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what the drop-out rate for mature students was in higher education for the last 12 months for which figures are available. 
Mr. Wicks: The latest "Performance Indicators in Higher Education" published by the Higher Education Funding Council for England give an overall non-completion rate for students starting full-time first degree courses in the UK in 1997-98 of 17 per cent. a figure which has stayed roughly constant since 1991-92. It is not possible to disaggregate the relevant data by age. We announced in January a substantial package of additional financial support for mature students.
The motor industry is critical to Britain's competitiveness--and of course vital to the economy of the West Midlands--where the Government have made £129 million available for economic regeneration and job creation.
Ms Jowell: We have introduced, for the first time ever, comprehensive arrangements to identify, assess and tackle basic numeracy and literacy skills problems. By extending these arrangements to meet the challenge of basic employability, no one should leave the New Deal without the opportunity to improve reading and writing ability.
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Mr. Wicks: In September, we launched a three-year, £150 million programme, the Excellence Challenge to further widen participation in higher education. All higher education institutions in England, 800 secondary schools and 600 FE Colleges in Excellence in Cities areas will be funded. They will work with young people from the age of 13 and provide them with the information, resources and encouragement which they need to apply for and enter higher education, including the most demanding institutions.
Mr. Wicks: The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has responsibility for the development of the e-universities project, which aims to establish a globally competitive provider of internet-based higher education. The Secretary of State announced on 14 September that the Government would make £14 million available to HEFCE to support the project in 2001-02. On 10 October, HEFCE issued a consultation paper on the business model for the e-universities; and the private sector will be invited to express interest in becoming potential partners in the project.
Ms Estelle Morris: The Secretary of State and his Ministers regularly seek advice from the QCA on a wide range of matters that fall within the remit of the Authority. Among the issues on which the Secretary of State has received advice from the QCA are the introduction of vocational GCSEs, the development of advanced extension awards, raising standards at Key Stage 3 and access to marked examination scripts.
Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment how many students obtained a first degree at (a) universities established before 1992, (b) universities established under the Further and Higher
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Education Act 1992, (c) colleges of higher education, (d) further education colleges and (e) otherwise, in the last three years. 
|Pre 1992 Universities||75,181||73,839||76,818|
|Universities established under the 1992 FHE Act||81,656||82,719||83,246|
|Colleges of HE||24,742||24,335||24,430|
(1) Because of under-reporting by institutions, the figures for 1996-97 are not comparable with later years.
(2) Covers the Open University; excludes the University of Buckingham, and other private and independent HE institutions.
Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what action he is taking in conjunction with Higher Education Funding Council for England to simplify and reduce the cost to higher education institutions of compliance with quality and accountability requirements. 
Mr. Wicks: This is a matter for the Higher Education Funding Councils, together with institutions. HEFCE is consulting on the report published in August on Better Accountability and will publish the results of their consultation. The Quality Assurance Agency has devised new procedures to remove some of the burden from the institutions of subject review and institutional audit, especially where standards are already high.
Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what detailed restrictions on applications by schools for specialist status have been announced since July; how many schools had (a) made formal applications and (b) entered into preliminary discussions with the Department about making a bid; how many bids have been aborted or delayed in consequence; what impact there has been on the distribution of specialties across the country; what costs have been incurred by bidding schools; what private funds have been raised; and if he will make a statement. 
Ms Estelle Morris: The specialist schools programme has grown from 181 schools in May 1997 to a network of 535 schools and we have plans for 1,000 specialist schools by 2004. Unlike under the previous Administration, there is now a substantial budget for specialist schools and a clear programme of expansion. Currently, around 19 per cent. of secondary pupils attend specialist schools, compared with 6 per cent. in May 1997. That percentage will increase to over 30 per cent. by 2004. There is no permanent upper limit on the number of specialist schools that there can be in any area, nor on the number of pupils. However, in order to ensure that all parts of the country have an opportunity to benefit from the expanded programme, my Department wrote in July to LEAs indicating to them that where
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specialist schools were already educating over 30 per cent. of their pupils, we would not want to receive further applications until we had ensured a fairer spread in other parts of the country. This does not mean that in the future, subject to resources being available, no further bids will be considered.
The LEAs where currently over 30 per cent. of pupils attend specialist schools are: Bath and North East Somerset, Milton Keynes, Northamptonshire, North Somerset, Northumberland, Rutland, West Berkshire and Wigan. I have indicated to those LEAs also that, in exceptional circumstances, where applications have already been prepared, we would be willing to consider them. While we have received no formal applications from schools in these areas in the current Technology and Language College competitions, we have had discussions with six schools which were planning applications and are discussing with each whether we could support their application coming forward. We have so far agreed that two of these should submit an application. The costs incurred by bidding schools are not known but, as these cases demonstrate, our arrangements provide for schools to draw our attention to exceptional circumstances such as a nearly completed application, including where the sponsorship has been raised.
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