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Mr. Boswell: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having got as far as page four of the Labour party brief. Can he explain why, with the current ratio of university lecturers to students, there is a correlation between 90,000 students and 13,000 lecturers? Can he give a notional estimate of the top-up fee that would be required to generate an additional 150,000 university places—the number that he claims we are about to abolish?

Mr. Hendrick: The calculations were made by my researcher and I genuinely believe that I gave an accurate ratio.

The Tories have always believed in an education system that benefits the elite. That was their position in 1997 and it is their position now. They believe that Britain can flourish as a low skill, low investment economy. That is the view of a party that believed that unemployment was a "price worth paying" when they held power.

Expanding higher education widens access to university education and increases opportunity. It also helps UK plc to stay competitive in today's global market.

Approximately half the higher education estate was built, to relatively low and inflexible specifications, in the 1960s and early 1970s. Much of it is nearing the end of its design life, and new requirements arise from scientific and technological advance, as well as from recent growth in research. Recent reports show an infrastructure backlog of about £8 billion, including a teaching infrastructure backlog of £4.6 billion, plus a need to double spending on maintenance.

The abolition of the current up-front fee is important, so that graduates themselves are responsible for paying for the cost of their course. It is not, as the hon. Member

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for Hertsmere said, an anti-middle-class policy. The parents of those children would not be paying the fees; after graduating, the students would pay the fees. That is an important step in achieving social justice in educational opportunity.

The Government have set out a sensible and practical policy to build an education system to meet the needs of students, employers and universities in the modern world. The policy is fair, and offers opportunity, social justice and choice for student financing in cost and repayment. It is a solution that will allow more people to realise the benefits of education and to fulfil their dreams, and will allow more students from lower income groups, as well as those from middle income groups, to attend university.

3.4 pm

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe): It would be remiss of me to begin without welcoming the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education to his new post. He will have noted that, so far, only 50 per cent. of the speeches from his Back Benchers have offered full support for his policies, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) had serious reservations about differential fees. She was wise to welcome him with the words that his job was a poisoned chalice, although I do not want to blemish my welcome by reminding him that that may indeed be so.

The Minister will have noticed that although the entire speech of the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel), rubbished my party's policy, the hon. Gentleman announced that he would vote with us—that is the Liberal Democrats!

I shall give some figures that are at the heart of the debate, as it has mostly centred on student numbers. I do not think that anyone has yet pointed out that, in 1960, one in 20 school leavers entered higher education. Nowadays, partly as a result of what the Conservatives did in government, when we expanded access—contrary to some of the claims from Labour Members—one in three school leavers goes into higher education. By 2010, the Government intend that one in two 18 to 30-year-olds should do so.

The Government intend the numbers in higher education to grow and grow. It is worth looking again at the reasons. The answer given by recent Governments in general and by the Labour Government in particular seems explicitly utilitarian: more graduates mean more growth. The Secretary of State expressly confirmed that in his speech. So that the rationale for the right hon. Gentleman's thinking is in no doubt, I shall quote from another of his recent speeches. He said:

I shall not argue—at least, not for the moment—that there is no convincing proof of the assertion that more and more graduates will deliver more and more economic growth, although I believe that there is no

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such evidence. Nor shall I argue that such a utilitarian view of education is both blinkered and philistine, although it is. Instead, I shall argue that that view has led directly to the alarm with which Labour Back Benchers greeted the Government's higher education policy—the Minister will recall that about 100 Labour Members failed to support the Government on Monday night—and the lack of support that the policy has received almost everywhere else.

There is a simple truth about the expansion of higher education, as we discovered when we were in government and the Government are discovering now. Sooner or later, the irresistible force, namely, more and more students entering higher education, meets the immovable object, namely, the reluctance of the Treasury to fund tuition fees and grants for all those students. That is exactly what happened when we were in government and it is happening to the Government now.

Let us consider student numbers. Since 1989, numbers have risen by 90 per cent., but funding per student has fallen by 37 per cent., because there is not enough taxpayers' money to go round. It is that shortage of money, not the ill will of Ministers—who are, by and large, well-meaning people—that has caused the Government twice to tear up their election promises.

In 1997, they promised no tuition fees, but two and a half months later, under financial pressure, they revealed plans to introduce tuition fees. In 2001, they promised no top-up fees, but this year, again under pressure from the Treasury, they had to reveal plans to introduce top-up fees. No wonder, according to a NatWest survey—only one of a number of such surveys—that students who graduated last year have an average debt of £10,000, a rise of 67 per cent. on 2001. No wonder, according to the Government's own figures, that nearly a fifth of students drop out. That is lower than the rate for many of our competitors, but much higher than it was. No wonder, with such a shortage of money in the system, that there is a £5.3 billion backlog in capital investment, according to Universities UK, and that, according to a NATFHE survey, UK academics ranked 10th for academic pay out of 15 countries.

What is building up is a composite picture of debt-ridden students, anxious parents, underpaid teachers and lecturers, and vice-chancellors and principals who are viewed by Ministers, according to their own words, not as scholars who have charge of independent communities of scholars, but as wheels and cogs in the machine of economic production. That is what the Government's policy is driving them towards, and none of those people is getting a fair deal, as I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) will say in summing up the debate.

The Government will compound the existing problems of debt and drop-out, however, by trying to enrol an extra 15,000 students a year and employ an extra 1,000 teachers a year—the equivalent of another 20 universities—costing £25 million a year. According to the Government's own logic, there is no reason whatsoever why their target should be as low as 50 per cent. If it is true that more graduates produce more growth, why not raise the admissions target to 60 or 70 per cent., or even 100 per cent.?

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When I made that point to the Secretary of State during his speech, he approvingly quoted countries—although I think that only one of them was in the European Union—that had even higher participation rates, and the Government's own logic is now forcing them to travel down that road. We, too, went down that road when we expanded student numbers when we were in government. Now, the Government appear to have left themselves no option but to follow that route, which will lead to more debt and to more potential students being deterred from entering higher education—many are precisely the sort of students whom the Government want to encourage.

On reflection, the Minister will be aware that my right hon. and hon. Friends have carried out a stroke of Disraelian audacity by producing a widely welcomed policy that seeks to abolish not only top-up fees, but tuition fees. That leaves him and the Labour party politically isolated, with 100 Labour Back Benchers having failed to support him in the Lobby on Monday. We will watch with interest to see how many of them support him today, but my hon. Friends and I know from talking to parents, students and potential students in our constituencies, many of whom may not yet have voted or many of whom did not vote Conservative at the last election, that our policy is certainly a vote winner that has left the Government in great difficulty.

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