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Mrs. Fitzsimons: My name is Fitzsimons, which is different from Fitzsimmons; anybody who could spell would recognise that. I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman exchanges assertions for facts. Does he accept that, year on year between 1997 and 2000, the participation of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds in New Zealand rose from 18 per cent. to 26 per cent? The number of Maori students—who, typically, are less advantaged and in lower socio-

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economic groups—rose by 46.1 per cent. between 1994 and 2000. I think that that is pretty impressive, does the hon. Gentleman not think so?

Mr. Collins: I apologise if I was wrong about the hon. Lady's name. I am delighted that she has made it abundantly clear that she regards New Zealand as a model for what the Government are seeking to do, because it has been reported in New Zealand that, after the introduction of precisely the sort of scheme that is proposed for this country, the result was as follows:

It has further been demonstrated that fees have impacted on where students have decided to go to university. New Zealand students therefore continue to oppose top-up fees, and I suspect that, if the hon. Lady was still an NUS office holder in this country—let alone running to become one—she might take the same attitude as all the current NUS office holders take.

Jonathan Shaw: Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House how many universities there are in New Zealand?

Mr. Collins: It was the hon. Member for Rochdale who said that New Zealand is a great model. I take the view that it is sensible to consider what is sensible for the United Kingdom and what UK organisations do. It is not the Opposition who have been saying, "Let's imitate New Zealand"; it is the Government and Labour Back Benchers, so the hon. Gentleman is only undermining his own side. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) must contain himself. There is little point in asking a question and not listening to the answer that is given.

Mr. Boswell rose—

Mr. Collins: I give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Boswell: I am afraid that I cannot illuminate the House on the precise number of universities in New Zealand. One of the reasons why I cannot do so is that I cannot recall, when I was the Higher Education Minister in 1994 and the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mrs. Fitzsimons) was the president of the NUS, her ever coming to me, saying,"The New Zealand approach is exemplary and we should follow it."

Mr. Collins: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention.

I was going through the list of organisations in the education sector that do not support the Government's proposals. Dr. John Brennan, the chief executive of the Association of Colleges, has said:

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As I said earlier, 15 vice-chancellors wrote to The Guardian yesterday to say that Government's measures would

So I am afraid that it is simply not the case that the majority of those in the education sector enthusiastically endorse the Bill. On the contrary, the majority of those who work in education and the organisations that represent students are clearly, unequivocally opposed to the Bill and have called on Labour Members to stand by their manifesto pledges.

Peter Bradley rose—

Mrs. Fitzsimons rose—

Mr. Collins: I shall give way to the hon. Lady, because I have given way to the hon. Gentleman already. [Interruption.]

Mrs. Fitzsimons: The hon. Gentleman has mentioned me a tiny bit more than he has mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Peter Bradley), but there is time. I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again, but he makes assertions about my leadership. It is on record that, when I was president of the NUS, I believed that students would have to pay and that we wanted the money to be end-loaded, so that we could increase the maintenance grant. As for what the hon. Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) said about lobbying when I was president of the NUS, we were comparing a loans system introduced by his colleagues under which it would have been cheaper to give students the money than to administer the system, rather than comparing a variable system, which is what we are discussing now

Mr. Collins: It is very interesting that all those former presidents of the NUS believe that they can speak more for the interests of students than the current president of the NUS. I thought that I had made a flippant comment earlier, but Labour Members clearly believe that all those students have come to lobby Parliament today in support of the Government's legislation. I suggest that they go out to listen to them if that is what they believe.

Since the hon. Lady makes an important comparison about the cost efficiency of measures, let us consider the cost efficiency of the Government's proposals. To raise slightly less than £1 billion a year for universities, the taxpayer will have to spend about £1.2 billion. That does not strike most of us as remotely cost-efficient. In fact, it is an extremely inefficient way to proceed. That arithmetical link— the fact that it will cost the taxpayer about £1.25 for every £1 raised for the university—is clearly even more of a problem if, as is widely expected in the education sector, the £3,000 a year cap is only temporary and will be removed shortly. So the taxpayer will have an even worse deal as time goes on.

One of the most important aspects of the whole debate is the Government's assumption, which they have often repeated, that graduates will almost universally end up in a massively strengthened financial position compared with non-graduates. The figure of a £400,000 premium in lifetime earnings has been bandied around. That is simply not borne out by the latest

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evidence that is coming to light. Many hon. Members will have seen the report in The Times this Monday about a forthcoming book by Philip Brown of Cardiff university and Anthony Hesketh of Lancaster university, both of whom are leading political economists. They point out that even three years after completing their studies, 40 per cent. of recent graduates are in jobs that do not require degree-level skills. Their survey indicates that average starting salaries for graduates are falling. They have analysed American data—an example that Labour Members often cite—and they seriously query the Government's assumption that 80 per cent. of all new jobs will require degree-level qualifications. Ministers often cite the United States as an exemplar of graduate participation that we should follow. American data apparently show that just 20 per cent. of American workers—not 80 per cent.—make use of degree-level education.

Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): Very interesting information has been quoted and some of us would want to make use of it, but do the Conservatives therefore now entirely reject the road that they initially went down with the Education (Student Loans) Act 1990, which introduced the principle of student debt, and thus the problems of people being able to continue in education?

Mr. Collins: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for those comments. It is, of course, common ground among all the parties represented in the House that student loans remain the best way to provide for maintenance. They are not ideal, but no party proposes to get rid of student loans that underpin maintenance. The hon. Gentleman takes a different view, but he has not managed to persuade his Front-Bench colleagues about the issues. The view of both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties on that angle is that student loans should continue. We are talking about the principle of fees to pay for teaching itself. New clause 5 would strike out such fees, and we believe that the House would be very sensible to support that.

Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): I have been listening to the hon. Gentleman for a considerable time. The new clause is about abolishing fees altogether. However, as a former university teacher, I should be delighted if he could tell me how the Conservative party would find the money if not by introducing fees. This is an important debate, and it is right that the House is fully informed of the Conservative policy.

Mr. Collins: The hon. Gentleman basically repeats a question that one of his hon. Friends asked earlier, and I will not bore the House by giving the same answer. If it is the same question, it will get the same answer.

It is assumed that the Government's concessions on the Bill would ensure that students from lower-income backgrounds would not suffer adversely. Indeed, it is sometimes said that we can perhaps take a leaf out of the American experience and encourage students to work during their studies, because those who cite the American experience think that that is healthy. The Guardian has referred this week to unpublished research by Professor Clare Callender, who has indicated that those students who work for 16 hours a week in term

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time have an increased chance—of between 10 and 60 per cent.—of getting no better than a lower second-class degree or worse. Hon. Members on both sides of the House ought to reflect on that.

By all means, let us talk about the overall spending envelope towards which the Government propose top-up fees should contribute. The Red Book states that the Government

Labour Members may not be aware of the fact that per-student spending levels are lower now than they were in 1997; that they are lower than they were before tuition fees were introduced in 1998, and that they have been lower every year of this Labour Government than they were any year of the preceding Conservative Government. So a commitment simply to maintain per-student spending levels is hardly an act of extraordinary political generosity.

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