Mr. Boswell: Before the hon. Gentleman abandons the point about mortgages, does he believe that mortgage providers will take an interest in whether the applicant holds a student loan, with its obligations to repay? If they take no interest, will they not be acting irresponsibly in offering money?
Peter Bradley: A leading mortgage association has already confirmed that it has no problem with the proposal. Mortgage providers will take an interest in the earning capacity of those who wish to have a mortgage, and a degree significantly advances that capacity. Data suggest that graduates who enter employment have an immediate advantage of £4,000 a year over those who do so without the benefit of a degree.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North suggested that variability would discriminate against the modern universities. I challenged him about that in an intervention. The Government have reintroduced maintenance grants, which is a huge step forward, not
Peter Bradley: I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment, but I want to address a point made by the Liberal Democrat spokesperson about Cambridge being an asset-rich university. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) will have heard my right hon. Friend the Minister citing other examples, including Surrey, Exeter and Imperial college, not all of which are cash-rich institutions, and there will be more to follow. They are offering students paying top-up fees a further £4,000, on top of the £3,000 available from the Government. That will give those students an income over three years of £21,000, and a repayment to make on graduationon an income-contingent basisof £9,000. That is a pretty good deal. When students and school leavers understand what is on offer in the Bill, they come to very different conclusions from those suggested by the hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison).
Chris Grayling: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, under the current system, a student from a less well-off background will end up with student loan debts of about £10,000? After the introduction of top-up fees, even taking grants into account, that same student will end up with debts of about £10,000. So, at the end of their university career, their financial position will be no different.
Peter Bradley: We could trade mathematics, but let me tell the hon. Gentleman why the reintroduction of maintenance grants makes such a huge difference. Although the idea of debts, mortgageswhatever we choose to call themis an issue for everyone, our society is not half so debt averse as we might think from listening to this debate. Most of us have debts, whether through hire purchase agreements, bank overdrafts or credit cards. Debt is an issue, I grant the hon. Gentleman that, but one of the principal reasons why young people with academic qualifications from low-income and working-class backgrounds have not taken up places at university, even when they are availablewhich, under the Conservatives, they certainly would not beis that they cannot afford the up-front student
The return to the maintenance grant is therefore a measure of which all Labour Members should be proud. It is radical, progressive and empowering, and it will allow universities to welcome those students into higher education, provided that the places that we can pay for through the tuition fees are available. It will also enable people to whom the privilege of going to university has been denied for decades to take up the opportunity to enrich their lives, to enhance their earning capacity, and to underpin our economy for generations to come. That is why the return of the student grant is a crucial part of the Bill.
Mr. Rendel: I want to return to the point about whether the new universities or the more privileged ones will gain the most. The hon. Gentleman says that, as a proportion of their income, the new universities will gain more than the richer ones. That is simply because the richer ones currently have a much greater income. Some universities will, by the hon. Gentleman's own admission, charge less per student and therefore bring in less in fees per student. I would suggest that those will tend to be the poorer universities, and because they will bring in less per student, the gap will widen in terms of the amount of money per student that universities have to spend.
Peter Bradley: There is a fundamental misunderstanding on the Liberal Benches. [Interruption.] I was just inviting colleagues to imagine what, among many misunderstandings, that could be. On this particular issue, the reason why modern universities will benefit disproportionately from the steps that the Government have taken to relieve them of the responsibility to pay out in grants what they receive in income is that they are undergraduate teaching led, whereas other universities, principally those in the Russell group, if they are not research led, at least have a high proportion of their funding vested in research. Universities that specialise in educating precisely those young people to whom I have been referring should and will benefit, and will be rewarded by their contribution to widening access.
Mr. Gordon Marsden: My hon. Friend has rightly drawn attention to the mainstream universities, which are precisely those that are most likely to attract first-generation students. Does he agree that that is why the Campaign for Mainstream Universities has issued a note today saying that any vote that risks the withdrawal of this Bill will be a vote against widening participation and social inclusion?
Peter Bradley: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that important statement. He also gives me an opportunity to use a line that I would have used on the Conservative Front-Bench spokesman if he had allowed me to intervene. He talked about divisions of opinion among vice-chancellors. Of course, he is right: there is no unanimity among vice-chancellors on this issue. Vice-chancellors are unanimous, however, in their contempt for the Conservative party's policy on higher education when it has one, and in their contempt for its
The benefits that I have outlined are those of a Bill that is radically different from the White Paper, which was rightly and roundly criticised until more or less the new year. I want to pay tribute to Ministers and give them credit for the fact that they have not only listened but responded to constructive criticism from colleagues. They recognised the argument that the real disincentive to working-class school leavers is not debt but upfront fees and living costs. The support package of £3,000 is therefore extremely welcome. Colleagues argued about the adverse impacts of modern universities bearing those costs, and the Government are now bearing the cost of those grants. We argued for the conversion of fee remission to grant, and we had an undertaking from Ministers. That was a brave step, as it meant changing a publicly held position. It was the right decision and I am grateful for it, as future generations of undergraduates and their families will be. We argued that elite universities must broaden their student base, and it is OFFA's task to ensure that they do.
The Liberal Democrat spokesman contrasted the £4,000 bursaries that Cambridge and other universities will offer with the situation at Wolverhampton. He said that Wolverhampton university would not be able to afford the bursaries. He is probably right. But Wolverhampton's intake, depending on what statistic one reads, is either 47 per cent. or 75 per cent.or somewhere between those two figureslower-income students. It will not be required to pay those bursaries, and it will not need to do so. The need and pressure should be on the Russell group of universities, which year on year have signally failed to embrace the broadening access agendathe latest figures show a reduction in working-class students with academic qualifications being allowed to study at those institutions.
Mr. Willis: Under the Bill, if Wolverhampton university, 47 per cent. of whose students are from the three lower socio-economic groups, charges the full £3,000 fee, those students will each be eligible for a £2,700 grant from the state, and the university will have to provide £300. Given that it will have to find grants for 47 per cent. of its intake, compared with Oxford, which will have to find grants only for the 9 per cent. of its students who are from those socio-economic groups, how on earth will that benefit Wolverhampton?