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I have been rather disappointed in some of our institutions. I am a governor of the London School of Economics and I tell our director that we do not do
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enough. We have summer schools, as do many universities. But, without the impetus of the Sutton Trust and Sir Peter Lampl, many universities would not even have gone that far. The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) and I have visited summer schools in Cambridge. The criterion for someone to go on one of those Cambridge summer schools, which are supported by companies such as Goldman Sachs and organisations such as the Sutton Trust, is that neither parent has been to university. Perhaps it is dreadful that that criterion is used, if the hon. Member for Henley is to be listened to, but the fact is that a high percentage of the young people invited to those summer schools get into Cambridge. So, there is much that can be done.

Universities in this country, including the London School of Economics, should go further. I am disappointed that more universities have not gone into partnership with academies, or created academies. They could go down their supply chain and choose to be based in communities where they could make a difference and participate in the process long before children choose their subjects. That is the level of partnership that I would like to see our universities indulging in. There is also the new ability to form trusts, which are in some senses less onerous. I would like to see more imagination from our higher education institutions in reaching down the supply chain, identifying the problem and doing something about it.

Let me make a comparison. The thing that, more than anything else, has stimulated universities in the United Kingdom to move faster towards the American tradition is fundraising. Universities throughout the country now carry out fundraising much more successfully than before, usually because they are copying American techniques. Indeed, many universities are hiring Americans to raise money for their institutions. If more attention were paid to the situation in America—the Americans have a similar culture to ours, and a comparison with continental Europe is much more difficult—we could learn American techniques reasonably quickly. There is much to learn from the United States. Of course, American universities have more resources, but there are now more resources in this country than there have been for a long time because the fundraising of some of our premier institutions has been very successful.

Jeremy Wright: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that although there are many similarities with the American system, one of the major differences, which has a direct bearing on what he is saying, is that American universities have a well-developed system of keeping their alumni interested in, and supportive of, the university? Does he agree that British universities could try to do that to a greater extent? If they were to succeed, there would be not only more examples of people from less well-off backgrounds who had gone to university on which to draw, but better access to funding.

Mr. Sheerman: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I welcome the fact that that is happening in British universities of every kind. I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will go further with the tax breaks and incentives that he can give to people who put something back by investing in the institutions from which they have benefited.

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Although we have teased each other about this, it is true that variable fees, or top-up fees, as the Lib Dems successfully called them, have been a success story. Those of us who passionately believed in variable fees and still have the bruises from our discussions about them in the House—they were backed by a very narrow vote, against the opposition of Liberal Democrat and Conservative Members—are seeing that the measure is showing much success. English universities are out-competing universities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales on applications, and there is evidence that more children in England from deprived social and economic backgrounds are going into higher education than in other parts of the United Kingdom. That is a success story.

Although we did not know about this, one of the less successful aspects of the measure that is now materialising—we have evidence for it—is the paradox that the universities with the most funding for bursaries have fewer students from socially deprived backgrounds to whom to award them. We have a problem that the research-rich universities have a disproportionate amount of funding for bursaries compared with the less well-endowed universities, where the need for bursaries is greater. We must do something about that.

I heard what the Minister said about the use of unused funding for social inclusion, but there would be a danger that we could develop a system similar to that in independent schools. Independent schools justify their position to me by saying that they put money back into poorer students, but the “poorer students” to whom they give bursaries tend to be those with parents who are not very well-off and are struggling with the fees, rather than children who are from very poor backgrounds, but have ability. There is a danger that such a situation might arise if we were to give the bursaries to people who did not really deserve them.

David Howarth: On access and fees, does the hon. Gentleman agree that the crucial measure of the system is the chance that a particular person born in a particular year will apply for higher education? If he does agree, what is his response to the calculation that a child born in 1986-87 had a 43.7 per cent. chance of applying to university by the time of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service cut-off point of 15 January, that that figure fell the following year to 40.5 per cent., and that although the figure increased in the most recent year, it increased to only 43.2 per cent., which was less than the starting point? Does not that contradict what the hon. Gentleman said about access and fees?

Mr. Sheerman: No, it does not, because we only have one year’s figures to look at in considering the impact of fees. As we have said, we will look very carefully at the figures for the three years. One reason why Labour Members believed that the variable fees option was the way to go was that we understood clearly that although expenditure on education across the piece had increased substantially under the Labour since 1997, less of an increase had been affordable in higher education. We knew that realistically, there was one way to get new resources for the higher education system, and we knew that there was one way to start
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paying staff in higher education properly—something that the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) will perhaps appreciate.

Let us remember that we still have many world-class universities of which we should be proud, but we cannot take them for granted, and if we do not pay academic staff adequate salaries we will not get the talent coming through. People will not choose an academic or research career, but will instead go to the City of London, which everyone seems to think is the acme of success. They will not choose to give something back by teaching in a higher education institution. There has to be a balance; if people choose that pathway, they should earn an adequate income for doing so. I have a vested interest, as I am still a vestigial member of whatever the Association of University Teachers is called these days. I also have a son-in-law who is a struggling academic; they will all tell you that they are still struggling on their salaries, which compare badly with those in the United States.

David Howarth: I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way again, and I appreciate his supportive comments about rates of pay for my colleagues in academia, but he should appreciate that the amount of money that universities, especially research universities, get from tuition fees is actually quite small, compared with the university budget as a whole. In Cambridge the total university income is something like £500 million, and the net income from fees is less than £20 million, so academic pay is not entirely determined—in fact, is hardly determined at all—by tuition fees.

Mr. Sheerman: I think that the hon. Gentleman is quibbling a bit. The fact is that a significant tranche of new money came in, and will continue to come in, for higher education. One of the great things about the university system in this country is its relative autonomy from government. It is far superior to the rather centralised systems in continental Europe. One of the reasons why I know the details is that the Select Committee on Education and Skills is considering the Bologna accord at the moment, and we have taken evidence on the subject.

Mr. Kevan Jones: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Sheerman: In a moment. The very different tradition in mainland Europe, and difference in the history of its universities, has been brought home to me. We should surely nurture a system in which there is greater independence from government. We were talking about receiving money from alumni, and we are now talking about receiving money from fees, and surely that arrangement is part of the health and strength of a relatively independent higher education system. It adds to universities’ viability and independence. It means that in many years’ time, long after we have stopped strutting this stage, we will have a university and higher education system that maintains itself, and has independence and integrity. Surely the hon. Member for Cambridge would agree with that.

David Howarth rose—

Mr. Sheerman: I will not give way to the hon. Gentleman; I will give way to my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones).

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Mr. Jones: Does my hon. Friend agree that if we had followed the never-never land approach of the Liberal Democrats and opposed tuition fees, that extra money would not be going into Higher Education, and would not be having the effect that he describes?

Mr. Sheerman: When the Select Committee intervened and held a session to try to bring the two sides together in the pay dispute, I asked the general secretary of the Association of University Teachers whether she was embarrassed about taking the money after opposing the proposal. She said that she did not feel any embarrassment at all. [Interruption.] Well, I am glad that she spoke up for her members in that regard.

Another problem affecting access to higher education is the existence of subcultures. We can discuss the problem in an airy manner, but some children face barriers to higher education. As I travel around England looking at the problem and talking to students, I meet people in my own community and in other communities, and I have discovered that there are distinct subcultures in which people do not believe that higher education can play a part in their life. They do not know anyone who went into higher education, and they do not have any neighbours in higher education. They live in communities where that aspiration is not voiced, so there is a tremendous onus on their teachers to introduce them to higher education.

It is extremely difficult to tackle that problem. We know which parts of the country, which wards and which postcode areas are affected, so we must identify the relevant schools so that we can support them in raising aspirations and giving students the imagination to think about going to university. With my colleagues in the Select Committee, I try to visit schools around the country and talk not only to teachers but to parents and students. We know when we are in part of the country where that aspiration is low. I recently visited a Yorkshire school—it is not in my constituency—in a white working-class area of social housing. The head told me, “We don’t have many aspirations that these children will go into higher education.” That attitude made me angry, as it is rare that one hears such low aspirations from teachers.

We must, however, tackle those subcultures. We know where they are, which is why I want more active participation by the Government, through whatever agency, so that schools can raise the aspirations of their students and tackle the problem. There are other subcultures that worry me, too. I have four children, two of whom went to Cambridge, one to Bristol and one to Edinburgh. I accept that I am lucky that my children all went to university in towns and cities that are accessible and pleasant to visit. They went to local comprehensives, and they all said that there is a subculture in those universities that puts off a hell of lot of children from ordinary backgrounds. I do not know as much about Oxford as the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) and other Oxford graduates in the Chamber, but a subculture dominated by the independent sector and the leading public schools is prevalent in our research-rich universities.

That problem is underestimated. In the past five years, the number of students from Eton going to Oxford and Cambridge has grown from 38 to 70
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students a year. That statistic makes me angry, as does a similar statistic for Westminster school. I do not wish to condemn those schools, but Oxford, Cambridge—and, I admit, the London School of Economics—are regarded almost as finishing schools for our leading independent schools. That is not the only problem, as a subculture has been set up within those universities. Having discussed the issue with my children, who have been to those universities, I know that there is another Oxford, another Edinburgh and another Bristol. That subculture is extremely off-putting to children from other—

Mr. Johnson: Stop this chip-o-rama rubbish!

Mr. Sheerman: The hon. Gentleman knows a lot about it. I know a little bit about his Oxford set and the old Etonians at that university. The perception among many ordinary bright young kids—and he will never be able to see this—is that those universities are not for them, because the pervading ethos is set by a restricted and privileged group of young people. We underestimate that.

Five years ago, we said that bright kids from working class homes were put off applying for Oxford and Cambridge because the system of application is so distinctive and so different. We took evidence that because Oxford and Cambridge were different, ordinary kids in ordinary comprehensives who were bright enough to be predicted to get three A grades were put off applying because they saw those universities as different, exclusive and not for them. We recommended on an all-party basis that that system should change.

Mr. Johnson: It is a tragic comment on the vacuity at the heart of the hon. Gentleman’s argument that he is obliged to reduce an important and interesting debate about higher education, access to higher education and the difficulties of allowing schools to compete on an even playing field to an ad hominem, ad personam discussion of the off-putting characteristics of this or that group of people. That is tragic, and it also shows that the hon. Gentleman is failing to address the key point of the debate. If we want to widen access to higher education, there is no point in blaming the people who are at Russell group universities for being in some way off-putting—a pathetic argument, which will be bitterly resented by Russell group universities, because they make huge efforts to widen participation. We should look at what is happening in our schools.

Mr. Sheerman: I do not need to say much more.

Mr. Johnson: Yes, you do.

Mr. Sheerman: It is obvious that the shadow Minister does not understand the problem. He has been part of that system of privilege, and it is so ensconced in him that he does not even realise that it exists.

Mr. Chaytor: I do not find the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Johnson) remotely off-putting, but is not the key point in the debate about differential access to the leading research universities for applicants from state schools and private schools the HEFCE research
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which shows clearly that for every given set of A-level point scores, applicants from state schools gain a higher class of degree than applicants from private schools? Is that not the key point that we should focus on? Does my hon. Friend think our leading research universities are doing enough to recognise that statistical fact?

Mr. Sheerman: My hon. Friend has stolen the last part of my speech. That is precisely the argument. Many of our bright young people underperform because they are given poor guidance and they come from a background where they are not encouraged to stay in education, and all the things that we take for granted. In my speech I have tried to identify some of the steps that we could take in partnership, and some of the ways in which higher education institutions could reach down and do something about that. The hon. Member for Henley does not like that. The feeling that some of our research universities are centres of privilege to which ordinary young men and women have no access and no right is one of the problems. I am trying to balance the argument, but he does not like it.

Mr. Johnson: The hon. Gentleman has made a sincere speech and some good points. I was particularly interested in what he said about the zones that he goes into where people have no aspiration whatever to go to university. That is tragic and we need to work on it. As for the quality of the elite universities and the ethos that they allegedly exude, the fact is that in the 1960s far more children, proportionally, went to those universities from the maintained sector than do now. It was about 60 per cent.—

Mr. Sheerman: It was not.

Mr. Johnson: It certainly was.

Mr. Sheerman: It was not.

Mr. Johnson: Will you allow me to finish? It was about 60 per cent.—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman is on his feet making an intervention. Perhaps he will bring that remark to a close.

Mr. Johnson: The point is that in the 1960s and 1950s far more children from the maintained sector got access to those very universities than achieve it now, because of the failure of the hon. Gentleman’s Government’s schools policy.

Mr. Sheerman: That is not the case.

Mr. Johnson: It is true.

Mr. Sheerman: It is not the case.

Mr. Johnson: It is true.

Mr. Sheerman: The louder the hon. Gentleman shouts—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. Interventions are made from a standing position, and Mr. Sheerman is responding to an intervention.

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