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Ann Coffey (Stockport) (Lab): Approximately 38 per cent. of all young apprentices in Stockport are in advanced apprenticeship programmes, which is a good number. Does the Minister agree, however, that it is
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also important to ensure that those apprentices complete their programmes, and has he made any recent assessment of completion rates?

Bill Rammell: I thank my hon. Friend for that question; I know that she takes a real interest in these issues. If we look at completion rates, we see that in 2001-02 the rate was 39,000, and in 2006-07 it was 103,000. We have gone from a 25 per cent. completion rate to a 63 per cent. one. We can remember the days when we were way behind Germany, which was seen as an exemplar in this area, but our completion rates are now almost at the German level. I am not complacent, but I think that we have a lot to be thankful for in terms of the investment that we have put in and the gains that we have made in the last 11 years.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): If we want to reduce the decline in the number of level 3 apprenticeships that my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) mentioned, we need greater clarity in their delivery. Last week, in a written statement, which we had no opportunity to debate in this House, it was announced that the Learning and Skills Council is going, to be replaced by a bewildering array of new quangos. There will be a new skills funding agency with responsibility for a new national apprenticeship scheme, but local authorities will also be responsible for delivering apprenticeships in their areas, and accountable to a new young people’s learning agency. Further education colleges will have to deal with all of them. It is like the government of Byzantium. Doubtless, the Minister will want to tell us what economies he expects to make, so will he tell us how many bureaucrats will go, and how much taxpayer’s money will be saved as a result of the changes?

Bill Rammell: I can tell the hon. Gentleman that already, under the existing Learning and Skills Council, there has been a significant reduction in bureaucracy, which has gone directly to support front-line provision. On his question about apprenticeships at level 3, we need to focus on completion rates. In 2002-03, there were 18,400 completions, while in 2006-07, there were 30,800. Those people have gone through the system, been given skills and are now supported. With regard to his comments on the new arrangements that we set out last week, in my experience, college principals—I have met many of them—broadly welcome the approach that we are setting out— [ Interruption. ] The hon. Gentleman needs to get out and about more often if he is not getting that message. There are already two separate commissioning processes pre-19 and post-19, and we are bringing those together. I believe that the system can work, and I urge him to talk directly to college principals to find out their real views.

Research and Development

5. Mr. Andy Reed (Loughborough) (Lab/Co-op): What steps he is taking to increase collaboration between universities and businesses to improve research and development. [196482]

The Minister for Science and Innovation (Ian Pearson): University and business interaction has improved significantly over the past 10 years. As my hon. Friend
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will know from his close contact with Loughborough university, we have seen a sea change in university-business collaboration. The Government are further encouraging collaboration through increasing the funding for the higher education innovation fund, through the Technology Strategy Board programmes and through research councils focusing on boosting their economic impact.

Mr. Reed: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. As he is aware, Loughborough university developed simply because of its enormous strength in linking academic strength with business, which has gone from strength to strength ever since Schofield set up the university all those decades ago. Will my hon. Friend join me in welcoming the work of the Energy Technologies Institute, which has demonstrated exactly how we can get business and academic researchers to work together, not just in a business sense, but to make an environmental impact? Will he join me in visiting the companies that are involved, including at the Loughborough Innovation Centre and at Intelligent Energy, which has done an enormous amount to make progress on fuel cell technology and has secured further private sector funding in the past few weeks? Will he then commit the Government to promoting that technology, so that we can get it to market, which is the crucial part, on which I should like the Government to do a little more?

Ian Pearson: I very much welcome the Energy Technologies Institute, which is located at Loughborough university, but will operate on a distributed model. One reason why the independent panel decided in favour of the consortium involving Loughborough university being the home for the hub was the world-class research being conducted there. I had the opportunity to visit the engineering department at Loughborough university last year, but I would certainly be happy to go back and see some of the excellent work to which my hon. Friend refers.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): Many universities and businesses in this country collaborate with their European partners, using the facility of the European research and development programmes. Equally, many do not. What can the Minister do to bring forward the excellent resources that are available, including huge financial resources, in order to encourage research and development between universities and business in this country and other member states?

Ian Pearson: We are doing a lot through the work of the Technology Strategy Board, which will be co-ordinating spending of around £1 billion over the next three years in collaborative research and development between business and our university research base. We have also asked the Technology Strategy Board to look into how we can improve our already good performance in accessing programmes through the European Union’s framework programme 7. The UK university sector does better than that of any other country at accessing FP7 funds, but I am keen that UK businesses should get a bigger slice of the action. We are working hard on trying to ensure that that happens.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough) (Lab): I have the privilege of representing one of the 10 most productive towns in the United Kingdom, yet our university—Thames Valley university—appears to be abandoning
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Slough. Despite that productivity, often in new technologies, science and the biotechnology industry, we do not have the university-industry link that helps in so many local authorities. What can the Minister do to help towns such as Slough to develop that vibrant business sector and to make partnerships with the other universities, which are far away, in order to create opportunities to build on what we have already achieved?

Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend makes a good point, and she is certainly a great champion for Slough and the business community there. We announced in our White Paper, “Innovation Nation”, which was published a fortnight ago, that we want to set up new partnerships for innovation, which might provide an opportunity for a good discussion about how we might maximise and build on the links that already exist. Although there has been a big change in university-business interaction over the past 10 years, there is still more that we can do to promote the knowledge base in our universities and ensure that it is commercially exploited. Strengthening those university-business links must be a priority for us, and I would be happy to meet my hon. Friend to discuss the circumstances in Slough.


6. Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Lab): What steps he is taking to encourage innovative enterprises. [196483]

The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. John Denham): Our White Paper, “Innovation Nation”, sets out the steps that the Government are taking to encourage innovative enterprises to make Britain the best country in the world in which to run an innovative business. Measures outlined in the White Paper include extending the successful innovation platform initiative, sponsored by the Technology Strategy Board, doubling the knowledge transfer partnership programme, introducing innovation vouchers for small and medium-sized enterprises, and increasing Government procurement opportunities for the most innovative enterprises.

Mr. Davies: I am grateful for that answer. What can be done further to increase innovation in the public sector?

Mr. Denham: The public sector must not be neglected as an area for innovation. There are many good examples of public sector innovation, including NHS Direct, which has set a world standard for that new way of delivering a public service. However, as the White Paper recognises, there are areas in which we need to improve, particularly to ensure that innovation that takes place in one part of the public sector can quickly be picked up in other places. It is important to ensure that the ways in which targets are set, or the ways in which services are commissioned, lay themselves open to enabling people to find new ways of achieving the right outcome for patients, students or whoever. A key part of the White Paper is to develop within government a real strengthening of the capacity of senior civil servants, commissioners and others responsible for developing public services, to ensure that the way in which we develop our public services increases the opportunities for innovation rather than diminishes them.

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7. Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East) (Lab): What steps he is taking to encourage young people to participate in innovation in science and technology; and if he will make a statement. [196484]

The Minister for Science and Innovation (Ian Pearson): The Government are adopting a range of measures to encourage young people to participate in science and technology. They include support for the science, technology, engineering and maths network—STEMNET—and for national science and engineering week, which, as my hon. Friend will know, took place earlier this month and involved more than 3,000 events up and down the country celebrating and promoting the importance of science right across our society.

Dr. Iddon: Will my hon. Friend congratulate Paul Abbott on his idea to create the Bolton technical innovation centre for STEM subjects, which is modelled on the music centre concept? I should like to thank all those organisations that have funded this unique venture during the four years that I have been associated with it. Does my hon. Friend agree that the centre could act as a model for other regions to encourage young people to innovate in science and engineering?

Ian Pearson: I know that my hon. Friend has put an enormous amount of work into the Bolton technical innovation centre, and I would certainly like to congratulate Paul and all those who work at the centre, who I know are doing tremendously good work. There are many different ways in which young people can be inspired to embark on careers in science and engineering. For example, we have 18,000 science and engineering ambassadors going into schools across the UK, and the ones I have met show the real enthusiasm that can be engendered in students about the importance of taking science subjects at GCSE and A-level, and of going on to study them at university. Following the recent Select Committee inquiry into the funding of centres such as the Bolton technical innovation centre, we are committed to carrying out a thorough review of the effectiveness of this type of centre and of other delivery agents as potential mechanisms for encouraging people to take up careers in science and to be enthused by the subject. That review will take place over the coming months.

Stephen Williams (Bristol, West) (LD): When I was at school, I was fortunate enough to be taught by a history teacher who went on to earn a national reputation in his subject. His enthusiasm and knowledge of his subject were among the factors that led to my studying history at university. Sadly, however, too many young people studying physics today are unlikely to be taught by a properly academically qualified physics teacher. What steps is the Department taking to encourage more physics graduates to enter the teaching profession, so that they can enthuse the physics pupils of today to become the physicists of tomorrow?

Ian Pearson: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the importance of having good, inspiring teachers across a wide range of subjects, whether it be physics, history or any other discipline. Over a number of years, the Government have made some significant investment
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in continuing professional development and in trying to get more physics teachers in our schools. We have funded bursaries for teacher training and provided £5,000 golden hellos for physics graduates who want to teach the subject in schools. So a great deal of work is already going on, but are we complacent about the current situation? No, we are not. It is very important to get the right quality of science teachers in our schools and we need to continue to work towards that with our colleagues in the Department for Children, Schools and Families.

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): I hear what my hon. Friend says about what the Government are doing to encourage young people to study science, but the fact remains that a disproportionate number of them are drawn to law, accountancy and similar professions rather than science. The reality is that the remuneration of those professions is much higher than that of scientists. Does my hon. Friend accept that something must be done to raise the status and remuneration of scientists to draw more people in?

Ian Pearson: As a Government, we are doing what we can to promote the importance of science to our economic prosperity and our future social well-being, and we work with a range of other organisations, such as the learned societies, which do a great deal of work to promote the status of science and engineering as careers. The evidence clearly demonstrates that scientists and engineers coming out of our universities are regarded by employers as having a very valuable background. We want to encourage more of them to go directly into science and engineering, but some will take up careers in the City, and I believe that the City has benefited from having well trained scientists, engineers and mathematicians, which I applaud.

Tony Lloyd (Manchester, Central) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that we should also celebrate the role of further education colleges in this area? World-class science undoubtedly exists in this country, but translating it into practice requires the intermediate skills that only further education can provide. Does he recognise that we need proper parity of esteem between further education and higher education in this country?

Ian Pearson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to promote the importance of the further education sector. One of the key features of the Leitch review is that we need to do more on skills at all levels. The FE sector has a vital role to play in ensuring that our young people and our adult work force have the skills that will be required in the UK economy in the decades ahead. Concentration and focus on the FE sector, as well as continuing support for the university sector, are very much on our agenda as a Government.

Higher Education (Access)

8. Mrs. Sharon Hodgson (Gateshead, East and Washington, West) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the role of higher education institutions in encouraging members of the community who would not traditionally apply to university to do so. [196485]

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The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Bill Rammell): We are committed to ensuring that we do not waste the talent of, or deny the opportunity to, anyone who could benefit from higher education. Higher education institutions are playing a key role in that, paying £96 million in bursaries, benefiting well over 70,000 low-income students in 2006-07, as well as being actively involved in the Aimhigher programme, their own outreach activities and the increasingly important work they are doing in schools and colleges.

Mrs. Hodgson: Does the Minister agree that one way Members can encourage and increase the number of people from the underprivileged sectors of the community to get to university is by working proactively with higher education institutions? For example, I am planning to take a group of young people from my constituency to Durham university so that they can see for themselves what is on offer, which should help to dispel the myth that higher education is not for them. Would the Minister encourage other hon. Members to do the same?

Bill Rammell: I most certainly would and I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work that she is doing. I believe that Members of Parliament—many of whom are from their own communities, are rooted in those communities and come from the same background as many of those young people—talking about the benefits of higher education and encouraging young people to access it at the earliest opportunity is indeed one of the ways we can break down the barriers and unlock the talents of all our people.

Christine Russell (City of Chester) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that another way to help young people to raise their aspirations might be to give them a little taster of university life? One way of doing that would be to encourage universities to open up their facilities so that local young people can enjoy the theatres and swimming pools that many of our universities have—actually, they have been financed by public funds. The Minister will be aware that the children’s plan envisages five hours of sport and five hours of cultural opportunities for children each week. This must be a really good opportunity for the universities, too.

Bill Rammell: I very much agree with my hon. Friend. The things that she is talking about are already part of the business of many universities in this country. For example, more than 2 million people attend public lectures and performances put on by higher education providers. UK academics provide more than 30,000 working days in support of museums and galleries and related activities. Indeed, our new University Challenge initiative rightly emphasises that higher education providers make a real difference to the cultural life of towns, not least through facilities that benefit both students and communities. The earlier that we can get such opportunities for young people, the more likely they will be to go on to university.


9. Mr. David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Lab): What discussions he has had with ministerial colleagues on the supply of skilled workers from new apprenticeships. [196486]

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The Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. John Denham): We are regularly in discussion with ministerial colleagues responsible for other Government Departments. There has been support from across the Government for the expansion of apprenticeships set out in our apprenticeships review, including the development of more public sector apprenticeships. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced an additional £60 million for skills development, including advanced apprenticeships, in the recent Budget.

Mr. Hamilton: I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Apprenticeships have been frozen in Scotland, so I congratulate him on the work that he is doing down here in England and in Wales. Will he have further dialogue with the Treasury to see whether he can use his reserved powers to try to assist employers and apprentices so that young lads and lasses in Scotland are not disadvantaged by the Scottish National party Administration?

Mr. Denham: I certainly understand my hon. Friend’s concerns. The skills strategy that the Scottish Executive recently produced contained only two mentions of apprenticeships in 61 pages, and no targets. Of course, our apprenticeships review says that we want to build on what we have already achieved, following the disasters of the previous Administration, to reach a position in a few years in which one in five young people can expect to go through an apprenticeship. This is a devolved matter. We have no direct way of influencing the Scottish Executive, but I wish that they shared our ambition for our young people.

Mr. Andrew Mackay (Bracknell) (Con): Will the Secretary of State explain why 59 per cent. of 16 to 18-year-olds failed to complete their apprenticeships in the last year for which figures are available?

Mr. Denham: That comes from the party that used to have no concern at all about whether anyone completed their apprenticeships! The reality is that the completion rate in the apprenticeship system has risen from 23 to 63 per cent. As my hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education said, that compares very well with international standards. We have achieved that by tackling weaknesses in the system when people need training providers to be replaced or to improve, and that is what we continue to do.

The right hon. Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay) needs to acknowledge the Government’s incredible success in rebuilding apprenticeships after they had been destroyed by the previous Administration. When he does that, I will be happy to discuss with him the extra measures that need to be put in place. However, I say to him that if he is interested—

Mr. Speaker: Order.

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