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Political Extremism

5. Mr. Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab): What progress has been made in his Department’s further education consultation on promotion of shared values and counteracting violent extremism. [213865]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Bill Rammell): Our consultation on further education providers’ role in promoting community cohesion, fostering shared values and preventing violent extremism closed on 6 May. We have established a network of “champion principals” to work with us on the way forward. We will revise our guidance and work with the new Learning and Skills Improvement Service and other Government Departments to create resources and support that respond to the needs expressed in the consultation and reinforce partnership working.

Mr. Sharma: I thank the Minister for that answer. One of the best ways to counter violent extremism is to encourage vigorous open debate. What is the Department doing to ensure that education providers enable such open debate to take place?

Bill Rammell: My hon. Friend makes an exceedingly important point, and the arguments the Secretary of State just outlined apply to both further and higher education. In academic freedom and free and open debate, we have one of the most powerful tools at our disposal to isolate and challenge the very small minority who advocate violent extremism. We must look for every opportunity within further education colleges to promote that. One initiative that I am very pleased we are taking forward is the allocation of £2 million in each of the next three years to develop materials to promote the citizenship education within our FE colleges that will help such debate take place.

Low-carbon Economy

6. Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): What funding his Department has allocated to the implementation of policies set out in the “Building a Low Carbon Economy” document. [213867]

The Minister for Science and Innovation (Ian Pearson): As the House will be aware, the Government are today publishing for consultation plans to take the UK towards a low-carbon future. Research Councils UK expenditure on energy research and training has more than doubled since 2003 and, over the period 2008-09 to 2010-11, that
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will approach £300 million. The Energy Technologies Institute will invest up to £1 billion over the next 10 years, and the Technology Strategy Board is expanding its portfolio of activities through a range of initiatives, including innovation platforms that are low carbon.

Mr. Kidney: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. I would like to help him to invest the money wisely. Although the document referred to in the question has been led by another Department—the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs—does he agree that it is an excellent ambition for this Government to lead the world both in the transition from high carbon to low carbon and in being successful in the future low-carbon economy? The document shows that the route to get there is through innovative technologies and world-class skills. Does he agree that it is important to make sure that we are preparing people now with the skills for then? In that context, is he aware of my proposal for a network of what I call “sea change colleges” around the country, where we could train people in those skills—and, naturally, I have suggested a location in my constituency for one of them?

Ian Pearson: I understand that the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education met my hon. Friend to discuss the “sea change colleges” proposals. The DEFRA document is excellent, as is the consultation document being launched today, which refers to the potential for creating 160,000 new jobs as a result of making the transition that we need to make towards a greener, low-carbon economy. The “World Class Skills” document sets out how we want to embed sustainability and address environmental skills as a key issue for the future. We had a major conference in Windsor last week, involving the sector skills councils, expert bodies and all those involved in the environmental industries, to help us chart a way forward as we look to implement the “World Class Skills” document.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con): I welcome the research programme that the Minister has mentioned. He will be aware that the Climate Change Bill is being considered upstairs in Committee and, in that context, the CBI has asked for interim targets and rolling budgets. Will he commission research to come forward with precisely that in the context of the Climate Change Bill programme?

Ian Pearson: I do not want to give any specific commitments today, but I can say to the hon. Lady that the Government are funding some major research programmes. “Living with environmental change” is a major cross-council programme that is looking at a range of areas. Through the Committee on Climate Change, a lot of research is also going on into setting targets, and work is being done on frameworks. There are tremendous opportunities here for the UK not only to do the right thing by making that transition to a low-carbon economy, but to make sure at the same time that sustainable new jobs can be created in our economy. Research and development and support to enable that to happen are in Britain’s best interests.

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): The Minister will be well aware that there is wide support for a low-carbon economy, but we are facing energy challenges
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that mean that we probably need to build some more coal-fired power stations. That will largely depend on carbon capture and storage. Can the Minister give a status report on where we are with the grant going into research into carbon capture and storage in this country, and the challenges faced?

Ian Pearson: I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a deep interest in these issues, and he will be aware of my personal very strong commitment to carbon capture and storage as a new technology that needs to be deployed, at scale, worldwide if we are to be successful in tackling climate change issues. The Government will shortly be publishing further proposals on carbon capture and storage, and I will make sure that he sees those. If I can provide him with any further information, I would be delighted to do so.


7. Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on the provision of scholarships in the UK to students from other Commonwealth countries. [213868]

The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Bill Rammell): I met the Minister for Europe recently and discussed this issue. Officials in my Department and in the Foreign Office have followed up this meeting by meeting representatives of Universities UK and the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission. As a result, the FCO, UUK and my Department are working together with other Government Departments and representatives of British business to look at ways of maximising the impact of scholarships, including exploring the potential for alternative funding of doctoral awards for developed Commonwealth countries.

Simon Hughes: I think that I am a little encouraged by that answer. The Minister will know that there has been great distress in many organisations in this country and around the Commonwealth at the FCO’s cutting off of the funding for postgraduate scholarships from developed Commonwealth countries. May I ask Ministers to continue those discussions and if necessary to work out a new way of providing funding from the Government if it cannot come from the old FCO source? Will they also try to have as an objective our continuing to have the best and brightest of scholars from all over the Commonwealth who could not themselves afford to come here, so that we build for the future not just the academic links but the international friendships that are fundamental to our foreign policy, as well as to international education and skill development?

Bill Rammell: The hon. Gentleman’s underlying point about the importance of the globalisation of higher education and the benefit of overseas students coming to this country and building long-lasting relationships is important. However, it is important to make it clear that, overall, Government funding for the Commonwealth scholarships is not being cut. The Foreign Office is reducing its funding, but the Department for International Development is significantly increasing its. Overall, by the end of this spending review period, funding for the Commonwealth scholarships will be £2.7 million higher
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than it was in 2007-08. There is an increase, but we need to get the balance right, and discussions to ensure that we manage the change effectively are ongoing.


8. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What funding his Department is providing to assist further education students to obtain apprenticeships. [213871]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills (Mr. David Lammy): Government plans to allocate £927 million in the next financial year to expand and improve apprenticeships were published in the Learning and Skills Council grant letter issued on 16 November 2007.

David Taylor: Notwithstanding the Minister’s answer, for which I am grateful, the construction sector has serious difficulties, as next month’s Union of Construction, Allied Trades and Technicians’ report is likely to show. What is the Minister doing to tackle a position in which the industry needs 90,000 new recruits each year, but employers take on just 7,000 apprentices, which is many fewer than further education colleges produce? Surely this reservoir of untapped talent has to be tapped as a national priority, because apprenticeships are a firm foundation for our future success.

Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend is right. Throughout the country, cranes are up in our cities for programmes such as house building, the Olympics in London, Building Schools for the Future and new hospitals. We need construction workers for those projects and we want to see an increase in apprenticeships. I am pleased that the number of apprenticeships has increased by a third in the last year with 21,000 people starting apprenticeships in the construction industry, and yesterday we were able to announce a three-year deal with the sector skills council for the construction sector, with a £135 million investment in training and 2,000 specialist apprenticeships to increase the number further.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings) (Con): The Minister knows that the average number of apprentices in training overall has declined as more emphasis has been placed on other forms of workplace training, such as Train to Gain. The Government are banking on Train to Gain, even though it has emerged that the basic contract does not pay for much beyond assessing employees’ existing skills. What a contrast with the best of apprenticeships of the kind that you completed, Mr. Speaker. The Government must know that the failure to support apprenticeships and emphasise Train to Gain is in stark contrast with the LSC survey that found that the majority of employers who have signed up to Train to Gain have seen

Why does the Minister think that is?

Mr. Lammy: I just wish that before the hon. Gentleman stood up he would check his facts. If he looked properly at what is happening in Train to Gain, he would see that the vast majority, 77 per cent., of those pursuing Train to Gain, are in the higher bracket. That includes training, new qualifications, and an increase in productivity for
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employers. That is why there is an 80 per cent. satisfaction rate with Train to Gain among employers. The hon. Gentleman needs to do better and might think about going on a course himself.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab): The Government have made huge progress in increasing the number of apprenticeships in the last decade and improving completion rates. But is it not the case that one of the reasons that young people give for not completing is the lack of portability of the apprenticeship? Will the Minister say something about the Government’s efforts to improve the transferability of apprenticeships?

Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend is right. We want to see progression, so that it is clear that the apprenticeship is about quality, and we will introduce an apprenticeship Bill to underline that. Part of that quality is progression to a foundation degree, and the clear indication is that that is linked to higher skills. We are working with the Higher Education Funding Council on matching data sets so that we can show properly how many apprenticeships are taking that route and progressing.

Our review said that we want more group training associations. With a hub and spoke model, that allows apprentices the opportunity to move across organisations, which is especially relevant for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (LD): I am sure that I speak for my hon. Friends when I say that we welcome the huge increase in the number of young people involved in apprenticeships, and I compliment the Government on that. However, it is a real problem that, in the pursuit of those ambitious targets, there are far more programme-led apprenticeships in our colleges, with no employer involved. The danger is that that will tarnish the brand of apprenticeships and short-change our young people. Will the Minister respond to that point and give the House some indication of how many apprenticeships will be programme led, as opposed to employer led, this year?

Mr. Lammy: I thank the hon. Gentleman for the spirit in which he put his question. I reassure him that all the 250,000 apprenticeships in the expansion since 1997 are proper apprenticeships: they are not programme-led apprenticeships. However, he is right that there are many programme-led apprenticeships in our FE colleges. As we all know, there is a problem with young people not in education or training. Many young people may not be ready to take an apprenticeship at 16 but, with the initial training in college of a programme-led apprenticeship, they may be ready by 17 or 18. When we scrutinised the Learning and Skills Act 2000, organisations such as the Prince’s Trust supported programme-led apprenticeships because they saw the benefits that they bring. This year’s increase of 22,000 extra learners on apprenticeships is in proper apprenticeships with a work-based element.

Aimhigher Programme

9. Chris Mole (Ipswich) (Lab): What assessment he has made of the performance of the Aimhigher programme against its objectives. [213874]

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The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Bill Rammell): Aimhigher is making an important contribution to widening participation in higher education. After just 18 months, evaluation shows that Excellence Challenge—Aimhigher’s predecessor—was having a significant impact on young people’s attainment and aspirations. The proportion of university entrants from lower social classes is increasing, and the number of entrants from Ipswich has gone up from 285 in 1997 to 460 in 2006—almost 63 per cent. higher.

Chris Mole: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he draw the same encouragement as I do from surveys showing that more than 50 per cent. of pupils from all social classes now aspire to go to university, and does he agree that our job is now to turn that aspiration into achievement?

Bill Rammell: I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We are making progress. Applications to university are up by more than 6 per cent. for next year, acceptances were up by 6 per cent. this year and the lower socio-economic group classification is also increasing. However, there is a gap between aspiration and fulfilment, which is why we are investing substantially in student grants. Two thirds of students will be eligible from this September. We have also made, for the first time, a radical commitment to guarantee that any young person receiving the education maintenance allowance will have a minimum financial entitlement when they go to university. All of us know that the big hurdle to overcome in young people staying on and progressing in further and higher education is the decision that is taken at 16, not at 18, so that is one of the best changes that we can make to drive the process forward.

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con): Is not the real gap between the Government’s rhetoric and reality? This week, the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education said that degrees are being dumbed down: instead of a third of degrees being first or upper second class, as they were in 1996, two thirds are. Degrees are being dumbed down. People no longer expect to fail—they just go to university and pass. The Government’s rhetoric is that we should bring lots of disadvantaged people into university education, but we have learned this week that that is not true—the numbers have hardly changed in the past 10 years. Let us address that gap. Can the Government tell us what they will do to address it?

Bill Rammell: It is not true. The hon. Gentleman inaccurately describes the views of the QAA, and it is regrettable when comments are taken out of context and misused. We are making greater progress, but we need to do more. It is about a combination of aspiration and support. The fundamental difference between our two parties is that we agree with expanding opportunity and the Conservatives still believe that higher education is the preserve of the elite.

Engineering Diplomas

11. Joan Ryan (Enfield, North) (Lab): How many higher education institutions have indicated they will accept the new engineering diploma for admissions purposes. [213878]

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The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Bill Rammell): The first advanced diplomas will be awarded in 2010. Entry requirements for specific courses will not be available until March 2009, so it is not possible at this stage to indicate how many institutions will accept diplomas for entry to their courses. However, UCAS is collecting statements covering the general acceptability of diplomas that are available on the UCAS website. Almost 150 higher education institutions have made statements, the vast majority of which are very positive about acceptances on to higher education courses.

Joan Ryan: I thank my hon. Friend for that very encouraging answer. He will know of my constituency’s proud tradition of engineering. Employers say to me that part of the problem with young people’s approach to engineering is that they do not know what it is to be a modern engineer. Their view of engineering is stuck in the past. They also do not understand the route to engineering. What measures is my hon. Friend putting in place to ensure that when the higher education institutions want to accept those qualifications and offer pathways into engineering young people are aware of it as an option and to ensure that they take it?

Bill Rammell: I agree with my right hon. Friend. Whenever I talk to engineering employers I find that they are keen to work with the Government and the funding agencies to present a modern, up-to-date image of engineering that entices young people to take on those courses. We can do that in a number of ways, but one of the most effective is to point out to young people the higher graduate earnings premium from undertaking a science, technology, engineering or mathematics degree compared with that from a non-STEM degree. We certainly need to do more of that, but I believe that the diplomas, which target young people at the age of 14 who have talent and potential but are switched off by an exclusively academic route to educational success, can help us to make progress.

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