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We are successfully promoting closer links between universities and employers. We set HEFCE a target of having 5,000 co-funded places in 2008-09 and I am
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pleased that it has approved funding for more than 8,000 places. That stands us in good stead for our ambition of having 20,000 places by 2010-11.

In August, we launched our voluntary giving scheme, with £200 million to leverage £400 million in donations during three years. Some 140 institutions have chosen to participate, and many of them are doing so and have plans to transform their performance. That is not going to match overnight the endowment funds of institutions such as Harvard—at this point, I should declare an interest as an ex-graduate of that institution—but we should remember that it took American universities three or four decades to build up the funds that they now have. That scheme is important because it will not only generate extra money, but emphasise that universities are just as worthy of donations as other charities.

We also know that international students are an important source of funding for higher education. People from overseas account for about one in six of our student population. Globalisation and a strong international reputation have helped to make us an attractive destination for learners, and will continue to do so. Ambitious young people in search of a good career know that they are likely to end up working for a multinational business or at least for an organisation with interests or outposts in other countries. They also know how much more employable a period of study overseas is likely to make them. That and the fact that English remains the global language of commerce partly explain why so many international students want to study here. It has been estimated that students from outside the EU are worth £1.7 billion to the sector in tuition fees alone. Their value to the wider economy has been calculated at almost £4 billion a year.

However, other countries’ university systems are not standing still. Universities here will continue to need the income that international students bring in, and to benefit from the fact that their presence makes a scholarly community richer and more diverse, so the sector and the Government will need to carry on seeking ways to improve the quality of the experience that international students can expect when they get to the UK.

I come now to tuition fees and the extra income from variable tuition fees. Let me say two things about that. First, the Government, not students, meet the up-front costs of fees. We now pay out £4 billion a year to cover the costs of fees and student support. We have not had much experience of the new arrangements—some of what has been said this morning is a little premature—but there is no evidence that they are putting students off going to university. In fact, the situation is just the opposite: record numbers of students are applying, both generally and from less well-off families.

Secondly, in just one year, variable fees have generated an extra £450 million, of which £100 million is being recycled as student bursaries, thanks to the access agreements that institutions have agreed with the Office for Fair Access. To put that into perspective, £450 million is about 30 per cent. of the increase in income that universities generated last year.

However, before we even start to think about fees, next year, we shall publish our framework for the development of higher education over the next 10 to 15 years. The framework will set the essential context
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for the work of the review. My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey is right to say that over the next period we must have a profound and far-reaching discussion about what universities are for. The framework will cover such issues as the demographic changes that we are seeing in society: over the next 10 to 15 years, the proportion of young adults available to go into universities will be falling.

We shall discuss research careers and the importance of people being able to dedicate their lives to such careers. That involves understanding the difficulty of people sometimes being on a short-term contract and understanding that we want people moving between universities and business. We shall discuss the student experience and globalisation in the context of e-learning.

We shall have that debate against the backdrop of a global downturn. The question will be how we ensure that our universities are well positioned as we head out of that period. All those subjects have to be considered thoroughly as part of the vision for higher education over the next couple of decades. Any future discussion of our policy on tuition fees will have to take account of that framework. Until we have had the debate across the range and diversity of our higher education institutions in relation to what they are for, the challenges that lie ahead and ensuring that this country is well positioned to make the most of the changes, it is premature to talk about setting timetables for a review.

Mr. Wilson: The Minister is talking eloquently about the challenges that the sector will face. One challenge is the massive pensions black hole that is developing in the sector. Can he give hon. Members some idea today of the size of the black hole that has developed and what pressures it might exert on the sector?

Mr. Lammy: No, I cannot do that today, except to say that when the hon. Gentleman puts his remarks in the context of a black hole, he is overstating what is a serious issue that is rightly part of the debate and will obviously have some bearing on the overall fiscal and financial funding for universities. Nevertheless, as I have said, substantial funds are going into the sector. We can have that discussion in due course.

Let me deal with the remarks made by the hon. Member for North-East Milton Keynes about part-time students in particular. It is important to say that part-time student numbers have increased under this Government. Part-time students now make up 40 per cent. of the student population. The number of English students undertaking part-time undergraduate courses rose by 21 per cent. between 1997 and 2007.

The hon. Gentleman began by saying that he did not want to revisit the ELQ debate. I was watching as my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell)—then Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, and now Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office—led those debates from the Dispatch Box. I do not want to revisit that discussion today, except to say that the Government were the first to introduce statutory financial support for part-time students.

We absolutely value the work of the Open university, and I look forward to meeting its representatives. I value especially its unique national status and the unique opportunity that it has to provide part-time and full-time
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courses for people throughout the country. For that reason, it has been able to get extra funds in respect of widening participation. I am sure that there will be every opportunity further to support the Open university—a university for which I have tremendous respect. I was pleased to be able to visit it when I was a Culture Minister to look at its provision and particularly its library. That institution is hugely valued by Labour Members.

Mr. Lancaster: We are not short of time—we have another 13 minutes—so we can consider the issue in some detail. The Minister has just spoken about the historical rise in part-time student numbers up to 2007 or 2008. What assessment have the Government made of the impact on future part-time student numbers of the withdrawal of ELQ funding? Will he also do what I asked in my speech and put some meat on the bones of where the exemptions have come from? They represent only 4.6 per cent. of current ELQ students.

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman is aware that all Governments have to have priorities. I do not want to be too party political about this, but our priority has been to get extra funding into our universities to ensure that they are world class and to support widening participation. We have done well on those measures against the backdrop of what was happening during the previous period, when we were going backwards, so let us be generous when we discuss those priorities. We have also wanted to safeguard STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—and initial teacher training.

The discussion relating to ELQ, as has been rehearsed several times, has not been about a cut. The OU’s budget went up by 2.4 per cent. It gained from changes to widening participation. The ELQ policy in the end means that more than 6 million people with level 3 skills can go to university for the first time. The hon. Gentleman does not want to talk about the opportunity to go to university for the first time, but that is clearly where the priorities of the Government have been in relation to funding. I am disappointed that he shakes his head in relation to those young adults having the opportunity to go to university for the first time.

Mr. Lancaster: I return to the two questions that I asked of the Minister. I appreciate that he is new to his brief, and the answer may come to him shortly. First, what assessment have the Government made of the impact of the £100 million cut in ELQ funding on the number of part-time students in the years to come, and never mind the historical data? Secondly, will he explain the reason for the exemptions for ELQ students, which represent only 4.8 per cent? Those are two simple questions.

Mr. Lammy: I thought that I had explained that we are supporting STEM subjects. I hope that that is an explanation that the hon. Gentleman can understand. We are supporting initial teaching training—again, I hope he can understand that explanation. We have put extra money into part-time education for our universities. I hope he can understand that. However, we sought also to prioritise those going to university for the first time. I hope that that is sufficient an explanation.

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The hon. Gentleman’s priorities may be different, and one has to respect that, but the Government have been clear about the agenda. It is not new to the House and the debate has been going on for a considerable time. The Government are absolutely clear about the fact that they want to support the Open university. They want to continue discussions with the OU about its unique national role, and we are pleased that we have been able to extend funding to the Open university on widening participation.

I welcome the opportunity to continue discussions with the OU over the next short while. I hope that the hon. Gentleman feels that his questions have been answered.

Mr. Lancaster: Again, I ask the same question. To be fair, the Minister endeavoured to answer me on one of the exemptions, but he has not yet said what assessment the Government have made of the impact of the ELQ cut on future part-time student numbers. Pray God they have made some assessment of the direction of part-time student numbers. Given that unemployment is rising and that people will need to retrain, the Open university will be a key establishment in retraining them.

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman is now being unreasonable: as a result of his discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow and because he has taken up these matters at the Dispatch Box, he will know that the Government have continued their discussions with the Open university on the number of students and on part-time students generally. We have also discussed those subjects with the Million+ group of universities.

The arguments have been well rehearsed. If the hon. Gentleman wants, I can send him copies of the letters sent by the former Higher Education Minister, but I do not intend to debate the matter again. We have already had that debate.

Stephen Williams: The Minister and his predecessor have said that the Government’s justification for the ELQ decision was that it would switch money to helping those accessing university for the first time. That has some coherence for the E part of ELQ—equivalent qualifications—but not for the L part, which is not much talked about. What about those who are tasting university for the first time by doing short courses? Universities throughout the country, not only the OU, are running community learning programmes. Many institutions say that they will have to slash those programmes because they will no longer be receiving the fee support. What assessment have the Government made of that consequence of their decision?

Mr. Lammy: The hon. Gentleman probably knows that that was an important part of my portfolio as Minister for Skills. The Government broadly wanted to take a position where full level 2, 3 and 4 courses and other qualifications that were desirable in the marketplace attracted public funding.

Discussions are being held against a backdrop of a global economic downturn—changes that have happened rapidly as a result of the credit crunch. As with all Departments, we are looking closely at how to support people in training for skills, which includes further and higher education institutions. It continues to be something that we would expect to be under review at this time. In
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discussion with the sector, we feel that we are able to come forward with further plans to support people, particularly those who want to reskill—those who want to remain in the workplace, but in a different way over the next while.

Derek Wyatt: I speak as an Open university graduate. Several times, the Minister mentioned the national importance of the OU, but will he also consider its international significance? For instance, it is training teachers in Africa. Following the civil war, 23 of the 25 Cabinet Ministers in Ethiopia had MBAs from the Open university. The OU has significance beyond our shores. Perhaps that is why we in the House care so much for it.

Mr. Lammy: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to put that on record. As someone who is the product of leaders of much of that colonial world, who have great respect for the OU, I think that he is correct to put on the agenda its work of international significance, as well as its huge contribution nationally.

I have sought to explore all the issues raised in today’s debate and I am pleased that we have had this productive debate.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Bill Olner (in the Chair): Order. The hon. Gentleman was not here at the beginning of the debate.

Mr. Lammy: I look forward in the coming months to taking up those matters as the new Minister of State with responsibility for higher education.

10.56 am

Sitting suspended.

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Youth Violence (London)

11 am

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I am grateful to Mr. Speaker for selecting this important debate and for giving us the opportunity to discuss youth violence in London so soon after the House returned following the summer recess. I welcome the Minister to his new responsibilities, and I am encouraged by the fact that, as he was a teacher in a former life, he is alert to our concerns.

On a wet day in July this summer, I was standing in my constituency with a large number of people, ready to pay tribute, by laying flowers and saying a few words, to young David Idowu. He had died a few days before, aged 14, in the Royal London hospital, despite the very best efforts of our health service to save his life. He was taken there three weeks earlier after being stabbed in the park near where we gathered, just next to where he lived. Having come home from school, he had gone out to join other youngsters to play football, as any 14-year-old in the summer might be expected to do. He had no history of violence and had been a model pupil; his family were a loving, Christian family, whom I knew. Suddenly, David was attacked and stabbed, and within three weeks he had lost his life.

This morning, the South London Press, not because it seeks to glamorise such things, has the headline, “He never stood a chance”, which is followed by the sub-headline, “20-year-old killed in gang hit”. The background to the debate is not, for me, party political: I do not seek to worsen the position, but to reflect on the fact that, clearly, as all colleagues know, we have had a terrible spate of horrible violent crimes in London affecting our young people. Not that other things have not happened elsewhere in the country—I woke up this morning to the sad news that a youngster had been killed in Merseyside in a similar way. I want to share reflections on the position, and to suggest, among all the extremely good work that is being done, that there are signs of hope, and how, together, we can ensure that it does not simply carry on, and that we are not fatalistic about it.

As well as being a lawyer, I was a youth leader in Southwark just off the Old Kent road before I came into politics. I learned the value of working with young people, and of doing things that turned them from becoming adult troublemakers to being good citizens. I can think of many people who were pretty rough characters in their teens, for whom there was a high risk that things might go wrong, who turned out to be absolutely model citizens in our community—I have known some such people for 25 or 30 years.

One of the helpful briefings that were sent to me ahead of this debate was from the Greater London authority. The GLA officers, on behalf of the Mayor of London and the London assembly members, make the point, which I want to make early in this debate, that although we have youth violence in Greater London, it is perpetrated by only a minuscule proportion of our young people and that, mercifully, only a small proportion of our young people are victims—the Mayor and the GLA put the figure at 1 per cent.

One key message that I hope we will get across today is that almost all our young people are good, upright, law-abiding, well behaved people who want to live full
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adult lives without criminality. We have to support and encourage them. The worrying thing, from the evidence, is that many more than 1 per cent. of them are worried and fearful that they are not safe. There is an increasing climate of fear about the lack of security for young people, which we need to address, because if youngsters do not feel safe, there is a risk that they will do what they think necessary to make them safe, which may involve taking weapons out with them. In the end, that may make them far less safe than before.

The figures are grim. The Howard League for Penal Reform has just produced a report that I commend to colleagues, entitled, “Why Carry a Weapon? A Study of Knife Crime Amongst 15-17 Year Old Males in London”, which begins with a stark couple of pages:

The youngsters involved are then listed. The following page states:

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