Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-62)


2 JUNE 2008

  Q60  Ian Stewart: It is interesting and to your credit, Martin, that you did attract a person like me into Manchester University—a person who has no academic qualifications—in the absence of a system which attracted me, it was very useful to be able to reach that level. I personally have an interest in developing the concept of the scholarly MP and consequently I actually pay my own fees and therefore I am conscious of the impact of that, even on a salary of £60,000 odd like mine. On behalf of my constituents I have to think about those who do not earn salaries like that and the impact on them. I was very keen when we took the vote on the Bill to press the Government about ensuring that if we did pass this Bill that we reviewed it properly and of course the outcome of that was there was to be a review of the three years, as you are aware, and the setting up of the commission to work with OFFA to inform that review. In a publication produced in March, OFFA said that the independent commission due to review the fees in 2009 will be working with OFFA, but OFFA states in its most recent report to Parliament that "our analysis shows that the first year (2006-07) of the new student finance system was remarkably successful". Would it be reasonable to conclude that OFFA's role in the review next year is going to be that of a strong supporter of a variable tuition fee?

  Professor Sir Martin Harris: I think the answer to that is, and you said this earlier, Ian, that on the evidence thus far we have not seen the dire consequences in terms of social participation that some were convinced would happen. I would go further and I have no idea—I know that nobody has begun to think about this yet—but any submission I might make to such a commission as and when it is established would say that over and above the bursary system we do need to do the very things that we have been talking about in terms of greatly increasing our outreach into schools and I would say especially 11 to 16 schools. The syllabus in a 16 to 18 school or FE college, what an individual student can do is often irrevocably determined by things that have happened in an 11 to 16 school. We have to start as early as we can in these processes.

  Q61  Ian Stewart: Is there a level for tuition fees above which students from disadvantaged backgrounds will be deterred from progressing to higher education?

  Professor Sir Martin Harris: If I were writing a report myself—this is Martin Harris speaking now and not the Director of OFFA—what I would say is this that in any raising of the fee beyond £3,000 the extra fee has to be reimbursed fully by the university, not by the treasury, to those students who are below an income level predetermined by Parliament. The treasury will not put any more money in.

  Q62  Ian Stewart: We currently have 25% of variable fees above the threshold to be recycled for bursaries. If that percentage was raised would that widen access?

  Professor Sir Martin Harris: I do not think so for the reasons I have explained. If I were putting extra resources in it would be in schools-related projects.

  Chairman: On that note, may I thank Professor Sir Martin Harris for your attendance this afternoon.

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