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We are maintaining very good completion rates for first degrees with the latest statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development showing that the UK ranks 3rd of the 27 countries reporting data in this area. This has been achieved and maintained during a period when higher education has been opened up to both increased numbers and a greater diversity of students.
Michael Gove: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills how many and what percentage of pupils eligible for free school meals progressed to higher education in the last year for which data are available. 
Mr. Lammy: Currently only one data point is available (for 19-year-olds in 2005/06) and this shows that, at a national level, 13.6 per cent. of young people who were in receipt of free school meals (FSM) at age 15 in 2001/02 had progressed to HE by age 19 by 2005/06. The equivalent figure for non-FSM pupils was 33.0 per cent., leaving a gap of 19.4 percentage points between the two groups.
|Percentage of children aged 15 in maintained schools in England by FSM status in 2001/02, who attended an HEI in the UK (or studied HE in an FEI college in England) by the age of 19 in 2005/06|
|Population||Number of children progressing to HE||Percentage|
Due to rounding (to the nearest 100 children), components may not sum to totals.
Matched Higher Education and Statistics Agency (HESA), National Pupil Database (NPD) and Individual Learner Record
Work is currently in progress to obtain matched data that will allow DIUS analysts to extend the progression rate analysis to higher education entry by age 20 and this will be available in the next few months.
Mr. Boswell: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what steps he has taken to establish a mechanism for annual review of the new funding regime for equivalent or lower qualifications. 
Mr. Lammy: The Secretary of State established when he finalised this policy in January 2008 that the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) should conduct an annual review on its impact. I wrote to HEFCE earlier this month setting out the terms of reference for the review. A copy of this letter has been placed in the House of Commons Library. HEFCE has started work on the review and plan to report later in the year.
Redistributing funding for equivalent and lower level qualifications
1. In January 2008 the Secretary of State, John Denham, wrote to you about the Governments policy on the redistribution of institutional funding for students doing equivalent and lower level qualifications (ELQs). Your redistribution of ELQ funding began at the start of the 2008/09 academic year, and is then set to scale up over time. In his letter John said that the impact of the
policy should be reviewed annually by the Council, and the Council should be prepared to act on the findings of these reviews to improve the implementation of the policy.
2. We have always been aware that the scope of this first annual review, scheduled for December 2008, would inevitably be limited. We are only in the first year of the new arrangements, only a minority of the overall redeployment of funds have taken place and limited data regarding 2008-09 entry will be available at this point in time. One role of this initial investigation is therefore to provide a baseline for future reviews, but this should not rule out appropriate changes, if they are justified by the evidence.
3. I am, however, also conscious that the economic climate has changed since John announced the Governments new policy on ELQ funding in September 2007. In an economic downturn it is more important than ever that individuals and businesses have access to high quality, affordable educational provision to improve competitiveness and to enable workers to enter growth areas in the labour market.
4. As you review the implementation of ELQs, I would like the Council to consider whether there is evidence that any modification to the approach decided on earlier this year will help universities respond more effectively to the challenges of the economic downturn. The review should not, however, lead to a significant net increase in the overall number of ELQ students studying exempt or protected subjects because we will continue to give priority for public funding to those who have not yet obtained a first higher education qualification.
5. As part of the review, I would like the Council to investigate whether there is any evidence available of changes in the flow of students as a result of ELQ policy. If there is concrete evidence of a large fall in demand at national level for a subject of national strategic importance, I would like the Council to advise us on:
a. the scope to increase demand for that subject from those without an equivalent or higher level qualification
b. whether there is adequate provision of Foundation Degreesas the hallmark vocational qualificationin that subject
c. the scope for labour market demand for graduates in that discipline to translate into increased employer funding to support students in that discipline; and only then
d. whether there is a case for exempting entrants to the subject who have an ELQ from the general ELQ funding rule or protecting it in other ways.
6. In any such cases, the Council should also advise on the scope for removing exempted or protected subjects from the list. We will then work with you to agree any changes to the subjects that are exempted or protected.
7. It is, of course, for the Council to decide on the best way of conducting this review but I would like it to take an evidence-based approach. I imagine the review will exclude Strategically Important and Vulnerable Subjects because the health of these disciplines rightly falls under the remit of your new Strategically Important Subjects advisory group, chaired by Peter Saraga. And, given your additional support for SIVS, it would be difficult (if not impossible) to establish a baseline for the review that would be comparable with other subjects. You will, no doubt, work with Peters group as and when it is necessary.
8. I am very grateful to the HEFCE Board and its officers for their work on the implementation of the policy and I look forward to continuing to work closely with the Council on this and other issues.
Mr. Rob Wilson: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what the cost of writing off unpaid student loans has been in each year since such loans were introduced. 
|Amount of public loan debt written off by financial year (UK and EU domiciled students)|
|Financial year||Loan write off amount (£ million)|
Excluding those in arrears, loans are written off when, in the case of those who entered higher education before 1 September 2006, the borrower reaches the age of 65; or, in the case of those who entered higher education from 1 September 2006, 25 years after their statutory repayment due date.
The significant rise on write offs for the financial year 2007-08 is due to £3.2 million of backdated write offs for individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs) and bankruptcy, which the Student Loans Company did not have the functionality to process until that year. Since the Higher Education Act 2004 came into force, borrowers declaring themselves bankrupt have still been liable for their student loan debt.
The steady rise in the amount of public loan debt written off each year also reflects the growing maturity of the student loan book. In other words, there has been a year-on-year increase in the total number of loans which have been issued since the schemes began.
Mr. Philip Hammond: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what his latest estimate is of the amount overpaid in student loan repayments in the last 12 month period for which data are available. 
On 31 March 2008, the loan accounts of 30,091 borrowers were in credit by over £5.00, at an average of £210 per borrower. These amounts are refunded with interest by the Student Loans Company when borrowers accounts are reconciled at the end of the financial year.
Mr. Swayne: To ask the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills what recent representations he has received on the difference between market interest rates and the interest rate charged on student loans; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Lammy [holding answer 22 January 2009]: In the last three months, Members have tabled five questions on this subject. The Department has also received representations from members of the public and the press.
The legislative provisions for income contingent repayment student loans require that the rate of interest must: (i) be no higher than is necessary to maintain the value of the loan in real terms; and (ii) not exceed 1 per cent. above the highest of the base rates of a specified group of banks(1) (the low interest cap).
The interest rate is normally set every September to equal the retail prices index for the previous Marchcurrently 3.8 per cent. Following the reduction in the Bank of England base rate by the Monetary Policy Committee on 4 December 2008, all the specified banks reduced their base rates to 2 per cent. and the low interest cap came into play. The Student Loans Company (SLC) therefore reduced the interest rate for income contingent loans from 3.8 per cent. to 3 per cent. with effect from 5 December 2008.
Following the latest reduction in the Bank of England base rate on 8 January 2009, all the specified banks have now reduced their base rates to 1.5 per cent. The SLC therefore reduced the interest rate for income contingent loans from 3 per cent. to 2.5 per cent. with effect from 9 January 2009.
(1) Bank of England; Bank of Scotland; Barclays Bank plc; Clydesdale Bank plc; Co-operative Bank plc; Courts and Co; HSBC Bank plc; Lloyds TSB Bank plc; Natwest Bank plc; the Royal Bank of Scotland plc.