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Lord Dormand of Easington: Not true!

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I still find it hard to say what factors secured my survival. If the Minister were to ask me to prepare a paper on what would make a successful head teacher, I should reply by asking her to prepare a paper on what makes a successful politician, because they have something of the same characteristics. The council could, if mishandled, become a burdensome and not very useful exercise.

We live in an age that believes in techniques, more than previous ages have done. The shelves of bookshops are full of books that tell you how you can be transformed. I saw one the other day. It said that if one read that book one could become a leader of men. I have not yet read it, but one will see the effect as time goes on. If we are to make the ideal head teacher, the detail must be apparent to the House before we give the proposal a general welcome. Otherwise, it will just become another load on teachers.

We shall want to look closely at the structure. We need to know how much time will be provided for teachers who wish to take the qualification; whether it will be compulsory; who will pay; who will select; and whether local authorities are to be pre-judgers of the head teachers. Many successful head teachers whom I have known had little experience before they started, but once they had the job they proved that there were geniuses at it.

We all welcome a period of induction, but we would want to ensure that it was monitored properly. I should like to know from the Minister how she regards the present training-in-schools scheme where people are trained on the job and how that will relate to the period of induction.

I turn now to the delicate area of finance. We know that the Government intend to charge a tuition fee of £1,000, with means testing for poorer students, and replace the existing maintenance grant with a loan. The general feeling in some parts of the House seems to be that that will not be too much of a burden. Although it may be a narrow concern, I still worry, as I have said previously, about the position of a graduate. He or she may be the child of poor parents who do not own their own home and perhaps live in a council house. That graduate might decide to work in a primary school. Such graduates are valuable citizens. We want to encourage

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them to go into primary schools, so we must make it possible for them to do so. The graduate would earn about £16,000 a year when he or she started teaching. I accept that a repayment of between £30 and £40 a month--I believe that is what the means testing would lead to--is not, on the surface, arduous. That repayment takes place over a long period through the tax system.

I got in touch confidentially with three banks. I put to them the position of such a person. I asked whether they would be able to give that person, who would have a debt of £12,000, a mortgage. I enter a warning about that debt of £12,000. Noble Lords will be aware that when one lives away from home one often has to hold the flat in which one lives, albeit one shares it with others, for a whole year. People are often ruthless over the rents they charge students. My daughter was at Manchester. If she had had to pay for everything, she would have emerged with a debt larger than £12,000.

The banks pointed out that with such a loan it would be very hard for a person to get a mortgage. The result is that a teacher earning £16,000 a year and living in London would have little prospect of owning his own property. If he married a graduate his position would be worse. Therefore, thought must be given to the fact that such a debt might discourage poor families from encouraging their children to go to university. The noble Lord, Lord Plant, underestimated the enormous fear of debt which exists among poor families. My family--and I agree that it was many years ago--would never have let me get into such a position. In many areas of the country, the thought of debt is horrifying.

I wish that the Government had kept to the suggestions in the Dearing Report, and we shall be proposing amendments to that effect. That would have satisfied most of the need and would have left the person in my example with a much smaller debt.

We welcome the inspection of teacher training and would wish it to begin as soon as possible. Above all, we want absolute assurances that the money gained by these new measures will go straight into the institutions of education. It would be a disaster if it became the subject of the annual row with the Treasury. Nothing would be gained. We must remember that as a result of the abolition of maintenance grants about £1.5 billion is in circulation.

The Minister has given assurances which I respect, but I hope that she will say more precisely that the Treasury has stated that the money will go straight to the institutions of education and will not be diverted to other government needs. If not, I can assure your Lordships that the money will vanish elsewhere.

I said at the beginning of my speech that to a large extent the Bill is unsatisfactory merely because of its vagueness, and I illustrated some examples. Unless we are to sit in this House until three o'clock in the morning dealing with a multitude of amendments which try to put flesh on the skeleton, I urge the Minister to do so or to give us an analysis of the archaeology.

7.12 p.m.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, teachers have taken a lot of stick over the past decade, and if the shortcomings of a

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few have caused the many to feel undervalued, anything that will help this vast majority of teachers to hold their heads high and assert their professional pride is greatly to be welcomed. So, as many noble Lords have said, it is good that, just as doctors have their General Medical Council, there should be at last a general teaching council.

I welcome also a second major provision in the Bill, strongly endorsing the role of Ofsted, a body which has also come in for its share of stick but which has fully earned the confidence of the present Government as it did of the last. But much clarification is needed of the functions of the GTC and Ofsted as they are set forth in the Bill. The GTC is to advise on standards of teaching and teacher training, but so must Ofsted--along with the DfEE's own new instruments, the Standards Task Force and the Standards and Effectiveness Unit. We need assurance that lines of responsibility will be clear and that these various bodies will not get in each other's hair.

The GTC is to advise on teacher training--but again so is Ofsted and of course there is the Teacher Training Agency, not mentioned in the Bill but it is known that Mr. Blunkett has sent a lengthy letter within recent weeks reaffirming the TTA's

    "central role ... to draw up and implement effective policies across all aspects of teacher recruitment, teacher training, and teaching standards".

Again, we need assurance that all this has been thought through and that there is no danger of crossed wires.

So--subject to a lot of clarification--Part I of the Bill consists of provisions which I very much welcome. Part II is something else, and I am plainly not alone in so thinking. I note that the Minister said that the Government will be introducing amendments around Clauses 17 and 18 and we look forward to going into those matters in greater detail at the Committee stage. But I for one shall need to hear better arguments than have been advanced so far for levying a flat tuition fee but prohibiting top-up fees. And I look for clarification on the matter of extra fees already charged--for field trips, modern language study abroad, and the like. It is some relief that the new fee is to be demitted in respect of certain professional degrees such as nursing and that the PGCE will also escape. But why stop there? We are desperately short of good recruits for main-stream teaching degrees. We are also short of secondary teachers in several subject areas such as maths and modern languages. Why not use the new tuition fee as a device to influence student choice of degree? For example, if graduates in maths or modern languages are not as plentiful as graduates in, say, media studies, why not for some years exempt maths and modern languages from all or part of the £1,000 fee?

One might object of course that not all graduates in maths and German go on to become school teachers. But many do, and if the TTA's campaigns and the GTC's recruitment role are successful, many more must. Indeed, it is to be hoped that the GTC will speedily and profoundly influence universities to work more closely with the profession that so many of their graduates will join.

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A couple of years ago, Patricia Spacks, president of the Modern Language Association, told American universities that they must accept,

    "responsibility for what happens in earlier years of education",

and she added:

    "The current attempt to articulate national standards ... for secondary schools dramatises the consequences of the vagueness and multiplicity that currently mark higher education".

Perish the thought that any such remarks could be directed at British universities--though they are not all that far from the thought expressed last week by Mary Lord, policy head of the Training and Enterprise Council. She insists that our universities should,

    "build work-related learning into every undergraduate curriculum".

This may strike professors of classics or philosophy as a tad extreme, but we must not forget that university dons have always been concerned with the future career of their students. Straightforward, of course, with medicine and law, but less so with science and arts, where professors (and I speak in confessional mode) have perhaps concentrated on their students' potential in research rather than on their future needs in other careers, especially school teaching. Today, with a participation rate set to rise towards 40 per cent. and with a hundred universities, formally undifferentiated and with many if not most strenuously insisting on such a seamless HE raiment, we are plainly into mass higher education and all that this entails.

Of course, it must continue to be from our BAs and BScs that future FBAs and FRSs will be elected and blue skies research pursued successfully. But far more of our graduates will become school teachers and it is in the interests of us all that this should be so and that this future career pattern be very much in the mind of those guiding their steps as undergraduates.

It makes sense therefore that those responsible for designing BA and BSc curricula and those responsible for monitoring quality in undergraduate teaching should seek liaison with Ofsted, with the new GTC, and perhaps in due course with the proposed institute for teaching and learning so that those graduates who choose to enter teaching can go on to their professional courses confidently equipped with the subject knowledge and skills that they will need.

I end by restating the points on which I hope the Minister will in due course respond. They concern clarifying the role of the GTC in relation to existing bodies; the justification for a flat tuition fee but no top-up fees; the question of minor fees for field study and the like; and the reduction of or exemption from the flat tuition fee in strategic relation to national need.

7.21 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I shall say a few words about the general teaching council proposals, the proposed induction period and the general effect of Clauses 16 to 22 on universities and their students.

As the Minister and other noble Lords have said, a general teaching council for England and Wales has been talked about for some time. Teachers were delighted when they realised that it was in the Labour Party manifesto and now here it is in this Bill.

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The question that Parliament must now ask itself is that which the noble Lord, Lord Tope, asked; namely, whether this general teaching council, as proposed, will have the effect intended? Are we sure it will be a council worth having? Will it be worth the teachers' subscriptions, the effort of elections, the time spent away from classrooms and the public money required initially to set it up? The noble Lord, Lord Plant, thought that it would be worth it.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tope. What the Bill proposes is no more than a creature of the Secretary of State: it is an advisory body advising on a wide front; a body which keeps a register but which does not determine who is eligible to be on the register and does not decide who is to be removed from it.

In a helpful brief from the Local Government Association, it quotes the Minister for School Standards as saying that the general teaching council is intended,

    "to restore the morale of teachers who for too long have had too little say in determining the shape and future of their profession".

The association expressed the view--and again, it is a view echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Tope--that if the general teaching council is to have success in that role, it will need to be trusted and given real powers over the register, over standards of professional conduct and have responsibility for the professional framework.

The noble Lord, Lord Walton, made a plea for a body answerable to the Privy Council, more like those bodies in the medical profession. The right reverend Prelate toyed with that idea too. I believe that such autonomy is desirable but may be some way off for teachers. Yet surely if the Government's immediate aim is to be realised, teachers should at least be given responsibility now of the kind that they have had for a long time in Scotland. Since 1966, the GTC in Scotland, with a large majority of teacher members elected by teachers, has had strong executive powers. For example, it decides who is to be on the register. It must be emphasised that no-one can teach at all in a state school in Scotland unless he or she is registered. It decides who is registered as a probationer; who is to be removed from the register for reasons of incompetence, health, misbehaviour and so on; and it operates a statutory appeals system.

I am sorry that neither the Minister of State nor the Scottish Office Minister are able to be here at this moment. They must eat, as we all must. But when the Minister winds up, he will perhaps be able to say why the Government are not proposing at least that level of autonomy for this GTC. Are they perhaps afraid that teachers would not rise adequately to the occasion; that they would not find themselves able to be sufficiently detached about registration, tough enough about discipline, competence and removal from the register? If those are the department's fears, I suggest they should look more carefully than perhaps they already have to the north of the United Kingdom. Scottish education has its problems, none of us denies that, but the General Teaching Council there appears to work smoothly. These days, teacher politics come into it during the electoral process, but thereafter the elected teacher

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members operate in a properly professional way. They are detached and tough in their decision-making. Interestingly, I have found from the teachers to whom I have talked recently that it is the registration and disciplinary work done on their behalf that those teachers know most about and value most.

If the Government have it in mind to test out the profession south of the Border by first creating an advisory body and if that works, adding executive powers later, I suggest that they are going about it in the most alarming way. To add powers, even such as exist in Scotland, to decide literally who can teach children and who cannot, by means of a statutory instrument--and if I read Clauses 5 and 25 correctly, worse still, under the negative resolution procedure--is downright dangerous. Surely there would need to be careful discussion, made possible only by the introduction of further primary legislation, before such draconian powers are transferred.

But I ask the Government why they do not send a more encouraging message now. Why do they not trust English and Welsh teachers as those in Scotland are trusted? Why do they not give them the responsibility right away? It will be extremely interesting to hear anything from the Minister about that. We shall certainly pursue that matter in Committee.

On the proposal in Clause 13 for an induction year, I simply ask whether one year is enough. In Scotland the probation period has long been two years and compulsory, with reports at the end of each year. Perhaps in Committee we should make some comparisons between that system and the proposed system.

Much has been said about the clauses relating to universities and there will be much more to examine in Committee. I simply say now that the great worries expressed to me are that, contrary to what the Minister said about fair funding for students--she said that right at the beginning of her speech--it seems to me and many other people that there is enormous unfairness built into the student funding proposals, and with the loan repayment arrangements not on the face of the Bill, there is doubt too.

With the removal of maintenance grants, a decision flying in the face of all the work of the Dearing Committee, there is a clear intention to influence students to attend university from home. That will diminish choice and opportunity for many students and it will greatly damage the quality of what is on offer at a number of our most successful universities where a mix of students' home addresses is so important to the educational experience.

Students' reaction to these matters are interestingly set out in a survey of 500 students carried out by the Edinburgh University Students' Association in October. At that time, 38.5 per cent. of the sample taken across the UK felt that, under the Government scheme, they would be less likely to, or would not, enter into higher education; 45 per cent. of Scottish students and 40 per cent. of other UK students felt that the proposals would discourage them from studying for an honours degree in Scotland. The figures for applications for this

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year will be known next week. As my noble friend Lady Young said, the rumours are rife but perhaps we should leave discussion of those figures until the Committee stage.

Clauses 18 and 22, which would prevent universities charging extra for home and European Union students on pain of having taxpayers' funding removed, even if the university could find ways which would not inhibit access, seem to be likely to be extremely counter productive. I shall read with interest what the Minister said in her opening speech and also what the noble Lord will say in reply. I wonder whether the Government realise just how much university behaviour has changed during the past few years and how much the quality of their offerings is now dependent on their considerable and developing entrepreneurial skills--skills devoted not to limiting access but to widening it. However, we shall pursue that matter in Committee. I believe that this rather strange reversion to Soviet socialist thinking that the Government have produced will be very bad for students. I hope that they will think again. I much look forward to participating in further stages of the Bill.

7.32 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, for the first time in a career at Westminster which goes back to 1974, I find myself declaring an interest. I do so somewhat prematurely because it is not until 1st January that I will take up the chairmanship of the Further Education Funding Council. It is clear, therefore, that my remarks this evening will reflect an element of that interest and, more particularly, the feeling I have had over many years that we underestimate the significance of further education when we consider the other crucial areas of education--schools and higher education.

We should recognise, even with this Bill in which clearly the major issues of controversy revolve around student finance in Part II, that Part III can only be delivered to an extent by the contribution of further education colleges. Of course, some employers will fulfil their obligation of adequate training for their 16 and 17 year-old employees; indeed, many do so. But this important part of the Bill, which gives expression to the concept of life-long learning for everyone and which recognises that skill levels for everyone in our society are absolutely essential in the world of employment of the future, requires us to make proficient both 16 and 17 year-olds. Many of them at present--about 30 per cent.--leave education and receive no training at all and will, under the terms of the Bill, be able to place an obligation on their employer to get the necessary skill levels either provided at the place of work or elsewhere. Of course, that "elsewhere" will frequently be at a college.

I am grateful for the fact that other speakers in the debate have mentioned aspects of further education against a background where, quite clearly, the real issues of controversy are those involving higher education. Let us be quite clear about the position with regard to higher education support. As was made clear earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, the original concept of student support which was largely unique to this country was brought about in 1959 by the Anderson Committee. In

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fact, it was the most lavish form of individual support for students anywhere in the developed world. But that structure was bound to come under strain when we moved from a position of a relatively small percentage of the population enjoying higher education to the position today where we have 30 per cent. with a cap because, without that cap, people knocking at the doors would seek to get access now. The Government have responded by saying quite clearly that they intend to remove the cap to encourage increased opportunity in higher education.

However, the Government have not made such a commitment without willing the resources which higher education will need to sustain quality. That is why the Dearing Report was full of urgent requirements upon government. That is why there has been such a rush. Criticism has been voiced this evening that the Government have somewhat rushed their fences as regards their proposals on student support. The simple fact is that higher education institutions could not wait. The result of the budgetary settlements we have at present, and the promise contained in Part II as regards the new financial arrangements for students in higher education, is that some resources have been made available immediately to higher education and some also to further education against a background of most parlous need.

Therefore, in my view, the Government are to be congratulated on the proposals. We should recognise that the controversial issue of the cap upon tuition fees is part of the bargain. I listened carefully to the argument presented by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, in which he said that no one in the university world wanted to produce top-up fees "but don't take away from us the bargaining weapon with the Treasury whereby we might threaten to do so." I do not believe that that argument can be sustained. The issue of higher education was serious and the situation had become so parlous that, unless the Government found resources from elsewhere and made new arrangements with regard to students, higher education institutions felt that they would be obliged to introduce top-up fees. I do not regard that as an idle threat. I do not know whether the Government do; or, indeed, whether anyone should do so. It is but a presentation by higher education of what it thought the state of play was at that time.

However, the bargain strikes both ways. If the Government grasp the nettle, the very unpleasant nettle of introducing a fresh arrangement for student support and maintenance, and if they propose to introduce the tuition fee--not desirable developments as I am sure all of us would admit, but necessary--then they would have the right to turn to higher education and say, "Of course, we will also safeguard the validity of that tuition fee and the bargain with students entering higher education that institutions cannot rack up that tuition fee beyond the £1,000 which has been established." That is the necessary part of the bargain to release resources into higher education. It formed part of the negotiations with the CVCP and other sectors of higher education and it was proposed to the previous government. This Government have learnt lessons from that. It is the necessary framework within which we go forward.

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But we do so against a background where none of us is comfortable with the difficulty of presenting the new arrangements to prospective students. I cannot pretend that I know families from modest backgrounds who regard with equanimity incurring these costs of higher education. However, the biggest single constraint on people from modest backgrounds entering higher education is to limit the places as they will be outbid by others. There is also the problem of hardship for students from modest backgrounds while they are at university. The National Union of Students has accurately stated that the previous arrangements of maintenance grants and loans were not sufficient adequately to sustain students in higher education.

We shall not solve that problem overnight but it should be recognised that when the new arrangements are in place students will be several hundred pounds better off than they are now. The payback period will not comprise the short-term mortgage which students clearly rejected. After all, only 60 per cent. of students have availed themselves of the short-term mortgage loan. That has been rejected by students. In its place the Government are proposing a long-term repayment scheme which is income contingent and which will be collected through the Inland Revenue. That is a settlement which guarantees resources for higher education and at the same time enables us to expand higher education, to increase opportunity and to preserve and maintain quality in higher education. In my view the Government are to be congratulated on having grasped those difficult issues and on having tackled them within the framework of this Bill.

The part of the Bill which has so far commanded more general support from this House concerns the general teaching council. I have no doubt at all that in Committee we shall have to focus more clearly on the role which the general teaching council is to play. Some have said this evening that the concept was mooted five or 10 years ago. I certainly know people who have worked hard on the concept over the past decade. When I was a teacher in a secondary school more than 30 years ago I recall debate on the necessity of establishing a general professional body to put the teaching profession foursquare with other professions. The fact that such a council has not been established is, I believe, one of the contributory factors of the general malaise in teaching. We all recognise that we now face a crisis in education which will require drastic action on the part of government to remedy. I refer not just to this Bill but also to the schools Bill which we shall discuss later in the Session when it arrives in this House.

I recognise that the Committee stage of this Bill will probably be long, arduous, detailed and full. I urge the House to recognise the merits of the Bill. It creates a framework which enables us to look forward to adequate resources for further and higher education. The Bill provides the opportunity for this country to move into the next millennium on the basis of the concept of lifelong learning. We all know that that is the essential concept for our future society.

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7.45 p.m.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, when one has sat through 15 speeches one becomes increasingly worried as to whether one will have anything new to say. I am happy to be able to assure your Lordships that nothing I say has been said in the previous speeches, with all of which, to some extent, I disagree.

The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, reminded us, by referring to his sad engagement tomorrow, of the loss that we have sustained in the death of Lord Dainton whose contribution to a debate of this kind would have been invaluable. In a sympathetic obituary in a newspaper the writer stated that Lord Dainton disagreed with me when I claimed that the state was always a bad paymaster for higher education. The author did not, however, make the point that our argument took place in the 1960s when Lord Dainton was confident that in the University Grants Committee of that day an unbreakable barrier had been erected between the power of the state and the functioning of individual universities. In later years, as noble Lords will remember, Lord Dainton's approach became a very different one.

It seems to me that we have to look at the problem at a rather different level than has so far been attempted. That is to say that what we face is a system--this has, of course, been referred to--which was designed (and worked fairly satisfactorily) for a relatively small sector of higher education which has been adapted quite suddenly, over a decade or even less, to a mass education system without proper regard to the financial and other consequences. The danger of simply letting that go has resulted in the possibility, which I think is inherent in this Bill, of some simply saying, "We shall be like some of our continental neighbours". We shall have a system in which the unit of resource is tiny, where students rarely see their professors let alone are taught by them, as is the case in Italy, in parts of Germany and, to a large extent, in France. These countries have, of course, tackled that problem in various ways: the French by exempting from the constraints of expenditure the grandes ecoles; the Italians, where they can afford it, by sending their offspring to study abroad; and the Germans increasingly by founding independent universities outside the state system. Naturally, with my background, I regard that as a rather desirable event.

I suggest--I have suggested this in this House before--that the model we should look at and the area we should study is not continental Europe but the United States of America. In the United States you have both a mass system of higher education--and in some states an even higher participation than is planned for this country--and institutions of world class with which, as the noble Lord, Lord Walton, says, we have to compete if we are to retain in this country a science base, or even a scholarship base. Otherwise the advantages the system can offer, both materially and perhaps in atmosphere, will be too much for us.

We have to ask how the system works in the United States. First, it is a system of infinite variety. There have been many professions by Ministers and their

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spokesmen that they believe in a variety of institutions of higher education. But nothing in the Bill or in other policies suggests that that is a genuine belief. Secondly--it is a point of equal importance--there is a three-fold system of funding: from the public purse by the states themselves, in many cases the creators of some of the institutions or systems; from the federal government with a variety of objectives; and from the students or their families. It is difficult to appreciate the fact that in total it means that in the United States a great deal more money is being spent on higher education, even allowing for the greater population and wealth of that country than we are contemplating, and that families and students are prepared to accept the fact that it is fair to demand from them some of the input which will result in social or economic promotion. It cannot be argued seriously that those practices are a barrier to access. Although there are problems in some areas with particular ethnic minorities, access is widespread in most American states. That access extends, for the brightest students, to the great prestigious universities

How is it done? To put it bluntly, the institutions charge the wealthier students what the market will bear and from what they receive they syphon off money to enable people who cannot pay the fees to attend the institutions free. Various universities have devices to do that. We need not go into them now. It is an accepted principle. Even given our different circumstances, I believe that that is the kind of system which we should be considering.

I do not often agree with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, but on this occasion I do. The middle classes--if one puts it that way--will have to accept that free higher education can no longer be a perk. It is also true, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai pointed out, that simply to mulct overseas students in order to provide education for UK students is to some extent morally undesirable.

For that reason I would not support the idea of a government £1,000. For one thing, I do not trust the Treasury. From the record of central government, I see no reason to believe that you can bind the supreme financial authority. Unless the money was handed over in cash to the institution on the day that the student arrived, I would think that it was not a good way to proceed. I much prefer the alternative. Let us stop all this talk about top-up fees. No one talks about top-up fees at Harvard, Yale or Princeton. Where they can and should, institutions will charge fees appropriate to the quality of the education they are offering and with regard to the capacity of students to pay. That would eliminate the Treasury. It would mean that different students from different backgrounds would no doubt wish to raise loans. At least there is now the possibility of a loans system which would be repayable through a simple mechanism. But we could discard all the talk about what happens to the £1,000.

Therefore, it seems to me that by prohibiting universities from charging fees, Clause 18 of the Bill is going in exactly the wrong direction. The institutions should be encouraged to do that. They should be encouraged to find out in this way how much more this

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country as a whole is prepared to pay for its status in higher education. It would also correspond with what I think was mentioned by one previous speaker: that in the scientific field in particular universities are becoming increasingly entrepreneurial. If Cambridge is now made a major centre of research in computers, why should Cambridge University not charge fees to people who will benefit from that important investment?

We cannot have it both ways. If we choose to have a state system, we will have a system which continental experience shows us will be one of downgrading--uniformity without excellence. Alternatively, we can go the other way and aim for a system of variety financed in a multiplicity of ways in which the business of the Department for Education would simply be to reckon the proportion of the general funding for education it can extract from the Treasury and devote to higher education. Limit the Secretary of State, my Lords. Limit the funding councils. Let the universities fight for their freedom. If some of them fall by the wayside, so be it.

7.58 p.m.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the debate in a clear and concise way. I wish to make an apology, to say a few brief remarks, and to highlight some aspects of the Bill. In doing so, I shall ask some questions.

First, I owe the Minister an apology for the reception I gave her Statement on the publication of the Dearing Report. In mitigation, I can only say that my heart ruled my head. I saw the Government's position then as selling the principle of free higher education. On mature consideration, I can now see that that pass was sold by the previous Conservative Government some time ago. I can see now that we cannot go back; we can only go forward from where we are.

I was one of the lucky ones who was given the opportunity of higher education in the white heat of Harold Wilson's technological revolution. All the education and training I received did not cost me a penny. Most of my peer group went on to highly paid jobs. That is not surprising when only 15 per cent. or thereabouts of young people 30 years ago had the benefit of higher education. I have never earned much more than the national average wage; but in my case, as with quite a number of people, my reward was in having interesting jobs and a sense of making a valuable contribution to society through voluntary work.

However, the situation is different now. Thirty per cent. of our young people are in higher education, and the aim is to increase that figure to 50 per cent. The implication of 50 per cent. of people being highly paid is that the rest of the population would have to be in poverty. We have to lower our expectations in terms of financial rewards for graduates and find ways of relieving the burden of cost to students in higher education.

Another difficulty facing us is the lack of relevance to industry and commerce of higher education. Too many people believe that it is merely a middle-class finishing school and has very little relevance to the world of work. In some cases it has the wrong relevance, as

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witnessed in the career progression of Oxbridge graduates compared with better qualified graduates from other higher education institutions. It is worth remembering that the engines of growth of the Industrial Revolution were the mechanics institutes and not the universities of the day.

I wish to comment on certain aspects of the Bill. I welcome the proposed establishment of the general teaching council, and in particular hope that it will lead to the recognition by society of the value and importance of teachers, in the way that the General Medical Council has helped to enhance the reputation of the medical profession.

My query is: why should there be a general teaching council for Scotland, one for Wales, one for England and presumably, eventually, one for each of the English regions when they have their own regional government? In this connection, what is the situation in Germany and France? Do those countries have one or many bodies governing their teaching professions? Further, what are the implications for pan-European recognition of professional teaching qualifications?

Chapter II introduces the requirement for new head teachers to have a professional headship qualification, and I welcome that. However, given the worries that many people had that under the previous government's LMS schemes we risked having school managers rather than head teachers, I hope that we may either receive very strong assurances or have it written on the face of the Bill that a head teacher should be at least a qualified teacher.

Chapters I and II of Part II are the meat of the Bill. They give the Government powers to introduce higher education tuition fees and maintenance loans instead of grants. One of the reasons I support the Government's policy in this area is that we now have the example of the way in which nurses and professionals allied to medicine are to be treated. As I understand it, in their case tuition fees will be waived and they will in effect be paid a grant instead of having to borrow their maintenance costs. Student teachers will receive similar help. I commend those arrangements, and hope that similar schemes can be evolved with other employers in industry and commerce to ensure that business pays a fair share of the costs of educating and training the people that it needs to help make Britain great again.

I can see two advantages in those provisions: first, because students will not have to bear the costs of studying, they will not need to demand very high salaries in order to repay those costs; and secondly, they will provide an incentive for industry and commerce to ensure that the courses for which they will effectively be paying are relevant to the needs of their businesses.

My questions to the Government are these. Have discussions been started with industry and commerce--for example, with the CBI and other industrial organisations--to set up these arrangements? Has the Treasury been consulted in order to ensure that there are no problems with the tax authorities that may create disincentives to industry and commerce playing their part.

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In relation to this part of the Bill there is another question that I must ask. It relates to students who are the sons and daughters of very rich parents. I accept that those students will have to pay the £1,000 annual tuition fee. But will they qualify for the approximately £3,500 a year income-contingent interest-free maintenance loan? To put it another way, shall we be paying rich students £2,500 per annum net, interest free, for them to invest and make money with?

If higher education graduates are to be paid higher salaries than their peers, why set the repayment threshold at half average earnings? Why not set the repayment threshold at at least average earnings, if not above, if they are to be earning higher sums of money?

Part III of the Bill introduces paid time off for young people to study or train. That is one of the most magnificent features of the Bill. It is marvellous. It offers a real engine for growth in modern apprenticeships to provide the skilled workforce that our country needs so desperately for the future.

I have one small query in regard to proposed new Section 63A(i)(c) of the Employment Rights Act, which implies that the provision will apply only if the young person has not achieved a certain level of education. My worry is that that might prove to be a bar on employment for young people who did not do very well at school, and that there will be an incentive for employers to make sure that their employees have the minimum qualification and therefore they will not need to give them time off for study. With that reservation, which may be discussed in Committee, I welcome Part III of the Bill.

The Bill contains some very useful provisions. It forms part of the Government's package of measures to ensure that education and training, particularly of young people, is there to enable them to play their full part in building a better society for all of us in the 21st century. I commend the Bill to the House.

8.7 p.m.

The Earl of Limerick: My Lords, I believe that we generally agree that the Government deserve credit for biting some quite hard bullets in response to the dire picture of under-funding that was revealed in the Dearing Report, and many aspects of the Bill are to be welcomed. I hope that those words may be remembered when I make less obliging remarks about particulars in the Bill.

In entering this debate I declare two interests. First, for several years I have been chairman of the board of governors of London Guildhall University, formerly the City of London Polytechnic. Secondly, I am finishing a term as chairman of the Committee of University Chairmen, a position to which I was elected by my colleague chairmen three years ago.

I shall resist the temptation to range widely, as some speakers have done, and address the Bill that is before us. I shall confine my remarks to two substantial points arising from the Bill: the student fee, its collection and who ultimately benefits from it; and, secondly, the powers sought by the Secretary of State under Clause 18.

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Universities are under-funded for their present purposes, let alone for the expansion in numbers sought by the Government. That is common ground. It was Sir Ron Dearing's clear and principal conclusion. I say nothing about Oxford and Cambridge, although I am an Oxford graduate. Plenty of others have done that recently. But I do speak with some passion about the likes of the former City Poly, which has the misfortune to be the worst endowed of the 100 universities in England and Wales. It has been a real struggle, against a background of cuts in course funding for universities of more than 40 per cent. in real terms over the past 20 years, the major impact falling over the past six years, and of further "efficiency gains" still being sought, albeit that Dearing's judgment was accepted that cuts exceeding 1 per cent. for the two coming years would be unsustainable.

I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Davies, properly conscious of his forthcoming responsibilities at the FEFC, recognise the urgency of the funding crisis. For years those responsible for the finances of HE and FE institutions waited for Dearing in the hope that he would produce from the hat some rabbit which the Government had not been able to discover or were not prepared to grasp. His main recommendations surprised very few.

The only sources of higher education funding are central government, local government and students and their families. It was made clear that nothing further could be expected from the first two, so Sir Ron Dearing turned to the third and proposed a student fee at the level of £1,000 a year. That is deemed equal to about 25 per cent. of tuition costs.

Patterns vary but in our case, if we can recover the indicated fees, it would initially add only £2 million a year, or 5 per cent., to our total funded income. On the other hand, we are faced with a complex and undoubtedly expensive bureaucracy for maintaining records and collecting money from students and local education authorities and predictably also for debt collection. We thus become unremunerated revenue collectors. The question is, for whose benefit?

If I heard her correctly, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said that for 1998-99 all income from fees will remain with the HE institutions. I was looking to her for confirmation, but I see that she is not in her place to give it. If that is the case, that assurance is welcome. But what of subsequent years, as fees build up over the three or four-year period?

Certain provisions in the Bill sit uneasily together. First, the Secretary of State is telling universities individually that they may not, without penalty, charge the students the fees which they might themselves wish to charge, the so-called top-up fees. Secondly, he is telling all universities that they not only may but must charge, and be responsible for collecting, the fee which is determined to be appropriate. However, unless universities can specifically be assured to the contrary, they will remain sceptical about the fact that they will continue in the long term to enjoy one penny piece of extra revenue in consequence of the cost and effort involved in collecting the fee. I follow the noble Lord,

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Lord Plant, in that argument. In the absence of such assurance, universities with hard pressed budgets may prefer to be excused the onus of collecting the fee at all if it is to become simply an alternative source of taxation, as was foreseen by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. Therein lies my own ambivalence on the issue of top-up fees.

Dearing's purpose was that student fees should add pro tanto to the income of the universities which educated them. This view was shared by those education Ministers of whose views I am aware. The reality is that the funding council allocation is made annually by the DfEE from within its own Treasury grant. There is nothing to say that Treasury Ministers, having discovered a new source of revenue, will allow the net benefit to remain with the DfEE. There is no hypothecation. The DfEE grant could simply be cut by a comparable amount and universities might end up as unremunerated tax collectors, to no benefit, getting the worst of all possible worlds.

Mr. Blunkett is to be applauded for his enthusiastic pursuit of Mr. Blair's priority of "education, education, education"; but other departmental Ministers also have priorities, such as the health service and social security, and the Treasury is the arbiter. Furthermore, even if my fears are unjustified and there is no cut in the DfEE allocation as a result of new fee income, it is generally understood that the needs of further education institutions are even more pressing than those of higher education. Might the fees payable to HE institutions be the source of some cross-subsidy?

Universities have welcomed the advent of student fees as representing the only foreseeable source of the extra revenue they so urgently need. If they are to be lumbered with the cost and bureaucracy of collecting the fees, they are surely entitled to an assurance that they will continue to secure full benefit from the amount collected. I shall listen with great interest to the Government's response on this point. I hope I shall be told that my suspicions are unworthy.

I turn now to Clause 18. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, conceded in her opening that this clause requires some restrictive amendment. It certainly does. Although somewhat disarmed, my feelings are sufficiently strong that I shall express them. I believe the blanket authority which the Secretary of State seeks to restrict funding without further reference to Parliament to be both excessive and unwarranted. I know that that opinion is shared by other university chairmen. Our concern is that, as it stands, Clause 18 could be selectively used to instruct funding councils to cease to provide money to particular universities, for particular courses or even for particular courses in particular universities, a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Tope. This is not consistent either with academic freedom or with the need to encourage diversity. Of course, we are told that the power would not be so used, but the unacceptable fact is that it could be.

My understanding is that the principal concern of the Secretary of State is to enable him to prevent any institution which may choose to charge top-up fees to

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its undesignated students continuing to receive support from public funds, at least to the extent of the top-up fees charged. I have no quarrel with that.

Not without some ambivalence, I am against top-up fees, believing, as the Secretary of State does, and as Sir Ron Dearing strongly urges, that universities should be adequately funded for their purpose from public funds, except to the extent in future that all of them will be in receipt of additional student fees for tuition. Mr. Blunkett is a man of principle, determination and honour. I have no doubt that he is entirely sincere in saying that he has no intention of abusing a power given by Parliament in any of the other selective and damaging ways that would be open to him. He might even go so far as to say that he would use that power only to negate the charging of top-up fees. If that is his purpose, it should be explicitly stated and the power which Parliament gives to him restricted accordingly. One does not deploy the heavy artillery to shoot a rabbit.

Such wide powers would raise a further, unintended danger; that is, the prospect that diversity and innovation would be inhibited. No one, even Sir Ron Dearing, can foresee, for example, how the electronic media may affect further and higher education in the future, but new approaches may well rely upon private funding. Universities will simply not risk their time, effort and money if they are liable to face appeals to the Secretary of State under Clause 18 or are forced to seek legal clearances, case by case, to their entitlement to each new funding prospect. The powers sought in the Bill risk freezing what needs to be a fluid and developing pattern. Furthermore, the mere existence of these powers threatens, and might even override, the statutory duty imposed upon funding councils by the 1992 Act to:

    "have regard to the desirability of not discouraging any institution ... from maintaining or developing its funding from other sources".

Finally, there is the constitutional argument. Parliament has over the centuries been properly reluctant to give too wide an authority to any Secretary of State, and the powers sought by Mr. Blunkett in Clause 18 are unwarrantably wide. What is asked by the Executive exceeds both reason and need. That should be the answer of Parliament. It was the answer given when comparable powers were sought by a Conservative Secretary of State in the Further and Higher Education Bill in 1992. That attempt was rebuffed by Parliament and the message should be repeated.

I suggest that there is a way forward. Discussion ahead of Committee stage--the Minister has already hinted at this--should be able to identify amendments which would achieve the Secretary of State's principal object in relation to top-up fees without going unnecessarily wide. Any government spending £3.5 billion annually on higher education naturally need to ensure that it is properly spent for that purpose. But if matters of academic judgment of institutions or courses are involved, they should be made by funding councils, to whom a delegated authority in general terms has already been given and whose membership is chosen so that the councils are qualified to make such judgments. That would apply equally to a judgment of

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which charges made to students against the cost of providing services are or are not deemed to be top-up fees--a question of detailed complexity.

Several of the purposes of this Bill are commendable. But it will only become a good Act of Parliament if its serious deficiencies are corrected.

8.20 p.m.

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, though I congratulate the Government on this important piece of legislation, like the noble Lord, Lord Walton, I was a commissioner on the National Commission on Education and would like to endorse his support of the Bill which echoes a number of the recommendations of the commission's report. The creation of a general teaching council will do much to raise morale within the teaching profession and improve the status of teachers who felt profoundly undermined by the policies and negativity of the last Government.

I recently chaired a committee for a further education funding council on widening participation in education. Our report--Learning Works--deals with the ways in which many people fail to take part in the great journey that education offers. We welcome particularly the right of time off to study and train for 16 to 18 year-olds and I know that the further education sector will rise to the occasion in making that provision.

However, I rise to speak on the issue of student funding in higher education. I am one of the chancellors of a new university. I feel strongly that the media coverage which has attached to this issue has distorted the reasoning behind the reform. It has failed to give adequate coverage to the detail. Student numbers, as many people have said, have rocketed over the past few years in response to the last government's policy, and for that I give them credit. That expansion brought with it not only the need to meet institutional costs, but also the requirement to foot the bill for student support in terms of fees, maintenance grants and student loans.

The last government put forward no funding strategy to underpin the costs of expansion other than driving down unit costs. The effect upon universities has been devastating. Finances have been pared to the bone and it has had an enormously demoralising effect upon academics who feel that it is a devaluation of their vital role. Yet, as my noble friend said in introducing the Bill, our higher education system has been the jewel in our educational crown. If we wish to maintain high quality and a world class system, we must fund that system properly.

When the crisis in higher education developed, the last government's response was to cap the growth in higher education rather than take courage in their hands as this Government have done. The system of higher education created in the 1960s, of which I was a beneficiary like other noble Lords, is no longer working even for the poorest students. The value of the maintenance grant was at its peak when it was introduced in 1962-63. But at that time only one in 10 of our school pupils went to university; now one in three are entering higher education.

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The value of the maintenance grant is now not enough for a student to live on. That has already been dealt with by other noble Lords and I do not intend to repeat it. Students are now extremely hard up. Even when they take out a loan, many have to work casually and arrive in lectures exhausted. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, many parents do not make up their children's grant to the statutory level and they are placed in genuine financial difficulty.

This Government recognise the crisis that exists in higher education; it is a crisis not only for student support, but also for the institutions seeking to deliver quality education. The loan system introduced by the last government created a frightening burden for many people. It was not income related. There was no "stop-the-clock" arrangement for women taking time off, for instance, to have children. The Government were therefore presented with a real problem with which to grapple; the problem of finding a better way of helping students and continuing to provide for expansion so that many more students come into higher education.

I find it alarming to hear a number of noble Lords in this House say that the cap should continue. Is it realised how many working class students are currently participating in higher education? Is it realised that the majority of students in higher education remain, as they always have been, children from the more privileged sections of our society? The numbers of children from lower social classes participating in higher education remains a scandal.

The majority of students to whom I spoke when I was chairing the committee on further and higher education for the national commission, who actually are in hardship, expressed the view that they would rather have a decent living now and the opportunity of repaying as long as the repayment could be over a period of time and was not at extortionate levels. They recognised-- I ask that the opportunity be given for the National Union of Students to consider this more closely--that it may be in the interests of many students to have that sort of slow repayment system rather than the system which exists at the current levels.

What concerns those who are involved in institutions is not just the poverty of their students, but also the quality of what is being made available which is endangered by the inadequacy of funding. If we look at the expansion of the numbers, which must be welcomed in a society which is seeking to provide equity in education; if we welcome that expansion and see that many women now participate who did not previously; that we have many more mature students--40 per cent. of our students are now over 25; we must recognise that if we have that richness coming into our universities, they deserve the same high quality as those of us who have gone through the process ahead of them.

Places in higher education in the United Kingdom have always been occupied by a disproportionate number of people from families in the upper income bracket. Research shows that people from families in social classes 1 and 2 are currently four times more likely to apply to university than those in classes 3, 4

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and 5. It is a pattern which has changed little since the war and certainly little since I came in--a child of the working classes.

The overall picture for social class is of a barely changing world. That means that the households in the top income bracket on average receive subsidies through higher education study away from home that are 10 times greater than households in the bottom income bracket. Despite the fact that the top income groups take less advantage of state schools, they are still substantially favoured overall by educational benefits. The highest education subsidies in this nation fall to the best off.

A new balance must be struck and that is what this Bill does. Contributions to fees should be made by those from better-off families. The £1,000 contribution is, in my view, at the right level. One-third of all students will pay no fees. The money brought into the system will benefit the institutions; it will benefit all students; and it will help to create access to higher education for many who are currently excluded.

I am committed to the widening of participation in education. Like my noble friend Lord Monkswell, I came to this issue with trepidation and concern because I was a beneficiary of the system which allowed for grants. Many people from working class families are fearful of higher education. Some place no value on higher education. Some just feel excluded from it. The feeling in some groups in our society is that higher education is not for the likes of them. That view is still firmly entrenched. We have to tackle it.

Concern that this change may create even more fear among poor families and poor applicants is real. I recognise it. Debt is frightening to working class people. The noble Lord, Lord Plant, is right to acknowledge that many more people nowadays see investment in education as an investment for the future. It is important that we spread the word on that. We have to work hard to try to create a wider invitation into education for poor applicants.

Squaring that circle is difficult. At the moment, those from less well off families are going into the new universities. They are going into universities which are on their own doorstep. Those universities are suffering most. The quality is threatened most there. Why should they be receiving something different from that which is received by other students? Money is needed to ensure that what they get is as good as that which anyone else gets.

When similar changes were introduced in Australia equity considerations were critical to the design of the new student fee and funding system. To ensure that access was not adversely affected and that there were no unintended consequences of the new scheme, the Australian Government committed themselves to regular monitoring. That regular monitoring has been carried out by an independent body. I recommend to the Government that they look at creating a regular monitoring body to ensure that those who traditionally have not participated have access.

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Good advice and guidance for potential students and outreach projects must be at the heart of any programme of inclusion in education. I have understood from previous debates in the House that many universities are creating much better relations with schools. They are inviting teachers in. I hope that this will happen more in the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge where there is the intractable problem that for many students that world seems remote and uninviting. The invitation to working class children and young people to participate has to be of a different order from that which is made to those in the private sector.

In Australia the changes were closely monitored. What is interesting is that reports to date have concluded that the scheme has had little effect on the decisions of particular educationally disadvantaged groups to participate in higher education. That, at least, is some encouragement.

I am alarmed to hear so many people take issue with the Government for introducing Clause 18. If the Government are to prevent higher education remaining something which is only available to middle class families, the issue of top-up fees is one in which they must engage. It is clear that the effect of top-up fees would be to decrease access. I support the Government in maintaining Clause 18. It is a principled stance against top-up fees.

Under the Bill some sections of society will be called on to make a greater personal contribution to the cost of the system. But they do so in the interests of maintaining quality. They do so to allow for the continued expansion which is crucial if we want to see working class participation and if we want to see a regeneration of the nation. But it will also mean that we will provide incentives and encouragement because quality will be available at local level in universities to which working class people are more likely to go.

I congratulate the noble Baroness on her courage and her vision. I believe that in the Bill the head and the heart come together. It is an important and necessary reform. I am glad to see the Government engage with such a difficult issue.

8.35 p.m.

Lord Addington: My Lords, at this stage in the discussion of a Bill it would be easy to repeat what has been said before. I shall try to restrict my comments to the area of students with disability and summarise my attitude towards the rest of the Bill as briefly as possible.

A general teaching council is probably a good thing provided it is a watchdog for a profession that is somewhat grumpy, provided its teeth are in good order and provided it is territorial. If it becomes someone's pet, no matter how big it is--poodle or great dane--it will be useless. Correct training for head teachers should have happened a long time ago. If it is said that we managed to get good results in the past and therefore we do not need this in the future, we ignore the fact that very bad head teachers came through every now and then. We should take the provision on board.

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I turn to Part II of the Bill. I have always thought the idea of taking time out of the working lives of 16 and 17 year-olds to be a good one. I have thought it was a good idea ever since I saw it in one of my party's policy documents. However, when it comes to the idea of fees being charged for higher education, I just cannot buy it. I have always thought that higher education should be free. That was my experience when I went through the tail-end of the golden age of financial support for students in the late 1980s. I feel that that should be allowed for other people. When it comes to other areas of student support, the Government may be starting from a dodgy platform. I feel that a little more courage and a greater will to resist the Treasury might solve the problem in another way.

I wish to concentrate on disabled students. The reason they should be given special consideration is simply that they need support and help. We are talking about groups of people with special problems. That has been accepted not only in terms of education but in terms of all other sections of society. Two important pieces of legislation are the Disability Discrimination Act and the code of practice under the Education Act 1994. The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, should take a degree of credit for helping the code of practice come into being. Indeed, the whole House can, having given her the necessary support to bludgeon it past the then government.

We have accepted that, in terms of work and services, disabled people have particular problems. In education, too, there are problems which need specific help and support. In higher and further education we have already accepted that need. All I am seeking--I hope I am pushing at an open door--is confirmation from the Government on three issues. First, will the student disability allowance be extended to groups, as recommended by Dearing? Will it be extended to part-time students? Many people with disabilities find themselves doing part-time degrees for a variety of reasons. For example, they may have mobility problems or learning impairment difficulties. They will take a longer time to get through the courses. That is something that does occur. I believe that having an extension made will greatly assist them.

Secondly, will the disability allowance also be extended to postgraduates? If one is prepared to educate a person to the first degree stage, why not to the second? It is merely a continuation of the logic of the argument. Thirdly, if someone sustains a disability subsequent to obtaining a first degree--for example, a person loses his sight--will that person receive a disability allowance and extra funding to take on a second degree and further training? That is very much in the spirit of everything that has gone before.

As regards the repayment of debt and the repayment levels, I hope that the Government will give a full commitment that they are not prepared to take into account any allowances and benefits that are given when calculating repayments. There is also the question of extra expenditure if a person is wheelchair bound or incontinent and has to have extra clothing. Will that higher cost of living be taken into account? This attitude

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towards disability will merely bring the higher education sector into line with everything else that has been done and which is increasingly being striven for.

I hope that the Government will be able to give favourable responses. If they cannot I can guarantee to the House that we shall be returning to these issues at all other stages of the Bill.

8.42 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, out of respect to the lateness of the hour and the fact that there are many noble Lords waiting to speak, I shall confine my own remarks to Part II of the Bill while giving a genuinely warm welcome to Parts I and III. The proposals there are imaginative and well directed. I, for one, wish the Government very well with what they are doing.

The problem is Part II of the Bill, as many noble Lords have said. Like other noble Lords, I am confident that the Government's intentions are very good. They have recognised that there is a crisis both with student funding and with the funding of universities. They are trying to address those problems. The difficulty is that I do not believe that the provisions in the Bill as it stands succeed in either respect.

In recent years I have reluctantly come to the view that it is right that students should make a contribution to the costs of their own higher education because they benefit from it. It is for their own private good as well as the public good. I believe that the majority of students might have just accepted the £1,000 contribution either from their own or their parents' pockets or, for those students who are very poor, the state paying that sum. I believe students have come to accept that that is a necessary part of bringing more money into the provision of higher education for the very large number of people who now seek it. The trouble is, of course, that there is no guarantee that the money will go to the provision of their own higher education. Without that assurance I believe that we have the makings of a student rebellion on our hands of mammoth proportions.

If students are required to pay, as many will have to do, including those whose parents are on the cusp, so to speak, and can only just afford it, and they then discover that the money is not going to improve their own experience of higher education, it will be a very serious matter indeed. I, for one, would support the students' anger if such a thing were to come to pass.

That brings me to Clause 18 about which many noble Lords have spoken. I welcome very much the Minister's promise in her introduction that she intends to look again at the wording of the clause. I know that we all welcome that. My difficulty is that I believe the clause needs more than rewording: it needs to go entirely. I do not wish to be over-dramatic, but I believe that the Secretary of State is taking draconian powers. I am sure that the current Secretary of State has no intention of using the powers in anything but the most beneficent way. But that is not the point. Legislation stands on the books for others of more malevolent intentions.

Again, without wanting to be over-dramatic, I remind the House that the first acts of the Nazi government in Hitler's Germany were to take control of the

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universities. The first act of the cultural revolution in China was to take control of the universities. Dictatorship always attacks freedom of thought which academics represent within society. We are providing a tool for those who would be the enemies of free thought if we allow Clause 18 to go through in its present form. So I ask the House to take a very stern view of the clause, recognising at the same time that the present Government have no wish to do any of these terrible things with it.

I come to a more parochial point about Clause 18. In this Second Reading debate it is important to write into the record the very particular concerns which my own university, the University of Cambridge, has, having taken legal advice, that the Bill is of a hybrid nature. Clause 18 enables the Secretary of State to impose a condition on his grant to the Higher Education Funding Council that the institutions receiving grants from the council shall secure that the fees payable to the institution are equal to the prescribed amount. The clause aggregates for that purpose the fees payable to the institution with those payable to connected institutions.

The provision uniquely discriminates against the University of Cambridge, about which I speak. I do not speak for the University of Oxford which, I am sure, will speak for itself. Several of the Cambridge colleges have both the power and the duty under their statutes to charge their students tuition fees, those charges being currently in excess of the sum which the Secretary of State has indicated will be prescribed under Clause 16 of the Bill. The colleges are legally independent from the university and Cambridge, unlike most other universities, is likely to find itself subject to a condition under Clause 18 with which it cannot comply and which puts at risk its whole grant from the Higher Education Funding Council.

The university appreciates that the Secretary of State has under consideration the future of college fees in consequence of Recommendation 74 of the Dearing Report. Both the university and the colleges wish very much to work with him in a way which will respect his need to control public expenditure and his intention that fees do not fall personally upon publicly funded undergraduates beyond the levels prescribed under Clause 16 as well as respecting their own proper constitutional relationship. They are concerned, however, with the present drafting of Clause 18, which is especially prejudicial to the University of Cambridge. I therefore seek an assurance from the Secretary of State that, in considering the general concerns expressed by the CVCP and by many of us in the House today, he will also look further at the clause with the apprehensions of the University of Cambridge in mind.

8.48 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I wish to confine my comments this evening to three aspects of this Bill: the general teaching council, the new system of support for students and the right to time off for study for 16 and 17 year-olds. I warmly welcome the Government's intention to establish a GTC. In the days of the previous Administration no education Bill was

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complete without a set of opposition amendments to establish a GTC. These amendments were traditionally and invariably rejected. That was before the Damascene conversion before the last election, although I have to say, judging by some of the speeches tonight, namely, from the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Lord, Lord Baker, that that conversion may be somewhat less than wholehearted.

Raising the status of the teaching profession and the drive to raise standards are inextricably linked although a direct link will be difficult to quantify. I cannot imagine raising and protecting standards without developing and valuing the professional judgment of our teachers.

Other key professions are represented by professional bodies. The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, spoke about that in detail. It is right that the establishment of the GTC should be seen as a vote of confidence in our teachers. The GTC must establish itself as a distinct body with a distinct voice, and not as a talking shop for existing organisations. It is for this reason that I would argue that teachers should be in a minority on the GTC--at least in its initial phases. It should be a teaching council, not a teachers' council. Many other professional bodies have lay members, and parents would undoubtedly be suitable lay members of the GTC. I would understand if the Government did not want to prescribe the exact interests to be represented on the GTC, but they should undertake, at least in the initial stages, to ensure that no single group holds the majority.

Perhaps I should be a little blunter. There is, I am sorry to say, still some suspicion among some parents--this has been expressed to me--that teachers may put their own interests above those of the children. I do not hold that view at all and I go out of my way to defend teachers from such accusations. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that such suspicions exist, and I believe that if the GTC is to grow in stature it needs to be above suspicion. Therefore, teachers should be in a minority on it. The role of the GTC can, and will, evolve as it grows in stature and authority.

I believe that it is right that the Government should put only enabling clauses on the face of the Bill. I thought it a bit rich of the noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Addington, to talk about "toothless poodles" and the like while congratulating the Government on putting forward an enabling Bill. I should have thought that the GTC would be able to carve out its own agenda for its evolution and clearly establish itself as separate from government. I believe that such provisions show a greater vote of confidence from the Government than would seeking to be excessively prescriptive at this early stage.

I turn now to the new system for student support. I should say at the outset that I wholeheartedly support the Government's proposals. I endorse many of the speeches made by my noble friends this evening. However, in spite of what the Government have said, and in spite particularly of what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, about there being no particular principle involved in the charging of fees for higher education, I believe that a Rubicon is being crossed in

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this Bill. Free higher education, like a free National Health Service, was something about which I used to boast to my American colleagues and others. It was special and it was an achievement, but I accept that ultimately it is not defensible in the face of the Government's wider aspirations for further and higher education.

That brings me to those aspirations. I believe that the Government could have done a better job in spelling out the benefits of moving to a partial fee system. In particular, they could have set themselves some targets--not only to monitor their own success but, more importantly, to illustrate what they believe to be the benefits of fees.

My noble friends Lady Kennedy and Lord Davies said that increased access was a highly desirable result of the Bill. One target I would have set is that 40 per cent. of 18 to 21 year-olds should be in full-time education at some defined point in the future. Other targets could, and should, be set and publicised. I believe that that would help the Government in presenting their case to the public at large.

I refer now to the right to time off for study and training for 16 and 17 year-olds which, of course, I support wholeheartedly. Yesterday I received a letter from the CBI addressed to "Dear Peer", which was not a very good start. The letter was less than wholehearted in its support for this measure. It spoke of a disincentive to employers to employ 16 and 17 year-olds. I hope that the Government will not pay attention to such complaints, especially when one considers that increased maternity rights have not led to any decrease in the number of women in the workplace. I believe that educated 16 and 17 year-olds are more employable than uneducated ones.

The CBI did, however, raise another point when it wrote that off-the-job learning has a greater status in the Bill than on-the-job learning. I know that my noble friend Lady Blackstone addressed that point in opening the debate, particularly when referring to Clauses 23 and 24. Nevertheless, I should be grateful if my noble friend Lord Whitty will confirm that on-the-job learning will be possible under the Bill. I am sure that he will do so, but I must make the point that many young people will have been turned off by classrooms and will learn better through on-the-job training. Perhaps I may express one note of caution: there are unscrupulous employers who would use this as a loophole for not providing proper training. There should be a proper method of certification to ensure that on-the-job training is what it says it is.

I welcome the Bill. It contains many important measures. I look forward to many late nights discussing it and its details. I wish my noble friend the greatest good luck in piloting it through this House.

8.56 p.m.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I share the general concern about the apparently arbitrary and authoritarian nature of Clause 18, which removes the vital checks and balances which were so hardly won in 1992 and which, I fear, severely undermines the

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independence of the universities. I am disturbed too by the opaque nature of the Bill--it might almost have been drafted in Brussels--and by its lack of transparency. Have the Government considered the legal problems which must arise if it is true that there are to be no top-up charges in contravention of several Royal Charters of long standing? Can the Secretary of State really assume unlimited powers (based on nothing but ministerial discretion) to penalise institutions which are already suffering severely from a lack of money for capital equipment and underfunded research?

I referred in the Oxford and Cambridge debate in this House to the possible closure of good but poor colleges without substantial endowment if the fees decision goes against us. I believe in intellectual elitism and I do not wish to see the opportunity of access to excellence diminished. I hope very much that the final decision has not been taken and that the issue will be freely debated here in the context of Clause 18.

I have always strongly advocated a move to income-related repayment. I warmly congratulate the Government on achieving that, but I wonder whether there has been time for the administration to be properly organised. Nothing will be worse for student morale than serious muddles and delays such as they experienced four years ago. It is deeply unfortunate that the maintenance grant, which was gradually falling, has now been so abruptly abolished just when tuition fees come in. There continues to be real hardship and the sort of strain on undergraduates which leads to poor academic work and wasted opportunities. I greatly regret the fact that, like the last Government, this Government will not consider the simple solution of restoring housing benefit. But I know that that is a hopeless quest.

Students and universities alike feel concern about the speed with which the new measures are expected to take effect. Although the local education authorities will, I understand, continue to help to administer the scheme, the Student Loans Company seems likely to be swamped by inquiries and will presumably be operating as before, through computers, the post and the telephone. There was a terrible mess over that before. It needs a much more regional structure. I wonder whether there are any plans for that.

Meanwhile, according to the pamphlet issued to would-be students, the universities will be administering the £1,000 tuition fee--another task to be added to their administrative load. Equally, they will administer access funds while the Student Loans Company administers the £250 hardship loan. How, may I ask? According to the admirably effective Edinburgh University Students Association, the Scottish universities expect to have to spend £100 on each means-tested tuition fee on collection, not tuition. According to a review that it carried out in schools in Scotland, 68.5 per cent. of head teachers thought that the percentage of students from their schools entering higher education would fall because of the tuition fee. Seventy per cent. expected a similar fall because of the abolition of the grants system. Ninety-one per cent. of them feared that the Government's proposals would not provide equal access to higher education whatever the financial circumstances. I am sure that the Government do not

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want that, although unfortunately it appears from the Bill that the Government intend to take arbitrary and unnecessary powers and to take them fast. I hope that during Committee stage the Government will disprove that and will listen to and consult both students and the institutions, and perhaps even be ready to defer implementation of the scheme for a year. Students have moved a long way towards accepting the rationale of loans and repayment, but they must feel that the administration of the system is fair and just. Incidentally, they regret as I do that they cannot borrow to pay the tuition fee in cases where parents cannot or will not pay it. Everyone in universities has met such parents.

The Bill must not defeat itself by turning out graduates who are still too poor to use their academic experience as it is meant to be used. I hope that we can rely on what the Minister said in her opening speech and that the Government will respect the proper autonomy of institutions.

9.2 p.m.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I rise to support the thrust of the Bill. The Bill takes some courageous steps. Quite frankly, anyone who is interested in the long-term future of higher education will back it. The Minister will probably have a difficult ride on the Front Bench.

I should perhaps declare an interest. I was a member of the Dearing Committee. Of the 17 members of that committee, 10 came from the higher education sector. The committee made 93 recommendations, every one of which, including that relating to tuition fees, was the subject of unanimous agreement. There was no minority report. The Dearing Committee was concerned with higher education in a learning society, not higher education in parts of society but throughout Britain as a cohesive community. That point is sometimes lost in the debates that take place on the future of higher education.

I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is in her place. I was astonished by some of her contribution today. The last time that the subject of higher education was looked at was in 1961 when the Robbins Report considered the matter. At that time only one in 10 in our community entered higher education. In those days higher education usually meant that a full-time student aged 18 went to university and was away from home. Today higher education does not mean that. Thirty per cent. of the population enter higher education. However, they do not have the same profile as those who entered higher education during the Robbins era. Less than 50 per cent. of students now in higher education have that traditional profile. It is on that group that most of this debate has concentrated.

The proposals in this Bill are progressive; they are about creating a fairer society and access to the learning society with which the Dearing Report was concerned. The noble Baroness, Lady Young--

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