Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Avebury: My Lords, when the noble Lord says that the industry will be asked to pay the whole of the bill, will that include anti-terrorism measures? To whom will a bill be sent for the recent deployment of armoured vehicles round Heathrow Airport?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is straying a little far from the original Question which was about broad environmental costs. The noble Lord will recognise that terrorism potentially affects airlines more grievously than other forms of transport. However, the matter must be put in context. The noble Lord will have appreciated from the exercise that took place at the weekend that we do not know where in our transport system terrorists may strike. Therefore, we have to bear in mind that all areas are potentially vulnerable.

Baroness Platt of Writtle: My Lords, are the Government placing enough emphasis on the need for airports in the north of England and in Scotland? People who live in Manchester and Glasgow do not want to have to travel down to Heathrow. We need Heathrow to be a hub, but we need Glasgow and Manchester as well, plus subsidiary airports around them, in order to provide employment in those areas, as the Minister himself has said. However, the whole emphasis in the present consultation paper is on the South East. Surely that ought to change.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that is a very valuable point. The Government are of course concerned to develop regional airports and their capacity where appropriate. However, the noble Baroness will recognise that the massively significant pressure points on the three main south-east airports at present, which have been long neglected in terms of investment, are so acute that the Government would not be fulfilling their duty if they did not address themselves to the question of airport demand in the South East as well.

9 Sept 2003 : Column 145

Universities: Tuition Fees

3.1 p.m.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest as pro-chancellor of the University of Birmingham.

The Question was as follows:

    To ask Her Majesty's Government how much worse off the universities would be if they received no income at all from tuition fees rather than the fees set out in the January White Paper; and whether there is any viable alternative for financing higher education other than the raising of tuition fees.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, the Government considered alternatives, but concluded that variable fees were the only viable option for securing the level of investment that our universities need while giving them the freedom to respond to student demand. The White Paper proposes that universities with approved access agreements should decide their own fees up to a maximum of 3,000. We cannot pre-judge or pre-empt those decisions. However, if all institutions charged the 3,000 maximum, gross tuition-fee income would be over 2 billion.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, although I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer, does she agree that the Government may not be making a lot of progress in getting across to people that their proposals in the White Paper involve the abolition of all up-front tuition fees that currently exist? Would she also agree that the area in which the White Paper is most effective is the level of the maintenance grant?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful that the noble Lord appears to agree with at least part of what the Government propose. It is very important to get the message across, and we are doing all we can, but the change in higher education fees is hugely important in that students will of course not pay up-front fees. That is particularly important for lower-income families. In terms of the maintenance grant, we are looking very carefully at all the issues to support those students most in need. It is perhaps worth reiterating that 41 per cent of students will not pay fees.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, will the Minister quantify the cost of setting up the access regulator's office, and of meeting the expansion of up to 50 per cent of the cohort into university?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, that question is slightly wide of the mark of the information that I have before me. In our proposals, I believe that we have made it clear that OFFA will be very small and

9 Sept 2003 : Column 146

measurably organised, in order to make sure that we have the right kind of access agreements in place. In terms of our 50 per cent target, which I believe is the right target, we have made sure that within our overall costings and fundings we are able to pursue it fully with our university colleagues.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, have the Government considered the difference between the 2 billion that the noble Baroness suggested that the universities might gain from the scheme proposed by the Government, and the cost of the elaborate scheme that they are proposing alongside it for long-term lending, interest free, to students until they are earning a given sum? That will cost a great deal of money. How does it compare with the 2 billion?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, it will of course depend on the individual arrangements set up by students. In all the discussions, we have talked to those involved already in determining the kind of loans that students have—the Student Loans Company—and in making sure that we have systems that will be viable and operational. Therefore, I do not believe that there is a comparison. It is also worth saying that, of course, the income from variable fees will be paid to the institutions themselves, which will enable them to have the kind of autonomy of decisions that they have requested.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a 50 per cent tax rate charged on those earning more than 100,000 would yield well over 4 billion? Is she further aware that 82 per cent of those who earn more than 100,000 have benefited from a university degree? Following the maxim that those who have benefited shall pay, which is one that the Government are now pursuing, is there not therefore some logic in raising the extra revenues required from such a source of tax?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, my understanding of the Liberal Democrat proposals is that, of the 4.5 billion that would be raised, 2 billion would be spent on giving a council tax reduction to all those who are council tax payers, and that the rest—2.5 billion—would indeed be available. However, the difference between the Government's and the Liberal Democrats' proposals is, first, that those who go to university pay back what they have in a sense borrowed in order to pursue the course. We believe that to be more equitable. Also, higher education institutions themselves will get the funding, not the Government. Many in the higher education sector would probably find that a rather attractive proposition. Furthermore, the money goes to the Exchequer without the guarantees that it would always be available for higher education. If one is raising money for higher education, it is important to ensure that it gets there.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords—

The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords—

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is the Bishops' turn.

9 Sept 2003 : Column 147

The Lord Bishop of Peterborough: My Lords, would the noble Baroness agree that the increase in tuition fees, even if delayed beyond graduation, has the danger of discouraging people from precisely the backgrounds that she would want to encourage entering higher education from doing so?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate refers to perception of debt, which is an important factor in all our debates. It is of course why the office of the regulator is so important to ensure that universities do all that they can, building on their very good practice, to reach out to those students to demonstrate to them the real importance and value of a university education. However, the fact that fees are paid up-front at the moment is, in my view, a bigger deterrent.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, why was the question asked by my noble friend Lady Blatch treated as wide of the Question? Will the noble Baroness kindly write to my noble friend on the Front Bench with an answer to her question?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Baroness would agree that I have never failed to write to her on any question that she has asked me in this House, and this would be no exception. The information that I have before me relates specifically to tuition fees and not to the cost of setting up OFFA.

Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, would the noble Baroness, having accepted that there is a legitimate concern that fees will deter students who might otherwise want and be able to come to university, accept that a more efficient, simple and perhaps clearer form of regulation of the universities in the matter than the rather complex and unclear office of the regulator currently proposed would be to come to an agreement with the universities to set aside a proportion of the money raised from those fees for scholarships for needy students?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page