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Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, I should like to intervene for only a few moments because I was unable to be here for parts of the Committee stage on the Higher Education Bill due to an illness of a member of my family and my need to attend hospital every day.
I should like to have a point in the amendment clarified. It raises with me the issue of what happens in the case of four-year university foundation course degrees in the sciences. I am not entirely sure about what the amendment means by "qualifying course". Can I take it from the noble Lord's comments in moving the amendment that "qualifying course" would include those four-year foundation courses? As I understand it, they are usually characterised by the need for some students who have taken particular courses at A-level, who have often received poor guidance from those in a position of responsibility in schools and taken the wrong subjects, to receive an additional year's training in the form of a foundation year before the three-year training.
Let us say that someone who has done Latin and Greek at A-level suddenly decides that he wants to be a chemical engineer. He would go to a university and do a foundation year perhaps in maths, chemistry, physics and a generality of studies that would equip him to proceed with an engineering degree. In so far as the need for that additional year of study very often derives either from bad advice or simply from a student's inability to decide at A-levelor, post O-level, precisely what A-levels they should be doingsurely they should not have to pay for effectively an additional year at university.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, my name is associated with the amendment and I should like briefly to speak to it. Perhaps in doing so I can answer the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.
The situation is precisely as the noble Lord suggested. Some courses are four-year courses, and I have in mind another one. Many engineers these days do an MEng, which is a four-year course, rather than the three-year course. They would be hit precisely by this proposal. As it stands, they would have to pay the higher fees through the four years.
Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, one of my sons did five years at Leeds University. He did a one-year foundation course, the three-year degree and then an additional year for an MA. That is five years, not four.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. If they were doing an MEng course, they would do five years, just as architects, for example, do seven years. A range of degrees require
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longer periods. It is precisely those professions that are extremely worried about the impact that the higher fees might have on entry into the professions.
The point is very unclear at the moment. The purpose of the amendment is to make clear that we are looking for three years' worth of fees from the student and how to handle degrees that extend beyond that period and are not paid for, as with doctors after, as I understand it, the fourth year when payment is made by the National Health Service, where it is not paid for separately. As I said, the aim of the amendment is to make it clear that the student shall pay three years' worth of fees and that any further years of fees should be paid for.
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, I have tabled Amendments Nos. 14, 19 and 20. If I were more confident of my powers of persuasion, I would seek to separate my amendments from Amendment No. 7 which has just been so ably moved by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. I fully agree with the arguments that he made for the necessity of the amendment; and in that he has been very ably supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp. I also concur that if someone is registered for a degree when they are undertaking a foundation course, which I believe them to be, then under this amendment, and under my amendments, they will stop paying after three years. I think that the answer to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is clear.
However, it became clear at the Committee stage, when a very similar amendment was proposed, that there is a significant problem because the amendment as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, and as supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, means, very properly, that the student pays only three years and after that the university pays. That is what is wrong in general with this Bill. The universities keep on having to carry the can.
If I felt it appropriate, I would seek first to persuade your Lordships, if invited, not to vote for Amendment No. 7, but, when we came to it, to vote in favour of Amendment No. 14. However, I am not sure that I have the courage to divide your Lordships' House again so early in the evening. That is why I have not sought to dissolve the grouping. However, I want to underline the difference. My amendment would be worded identically were it not that I required a separate clause to deleteif noble Lords look carefully, as I did"university to pay" and insert "Secretary of State to pay".
As I already indicated, and as the noble Baroness on the Front Bench opposite indicated, it is unfortunate that I have perhaps become severely sharp in my criticisms. I detected that hint in her own words. She may be right. I am disappointed that the opposition spokespersons have introduced amendments that very rightly point to a defect in the Bill and very rightly suggested that students have paid enough fees after three years. I agree that three years for an undergraduate course is enough. However, the solution is to say that, after that, the Secretary of State should pay.
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Why should the universities have to carry the can in this way? The problem with the Bill is that it is not giving universities sufficient funding. That is why, with the greatest disappointmentI think I made this clear in our debate in CommitteeI do not feel able to support my noble friend's amendment and why I am still critical of noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat side who say, "Yes, that is all right. We want to change it so that the universities pay and carry the can". I do not think that that is acceptable.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister can tell us whether the Government have consulted the Scottish Executive about this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, may be able to confirm whether I am right in thinking that in Scotland a student pays fees for the first four years, because courses are four years in Scotland, and after that the fees are funded by the Scottish Executive, and presumably that money is allowed for in the Barnett formula. It would be interesting to know whether the Government have consulted the Scottish Executive.
It seems to me that one of these sets of amendments probably contains the answer to a problem that the Government have with the Bill: what is going to happen about these longer courses. It also presents a problem for ScotlandI have not consulted about thisas it seems to me that as one has to pay only the first four years if one is studying to be an architect or a doctor in Scotland, there may be a flight from England to Scotland for those courses just at the time when the Barnett formula does not increase, as money is coming into the English universities from students. Therefore, the increase in expenditure that would qualify Scotland for a higher amount under the Barnett formula will not be forthcoming. That seems to me an added complication.
However, my main interest is to know whether the Government have consulted the Scottish Executive and what they were told. I mentioned this in Committee, so if it had not been drawn to their attention before, it was then.
Lord Triesman: My Lords, Amendment No. 7 would ensure that fees may not be charged after three years at all, while Amendments Nos. 14 and 19 require the Secretary of State to meet the fees after the third year on the student's behalf. The effect for the student is the same. If higher education institutions are not allowed to charge fees to students beyond their third year of study, they will lose fee income. If the Secretary of State is required to meet the cost of fees for all students after their first three years, resources would need to be found from elsewhere in the HE budget. So both methods of exempting students from fees after three years would have an impact on the funding received by HEIs, and I should leave noble Lords
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under no illusion that the Government could find extra funding to make up that loss in funding. I was invited by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, to test the feelings of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on that proposal. I suspect that he would be unlikely to be moved by that additional appeal.
There is no reason why our proposals should deter students from studying subjects such as medicine, the courses for which are longer than three years. I want to comment on a number of the professions that have been mentioned.
For each year in which fees are charged, eligible students will continue to benefit from the generous student support package and, regardless of the level of loan which they have taken out, their monthly repayments will be the same. There is no evidence indicating that students are deterred from taking longer courses, and we believe that there are two principal reasons for this: first, the support is there to enable them to complete these courses; and secondly, students recognise the real benefits to them, personally as well as professionally. They study on these courses because they realise that the benefits will outweigh the costs. Indeed the OECD recently confirmed that the rate of return in terms of earnings for graduates in the United Kingdom is the best in the world.
All of this will remain the case under the variable fees system. The importance that the Government attach to courses which last more than three years such as education, medicine, dentistry, architecture, veterinary medicine and so onmany of the courses that were mentioned earlieris demonstrated now by the significant measures which are being taken to protect training for, and recruitment to, various public sector professions.
A good deal was said on this matter in Committee which I shall not repeatI am sure that will be welcomeand I shall not repeat much that was said about how our current recruitment initiatives work for the five main groups to which I referred earlier, but I should like to say something about their effectiveness.
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