Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Higher Education Bill

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 27.

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Turner of Camden): My Lords, Amendment No. 22 has been spoken to already with Amendment No. 21.
 
8 Jun 2004 : Column 248
 

Noble Lords: De-grouped!

Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve moved Amendment No. 22:


"(4) In order to ensure that student fees paid to relevant institutions are additional to, and not in replacement of, public funding— (a) the Higher Education Funding Council for England ("HEFCE") shall annually determine and make public the amount of direct public funding made available per home or EU undergraduate admitted to courses in each category at Higher Education Institution ("HEI") in England; (b) in the event of a decline in the real value of any of these amounts, as measured by an index of HEI costs, HEFCE shall take steps to reduce the total number of publicly funded home and EU undergraduates on courses in the relevant category, in order to maintain the unit of resource per home or EU undergraduate for courses in each category; (c) the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales ("HEFCW") shall annually determine and make public the amount of direct public funding made available per home or EU undergraduate admitted to courses in each category at HEIs in England; (d) in the event of a decline in the real value of any of these amounts, as measured by an index of HEI costs, HEFCW shall take steps to reduce the total number of publicly funded home and EU undergraduates on courses in the relevant category in order to maintain the unit of resource per home or EU undergraduate for courses in each category."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have not spoken to the amendment already. I spoke to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. As other noble Lords were already, by anticipation, speaking to Amendment No. 22, I indicated that I was not then speaking to it, but I shall do so now. The amendment has an error in the printed version, for which I apologise. In its proposed new paragraph (c), the last word should not be "England" but "Wales"; Wales should have the last word.

The point of Amendment No. 22 is quite straightforward. It is designed to achieve a good part of the aims of Amendment No. 21, without the difficulty of setting a commitment to additionality in the Bill. Unfortunately, that straightforward aim requires a certain complexity of drafting, and I am not sure that I have everything technically right. However, I shall outline the proposal.

At present, the funding for teaching costs at universities in England and Wales is set at four levels depending on the category of the course. Medical courses receive the highest funding; courses with heavy amounts of laboratory work are then funded at a higher rate than courses with a small amount of it; those in turn receive more than those with no laboratory work. The basic unit of resource for teaching is set at those four levels.

The amendment requires that, in the event that the real value of those funding levels, as measured by an index of higher education institution costs, cannot be
 
8 Jun 2004 : Column 249
 
maintained, the number of places rather than the support per student would be reduced. This would maintain the real value of funding per student on each category of course, but without committing the present or any future government to additionality.

It is only realistic to accept that we must cut our coat according to our cloth. In the event that public funding per student on a given category of course cannot be maintained, there is only one choice—cutting the unit of resource for students on that category of course, or cutting the number of funded places. The universities have been through long years in which the former salami slicing policy has been followed.

We owe it to future students, who will be paying substantially for their degrees, to make sure that they are not short-changed by further salami slicing. We owe it to universities not to encroach on their autonomy, and the amendment leaves it open to them to accept additional home or EU students for whom they receive no public funding—as is the case at present. Realistically, it will seldom be possible for universities to admit unfunded home or EU students. Nevertheless, their autonomy to do so is not reduced by the amendment.

The amendment is couched in terms of the unit of resource for each category of course in order to remove any incentives for universities to compensate for a declining average unit of resource by shifting their intake away from more expensive laboratory-based courses to other cheaper courses.

The only argument that I can identify against the amendment is that it might take longer to raise the level of participation at first degree level to some notional figure—I pluck it out of the air—say, 50 per cent of the age group. If we want the real thing—serious undergraduate education—we should prefer a sober and, it is to be hoped, temporary reduction in student numbers on specific categories of course at times of economic difficulty. That would be preferable to an unfunded race towards a mesmerising target. I beg to move.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, if only we had had the effects of the amendment five, 10 or 15 years ago, we would certainly not be in the disastrous situation that we are in now. This is a clear-sighted and well-conceived amendment, like its predecessor. All or, certainly, most of us favour an increase in the numbers of students in higher education, but not if that means that the provision for higher education declines significantly in quality and declines significantly in resource, as has happened in recent years.

Therefore, I warmly support the amendment, which powerfully gets to the heart of the issues that we are addressing and would make the Government, if it was accepted or, more likely, voted for by the House, recognise that if one sets a high target that is fine, but one has to meet the commitments that will underwrite
 
8 Jun 2004 : Column 250
 
such a high target. If we had the chance to re-write the amendment, in line 4 of paragraph (b), where it says that we would,

that is, if the ratio is not met—I would be careful to say,

That relates to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick. We would not wish to see students who are already embarked on their university courses excluded as a result of the amendment.

The way to proceed, clearly, if the verdict was that unit costs had declined so that the amendment came into effect, would be to reduce the admissions to such courses in a future year. No one would wish to see students who had already embarked on their university careers suddenly excluded by a procrustean application of the amendment. I am sure that that is the intention of the noble Baroness; it certainly was my intention when I put my name to the amendment. I am sure that that is the light in which the amendment should be read, so I commend it to your Lordships.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, on her ingenuity. Earlier, I did not move Amendment No. 4, which concerned the issue that we discussed at length in Committee. In order to make progress, I felt that perhaps we should not take time over it again, particularly in view of the amendment that we are discussing now. This amendment provides an ingenious way of ensuring that governments will the resources for the rhetoric of their policy statements.

I am very disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is not in her place. I resisted the temptation to respond to her comments about additionality because I was conscious that we wanted to move to a vote. But it is a fact that, since 1997, funding per student provided by the Government has fallen by approximately 10 per cent. It is also a fact that the total amount of money each year has been increasing, but that has been the case since 1979 and not only since 1997. However, funding per student has been lower than in any of the 18 years under the previous government.

I raise those matters not to make a party political point but to highlight the fact that it is not enough to say that participation should go up without willing the funds. I believe that this amendment is devilishly clever and it should be supported. It may give the Treasury less cause for concern than the previous amendment standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips.

I believe that, with the two amendments, should the House decide to approve this one, we have been really helpful to the Minister in pressing this case. She will be able to talk to her colleagues in the Treasury, and I imagine that any Secretary of State would be delighted to have an amendment of this kind included in legislation because it would be a guarantee that the declared policy of the Government to meet their target would be followed by appropriate funding and, were
 
8 Jun 2004 : Column 251
 
the funding not there, it would be transparent for all to see. Therefore, I very much support the amendment and, should the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, decide to press it at any stage in our proceedings, I shall certainly join her in the Lobbies.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page