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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, first, let us remember that two-wheel drivers can include motorcyclists, who I think are careful. After all, motorcyclists are the most vulnerable road users, because of their lack of protection and the relative speed at which they travel. As for cyclists, of course they are bound by the Highway Code and the laws of the land, as are all other users of the road. Some irresponsible cyclists bring the whole cycling community into some disrepute, but the number of deaths that result from a cycle being ridden badly is infinitesimal compared with the problems caused by bad driving of motorised vehicles.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, would the Minister agree that most drivers' attitudes—I declare an interest as a driver—to white van drivers are coloured not usually by the van drivers' skill as drivers but more usually by their skill in parking in strategically difficult places on the road, where they seem, sadly, to cause a great deal of congestion? Could the Minister assure the House that part of the training that he is inducing white van drivers to undertake should include being more considerate in parking their vehicle to diminish the congestion that they otherwise cause?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord is right: white van drivers should park considerately, as
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should all drivers. It will be recognised that those vans are used for business purposes and that some of their deliveries occasion them to stop at very inconvenient places. The noble Lord is enjoining on the House the virtues of increased attention to bad and illegal parking and increasing penalties therewith, but I should have thought that most local authorities were setting a pretty good example.

Lord Colwyn: My Lords, is the Minister aware that road rage is very common against cyclists? Only a few days ago, I was abused and intimidated when passing between a white van and a 4x4 in the King's Road. Could the Minister consider further campaigns to encourage cyclists and to remind drivers to "think bike"?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as usual, the House is showing itself representative of all bodies of opinion with regard to road users. Of course, the noble Lord is right: a lack of consideration by cyclists can cause distress to other road users and to pedestrians, but lack of consideration for cyclists can often result in something much more serious, because of their great vulnerability. That is why the best adage for all who seek to take a driving test for a car is to have attempted efforts on two-wheel vehicles first, because they give one a better impression of road conditions and vulnerabilities.

Universities: Admissions

11.28 am

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford, and at her request, I beg leave to ask Her Majesty's Government the following Question:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Lord Adonis): My Lords, the application process is not yet complete, and the interim analysis conducted by UCAS covers English applicants to all UK institutions. The analysis shows that the proportions of applicants from high and low socio-economic backgrounds are unchanged from 2005. Sixty-nine per cent of applicants to UK institutions come from socio-economic classifications 1 to 3, and 31 per cent from classifications 4 to 7, which is the same as last year. There is no data available as yet by ethnic grouping.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer, but if he cares to look a little closer at the UCAS figures he will see that, whereas there has been a 2.8 per cent drop in applicants from the top socio-economic group—the managerial and professional groups—the drop in applicants from the
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lower groups has been 9.5 per cent. There has also been a disproportionate drop in the number of older, more mature applicants. Is it not clear that top-up fees are, at least initially, having an effect on wider participation in higher education?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I do not accept that at all. The noble Baroness is simply taking some figures rather than giving the complete picture. The second-lowest decrease, 2.6 per cent, is in fact in the bottom social class of routine occupations. The lowest of all is right in the middle, at 2 per cent for small employers and own-account workers. If we take the top three and bottom three social classes, then, as I said, the proportions are unchanged.

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, does my noble friend recall that a similar effect occurred, which proved to be of momentary duration, when loans for student maintenance were brought in? Will he reaffirm that it is entirely reasonable to ask students to contribute part of the cost of their higher education, which will be of great personal benefit to them, rather than expecting taxpayers—many of them on very modest means and without the same prospects in life as graduates—to subvent the whole cost?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I completely agree with my noble friend. Of course, the result of the reforms that we have introduced will be a £1.4 billion increase in funding for universities, which I think the House will welcome. Overall participation is up significantly since 1997. The number of full-time undergraduate entrants grew from 261,000 in 1996 to 299,000 in 2004. This year's number will be hugely up on the 1996 figure. We had a similar effect when the first lower-level fees were introduced in 1998. There was a decline in applications in that first year, yet a substantial increase in all subsequent years.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, it must be right that we do everything to encourage those who would benefit from university to apply. What steps are the Government taking to simplify the current funding, grants and loans schemes which, due to their complexity, may put students off applying?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the simplest change that we have made is to introduce a straightforward £2,700 grant for poorer students that simply did not exist before. That is the best deal that poorer students have had in a long time, since the old grants system was changed. We believe that that will have a big impact over time in encouraging applicants from poorer backgrounds.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, what proportion of applications have come from students from the EU? Are those students eligible for the up-front loans available to English students, and what are the Government doing to secure repayment of those loans after graduation?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I cannot give the numbers, but I will write to the noble Baroness. However, those
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students are eligible, and we have in place robust arrangements with our EU partner countries to recoup the money after graduation.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, has any attempt been made to differentiate admissions levels in Scotland and in Wales, where top-up fees are not in place, from the level in England? We have had more applicants in Wales and in Scotland.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, the figures are broken down by country, but the countries have different regimes for student support and fees.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, is my noble friend arguing that the rates will stay as they are at the moment after the full tuition fee regime is introduced?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, it would be a bold person who predicted the future. However, I can tell my noble friend that, even taking into account the decline which I have just mentioned, application numbers this year are substantially up on the figure from two years ago. Last year, there was a very big increase in student applications—an 8.9 per cent increase—from those wishing to avoid the new student finance regime. Even taking account of the decline this year, we are still more than four percentage points up on the position of two years ago. So we are still looking at a substantial improvement over time. As I said, the number of applicants and students who have been accepted is hugely up on the position in 1997.

Lord May of Oxford: My Lords, does the noble Lord share my concern that, although the overall number of admissions has increased, the number of students taking physics, for example, has shown an absolute decline?

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