In this first debate of the day on amendments to the Higher Education and Research Bill Lord Bilimoria offered two contributions. In his first contribution he stressed the importance of lifelong learning and adult education and the need to encourage progression. He further adds for the need for access and participation to be acknowledged in the bill. In his second contribution he discusses the introduction of tuition fees and their effect along with the withdrawal of funding. He highlights that universities operate in a difficult environment but acknowledges their international excellence.
Higher Education and Research Bill
My Lords, I will briefly address Amendments 2 and 8, which talk about part-time, adult and distance learning. When I am presiding over degree ceremonies as chancellor of the University of Birmingham, it gives me such pleasure when we have not just mature students but really mature students—students in their 60s—coming up to graduate. Whatever we do in this Bill, we must encourage lifelong learning and adult education. From 2005 to 2010, I was the youngest university chancellor in the country, as chancellor of Thames Valley University, which is now the University of West London. There, we had a motto: “further and higher”. The Bill must encourage progression, so that once people are exposed to higher education, they have the opportunity to go further. Quite often, it is just a question of experiencing it.
Finally, Amendment 87 is about access and participation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has spoken about. It is crucial that this is reported on and acknowledged fundamentally in the Bill. I have seen this first hand at the University of Cambridge, where the GEEMA programme brings to a summer school ethnic minority students who have no background of university education in their families. When they attend this course, they are exposed to Cambridge—somewhere they probably would never have even considered. The reality is that the majority end up going to university, and quite a few of them end up going to Cambridge. This must be encouraged, and it is crucial that it is part of the Bill.
Lord Bilimoria: Second contribution
My Lords, I remind your Lordships that when the Browne report came out at the beginning of the coalition Government, the change was introduced to increase fees from £3,000 to £9,000 in one go and to convert to a loan system. I remember tabling a regret Motion at the time. The argument then was that a market would be created so that students would go for universities and courses that were better value for them, but what I highlighted in my Motion was that the Government were withdrawing funding on the one hand and tripling the fees on the other. In the five years since the change was implemented, there has been no market; universities across the board have had to increase their fees virtually to the maximum £9,000, because funding was withdrawn at the other end. For students, it was a double whammy. Their fees were tripled in one go—I suggested that it should have been phased in—and they are now saddled with loans of tens of thousands of pounds that they have to pay off. On the other hand, for the universities, there is a £9,000 figure which for some subjects—science and engineering, let alone medicine—is nowhere near enough to provide that type of teaching.
This is a Hobson’s choice. You can understand the students’ point of view—they are already paying £9,000; they were paying £3,000 and they got the loans; they do not want the fees to go up—and you can understand the universities’ point of view: they want to provide the best possible research, teaching and facilities for their students, but they have had no increase in their fees for five years. In real terms, the £9,000 is already down to just over £8,000. Now we have this further linkage with teaching.
I want your Lordships to understand that this is not easy. Universities operate in a challenging environment. We are competing with the whole world. We have the best universities in the world along with the United States of America. Our research is fantastic. I am proud of our universities, but in many ways we have our hands tied behind our backs. I applaud our students and our universities.