§ 1. Mr. Salmond
To ask the Secretary of State for Eduation and Science if he has any meeting arranged with Scottish university principals to discuss the effect of student loans on Scottish four-year degree courses.
§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson)
No, Sir. The choice to undertake a course involving four years of study, in Scotland or elsewhere, necessarily involves a mix of economic and educational considerations. I do not expect the provision of additional support in the form of a loan to affect students' approach to that decision.
§ Mr. Salmond
The Minister must be aware that figures from within the Government's White Paper show that the cost to students in terms of the outstanding debt in opting for a four-year course, with current rates of inflation, will be 60 per cent. greater than for students taking a three-year course. Does that not represent a substantial disincentive to entering a four-year honours degree in Scotland? Does it not mean that the scheme is a fundamental attack on Scottish education itself?
§ Mr. Jackson
There must be something wrong with the hon. Gentleman's arithmetic. If he were to study under the national curriculum, perhaps it would be improved. Courses of all lengths are available in higher education in England, Scotland, Wales and around the world in countries where there are student loan schemes. Other countries have not found it necessary to introduce differential arrangements for different sorts of students. We have said that we are prepared to consider extending the repayment period in relation to the size of the borrowing. That sort of arrangement is common where student loans exist.
§ Mr. Colvin
Will my hon. Friend confirm that the major commercial banks have now agreed to join the student loan scheme and that he is not having second thoughts about removing students from the welfare system?
§ Mr. Jackson
I can reassure my hon. Friend on the second point: we are not having second thoughts about it. On the first point, a question later on the Order Paper will be answered by my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Ernie Ross
The Minister fails to understand the significance of this for students who attend universities in Scotland. They include not only Scottish students, but a number of English, Welsh and Irish students, too. The four-year course in Scotland is much easier for students and produces much more academically qualified graduates. The extension of the loan period will in no way encourage students to come to Scotland or the students in Scotland to take up further education.
The Minister must look into this again—it is impinging on Scottish universities.
§ Mr. Jackson
Scottish degree courses last for four years instead of three because of the difference between Scottish Highers and A-levels. One quarter of all students in 168 Scottish universities come with A-levels from England and Wales and are attracted to Scotland by the quality of education offered there. I believe that they will continue to be so attracted, the introduction of student loans notwithstanding.
§ Mr. John Marshall
Does my hon. Friend agree that several hon. Members, including my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, demonstrate the worth of the four-year Scottish degree? Does he also agree that those who take part in such degree courses earn much higher incomes afterwards than they would otherwise have done, so is it not right that they should pay something back to society for those higher incomes?
§ Mr. Jackson
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One curiosity of the arguments that we sometimes hear against student loans is that they are premised on an assumption that the value of higher education to the people who go through it is so low that any element of repayment will deter them. That implies that higher education is of zero value to those who benefit from it, and that I cannot believe.