Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
Has the hon. Lady met the vice-chancellor of Nottingham university? If she has, will she confirm that he supports the Government’s policy?
I have met him, and he is in favour of an increase in fees, but unfortunately the people of Nottingham, and prospective students, do not agree with him, and I am rather more concerned about representing them.
I was speaking about a senior member of staff at Nottingham Trent university who said that many young people and their families are considering studying closer to home. They are limiting their choice of university for financial rather than educational reasons, which has implications not only for individual students who feel unable to choose the university that is right for them but for the universities, particularly those in areas of high supply. The east midlands is a net importer of students, and therefore might expect to suffer disproportionately if more students choose to study close to home. What analysis have the Government made of this problem, what discussions have they had with local enterprise partnerships on its impact, and how do Ministers expect any reduction in the number of students coming to the east midlands to affect local and regional economic growth?
It is increasingly clear that in their rush to secure a deeply unpopular rise in fees as soon as possible after the election and before the next one, Ministers failed to come up with a coherent plan for higher education. Six months after the fee rise, we still have no higher education White Paper. The Department’s spending plans, based on average fees of £7,500, are in disarray, and measures sold to the electorate as necessary to save money are likely to cost the same or more. On top of 80% cuts in teaching grants, universities now face the threat of further cuts in grants or student numbers. The impact on local economic growth is uncertain, and young people and their families are paying the price of this Government’s incompetence. It is no wonder they feel so let down by the Business Secretary and his colleagues. I have no doubt that we will see quite how let down they feel when next week’s election results deliver the verdict on 12 months of the miserable compromise that is the coalition Government.