MPs investigate student finance

March 31, 2000

MPs could influence the government's inquiry into top-up fees and university funding with their own investigation of student finance.

The education and employment sub-committee announced this week that it is to hold special evidence sessions on student finance, heralding its forthcoming inquiry into higher education.

Depending on the scope and conclusions on student finance, the select committee may add a commentary to the evidence when published. Select committee commentaries can be hard-hitting and critical of government policy.

A tough report could have a significant effect on the post-election funding inquiry announced by education secretary David Blunkett. Mr Blunkett called for a debate on funding in his landmark speech on higher education at Greenwich University six weeks ago.

Committee member Gordon Marsden (Labour, Blackpool South) said: "I would not have thought it will pre-empt the government inquiry but we may choose to add a commentary."

Andrew Cubie is the first witness to appear before the committee on Monday. Mr Cubie's criticism of tuition fees and their effects on higher education participation rates in Scotland led to the Scottish Parliament abolishing upfront tuition fees and introducing grants for Scottish and European students.

This in turn prompted the government to introduce means-tested bursaries for mature and poor students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Following Mr Cubie's session on April 3, the committee will hear from Nicol Stephen, Scottish deputy minister for enterprise and lifelong learning.

On April 10, it will be the turn of the National Union of Students and the Committee of Vice-Chanellors and Principals. On April 17, the committee will hear from Gareth Williams, of the Institute of Education, and Maggie Woodrow, of Westminster University and the European Access Network. They are due to be followed the same day by further and higher education minister Baroness Blackstone.

Details of further evidence sessions covering other aspects of the committee's higher education inquiry, such as quality assessment, are to be announced.

A committee spokesman said that it was unlikely that any other single aspect of the inquiry would warrant as many evidence sessions as student finance.

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