PM offers vision of 'opportunity' for all

September 28, 2007

Too few people from poor backgrounds are going to university, the Prime Minister said this week in a clear signal that the drive to widen access will continue.

In his first Labour Party conference as leader, Gordon Brown also highlighted a £15 billion, ten-year investment in health and medical research, to support the "genius" of British researchers.

In an unusually personal speech, Mr Brown referred to his own childhood experiences to highlight his friends' missed educational opportunities, and countered claims that more people in university meant lower standards by calling for Britain to "stand up for opportunity".

"In many other countries, the majority of young people now go to university. In Britain [it is] just 42 per cent [and] just 10 per cent from lower-income backgrounds," he said.

"As a teenager I saw close friends of mine who might have gone to... university, but never did. When they heard about further education, they thought, or their parents thought, that it was not for people like them.

"And the reason I am here - the real reason I am here - is that I want their children and their grandchildren... to have all the chances that were not available to my school friends."

He highlighted improvements to student support from next year. "When the big new changes we are now making are fully in place, 300,000 students will receive full grants [and] 600,000 - that's two thirds of students - will have grants. That's the change: more students with grants than at any time in the history of university education."

Mr Brown also stressed the Government's commitment to research.

"Over the next ten years, I am proud to announce, through the Medical Research Council and the NHS together, Britain will invest more than ever before - £15 billion of public money - financing the genius of British researchers and doctors as they convert breakthroughs in genetics, stem cell research and new drugs into cures and vaccines to combat cancer and the deadliest of diseases."

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