Oral Answers to Questions Debate

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Department: Department for Education

Oral Answers to Questions
Joseph Johnson Excerpts
Monday 11th September 2017

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Department for Education
Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con) - Hansard

3. What steps have been taken to increase the number of university technical colleges. [900741]

The Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation (Joseph Johnson) Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 2:45 p.m.

There are currently 49 university technical colleges open or opening this month, and one is planning to open in 2018. We will publish information on new application arrangements in the coming weeks.

Richard Graham Portrait Richard Graham - Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 2:45 p.m.

The Minister and the Secretary of State are both aware of our great ambition in Gloucester to create a new UTC for pathways into health and care —the two biggest sectors of employment in Gloucestershire —but since the cancellation of the last bidding round, the question is how and when we can take this forward. The Minister has suggested it will be soon, but can he give us any further idea?

Joseph Johnson Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 2:46 p.m.

We are committed to ensuring that many more young people have access to high-quality technical education, and UTCs have an important role to play in this. However, the experience of the UTC programme has been mixed to date. Our priority is to support existing UTCs, so that they are able to offer good education. We are learning lessons from those that are open at the moment, and we will publish application arrangements for new UTCs in the coming weeks.

Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab) - Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 2:46 p.m.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating Alan Johnson, the former MP for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, who fought for many years to get the Ron Dearing UTC opened in Hull? It has actually opened its doors this morning for the very first time, and one of its priorities is to encourage more young women to study engineering and technical subjects.

Joseph Johnson Hansard

I certainly add the Department’s and my congratulations to the hon. Lady’s. That is an important achievement, and we are strongly committed to the UTCs, which will help the Government in our ambition of creating parity of esteem between technical education and more academic routes.

Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab) Hansard

4. What assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the roll-out of the Government’s policy on 30 hours of free childcare. [900742]

Break in Debate

Mr Virendra Sharma Portrait Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab) - Hansard

5. What discussions she has had with the Home Secretary on the financial contribution of overseas students to English universities and the classification of such students in Government immigration statistics. [900743]

The Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation (Joseph Johnson) Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 2:50 p.m.

We regularly engage with the Home Office on international students, who make a great contribution to our higher education system, providing 13% of its income in 2015-16.

Mr Virendra Sharma Portrait Mr Virendra Sharma - Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 2:39 p.m.

In light of recent exit check data, which show that the number of students who have overstayed is very low, will the Government introduce measures to grow the number of international students coming to UK universities?

Joseph Johnson Hansard

We recognise the value of international students in our system, which is why we have recently asked the Migration Advisory Committee to review in full the contribution that they make to our university system. I remind the hon. Gentleman that there are no limits to the number of international students who can come at present. We are second in the world in our market share of international students, and we want that to continue.

Andrew Bridgen Portrait Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con) - Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 2:51 p.m.

As my hon. Friend has said, international students provide a wealth of benefits to our universities. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that the UK higher education sector remains a welcoming place for students from foreign countries?

Joseph Johnson Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 2:52 p.m.

It is a welcoming place, as attested to by the fact that this year, for the sixth year in a row, we have 170,000 international students coming into our system, which is a record number. We want that to continue. The work of the British Council contributes to that, as does the work of the GREAT campaign. I will be in India in November drumming up business for our universities, and I expect that other Ministers will do so too.

Sir Vince Cable (Twickenham) (LD) Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 2:52 p.m.

What action is the Minister taking in respect of overseas students on vocational courses who need to do work experience, which is regarded as illegal working by the Home Office, leading to unnecessary and heartbreaking deportations?

Joseph Johnson Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 2:52 p.m.

The right hon. Gentleman raises an important question. We must ensure that our offer for international students is competitive in all respects and that they feel they will get the kind of provision that suits their needs and opportunities to learn in a workplace environment. We will study his comments with interest.

Carol Monaghan Portrait Carol Monaghan (Glasgow North West) (SNP) - Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 2:53 p.m.

The Minister is quite right that we are doing well with international students, particularly from China and India, but universities across the UK are losing out in the recruitment of students from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US, because the UK has one of the least competitive policies on post-study work in the English-speaking world. Will he commit to work with the Home Secretary to reinstate the post-study work visa?

Joseph Johnson Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 2:53 p.m.

The hon. Lady will be encouraged, I hope, by the pilots that the Home Office has recently undertaken with a number of institutions—four, I believe —to enable a more liberal post-study work regime. The Home Office and the Department for Education are examining that pilot carefully, and it is our ambition that when circumstances allow, it can be extended more broadly across the sector.

Carol Monaghan Portrait Carol Monaghan - Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 2:54 p.m.

The pilot provides only a narrow range of courses that are eligible for participation in the scheme, so it needs to be widened. The Scottish National party has consistently called on the UK Government to remove international students from the net migration figures. Now that the Government figures on net migration among those students have been utterly discredited, will the Minister join us in calling for those students to be removed permanently from net migration figures?

Joseph Johnson Hansard

As I said a minute ago, that would not limit numbers. The fact that they are in the migration cap does not limit the ability of institutions to recruit as many international students as they wish, provided that they meet the requisite academic standards. There is no cap and no plan to introduce a cap, and that applies to Scottish institutions as much as it does to English ones.

Angela Rayner Portrait Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab) - Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 2:30 p.m.

It is a sad fact that it actually does have an impact on the number of international students coming to the UK. For years, the Prime Minister told us that we need to clamp down on international students who overstay their visas, using figures to suggest that as many as 100,000 people are remaining in the UK illegally. In fact, we know the figure is now 4,600 students—the Government were out by 95%. Does the Minister fully support the Prime Minister’s desire to keep international students in the net migration target?

Joseph Johnson Hansard

We welcome strongly the work the Office for National Statistics is now doing to improve the quality of statistics relating to international students. Like the hon. Member, we noted its preliminary conclusion that the International Passenger Survey might be systematically undercounting emigration after study. I was very pleased that the Home Office report on exit checks data, published on 24 August, showed that students are very largely compliant with immigration rules. That is an important bit of information and it underscores our intent to continue the situation whereby there is no cap on the number of students who can come and study in this country.

Adam Afriyie Portrait Adam Afriyie (Windsor) (Con) - Hansard

6. What steps the Government are taking to improve social mobility in disadvantaged areas. [900744]

Break in Debate

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con) - Hansard

10. What steps the Government are taking to make university education more accessible to young people from poorer backgrounds. [900748]

The Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation (Joseph Johnson) Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 3:11 p.m.

Our student finance system is enabling record numbers of disadvantaged young people to benefit from higher education. This year, 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas in England were 43% more likely to go into higher education than in 2009-10, and, in addition, through the latest round of access agreements for 2018-19, universities have committed no less than £860 million to continue improving access and success for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Alex Burghart Portrait Alex Burghart - Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 3:11 p.m.

I warmly welcome the fact that there are more poorer children going to university than ever before. Will the Minister join me in welcoming the initiative taken by University College, Oxford—now officially the greatest university in the world—which has reserved places every year for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, to ensure that more of them have access to world-class education?

Joseph Johnson Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 3:12 p.m.

I certainly welcome that initiative by University College, Oxford, and I am pleased to say that it is not just that disadvantaged students are accessing higher education in general; they are 53% more likely now to be going to our super-selective institutions than in 2009-10, which is an extraordinary turnaround.

John Woodcock (Barrow and Furness) (Lab/Co-op) Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 3:12 p.m.

Disadvantaged children cannot get to university if they do not get the grades in the first place, so will the Minister ask the schools Minister to meet us in the Furness area who are looking at a major new initiative to get the private-sector local employees involved in closing the generations-long gap in GCSE numeracy and literacy attainment?

The Minister for School Standards (Nick Gibb) - Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 3:12 p.m.

indicated assent.

Joseph Johnson Hansard

I believe my right hon. Friend the schools Minister is confirming that he would be keen to take such a meeting.

Heidi Allen (South Cambridgeshire) (Con) Hansard

11. When she plans to publish the Government’s strategy on the safeguarding of unaccompanied asylum-seeking and refugee children. [900749]

Break in Debate

Kerry McCarthy Portrait Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab) - Hansard

T5. I very much welcome what the Universities Minister had to say last week about excessive pay packages for university vice-chancellors and the measures he is taking to try to get vice-chancellors to justify those packages to their university courts. Does he really think that that will make a difference given that vice-chancellors are paid so much more than the £150,000 talked about? [900778]

The Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation (Joseph Johnson) Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 3:28 p.m.

I thank the hon. Lady for her words of support for our intervention. It is important that there is transparency and accountability on how funds are used, and I am confident that the Office for Students will use its powers effectively to achieve that.

James Heappey (Wells) (Con) - Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 3:28 p.m.

The Secretary of State will know that West Somerset is an opportunity area, and we have a big reskilling requirement to take full advantage of the construction of Hinkley Point C. Does she share my concern, therefore, about the reduction of funding for Somerset Skills & Learning? And will she encourage her Department to do all that is necessary to restore the funding as quickly as possible?

Break in Debate

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab) Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 3:35 p.m.

Flammable cladding has been found on university halls of residence and privately provided student accommodation throughout the country. With students returning to that accommodation in the coming weeks, what will the Secretary of State do to ensure their safety?

Joseph Johnson Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 3:36 p.m.

The higher education sector has taken this issue very seriously indeed. The Department has had a positive and comprehensive response from all 238 HEFCE-funded providers and designated alternative providers. When issues have been identified, providers have been quick to respond to protect student safety. Officials will continue to work closely with those in the Department for Communities and Local Government who are reviewing private student accommodation.

Suella Fernandes (Fareham) (Con) - Hansard
11 Sep 2017, 3:35 p.m.

Michaela Community School, a free school that I have the honour of chairing and having co-founded, was recently graded outstanding in its first Ofsted report. My right hon. Friend the Minister for School Standards has visited the school; will the ministerial team join me in congratulating the staff, teachers and pupils at Michaela—led by the inspirational Katharine Birbalsingh—who are transforming young people’s lives?