The Chairperson: Good afternoon, especially to our friends
in Scotland. As Chairperson of the Northern Ireland Assembly's Higher
and Further Education, Training and Employment Committee I would
like to thank Mr Andrew Cubie in Edinburgh for making time available
to us. We are very much looking forward to hearing what he has to
say. I have heard a little bit of that already through the radio
interview, which we did for Radio Foyle at lunch time today. We
are delighted that he can assist us, though there is a time constraint
and we will have to finish at 3.30pm.
Mr Cubie: I greatly welcome the opportunity of giving evidence
to you. I am here without the other thirteen members of my committee,
and I am sorry that my arrangements could not have allowed me to
get to Belfast today, hence our rather constrained circumstances.
Unless you wish me to make some opening remarks about some of the
themes of my report, I will be very happy to take questions.
The Chairperson: Perhaps we should start into questions.
Mr Kelly: What have been the implications for Scottish students
whose preferred courses are not provided for in the Scottish Universities,
and what financial provision is available to Scottish students who
choose, or are obliged, to study outside Scotland?
Mr Cubie: My committee's recommendations did not draw a
distinction between Scottish-domiciled students studying in Scotland
or studying elsewhere in the United Kingdom. In the very limited
time that we had available we considered the European Union implications
of our recommendations, and, as you may be aware, the Law Officer's
advice in Scotland to Ministers was that it was not risk free to
introduce our recommendations. Therefore, a distinction was drawn
between Scottish-domiciled students studying in Scotland and not
having to pay tuition fees and those studying elsewhere in the United
Kingdom who had to do so. Ministers would not regard that as the
optimal conclusion in their response to the report but they of course
were constrained by the advice they had received.
If I may just extend that point a little by saying that in my personal
further submission - obviously this was made as an individual and
not as the former Chairperson or convenor of the committee - made
to Ministers last week, I urged that the European Union aspects
be explored further. Indeed, there are aspects of student finance
which in the context of the European Union might well find their
way to an inter-governmental conference.
Ms McWilliams: Until that happens, and it will be the case,
are you concerned with the increase in places in Scotland given
the arrangements that are particular to Scotland? Will it be sustainable
in the long term? That will be a question for us in Northern Ireland
as we also address the issue.
Mr Cubie: I do not know a lot about the Northern Ireland
experience, but we in Scotland are net importers of students. My
understanding is that, at least in the past, Northern Ireland has
been an exporter of students. A thread which ran through our report
was that the diversity of the student experience was much enhanced
by the mixture of students both from elsewhere in the United Kingdom
coming to Scotland and from further afield. At present it is unclear
to what extent there may be a collision between a larger number
of students wishing to stay in Scotland and those who wish to travel
elsewhere in the United Kingdom for course reasons.
Mr Kelly: Further to what Ms McWilliams has said, we
do export students to Scotland and to parts of England. How far
do you think the European dimension can assist the financing of
that situation because it is not being financed domestically?
Mr Cubie: I am doubtful about the prospect of European funding.
It was not an area that we considered in our terms of reference.
One of the anxieties of the DFEE in London was that had our recommendations
been sustained, turbulence would have been created in terms of the
way that EU students chose to come to the United Kingdom. The options
in Scotland might have been regarded as preferable to those that
would prevail south of the border. The issue between the Scottish
Executive and DFEE became one of finance - who would be paying for
any such turbulence.
Mr Carrick: What are your views on the social consequences
of the proposals that are in your name? Have you addressed what
the social implications might be? Are we going to widen the opportunities,
or are those opportunities going to be restricted in some way?
Mr Cubie: I will try to be brief because I get into something
akin to crusading mode in this area. Our terms of reference obliged
us to look very closely at excluded groups or groups which were
represented in a limited way in the Scottish context. We now have
47% of our cohort between the ages of 18 and 22 progressing to higher
education. The English equivalent is 36%. But what has happened
is that the widening access opportunities that have flown from the
"massivication" of Higher Education have not developed
in the way that many in society feel they should have.
It was for that reason that we had some very specific proposals
- to introduce a bursary structure in Higher Education, formerly
known as a grant, which would have been administered by individual
institutions, and to identify what we described as equity groups,
for instance, young adults on low income, mature students, lone
parents and students with disability. The Scottish Executive has
picked up elements of these recommendations, particularly with regard
to the targeting of equity groups. Owing to financial constraints
they have not felt able to follow the recommendation with regard
to the wider access bursary. In my further submission to Ministers
I have urged them to look at that again and perhaps to look at some
form of piloting with relation to it. Finance is one aspect which
many people consider when entering Higher Education, and if these
measures had been implemented, the social implications would have
been more advantageous.
Mr Carrick: You mentioned the financial implications of
widening access. How might the widening of access be financed if
student fees were abolished?
Mr Cubie: I hesitate because I am sure that there are those
in your Committee who will be knowledgeable about resource accounting.
Our proposals would have cost £62 million in cash in the first
year and £71 million in resource accounting. They were predicated
on the ability of the Government to make allowance for commitments
to pay in the future being introduced at current value, and that
made our wider access bursary proposals quite expensive.
My colleagues and I were in a very indulged position: we had only
one issue to consider, and we did not have to balance other budgetary
constraints. I must stress the importance of the wider access bursary
arrangement. We took extensive evidence throughout Scotland, and
all members of the committee were influenced by people we met who
were seeking to better themselves through Further and Higher Education
and who were caught in financial traps. That was substantiated by
Mr Dallat: The threshold of £25,000 was lowered to £10,000.
How will that affect young graduates entering employment at around
£10,000, or who are setting up in business or starting a family?
Mr Cubie: It will affect them profoundly. My main concern
with the Executive's proposals is the £10,000 to £25,000 figure,
and I have spoken vehemently on that. There is a difference between
a £10,000 threshold to commence a loan repayment and a figure at
which a contribution is made on a deferred basis. All graduates,
irrespective of their circumstances at the time of study, make a
contribution, once they have achieved some financial success. To
regard that contribution as one that can commence at £10,000 along
with some sort of loan facility to help make it seems to me to miss
a major plank of our recommendations.
Although Ministers have accepted the guiding principles of our
report, which we regarded as a very important framework, I could
not see how that conclusion squared with those guiding principles.
Whether the figure be £25,000 or slightly lower - and I will be
flexible about it -it most certainly cannot remain at about £10,000.
Mr Beggs: The Scottish Executive has created exemptions
for disadvantaged groups such as lone parents, mature students and
the disabled. How much will these exemptions cost and how does the
Scottish Executive intend to finance them?
Mr Cubie: You will have to forgive me while I look quickly
at the response document. I am not certain that I am going to find
that immediately, but I will be able to identify it at the end of
this evidence, if you wish. I am sorry that I just do not have that
in my head.
Mrs Nelis: Our experience of the student loans system here
has not been a very happy one. I see that the Scottish Executive
has opted to use the current student loan system to collect the
post graduation endowment rather than the system that you suggested
in your report, 'Student Finance Scotland'. Is this absolutely set
in stone? I know that the Executive has stated that its reason for
doing so was that tax and revenue is a reserved matter. Can you
suggest any alternative arrangements which could be made, certainly
locally, for repayment schemes?
Mr Cubie: My colleagues and I were very clear that it was
appropriate to have a mixed menu of options so that loans and grants
and, indeed, the endowment all sat properly together. Within the
recommendations we made regarding eligibility for loan and because
means testing has changed, we did suggest that there should be a
pilot scheme for commercial arrangements which would allow those
who did not fall within the main loan system to have the benefit
of commercial loan arrangements. I do have an understanding of why
the Executive felt hesitant about creating another body. We suggested
the amalgamation of existing bodies to create Student Finance Scotland,
though I do appreciate that creating another body to be involved
in the area of student finance might have been difficult.
I also have to accept that we as a group probably became quite
aspirational in what it was we were trying to recommend, albeit
with our feet fairly firmly on the ground, and a new body that would
be charged with recovering the graduate endowment would obviously
have been a more complex structure than the one that the Executive
has chosen to go with. I simply say again that I have some understanding
of why it did not go quite as far as we recommended. One of the
problems was - and I think that this is one of the interesting aspects
of devolution - that having a different structure within Scotland
such as we were recommending quite clearly was going to give rise
to difficulties within the United Kingdom as a whole, because it
would have been quite materially different. That is why I am pleased
at the chance to talk to your Committee, because some of what we
were recommending fits probably more easily within a UK context
than it does within just a Scottish context.
The Chairperson: Within the theme of deferred contributions
you have already spoken about the principle that it is only fair
that students, after they have graduated and have earned a substantial
salary - and you have £25,000 in mind - pay a contribution to study.
Many people would accept that principle and I personally find it
attractive. However, there will be others who will argue, and no
doubt you encountered this, that in principle, Higher and Further
Education should be free. How would you respond to that argument?
Mr Cubie: I understand it, and indeed you are correct, Mr Chairperson,
that this point was put to us quite vigorously. There were those
who asserted that we had had a principle of free education in Scotland
as a matter of history. That is not so, and we commissioned research
to demonstrate that that was not the case within higher education.
The facet of free education when it is then applied to the employer's
contributions also becomes difficult with regard to the various
sources of funding in tertiary education. On the front cover of
our report we boldly put the word "fairness". For the
very reason that you referred to, in the Scottish context there
were very few who would not accept the fairness of a deterred contribution.
We created a remarkable consensus around some of your recommendations
and, indeed, one was around this issue of a deferred contribution.
That came not only from university principals and staff associations,
from unions, from employers, but also from the student body itself.
We felt there was firm ground in recognising that contributions
should be made at the appropriate time and when the individual can
make the contribution fairly. For some that cannot be at the time
of study and for them it should be when they have achieved material
financial advantage is there. That is based on 100 years of evidence
which shows very clearly that graduates earn more than non-graduates
even in societies where the proportion of graduates relative to
the rest of the population has been rising significantly.
Mr Beggs: Are you still in talks with the Scottish Executive
on this issue or have the Scottish political parties accepted what
has been put into place? Is the issue dying or is it still a hot
issue where there could be further movement?
Mr Cubie: I do not intend to sound impertinent, but you
might ask the Scottish Executive about that. I made a further submission
within the consultation period on their paper having finished at
the end of last month. I made clear in formal meetings with Ministers
that I hope there can be further thought on the level of graduate
endowment, the bursary provision, and, indeed, some aspects of the
European Union position.
I am now advantaged because I am giving evidence to you this afternoon,
and I have already given evidence to the Select Committee in Westminster.
I have yet to give evidence to any component or Committee of the
Scottish Parliament, but I anticipate that in the months ahead.
You will be pleased to know that you are ahead of our own Parliament
here! I hope that there will be some opportunity for movement but
the Chairperson referred at the outset to the status of the committee.
My committee was an independent committee, which was quite out of
the political swim. I do not know the coalition politics well enough
to know if any movement is possible or not. As you have gathered
from my remarks I hope that movement may be possible. It would be
to the betterment of Scotland generally and to individual students
Mr Hay: What evidence did you take from universities before
you drew up your conclusions? Your report also proposed that loan
payments be abolished for students whose parents earn more than
£47,000 a year. How did you collate that?
Mr Cubie: We took extensive written evidence from all component
groups in universities and Further Education colleges, from university
principals, staff and students. We also arranged a comprehensive
series of campus visits to universities and Further Education colleges.
During these visits we were at pains to meet the different component
groups in the university and college structure. We also held public
meetings in 13 locations throughout Scotland when again further
university and college representatives came. The greatest satisfaction
that my colleagues and I gained was that on the day that we reported
to Ministers we held a seminar that afternoon and invited all the
groups that had submitted evidence to us to come. We had a fairly
major gathering as you might imagine from that. At that point the
representatives from university principals, the student bodies and
the staff unions from universities all agreed with the major planks
of our proposals. We consulted fairly widely.
On the point you make about the threshold of contribution you will
be aware that the tension in and around tuition fees in Scotland
was enormous. I do not think that as much attention as was appropriate
was paid to the fact that we were recommending that middle Scotland,
if I can put it that way, would require to contribute more to education.
We talked and thought long and hard about this but the conclusion
came back to the fairness of contribution from those who could afford
it. We knew in the Scottish context that there is a long tradition
of valuing education - indeed, many colleagues in the committee
had family recollections of finance which had gone into the advancing
of the next generation to that generations betterment. It was for
these reasons that we felt a contribution was appropriate at a higher
level from those above £47,000.
Mr Kelly: That £47,000 capping perhaps does not take into
account the number of children that might be in the family. What
are your views on that?
Mr Cubie: We almost included it as an alternative set of
guiding principles because in the creation of any structure for
finance there had to be anomalies. The view we took was that the
level was sufficiently materially high to allow for numbers of siblings
being involved in the process. I take the point that you can cut
that pack another way.
Mr Beggs: The other factor not taken into consideration
is the relationship which a student may have with his parents -
whether or not the parent would be willing to contribute anything.
So I would caution against that.
Mr Cubie: In an ideal world, and bear in mind we had five
months to produce this report, we would have liked to have explored
further the implications of making students independent of their
family relationships because undoubtedly there were many who said
to us that that continued dependency created a range of tensions
and difficulties which we might not have allowed for fully. It was
for that reason that we did encourage some kind of piloting of other
loan arrangements. There is no doubt that for those who come, say
from the gay community, with families not necessarily approving
of that, there were some cogent points put to us that that continued
dependency on a family connection could be very impeding as far
as progress into Higher Education was concerned.
Mr Kelly: In the consultation, how much interaction did
you have with student union bodies, and how much weight would you
put on their contribution to the debate about free education?
Mr Cubie: We had really quite substantial interaction both
in formal terms with formal evidence sessions and with representatives
coming to us. We had a student representative on the committee who
had been the students' representative committee president at Aberdeen
University. There are two distinct student representation groups
in Scotland, one being for the ancient universities and the other
the National Union of Students for Scotland. They did not combine
to any great extent until our work was well advanced, but I am pleased
to say that one of the by-products seems to have been that they
are more collaborative. I thought they took a very responsible view
of the evidence they gave to us. Indeed, both the NUS's first submission
and the second, which has gone to the Executive, are thoughtful
and of very high quality. The two groups were very responsive the
way we went about that consultation process.
There were also hundreds of students around campuses during our
visits, so that those who were not members of formal student bodies
had access to us.
Mr Dallat: Is there any international evidence to suggest
that free education should mean just that?
Mr Cubie: In the context of the desktop work we undertook
on mass Higher Education systems - owing to time constraints it
could only be desktop - I am not aware of a free system, short of
a communist regime, that is actually coping with current exponential
growth. Thank you for raising the point. That too added to our feeling
that one had to draw contributions from all those elements able
to contribute to Higher Education.
The Chairperson: I should like to return to the question
of deferred contributions. It concerns the practicality of the schemes
now endorsed by the Scottish Executive. Will the mechanisms be adequate
to track graduates, ensuring they actually end up making the contributions?
That is a practical question, perhaps one more of equity and fairness,
given that salaries vary by subject. Though it is perhaps the case
where your original figure of £25,000 is better than the actual
figure of £10,000, there may be issues of fairness, given the evidence
that some disciplines produce a much greater pay-off in eventual
salary increases than other academic subjects studied.
Mr Cubie: Those are indeed two significant points. With
the tracking issue, we had to be very clear that our Scottish graduate
endowment could not be regarded as a tax, since the devolved settlement
for Scotland dictates that it could clearly not be another impost.
We were satisfied, as, I believe, the Executive is satisfied in
that regard, but in our suggestions for Student Finance (Scotland),
we acknowledged that there would require to be a high level of information-sharing
with the Inland Revenue when tracking individual graduates.
I make no apology for the fact that we were not a full-time committee.
We had access to good resources, but we were not able to get to
the bottom of a number of issues with which we wished to deal in
detail. Some of the structuring, I readily accept, took place in
You partly answered the point you raised, for many expressed concern
that, with incomes in different careers being quite varied, the
compulsion under the present structure was to push people towards
the better-rewarded careers. Our feeling was that if one takes £25,000
as being the annual income across a range of occupations, at most
points, whether in teaching, commerce, or public service, the individual
has made some strides towards advancement, and for that reason we
felt that it was a relatively neutral figure unlike the £10,000.
The Chairperson: Further to the question of tracking points,
how are contributions going to be received from other EU students
studying in Scotland, if at all?
Mr Cubie: We recognise that this depends to a fair measure
on the integrity of the individual student. You may smile and say
that that is a rather forlorn hope. There is a great deal of evidence
that, through the alumni bases of universities, they are tracking
their constituent group very well. I am not saying that Student
Finance (Scotland) would plug in to the alumni base of Edinburgh
University or Strathclyde - not least because we propose the establishment
of a foundation. Interestingly, on the basis of a voluntary structure
many people have said that they would be willing to contribute -
on a tax-efficient basis - to a national foundation in preference
to contributing to their own individual university. Therefore, the
establishment of that foundation combined with individuals recognising
the value of contributing in later days - in order to continue the
benefits they had received - would make the issue of tracking less
severe than it seemed initially. However, I readily accept that
this is an issue.
Mr Kelly: Returning students to the benefits system will
improve the plight of many outside term-time. In the North of Ireland
there are constraints on the hours students can work before losing
their benefit entitlements. This implicates the type of work and
the number of hours they can work. Do you have any suggestions regarding
provisions for these constraints? Should there be constraints at
Mr Cubie: Our report went to the Executive and then to the
Scottish Parliament. We had three recommendations which we urged
the Executive to raise with the Westminster Parliament. They have
not done this. A fundamental aspect was that clarification of the
present arrangements was necessary to determine whether students
would be funded for a 38-week period or a 52-week period in the
year. In Northern Ireland you have, as we do, rural communities
where the opportunities for part-time student work are very limited,
both in the vacation period and, indeed, for many colleges in term-time.
We felt that those students who could demonstrate that they had
- using other aspects of the main benefit system - been unable to
find employment would be entitled to participate in the benefit
system on the basis that they were studying full time, which is
a 52-week occupation. You would be required to demonstrate fair
inability to get work.
In contrast to this, some of the research we undertook showed that
for many students in Scotland much of the damage to their studies
was done by term-time work which, for some, was extending to 30
to 35 hours a week. These were people who were, at same time, nominally
full-time students. Some of the research - which is referred to
in our report - is compelling, hence our recommendation that there
should be some form of code of conduct limiting term-time work to
a minimum of 10 to 15 hours a week.
The Chairperson: We are coming towards the end of the time,
but we will have one more question.
Ms McWilliams: I know from experience in Higher Education
that one of the difficulties is defining what constitutes a mature
student. Clearly - although you do specify exemptions, particularly
in relation to lone parents - there is always the issue of
married women who have enormous difficulty, particularly where they
have husbands employed in a low-income bracket. Did you take this
into consideration in relation to exempting them? Was that a consideration
when you were looking at exemptions in relation to who constituted
a mature student?
Mr Cubie: Considerable reference was made to the circumstances
of married women. In the elements of our recommendations for mature
students the provisions for married women, in the circumstances
you referred to, are, indeed, anticipated.
This it is why we referred to the categories as equity groups.
In equity - particularly in the context of mature students - married
women should not be at a disadvantage. Similarly, members of the
other equity groups should not be held back because of a lack of
finance. One of the benefits of a wider-access bursary arrangement
operated by individual institutions is that they could indeed have
brought focus to that.
Mr Hay: Given the work you have done in Scotland, what implications
are there for the rest of the United Kingdom? I do not think the
situation is confined to Scotland; it also has implications for
England, Wales and Northern Ireland. What are your feelings on that,
given the work you have done?
Mr Cubie: I spend much of my life as a lawyer, and the
specific evidence we have was substantially Scottish. We undertook
desktop research, which is, I hope, available to your Committee
- it has been published in separate volumes - and at the end of
December, my colleagues and I felt that we could speak with real
authority about student finance in Scotland. We had immersed ourselves
in the difficulties and the restrictions involved, many of which
have been drawn out this afternoon. However, we could not apply
that to other areas of the United Kingdom without suggesting similar
research be done. That is the canny answer; the honest answer is
that I do not see why many of the target group members in Coventry
or, indeed, in Belfast do not have the same concerns (particularly
in regard to loan aversion) that came across in Scotland. This is
reflected by the fact that there are still a number of national
bodies campaigning loudly for a wider consideration of our recommendations
and, in some cases, their implementation.
The Chairperson: Thank you very much Mr Cubie. What
you said was extremely interesting and helpful. We have all been
looking at the Cubie Report for some time now, and we are impressed,
not only by the final product that your committee produced, but
also by the process used. In terms of our own devolved arrangements
and the processes of consultation used here in Northern Ireland,
much could be learnt from your methods. Because it was an independent
committee, you had long enough to commission research and make national
comparisons. I understand you had over 900 individual submissions.
If you had the chance to do it again, and if the resources were
available, would there be anything you would change?
Mr Cubie: There are two aspects to that. I wish that there
had not been an intense debate over tuition fees in the background.
I hope the report shows this very clearly, because to many in Further
and Higher Education, living costs are a much more significant issue
than tuition fees, even, dare I say it, elsewhere in the United
Kingdom. By the half-way point in our process we managed, with quite
active press engagement, quickly to push the issue of living costs
further up the agenda. I wish we could have started off in that
position, as it might have promoted maturity in the exchanges that
The second issue I wish we could have looked at was funding of
institutions as well as the funding of students. It is self-evident
that they interlock, and one of our statements was that, insofar
as the Executive accepted our recommendation to abolish tuition
fees in Scotland, that in itself should not diminish resources to
institutions, and the Executive accepted that.
The Chairperson: Thank you, Mr Cubie. You have been
extremely helpful, and we hope that at some point you will be able
to physically come and talk to the Committee. We will seriously
think about what you said, as we have to form a view on student
support in Northern Ireland by the end of this month. So the issue
is alive here as well. Thank you for your time.
Mr Cubie: Not at all, Mr Chairperson. I have made clear
to your Clerk that I would be happy to talk to you face-to-face,
but I am happy to make whatever contributions I can.