HC Deb 09 December 1919 vol 122 cc1258-67

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £1,500,000, be granted to His Majesty, to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1920, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Board of Education, and of the various Establishments connected therewith, including sundry Grants in Aid.

10.0 P.M.


The total cost to the Board of Education of the scheme for the education of demobilised officers and men was originally estimated not to exceed £6,000,000. This estimate was based on the assumption that awards would be made to 15,000 students, that being the estimated maximum capacity of the educational institutions in which they were to receive their training, at an average total cost per student for the whole course of £400. The average total cost per student has actually worked out at a considerably smaller sum, but the number of students who have applied for Grants has very largely exceeded all expectations, and the capacity of the universities and the other institutions they have attended to accommodate the students has proved very much greater than was thought possible. Up to 6th December the Board of Education has received nearly 22,000 applications, and has made over 17,600 awards, involving a total commitment of £5,430,000, and at present applications from ex-Service men for courses of training in universities and places of higher learning are being received at the rate of well over 600 a week. I have no doubt these applications will continue to be made in large numbers owing to the fact that demobilisation is still proceeding upon a large scale and is not expected to be completed until the spring of 1920. A sum of £500,000 has already been taken for the financial year 1919–20. At the time when this Estimate was made only a comparatively small number of applications had been received, and we had no reliable data upon which we could form an estimate of the number of applications which might be expected. On 5th June last the Board had received only 743 applications for final awards, and they have made 1,700 interim Grants, those two figures to a certain extent overlapping each other. Owing to the fact that in the case of the great majority of the 17,600 awards which have already been made, the approved course began either in the financial year 1919–20, or continued in that financial year, it became necessary to ask for as much as £1,500,000 for the financial year in addition to the £500,000 which had already been taken.

I have indicated already to some extent the reason for such an exceptionally large number of applications which have been received and which are likely to be received, but an additional reason is the delay in the resettlement of industry and the consequent inability of many ex-officers and men of the like class, to obtain employment. Again, tine number of applicants to the Board of Education has been much greater than has been anticipated in proportion to the number of applications which were made for training of a character which is provided by the Appointments Department of the Ministry of Labour. Another reason for the large number of students was the propaganda of the military authorities and the Appointments Department, which made the scheme widely known throughout the Forces. Another factor has been the Army education scheme, which has brought home to men in the Army the value of education and has induced a good many of them who would otherwise have remained indifferent to think seriously of completing their education. Then there was the unexpected readiness of the universities and technical institu- tions to stretch their accommodation and their teaching power. The objects of the scheme have been to repair as far as possible, in the national interest, the losses in the supply of trained and educated men owing to casualties, suspension of education or impairment of professional efficiency and the necessity in the case of the disabled of diminishing their degree of dependence, and the desirability of withdrawing from the labour market as large a number as possible of the younger men whose service experience would not have supplied adequate preparation for the work of civil life. The reports which have been received from all parts of the country with reference to this matter go to show that they are not only appreciating to the full the advantages which have been placed within their reach, but that they are making the utmost use of their opportunities.

It is a large amount of money, but I believe it to be money admirably spent, and money which will yield a large return to the country. It is one of the best investments that the country has made. We have lost an immense wealth of talent upon the battle fields in the various theatres of war. For four successive years the annual crops of students have been unable to go to the universities, and it has been absolutely necessary in the interests of the nation that the gaps which have been made should be filled, and that men who are fit to be leaders in commerce and industry, of the arts and of science, should receive the benefit of a good educational training, which will enable them to lead their fellow men in the work of reconstruction. May I add a few words with reference to the work which my hon. and gallant Friend behind me (Lieut.-Commander Hilton Young) has done in this connection? He has been at the Board of Education for a whole year. He has been at the head of the officers' branch, and has devoted himself heart and soul to the work. He has toiled at it early and late, and has had to face innumerable problems arising out of the various classes of students from whom we hope to provide the future educational wealth of the nation. On behalf of the ex-Service men who will receive the benefits of this instruction, and on behalf of the Board of Education it is right that a tribute of appreciation should be paid to the admirable work that he has done for the ex-Service men. I trust that the explanation I have given will satisfy the Committee, that the additional amount we ask for is necessary, and that the money which is proposed to be expended will be spent on a good object, and will yield an ample and substantial return to the nation.


I am not quite sure that I got the figures right. Did the hon. Gentleman say that there have been 17,000 awards, involving a charge of £5,429,000?


I said that 17,600 awards have been made, involving total commitments of £5,430,000.


We are glad the Minister of Education is in his place while this Estimate is being discussed. He is the second Minister who has been good enough to be present while we are discussing the Estimates. There are one or two points which I want to raise, not points of criticism exactly, because I am certain that everyone, as was the case on the Ministry of Pensions Vote, is quite prepared to see money spent on this particular object. There are certain cries for economy in the country at the present moment. One of the stupidest of those cries is the cry against the expenditure of money which is reproductive and remunerative from the point of view of the State. I have no sympathy with that particular cry. I should like to raise one question in regard to the use of the words "ex-officers and men of like standing." The phrase "men of like standing" seems to be a tremendously difficult phrase to interpret. It occurs in the Pension Warrant, with regard to pensions which are given to officers. The provision was then made that men who were in the same social class as officers who received commissions, but who served in the ranks should receive the same rates of pension. I am not quite clear whether my right hon. Friend in determining these grants of assistance to ex-Service men who desire them does so on the basis of a social distinction. It is rather important to know that.

The PRESIDENT of the BOARD of EDUCATION (Mr. Fisher)

It is an educational qualification. The test is whether the officer or man is sufficiently well educated to profit by the university course which is offered to them.


I am glad to know that, but it does not quite say that here. It uses the words of the Pension Warrant, and the Pension Warrant provides for a social distinction.


It is an unfortunate phrase.


I agree it is an unfortunate phrase. The proper test is whether a man is able to benefit by the education offered. Let me remind the right hon. Gentleman of one class in regard to which there seems to be considerable difficulty. It arises in connection with the question of continuous education up to the age of eighteen. Possibly he has had a number of these cases. There are a number of boys who joined the Colours out of pure patriotism. They rushed to the Colours before they ought to have gone, and deceived the recruiting officer in regard to their age. They gave up their education. In many cases they had been at secondary schools. These boys, having served for three, four, and some of them for five years, come back and make application for grants for assistance towards their higher education, and they are informed that because they have not been continuously educated until the age of eighteen they are not eligible. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend knows of those cases.


There may be cases of that sort in Scotland. This only concerns England and Wales. I do not think we have had any cases of that sort here.


I should be glad to know that it is not the case in England and Wales. I know of many cases where boys have been refused the right to sit for examination for the Civil Service, which ought to be open to all ex-Service men, because they had not been continuously educated up to the age of eighteen. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will look into that. It is not a big point, but it is a useful point. I am not sure whether my right hon. Friend is taking enough money. If it be true that there are 17,000 awards already made, involving nearly £5,500,000, and applications are coming in at the rate of 600 a weak, which means 31,000 a, year, I am not sure that he has not underestimated the amount of money he will require. While it is a good thing to give that large number of men professional training, I would like to know if anything is being done to find occupation for these young men after they have gone through their university career? Many of us who are interested in discharged men who train for industrial occupations find over and over again that a man is not allowed to enter training for a certain occupation— say, motor engineering. They are told that it is absolutely full, and that it, is hopeless to put them into training for it because there would be no occupation for them after their training had finished. You have already 22,000 applications. You have them coming in at the rate of 600 a week. Owing to the Armistice coming more quickly than some of us expected, the Government were not ready to find occupation for many of the men who had served in the Army. Therefore, we have arranged this university system, by which thousands of men are being trained professionally, but I would be interested to know what faculties these men are going in for—whether they are going in for law, medicine, the Church, or for industrial courses. If there is that large number, it would be worth the while of my right hon. Friend to look ahead and see if he can place the products of his scheme. The scheme is admirable, but there is no more pathetic spectacle than that of a man professionally trained in a university thrown on the market without any prospect of finding an occupation. While in our enthusiasm we may be making places for a number of these men in our universities, we want to look further ahead and see whether we cannot fit them into our professional, industrial, and economic life after they have gone through their courses.

Captain ELLIOT

It was unusually humble of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hogge) to say that we were on small points this evening. Surely when we are discussing a university population of 17,000 young men, doubling the university population of England and Wales, it is a point of sufficient importance to warrant a little further discussion. The £5,000,000 which is being spent on these 17,000 young men is £5,000,000 which is being spent on the payment of sweated labour. We are only getting this by underpaying the staffs of our great universities. There is no more sinister fact in the world just now than the fact that the payment for muscle has gone so high above the payment for brains. It is an astonishing fact that these university lecturers who are doing a great deal of the hack work are being paid sums of £100 or £200 a year, sums which the ordinary able-bodied man would laugh at.


And rightly so!

Captain ELLIOT

But you do not score in the long run—and Labour knows this as well as anybody else—by sweating your intellectual workers to overpay your manual workers. A very interesting report was given to me from the Labour Research Department of the Fabian Society, in which they go so far as to threaten a strike against the trade unions for underpaying them. They say, frankly, that it is not a case of Labour not knowing; Labour knows quite well it ought to pay them properly. Professional men are paid by capitalists £1,500 to £2,000 a year, and if they do not get that from the trade unions they are thinking of going on strike. I commend that to hon. Gentlemen on the Labour benches. The tragedy of the middle classes is bad enough; the tragedy of the intellectual worker is very grave and very immediate. If I were starting life, personally I would no more think of trying to earn my living by my brains than of trying to fly in the air. I am 6ft. 1in. and weigh 13 stones, and I would have a. very moth better time as a manual worker and would earn larger money than I could hope to earn by the decent, every-day hack work on which, after all, our civilisation largely depends. Even as an unskilled labourer I could earn better money than as a skilled worker. I could, at all events, probably make more than the £100 a year of junior lecturers, who are shockingly underpaid.

Even professors are paid only £500 or £600 a year in one of the important chairs of the University of London. While the Secretary of State for War will pay a medical man £900 a year to exile himself to Mesopotamia and to treat the ophthalmic eyes of a few savage Arabs, the educational authorities in this country will give a professor only £600 a year to occupy one of the leading chairs in medicine. The disproportion is too great, and needs to be remedied. I apologise for trespassing on the time of the House, but I call the attention of the Committee in general and of the Minister of Education in particular to the scandalous underpayment of the staffs, and particularly the junior staffs, of the educational institutions on which he is relying to carry out this great educational work, and I do ask that he should give earnest and immediatae attention to this very pressing question.


I am sure we have all heard with delight the figures given by the Parliamentary Secretary in reference to the number of ex-Service men who have made application for awards in respect of a course of training at our universities, and feel that money so spent bound to reap a very rich harvest in future. I would urge on the President of the Board of Education greater expedition with the matter of the awards than has been shown in the immediate past. I know some of the difficulties that beset the Department. Owing to the demands for economy they are probably suffering from a depleted staff. On the other hand, it may be that in a number of cases the university colleges are to blame for not supplying the Department with the necessary information. It is very important that these young men, who have no means, the parents of whom have striven hard—I am speaking of parents whom I know in my Constituency—have, by the sweat of their brows put together their pence in order that their sons can reap the benefit of this training—it is important that these awards should be made with all possible promptness to these young men. Perhaps by a little more pressure something might be done to accelerate the making of these awards. I am sorry that courses in agriculture, metallurgy, and other technical matters have not been arranged, as I know that many students were anxious to take up those studies. It is a pity that in these very important spheres of higher study many students should have been debarred from the benefit to be derived from them. I would ask that consideration might be given to these matters in arranging future courses.


May I point out to the hon. and gallant Member (Captain Elliot) that wherever labour is in the ascendant in this country in administration teachers' salaries are improved? We have spent in my county months of hard work in finding out everything with regard to the teachers and we have practically doubled the teachers' salaries. We are quite prepared to pay, because our people have been kept in the background because the salaries did not bring the best people into the profession, and we are determined to have the best brains we can get for this important work. Therefore the hon. and gallant Member need have no fear with regard to Labour paying proper salaries to professors.


My right hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary has stated the cause of the Supplementary Vote so fully that very little remains for me to say, and I will merely confine myself to one or two points mentioned by hon. Members, I am surprised to hear that no encouragement has been given to metallurgical students, in view of the fact that every student's case comes before me. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) asked me whether I could give him any information as to the courses which were taken up by ex-Service men, and I think that is a subject in respect to which the Committee might like to hear a little more. Up to the 6th December, 1919, the following courses of study have been approved: In classics, philosophy, and Literae Humaniores, 1,473 courses of university standard; in art, music, and architecture, 1,224 courses of university standard; pure science and mathematics, 1,819 courses of university standard; in engineering and technology, including metallurgy, 3,348 courses of university standard; in medicine and dentistry, 1,917 courses of university standard; in commerce, 529; training for teachers, 3,077; theology, 930; miscellaneous courses, 318. My hon. Friend asks me whether the Board of Education have been taking any steps towards seeing that these students were receiving appointments at the conclusion of their courses. The courses are only just beginning, but no doubt the University Institution and the Technological Institution, which are immediately responsible, will be the institutions best qualified to give them directions as to the professions and callings into which they should enter. I admit that unfortunate delays have occurred in making grants, and I am fully conscious that there are certain cases of hardship which have arisen. I have done my best to expedite them, but the hon. Member himself admitted that the Board of Education is not altogether unfettered in this matter. We are very much fettered by lack of stall. We cannot get the clerical assistanee we require, and the delays are not only delays on our side, but there are delays also on the side of the local committees. Whenever I have had occasion to examine into a case of delay at the instance of an hon. Member of this House I have invariably found that the delay was traceable to the procrastination of one of the local committees. I may say, in conclusion, that the Board of Education has taken the utmost care to scrutinise these applications, and I think I can assure the Committee that in no single instance has a grant been sanctioned unless a com- petent committee are satisfied—first, that the student needs assistance, and, secondly, that the student is qualified to profit by the course of study.

Question put, and agreed to.

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