HC Deb 03 June 1947 vol 438 cc150-64

9.39 p.m.

Mr. Rankin (Glasgow, Tradeston)

I wish to raise the question of admission to the Scottish universities and to look at some of the problems which arise therefrom. This matter was referred to in a Question in November, when the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that for the session 1945-46 there were 6,440 applicants for admission to the four Scottish universities, and of that number 2,703 had not been admitted, even though they were in possession of a certificate of fitness. In other words, almost 50 per cent. of those boys and girls seeking a university education, and testified as being equipped by reason of their school training to benefit from a university education, were denied it. This was an actual demand that was not being met. There is another demand, which I call a potential demand. The raising of the school-leaving age, and the developments which are expected to ensue in secondary education, will create the need for something like 15,000 new science teachers in our secondary schools. This is another demand which the universities as a whole must meet. Looking at the scientific aspect of the problem, the Report of the Committee on Scientific Manpower, over which Sir Alan Barlow presided, pointed out that by 1955 we would need a capital accumulation of something like 90,000 graduate scientists. They also pointed out that as a result of our present methods we might expect to produce about 64,000, leaving 26,000 extra graduates to be provided for from universities in the United Kingdom.

The question on which I want to focus attention is, what is to be Scotland's contribution towards that deficiency? Student numbers in Great Britain have risen by 32 per cent. since the war, but in Scotland they have risen by only 28½ per cent. While we readily admit that the Scottish student population is much greater per thousand than that of England, nevertheless that percentage fall shows a regression on the part of Scottish universities. I believe that Scotland possesses about one-fifth of the number of degree awarding institutions in the United Kingdom, so our contribution in Scot-land towards the deficiency of 26,000 ought to be in the region of 5,000 to 6,000. Last year, the number who graduated in pure and applied science from all the Scottish universities was 460. Even allowing for the fact that that number covers the barren period of the war, and assuming that we could increase that output by one-third, or even a half, when we allow for the wastage of students who graduate but do not pursue their studies, or marry, or who come from foreign universities, I do not think we can provide for a figure much in excess of 500 or 600 per year as our contribution. That would give us less, in the next eight years to meet what ought to be our total commitments according to the Barlow Report. When we add to that the numbers in medicine and arts, it seems fairly clear that the obligations which are being placed upon us in arts, science and medicine in the future will not be met by the present university equipment.

Have we the material on which to draw —the reservoir of potential students for the universities in the future? According to the Barlow report, something like two per cent. of the whole population of the country reach university standard. On the other hand, something like five per cent. show on test an intelligence equal to the upper half of the university students. Therefore, only one in five of all the boys and girls with an intelligence equal to the upper half of the university students reach the universities. Moreover, 80 per cent. of that five per cent. pass through the public elementary schools and no per cent. through the in- dependent schools. Of the two per cent. who reach the universities, 60 per cent. are from independent schools and only 40 per cent, from the public elementary schools. That would seem to indicate that the income level of the parents is still a very serious drawback to a university education. While I pay tribute for the increased grant which has been given for recurrent expenditure in our universities today, and also for the great increase in grant for capital expenditure, I hope that my right hon. Friend will do his best to see that these boys and girls in our midst who merit a university education will not be prevented by their pecuniary circumstances from getting it. Commenting on the position, the Barlow Report says: We cannot, however, believe that in Scotland we have yet approached the limit of what is either possible or desirable in the national interest. If we have not approached the limit, what are we to do about it? That raises the type of institution. Are we to meet it by an extension of the universities? That problem, as we see from the Press, is affecting Edinburgh and Glasgow. When we begin to talk about extending universities, we have to face the problem of the size of the university? Glasgow has 5,500 students, Edinburgh has over 5,000. Is that number to be still further increased? Are we aiming at some of the Continental figures? I understand that Poznan has 12,000 students, and Rome 42,000. Are we to go on expanding our universities? Or are we to try to say that a university shall have a particular size and that this is what the size of a university ought to be? I think that Glasgow, and perhaps Edinburgh, are as large as is desirable at the present moment. I therefore do not look kindly on the question of extension.

The problem of the functional college arises. I have no objection to the university college as such—provided it grows to full stature. In seeking to face this problem my thoughts turn towards that organisation which comprehends not merely the production of good scientists and good technicians, but of good citizens, who in many ways are of equal, if not of greater importance, than the other two. I suggest that the solution of the problem lies along the lines of another university. That immediately raises the problem of location. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) says that that is easy. I can assure him that if he had been in my shoes he would find that it is not so easy. Dundee thinks that the university ought to be there, and Oban too has its eyes upon the fifth university. The Queen of the South thinks she, too, ought to be favoured. My thoughts turn towards that scene in which King Duncan, looking round Macbeth's home, says: This castle hath a pleasant seat; the air Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself Unto our gentle senses. Banquo, looking at him, replies: …I have observed The air is delicate. I think, therefore, of Inverness.

Each region except one into which Scotland is to be divided—she will be divided into five—will have a university. The region without a university will be that of Inverness. Apart from the delicacy of its atmosphere, Inverness will fit in well with the regionalisation plan. In addition, it is the gateway to a hinterland of 300,000 people. It overlooks the silvery Ness, and it the gateway to a land of surpassing beauty and rich in traditions which are dear to the heart of every Scotsman. There we might create the nucleus of what could grow to be a completely residential university; something new in Scotland. After the last war we placed in our present capital our war memorial; why not, in the ancient capital of the Highlands put this second memorial, built by the voluntary effort of Scotsmen at home and abroad, giving permanence to all that is best in modern architecture; a thank offering for peace; a tribute to the unflinching zeal with which countless hosts of Scottish youth, fortified only by their poke of meal, endured in the quest of knowledge and passed to us the Torch, unflickering and undimmed; a gift to the incomparable splendour of generations yet unborn.

9.56 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

I listened very carefully to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin), and as he developed his theme I wondered more and more why he had raised this subject at all, because what he suggests is that Scotland should have another university. These things are not normally pushed on to a country by the State, but they begin in a voluntary fashion and go through a spontaneous and voluntary effort by the local inhabitants themselves, after which the State eventually steps in and does help by the provision of grants of one kind and another. I began to doubt whether my hon. Friend was aware of this until in his wonderful peroration, in which he advocated that this university should be at Inverness—and I do not wish to take the part of Inverness or of any other place in Scotland—he argued that it should be built by the voluntary effort of Scotsmen all over the world. That being so, this is not the place for him to deliver that speech. The place to deliver it is in the various towns of Scotland in order to enthuse the people for this project, and eventually—and none could do it better than my hon. Friend—to speak of it to Scotsmen overseas wherever they congregate and help to make the British Empire what we know it is. I have no doubt that from them the scheme would receive generous support.

I compliment my hon. Friend on his very fine speech, but I would remind him that Scotland is not alone in having its universities crowded at the present time. Other universities—and I am glad to think that it is so—are absolutely packed out, which is partly due to the fact that 90 per cent. of the places have to be reserved for ex-Service men and ex-Service women. That means unfortunately that for a year or two many a bright lad and many a bright girl, who show great promise and who have won great academic distinctions, cannot for the moment find a place in any of our universities. It has to be remembered that that is temporary. Hon. Members of all parties have promised that the men and women who have been abroad in the Forces in the last six or seven momentous years should be given an opportunity to go through the university. We are trying to crowd into. one or two years what would normally be extended over a much longer period. Scotland. of course, believes in education. There are many attractive things about Scotsmen and Scotswomen, and the value of education for education's sake is one of the most outstanding. Far more boys and girls in Scotland are sent by their parents sometimes at great sacrifice to the universities than—

It being Ten o'Clock, the. Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Collindridge.]

Mr. Glenvil Hall

I have the figures here. There are at present in full-time attendance at Scottish Universities 12,868 students, as compared with 10,034 in the last year before the war. My hon. Friend referred to the Barlow Committee's Report. It is true that that committee recommended that there should be an expansion over the next 10 years to no fewer than double the prewar percentage. The Government recognise this need to expand and are fully cognisant of what the Barlow Committee's Report said, and they have generally accepted the recommendations made in it. We have to realise, however, that physically circumstances are against us at the moment. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done what he could to help students to the universities, and the grant has gone up from £9,450,000 in 1946–47 to £11,875,000 in the current year. I think the House will agree that, in the circumstances, that was a very generous increase which my right hon. Friend gave with a song in his heart. My right hon. Friend believes in university education and desires to help the poor student as much as he can.

My hon. Friend mentioned that Scotland lagged behind England by about 32 per cent. Actually, I am informed that Scotland proposes to increase by 32 per cent. the places available for students. She proposes to raise them from 9,500 to 12,550, and the expectation is that she will be able, by one means or another, to crowd in even another 2,000 over and above the figure I have given. I think that is pretty good. It shows that, in spite of all the difficulties which Scotland is experiencing in common with England and Wales, she is doing her utmost in these rather difficult years to see that as many as possible of those who want to go to universities shall be enabled to do so. There are, however, limiting factors which would prevent the Government from initiating the building of a university in Inverness. We cannot even yet consider expanding university building as we would Ike. Housing is one priority, and there are others which could be mentioned, and universities and schools are among them; but, frankly, we could not undertake to find building labour or material, nor would there be the teaching staff al the present moment to increase as we would like.

Mr. Rankin

It is not a problem of building, as my right hon. Friend is well aware. It might be a problem of acquisition of buildings that are awaiting reconversion to a better purpose.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

That may be. I confess I do not know sufficient about this to indicate where such buildings could be found. It may be that my hon. Friend knows of such buildings which could be easily converted, and if so, it would be for him to let those responsible at the Ministry of Education, or my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, know where those buildings are to be found, so that, if possible, extra places can be found for the students who undoubtedly want to go there. I would like to give one or two figures, particularly as during the war years no figures have been published as to how the grant has. been made up. Normally, His Majesty's Stationery Office issue these figures as part of a report year by year, but the war came and the issue was suspended. It is true that certain roneod copies have been circulated to various universities, but the figures have not been given publicly. My hon. Friends who represent Scottish divisions may be interested to have them. Recurrent grants for all purposes given by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to the universities are as follows: Aberdeen University, £158,000; Edinburgh University, £255,200; Glasgow University, £303,550; Glasgow Royal Technical College, £37,000; St. Andrews University, which includes Dundee, £162,050, making a total of £915,800.

In addition, capital grants for building and equipment have been allocated as follow: Aberdeen University, £16,000; Edinburgh University, £36,000; Glasgow University, £8,500; Glasgow Royal Technical College, £9,600; St. Andrews University—again including Dundee—£102,000, a grand total for capital grants of £172,100. There are also grants of £15,000 to Edinburgh and £80,000 to Glasgow yet to be approved—I hope that the approval will come through quite shortly—to make a complete total of about £267,000. In addition grants to Scottish teaching hospitals attached to the universities amount to £109,550 out of a total of £500,000 allocated to this purpose. There are other smaller grants with which I will not trouble the House now.

I think my hon. Friend will agree with me when I claim that these figures show that Scotland is receiving her share of the grants which are now allocated by the Chancellor for this purpose. I can assure my hon. Friend and the House that if, when conditions improve—when building materials are more plentiful and teachers have been trained—he comes again and asks for help and has, in the meantime, awakened enormous interest in his project among his fellow countrymen, as I am sure he will, the answer of whoever stands at this Box then will be very different.

Mr. Willis (Edinburgh, North)

Do the figures quoted by my right hon. Friend refer to the current year or the past year? In other words, are they to be read in conjunction with the expenditure of £9,000,000 or that of £11,000,000?

Mr. Glenvil Hall

They refer to the academic year 1946–47 and are actually allocated on the work of the last year.

10.8 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Scottish Universities)

The figures which the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has given us are very interesting. As he rightly said, we have not been able to follow these, matters closely during the war years. The figures would be even more interesting if we had further comparison with previous years. They are also more interesting if we can, as has just been suggested, work them out on the basis of the expansion of expenditure from £9 million to £11million, which is a substantial increase. As a matter of fact, I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who works only through the University Grants Commission in these matters, will find his machine heavily laden in attempting to handle these large sums in connection with the University programme. The relatively small staff of the University Grants Commission is already seriously taxed, and an expansion of this order in itself may begin to lead to restrictions and cramping. I think the Chancellor should look into this matter with the University Grants Commission. I know from discussions I have had with some of them that they are a little uneasy about the task in front of them in vetting and revising five year programmes for all the main universities in receipt of those grants, and a certain balance will need to be kept in these matters.

For instance, the Financial Secretary has just said that it is the desire of the Government and of the university authorities that all who wish, and are able, to profit by a university education should be able to enjoy it. There is one class of students to whom he should give further attention, and that is the ex-Service students, who are now much older men than the usual run of university students and who are in receipt of allowances which are small compared with the sums necessary to keep a married man. It should be remembered that these are whole-time students who, by hypothesis, are unable to engage in anything more than the merest auxiliary programmes for increasing their incomes.

In passing, I may say that I am glad that the somewhat Scrooge-like attitude of demanding that any contribution which a student was able to obtain to reinforce his Government allowance should be recompensed by immediately reducing his Government allowance proportionately, has been relaxed. It was no incitement to self-help, and I am glad to know that it has been modified, partly as a result of correspondence from several hon. Members of the House, including myself. The Treasury is always apt to take a somewhat stingy view about income supplementary to a grant or a whole-time salary. I well remember that during the war the flying men who were brought up from the Battle of Britain to broadcast about the progress of that epic and enormous struggle, and who received some modest fee of £5, £10, or £15 from the B.B.C.—which was no more than enough to give them a reasonable night in town once they got away from the battle—found it promptly pounced upon by the Treasury. The view of the Treasury was that they paid the men a whole-time salary to fight all the time and if they like to engage in other activities it was just too bad, the Treasury would take the money. It was not the best way of encouraging those young men, and I am sure it is not the best way of encouraging students Although the actual confiscation of the sums which the student earns for himself has, I think, been done away with, the allowances made to those students are still inadequate in view of the increased cost of living. A man of 28, 29 or 30 with a wife is not able to live en the sums which are now given, and has in fact to draw upon his parents or on his gratuity.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

If I am taking correctly the point the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is making, I should like to tell him that those grants are now much more generous than they have ever been. For the first time, as I understand—and I think the right hon. and gallant Gentleman will find I am right—those making the grants do not take the parents' circumstances into account at all, nor the fact that a parent might make a grant to the son. If the son is married and has children, and gets a University grant, he gets a grant sufficient to keep him and his wife and family without help from anyone else.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I am not suggesting that that is not the theory of the grant. What I am suggesting is that the grants are not, in fact, in present circumstances, sufficient to carry out the intention which the right hon. Gentleman has just announced. I wish he would look into it from that point of view. I admit the grants are more generous than before, as is inevitable. The sever years' war has meant that the students coming up to the Universities are even older than they were at the end of the last war, and the cost of living has increased. Although, in theory, the money which the student may derive from his parents is not taken into account, I know from budgets which have been submitted to me that in many cases the student is not able to carry through his university course without either drawing on his parents or, which they resent even more than that, having to draw upon his gratuity which he regarded as a nest egg to be laid by and kept in order to establish himself in civil life when the period of university training is over. I should be very grateful if the Financial Secretary would look again into the question, because nowadays even "digs", to use a homely student phrase, are expensive enough, and there is very little left of the sum which is given by the Treasury even when the cost of lodgings and breakfast is taken into account. The extra costs of living over and above, are not fully met by the allowance as it stands at present.

The other point the right hon. Gentleman made was of general and of very great importance. He said we could not consider for a moment the building of a new university. We must take his opinion as the definite decision of the Government for the time being. I must say that when he goes on to say that he will find it difficult even to expand the university buildings sufficiently, I find myself still more disquieted because the classes are crowded enough at the present. The figures he gave as to the proposed expansion of the Scottish University impose a great degree of overcrowding, and overcrowding to a point which begins to diminish the actual value of the university education itself. I remember after the last war when the English literature class in Glasgow University was held in the Bute Hall holding from 1,500 to 2,000 people. The study of English literature in a class 1,500 strong is not the best way to get the most accurate appreciation of the nicer points of scholarship. I think it is necessary to consider the priorities on a level somewhat different from the level which he has been presenting to the House this evening. This is seed corn we are talking about and it must have space to grow. It is true that from some students' discoveries, we may get a line of advance which will revolutionise the whole future of our work in Scotland, and indeed throughout the Empire, just as a student of no great fame at the time, and no great technical achievement, hit upon the work in television which opened up complete new avenues of research, and bade fair to put Great Britain right ahead of the whole of the science of television if we had not been held up by the war delays.

I think the right hon. Gentleman will strain every nerve to see that at least an adequate building programme, laboratory programme, research programme, and scholarship programme, in the sense of the humanities, the antiquities and pure thought of one kind or another, should be made available to our people in the years to come. After all, we are a poor country, and if we have devoted ourselves, as the Financial Secretary was kind enough to say, very extensively to education, it is really because it is a case of, "root hog, or die." We have had to live by our brains, and to develop our thinking machines because the natural resources in front of us were all too scanty. Indeed what once applied to Scotland applies to the whole of the United Kingdom.

The flying start with which the United Kingdom got away has been heavily reduced in recent years. It is to the universities that the United Kingdom will need to look, and perhaps primarily to the concentrated thought and opportunities for original work which the universities present, in order to get our country out of the trough of depression in which she is labouring at the present time.

The sums which the Financial Secretary mentioned are interesting. They take a little adding up because, while he mentioned amongst the capital grants £16,000 for Aberdeen,£36,000 for Edinburgh and only £8,500 for Glasgow, it sounded a little disproportionate. It is true that subsequently he made an addition to that which added £15,000 to the Edinburgh figure and £80,000, as I understood it, to the Glasgow figure, but even these short quotations will show how necessary it is to go a little more closely into the figures, before we can fully appreciate what the Financial Secretary has been saying. The annual grants of £158,000 for Aberdeen,£255,000 for Edinburgh, £303,000 for Glasgow, with £37,000 for what we affectionately call the "Tech," and £162,000 for St. Andrews were all interesting, though the St. Andrews' figure is considerably above that of Aberdeen. St. Andrews includes Dundee, but it seems to show a certain discrepancy and I think the University of the North will look very closely at these figures tomorrow.

With regard to the grants to the teaching hospitals, I should like to see the figure broken down a little because it is interesting to note in passing that the Financial Secretary has had no difficulty in defining a teaching hospital—a description which has hitherto baffled the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, who I see has joined our Debate. I would call his attention to the fact that the Financial Secretary has just defined the teaching hospitals in the most thoroughgoing of all ways, namely, institutions to which he finds it possible to make Treasury grants. I would like the Joint Under-Secretary to look at that when he is considering, as we have asked him to consider from time to time, whether, in fact, teaching hospitals in Scotland might not share the same privileged position which they have in England.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Buchanan)

Of course the right hon. and gallant Gentleman must be aware that we have debated this matter already, and that the Committee have come to a decision. I have listened to what my right hon. Friend has said about the teaching hospitals, but that does not alter my opinion, and the Scottish make-up in this matter is, as usual, ahead of the English way.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I will leave the Front Bench to compose their own difficulties—

Mr. Glenvil Hall

There is unity here.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

In general, I think the Financial Secretary has touched on a point of considerable importance, that these hospitals are closely linked with the universities and sufficiently closely linked to receive substantial grants from the Treasury direct. I trust that in the set-up which is being considered, that link will not be broken in any way, and that it will be possible still for these hospitals to remain in some sort of definition which will allow them to receive those large direct grants amounting to £109,000, of which the Financial Secretary has just spoken.

Mr. Buchanan

It is not our intention to link up. It is our intention to add one or two other hospitals, but not to link up the work further.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot

I do not wish to find myself at odds with the Joint Under-Secretary and will only say that you can spread the butter so thinly, that it becomes indistinguishable from the surface of the bread, and for this purpose it is necessary to make sure that the high educational institutions are obtaining a grant which is adequate to bring them to, and keep them at the very forefront of medical and teaching knowledge. We are indebted to the hon. Member for raising this matter. I know that he has had it under consideration for many weeks. I compliment him on having taken his Parliamentary chance when he could take it, to enable us to have a rather longer discussion than is possible within the usual half-hour on the Adjournment Motion. I again ask the Financial Secretary to look at the allowances, and see if they are adequate; to look at the machinery of the grants and see whether it is being overstrained by the distribution of these large sums, and to look very closely at this building programme to see if it is not possible to squeeze out a little extra accommodation. The figures he gave were impressive, but it might be that the squeeze would diminish the value of the education which was received. Either by the institution of a new university altogether as suggested by the hon. Member for Tradeston, or by extensions of the older universities, the slips which we are laying down for the new generation, should be made adequate for the ship we hope to launch.

10.27 p.m.

Mr. McAllister (Rutherglen)

Scotland tomorrow will be deeply grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston (Mr. Rankin) for raising this topic this evening. It is useful that the House should have an opportunity of showing its vigilant care and regard for our ancient universities. The anxiety shown by my hon. Friend the Member for Tradeston has been shared generally by people in Scotland, and we regard it as rather frightful that young boys and girls who have gone through secondary schools and qualified academically for places in the universities should then be denied those places. We do not think that is a light thing to be passed over without complaint. I have carried on a rather lengthy correspondence with the Secretary of State for Scotland on the subject. The statement made this evening will be received with the greatest possible pleasure by hundreds of families in Scotland tomorrow when they find that an additional 30 per cent. of students is to be received and if possible another 2,000 will be squeezed in. I am sure that my hon. Friend and all who have shared his anxiety will feel that we have at last made a substantial contribution towards solving what was a very difficult problem. It is a very difficult matter to raise the question of Scottish Universities in Parliament. As the right hon. and gallant Member for the Scottish Universities (Lieut-Colonel Elliot) said, we have to look forward to a building programme and the extensions of the universities. It may take the form of university extension such as that adopted in the South-West, in Exeter and Bristol. From wherever the initiative comes, whether from the universities or from Members of Parliament like my hon. Friend, it will be an initiative which we feel after the speech of the Financial Secretary will be greatly encouraged.

10.29 p.m.

Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)

I associate myself enthusiastically with the references to the good sense of my hon. Friend the Member for Trades-ton (Mr. Rankin) and with his request to the Government seriously to consider whether it is practical to undertake an extension of existing buildings, or the desirability of having a new university.

It being half past Ten o'clock, Mr.DEPUTY-SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.