HC Deb 15 July 1949 vol 467 cc931-40

4.8 p.m.

Mr. Albu (Edmonton)

In the rather short time available to me, I want to try to develop some ideas which I think are of considerable relevance to the discussion we had yesterday—and which we shall resume again on Monday—on our economic situation. I believe there is general agreement on both sides of the House that we must reduce the cost of our manufactures, and that the best way of doing that is by an increase in the productivity of our industry. I believe the best way of increasing our productivity would be to raise the standard of our production engineering and production management. In using the words "production engineering," I do not want to confine myself to those processes concerned with the manufacture of engineering products, but to use the words in their proper application, that is, wherever mechanical processes are employed.

In the past there has been far too little preparation and far too little education for those who undertake these tasks, which has been largely due to the attitude of the older professional bodies, and the engineering faculties of the universities, in particular, which are influenced by them. I spoke to my old college the other day and asked whether they were doing anything about education for production engineering by way of courses. They said that they were not, and that there was no call for it from industry. That itself is, I think, a measure of the failure of industry to face up to this problem.

The universities, and particularly the engineering faculties, have always paid attention to the training of applied scientists and engineers for the research and design sides of industry, and have neglected entirely those who are to be responsible for manufacturing. That is an old-fashioned and snobbish attitude towards those concerned with producing goods. The result is that those with the best mental equipment have not been recruited to the manufacturing side of industry, for production engineering and production management, unless they happen to come over from the research and design sides, in which case they have not been trained properly for production.

As a result of this, some 20 years ago the Institution of Production Engineers was founded and was given great encouragement by the energetic and farseeing first secretary of the Institution, who was a former Member of this House. The Institution itself, I believe, delayed too long in raising the standards of its own members although I am glad to say that it is now taking quite serious steps to do so.

The present situation is that there are courses in production engineering at various technical colleges in the country, leading to the award of a Higher National Certificate in Production Engineering to those who have already acquired the Ordinary National Certificate in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering. This award is made by the Institutions of Production Engineers and Mechanical Engineers under the auspices of the Ministry of Education. There is also a new Diploma in Management Studies arranged by the British Institute of Management and the Ministry of Education, in which specialisation can take place in production management. These courses are now available at 28 technical colleges throughout the country, which is a great advance on the past. In 1942 there were only six of these courses.

I should like to congratulate the Minister of Education and the technical colleges on the provision of these courses, and I should also like to congratulate my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary on the figures that were given in the Debate last week relating to part-time education. There are something like 200,000 students who are now receiving part-time education in applied science generally at technical colleges. Part-time education, however, involves too much strain on the student and must inevitably result in a narrowness of outlook for those who will hold what I regard as key responsibilities in industry. In only one university is there any provision for training and education in production engineering. That is at Birmingham, where there is a postgraduate Chair in production engineering, thanks to the generosity of the firm of Joseph Lucas, Limited. I understand that there is also some project work in the Honours Degree course of the University of Durham at King's College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

If we compare this with what takes place in the United States we have to look at the courses available in the great American technological institutions, for instance at Massachusetts, at the Institute of Technology, California, the Institute of Technology at Lehigh University, and so on. There are four-year courses and post-graduate courses in business and engineering administration which are generally based on one or two years' work in the applied sciences. Students at the M.I.T. can specialise, in their fourth year, in production. A great deal of this education takes place by means of case studies and by means of actual participation projects at selected companies who co-operate. This is a very great advantage to the students.

In this field the application of the recommendations of the Reports of the Percy Committee on Higher Technological Education and the Barlow Committee on Scientific Manpower as reinforced by the recent Report of the Federation of British Industries applies very strongly. The main recommendation was that some of our technical colleges should be promoted to technological institutions of university rank. These recommendations have been under consideration for some time, and on 12th May this year my right hon. Friend, in answer to a Question, stated that the National Advisory Council, which it was recommended should be set up, was considering the various questions raised by these reports. It is time the National Advisory Council came to a decision, and I should like to ask my hon. Friend whether he has any further information on this subject?

I know that the main matter of conflict, which is perhaps holding them up, is the question of the status of the technical colleges and the type of degree, or diploma or award, which should be awarded to students who attend them and take these courses. Quite naturally, in view of the attitude of the universities in the past on the subject, the technical colleges have a considerable anxiety that they might, if the recommendation was carried out, be absorbed by the universities, and that the universities would then develop quite unsuitable and absolutely academic courses of instruction not suitable for those going into industry. Universities, in general, have so little contact with industry that this would certainly be a serious danger. On the other hand, I fully understand the desire of the universities themselves to safeguard the standard of university teaching and the status of university degrees.

For myself, I believe that if we are to have these technical institutes or technical colleges, they should be associated with the universities in this way in order to ensure that there shall be a broad education and to avoid that narrowness of outlook which is one of the failings of many of our scientists and technical men. It is interesting that in the American technological institutes they have faculties on economics, the humanities, English and languages, and that a very broad education is given to students who are going into production engineering or manufacturing. Why should not some of these institutes be attached to the universities? If the universities do not feel at present that the standards of teaching or the standards reached by the students are such as to entitle them to award degrees, or that the subjects themselves are perhaps not suitable for the award of degrees in the sense that we understand it in this country, let them provide post-graduate courses and award diplomas in the same way as is at present done in education, agriculture and other subjects.

One of our biggest problems is the training of teachers and developing new techniques of teaching. I do not think, certainly in the management field, that we have really done enough work in developing new ideas—experimenting and research into teaching methods. I do not think we shall get that done until there is at least one body of university status where experiments can take place. I believe that there has to be a great development of the case study method and project work which goes on in America, but this requires the co-operation of industry and, therefore, the weakening of some of the secrecy which exists in British industry and prevents this co-operation taking place. I should like to appeal to industry to follow the example of Joseph Lucas, Ltd., and endow some chairs at universities in this subject of production engineering and manufacturing. I do not think there is any danger in such a development that we shall bar the entry into the highest ranks of industry of any deserving young man or woman, because we are at last beginning by our new educational arrangements to ensure that the opportunity to attend a university or any other institute of higher education is to be available to every deserving student.

I agree—and here I wish to meet possible criticism from some of my trade union friends—that it is necessary also to keep the field open to recruitment at older ages in all ranks of industry. I regret that there are none of my trade union friends present, because I wish to suggest that the trade unions themselves might consider whether some of the larger unions could not band together themselves found a chair for production engineering and management, and ensure that their own members went to the university by giving scholarships in this field. I think this would be a startling development, but after all it is in their interests that productivity in this country should be raised. I believe that this is a matter of very considerable urgency.

I am not myself a believer in the more dramatic methods of raising productivity. I do not believe that we can get these dramatic jumps in many industries. I am quite certain that what we have to do is to maintain a continual push to raise the standard of productivity, which very largely means the standard of production, engineering and management. If we do not get started on this business soon I think the chances of our maintaining and raising the standard of life of this country may be seriously impaired.

4.21 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Hardman)

In the very short time available to me I wish to give as much information as I possibly can in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr. Albu). I want to say, first of all, that my right hon. Friend and myself welcome this Debate on what is, after all, an extremely important topic. There are, in fact, two main points that my hon. Friend has made. The first is one very dear to my own heart, and concerns the whole question of the impact of technical education on the content of education in general. I should very much like to be able to develop that topic at length. The other point he has made concerns the question of the immediate and the longterm practical policy that can be adopted to improve production engineering.

My own view, àpropos of the first important point that he raised, on the necessity for technical education being more closely allied with the universities, is that I heartily support it. I feel that in education in this country as a whole we have tended to conceive practical matters as rather belonging to the kingdom of evil, and in our educational system this has taken the form of tending to be rather mean over technical education in the past. I hope that day is now over. At the Ministry we are well aware of the importance of production engineering, and of the part that has been played by the Institute of Production Engineers in fostering its development.

It is true that technical education in engineering generally for selected students has been traditionally on design rather than on the side of production. Even now, the best engineering students in the technical colleges, who are voluntary students, tend to choose design rather than production studies, as is seen from the large number of national certificates awarded in mechanical engineering in comparison with the number awarded in production engineering. It is interesting to notice in the figures for 1942 that the total number of passes in engineering subjects was 1,481, but included in that figure only 16 were passes in production engineering. The figures for 1948 are, in proportion, not a great deal better: 4,320 certificates in engineering subjects, including 242 passes in production engineering. We are aware of the necessity of emphasising the production side as distinct from the design side in engineering.

My hon. Friend mentioned the position of part-time students. We are well aware of the strain on part-time students who have to rely solely on evening classes for technical education. The Government are continually urging industry to release young workers for training during the day time, and although, as the House very well knows, there are great difficulties of accommodation, over 200,000 are released now as compared with 40,000 pre-war, in spite of the removal of the age group 14 to 15. We agree that this number is still small; it is a very small proportion of those skilled workers who need training. We have taken steps to encourage local education authorities to provide facilities for research and to give teachers time to do it. There are here also accommodation and staffing difficulties. May I suggest that these are the legacy of our neglect of technical education in the years gone by? Nevertheless, some progress in this direction is being made.

In the Debate on the Education Estimates the other day specific questions were asked about the National Colleges, and my hon. Friend has referred to these again. As the House well knows, we have established National Colleges to provide facilities for advanced technological training in industry and in sections of industry which are vitally important to the national economy, but whose personnel are too few to justify advanced facilities at more than one centre for each industry in the country.

During the Debate a day or two ago I was asked to inform the House about the type of colleges which had been agreed in principle with the industries concerned. I am happy now to give that information. The colleges are to be connected with the wool industry, with leather, and with food technology. As the House well knows, five such colleges have already been established—for aeronautics; foundry; rubber; watch and clock making and fine instruments; and heating, ventilation, refrigeration and fan engineering. We intend to go ahead with the development of these colleges wherever industry is prepared to co-perate with us. If the production engineering industry or any sections of it want a National College established, I shall be very glad to discuss the matter with them.

The point raised by my hon. Friend about the Percy Committee is one with which I should like to deal in part of the time which is still available. The National Advisory Committee on Education for Industry and Commerce is engaged in dealing with the two remaining recommendations of the Percy Committee to which my hon. Friend referred, namely, the question of selection and upgrading of a limited number or technical colleges, and methods of certification of studies. The problems involved are complex, and as the decisions will affect the whole structure of technical education in this country, we would rather see the Committee do its job thoroughly than make recommendations hastily. My hon. Friend quite properly suggested that it was time that the two outstanding recommendations were reported upon, but there are very great difficulties at the present time. We are getting ahead as quickly as we possibly can, and I hope that in a reasonably short time we shall be able to make an announcement on the two aspects of the Percy Committee which are outstanding. It is worth bearing in mind that almost all the other recommendations made by the Committee have already been implemented.

The question of the universities loomed somewhat in the speech of my hon. Friend. I cannot say very much about this—the Universities are not directly the concern of the Ministry of Education—but perhaps I may say that the University Grants Committee, through their Technology Committee, are at present investigating the needs of Production Engineering and the facilities required in the Universities for training the top-grade technologist.

I can inform the House that it has been decided that under E.R.P. arrangements a number of graduates will be sent to America this year to study American production methods. An investigation is also being carried out in America at the moment, through our own representative at the Embassy there, into the methods of training production engineers in the United States. Again, an investigation sponsored by the Treasury is being made into the whole question of selection and training of engineers and attempts are being made to find ways and means of co-ordinating the practical training of engineers in Government service with those in private industry.

I can assure the House that the Government are most anxious to encourage the development of training for production engineering in this country, and will welcome any support that industry and the trade unions can give. We are always prepared to discuss with industry ways and means of providing facilities for training and of ensuring that students will be forthcoming to take advantage of those facilities. There is, therefore, no quarrel, and I do not think any real matter of dispute between my hon. Friend and the Minister of Education. We are prepared to co-operate with all sides to see to it that we make, as quickly as possible, the advances which are required for this important topic of Production Engineering.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Four o'Clock.