HC Deb 20 February 1958 vol 582 cc1400-4
The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Derick Heathcoat Amory)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a short statement about the expansion of the universities.

The House was informed on 21st November, 1956, that proposals had be en made by the universities which would increase the number of students from 84,000 in the academic year 1955–56 to 106,000 by the mid-1960s; but that the Government believed that the universities should be encouraged to expand even more and that they were giving further thought to this in consultation with the University Grants Committee. Meanwhile, the Government approved proposals for the starting of buildings up to the value of £10.4 million in 1957, £ 2 million in 1958 and £12 million in 1959.

The existing economic situation imposes upon the Government the need for great restraint in this as in other fields of public spending. The Government are satisfied, however, that if the country is to get the increased output of graduates which is needed, and is to secure the full benefits of future advances in science and technology, the current rate of university building programmes must be not only maintained, but increased.

After considering recommendations made by the University Grants Committee, I have given authority for a programme to be prepared on the basis that university building projects will be started up to a value of £15 million in each of the four years 1960–63. This programme must be of a provisional nature and subject to review if the economic situation changes substantially. In saying this, I do not exclude a possible increase in these figures if the economic situation improves and the need can be shown.

It would be difficult to put a precise figure on the increase in the number of university students which will be made possible by a building programme of £60 million over four years. The discussions which took place between the University Grants Committee and the universities were based on an increase to about 124,000 students by the mid-1960s, with the possibility of a further temporary increase of 10 per cent. in the second half of the decade, and it should be possible to achieve at least that level with the programme envisaged.

The universities are, in fact, expanding faster than had been expected, and though the future rate of increase cannot be assessed with any confidence the increase beyond 124,000 foreseen for the late 1960s may well prove to be permanent. This will call for great flexibility in planning and will present a challenge to the public spirit and resourcefulness of the universities which I am confident that they will be prepared to meet.

The Government, for their part, will keep this question under review. Meanwhile, in deciding on a provisional total programme of £60 million for new university building in the four years in question, they have taken account of the possibility of larger ultimate expansion.

Mr. M. Stewart

While welcoming this statement, which, I am sure, will be received at least with relief and certainly with gratification in many quarters, may I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer these questions?

First, he said that he has given authority for the preparation of a programme of the nature which he has described. Approximately when and in what form will the details of that programme be available?

Secondly, would the right hon. Gentleman agree that admirable and, indeed, essential as university expansion is, the country cannot get the full value from it unless it is matched by a corresponding improvement in education at an earlier age and that even with this projected expansion of university students, we still shall not be providing university education for everybody who could, with advantage to himself and his country, receive it?

Thirdly, is it assumed that the expansion of the number of students can be obtained solely by the expansion of existing universities, or is any consideration being given to the establishment of a new university?

Mr. Amory

This expansion will enable the University Grants Committee to go forward with their planning with the universities. In due course, the pattern that results from that planning will emerge, but I cannot say, at this stage, when and how, because this is rather forward planning.

We entirely agree, of course, that the results that are to accrue from this depend on what happens in the earlier stages of education. The Government have given very high priority indeed to educational development as a whole. Apart from the capital expenditure involved in this expansion, this programme will involve a very substantial increase in current grants to universities, when the time comes.

Apart from existing universities, this programme envisages the early building of, I think, a University of Sussex.

Mr. P. Williams

My right hon Friend will be aware of the vital par, played by technical colleges. Can he give an assurance that this development will in no way militate against them and that, in practice, the technical colleges also will be able to advance at a greater rate?

Mr. Amory

My hon. Friend has raised a very important point. The contribution that we expect from the technical and technological colleges in this same direction is very substantial. They have a very important part to play in expanding the number of scientists and engineers for whom we are budgeting. This programme, plus what the technical and technological colleges are to produce, should enable us to reach the figure recommended by the Committee on Scientific Manpower, that is, a doubling of the number of scientists and engineers. That programme is receiving the highest possible priority.

Mr. Peart

Is the Chancellor aware that the last Report of the University Grants Committee on the number of students entering the different faculties showed that there was still a high proportion of arts students in universities as against those studying pure science and technology? Will the Minister give a special directive, if necessary, to the University Grants Committee that the expansion must be in the field of applied science and technology, and not arts?

Mr. Amory

I think that, on reflection, the hon. Member will feel that it would be wholly wrong to give a direction, but, from his point of view, I think that the position is not unsatisfactory. At present, about 43 per cent. of students are arts students, but it is expected that about two-thirds of the expansion will relate to science and technology.

Sir G. Nicholson

Am I right in assuming that this expenditure, together with the existing university grants expenditure, will be the affair of the Treasury? Does not my right hon. Friend think that the time has come to return to what might be the more correct financial procedure of all expenditure originating in non-Treasury Departments and then being scrutinised by the Treasury? Is he satisfied that the Treasury should continue to be a spending Department?

Mr. Amory

My hon. Friend has raised a very broad question indeed. I think that the present arrangement, that the University Grants Committee should deal direct with the Treasury, is the best that can be devised. We do not want to treat the universities as a Government Department.

Mr. Woodburn

Am I to gather from the right hon. Gentleman's reply that there is to be no restriction on the diversion of this money to Latin, Greek and other academic subjects? And is there any intention of building a technical university which will give this country an opportunity to catch up with Germany and other countries that have technical universities?

Mr. Amory

The right hon. Gentleman, again, has raised a very wide subject, and one that I could not answer now in reply to a question, but we belie re that the combined programme of the expansion of technical and technological colleges and the universities will achieve a very satisfactory increase indeed in the output of qualified scientists and technologists.

Mr. G. Thomas

While welcoming the right hon. Gentleman's statement, may I ask whether the Chancellor will bear in mind that it is impossible to have an expanding education service at university and technological levels if there is to be a contracting service at the primary and secondary levels? Is he further aware that his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government has already told the House that it is the Government's intention to stabilise education expenditure on the other levels? If that is so, does he realise that unless he has an expanding service on those levels also, he will be undoing the good work?

Mr. Amory

I am very conscious that the education Estimates are to be £25½ million higher next year.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker


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