HC Deb 22 July 1969 vol 787 cc1682-90

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

12.40 a.m.

Mr. Esmond Wright (Glasgow, Pollok)

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for detaining you at this late hour, but I want to raise a matter which gravely worries all those teachers in schools and universities in this country who are involved in Anglo-American studies, teaching, research or scholarship, and which I believe imperils Anglo-American relations—the cuts in the funds made available to the United States—United Kingdom Educational Commission, known as the Fulbright Commission.

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, the Minister of State, for being here, and apologise for keeping her, not least after a long day yesterday and her talk this afternoon to the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. But I am concerned, as I am sure many other people are, about the cuts.

The House will not need to be reminded that the first Fulbright programme began as long ago as 1948, when, in accordance with the agreement of that year, the United States Educational Commission, as it was then called, was set up in the United Kingdom to administer American funds made available in Britain partly as a result of our war indebtedness but still more because of American generosity. We owe its inception to the imagination and good will to Senator Fulbright of Arkansas.

Since 1948 the Fulbright Commission has had at its disposal about one million dollars a year. A large number of British scholars have been enabled to visit the United States, and a large number of American scholars have come to this country. It was extremely difficult to do this before the Fulbright Commission, and it was especially difficult for school teachers to have the facilities.

That was the system until 1964, when the American Government tried to secure a foreign contribution, and bi-national Commissions were set up under the terms of an inter-Governmental agreement, Cmnd. 2697, in May, 1965. By this agreement, the British Government, like other European Governments, agreed to supply 20 per cent. of the programme's funds in the United Kingdom.

In the last full year of this programme, 1968–69, the British contribution came to 180,000 dollars, and there was an American matching contribution of 690,000 dollars. The American Government then decided, in September-October, 1968, to cut the programme. It was already being affected by devaluation in any event.

The Commission in London was first told to expect a 30 per cent. cut and then a 60 per cent. cut. In the end, a Congressional Appropriations Sub-Committee cut funds by 80 per cent. for all the European Commissions except Finland and Ireland, with whose Governments the U.S. Government have special relations in a real sense, in Finland's case largely because of the Second World War situation. In Britain's case, that has meant a cut in the American contribution for 1969–70, the year about to begin, from 690,000 dollars to 136,000. This was against the wishes of the State Department, which then requested every European Commission to ask its Government to keep their contribution at the original 1968–69 level, rather than to cut it in proportion. I understand that no representation was made to our Government on this head. If it was, it was certainly ignored. There appears to have been no consultation with the European Governments before the cuts were announced.

In any event, the British Government cut their grant for 1969–70 by a matching 80 per cent., from 180,000 dollars to 34,000. Very few other European Governments have done this, Austria, France, Norway and Spain have continued their contribution at the old level, and Italy and Germany have increased their contributions.

The United States-United Kingdom Educational Commission has had its funds cut for the year now beginning—the year for which students and professors will already be crossing the Atlantic—from 876,000 dollars to 178,000 dollars. It has been decided for this coming year, 1969–70, to renew grants only to American scholars who are already in Britain and to contribute some travel grants for school teachers who have already made arrangements for their salaries through other means, which means that the Commission will only be able, for the year about to begin, to maintain some 20 renewals and to contribute about 50,000 dollars for travel grants.

The main forms of assistance have been suspended altogether. In the almost 20 years there have been some 80 to 100 American postgraduate scholars in this country. This coming year and thereafter there will be none. For the last 19 or 20 years there have been some 25 to 30 visiting American professors in Britain or in the dependent territories of the Commonwealth. In the coming year and thereafter there will be none. For the last 19 or 20 years there have been 200 travel grants to United Kingdom graduate scholars and university teachers. In the coming year and thereafter there will be none.

This present attenuated programme will be the last year of the Fulbright Commission in this country. The cost of maintaining its headquarters will cost something like 50 per cent. of its revenue, and that is an impossible situation. I am in danger of becoming somewhat emotional on this subject and I should declare my interest. Before I was elected to this House I was a university teacher and an American specialist. I had a degree from Virginia before the war, and my first visit to the United States after the war was before the Fulbright programme. To do any sustained research, I had to contrive to get an American university teaching post in the summer and do my research at night or whatever other time was available.

Since 1949 there has been a whole series of scholars crossing the Atlantic without suffering these handicaps, and the advantages of the Fulbright programme hardly need specifying, but perhaps I should mention that in the 20 years thus far of the programme this country has gained immensely.

The American Government have contributed to the programme almost £6 million—to be precise, £5,915,175. Since 1965, when our own contributions began, we have contributed £252,000. In other words, it has been a one-to-24 relationship and obviously to our advantage. In the same nearly 20 years, 5,436 American students or teachers or professors have come to this country, while 6,867 British postgraduates or lecturers or professors have gone to the United States.

I stress that this is a programme which particularly affects junior staff and postgraduate students. Full professors, to use American phraseology, do not need this sort of assistance. People who hold chairs can go to the United States usually by invitation. The programme is hurting the coming generation of scholars. Moreover, universities will be seriously affected by the absence of these visiting teachers and scholars, and the British Association for American Studies, of which I was, until two years ago, the chairman, will find its work handicapped. The association originally came into being very largely because of the Fulbright proposals

The hon. Lady herself knows American universities very well, and I am sure that she will appreciate that this serious cut is coming at a time when there have been signs of alarm in some of the Foundations. A year ago, there was a serious proposal to cut the Harkness awards, which have been running for some 45 years. The Minister may well be aware of the efforts to persuade the Harkness Foundation to maintain these awards. This is a time when programme of international understanding among young people are probably more urgent than they ever have been, with issues like Biafra, Vietnam and race prominent in our minds.

The cuts have occasioned great alarm in the. United States. I will not dwell on that, because it would probably not be appropriate for me to do so. I have no right to comment on the reasons why the American Government made these cuts, although I am bound to say that I deplore what seem to be their consequences. But the point I want to put to the Minister is fundamental.

Communication is the life blood of all scholars, and we have been discussing another form of communication today. But the ability to cross the Atlantic has become one of the great features of the last 20 years. It is simply no longer possible for scholars on this scale to do this by reying on private foundations, although I would want to salute the Harkness Foundation—I was a Harkness scholar originally—and those individuals like John Thouron of Pennsylvania, who was born in Scotland but who now lives in Philadelphia, who have been generous in establishing the Thouron Foundation for the mutual exchange of British and American students.

But educational cultural exchanges are now matters overwhelmingly for Governments. Indeed, they are instruments of National policy and I do not think that we need ask people to go back to the chance provided by philanthropy. Indeed, in a period when we have the Marshall scholarships and the Kennedy scholarships the message is the other way.

The point I want to make is that Britain has acted in this matter out of line with other European Governments, and I cannot think that in a period when it is important to maintain and foster scholar exchange our own Government should be as parsimonious, as niggardly and as mean as they seem to be proving to be.

I accept that Governments cannot create scholarship, but they can foster it. If there were more time I could list some of the individuals who have been of great value to both countries. There are some projects in physiology and heart disease which are now dependent on the steady traffic of people across the Atlantic.

In cutting the Fulbright grant, the Government are hiding behind the form of words of the agreement, the four-to-one matching clause in the agreement. Other Governments in Europe have not acted in this way. The sum concerned is about £50,000 a year. The date is late.

I repeat that unless we act soon, unless there is a sign on the part of Congress —a Bill is corning from the Representative from California before the American Congress on this point—the programme, already emaciated for next year, will disappear altogether. I am asking the Government to have second thoughts. I ask them to be as generous as the Governments of Italy, Germany and France, and to try to be as imaginative and as generous as Senator Fulbright was when he had this great and imaginative idea 21 years ago.

12.54 a.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Shirley Williams)

I suppose that I may say that I share some of the emotion on this subject which the hon. Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Wright) has, for although, unlike him, I was not a Harkness scholar, I was a Fulbright scholar and I therefore owe a great deal to the Fulbright Fund which made it possible for me to spend a post-graduate year in the United States, for which I shall be eternally grateful.

Perhaps I should start by indicating precisely what the agreement covered, because there was one element in the hon. Gentleman's speech which may have tended to mislead the House. From the British point of view, the Fulbright scheme has always been essentially a method of assisting with travel grants and not a method of assisting with fees and accommodation. The hon. Gentleman's reference to teacher exchanges should not lead one to assume any change in the arrangements. They have always been applied exclusively to travel grants, with the authorities meeting the cost of salaries.

As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the division of the Fulbright Commission since 1965—before that date the entire cost was borne by the United States—has been 80 per cent.—20 per cent., on the suggestion of the United States and on the basis of a clause drafted by the American State Department as between the United States and this country.

It is fair to add—the hon. Gentleman said so much about what is in the Fulbright scheme that there is no need for me to repeat the facts—that one point should be remembered, that this division has been closely adhered to in terms of the value of, as distinct from the number of, scholarships awarded. For example, under last year's budget—that is, the one that has now been cut —the total expenditure that would have been spent on United States scholars and academics was about £¼ million, with £52,000 being spent on British scholars travelling to America. This is closely in line with the division of contributions as between the two countries.

That is not to say that there should be a precise balance. I do not think that anybody is suggesting that the scheme should be run in this way. It is simply to underline the fact that the per capita expenditure on British scholars has in all cases been rather different from the per capita expenditure on American scholars and senior academics. I mention this because the hon. Gentleman quoted the figures of people involved and because it is reasonable to also quote the indications of per capita grants.

We in Her Majesty's Government share the hon. Gentleman's feeling of concern about the major cut in the programme of the Fulbright Commission. I shall come to what he said about what we should do, but first it may help if I comment on the nature of the agreement, which the hon. Gentleman will find applies to other countries in different ways from the way it applies to us.

For example, the hon. Gentleman referred to the Federal Republic of Germany. He may be interested to know that last year the balance of contributions by the Federal Republic and the United States was rather less than one-to-ten, the reason being that the Federal Republic had held over funds for use in a later year. This, while not reflecting on the generosity of the Federal Republic, puts the comparative figures for 1968–69 and 1969–70 in a different light.

It is true that as a result of the substantial reductions in expenditure made by the American Government, and in particular by Congress, the position is that the United States contribution as from 1st April 1969 will be 136,000 dollars, and, on a ratio basis, this makes the British contribution about 34,000 dollars, the total being 170,000 dollars.

The effect of this is serious. It means the ending of new scholarships to American scholars in this country and the ending of senior academic arrangements, a point of great importance. I appreciate what has been said about the opportunities for senior academics, and there can be no doubt that those who come under the Fulbright scheme form a valuable part of the exchange.

What fundamentally survives on the reduced budget is, first, the extension of scholarships here to American students and, second, the teacher exchange. Despite the major cuts in the programme, I wish to make it clear that we are extremely grateful to the Commission for its decision to maintain the exchange of teachers, since great personal hardship would have been created had there suddenly been a decision to stop it.

We are very much aware of the financial problems which the United States face at this time and it would not be appropriate for me to comment on their action. Nor would I wish to do so. It is fair to say that we are, after all, a Government who know what it is to face financial squeezes. While it would not be appropriate for me to lecture the American Government on this front, I might point out that there is more than one Government in the world who face financial difficulties of one sort or another.

I should like to make two points. One is that in the Department of Education and Science we are now considering bearing the cost of the teacher exchange arrangements—that is, the travel costs—from our own funds in a future year. I wish that I could say that this was definite—I cannot yet say so—but I would like to give the hon. Member at least the assurance that this is being closely looked at, because it is an essential part of the programme.

Second, we believe that there might be possibilities of savings in administration. The hon. Member mentioned the point about administration, which is now one-third of the total programme. He will know, because he mentioned the Harkness scheme, that a similar scheme, the Marshall scheme, is administered at little cost to the scheme by the Association of Commonwealth Universities. It might be appropriate for the balance of Fulbright to be administered in the same wary.

I do not want anything that I have said to lead the hon. Member to assume that it will not be possible for the Fulbright arrangement to be reviewed and, indeed, perhaps increased, but this is subject not only to a renegotiation of the agreement but to renegotiation of the balance of awards under it. This is a crucial element in the whole which does not apply in quite the same way to other countries.

The Fulbright scheme has unquestionably been of the greatest possible value, particularly in the years immediately after the war, and I should like to associate myself with the hon. Member's tribute to Senator Fulbright, who has always been a luminary on the whole American Congressional scene. I do not think that the position is quite as desperate as the hon. Member suggested. All the figures suggest that the exchanges between the United States and Britain have increased rapidly in the last few years.

To quote only one figure, we estimate that in 1964 there were 816 American postgraduate students in British universities. In 1967, only three years later, the figure had gone up to 1,272, an increase of more than 50 per cent. There is reason to believe, although I cannot give later figures, that there has been a further increase in the academic year 1968–69. Again, there is reason to believe that the number of academic exchanges of senior people has shown a similar increase. The figures that the United States Embassy provides suggest a similar rate of increase —of the order of 50 per cent., or probably rather more—in the number of British postgraduate students attending American institutions.

Therefore, although it is true that the Government would not 'wish to see the Fulbright programme disappear, and although we will certainly give due consideration to the possibility of being able to renegotiate the agreement and, indeed, to expanding the programme, I want to make it clear that there is now a much more massive exchange between the United States and Britain at the postgraduate, academic and post-doctorial levels than was the case when the Fulbright programme started. Therefore, I can at least reassure the hon. Member that there is reason to believe that the flow across the Atlantic, valuable as it is to both countries, has increased, is increasing and will continue to increase.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at three minutes past One o'clock.