HC Deb 23 July 1969 vol 787 cc1965-88
Mr. Speaker

We are now embarking on the ninth of 40 debates. I have very much in mind the hon. Members who are waiting well down the list, hoping against hope that they will get in their subjects. Reasonably brief speeches will help.

4.9 a.m.

Sir Edward Bole (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I apo[...]gise to you and the House, Mr. Speaker, for the fact that this is the second year running that I have sought to raise in education debate on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, but I felt that before we broke up for the Summer Recess it would be worth having one more short debate about a subject on which we touched in the debate about universities at the end of January, namely, he evolving pattern of higher education. In view of your admonition, Mr. Speaker, let me come straight to the fir and essential point.

It is the I s[...] no escape from the pressure of risi[...] numbers of students seeking places in higher education. Supposing that we were to adopt as our objective the should be no more, or only a little m[...] difficult in 1980 than in 1970 for tho[...] at the top of our schools to get places. [...]en this quite modest aim would imply a expansion of numbers of about 75 per cent. in the next 10 years.

I see no wa[...] out of the essential fact. If it were t[...] that the percentage of ability in out population were constant, so that at a time a fixed proportion were capable of reaching a given standard, there should be no difficulty, but all the ava[...]le evidence suggests just the opposite. The Robbins Committee rightly tho[...] that the trend in the proportion of university age groups getting two A[...]els or more was a pointer to the scal expansion required. They thought the proportion would be just under 11 cent. in 1973–74, whereas it has proved be just under 12 per cent. five year [...]oner. In oth[...]ords, what came to be known as the [...]nd" in the proportion of qualified [...]ool-leavers has now more than can up with the decline in the size of university age groups. Further-more, I convinced that there is no easy w[...]ut of this problem by saying, simply, let all the extra numbers go to the polytechnics. The pressure for higher education and not least for university education still has a long way to go.

There are only two ways that we could, notionally, resist it. The first is by deliberately restricting entry of the sixth forms, which is obviously out of the question. The second is by making competition for entry into higher education, particularly into the universities, a good deal tougher. Any such suggestion would give me a feeling of, "This is where I came in." The impact on the schools of increasing competition in university entry was the subject of severe comment in the Crowther Report as long ago as 1959.

Incidentally, the idea sometimes advanced that university expansion was suddenly embarked on in 1963 under the impact of an impending General Election has no foundation in fact. It is one of the truths about the modern world that few scholars should be judged on their letters to The Times on contemporary or very recent political events.

Having said that I think that there is no escape from the pressure of rising numbers, does this pressure mean that universities today are being encouraged to forget their true functions? I should be the last to underrate the pressures which bear heavily on universities now. but along with a number of distinguished university figures, I feel that, on the contrary, the face of university education is not only altering but altering, on balance, for the better. More has not meant worse.

The standard of the first degree has been at least maintained and probably improved. The gap in esteem between Oxbridge and many of the civic universities has been greatly narrowed. A number of interesting new syllabuses have been devised, crossing traditional disciplines. There have been notable advances in learning—basic learning as well as applied. Most important of all, personal contact with undergraduates has in most cases been kept, despite. increased numbers.

When people speak about the true function of a university, it is surely important to remember that universities have never been purely academic institutions. They have been concerned with learning, certainly, and with the criticism of society, but also with training men and women to solve the problems of society. Again, if one feels, in Professor Michael Oakshott's words, that one of the purposes of a university is "to keep our intellectual inheritance in proper repair" it surely cannot be wrong to want to induct larger numbers of young people into at least a part of that inheritance.

I sympathise with those university teachers who feel strongly that teaching and research cannot be regarded as separate functions. Any effective teacher or lecturer needs to keep up with the results of research in his special area, quite apart from the research which he does on his own account.

I shall always feel that on this point the P.I.B. report was superficial. At the same time, the quality of university teaching—the contribution of a university to education—seems to me to be one of the true functions of a university; and I would be very sorry to see it undervalued, either at the undergraduate or at the postgraduate level. There was an extremely good letter in the Listener about this, in reply to a broadcast by Professor Elton.

Thirdly, I think that the most pressing problem facing universities as we enter the 1970s is clearly finance. How can we reduce the unit costs of higher education? Let us always remember that higher education will not be anything like the sole claimant for increased educational resources. There are strong feelings today over the needs of priority areas in the big cities, strong feelings about the need for more resources for primary education and the need to make a reality of secondary reorganisation, the feeling, rightly, that it is not good enough just to change the labels on the school gate. Also, we must remember the claims of those whole sections of the community, especially in the north of England, which have tended to be left behind during the years of educational advance.

I can only very briefly repeat a number of fairly well worn suggestions on the subject of finance. Clearly, every effort must be made to get down unit costs still more and to get better value for money. There is an urgent need for a more efficient utilisation of resources, for the sharing of costly staff and plant in a number of university towns by universities and polytechnics, and for the common use of student union facilities, a point to which I shall return. I believe that we must consider the possibility of a loan element in a number of postgraduate courses anyway; and we must accustom ourselves relatively speaking to less provision of residence, with more students attending their local universities.

I want to say one other thing on finance. There is is a danger that we may have in a number of universities a growing volume of higly sophisticated equipment but an insuffiency of certain basic equipment. This is a point which a number of vice-chancellors have made to me—the langers of having a sufficiency of highly sophisticated equipment provided by the research councils, but an insufficiency of benches [...]d secretarial assistance. There is a danger that we shall provide nuclear physics very well, but physics itself rather as well. There is a certain analogy here with another subject in which the h[...] Lady and I are rather interested—international development. There is an [...]alogy here with project and non-project aid. It is limited quantities of "non-Pect aid", rather analogous to "Kippil aid" for India, which many univercites particularly need. Whatever the [...] sums we can afford for the univelies, it will be important to have a [...]dest sum earmarked each year for ears and obsolescence, particularly [...] the benefit of the older civic universs.

All of us in the Ho[...] must be frank with the universities. must say to those who recognise the [...]rmous importance of their contribution and the need to expand numbers st[...] further, that there must be extra effc[...] made in the 1970s, even if these are [...] what painful, to obtain possible v[...] for money. I believe that this is real by a number of key university fig. It was a very senior figure indeed I will not mention the name, but the Lady will probably guess who I a[...]ferring to, someone whom we both [...] well and whom we particularly aspect—who described to me how he [...]tly spoke to a number of vice-chance and said, "You will have to realise at nearly all the changes you will to face during the next few year [...]m your point of view may appear what for the worse, but this is no criticism of the universities. It is a measure of the absolutely vital contribution they are making to learning and also to education".

I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to say something about the date of the announcement of the next quinquennium grant, because we are already not so very far from 1972. We shall be having soon to consider the next quinquennium after that date and I should like to ask her specifically: will the announcement be made in this Parliament; and, if so, approximately when? I realise that there must be full discussion with the University Grants Committee and with the universities, but an indication tonight of when we can expect the next announcement would be very helpful.

It obviously would not be appropriate this morning for me to deal with the subject of student protest and dissent, with which we dealt fairly fully—some might say almost too fully—in our debate at the end of January, but I will make just one point. The role of universities as critics of society has never been more important, but there is one point on which I would welcome universities digging in their toes. I think that universities—I am thinking especially of the arts faculties—should stand firmly by the importance which they have always attached to the analytical element in intellectual training. After all, an effective critic needs a trained mind.

When I speak of the analytical element in intellectual training, I mean particularly three things. One is the ability to identity an issue correctly, which is vital for civil servants, or businessmen, and, incidentally, politicians. The second is the ability to build up one's ideas into an organised structure. Whatever our political differences in this House, I always think of the late Hugh Gaitskell as the absolute model of someone who could make a 50-minute speech sound like only half-an-hour. He had an unusual ability to build up his ideas into an organised structure, whether he was being controversial or non-controversial.

The third thing is the ability to forge appropriate techniques for handling any subjects. Let us take pride in the fact that subjects like the sociology of education and the theory of crime and sentencing are at least more scientific today than they were 10 or 15 years ago.

My last reference to university studies is one with which, I hope, Mr. Speaker and the House may sympathise. A recent article in an American journal said that students could be classified into four categories: scholars, playboys, careerists and rebels. In my view, there should be a bit of each of those four categories in every student.

Those are some comments that I wished to make about universities, and I now pass for the rest of my time to higher education outside the universities. As I understand the situation, present plans assume that by 1980, about 45 per cent. of those taking courses of higher education will be in what are known as the non-autonomous institutions. That leads to a number of important questions. I would like to say, first, one or two general words about what has come to be known as the binary system and then something specific about the polytechnics and the colleges of education.

This issue which has come to be known as the binary system—the relationship between the autonomous universities and the non-autonomous polytechnics and colleges of education—is a good deal more difficult and complex than many people make it out to be. I agree with those who say that critics of the binary system should ask themselves what one means by a completely unitary system and whether, indeed, the Robbins Committee really recommended this.

Looking back at my own speeches and those of the present President of the Board of Trade some years ago, I do not think that all the arguments that some of us used four or five years ago were simply perverse or stupid. It was not wrong to question whether the autonomous universities would ever, by themselves, meet the whole of the growing need for larger numbers of technologists and applied social scientists. It was certainly not wrong to point out, as a number of us did, the dangers of assuming that all full-time degree work should be brought within the university sector without having sufficient regard to the interests of those part-timers, mostly at sub-degree level, who gained a great deal educationally from working side by side with full-timers. There is all too often a tendency to forget the interests of the part-timer in higher education.

Another point which I remember making in March, 1965, was the undesirability, as I thought—and I still think—of too many professions couching their entry requirements and qualifications in terms exclusively of a university degree. If I may, I would just quote very briefly what I said at that time: At present, in many cases there are two routes"—to the higher levels of a profession— "a university degree, followed by a period of professional training, or, alternatively, a course of professional study and training councils closely integrated to the requirements of the particular profession in question.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th March, 1965; Vol. 709, c. 760.] I believe that the continuation of those two routes in a number of professions does have very real advantages. Indeed, it is even more broadly open to question whether the universities, concerned with learning—concerned with the criticism of society—can ever perform the whole of the function which I described just now, of training men and women to solve the problems of society.

I think that the criticism of the binary system has sometimes been a little bit facile. Yet, of course, there are a number of serious difficulties associated with the binary policy which cannot simply be glossed over. I mention just three, to which I have often referred in previous speeches. The first of them is this. Will qualified students and their parents be content with what must inevitably seem to many of them a second best? Here, I am also thinking of the feeling of the schools themselves. Any of us who go to secondary school speech days know very well that one of the points on which a school always prides itself is its achievements with regard to university entry, and from the point of view of the school—let alone that of the parents and pupils—I think that the idea of the university and polytechnic being completely interchangeable is, frankly, unreal.

I think that it will be particularly true of the growing number of comprehensive schools. I must say that, irrespective of one's views on the merits of comprehensive reorganisation, I think that some of the criticism of them which goes on is not particularly helpful. Certainly they are being forced into attaching very great importance to gaining university places, if only because of the criticisms frequently advanced against their academic records. More generally one has to remember the truth of Professor John Vaizoy's comment that "second-rank institutions have never in anyone's experience had the drawing power of a front-rank institution".

Then the second point, which I have made before in this House, is this: will the polytechnics, which provide courses as good as the corresponding courses in some universities, be content with continuing on a non-university status? That is another point we always have to bear in mind.

Thirdly, how are the polytechnics to fulfil their rôle as institutions of higher education in the present financial situation of local education authorities? After all, polytechnics need not only buildings and staff accommodation but libraries and adequate facilities for research.

We should never forget the great pressure being brought today on our further education system—the overspill, as it were, from the universities going to the polytechnics and more and more students coming up from school at the lower end of our system of further education. I think it fair to say that the Robbins Committee never fully understood this particular sector very clearly, the sector with which Lord Eccles and Sir Anthony Part, as he now is, were so honourably associated, and this was surely one of the most fruitful partnerships in recent educational history. I do not think that Lord Robbins and his committee ever understood this sector as they understood the universities, and it has particular problems at present of severe financial restraint.

Well, now I have set out the problems, what can we do about the polytechnics here and now? I want now to make a certain number of specific suggestions. First of all, I would ask the hon. Lady if she could say something tonight about how the programme of designations is going. I think I am right in saying that so far only a few polytechnics have been formally designated.

Secondly, there is the important objective of making a reality of the Weaver Report. Parliament last year took an important step towards a more unitary system of higher education when it made both polytechnics and colleges of education more autonomous and more self-governing. We pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work she carried out in that respect. However, I have a feeling that some local authorities are still being somewhat remiss in not recognising the new style of administration which is needed.

Thirdly, I suggest that in view of the large proportion of students taking courses of higher education who will be in non-autonomous institutions by 1980, we need to know how far these institutions will be able to meet the needs of the likely school output and fit in with the likely student desires. And is there not a danger in talking about "the polytechnics" as if they are all the same kind of institutions when they manifestly are not? They are far more disparate than colleges of advanced technology were 10 years ago. We need more in formation about them.

I have mentioned the important matter of research. In last Monday's debate I said that the research in the polytechnics was essential if good staff were to be recruited and held. I was sorry to learn from the principal of one of the leading polytechnics that the Department had decided that the salaries of research assistants should not be eligible for payment through the pool. That decision has had drastic effects on research in the polytechnics.

Then there is the whole question of how far one should seek to blur the binary lines. It surely is important that universities should strengthen links with polytechnics and with colleges of education in their areas. I was glad to learn at Leeds, where I was recently lecturing, that Professor Nuttgens, a visiting professor and head of the Department of, Advanced Architectural Studies, had been appointed Director of the Polytechnic. That is a helpful precedent.

I would go further and suggest that in certain areas like Birmingham and Brighton autonomous and non-autonomous institutions could be linked in some kind of loose federation. Anybody who knows Brighton will know that one drives in past Falmer, and passes the University of Sussex on the right hand side, the college of education on the opposite side, the polytechnic a little further down and the college of art near the coast. Some sort of loose federation must come about. I would add the comment that the picture in Brighton is not too bad a monument to "13 wasted" years.

I return to the important matter of the sharing of student union facilities. There are strong feelings among students on this particular subject. They have my sympathy. The disparity in what is offered in student unions is difficult to justify.

Lastly, should we not think about some kind of institution on the University Grants Committee model, or something analogous to it, to look at the growing expenditure in polytechnics and to seek to avoid wasteful duplication, and so on. Such an institution will not be completely analogous with the U.G.C. because of the need for a considerable local authority representation. But I believe some new machinery for planning expenditure in non-autonomous higher education must come.

I am sorry that the Redcliffe-Maud Report gives no help on this matter at all. We are not, of course, debating the Redcliffe-Maud Report tonight, and I will not attempt to do so. But I would register my personal regret that the Redcliffe-Maud Report gives little help over the organisation of higher education where some new machinery will be needed. Those are some ideas I wanted to put forward about polytechnics.

In connection with the colleges of education, I have always believed that it would not have been possible to have accepted the Robbins recommendations in 1964. However, one wants to see a closer relationship between the universities and the colleges. For example, I like to think that the universities are making their contribution to in-service training, and one should never forget the importance of university institutes and departments of education. I have previously said, both in the House and elsewhere, that my ideal would be not too large a department, with not too many full-time appointments, but very high-powered, and synthesising a number of disciplines for the benefit of children.

There is also much strength in the view—this has often been put to me as Opposition spokesman on education—that we should train a number of social workers in the colleges, side by side with teachers, to broaden their function to some extent.

We all recognise the importance of the colleges in the training of teachers of mathematics and science. We should, therefore, seriously consider the question of rationalising the provision in colleges by trying to have a number of strong points—that is, certain colleges which are particularly strong in maths or science subjects.

Last Monday, I made another reference to the future pattern of higher education. I said that I thought we should take seriously what has been said by, for example, Professor Martin Trow and Professor Pippard, about whether "the bachelor's degree of an approximate uniform standard throughout the system" does not play too central a rôle in English higher education. I say this with some diffidence because I know, from the evidence of my younger friends, just how much difference it makes if one is a graduate.

I sympathise with all those students who feel, after doing well at school, that they are entitled to proceed to a university course and get a first degree, even if they are not certain what they will do afterwards. Furthermore, we should never forget just how much the concentration on the standard of the bachelor's degree has contributed to levelling up esteem between older and newer universities. However, I cannot help thinking that Professor Pippard has a point when he says: The rigid three-year course and the tradition of deep learning can for the intellectual elite constrain secondary and university science education into a strait-jacket of specialism which is increasingly seen, especially from outside, as menacing our future development, industrial and social. He makes the point that students concerned with science and technology should spend two years on a course built around a general syllabus designed to educate rather than impart professional skill, and then to go on to more specialised education. I very much hope that the world of universities and higher education will look carefully at what men like Professor Pippard have to say. I was interested to see that his view was backed up by Professor Gambling, who was critical of the Swann Report. I am sure that we need more diversity of provision than we have had hitherto.

I regret having, at this point, to introduce a controversial note, but it would be wrong for me to speak today without referring to the open university, which got its charter yesterday. My hon. Friends, of course, recognise the importance of part-time degree courses, the importance of the work that has already been done at, for example, Birkbeck College, the availability of part-time degree courses in institutions like Hatfield and Enfield and the part-time M.Sc. course at Aston.

However, we must remember that the new university has come forward at a time when our resources for essential educational tasks are more severely stretched than at any time since the war. It is only right that I should remind the House of what I said on behalf of the Conservative Party when the planning committee initially put forward its report. I said: The Opposition cannot hold out any prospect at this time that funds of the order mentioned in the Report can be counted for the future, particularly as this Report may well suggest techniques and innovations that could be adopted more efficiently and less expensively by existing institutions. In thinking of the future of higher education I hope that we shall remember two things. Let us remember, first, that we are dealing with young people, already at schools, perhaps passing from primary to secondary school, with their sights, and those of their parents, already set towards higher education. For the most part they will be students of considerable ability, prepared to work had. We should remember that this is not just a matter of statistics, but aspirations in families. Some of them—but nothing like all—will already have had experience of university education. Equally, by 1980, we are likely to have about 350,000 students in full-time higher education who will be the first generation in their families to go on to full-time higher education of some kind.

The hon. Lady was right when she said at a conference we both attended that we are just about at the breaking point between élite higher education and mass higher education. I do not believe that we could afford to take a step backwards.

This has been a difficult year for universities, particularly for university authorities. They must often have felt misunderstood and over-exposed. Let us by all means be critical of those aspects of a university, and of any institution of higher education, which we genuinely feel need amending. But let us never take pleasure in "knocking" universities as a sort of easy national sport. A thriving university system is essential if, as a community, we are to make a better job of mastering our environment. A thriving university system can help us to a heightened realisation of the possibilities of life. A thriving university system and higher education helps us to build an educated and thoughtful public opinion as an aspect of citizenship—a public opinion able to discuss, to debate and, above all, to discriminate.

Mr. Speaker

Order. I must remind the House that there are over 30 debates ahead of us, and that reasonably brief speeches will help.

4.47 a.m.

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

I want to respond to the interesting remarks of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) by pointing out the sheer scale of the expansion of the last five years. This is not to differ from his point about the fact that expansion was thought about before 1963, but rather to show the way in which there has been a geometrical rate of increase, which has been most marked within recent years.

The right hon. Gentleman began by referring to the percentage of the age group going to university, and it is striking that in 1959 the figure was 4.9 per cent. of the age group. It had risen in 1963 to 5.1 per cent., not a very dramatic increase. In the following five years it went from 5.1 per cent. to 7.7 per cent., which it is today, represented by 212,000 university students. I am talking now only of university students.

One can make the point that Robbins set a target of 204,000 students in universities by 1971–72. We have already got 212,000 and it is likely that the target will be exceeded by 16,000 to 20,000 in the target year. All this has been paralleled by an almost equivalent growth in the number of staff, jumping from 16,500 university academics in 1963–64 to 25,500 in 1967–68—an increase of 54 per cent. Some of the memories that people have about what the past was like, and some of the memories that lead people to make the remark that more means worse, are rather inaccurate. It is true, for instance, that the staff-student ratio, standing last year at 1: 7.9 is rather better than it was before the war. I shall be able to make the point later to show that a number of other things which are suspected or believed to be true are not true.

As the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, none of this has been inexpensive. It is perhaps worth mentioning the order of increase that this has involved. In 1963–64, £110 million was spent on the universities, 69½ million of it recurrent expenditure. In 1969–70, £246 million will be spent on the universities, of which £172 million will be recurrent expenditure. That is more than a doubling in total expenditure and very nearly a two and a half times increase in recurrent expenditure in only six years.

If we take another source of support for the universities, that of the research councils, the increase of research council grants directly to universities has been from £7½ million in 1963–64 to £20½ million in the current year—more than two and a half times as great a figure.

I mention that because my remarks will bear out what the right hon. Gentleman has said about this being a fast expanding sector of higher education. It is also not a cheap one, and it is difficult to see it being sustained for the next 10 years at a rate of growth so great that it exceeds the capacity of the growth in the gross national product to begin to match it.

Before answering the right hon. Gentleman's specific points, I should like to mention further education and teacher training. I should like to cast a slight doubt on the right hon. Gentleman's assumed figure of 45 per cent. which he ascribed to the rest of the higher educational system outside universities. This does not quite take into account the colleges of education where, as he knows, the Robbins figures have long since been swept by. It is quite striking when we think how revolutionary Robbins was thought to be in setting a figure of 78,000 students training in colleges of education last year. In fact, the figure achieved was 106,000, the figure set by Robbins for as late as 1972–73.

Perhaps I may give another example in further education. Whereas the increase overall in student numbers is perhaps not more than about 50 per cent., the increase for full time and sandwich students has nearly doubled in the last five years from 40,000 to more than 70,000. For those taking C.N.A.A. degrees, the figure has quintupled from 3,000 to 15,000 in the same years.

Although the increase in expenditure on further education has not been as great as in the university sphere, nevertheless, it has been substantial: from £163 million in 1963–64 to £254 million in 1967–68.

I do not want to bore the House with figures, but I wanted to set out the scale of the enterprise on which we are all embarked and to underline how fantastic has been the rate of expansion with which the universities, colleges and colleges of education have had to cope in recent years. It has been so great that it is not surprising that there have been strains; only surprising that those strains have not been greater.

I should now like to make a few comments on what the right hon. Gentleman said. I apologise if I do not deal with matters in the order in which he raised them.

First, teacher training. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, the Bachelor of Education degree will be a rising share of the initial training of teachers. We suppose, as was suggested originally in the Robbins Report, that as many as 25 per cent. of those taking initial training will, within 10 years, be taking the Bachelor of Education degree, although the figure now is only about five to 10 per cent., depending on the college. To my mind, the in-service Bachelor of Education degree is of great importance, unless we are to create, once again, as has happened in the past for historical reasons, two classes of teachers: those who are four-year trained and those who are three-year trained. The right hon. Gentleman once had to face the problem of building bridges between the two-year and the three-year trained.

Perhaps I might make one other comment about the Bachelor of Education degree and the influence of universities on it. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the universities can have a useful influence here, but I also feel strongly that the other influence which should play upon this degree, and not least upon the training of teachers, is the influence of experienced teachers themselves. I suspect that not least in the probationary year, and to some extent in teaching practice, the rôle of the teacher is not as great as it ought to be, and we would very much like to see a greater interchange of view between colleges of education, lecturers, and serving teachers in respect of the practical training of students in colleges of education. We hope that it might be possible to bring the teachers more fully especially into the probation year which a young teacher undertakes after finishing his or her training.

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that there is a great deal to be said for widening the courses in colleges of education. The right hon. Gentleman will know that some experiments are starting in the joint training of social workers with teachers and others in the joint training of youth leaders and those who are to be involved in youth work of one kind or another, again with teachers, and this is a development which we are anxious to encourage.

With regard to the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman about the centralisation of science courses, we are anxious to build on the strong colleges in this respect, but we think that there is a balance to be struck between the building up of strong science courses and the danger of removing the influence of science departments on those who will teach in primary and junior secondary schools where, above all, we need to get the first inspiration in science if we are to encourage boys and girls to choose to specialise in science at a later date.

I propose, now, to say a few words about polytechnics, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. I should like, first, to answer the right hon. Gentleman's question about the process of designation, and then to turn briefly to some of the other points. With regard to the process of designation, the position is as follows. So far, there are four polytechnics in existence, but 13, that is to say, an additional nine, have been approved by the Department, and any delays in their being designated simply turn on such problems as the appointment of principals, and matters of that kind. There is no doubt that all these will be in existence by the end of this year.

In addition, a further eight polytechnics are likely to be approved within a matter of weeks, so again they will be in existence by the end of the year. It is fair to say that more than 20 of the proposed 30 polytechnics will be fully in being by January, 1970. With regard to the balance of nine that that leaves over, there are two which present special problems, Birmingham, and the Coventry-Rugby combination. There are two which have not been submitted, so I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not hold this against the Department.

One of these is Central Lancashire, which turns on the positioning of the new town there. The other, for which there is no similar explanation, is the North London polytechnic, that is to say, the combination of Enfield, Hornsey, and Hendon, and we are anxious that this scheme should be submitted very soon. Finally, there are five polytechnics in inner London, the voluntary polytechnics, and the right hon. Gentleman will know that these have been delayed because of the legal difficulties which arise from the terms of their original establishments.

I turn, now, to comment briefly on what the right hon. Gentleman said about the binary system. This system is not strictly operative yet, because the term refers to the binary pattern between universities on the one side, and advanced further education and the colleges of education on the other. People often talk about the binary system as though it had been in existence for many years, when what they are really talking about is the further education system as we knew it, with little autonomy, and the university system as we know it. I do not believe that anybody can fairly judge a system which does not yet exist, or only in a very small part exist, because what the binary system is will turn a great deal on the second question raised by the right hon. Gentleman, namely, how far the Weaver Report is carried out.

Not only is the Weaver Report being carried out in the full spirit of its recommendations, but in some respects we have gone beyond it by trying to meet many of the requests for greater student—and not least staff—participation made since and partly inspired by the Report. The attempt to fit polytechnics into the pattern of the N.U.S.-A.E.C. agreement and what has flowed from that has been one rea- son why there has been delay in establishing the polytechnics.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked whether polytechnics will always be second best to universities. They will be second best if they are in no way differentiated from universities, but if they maintain and develop sandwich courses and try to move into new types of courses and maintain close links with industry, they will not be second best but genuinely different institutions from existing universities. I do not believe that they will stay in their present position forever. I do not think that anyone could fairly say that. I very much hope that they will evolve in such a way that the ultimate system of higher education will be broader and even more liberal than it is today.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to restraint in the L.E.A. programme. As he knows, the capital programme is not financed in this way and problems of obsolescence such as those the right hon. Gentleman mentioned in respect of the civic universities are very much less except for a handful of cases because so many of them are of comparatively recent growth.

Finally, I turn to the crucial question raised by the right hon. Gentleman in respect of pressures of demand and I corroborate what he said. In 1967–68, 12 per cent. of the age group took two A-levels or more, on the Robbins criteria qualifying for university. On the criterion to which we still adhere, they would be entitled at least to try for a university place and implicit in that Report was the feeling that they had some sort of right to higher education.

We estimate that in 1977–78—probably it is a conservative estimate—that 20½ per cent. of the age group will get two A-levels or more. The rising proportion of A-levels has, in the short space of seven or eight years, turned every estimate into an under-estimate. Only recently a book was published entitled "The Impact of Robbins" by statisticians who worked on the report, which at that time estimated that there would be 62,400 pupils with two or more A-levels this year. That estimate was 15,000 short of the actual figure, which is of the order of 77,000—an increase of 25 per cent. To this, we must add the effect, as yet unknown, of raising the school-leaving age and the tendency that it will have to persuade more children to stay on to ages beyond the compulsory age for school attendance. This is bound to have a further upward effect. The comprehensive education system will create pressures in the same direction. Boys and girls stay on longer in a comprehensive system than in a selective system, that is, taking secondary modern and grammar schools together. For the first time, many schools will be offering sixth form opportunities to those who had no sixth form opportunities until the last few years.

There has been, also, a genuine cultural shift. Far more parents than ever before are prepared for their children to stay on for longer education—parents who, less than a generation ago, would have thought that their children should go to work at the earliest possible age and who regarded apprenticeship as the highest goal. Now they consider that goal to be a degree or something equivalent to it.

How do we meet the gigantic cost to which the right hon. Gentleman referred? There are three elements in the present system which we should be extremely reluctant to sacrifice. The first is the support by public funds of our higher education system. There is no going back. That is not to say that we cannot have experiments—and perhaps the independent university will be such an experiment. What is certain is that the pattern will not change back to a very different and earlier pattern.

Secondly, most of us would regret seeing any massive deterioration—as distinct from a slight deterioration—in the staff-student ratio, which is perhaps higher in this country than in any other country of similar size and which throughout has been a feature of our type of higher education system.

We on this side of the House would be very sorry to see another feature of the system—the very extensive student awards—disappear, because we believe that it makes our higher education system socially equitable even though intellectually selective.

Contrary to what almost everybody believes who shares the "more means worse" attitude to higher education, our universities are more residential than ever before. In 1967–68, 39 per cent. of students lived in university residences and only 16½ per cent. lived at home. It is very instructive, and casts a bright light on some of the strange myths which have grown up, to discover that in 1938–39 only 25 per cent. of the students were in residence, whereas 42 per cent. lived at home.

There are certain major advantages in our higher educational system. First, we have one of the lowest wastage rates in the world. Only 13 per cent. of the students in university fail to take a degree. There is also the advantage of the short first-degree course. This means that our system, though not cheap, is undoubtedly efficient.

We must ask ourselves how we can meet this greatly increased demand for higher education without abandoning essential features which we regard as a crucial part of the system, and still enable ourselves to offer opportunities as great to the children of the next generation as we have offered to this generation—and preferably even greater. I will list, briefly, some of the points which might be investigated and into which we are, in fact, looking. Before I do so, I will make one comment on the Open University. The right hon. Gentleman asked whether I could give an indication of the cost of the Open University. In the current year the cost is estimated to be about £1.5 million to £2 million and it is estimated to rise in 1970–71 to about £3.7 million.

Today, I have been at ceremonies, as has the right hon. Gentleman, to establish the Open University. I believe that the point which he made about variation in the educational system applies as much to the Open University as to the other institutions to which he referred. This will be the first significant effort to harness educational technology and mass communications in a basic attempt to offer second opportunities to those who were unable to take opportunities earlier.

I believe that the right hon. Gentleman was wrong to give such a guarded welcome to the new experiment, because without doubt we have among the population of the country a large number of people of considerable talent who were not educated in the era in which opportunities were as open as they are now to children and young people below the age of 25.

I want to list one or two of the ways in which we may be able to get a quart out of a pint pot.

Sir E. Boyle

Does the hon. Lady intend to answer the question about the time scale for the next university quinquennium?

Mrs. Williams


First, there is room for some greater specialisation of faculties. Nobody believes that every university should have a department of astronomy or that every university should have a department of forestry. It is clear that there will be a move towards a greater concentration on some types of subject in certain universities. I do not mean what are called centres of excellence, but, just as we have business schools in London and Manchester and do not have such schools everywhere, so we have technologically advanced centres at Strathclyde, the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, and Imperial College, and would not expect to have them everywhere.

There is scope for sharing of equipment between universities and other sectors of higher education. There is already sharing of computer equipment and considerable sharing, not least by Bachelor of Education students, in university science laboratories.

I shared the right hon. Gentleman's view of the joint courses established in Sussex between Brighton College of Technology, Brighton College of Education and the university. This is a development we wish, not to discourage, but to encourage. One vice-chancellor, I think Professor Carter, of Lancaster, pointed out at one stage that it would be cheaper to hire a Rolls-Royce to take every undergraduate to share an expensive piece of equipment, than to duplicate the equipment, which indicates the room there is for economy.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to experiments in the sharing of student unions and other facilities. There is a joint students guild between Aston University, the College of Art and the Technical College. There is sharing of University Appointments Board facilities at Nottingham and Manchester with Further Education students taking degree and degree equivalent courses. There is room for more sharing of such facilities.

One problem which needs to be sorted out is the different level of fees and the basis of fee payments as between university students and students in the rest of higher education.

I believe that we would be right to go to the students themselves and ask for their co-operation and help in producing a rational sorting out of the situation and one which will bear witness to their desire greatly to extend the sharing of student facilities.

On student accommodation I have pointed out that the residence factor has grown in the past few years in spite of illusions to the contrary and there are considerable savings to be made by experiments in self-financed student accommodation. This takes two forms: student housing associations, which my Department is discussing with the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and the experiments sponsored by the U.G.C. in grant-aided self-financed student housing. This will provide, in the, current group of 11 experiments, nearly 4,000 additional places.

A measure which is widely canvassed is that of students attending their local university, but even if 20,000 more students were educated at their home universities we estimate that the saving would be no more than £1 million. This is such a strikingly small figure that one needs to look at it again as a source of real savings. If one takes the local university idea too far, the possibility of rationalising departments, in which we believe much greater economies may be made, becomes virtually impossible if one is to offer students a wide range of courses.

Perhaps the most encouraging possibility of reduction of cost without reducing quality of education lies in a change in the structure of the academic year. This is being discussed by the vice-chancellors and there are indications that a change of structure with no decline in the staff to student ratio could mean an increase of as much as one-third in student numbers without increases in expenditure. I hope that the Vice-Chancellors' Committee will look at this possibility, because in it may lie part of the answer to the problem which the right hon. Gentleman has raised and with which I am concerned.

I conclude by answering the right hon. Gentleman's two final points. The first was the question of when the decisions on the next quinquennium will be made. It will be during the present Parliament, if I assume that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister does not step in before the normal constitutional period of a Parliament. That is perhaps the only way I can answer the right hon. Gentleman, since I am not the Prime Minister.

It is our desire to bring not only the universities, but also, as soon as they are established, the polytechnics into the closest possible consultation on what the proper figures would be. For this, new machinery is required. I emphasise that we want the academic opinions of polytechnics as well as the administrative views of the F.E. sector for this purpose. There will have to be new types of machinery, but I cannot go further tonight.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the question of the Ph.D. We must bear in mind the balance between an attempt to move both universities and schools away from specialisation and the pressure that often leads to demands for a four-year course in consequence. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that we could jump straight to a two-year course if we are already trying to remove specialisation at an earlier stage? This is worth discussion.

The right hon. Gentleman also touched on student revolt at the universities. The colleges of technology are being increasingly appreciated as institutions making an immense contribution to the staffing and onward movement of industry. The universities sometimes feel that they are under attack because they often cannot show quite so directly that they are producing people who will immediately move into employment of a kind that everyone immediately recognises as useful. But this is a very short-sighted view of the education system. As the right hon. Gentleman pointed out, students who are restless at present must appreciate the need to understand the world they want to change, and because that world becomes more complex, and includes such subjects as the growingly difficult field of science and the great revolution in the computer world, students need to understand more than their fathers did if they are to control what they wish to control.

This brings me to my final point. I know that the universities sometimes feel that they are being told to become more and more relevant at a time when they feel that their response to society's needs is already very substantial, and that the pressures for change are almost as great as can be tolerated by institutions which have grown up over such a long period. Their voices are often critical, usually constructive, often creative. I would certainly wish to say in my rôle as a Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, that anybody who lightly wishes to attack the universities or undermine their academic freedom should ask himself whether he is also undermining one of the most important bastions of a liberal society.

Mr. Speaker

As we begin the new debate, may I say a word or two. I have been appealing through the night for brief speeches. So far, most hon. Members have responded, and I have been able to call 60 hon. Members. There are still 30 debates ahead of us.

Forward to