HC Deb 21 December 1972 vol 848 cc1553-5
9. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she is satisfied with the working of the system of quinquennial grants for the universities; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Thatcher

I believe that the present system has great advantages both for the Government and for the universities. The University Grants Committee and I are always ready to consider constructive suggestions for improving it.

Mr. Dalyell

Here is one constructive suggestion. The university quinquennial system has served this country well, but has not the time come, at any rate in some universities, to put into operation a rather more sensitive rolling programme, particularly to help finance research and post-graduate work?

Mrs. Thatcher

The trouble about some constructive suggestions is that they are not always universally welcomed. If there were to be a change it would have to be done in consultation with and the full agreement of the University Grants Committee. I have said that we are always ready to consider new suggestions for improving the system.

Mr. Deakins

Is there not a case for introducing a quinquennial system in university financing so as to bring that and the control of that financing into line with the rest of public expenditure by means of the public expenditure surveys?

Mrs. Thatcher

There may be a case for that. There is also a case for having a specific quinquennium when both the university grants committee and the universities know exactly where they can go. There are arguments on both sides, but if we changed from what we have to something different, it would have to be with the broad agreement of the relevant committees and specific universities.

20. Mr. Robert Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science to what extent, in allocating the forthcoming quinquennial estimates to the University Grants Committee, she took account of the need to stimulate research and teaching on developments arising out of North Sea oil exploration.

Mrs. Thatcher

When settling the grants for the 1972–77 quinquennium I took account of the University Grants Committee's advice on the whole range of university development. It is now for the committee and the institutions to allocate and spend the grants according to their view of the priorities.

Mr. Hughes

Is the right hon. Lady not aware of the crucial need to stimulate research and teaching of the technological developments associated with North Sea oil? Is she not further aware that the needs of the universities will not be best served if they have to rely entirely on grants from private sources or on individual Government grants for specific but sporadic projects? In view of the importance of this matter to the Scottish universities, will the right hon. Lady not look at it again?

Mrs. Thatcher

The University Grants Committee does the allocation between the universities. I have no control over that. The committee is well aware of the problems which the hon. Gentleman has raised and I believe that it does its best to meet them. Recurrent expenditure can also be met by grants from the Science Research Council. There are, therefore, in effect, two Government sources as well as private sources for expenditure on this kind of research.

Mr. Buchan

Does the right hon. Lady not agree that the point here is that a new situation has developed in which the technological problems associated with this new industry are of such a kind that if we made the right kind of investment through academic institutions in research into this activity it would have a tremendous spin-off effect on the Scottish economy? There is, for example, the under-sea problem, the stormy water problem, and the steel problem all of which are closely linked with the economic problems involved with Scottish industrial development.

Mrs. Thatcher

I agree, but it is also likely that the University Grants Committee is aware of the opportunities and that the universities themselves, which are always anxious to meet the requirements for new research and new technological challenge, have included these in their bids.

With regard to stormy waters and other environmental and oceanographic problems, a good deal of research is done on these through the National Environmental Research Council, whose work has been particularly helpful to those who are employed on oil rigs in the North Sea.

Mr. Leadbitter

Is the right hon. Lady satisfied that there is a reasonable growth rate in the provision of financial support from the University Grants Committee? I understand that one of the major problems in the areas of research and development is that during the last few years there has been a plateauing of financial provision instead of a substantial growth in this field. Is the right hon. Lady satisfied that the support system is adequate to meet the request of my hon. Friends?

Mrs. Thatcher

Expenditure plateaux are unknown in education. They are always rising curves. The new quinquennial settlement for the universities follows that habit.