HC Deb 13 February 1973 vol 850 cc1117-8
2. Mr. William Hamilton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will initiate an inquiry into the fall in the demand for university places.

Mrs. Thatcher

The number of home candidates who applied for admission to university through the Universities Central Council on Admissions fell by less than 1 per cent., from about 115,000 in 1971 to about 114,000, in 1972. I see no need for an inquiry.

Mr. Hamilton

That is a fairly complacent reply. Can the right hon. Lady say whether there has been a downward trend in any other year within the last 10 years or so, and how does this compare with the projections made by the Robbins Committee a few years ago? Does not the right hon. Lady agree that the situation is very disturbing?

Mrs. Thatcher

We are discussing the number of candidates who apply for admission to universities. We do not keep extensive statistics on those candidates, but we keep statistics of the number of entrants and this information will be determined later in the year.

Mr. Marten

In view of all the public money spent on this subject, does not my right hon. Friend think that the work of universities should now perhaps be a little more geared to the needs of the nation?

Mrs. Thatcher

I think that the work of the universities is geared to the needs of the nation, but I am not certain that the nation has always taken up and made the best use of some of the research work carried out in the universities. There is no denying that some of the best research work the world over is done in our universities.

Mr. Moyle

Does the Secretary of State agree that one factor that discourages people from applying for entry to universities is that there is a rising parental contribution which is not always met, and that the system favours the students from well-off families at the expense of those from less-well-off families?

Mrs. Thatcher

Not necessarily. I think the greatest objections tend to come from, if I may use the phrase, middle-class homes where the parents feel that they cannot meet the contribution and the students perhaps feel that they should. That perhaps is where the greatest hardship occurs.