HC Deb 09 July 1973 vol 859 cc1119-64

7.53 p.m.

Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)

I beg, to move,

That this House takes note of the First Report from the Expenditure Committee (House of Commons Paper No. 48) on Further and Higher Education and of the relevant Government Observations (Command Paper No. 5368).

In presenting this report, I take the opportunity to thank the Clerk of the Committee, Mr. Willoughby, who did wonderful work throughout our deliberations, and our professional adviser, Mr. Gareth Williams, whose advice was of enormous assistance to us in preparing the report. I do not know whether it was because of that, but he has just been appointed professor of education planning at Lancaster University. Perhaps the two are connected, perhaps not.

The Expenditure Committee is experiencing difficulty because some of its members have to serve on other Committees, some of which meet at the same time. We have suffered from this duplication of work, quite apart from the many other pressures on the time of hon. Members.

I raise again a point that I raised the other day. We were able to get the Governments observations in the Vote Office at 2.30 p.m. but I understand from the BBC that it had them at 11 o'clock, although they were, of course, embargoed. In other words, the BBC was able to see my right hon. Friend's observations at 11 a.m., but we were not able to see them until 2.30 p.m. I think that that was the wrong way round. Perhaps we could have it tidied up in future.

The Government had our report for seven months for study and we have had the Government's reply for only four days, which does not give us much time to study it, particularly as the four days included a weekend when many of us had commitments that we could not avoid.

Whatever one's views on education might be, some other person has strongly-held opposing views. I suppose that all of us on the Committee received education to a greater or lesser extent, and so we have all had some experience in education and have also experienced watching our children grow up and be educated.

As does every Committee of this nature, the Expenditure Committee approached this subject from the layman's point of view. Members of Parliament may have an advantage over the ordinary layman, in that they are in constant contact with schools and colleges of further education, quite apart from experience of their own education and the education of their children. We can therefore consider the consumer's view with all that knowledge.

In the course of the inquiry we received evidence from the Department, industry, the universities and other education establishments, and from teachers, students and local authorities. We received a wide range of evidence and we weighed it carefully in reaching the conclusions published in the report.

We had only one vested interest—public expenditure; to see whether we were getting value for money and whether the best use of resources was being made, or whether those resources could be put to better use. As a Committee, we have not had an axe to grind, and we tried to look at the subject clearly and objectively. We have not been worried about offending against any accepted tradition in education. Nor have we been concerned about offending against any entrenched position, of which there are many in education, especially in some respects.

I should like to give the House one or two general impressions. Listening to the evidence over the year, I concluded that higher education and further education were a rather curious hotch-potch. I recognise the enormously valuable work, but if anybody had started out to devise a system of higher and further education, I doubt whether he would have done it in this way.

Because of that we offered a somewhat radical change, but it was slightly too radical for the Government. It may have offended against tradition, but we did not mind that in the least. Thus, so far as I can see, higher and further education will go on much as before, with too many cosy corners.

Another point that struck us was the secrecy and planning of higher education. For example, in the White Paper it is said that it is planned to have 750,000 students at universities by the 1980s. What we do not know is how that figure was reached. We are not saying that it is the wrong figure, but it would be nice to know the arguments that led up to it, to see whether such an important figure is justified. Another similar example was the reduction in the growth rate of post-graduates from 19 per cent. to 17 per cent. We do not know what reason led to this conclusion, and whether they are based on valid criteria. They may be absolutely right and fully justified, but this side of things should be opened up.

In their evidence, apart from the Ministry and the UGC few of our witnesses seemed satisfied with the present system. Yet the observations that we have had from the Government give the impression that they are more or less satisfied with the situation, because they do not wish to change it in the way that we offer, or, indeed, in any other way. Another thing that worried me was the lack of any study of the cost effectiveness of higher education, and its cost benefit.

There seems to be a lack of follow-through studies to see how people who had been through university were doing—whether it had helped them, or whether they would have been better not to have gone to university. There is a lot of work to be done on cost-effectiveness studies. Vast sums are involved. Nearly £900 million is spent on higher education. Here I am being very general, but I wonder who is really looking at the usefulness of it all.

Higher education seems to bound on and on in this great educational machine, on the assumption that today's higher education is necessarily right for the country. There is not enough stopping to examine its real worth, sector by sector, or the worth of the totality. I should like to see much more monitoring done on the usefulness of the whole thing. I am not suggesting that it is not worth while, but I think that we ought to examine it constantly to see whether we are educating up the right tree.

Those are a few general observations. I come now to my observations on the Government's observations on our report. I do not like saying this to my right hon. Friend, but I confess that I am somewhat disappointed at the Government's observations, which, broadly, seem to indicate an air of satisfaction with the present situation. I hope that I have got it wrong. We had hoped that this report would provide an opportunity for the Ministry to move out of its present rather closed circle, as we saw it. Clearly, reading through the observations, the "No Entry" signpost had been struck up. I hoped that at the end of the day there would be a little stimulation as a result of this report.

Commenting on the report on 29th December the Times Higher Education Supplement said: it is becoming more and more obvious that the present system of local authority control over a large part of higher education—by 1981 50 per cent. of the total system—is creaking to its own destruction, few are prepared to face this obvious but inconvenient truth. We did face that, and we proposed the solution contained in our report.

I turn to a few points in the report and the observations. The first concerns the manpower council that we proposed. The Ministry's observations seem to imply that there is no need for it. The Government suggest the use of the Unit for Manpower Studies and the Manpower Services Commission, presumably when it begins operating. This is only nibbling at the point we had in mind. The Unit for Manpower Studies is very small—the staff has recently risen from 10 to 17. That is not at all what we had in mind. I think it works only by taking fairly small samples of opinion. It does not do the sort of research which I imagine the Ministry think it does, judging from its observations. The manpower council we propose would be a much broader and deeper project, taking a fuller look at policy in the light of current trends.

Stemming from that manpower council, which would have looked ahead at employment and jobs, we wanted to set up a national careers advisory service. The Ministry has said that that is not needed, either. That service would have disseminated the advice of the manpower council, which would have been very high-powered, from secondary school right through to university, postgraduates, and so on. The observations of the Government suggest that they have misunderstood what we had in mind—or perhaps we did not make it clear. It seemed that they thought that the service was only for higher and further education, when we said that we wanted it to start at the secondary schools in the Sixth Form or lower, so that people really got stuck in to some view of their life at an early age.

Student demand for courses at university would be based upon a better appreciation of what the future holds for students. To us that would make a lot of sense. I feel strongly that to get the best out of education for our nation every effort must be put into helping students with the best advice about their future. Some people say that manpower forecasting has failed in the past. That is so, but it was many years ago. They say that because of that failure it should not be tried again. I cannot accept that as an argument. Many things have been proved since then, and that is no excuse for not trying these things again.

The Ministry's observations seem to imply that we should leave things as they are—titivate them a bit but leave them to the University Appointments Board and the authorities. I find that rather a depressing observation. We proposed a higher education commission with overall responsibility for advising the Minister on the administration and financing of the whole of higher and further education. This was the same conclusion as was reached by the 1969 Select Committee. This is the second Select Committee to come to the same conclusion, quite separately. Here again, the Government have said that there is no need for this. I quote from our report, paragraph 65 of which says: It might be argued that it is the responsibility of DES to ensure that resources are distributed equitably and efficiently, and that plans are made and policies carried out. We would be more impressed with this argument were it not for the almost unanimous desire of nearly all our witnesses outside DES and UGC for more coherent national planning of higher education. We recognise the difficulties of moving over to such a system. We do not say that they are impossible. We see that there will be difficulties. In the observations, if I interpret them correctly, these difficulties have been used as an excuse for not getting on with things. I cannot believe that these difficulties are insuperable if the political will is there to move to such a system.

The ministerial observations indicated that the Department did not like our suggestion of a rolling quinquennial, but it has rightly said that it is ready to consider it. I ask my right hon. Friend what has been going on in the last seven months if the Department has not been considering that point. However, we will allow a little more time if it wishes to consider it, but I hope that it will get round to it. The more one looks at public expenditure the more one sees that a rolling quinquennial makes sense. I see no objections to it, except the sort of educational mystique that we must not touch this precious bit of independence. However, when one looks at the matter in detail one sees that there is little to substantiate that stand.

It seems that we must agree to disagree on these matters. I am sure that I speak for all Members of the Committee. I can understand my right hon. Friend's difficulty. By a most unfortunate coincidence she produced a White Paper on education that came out a week or two before the Select Committee's report. We did not know what was in her White Paper, and she did not know what was in our report. Having made that major policy statement, it is understandable that whoever represented the Department would have have to defend that policy. Such a person could not, a few months later, say, "That was our policy in the White Paper, but the Select Committee has said something else and we agree with it." Therefore, I understand why this attitude has been taken by the Department.

I should like to quote again from The Times Higher Education Supplement. In the final remarks of its leading article it states: In fact, the proposals made in the report represent a clear-sighted, radical, and stimulating vision of the future of higher education—in encouraging contrast to much of the White Paper. So, according to The Times Higher Education Supplement, if we accept that last comment, we win on points.

I hope that, as time marches on, our report will be studied again. Perhaps, on reflection, it was too premature and radical for the Department but I have every confidence that at the end of the day the Government, whichever party is in power, will have to get round to something like the recommendations that we have made. Education, like time, is an ever-rolling stream, and hope that it will bear all the old ideas away.

8.14 p.m.

Mr. Frederick Wiley (Sunderland, North)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and his Committee on an impressive and well-argued report. I found it particularly attractive because it confirmed conclusions arrived at by the Select Committee on Education, from a very different approach.

I want to deal only with the binary system. Because it is a classic illustration of how things go fundamentally wrong in education, I want to put it in its historical context, and I start with the Education Act 1944, which provided that all post-primary school education should be secondary education. As Lord Butler has repeatedly said, and I accept, secondary choices were never envisaged. This was not imposed until 1947 when Ellen Wilkinson imposed on secondary schools the pattern of graded education. I remind the House of the division. It was secondary modern, secondary technical and secondary grammar.

It is interesting that the criteria were different in the different sectors. Secondary technical was to meet the requirements of industry and agriculture and to give particular emphasis to commerce and art. The test was objective. But for secondary grammar there was the subjective test of the pupil's aptitude for books and ideas.

However vehemently this was expressed in terms of parity of esteem, that was how we got a divided and not a unitary system of secondary education. Because there were few junior technical colleges, this soon became secondary education, first- and second-class, and we had a binary system of secondary education. That, as we know, became acutely controversial. It met increasing opposition from both educationists and practitioners—the teachers—and from the local education authorities, ranging from the former Labour LCC to the Conservative Leicestershire.

I recall that that was introduced by a Labour Minister facing extreme difficulties. She gave way to enormous pressures by diverting them into three channels, and the main stream being contained in the elementary schools, redesignated secondary modern schools. As time went on, the justification for this became rather different. The Government had not redefined secondary education but had given realistic recognition and acceptance to facts as they were. I, among others, criticised this because I firmly believed that it debased the definition of secondary education. In retrospect, I believe that it was disastrous to education as a whole, and that we have suffered from an inadequate secondary education, cardinal to education as a whole, for much longer than we might otherwise have done.

I am not arguing that the present situation is parallel. Obviously, higher education is selective, and not universal. But it is important to recognise that the binary system in higher education was introduced by a Labour Minister in 1965 on equally false premises.

Fundamentally, it depends on the same divisions that Ellen Wilkinson made. To recapitulate, the secondary modern child—if I may categorise a group of secondary school children—does not attain higher education. For those who do, for one group we have the objective test of meeting the requirements of industry, agriculture, commerce and art. For others, we have the subjective educational test that they should benefit from books and ideas.

We have this dichotomy running through society. For instance, it is assumed that higher education will make the top civil servant better able to do his job, whereas it is sufficient if the technological requirements of other comparable jobs are met.

I fully recognise that when this decision was taken the Minister was subject to enormous pressure. We had a rapidly expanding higher education. We had the enormous impetus given by the Robbins Report, with its beautifully simple, revolutionary concept that higher education was open to all—open to all, at any rate, with two A levels or, in many cases, with less.

[also concede—it is important to recognise the difficulties—that the right to higher education is more effectively recognised in this country than in any other. It is grant-aided to an extent that does not obtain anywhere else. But, again, as time goes by, we are told that we should be realistic. We are told that the Woolwich speech did not create anything. It merely recognised the system that then obtained. If that is so—and it is—my criticism remains the same, that this declaration of a binary system has afforded the present system a permanence and validity which it does not deserve or merit.

We are again in danger of debasing the concept, definition and purpose of higher education. As the hon. Member for Banbury said, the worthwhileness of higher education is something that we ought constantly to consider. The political, social and cultural aspects of higher education are all important, but I do not have time to discuss them, at any rate tonight. I am content to emphasise that it is significant that within a few years two Select Committees have declared for a unitary system of higher education. There has been no party division. In fact, in the case of my own Committee no Labour Member opposed our conclusions or criticised them on the ground that they were critical of one of our colleagues. After all, that is not surprising, because we were doing no more, and the hon. Gentleman's Committee is doing no more, than endorsing the Robbins Report.

Quite apart from this impressive expression of parliamentary opinion, I want to call the attention of the House to some of the facts. The Select Committee on Education, like this one, considered a considerable volume of evid- ence. We found as a fact that the binary system was causing serious concern to students and that the consequent disparities were causing serious unease among them. We found as a fact that institutions and associations on both sides of the binary line were critical—indeed, hostile—of the binary system. We found that educational opinion was overwhelmingly against the binary system.

We found as a fact that the binary system was against the current trend. We reported that it was imposed at a time when it has become increasingly difficult to define the differences between the various institutions of higher education. We found that there was then a progressive tendency to remove and lessen those distinctions.

Those findings of fact have been confirmed by the Expenditure Committee. It found as a fact that very few people were satisfied with the present system, and it seems to me that all those who gave evidence, with the possible exception of the AMC—and even that body was critical of the universities—were against the binary system. The hon. Gentleman's Committee heard evidence from a wider body of opinion than we did, not only from academics, but also from employers, trade unions and people who came forward to give their views in an individual capacity.

The binary system was promulgated without any consultation. It was a disheartening discouragement to the progressive evolution of higher education. I believe that it will be as harmful and will become as controversial as the tripartite division of secondary education has become. It was imposed in disregard of overwhelming articulate educational opinion. It was against the recommendations and spirit of the Robbins Report, and this setback has been condemned after thorough inquiry by two separate Select Committees. The course of those inquiries has exposed it as being without any political or educational support whatsoever.

In those circumstances, I join the hon. Gentleman in finding the Government's reply inadequate. I beg the right hon. Lady to try to have an open mind and to think again about this, otherwise we shall have the same devisive and disruptive experience in higher education as we have endured in secondary education.

8.25 p.m.

Mr. William Shelton (Clapham)

I start by saying how much I enjoyed my experience on the Sub-Committee and its Report to the Expenditure Committee which we are now considering.

I pay tribute to by hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) for being such an excellent chairman. It was with great regret that I left the Sub-Committee. Not only was my hon. Friend an excellent chairman with whose work I agreed, but he has made the speech that I was about to make, with the result that I shall not have to delay the House for very long.

I, too, read with great pleasure the leader in the Higher Education Supplement of The Times under the headline "A stimulating vision", and I should like to quote one more paragraph from it: Many of the proposals go very much against the grain of long traditions and entrenched interests and consequently for no better reason than that they were conceived outside the magic circle they would be most unlikely to find acceptance.

When I read that leader, although I was pleased with it and agreed with much of it, my heart sank because it seemed to me that it would be unlikely to endear the Committee's report to the Government and to the Department, and I felt that perhaps the ensuing answer from the Government might be unduly severe. Having read the reply in the four days that I have had it, that is my conclusion.

I especially wish to call attention to the rejection of the three important recommendations which, after a good many months of study and many hundreds of hours spent listening to witnesses, we put forward. The first was for the setting up of a Manpower Council, the second was for a National Careers Advisory Service, and the third was that there should be a Higher Education Commission.

I accept that the Manpower Services Commission created by the Employment and Training Bill goes some way towards meeting our suggestion about a Manpower Council, but it does not go all the way, because the purpose of the Man- power Council was to avoid if possible—perhaps it would not be possible, but without trying we would not know—some of the wastage and high unnecessary costs that have occurred in the past.

I well remember a distinguished witness telling us that one of the main causes of unnecessary expenditure in education in the last decade was the over-production of science facilities in further and higher educational establishments. He believed that this over-provision arose from an idea which was prevalent a decade or so ago that the country needed more scientists. This idea was taken up on all sides, the facilities were provided, and it turned out that the country did not need more scientists. For a long time these facilities were not used, and a great deal of money was wasted.

The Manpower Services Commission, under the terms by which it has been created, cannot be expected to look forward to try to avoid this sort of problem in the future. The Manpower Council which we recommended would have tried to do that.

I come now to the National Careers Advisory Service. Here the emphasis must be on "national". I accept the criticism in the Government's reply that the National Careers Advisory Service is limited by the wording in our report to advising those who are already in or going on to further or higher education. This was felt to be a limiting factor, and perhaps it is, but, despite that, there is no reason to say that we should do nothing at all. Let us remove that limitation, and let the service also advise students who are going straight from school into employment and not on to further or higher education.

I have a suspicion that the rather specific wording in our report limiting the service in this way has been used to destroy the recommendation. I accept that the Employment and Training Bill in its provisions for local authorities has the intention of drawing together some of the information we would have wished to draw together and fit into the National Careers Advisory Service, but as the final operation is at local authority level, in practice the information being fed in, which in our case would have come from the Manpower Council, will be haphazard and often misinterpreted. It will not achieve the results that would have been achieved had our recommendations been accepted.

I come to the third recommendation which fell by the wayside, that of a Higher Education Commission, the object of which is principally to end the distinction in financing arrangements between universities and polytechnics. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury and the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said, the binary system and its problems have a long history. The ending of the system would be complicated and difficult, but I find it difficult to accept the force of the argument put forward in the Government's reply.

We must accept, as was pointed out in paragraph 72 of the report, that there is a great difficulty with local authority further educational establishments that provide both advanced and non-advanced courses. One cannot divide the establishment down the middle. Consequently, the binary system would not disappear, because the establishments would have to be on one or other side of the line. Presumably—although the report makes no recommendation on this—those establishments would remain on the local authority side of the line.

I understand that the Department of Education and Science is already concentrating all the new advanced courses in polytechnics, so gradually this problem may phase itself out. But, whether or not that happens, to do nothing for the polytechnics which have only advanced courses seems to be an odd doctrine. It is the philosophy that because we cannot achieve perfection we should do nothing at all. If the Government proceeded on that basis, they would do nothing—which would perhaps be a great mistake. It is not a philosophy which can be recommended for Governments. To condemn the Higher Education Commission for that reason alone is false reasoning, but the Government advance other arguments against the commission.

I accept that the Higher Education Commission would be a larger and more complex body than is the University Grants Committee. It must be because, first, it would incorporate the UGC and, secondly, it would cover more institutions. Again, I accept the Governments comment that it would require the devolution of some powers from local authorities and education departments and from the UGC, although the Government accepted that that body would disappear—there is a slight contradiction there—but, therefore, to go on to suggest that the HEC, in consequence, would be a centralised bureaucracy, and to condemn it as such seems a little uncharitable. Surely, in management and commonsense terms, to undertake identical functions through one body, rather than to spread them out through half a dozen different, competing and disparate bodies, is the sensible thing to do and the opposite of bureaucracy. Surely that is good management. There are times when centralisation diminishes bureaucracy.

The third criticism of the HEC was that it would in some way diminish the Secretary of State's accountability to Parliament. That must be a matter of opinion. My opinion is the opposite. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury said, part of the problem is that so many decisions are reached mysteriously—at least, mysteriously as far as I, as a Member of the House, am concerned. I do not know much of the reasoning that goes to formulate many of the White Papers on education. If it is felt that the HEC would bring much of this reasoning into public discussion, I cannot accept that that would be diminishing the accountability of Parliament. It would be increasing the knowledge of Parliament and, in consequence, increasing the power of Parliament springing from that knowledge.

The Government's reply takes little or no notice of the other points which we believed the HEC would go some way to curing, such as decisions about the binary system. I draw the attention of the House to paragraph 61 of the report. In view of the short time that is available, I shall not read that out. However, very many distinguished bodies and distinguished people used very harsh language about the present binary system. I do not believe that one can disregard the people who work daily in the field, saying that their evidence is of no account.

Furthermore, we had clear evidence of lack of cost control, especially in the non-university sector, and lack of information on comparative costs. I remember, for instance, that we asked why apparently similar courses in differing institutions should in one case cost, perhaps, two or three times per head more than in the other case. We received no reply. I still feel perplexed about that when I consider the matter.

I remind the House that there is a great deal of money involved in further and higher education. There is a need to open a wide debate on the subject. Our lamented Higher Education Commission would have gone some way to achieve that.

8.42 p.m.

Mr. Roland Moyle (Lewisham, North)

I believe that it would be for the convenience of the House if I intervened now, as the Opposition spokesman on higher education. to make a few personal comments on the very worthwhile report that is before us.

First, I pay my compliments to the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and to those who served with him on the Committee on doing such a first-class job. Obviously, they must have worked very hard. They took a great quantity of evidence and produced a challenging report, as would be expected by anyone who knows the hon. Member for Banbury. This has also given us the opportunity of a debate on higher and further education for the first time in nearly three years. For all those reasons we are very grateful to the hon. Gentleman and to his colleagues on the Committee.

In many ways the problem of higher and further education is nearly always discussed in terms of polytechnics and universities, yet the problem of the 16-year-old school leaver is probably the most important one that we face, because it is the toughest and probably the most neglected.

This evening I must, however, follow the normal convention and omit the discussion of that problem, because I have just finished making a series of speeches on it in connection with the Employment and Training Bill. I am glad to see the Minister of State, Department of Employment on the Front Bench this evening.

There was one aspect of the problem of further and higher education which the Committee thought to be well within its purview—adult education—but the Committee felt that it could not deal with that because the Russell Report was likely to be published before long. When the Committee published its report, the Russell Report was already on the Secretary of State's desk, although it did not appear for some months afterwards. I hope to repair the report's unavoidable omission by making a few comments.

The Russell Report is very workmanlike. It pays a great deal of attention to allocating scarce resources in the most effective way. In the education world there is a great suspicion that the Government are deliberately seeking to delay applying the report to the adult education system. I shall tell the Secretary of State what I think she should be doing about the Russell Report. The Government have promised that they will consult all interested bodies, yet I am told that adult education bodies have not had their views sought. If that statement is wrong no doubt the Secretary of State will clarify the matter.

In any case, the course of consultations upon which the Government intend to embark—if they have not already embarked upon them—is wrongly conceived in principle. With such a modest and workmanlike report, the Government should announce themselves to be in agreement with its general principles and then set about seeking views on the general details. The Government should, first, set up the adult education development committee as recommended by the Russell Committee. Having done that, they should begin to invite applications from local education authorities to make submissions for the rate support grant in September for the year 1974–75. If that were all done, consultations with local education authorities could begin, through the development committee, on how the many suggestions in the report could be applied in the regions.

I should like to hear what stage the Secretary of State has reached in the application of the Russell Report and what she intends to do about the consultations. The Opposition are very anxious that progress should be made. If progress is not made, it looks as though the September deadline will pass. It may then not be possible for local education authorities to make applications for rate support grant until the following September, which means that the Russell Report will not get under way until the year 1975–76 instead of the year 1974–75. Indeed, many people suspect that that is just the tactic which the Government are adopting in the hope that if they do this the Russell Report will be left to the next Government to apply and this Government will be able to avoid their responsibilities.

In applying the Russell Report I hope that a worthwhile rôle will be given by the Government to the Workers' Educational Association. To give only one reason why, whereas the Industrial Relations Court costs about £¼ million a year to run and its subsidiary tribunals about £1.35 million to run, which is £1.6 million in toto—and we can all think of the damage those bodies have done to our system of industrial relations over the past few months—the Workers' Educational Association spends only £116,000 a year on running 8,300 courses for shop stewards throughout the country. If we could only get rid of the Industrial Relations Court and devote half the money spent on it towards supporting the Workers' Educational Association and its industrial courses, tremendous benefits would accrue to our industrial relations.

The Government's comments on the Select Committee's report are stodgy and unimaginative. When reading the comments I got the impression that the right hon. Lady did not devote much of her time to it but left it very much to her Department, which merely described the existing situation rather than making worthwhile comments on the contents of the report which had been so hard-worked. I did not detect that element of brilliant reaction that we have come to regard as a touch of the mistress when receiving documents from the Department of Education and Science. That is why I draw the deduction from it.

In commenting on the items that are before us I should like to say a few words on manpower planning, because the Opposition view is very much the same as that of the Select Committee. During the course of the Employment and Training Bill we argued that there should be a manpower agency, as a third limb of the Manpower Services Commission, which would have the job of planning not only the future prospects of professional and other people who might come from polytechnics and universities but the whole range of employment.

Arguments about the machinery are very detailed but, very broadly, in this context we agree with the Committee. The right hon. Lady has been well schooled by the Department of Employment, because she says that she is on our side in theory but does not intend to do anything in practice. That is just what we had from the hon. Member for Londonderry (Mr. Chichester-Clark) during the Committee stage of the Employment and Training Bill but, as I have said, in this matter we are on the side of the Select Committee.

I am hurrying on rapidly now because of shortage of time, but I am not entirely enthusiastically in agreement with the hon. Member for Banbury on the subject of higher education. I have the idea that a higher education commission is the sort of thing that a committee chaired by a Conservative Member would recommend—

Mr. Marten

Just the opposite.

Mr. Moyle

I would not be so highly excited at the prospect of something like the University Grants Committee being put between a Labour Secretary of State and the polytechnics. Here, again, I am still open to persuasion, but that is my reaction.

On the binary system, I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) that in the long run the doctrine of "separate but equal" will not work. It is just not in human nature, which ranks organisations in accordance with their theoretical desirability, and something comes out at the top and something comes out at the bottom unless positive action is taken to the contrary. Here it would be desirable if universities were brought into the course planning procedures in higher education.

I must comment on student grants—discretionary grants in particular, and especially some answers that we have had from the Under-Secretary of State recently on the cost of abolishing them. In an answer to his hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) on the 26th June, the Under-Secretary said: Their total abolition would involve an astronomical sum running into hundreds of millions of pounds. That is the first thing that gave us pause for reflection.

In the debate on teacher supply a week ago tonight the hon. Gentleman, talking again about discretionary grants, said: Since then we have had a call for higher education to be made more expensive, for discretionary grants to be abolished. That would cost, I estimated last month, an extra £1,000 million."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July 1973; Vol. 859, c. 165.] In that context we thought that the £1,000 million would refer to the abolition of discretionary grants, so I put down a Written Question to the Under-Secretary for answer last Friday. In view of the figures that had been bandied about I was surprised to get the following reply: Bearing in mind the many different kinds of discretionary award and other variable factors it is not possible to produce reliable estimates on the information available'—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th July 1973, Vol. 859, c. 216.] Having got that answer, and aware that the hon. Gentleman would be stifled this evening by the conventions of the House, I got in touch with him and he sent me a letter, a copy of which I have given to the right hon. Lady. I conclude from reading that letter that if we take the maximum number of students we are budgeting for at the outside by 1981 the cost is not anywhere near £1,000 million but about £190 million a year maximum by the end of the decade. That means that at the beginning of the decade the sum of money would be substantially smaller. That is how I read the letter, but perhaps the right hon. Lady can give us a more expanded application of the point.

Mr. John E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

If discretionary grants became, as it were, mandatory might not the demand for further education courses increase very greatly, because this is an open-ended commitment? Surely, if a limit is put on it there is the problem of selection.

Mr. Moyle

Yes, indeed; I would be quite willing to agree with the hon. Member. As far as I can see, however, that has been allowed for in the conclusions of the Under-Secretary of State, who concludes that the cost of what we are talking about would be £190 million at the end of the decade allowing for the very maximum expansion in places for higher education.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas)

Is the hon. Member not aware that I was allowing the proposals put forward in the recent Labour Party policy statement, that there would be grants available for those of 17 and over in schools? It was that figure which I added to the figure of £190 million to produce £1,000 million.

Mr. Moyle

Yes, but the hon. Gentleman's mathematics do not rate an Under-Secretary of Stateship for Education, because even if we make the allowance that he does that adds another £70 million, I gather from the letter, to the £190 million. Although that increases the figure of £190 million, I will agree, it still falls very far short of the £1,000 million he was talking about.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The £70 million is per year. These are cumulative figures. So it is £70 million a year between 1973 and 1981, and I think that even a shadow Under-Secretary can see that that is very much more. If we multiply £70 million by eight we get a quite different figure.

Mr. Moyle

Yes, indeed, and if we multiply it by 10 or 12 or 14 the hon. Gentleman gets an even larger figure than the one he mentioned in his letter. In these matters we usually deal in annual sums, and from that point of view the most the hon. Gentleman surely can make it, including two of our proposals, is about £260 million rather than £1,000 million, although I will concede that if we multiply that figure sufficiently we shall in The ultimate get £1,000 million—or indeed £2,000 million, or perhaps £3,000 million.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am sure that the hon. Member does not wish to distort what I was saying. So will he not agree that the context of our discussion was the expenditure that would be involved by implementing the proposals of the White Paper up to 1981? It was in that context that I was considering the extra expenditure proposed by himself and his hon. Friends. In my letter I pointed this out to the hon. Member. So the estimate of £1,000 million extra expenditure by 1981 is, if anything, a rather considerable under-estimate.

Mr. Moyle

I think we understand each other now on both sides of the House. I think it would be helpful if we were to talk in terms of annual figures, for then at least one would be dealing with finite sums.

Because of this interchange I find my time running out, and I can deal only in the most general terms with the subject of higher education, our debate having been truncated.

We in the Labour Party are confident that as more parents pass through the higher education system they will want their children to do the same, and we are also confident that if social conditions can be improved more and more children will be capable of benefiting from higher education and further education as well. We are determined that that provision shall be made for all those capable of benefiting, as revealed by the appropriate qualifications; not all will want the same courses, but, relatively speaking, we believe there should be parity of provision, given the various levels of courses people can take. There should be a flexible provision of courses and combinations of courses.

That leaves us with some tremendous organisational and administrative problems if we are to try to put these principles into operation. They are problems of forbidding complexity, and many of the organisational and administrative devices that we shall adopt will, if we are not careful, have value judgments built into them which will distort the higher and further education system.

We have plenty of ammunition at our disposal—not only the White Paper, which will indicate to all our fate if we do not bestir ourselves, but also the Select Committee's report, the valuable contribution from the Inner London Education Authority, plus the Green Paper produced by the study group of the Labour Party.

In connection with the Select Committee, we have the valuable and extremely carefully thought-out evidence of the Association of Teachers in Technical Institutes and the Association of Univerity Teachers which was submitted to the Select Committee and which impressed me with its worth and quality.

There are many issues on the Select Committee's report on which I would wish to comment—it has raised many valuable issues—but time is drawing to a close and many hon. Members on both sides of the House want to make their contribution. So I shall have to leave the report, again with many thanks for its publication but with many of the interesting matters contained therein left for another date.

8.57 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

I should like to begin by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Neil Marten) and his colleagues of the Education and Arts Sub-Committee on their contribution to the discussion of these important issues. One thing they have shown is that the subject is very complex and that the opinions are very varied. In his own way, my hon. Friend put that by saying that there are always strongly-held opposing views and that he was not worried about offending entrenched positions in education. Having been a Minister himself, my hon. Friend knows that I must be worried about that, because if I did offend those entrenched positions, the headlines in the TES. and the THES would not be "Three cheers for the Minister," but "Minister offends Universities" and "Minister rides roughshod over LEA's" because in the whole education world consultation is a way of life. I am dealing with a world that is articulate in pursuit of its own special interests. I must take that always into account.

I want to raise a point about the time in which my latest White Paper was made available in the Vote Office. I understand that the Press releases were embargoed until 11 a.m. and the document was not available in the Vote Office until 2.30 p.m. It should have been available simultaneously at 11 o'clock and I can only apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that this was not so. If anyone got it first it should have been the House. I will endeavour to see that it does not happen again. My hon. Friend has given me one "out"—and very kindly. He pointed out that while his sub-committee was studying all these problems and taking evidence, we in the Ministry—and it is a Ministry without any cosy corners—were also considering the problems and virtually simultaneously published our own solutions. Not only the Department of Education and Science, but the Department of Employment was studying some of the problems, and very shortly afterwards it, too, published its solution.

In a way, my hon. Friend is accusing us of going too fast, that is, of being aware that these problems needed solutions, of coming up with our own solutions, and actually having the nerve to implement them.

The criticism that I am getting now, following the December White Paper, is that I am going too fast in trying to revise some of the institutions in higher education, that is, the colleges of education. There is no criticism that I am going too slow, but, rather, even with the limited changes that we are proposing, that I am going too fast. I think, therefore, that I need not take very seriously any criticism from the education world that we are going too slowly, since, when I receive deputations, and so on, the contrary is said.

One of the reasons why it appears that we have disagreed with more than we have is that we have our own solutions. I hope that my hon. Friend and other members of the Select Committee, having looked carefully at what I have said, will see that, time and again, we have agreed objectives. We may sometimes have found a slightly different way of achieving them, but we have shared precisely the objectives that the Committee set out.

My hon. Friend and one or two other hon. Members took a little time in showing how I disagreed with the Committee. I think that this is largely the old question of whether one sees the bottle half empty or half full. My hon. Friends are seeing it half empty and I am seeing it half full. I want to try to put the alternative case and show how much I agree, taking first the objectives on which we agree. I shall then come to two substantial points on which we disagree, and give the reasons for our disagreement—namely, on the Committee's proposal to extend the UCCA system to all advanced courses, and to establish a Higher Education Commission.

First, the points of agreement. On the extent of higher education provision, the Government's policy for the scale and pattern of higher education up to 1981 was fully set out in the White Papers last December, and it has been fully debated. I agree here with the Committee—I quote its own words in paragraph 34—that the ultimate arbiter of the pattern of our higher education system (within the structure provided) is the demands made upon it by individual school leavers"— and that we should not depart from this principle in the vain hope that forecasts of manpower requirements might provide a better criterion. We are fully in agreement on that. I agree with the Committee also that this places an obligation on all concerned to provide school pupils with the best available information and guidance so that they may make their choices wisely.

In paragraph 15, the Committee's report spoke of prolonged Ministerial silence"—this is unusual for me—and of "a feeling of uncertainty" concerning the future of higher education. The Committee was referring, of course, to the period before the White Papers of last December were published. Those White Papers declared the Government's position both on the institutional chances which we saw as necessary and on the scale of provision, and explained that we saw need for about 750,000 full-time and sandwich higher education places by 1981 to keep pace with the likely rising level of demand from qualified applicants.

The figure was calculated upon the numbers in the age group, coupled with the projection of the numbers qualifying for A-levels, and coupled with the latest projection of the number within that number who would qualify for a place in higher education. Applying those criteria, we came to the conclusion that 750,000 places by 1981 would be required.

We shall look again at all the figures in the White Paper programme as we see how it develops over the years. I must defend my Department here. It produces one of the biggest sets of statistics to come out of any Government Department—six volumes every year. I look at them and sometimes I marvel. But one of the troubles with statistics is that by the time one has collected them from the system and analysed them, they tend to be out of date. We put a fairly heavy burden on all the education institutions and local authorities by our collection of statistics, but it is, as I say, one of the best sets of statistics, full of extremely interesting information.

I turn now to the second point upon which we agree, although the means of attaining the objectives may be different. I refer to manpower and employment. The policy that we are following on the provision of higher education places an obligation on us to look also to the possible employment problems of those who take advantage of it. Few would disagree with the Committee's conclusion that those who have followed a higher education course should be employed in a socially useful way and that those contemplating undertaking it should do so without unrealistic expectations of their subsequent employment opportunities. Apart from the waste of resources to which the Committee drew attention, the human problems of unfulfilled expectations demand our concern.

We accept—and here I am really speaking for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment—the Committee's analysis of what needs to be done. There is an important need for the collection and dissemination of information, for the study and evaluation of trends and for up-to-date and effective employment services which build on this work to offer advice on education and career choices. However, since the report was prepared the Government have announced a number of initiatives to provide for this without the necessity of creating the Manpower Council and National Careers Advisory Service for Higher and Further Education that the Committee proposed.

The Employment and Training Bill, whose details were not available to the sub-committee when it prepared its report, and which we hope will be passed this Session, provides the machinery. Under the Bill the Manpower Services Commission will have a rather wider remit than the Committee's Manpower Council, and we agree with the Committee that the membership will cover employers, unions, local authorities and the professional side of education. The Commission will be responsible for planning, developing and operating employment and training services other than those provided by local authorities, and for coordinating the work of industrial training boards. Its executive functions will be carried out by an Employment Service Agency and a Training Services Agency, also proposed under the Bill. We hope that the Commission will be constituted after the Bill becomes law, perhaps by 1st January 1974; that the Training Services Agency will be brought under the Commission on 1st April 1974 or shortly afterwards; and the Employment Service Agency not before late 1974.

So much for that aspect of the matter, details of which were not available when the Committee made its report—with a wider remit—before the detailed organisation was worked out. The Bill also lays a duty on local education authorities to provide a comprehensive vocational guidance and placing service open to all in full-time education. My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. William Shelton) referred to this point. It is the first time there has been a duty on all local authorities to have this service. The removal of the artificial barrier of the age limit of 18 years for local authority careers services will allow them to function more effectively as more and more young people take advantage of the opportunity for further and higher education.

Moreover, by placing responsibility for these employment services with those already responsible for education, the Government's proposals help to meet the sub-committee's objective of co-ordinating education and employment advice. And they have the further advantage, compared with the committees' proposal, of offering young people advice, at various stages in their education, on all the careers from which they may choose. That means going much further back in education, so that the curriculum chosen may help the pupil to choose his career later without hindering him. The advice will cover careers that may be entered straight from school—and it is right for some young people to go into a job straight from school—and also jobs not requiring qualifications. On the collection and dissemination of essential information, the Committee commented that the Department of Employment's Unit for Manpower Studies, with a staff or less than 10, could hardly tackle all the tasks they thought necessary. My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury pointed out that both the unit's remit and its staff have been increased, I think, to 17. He was not very pleased about that, but may I remind him of when I set a committee working on the James Report. There were eight people working full time for a year studying the subject of teacher training and by the end of the year they produced a report. If eight of them can do that I would have thought that 17 working full time would be an effective unit.

Incidentally, with the James Report I did a similar thing to what I am doing with my hon. Friend. I accepted all the objectives and modified some of the methods of reaching them. That committee was most pleased. I have adopted a similar approach with my hon. Friend and I hope that by the end of my speech he, too, will be most pleased. Both the unit's remit and its staff have been increased since the sub-committee reported.

There may be some misunderstanding of the unit's rôle. It does not engage in detailed forecasts of supply and demand for particular industries and occupations—and the sub-committee drew attention to the dangers of this approach—but rather studies the broad movements and features of the labour market in order to help those with particular responsibilities and more immediate concerns to make their plans.

The transition from education to employment is a complex and increasingly important matter, and the subcommittee was right to devote so much of its report to it. The Government do not propose to adopt the precise form of solution it proposed. But I hope the developments and recent initiatives that I have described constitute a sound alternative means—now well worked out and going through the House, subject to comment by the House—of achieving the same purpose.

I turn to a third point of agreement—students' residence. Like the sub-committee, the Government consider that the proportion of home-based students is too low, and they would like to see some increase. In the universities, for instance, it is only 16 per cent., compared with about 40 per cent. before the war. In advanced further education the propor- tion of students in residence has always been much lower than in the universities, but here, too, we would like to see polytechnics and colleges doing what they can to encourage students to live at home.

It is a significant development that university application forms handled by the Universities Central Council on Admissions will in future include a new question. In relation to entry in or after 1974, this will enable universities with problems of student residence to take into account that some applicants live within daily travelling distance. At the same time, the rising numbers of students do require additional residence to be provided. We have therefore made substantial further provision for residence both in the university building programme and in the polytechnics. It has been announced previously in debates, and I do not wish to dwell upon it.

The fourth subject on which we agree with the sub-committee is student grants. We have accepted its recommendations practically lock, stock and barrel. We have taken action on its recommendation that financial responsibility for mandatory awards should be transferred from local to central government. In future, my Department will pay 90 per cent. of the cost of awards made in England and Wales under Sections 1(1) and 2(3) of the Education Act—that is, for students on first degree and comparable teacher training courses. Instead of having to find roughly 40 per cent. of the cost, the authorities will have to meet only 10 per cent. This represents a substantial financial benefit to them.

As to discretionary awards—and the relevant courses here are, generally speaking, those below degree level—there has been growing pressure for greater consistency in the treatment of students. The sub-committee concluded that local education authorities should retain their discretionary powers for these courses, and, because of their diversity in standard, length and nature, and the diversity in the financial needs of the students, I am sure that it was right. But it also recommended that my Department should issue stronger and more detailed guidance to local authorities in order to avoid undue variations in the criteria for making awards and in the rates of grant. I agree with the Committee that we must look again at this question. As I announced at the Association of Education Committees conference a short time ago, I am consulting the local authority associations about it.

So far I have dealt with those parts of the report on which, although we may take a different view about means, we are really agreed about ends. This leaves me with the two topics to which I referred at the outset, on which we appear to be divided on matters of substance, although I note, ironically, that the Government are not divided from the Opposition Front Bench on the matter.

I take, first, the question of admissions to advanced further education institutions. I have considered carefully the sub-committee's recommendations for a centralised admissions system for all advanced further education courses, to be modelled on the Universities' Central Council on Admissions. But while this is in the first place a matter for the institutions concerned, I must say that I see serious practical difficulties in devising machinery of this kind which would not at once impose new and severe limitations on the colleges' ability to adapt their work to the requirements of the moment—the needs of the students on the one hand or their prospective employers on the other. UCCA serves a comparatively small and homogeneous range of institutions and courses. A comparable system for advanced further education would need to cover about 2,500 advanced full-time and college-based sandwich courses in a wide range of subjects at degree and sub-degree level in more than 200 polytechnics and other colleges.

Moreover, the FE system is not only large and complex but dynamic and responsive. At present it is possible to introduce new courses, often in response to local or regional requirements, at much shorter notice than if an UCCA procedure had to be followed. For instance, a new course could be finally approved, say by CNAA, in the same calendar year as it was due to start. I should not be willing to see that valuable flexibility jeopardised.

From the student's point of view too, though I recognise that the Committee heard other views expressed by the NUS, I should have thought it a serious disadvantage to lose or curtail the advisory work of the colleges which the present system of direct application offers. Young people are helped by personal guidance at the polytechnic or college to choose wisely from the range of courses available. During the summer months the Department's further education information services makes up-to-date information on vacancies available to would-be students who have not yet been accepted for a course.

I understand that the Committee heard extensive evidence on the excellence of these arrangements. I had thought of making reference to the service but as time is moving on I shall not do so. I shall move on to the subject which my hon. Friends are anxious to hear about—namely the financing and administration of higher education—upon which the two Front Benches appear to be agreed.

The Committee considered that— an overall plan is necessary for the efficient distribution of the resources available for higher education, and that this will only prove possible under a unified system of financial provision. The Committee therefore proposed the creation of a Higher Education Commission to have overall responsibility for advising the Minister on the administration and financing of the whole higher education sector, and for its planning and co-ordination. If the Higher Education Commission is to be, as the Committee propose, a transformed University Grants Committee, it would have to have executive as well as advisory functions. If those functions were to be exercisable over the whole of higher education the commission would be concerned with over 500 institutions. As I understand it, the UGC would be abolished and the rôle and powers of local education authorities substantially affected. Indeed, the powers of local education authorities over a large part of the higher education sector would he removed totally.

The Committee appears to have been disappointed that I have not been able to accept immediately its far-reaching proposals. Even if I did not have substantial reservations about the Committee's far-reaching proposals, it would not be possible for a Government to accept such proposals without the most careful and prolonged consultation with the other parties concerned, whose interests are so vitally affected. Such information as I have leads me to think that they, too, have substantial reservations.

For example, a similar resolution was put before the Association of Education Committees Conference a few days ago. It did not get much support either from Labour or Conservative controlled local education authorities. They did not want all the higher education institutions removed from them. If I were to say now that I accepted my hon. Friend's or the sub-committee's recommendations I should be in boiling water tomorrow and my hon. Friends would be bombarded with protests from their own local authorities and to some extent from the University Grants Committee and perhaps other sectors of higher education.

I do not believe that the Committee is justified in its criticism that the present arrangements inhibit efficient long-term planning The long-term strategy for the development of higher education has been outlined by the Government for 10 years in education White Papers. It is believed that the strategy can be implemented within the framework of existing financial arrangements. Long-term strategy, linked with the available resources, is the Government's responsibility. We have shown that we are ready and have the means to discharge that responsibility. I shall be mentioning later what is being done to forge a closer working relationship between the Department and all those concerned in the local authority sector of higher education.

On the universities side, quinquennial arrangements already exist. The security of a settlement for five years provides a firm basis for budgeting and planning. The universities know where they stand, and the arrangement is highly valued by them and the UGC alike. My hon. Friend says that, although the UGC and the universities like it, I must change it

Mr. Marten

We do not like it.

Mrs. Thatcher

My hon. Friend says that I must deliberately change something which the education service likes because he and his Committee do not like it. I am going some way to meet him.

In the Government's view, the disadvantage to which the Committee drew particular attention—namely, that the length of time for which future financial provision is assured diminishes continuously as the quinquennium progresses—is substantially met when the Government are prepared to declare a long-term strategy. Nevertheless, we are always ready to look at the possibility of improvements, and I propose to examine with the universities and the UGC the merits and limitations of the quinquennial system alongside those of a rolling five-year programme. But it would be a perverse Secretary of State who said "Because the universities and the UGC like it and it suits them, I shall change it". If there is a need for change, we shall consider the matter with them.

The Committee made extensive comments about extravagant co-ordination and apparent duplication. First, apparent duplication is by no means necessarily evidence of extravagance. May I give an example? It may be more economical to provide, say, particular library facilities or a particular course for which there is substantial demand in more than one place in a city. Remembering the future size of our higher education institutions, I believe that the provision of common facilities for, say, a university with 10,000 students and a polytechnic with perhaps 6,000 students can lead to diseconomies of scale as well as physical congestion.

Secondly, the opportunities for economies through the sharing of facilities are not unlimited. Fewer than half of the universities and polytechnics are near each other, and each of these types of institution is likely to be large enough to require and use efficiently its own provision of general facilities. But I accept that opportunities for economies arise in the provision of specialised facilities. Here there is ample evidence of cooperation between institutions across the binary line.

I have a series of examples, but I give only one because of time. At Newcastle there has been very close collaboration between the university and the polytechnic in several ways, including joint operation of a closed circuit television service, joint planning of specialist libraries, the interchange of specialist teachers for parts of certain courses, and, involving other institutions in the area, a multi-access computer.

I would refer to an aspect of the Committee's proposals which caused both surprise and concern. As I understand the Committee's intention, no new course could be started in any university or other higher education institution without the approval of the commission, which would also take over the awarding of degrees and care for academic standards now entrusted to the CNAA. To concentrate these powers over academic matters in the hands of a body already charged with the control of resources and the monitoring of costs as between one institution and another throughout the whole higher education sector is quite incompatible with the principles of academic freedom on which our present arrangements are founded and from which I believe it would be unwise to depart. Given that a committee had this function in mind for the commission, I simply do not see how at the same time, the commission's rôle could be described as purely advisory.

Although the Government, I hope understandably, are unable to accept the proposal for such a commission, I am far from saying that nothing needs changing. One or two of my hon. Friends tend to give that impression. That is not the impression which the White Paper gives. The White Paper indicated the Government's intention to assimilate the great majority of colleges of education much more closely with the rest of further and higher education. The local education authorities have since been asked to develop plans for the future of higher education in their area to provide the additional numbers required by the White Paper policy up to 1981. The problems that this poses in some areas will prove complicated, but the opportunity now exists to develop, over a period of time, an institutional structure better suited to future needs. The local authorities will be submitting their proposals to my Department and we shall be able to consider them from all points of view—local, regional and national.

In this respect I am being urged to go more slowly and not as quickly as I can on the changes that I propose to make. While these changes are taking place we are also considering how the new structure of institutions might best be administered and controlled. We shall not sheer away from change, if necessary, but to this end we are already studying, with the new local authorities' higher education committee, a number of key issues. These include their own rôle and that of the authorities whom they represent, in any new system; what part the present pooling arrangements should play in future; how the constitution and tasks of the existing regional advisory councils for further education might be adapted to the new situation that we are now creating; and how these councils should fit in with the new regional committees for teacher education, which the White Paper envisages to take over the present area training organisations' co-ordinating functions in relation to teacher education.

We are embarked on a considerable programme of expansion and reform and the Government have given the necessary strategic lead. On the first three subjects that I have discussed, I believe that the Government's aims and objectives correspond to a considerable extent with the views and intentions of the Committee. I hope that by this time my hon. Friend will think so too.

As to the last topic—the financing and administration of higher education—we are all facing a complex problem. Far from being complacent, the Government are embarked on a series of major changes. Although they cannot divest themselves of their responsibility for determining long-term objectives, because of their concern with the availability of resources, they have not determined ends unaware of the views of all the partners in the education service and are pursuing the means to those ends in consultation with those partners. The steps that are being taken may be substantially different from those the Committee recommended, but I hope they will appreciate the very real difficulties that I have pointed out in their proposals and will be prepared to look again at the advantages that I believe can be gained from the Government's less radical, perhaps less ambitious, but wholly realistic intentions.

Mr. Moyle

Will the right hon. Lady say something about the Russell Report?

Mrs. Thatcher

The Russell Report was not dealt with in the report that we are now debating. I thought it wise to answer that report, but we have not started consultations, as the hon. Gentleman pointed out. We are trying to analyse the report, which took four years to produce and was published on the 27th March. Before beginning the consultations we should like to have some idea of the practicalities of the situation and be able to consult again on a realistic and practical basis.

9.28 p.m.

Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) on his report, all the more so because I do not entirely agree with it. The hon. Gentleman has received much affectionate encouragement from the Minister—and he will no doubt be able to put up with that.

One of the most important things in education is to attend to the education of the non-academic child. Many of them wish to return to education later and should not be ignored in any discussion on further or higher education.

For the universities I do not entirely accept the aims indicated in the report. The most important aim, which is specific to universities, is to enable students to develop their capabilities and so contribute by better judgment and initiative to the society in which they will ultimately take their part. All teaching of professions, skills, and so forth, could go on to other institutions, though I admit that it is important to the university. If that is so, further education should be as flexible as possible. I regret that the Committee did not recommend that there should be a gap between school and university. It is a valuable suggestion, which should be explored. As I do not attach so much importance to careers structure as the Committee does, I am not so enthusiastic about its national careers council. It will almost certainly look at the trends and deduce its recommendations from the trends, and we know that the one certain thing about trends is that they do not continue. In this field it is much more important to make places in further education for people who want to re-train and go back into education later in life, and not to regard the third stage of education as the finish of one's educational life.

The other danger which I think I see in the present structure of education is that of bureaucracy. We are in danger of being obsessed by diplomas, degrees and qualifications. If Christ returned to earth, he would certainly not be allowed to take part in religious instruction in Scottish schools. Einstein would not have been allowed to teach in Scottish schools, because he did not happen to have the Scottish qualifications that the Scottish teaching profession thinks desirable.

There should be far more latitude about students spending a limited time in universities or other institutions of higher education, and leaving before having completed their course, and far more use should be made of part-time teachers and of teachers who have something to contribute, though not necessarily permanent members of the teaching profession.

I have doubts about the Higher Education Commission. The Minister said it would have to review 500 institutions—I thought it was more. I was the chairman of a review body which studied Birmingham University, and it was pressed upon us that we should set up a poly-versity for Birmingham and that that type of unification in higher education was desirable. Personally, I am a critic of the binary system because I believe that there is not parity of esteem.

But when it comes to expecting the University Grants Committee to look after 500 or 600 institutions, removing them largely from their local base and inevitably imposing some sort of unity upon them, I have great doubts about it. There is a danger of our having one institution of higher education for the whole country with a great number of different campuses, and I cannot imagine anything more inimical to the real needs of higher education.

I believe that more attention should be paid to the organisation of universities. I have an amateur connection with the University of Kent and I have looked at the University of Birmingham. It seems to me that we should put more emphasis on teaching and less on research. Everybody must agree that research is a vital part of education, but it is immensely expensive and a lot of it is proving the obvious by graphs, or writing articles about other articles, which does not carry knowledge very far. Far too much emphasis is put on certain levels of research and not enough on teaching. Institutions of higher education should be expected to teach.

The report makes no mention of the use of the buildings. We have universities with enormous, prison-like buildings occupied for only a short part of the year. Universities always manage to put forward good reasons for doing what they want to do, and they defend the university year on academic grounds. In Scotland it was arranged to suit the harvest. It is argued that the buildings are required during the vacations so that conferences and so forth may take place, but I do not believe that should be the reason for building them.

We must look more closely at the idea of the Open University, at the system used by the Scottish universities which keep most of their students at home. In that way less importance would be attached to the buildings.

On the other hand, we have to look for a new form of the collegiate system, not necessarily on the Oxford and Cambridge model, but undoubtedly many students are lost in a large unitary organisation which requires some sub-organisation, not just in the faculty or department, to which the students may feel that they are attached.

We should also consider the positions of the vice-chancellor and the principal. This is now too big a job for one man, and I would split the job of vice-chancellor from that of principal and deliberately make one responsible for the organisation of the university and the other responsible possibly for academic teaching.

Those are the main observations that I want to make on the subject of this report. But we must grasp the dangerous subject of loans. I start with and retain to some extent an open mind on the subject of loans, but I must confess that I am being rather converted to loans by the arguments of those who dislike them. As the report says, there is a strong case for loans in postgraduate education. Whatever one may think about loans, the experience of other countries is that they are not the invention of the devil. There may be difficulties and I do not know how effective they will be, but personally I do not feel able to rule them out.

This has been an unfortunate year for universities in many ways. They have not made a good impression on the public, owing to the goings on of a minority, widely and probably unnecessarily reported in the Press. We have to leave them with this message: that they will be judged by their successes, not their failures. They should remember the parable of the talents and if they are to justify the amount spent on them it will not be by keeping their heads down and producing a nice steady flow of humdrum students but by contributing something to society at large—which no other institution can do—which will justify the amount of money which I think we must spend upon them and which up to now has been fully justified.

9.36 p.m.

Mr. John E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

It is quite embarrassing in some ways for me to follow the speeches of the Secretary of State and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), who is a university chancellor, in a debate about higher education, particularly when I was not a member of the Select Committee. Perhaps I should begin by saying something that no one has said today, namely, to congratulate the Opposition on the good use to which they have put half of one of their Supply Days.

It is to be welcomed that education is being given more time in the House, that we are dividing it up and getting the chance to discuss different sectors in some detail. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) upon chairing this Committee. Even if all its recommendations were not agreed, the report is an extremely valuable assessment of the facts relating to higher education in 1972. It will be a most useful quarry for years to come.

I would have supposed that while the Committee was conducting its work its influence would have permeated through the Department, perhaps much more than the chairman thinks. As I read the report it seemed—after the speech of the Secretary of State it is almost superfluous to say it—that a great deal of the Committee's recommendations have been examined and accepted. I would say that there had been a pretty good harvest for a Select Committee, judging by the Select Committees on which I have served. Some of the major recommendations may to some extent have been governed by the very limitations of the Committee's task You set yourself the job of looking at higher education with special emphasis on the financial aspect. This seemed to lead you to some centralised conclusions.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Whom is the hon. Member addressing?

Mr. Hill

I am sorry Mr. Speaker. The chairman and his Committee seemed to reach some centralised conclusions, almost dirigiste—more applicable, I would have thought, not to the British system but to the European system. Corning from my hon. Friend, I find that somewhat surprising.

The difference between the Committee and the Department is that the Department cannot just look at higher education alone. It has the difficult job of trying to deal with all sectors of education at one and the same time. The proposed manpower council would be dealing with everyone from schools, having to put together the like and the unlike. Although the suggested higher education commission is fine in theory, in that it would avoid wasteful duplication, it would not be so good in practice. We should get rid of the binary line which no one likes. I prefer the idea of a spectrum, not a line.

But the crucial difficulty was mentioned by the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. William Shelton). What would be the position of the further education establishment, which has an element—not large, but important—of advanced work going on through some link with industry? We do not want to take that away. An element of advanced work, where appropriate, is a valuable leaven in a further education college. It adds style and cachet. It gives inspiration all the way down.

Yet if one considers higher education separately and thinks in terms of employment for graduates, I feel that we are overlooking the more numerous national need for all the skills below graduate level. There is the immense importance of having an adequate flow of technicians. It may be that technicians will become relatively scarcer than graduates. Therefore, these proposals seem to make the problem of upgrading national skills rather more difficult than easier.

I think that the University Grants Committee would be swamped if it tried to take on the polytechnics in addition to its present responsibilities. Surely, the strength of the polytechnics lies in the fact that they do not want to be universities. They see themselves as having a different function—not, as it were, just forwarding knowledge, but maintaining a vital link with the outside world of work and industry. If they go within the autonomous university sector, that link will be more difficult to maintain.

It is a mistake to try to deal with higher education in isolation, though admittedly that was what the Committee necessarily set out to do. The Committee's suggestions have been catalogued, so I need not refer to them all, but I should like to stress the suggestions made by the Committee that should be adopted. On the question of student residence and the idea of getting a larger proportion of home-based students, the Committee made the important point that it is easier to do this in an urban catchment area than in many of the new universities that are sited in the regions. For example, it is not easy to increase the number of home-based students at the University of East Anglia at Norwich because the population is not very thick on the ground. But we should try to advance that idea where it is possible—generally in the older so-called red brick universities in the urban areas.

There is a good suggestion about student housing. I am extremely pleased that some experiments in student housing with the aid of housing subsidies will go forward. I like the idea of using private finance, but for present interest rates, for student housing. The disadvantage is that in some cases the students have been their own worst enemies, because the behaviour of some has not exactly encouraged local private investment in student housing. However, I hope that will change.

The attractions of the Committee's long study, especially encouraged by the keenness of its chairman, naturally invited it to hope for definite conclusions that will stir up thought and action. I think that this has been the result. After the Committee has dealt with postgraduate education, which is its next remit, I hope that it will turn to the further education system because a study of this may modify some of the rather radical views put forward by its chairman this evening.

9.45 p.m.

Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow, West)

This has been a useful debate so far, and it is a pity that it has to end at 10 o'clock. It has been a cross-party debate, and that is interesting, because most of the time we debate education in this House on straightforward party political lines, and sometimes the arguments that ought to be brought out, and are not necessarily party political. get rather lost in the wash of party bickering between the two Front Benches.

Ours was an all-party report, and it was unanimous, just as the Select Committee of 1969, under the right hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), submitted a unanimous all-party report. It is strange, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that we both came to the same conclusion about the disadvantages of the binary system and the advantages of a unitary system of higher education.

Although I am supposed to be speaking from the back benches, as a member of the sub-committee winding up I must say that one cannot conclude the debate on the whole subject of further and higher education. It is a continuing debate that is likely to go on and increase in intensity and importance until we get our priorities right in the higher education sphere.

We need to debate much more intensely than in the past the whole philosophy of higher education, its purpose, the relationship of different institutions with it, and so on, and also, from our point of view as an Expenditure Committee, the priorities of expenditure, because there is no doubt that higher education is pre-empting a larger and larger share of the resources of education, which in turn is pre-empting a larger and larger share of national resources for public expenditure. It was therefore right and proper that we as an Expenditure Committee should examine higher and further education basically from the point of view of the control of expenditure, and that may explain the rather radical nature of our report, as the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. John E. B. Hill) said. We had to be radical because we felt that the system that had grown up had been like Topsy and had just grown and there was a need to bring some order and rationality into it purely from the point of view of public expenditure control.

The right hon. Lady said that there was no real disagreement between the Department of Education and Science and the Expenditure Committee on the objectives, and she mentioned four recommendations on which the Committee and the Government are agreed. I think it would be churlish of us not to acknowledge that we are grateful to the Department and to the Minister for having accepted in principle at least, if not in detail, the substance of four of our recommendations. The right hon. Lady said that where disagreements occurred it was on means. There is always room for disagreement on means, even among Members of the same party. It is the disagreement on ends that tends to be on party political lines.

The right hon. Lady referred to two matters of substance on which there were divisions. One was the centralised admission system, and the other was the proposal for ending the binary system of higher education and getting on to a unitary system. I propose to deal first with the centralised admission system.

Our proposal for extending the UCCA system to all advance courses is held to be too complex. It would be complex, and we did not seek in any way to deny that, but, in this age of computers, can anyone honestly say that dealing with perhaps 100,000 or 200,000 applications a year—and there are far fewer than that—for 2,500 courses at 400 different institutions could not be handled relatively easily?

The Minister's main argument appeared to be that the flexibility of new course approvals in the local authority sector would be hindered by extending the UCCA machinery to that sector. The Minister implied—though I do not really think she meant to—that the flexibility on the local authority side is such that local authorities can lay on advanced courses at technical colleges at short notice. The fact is that they cannot do so. Some of us thought that they could when we were hearing evidence, but we were assured on good authority that the system of course approvals by regional advisory councils makes it inevitable, if one is planning a new course in the local authority further and higher education sector, that it will take at least nine months to get the appropriate approvals for it after it has first been considered. There is not much flexibility in the local authority sector, even if there is marginally more than there is in the university sector, but I see that as being no substantial reason for rejecting our recommedation.

In making our proposal for the Higher Education Commission we were concerned first about having a more open method of deciding the administration and financing of higher education. In the recent quinquennial settlement by the UGC it appears that the decisions to change the staff/student ratio, to change the science/arts ratio and to change the postgraduate proportions, all of which are intensely vital and important issues to the universities, were taken without any consultation with the higher education sector in general. The UGC had its own machinery for consultation but no one could tell who had consulted whom, and the UGC made these decisions. We do not think that closed system is good enough for the future of higher education.

The Minister criticised the proposal for a Higher Education Commission on the ground that it would not only be advisory but would have executive functions. It is true that the HEC would have executive functions, but let no one doubt that the present UGC system is moving to a stage when in effect the UGC is exercising executive functions over the future of universities. The UGC guidelines which were laid down in the latest quinquennium—and this started five or six years ago in the previous quinquennial review—have executive force in fact if not in theory, and universities which depart from them do so at their financial peril. It is a case of he who pays the piper calls the tune. Although we may think of the UGC as advisory, in these respects it has executive functions.

The Minister made a strong point—and we were aware that this criticism would be levelled at our report—that recommending a Higher Education Commission would mean that the local authority sector would be robbed of its control over education. But the Government in their observations do not say that the Higher Education Commission would have on it representatives of local authorities and that it would be serviced on a regional basis by regional advisory councils specially strengthened for this purpose with additional local authority representation and student representation, which might well appeal in this more open democratic age.

The Minister said that it was the Government's duty to study the long-term strategy for higher education. We on the sub-committee fully agree with that. Our proposal was not for the Higher Education Commission to settle the strategy of higher education for the future without regard to the Government—that is nonsense. Our proposal was that the commission would advise the Government. We are well aware that we need to retain and strengthen parliamentary and Government control over the £900 million that higher and further education costs each year, and we want to make that accountability more real by opening up for informed debate consideration of how these vast sums are spent.

That brings me to the problem of the quinquennial review of universities. Naturally, universities want to retain the fixed quinquennium system—and certainly the UGC does. We had a great deal of evidence—not from the UGC, of course—that the system needed to be reviewed from the point of view of public expenditure. The whole of central Government expenditure is, under the PESC system, on a rolling five-year basis. If that is right for public expenditure as a whole, it must surely be right for that proportion of public expenditure which is meted out to the universities through the UGC.

If the Secretary of State takes on board no other point, I hope that she will look seriously from the public expenditure point of view at the considerable advantages of a rolling five-year forward look. We also wanted the rolling quinquennial idea to apply to the local authority sector.

One of the main reasons for the recommendation that the local authority sector should go in with the HEC was that under the present rate support grant system local authorities cannot look five years ahead even, as the universities can, for a fixed term. They have only two years or less in which to look ahead, and this must inhibit their forward planning and sensible control of expenditure in the polytechnics and general local authority further education sector.

The Secretary of State also mentioned our comments on duplication and sharing of facilities. This is very much a matter of weighing the evidence. As the right hon. Lady said, there is evidence of institutions sharing their facilities very well. She quoted Newcastle. We had evidence where institutions in the same city did not share their facilities, and where two buildings were being built—student union buildings, for example—where one would equally well have done.

Whatever the right hon. Lady's views, with rising costs the Government will have to make up their minds to look very much more closely at the way that capital is spent in the two sectors of the binary system for so long as we continue to have the binary system. We cannot continue planning the one system without regard to what goes on in the other part of the binary system.

The right hon. Lady also said that one of the reasons why she disliked the HEC was the fact that it would be giving course approvals for courses at universities. She implied that this was an infringement of academic freedom. But what is the system of course approvals at local authority institutions by regional advisory councils? Surely that is not an infringement of academic freedom. That argument is a non-starter. If it is right for one sector of the binary system to have new courses approved by an outside body on which it is represented, surely it is right that the other sector, the university sector, should also be brought within the same sphere of operation.

Finally, I want to comment on the one vital part of our report which is missing from the Government's observations; namely, our insistence on the fact that at present—

Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

My hon. Friend said "finally", but will he not deal with the criticisms that this is a report on higher and further education but hardly a report about further education at the lowest levels? Will he deal with one criticism that could have been made—that the next report ought to be on further education?

Mr. Deakins

I am grateful for that intervention. We dismissed—if that is not too demeaning a word—the lower sector of further education because of the difficulties, which would take us into sixth-form colleges and education and transferability between pupils at school and those in the further education sector. We thought we should deal with that on a separate occasion, and we shall.

The observations on cost-effectiveness seem to have gone by the board in the Government's reply. We are not satisfied with the present UGC system of expenditure control in the universities. We wanted a system whereby an outside body would study cost-effectiveness in the whole higher education sector, both as between different institutions and within institutions. We had a fair amount of evidence from the universities that there is some waste in the present system. Indeed, the universities are not encouraged by the fixed quinquennial grant system to save money. They are encouraged to spend up to the limit of their quinquennial grant. From an expenditure point of view, we cannot accept that.

Finally, I agree with the hon. Member for Clapham (Mr. William Shelton), who said that what we were really concerned about was the management of the national resources increasingly going into higher and further education. If the Secretary of State feels that her observations will lead to the achievement of that end—I do not think they will—we ought to wish her the best of luck. She has a very difficult task with the present machinery, but let us hope that at least she can make an effective start, because we shall definitely have to return to the sort of recommendations that we have put forward.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of the First Report from the Expenditure Committee (House of Commons Paper No. 48) on Further and Higher Education and of the relevant Government Observations (Command Paper No. 5368).