§ 13. Mr. Stephen Ross
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the rôle of the polytechnic in higher education.
§ Mr. Gerry Fowler
The process of designating the 30 polytechnics is now complete. They form a distinctive sector of higher education with its own characteristics, where flexibility is the keynote both in range of subjects and types of course. They have already made impressive progress and it is the Government's intention to see that this continues. I attach particular importance first to their maintaining links with industry and commerce and generally contributing to the community which they serve, and secondly to their continuing to cater for all types of student by offering a wide range of courses, including sandwich and part-time courses at a variety of levels.
§ Mr. Ross
Is the hon. Gentleman aware of the concern felt in the polytechnics about their ability to meet the degree standards of the National Council for Academic Awards, underlined by—up to now—a lack of any clear future policy? Will he give a guarantee to the polytechnics that they have a clear future—[HON. MEMBERS: "Reading."]—as providers of university-level education? Will he meet representatives of polytechnic teachers to discuss their salary and career structure?
§ Mr. Fowler
I am delighted to see the evidence of adult literacy on the Conservative benches today. The hon. 1193 Gentleman is six weeks out of date. I have already met representatives of the Association of Polytechnic Teachers. As far as I know, the polytechnics have no difficulty in meeting the standards of the Council for National Academic Awards, to give it its correct name. When I was the assistant director of a polytechnic I found that in the polytechnic world we were making rapid progress and we certainly did not feel ourselves to be in any way inferior to the universities.
§ Mr. Christopher Price
Is my hon. Friend aware that the first part of his original answer will seem a little complacent to certain people in polytechnics? Is he further aware that the salary differential between universities and polytechnics is now wider than it has ever been and is posing appalling staffing problems for the polytechnics in getting the people they need to carry out the sort of policies he has outlined? Will he make sure that the inquiry into teachers' pay, which I understand includes further education and the polytechnics, takes this very serious situation into account?
§ Mr. Fowler
My hon. Friend has largely answered the question for me. That is one subject which the review will examine. I hope that it will come up with the right answer.
§ Miss Fookes
Can the hon. Gentleman say how a polytechnic differs from a university in its rôle and distinctiveness?
§ Mr. Fowler
That was part of my original answer. For example, I stressed the question of part-time students. Fifty per cent. of students in polytechnics are part-time. If the hon. Lady inquires she will find that no university has a similar provision. There are many other features. If the hon. Lady reads my answer she will discover what they are.