HC Deb 10 July 1975 vol 895 cc760-827

4.10 p.m.

Mr. James Boyden (Bishop Auckland)

I beg to move, That this House takes note of the Third Report from the Expenditure Committee in Session 1973–74 (House of Commons Paper No. 96) on Postgraduate Education, and the Third Report from the Expenditure Committee in the last Parliament (House of Commons Paper (1974) No. 306) on Educational Maintenance Allowances. These reports have three things in common. First, both areas are relatively unexplored in Parliament. The Second relates to the Department of Education and Science, which, although it has had the reports for a very considerable time, has made no observations on them, which must be a very severe stricture on the Department. The third element, more pleasant, is that the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), despite his other arduous duties, has found time to chair both Committees and to produce excellent reports. I am sure the House would wish to put on record that it is grateful to him and his members for the very thorough work that has been done and the most interesting recommendations that they make which I am sure will be taken note of in due course.

The only other surviving hon. Member of the hon. Gentleman's Committee was the hon. Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) who is chairman of the equivalent of the Education Committee of the Expenditure Committee and is engaged on another report as well. Perhaps, Mr. Speaker, the hon. Lady will catch your eye later in the debate. It should also go on record that Sir Henry d'Avigdor-Goldsmid was chairman of the main Expenditure Committee when this report on postgraduate education was approved.

I should like to make some general remarks aboupt the old Estimates Committee and the present Expenditure Committee, with particular reference to university education. Over the years the Estimates Comittee has had considerable in fluence on the improvement of the public accountability of universities. The universities have always been rather touchy about interference with academic freedom. Speaking as one who has taken an interest in these matters for over a quarter of a century, I believe that the degree of public control, in the best interests of the ratepayer, has improved and increased and has in no way affected the academic rights of universities or their teaching.

This is the English way to do things. There are still in universities people who are over-sensitive about Parliament interesting itself in postgraduate education and in other higher education subjects. The fact that the Department of Education and Science has made no observations on the report perhaps can be overcome today by some observations from the Minister, which may partially satisfy the House.

There is a defect in the organisation of the Department in that there appears to be no Under-Secretary of State who is responsible for watching Expenditure Committee and other Committee reports, for reporting to the Permanent Secretary, and for bringing these matters to the attention of Ministers. I know that Ministers are responsible for their Departments and that constitutionally blame must rest on Ministers, but I believe that there is a defect in the Department's organisation. It is surprising that the Permanent Secretary has not appointed somebody to undertake this work because other Departments are much more sensitive to the activities of the Expenditure Committee. I know that the Ministry of Defence has been active in this sphere and we shall be discussing its work a little later. Furthermore, the Home Office has been quick and sensitive in answering the observations of the Expenditure Committee. I hope that hon. Lady the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science will convey to her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and to the Permanent Secretary the displeasure of the House that our recommendations have not been the subject of any departmental observations.

Another thread running through these reports is that considerable social injustice to remains in respect of the methods of awards to postgraduates, and there is an anomalous position in regard to maintenance allowances at the younger end of the scale. The Third Report for the Expenditure Committee on postgraduate education says in paragraph 75: Is it socially just that, when only just over 10 per cent. of young people are able to enjoy full-time higher education at all, more than one-quarer of the public expenditure on universities should be devoted to the postgraduate education of a small minority, a little more than 2 per cent. of the age-group? A similar quotation from the Trades Union Congress on the matter of educational maintenance allowances makes the same point on the matter of social injustice in a memorandum submitted to the Expenditure Committee: … it is held to be a responsibility of the Secretary of State for Education and Science to ensure that local education authorities provide a system of adequate maintenance allowances to assist children in lower-income homes to continue their full-time education without undue hardship to their families; and to encourage parents to approve their children's staying on at school. I am sure the Minister will agree with the TUC when it refers to … a massive waste of ability resulting from the unduly high proportion of manual workers' children leaving school at the earliest age they legally could. One of the avenues of improving the situation is to take note of what the Committee said about maintenance allowances. If they look at the table on maintenance allowance in Appendix 1, hon. Members will see that it throws up an extraordinary variation between the generosity of authorities and the number of children for whom allowances have been provided. That table alone is proof that the Department should take considerable note of the Committee's recommendation.

One problem about which we should be concerned is the fact that the growth of postgraduate education, both in universities and polytechnics, is practically uncontrolled. The statistics of control are certainly lacking. The will and resolution to control from the centre is missing—and it is no small sum of money. It can be seen that a figure of £78 million out of £344 million is spent on postgraduate education—about a quarter. The details of this defective control are set out in paragraphs 55 and 56 of the Third Report and I hope that the hon. Member for Banbury will elaborate on that matter a little later.

Let me summarise the situation by saying that there are no separate accounts for postgraduate education in universities. There is no information available on the cost, discipline by discipline, in further education. The information on part-time students is inadequate, and when the statistics are issued I am sure they will show that there is very little control in policy terms. It is relatively easy to collect statistics and it is necessary to have those statistics when deciding policy.

The Committee puts its finger on an important point in higher education policy when it challenges the view that postgraduate education provided in the universities and polytechnics is meeting the nation's economic and social needs. The staggering fact emerges that 60 per cent. of postgraduate students who obtain higher degrees go immediately, without any work experience, into universities, schools or research. In other words, practically two-thirds of postgraduate students with higher degrees return to the areas of activity from which they came. The Committee makes a strong case for the argument that, instead of allowing students to decide the subjects in postgraduate education, there should be a much greater national effort in the universities and polytechnics to have some influence on the decisions which the nation requires in its employment of postgraduates.

There is a good deal of evidence in paragraph 80 on the reception given to postgraduates in industry. I should declare an interest since I have a few shares in ICI, which are not of a considerable value. It is true to say that the firm of ICI was particularly good to Durham University. Postgraduate students were brought into research being carried out by ICI at Billingham. This was made clear by the Chairman of the Durham College Council. That part of industry is in no way hostile to prostgraduate work in universities, and its view is that, rather than merely obtaining qualified postgraduates with degree, it is far more concerned with obtaining the best brains. It seeks the best brainpower rather than relying on the possession of PhDs. There is a great deal of evidence that some parts of industry are highly critical of the present postgraduate system.

There is a further paragraph in the Expenditure Committee's Third Report dealing with the Civil Service. It emphasises that in examining the statistics there was no necessary connection between students with PhDs from universities being any better in their work in Government Departments than were other people without such qualifications. The probability is that much better use could be made of our resources in the postgraduate field, and the Committee makes a number of recommendations on a whole range of matters. One of the main points is that students should go out into the world and get some experience and then come back to postgraduate work. I have always maintained that this would have a very good effect on the educational system. Graduates should be able to leave universities, do a substantial amount of work and then get their postgraduate degree. This would also be of great value to the nation. The Committee says: Our concern is that the number of postgraduate students should be geared much more closely to demand". The Committee recommends that students should gain experience before doing postgraduate work. I thought that it had always been accepted, although I am out of date in this matter, that there should be more courses supplied, particularly by universities and polytechnics, based on the experience of students, in order to bring them up to date in their subjects. There was a great deal more of this in university extra-mural departments when I was a director of extra-mural studies. I hope that it is continuing, although no evidence was produced to the Committee that it is. I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us that this system still flourishes.

The Committee was particularly critical of the haphazard way in which postgraduate courses have grown up in the local education authority sector. The Committee says in paragraph 142: nor is there any effective planning machinery for post-graduate education among the local education authorities themselves. The Department of Education and Science has admitted to the Committee that there is no way of controlling the number of postgraduates in polytechnics. The Under-Secretary should take considerable note of what the Committee says on fees paid to universities and polytechnics on behalf of postgraduate students, the question of student maintenance, and loans for postgraduate students as well as the question of control and of gaining adequate information to see that the policy of the Department, when worked out, is effective in the postgraduate field.

I turn now to the report on educational maintenance allowances by the sub-committee of which the hon. Member for Banbury was chairman. This was one of the short investigations I asked sub-committees to carry out. Since it was obvious that the Parliament was to be a short one, I hoped that the sub-committees would produce their reports in that short time. They did so, and did it very well. The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) was a member of that sub-Committee and made a notable contribution to its work.

Once again, there is the same theme in its report as there was in the report on postgraduate allowances. There was practically no departmental control and, as Appendix 1 of the report shows, the whole situation is full of anomalies. The Department had no information of detailed arrangements in each area and the sub-Committee said that 1971 was the last date for which it had full information. I understand from the report that the Government is looking at this matter. The hon. Member for Durham, North-West (Mr. Armstrong), a neighbouring constituency of my own, was Under-Secretary at the Department until recently and had responsibility for looking into this question. So far, nothing has been reported to the Committee, although the Secretary of State said on 26th March this year, in reply to a letter I sent him: In my letter of 20th February, I said that I hoped to provide a reply to the Third Report from the Expenditure Committee on educational maintenance allowances by Easter. I am sorry not to have achieved this timetable, but I will arrange for a White Paper to be published as soon as practicable". I do not know whether he can produce it by tomorrow, but anyway there is the promise.

The Secretary of State went on to say: I think I should say at this stage, however, that the issues to which the report gives rise are too complex to enable any new system to be introduced by September 1975. I think the Committee would agree with that now, but at the time it thought there might have been a brisker rate of progress. This is not new ground. I remember asking Questions and making speeches on the Weaver Report of 1957 which was a landmark in educational maintenance allowance provision and which the Expenditure Committee accepted as a basis for further development. I looked up some of my Questions of 1961 and 1962, and the present Secretary of State can take some comfort from the fact that Lord Boyle and Lord Eccles gave exactly the same sort of replies as those we are now getting from the Department. They were reluctant, they said, to interfere with the local education authorities but would look at the particular points I had raised. They are still looking.

The considerable number of people who gave evidence to the Committee wanted the anomalies corrected. Every witness decried the unfairness of the present system. They wanted the allowances made mandatory and the method of assessment clarified. They wanted the various factors in the allowance clarified so that parents and students knew exactly where they stood. They wanted to ensure that the system did what it was originally intended to do under the Education Act 1944 and did not stop the children of poor parents staying on at school. They made the point, which some people might consider minor but which I rate as extremely important, that all should know to what they are entitled and to see that the constitution of the allowances, when available, should be made known to everyone. A number of detailed suggestions were made, including writing to parents and advertising on local radio stations.

We are very grateful for the opportunity to debate these matters. The Committees have produced important reports which are well worth studying. I hope that the Under-Secretary's speech will be constructive and that she will give us a firm assurance that, within a short time we shall have the observations which will make our work worth while.

4.28 p.m.

Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)

I thank the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) for his kind remarks about the sub-committee. The one drawback in these debates is the fact that members of the Committee tend to speak—and they are the last people who ought to speak. They have had their say in the document. I see teachers and others interested in this subject waiting to speak, so I will keep my remarks brief. It has all been said in the report.

When I was asked by Mr. Harold Macmillan to become one of his junior Ministers in 1962, I was summoned to that room behind the Chair and he asked whether I would be the junior Minister for Aviation. I replied, "Well, Prime Minister, I will do anything if it will be of help to the country, but I know nothing about aviation." He looked me in the eyes, slapped me on the knee and said, "Just the chap." I think he meant that I would not go into the Ministry with any pre-conceived ideas about flying.

A similar situation existed with this Committee. I went in as a fairly ill-educated person by ordinary standards of schooling and academic achievement. I knew very little about education, but I learned a lot and it was a tremendous experience.

I am only sorry that the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr Price), who was a member of the sub-committee which produced the second report and whose idea it was that we should do educational maintenance allowances, is put in baulk today and cannot speak because he is acting as PPS to that Ministry. I retired as chairman in February last year and took on, not better, but equally interesting matters as a member of the Select Committee scrutinising European legislation, which has a certain important function to fulfil in this House. I should like to thank the Clerk to our sub-committee for his invaluable services and also our adviser, Professor Gareth Williams who is now at Lancaster University, who was invaluable in the help he gave us in these reports. I should also like to thank our colleagues in the House who were on the Committee and who did so much.

With such reports as these, I never expect instant action. I think the value of them is in the influence they have on the thinking which takes place in the Department. The Department thinks through the comments, will gradually move on and in five or seven years the recommendations in the report are accepted. Nevertheless, by now we should have had the ministerial observations. It is about 18 months since we produced the report, and we have had no reply. I am glad that the Under-Secretary today has just arrived in the Department because I shall not have to accuse her—I have worked with her on such remote subjects as Anguilla—of dereliction of duty and so forth. I hope that she will go back into that Ministry after the debate and stir it up.

When I was in the Ministry of Aviation, if we had a report from a Select Committee it went all round the Department, and although it might have sat in the Minster's in-tray, which is where the delay occurred, I can assure the House from my experience that an 18 months' delay is absolutely ridiculous. I believe that it is treating the House with contempt. The Ministry should at least have produced a holding reply. It is incredible that we should be having a debate without the Ministry's views being expressed. This is a shocking performance and one wonders whether it is not done purposely, whether the Ministry is shelving the reports because its recommendations are inconvenient.

I support what the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland said about statistics. Those we had to use in making our judgments for our recommendations were about three years out of date, and that is inexcusable. I hope that the new Minister will stir up the Ministry and the University Grants Committee and encourage them to become slightly modern and get on with producing up-to-date statistics. I do not see how any Ministry or the UGC can hope to monitor expenditure on public funds unless they have up-to-date statistics. It is extremely difficult for the Expenditure Committee to deal with subjects if it does not have up-to-date facts and figures. I always felt that the Committee was trying to catch a snake by the tail and that the tail was always slipping away simply because one was saddled with out-of-date statistics. This is symptomatic of the whole attitude towards expenditure on education, particularly higher education.

As the report shows, there has been no real costing of postgraduate education in the light of the public money spent. One gets the sense, perhaps wrongly, that the higher education area is a cosy rather cosseted area, and that it is practically indecent to ask the people involved how they spend their money and how it is apportioned. We had a slight feeling that even to do so was to interfere in the higher realms of education, and anyway, who were we as Members of Parliament to interfere in this most esoteric area of education? Our job as Members of Parliament is to try to relate the costs to the benefits derived from the expenditure of public money, and that is impossible without the facts and figures. I do not know how the Ministry and the UGC can take decisions on how to spend public money against this appalling background.

In our first report we recommended certain improvements, and I should like to know what the Ministry has done since receiving that report to initiate improvements in statistics. Perhaps the Under-Secretary will tell us whether the Ministry has implemented, not necessarily the greater policy matters, but this purely practical point of improving statistics.

I come to the postgraduate side where we gained the impression that too many students drifted on from university to postgraduate education simply to avoid facing the big outside world. They preferred the cosy and protected atmosphere of university life to earning a living. I had always held postgraduates in awe. I had always thought they were more intelligent and better educated than I, and I was always terrified to sit next to one at dinner. I always felt that I had to think rather hard what to say. When we saw the industrialists, the people in commerce, and the representatives of the Civil Service, they said, with one or two exceptions, that they were not particularly interested in postgraduates but would much prefer to take a graduate with a good degree, get him into the firm and mould him to their requirements and, if necessary, let him go back for a postgraduate course if that was justified and if he wanted to do it.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

Does the hon. Member not agree that the cosiness for which people go into a postgraduate course is a factor only for those who do a one-year course and in no way applies to those on two-year courses?

Mr. Marten

I would not necessarily agree with that, but we closed the report 18 months ago and therefore perhaps all the evidence we received is not fresh in my memory. I believe the consideration applies equally to two-year courses, but one must take exceptions for the teaching and medical professions where people proceed with postgraduate courses almost of necessity.

Industry, commerce and the Civil Service do not find a lot of use for these people, and thus it is all the more important that we looked at the subject in depth. What follows is that we should also encourage students when they have their degree to go out into the world before coming back to do a postgraduate course. These post-experience students, as they are called, would benefit greatly. The course would be much more valuable to them after such an experience. I believe they would also acquire more purpose in doing their courses if they had sampled the reality of life in one sphere or another.

We felt that a person with a postgraduate course paid for by the State was perhaps, theoretically anyhow, getting some benefit in the form perhaps of a better salary or a better job as a result of that course. Industry did not seem to agree with that point of view, but we wondered why the State should pay everything to enable someone to get that extra march on colleagues who leave after they have their degrees. We thought it would be a good idea to introduce a loan system, not to pay for education as such but to pay for the maintenance of the postgraduate student while he was doing his postgraduate course. This system operates in many countries.

I accompanied the hon. Member for Waltham Forest (Mr. Deakins) who is now Under-Secretary of State for Trade to Canada and America. We looked into the question of loans, among other aspects of postgraduate education. In Canada we were told that all students use loans for their university education. As far as I can recollect, we were told that the loans were nearly all paid back by the students out of their earned income within five years of leaving their university. Moreover, there was a less than 5 per cent. rate of default in repayment. Default meant not failing to pay it back but a slight hiccup in the regular repayments.

We visited Yale University in America. This university has a very equitable system. The whole term intake received loans, and I think I am right in saying that when the students left the university they repaid the loans at the rate of 0.3 per cent. of their gross earnings. Therefore, whether a student became a successful Wall Street stock-broker or a successful parish priest, he still paid 0.3 per cent. of whatever his gross earnings were back into the pool, and over a period of 30 years he repaid the whole of the loan. However, if the term did very well and was very successful it was repaid earlier. I do not think it is much to ask people to pay that amount from their income. It does not matter if a person is poor because the same percentage goes back.

I ask the Ministry to set up an inquiry to examine this matter in much greater depth and to come up with a sensible solution. Now is the time to do it. When there is an economic crisis and we want to save money, how better can we do so than by asking the postgraduates to test their motivation by backing themselves and taking a loan to pay for their maintenance during their postgraduate course. I see nothing wrong with that at all.

We recommend that some form of advisory committee should be set up to study and to monitor the whole range of postgraduate education and to keep it under review. We have gleaned the firm impression that many people did not know what was going on and what was the extent of postgraduate education. Such a committee would prove very useful.

We saw no reason why overseas students from developed countries should not pay the full going rate for education at our universities, and equally we should do the same at their universities. There is a distinction to be drawn when it comes to students from the developing countries because obviously they could come to our universities through scholarships on the aid budget. We could help particularly our friends in the Commonwealth. This appealed to all Members of the committee.

I turn briefly to the report dealing with educational maintenance allowances. I find the lack of comment from the Government on what was a very simple and short report most curious. Many people did not know what educational maintenance allowances were. Many journalists who wrote about them did not understand that such allowances have been in existence since 1945. I have in my possession a cutting from the Daily Express and the Sunday Express commenting on our report when it was published. I think that the Daily Express must have sent along their assistant racing correspondent because the article reads: MPs urge State pocket money as classroom 'bribe'". The writer of that article did not know that this had been going on since 1945. The same point was picked up in the Sunday Express by some woman—I imagine she is a woman—called Anne Edwards. I had never heard of her and I hope that I shall never hear of her again. The article said: Did you see the idiot suggestion last week that children who stay on at school after 16 should be given an allowance out of the ratepayers' money to spend as they please? It is the most cockeyed idea yet, and dangerously silly at that. It is described as soul-sapping State nannying around. Had she read the report, about which she was writing so unintelligently, she would have realised that it was only for the poorer children in the community and the people who, for example, are entitled to free school meals. However, she did not get as far as that. She merely read what her assistant racing correspondent wrote four days previously.

The EMA should be recalculated every year. There is no reason why the poorest families who need this money should suffer by a delay in the recalculation of approximately four or five years. All Members of the Committee felt very strongly about that point.

I agree that parents and pupils should be informed of their rights under the EMA scheme. We understood that many people did not know them and that children might have left school after the official school leaving age merely because they did not know that they were entitled to this assistance.

The other provocative point we made was that when the allowance was calculated and given, one-third should go to the pupil and two-thirds to the parents for, as it were, household expenses. We felt that such an arrangement was right for these days. EMA's were first thought of in 1945 but since then many changes have taken place. Children mature earlier and at the age of 16 there is no reason why they should not look after one-third of this relatively small allowance and use it to buy their own clothes and other items covered by the EMA. In the old days it was the parents who bought the clothes but now I do not see why children should not get one-third of this allowance and buy their own clothes. Such a system would also teach them how to look after money. If they spent it too quickly certainly there would be no more from the same source.

We also made the point that if a person chose to stay on after school leaving age and was drawing an educational maintenance allowance, but was not trying hard in his studies, he could be thrown out after consultation with the headmaster, the parents, the school governors or whoever, on the grounds of lack of effort. In other words, he cannot stay on at school, draw the allowance automatically and then put his feet up and not do any work. That is a fair system when dealing with State money.

Mr. John Ovenden (Gravesend)

Will the hon. Gentleman make clear that he is proposing that the same standards should apply to every student, irrespective of whether he is in receipt of an educational maintenance allowance or not? I hope that there is no proposal that students in receipt of EMAs should be subjected to a test which is not imposed upon other students?

Mr. Marten

The test is in the Weaver Report. That report gives the right to the children who get free school meals. There is the same sort of basis of assessment.

Mr. Ovenden

The point I was trying to make was that the hon. Gentleman was suggesting that a test should be applied to students in receipt of educational maintenance allowances, concerning their effort in school and whether they were benefiting from the educational opportunity. I was asking him to make clear that he was not proposing that a special test should be applied to those students, but to all students whether in receipt of EMAs or not. They should all be subjected to the same test concerning whether they were benefiting from continued education.

Mr. Marten

That would be an excellent idea. Students in receipt of grants who were not working properly and who were putting their feet up and slacking, should come under the microscope, and if they are shown to be slacking why should the grant not be withdrawn? I see no objection to that. It is an interesting subject to debate and I hope that the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden) will catch Mr. Speaker's eye and make that point.

I hope that these reports will be found useful when they are read in the Department. I know that people outside the Department who have read them have found them interesting although they do not necessarily agree with them. I trust that when they are read in the Department they will have some influence and help shift educational policy along these lines in the years to come.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Oscar Murton)

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member it would, perhaps, be appropriate for me to remind the House that there are 120 minutes available for debate and 12 hon. Members who desire to take part.

4.52 p.m.

Mr. John Ovenden (Gravesend)

I take this opportunity of welcoming the report of the Expenditure Committee dealing with educational maintenance allowances. In a debate such as this I shall not have the opportunity to deal with both reports so I shall concentrate on that one. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to give us some indication that the Government intend to take urgent action to give effect to the recommendations in this report.

An adequate system of maintenance allowances for older pupils is vital to ensure that we have equality of opportunity in our educational system. The wider opportunities which that system is increasingly offering are worthless to a child whose family is too poor to enable the child to stay on at school beyond the minimum leaving age. Plans for comprehensive education, the expansion of nursery education, the establishment of educational priority areas, on which all Governments have been working, play a vital rôle in improving the educational chances of children from poor homes. But, all of these measures are of little use if, when the crunch comes, the child has to leave school because the family budget dictates that he must find a job.

It is now 18 years since the Weaver Committee reported and recommended radical changes to the system of educational maintenance allowances. It recommended the introduction of a realistic scale of allowances. It must be a source of bitter disappointment to all of us that after that length of time no Government have yet seen fit to make the necessary finance available to give effect to those proposals or to instruct local educational authorities to do so.

That failure has damaged the educational chances of thousands of children who have been shown quite clearly that without an effective system of educational maintenance awards our system of free education is still too expensive for them to enjoy. The present system, as the Expenditure Committee has made clear, is a jungle. Different rates of allowances and different scales are operated on a completely arbitrary basis throughout the country by individual authorities. In some cases the allowance depends not on a sensible assessment of parental need but upon where the pupil has the good fortune, or in many cases the misfortune, to live. Most authorities have only one thing in common and that is that their educational maintenance grants are totally inadequate and show a degree of meanness.

The majority still operate a level of allowance less than half of that which would be operated if the Weaver Committee report had been implemented. My own educational authority is by no means the worst and in mentioning it I do not seek to pillory it. I mention it because it is fairly typical. To qualify for the present maximum maintenance allowance, which is £3.17 a week, a family must effectively be living below supplementary benefit level.

Even in September, when new scales of allowances and parental income are introduced, the maximum allowance goes up by only 10p a week. The level of income necessary to qualify for the full increase will still be below the supplementary benefit rates to be introduced in November. No account is taken in the assessment of parental needs of rent payments, for example. Many authorities are guilty of this omission. Strangely enough, in Kent, mortgage interest is taken into account. The additional income allowance given to larger families is totally unrealistic. The extra income allowed is about £1.50 a week per child. That has remained unchanged year after year.

The scheme operated by Kent and many other southern counties means that even a family with four children can qualify for an award—not the maximum award—only if the income of that family is below £36 a week. The failure of most local authorities adequately to raise the income scales to deal with inflation has meant that many of the families qualifying for the allowance have received less and less money each year while the cost of keeping their children at school has risen.

This has occurred because most authorities, instead of uprating every point on the income scale, as they should on any reasonable analysis, have relied upon adding one sum to every point of the scale. For example, to quote again from my local authority area, in this academic year a family with two children whose income last September was about £25 a week was eligible for the educational maintenance allowance of £1.25 a week. To compensate for the effects of inflation alone that family now needs an income of £31 a week. If it does earn that amount this September, despite the increases in the needs allowances and despite the increase in the awards, the educational maintenance allowance for which it will be eligible will be only 25p a week—despite the fact that the costs of keeping a child at school has probably risen by 25 per cent. or more during the past year.

Large numbers of families with children who wish to remain at school are being forced either with suffering a decline in their living standard or the prospect of making their children leave school. What we desperately need, and what this report makes clear, is a nationally determined scale of allowances based on a national scale of parental income. It should be a scale fairly linked to inflation.

Apart from the wide variations in scales of parental income and allowances the greatest scandal of all must be the enormous variation throughout the country in the proportion of pupils who receive maintenance grants. The last survey, published in this report, shows that that figure varied from one in six pupils in the relevant age group in some areas to less than one in 150 in others. In my own area it is one in three. That position cannot be explained away by national variations in income. Not only does it seem that there are wide variations in the scale of allowances but there is also a failure on the part of many local authorities to make parents aware of their rights. Sometimes that is due to poor administration. I suspect that in many cases it is more of an intentional effort by the local authorities to save money upon these allowances.

There is one area in which I would take issue with the Public Accounts Committee. The Committee recommends that there should be more publicity in respect of these allowances. I welcome that. But the Committee suggests that the publicity should be carried out by the local authorities. I suggest that if we are to have a system of national awards on a nationally agreed scale there is no reason why that publicity campaign cannot be carried out at a national level through national newspapers and television.

It should be remembered that a large number of people do not read local newspapers and that a large number of poorer families do not buy them. They rely upon the television for their information. I see no reason why the Government should not institute a national publicity campaign. There is no justification for leaving the task in the hands of local authorities, many of whom have a vested interest in seeing that the minimum number of parents claim those allowances. We have already waited too long for a radical overhaul of this system. I urge the Government to delay no longer. Every year that goes by thousands of children are being deprived of their right to full education. That makes a mockery of our commitment to equality of opportunity.

There is one final point, which I attempted to raise during the speech of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten). There is a suggestion that those students in receipt of educational main- tenance allowances should be excluded from school if it can be demonstrated that they are making insufficient effort or are not benefiting from continuing education.

I do not believe that two sets of standards should be applied to pupils in schools—that one set of standards should be applied to those from the poorer families, who are in receipt of educational maintenance allowances, and another standard applied to children from wealthier homes. I do not accept that it is justifiable for a child from a comfortable home to refuse to take proper advantage of his educational opportunities but that a sanction should be imposed upon the child from a poorer family, who is singled out. I accept that I may have misunderstood the statement made by the Committee. It is rather vague. I should like the chairman of the Committee to make it clear that it is not suggested that double standards should be imposed upon pupils in schools.

Mr. Boyden

The report says that there should be an adequate sanction in relation to allowances against anyone in voluntary education. It does not make a distinction between one and another.

Mr. Ovenden

I am grateful for that assurance. I hope that that point will be taken into account by the Department when it brings forward the necessary measures and that there will be no discrimination of the type which I have mentioned.

5.1 p.m.

Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)

I join in the tributes paid to the work of our colleagues on the Expenditure Committee in producing these two reports.

Starting with a word about Select Committee reports generally, I am convinced that the response of Governments has been too little and too slow. I am not referring to this case alone. I have always been an enthusiastic advocate of the development of the Select Committee system as a means of greater parliamentary scrutiny. These new arrangements will succeed only if we develop better procedures for the discussion of Select Committee or Sub-Committee reports and for extracting a response from the Government. This is one of the most important problems which should be considered in the review of procedure during the autumn which the Leader of the House has announced.

I should like to concentrate on the report dealing with postgraduate education. As regards educational maintenance allowances, I agree with much that was said by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) and the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden). It is necessary to make the maximum use of talent which is permitted by our financial resources. I hope that the Government will respond quickly and positively to the recommendations.

The report on postgraduate education covers a wide ground. It puts forward a varied spread of recommendations, most of which are soundly argued and persuasive, although I have reservations about a number of them. May I dwell on a few important points? Looking first at the structure of higher and further education, are we to continue indefinitely with the binary system? Can the Minister give us any indication of the Government's intentions on this fundamental matter? We should like to know that they have not entirely brushed it under the carpet.

Secondly, I turn to the financing arrangements for postgraduate education. I endorse what the report says—this was underlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten)—about the great inadequacy of information today. Paragraph 55 of the report records the astonishment of the Committee at finding what little information was available, especially about costs. It is essential that we have a much closer analysis of the costs of postgraduate education than has been available so far. The Committee has done a great service in drawing attention to that aspect. I hope that there will be an immediate response from the Government.

Can the Minister say something, too, about the Government's thinking on the continuance or otherwise of the quin-quennial system for university finance? Is this still the best system? In the light of the experience of the past few years, have the Government given it any further thought? If so, do they propose to shift to a "rolling quinquennium"?

Reference has been made to the financing of students in postgraduate education. There is too great a discrepancy between the fees charged to home and overseas students. I was interested to read the recommendation in the report about the restructuring of the grant system. The idea of loans for postgraduates certainly needs further thought. I do not believe that this is a suitable arrangement for undergraduate students, although it may prove to be suitable for postgraduates.

Thirdly, the heart of the report is the section dealing with the pattern of postgraduate education. In recent years a brake has been put on the rate of expansion of postgraduate work. What course should we follow in the next five or 10 years? I would warn against too drastic a change or clamp-down in this area of education. I quote words which the Secretary General of the Faculties at Cambridge University recently wrote to me: The postgraduate students are of course the spring from which the entire educational effort of the nation is continually refreshed. Indeed, postgraduate work is an essention component of a university community, and it should not be regarded solely in terms of preparation for an academic career or a response to some formulated manpower requirement. It is a stimulus to education, to learning and to research, which are vital activities for any civilised country.

Having said that about postgraduate work generally, however, we must give weight to the conclusions of our colleagues who have been into this subject in considerable depth. One clear message which comes out of the report is the amount of waste in the present situation. Our colleagues advocate a radical reorientation of postgraduate work. They draw attention to the cost to society as a whole and to the risks of misemployment or underemployment of postgraduates when they have finished their courses. In paragraphs 103–4 they discuss the problem of student motivation and they also record the dissatisfaction of industry with the present position.

The main suggestion in the report is that we must give more weight in future to society's needs and less to student demand. It also advocates a shift from pre-experience to post-experience research study.

More recently we have had the speeches of Lord Crowther-Hunt, the Minister of State, about manpower planning. Here I react with some caution to what the Minister of State said. There are risks of great misjudgment if we go all the way down the road to which he seems to point. I should like to quote a sentence from the evidence recently sent on behalf of Cambridge University to the study group of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals: Attempts at matching 'highly qualified manpower' output to some expression of need have not been entirely successful over the past 25 years. There are a number of examples of considerable wastage of resources as a result of such attempts. Possibly the present system errs too much on the side of freedom, with too little guidance being given today. But we must be careful not to push the pendulum too far in the other direction of centralised control.

Mr. Marten

In the previous report we dealt with the manpower commission, the rolling quinquennium and the binary system. All those points were put to the previous Conservative Government, of which my hon. Friend and I were members. That Government did not approve those points.

Mr. Lane

I am being strictly nonparty political. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of these other aspects of past history.

I plead with the Government that there should be ample freedom retained for the institutions concerned—the universities and the polytechnics—with a key rôle continuing to be played by the research councils. I welcome the consultation now in progress by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals with the universities, so that their considered views on all the suggestions contained in the report will soon emerge.

In any follow-up to this report we must seek to achieve closer co-operation between the various institutions, and particularly between the academic world as a whole and industry. I hope the Government will not ignore the recommendation made in paragraph 96 of the report about industrial liaison officers. We have in Cambridge an exciting new example of that sort of co-operation in the recent opening of the Trinity College science park. It illustrates the advantage of flexibility and variety in this whole area of work between the universities and industry. We have to beware of over-rigid thinking and categorising. We have to recognise that changes are occurring all the time in any case, with or without the stimulus of this report. For instance, there is the thought now being given in Cambridge to a one-year's taught Master's degree for some postgraduate students. My general view on the main message of the report is that we should not go too far or too fast in the direction that the Select Commitee urges.

As a background to the debate, I want to urge the Government to show a much more sympathetic attitude towards the universities in general. During this Session of Parliament we have rightly spent a lot of time discussing standards in schools. We have spent too little time on standards in higher and further education, particularly in universities. The Government appear to show—not only in education—a prejudice against excellence. It will take more than a denial or two in a speech by the Minister of State to repair the damage that has been done, especially by some ill-considered remarks of the former Secretary of State. The House will remember, too, the difficulties that arose over the university teachers' pay claim. In passing, with an eye on tomorrow's announcement and bearing in mind all that has happened before, I appeal to the Government to ensure that university teachers are not caught up in a new 10 per cent. trap.

The universities continue to make an important contribution to the world reputation of Britain. It is sadly true today that there are not many areas of our national life in which we can say that this country is second to none. One area in which Britain continues to excel is university education, and universities need all possible encouragement from the Government and understanding from the public. Too much of what the public read about the universities is sensational. Those of us who know them fairly well, without claiming that they are without fault, remain full of admiration for what they are attempting to do.

Month by month I discover more of the overseas links and of the world reputation enjoyed by the university in my constituency. What is true of Cambridge University is true of many others. In a phrase recently used by my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas), the universities are the "crown of our educational system". They provide us with cultural and critical centres which are essential to our progress as a nation. Cambridge intends to remain a major centre of research.

Universities are going through a period of consolidation. To put it mildly, they are reconciled to a further time of stringency. I ask the Government to pay careful attention over the whole area of universities, and not least in postgraduate education, to the special problems of "steady-state" universities at a time like this, when financial resources are extremely limited and those universities are following a policy of very little further expansion.

To quote just one sentence from the report in 1974 on the long-term development of Cambridge University bearing on the problems of steady-state universities: The academic vitality of a university is reflected in the ease with which it can take up new and promising lines of research from which new developments in teaching often emerge. I hope that the finding of resources for new lines is not overlooked by the Government in their dealings with the universities during the next two or three years. Whatever the slow-down in the growth of spending on education that may now be unavoidable, the essential quality of universities should not be put at risk. I appeal to Ministers to keep this in mind as they review the future of post graduate education.

I hope that the Government will respond positively and promptly to many of the recommendations in this report. Some of them could be carried out quickly and without great expense, but the report raises a large number of difficult issues and complex questions. I wonder whether the time has not come for a fundamental review of all post-school education, drawing together the many issues over the whole range. I hope to hear something from both Front Benches on this subject. Such a review would surely be timely. Meanwhile it is urgent that the Government should take all possible steps to restore the confidence within the universities which their own words and actions have so much damaged.

5.16 p.m.

Mr. Geoff Edge (Aldridge-Brownhills)

Like the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) I wish to concentrate on the report on postgraduate education, which I welcome. For a long time postgraduate education has grown without any rationale. It has just grown, rather like Topsy, with no one having a close look at it. What is true of postgraduate education is true of universities in general. I say that having spent virtually the whole of my working life in the university world before coming into the House. I have mixed feelings about the report. With some of it I very much agree, but other parts I regard as plain silly.

There are three distinct functions which are subsumed in the title "Higher Education": first, training for a job outside the university or teaching world; secondly, the provision of non-vocational further education courses which do not have a career objective in view; thirdly, the training of people whose vocation is research and not university teaching.

On the question of training people for jobs outside, the report suggests that there should be a major expansion of vocational courses and it recommends an increase in the number of those courses. They should be short courses which people should be able to undertake during different stages of their careers.

For far too long those of us who have been involved in postgraduate education have ignored the need to train people for jobs. We have left that either to industry or to planning departments, which is not good enough. We should have attempted to liaise with the planning departments, the Civil Service and industry to produce short vocational courses to fit students with a general degree into a particular career.

We need post-experience courses. In any profession or occupation one can become quickly out of date. In lower education, for example, excellent work is already done by Department of Education and Science inspectors in retraining teachers. Because of a change in my discipline during my career I had to go back to learning 0 and A level mathematics, which was a bitter but necessary experience. What applies to me applies to many other people, particularly in a world where the use of statistics, and a knowledge of research and development methods and operational research are skills which people who were trained even 10 years ago will not have. They should have the opportunity of going back to university, taking a short course and learning the new skills that they need to pursue their existing job effectively.

Part of this work could be done by the Open University which is already beginning to co-ordinate research and retraining activities for people who believe that some revamping of their profession skills is necessary. This could be done by post-experience courses which are self-financing. I do not see why people who want to retrain should not be self-financing. It could also be done by liaising with universities in other parts of the country and providing tuition for individual students. I should like to see that rôle expanded. It has not been expanded very much at present due to a shortage of finance, but it is a major new area in which the Open University could play a large part.

There is a rôle for non-vocational courses to play in broadening the educational experience of everyone in our community. I spent four years working for the Open University, one of the major objectives of which was to provide education in its broadest sense, not necessarily for people who wanted a degree or a qualification at the end of the course but for those who wanted to broaden their intellectual horizons and who got sheer enjoyment out of learning new ideas and encountering new areas of knowledge. This should also be the aim of the universities. However, in a time of economic stringency this must surely be the lowest of the postgraduate priorities—something it would be nice to have but which is not absolutely essential.

There are those whose vocation is research. One of the things I rather regret about the report is that it does not make a clear distinction between people being trained to do research and those being trained for university teaching.

I am sure that amongst the worst centres of educational method in this country are the universities. Indeed, when I moved from Leicester University to the Open University and had to think about educational teaching methods for the first time, I realised that scarcely before had the idea of teaching entered into any discussions in any of the senior common rooms I had encountered in the four universities with which I had been concerned. Those people had been engaged upon research and did not take seriously the job of how to communicate ideas to students.

There is a great need to insist that the universities train their staff to teach. To have an inadequate lecture inadequately prepared is not good enough. We must definitely change this and insist that all university staff go through a full period of training in how to teach. This is not a reflection on their capacity to do research. There are people who are excellent researchers who would be quite incapable of communicating to any group of people. The skills need not necessarily go together. Quite often they do not go together at all.

The people whom we need to train to do research are those who deserve training which is more than slapdash. Certainly many of those whom I saw enter into research were given no training in research techniques, no instruction on the basic area of research which they were about to tackle and no real instructions about solving problems. By and large I understand that the science departments are better than the social sciences and the arts departments. Quite often in an arts or a social sciences department someone would take a first degree. He would then begin the first day of his research work and his supervisor would say "This is the general area you want to research. Go and get on with it". That person would waste perhaps a year trying to find the appropriate research techniques and defining the problems precisely.

One of the reasons why many postgraduates do not complete their courses in the allotted time period and why many of them do not manage to write up a PhD in two years is not that the work could not be done in that time but that much of the first year is wasted to a lack of basic training in how to do research, what questions to pose and what instrumentation to acquire. This needs a major change. We could cope with far more postgraduates with much less effort if we thought about the matter seriously.

In addition, we should encourage groups of research students grouped around some academics who specialise in one area. There is a critical intellectual mass. When there is a group of five or nine people bouncing ideas off each other who are engaged in parallel and complementary lines of research, they are far more likely collectively to produce real advances and ideas which ultimately can be useful in industry and in the management of our economy than if an isolated individual works alone. In the sciences the economic costs of this are very considerable. For example, if a department is concerned with questions of lubrication it will need specialised equipment. If a pool of research students will need to use that equipment, clearly we must make the maximum use of the capital investment in equipment which is absolutely necessary.

The isolated student and the isolated researcher are not a cost-effective way of doing research either from the researcher's point of view or from our point of view as a nation in getting the best results out of the people we send into research in the first place.

The other point that concerns me—and I do not think that the report makes enough of this—is that we need to look far more seriously at the whole question of research policy. We have the research councils. I have been most concerned with the Social Science Research Council, but there has been no effective debate about what research policy should be between different disciplines. There is no major attempt to identify the key areas into which research should be directed. There are one or two exceptions.

People have been encouraged to carry out research into the relationship between sociology and the law, the boundary line between the legal profession and the social process. This is an interesting development but it is nowhere near adequate. Indeed, the disbursement of postgraduate awards, as one can see from any glance at the Social Science Research Council's newsletter, is related almost entirely to student demand. We find, for example, that there are massive numbers of students who are encouraged to go off and study social anthropology. I have nothing against that. However, in many cases more students are encouraged to do that than to study economics or econometrics. If we were to plan our skilled resources effectively this would be seen to be a nonsense. There needs to be far greater debate about the relative volume of expenditure to be shared between the different research councils.

We need to examine the sort of research returns we can obtain from a given input of money. This will vary. Science research and research in engineering is inevitably more expensive, but we need to discover what we are getting in terms of reports, research and trained manpower, of which we can make use.

The advisory council suggestion in the report is very important as a vehicle for co-ordinating research policy as a whole. We can no longer afford postgraduate research to continue in the haphazard way it has done hitherto. I should like a clear statement from the Government about their research policy, what they want to achieve in five years and so on. This should be annually reviewed in relation to national needs.

I turn to the parts of the report with which I disagree. I shall deal with them fairly quickly. First, I am opposed to the idea of postgraduate students being paid loans because this, I understand, is based upon the assumption that postgraduate students earn higher incomes as a result of doing postgraduate work. I do not believe that there is statistical evidence to justify that case. Certainly there is a case for examination, but postgraduate students do not earn higher incomes and would not easily be able to repay the loans which they receive. I believe that this would be a real disincentive to some students who have a great deal to contribute to our society.

Secondly, the whole idea that research helps to equip someone for university teaching is an absolute nonsense. The quicker we get away from that idea the better.

Thirdly, the assumption that a misemployed Ph.D is a waste of money is perhaps false. In every university there are exceptionally able people who carry out a research programme with the assistance of research students. There may be some students who will merely help an FRS in biology or physics to advance a programme of research and will do no major research after that. Nevertheless, it is still a useful application of public money for the student to have taken part in that critical research mass—that major research effort.

Finally, there is the suggestion that pre-experienced students should be excluded from research altogether. I believe that there is some case for encouraging people to break off after a first degree, to go out and look at the world and to think what they really want to do with their lives. It is very easy to drift from one university course to another. But the option should be open. There are some students who would lose the intellectual impetus to do research if they were compelled to leave the university world for a year. In my experience, there are a number of students like that.

In general terms, I welcome this look at postgraduate education. I should like to see the Expenditure Committee having a close look at the university world as well, because I do not think that the cost effectiveness there is nearly as good as it might be. Perhaps the Expenditure Committee will be encouraged to do that in the future.

In general terms, I think that this particular report is a useful statement. I hope that the Government will now get down to thinking very seriously about postgraduate policy and will come back to the House with a definite policy on postgraduate research and definite suggestions.

5.31 p.m.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

I shall abide by Mr. Deputy Speaker's request to be brief, Mr. Speaker, because indeed, when we are discussing reports based on information which is so appallingly out of date, it would be a mistake to be anything but brief.

The House owes gratitude to the Expenditure Committee for the time and effort which has gone into the presentation of this excellent report. We are today, on 10th July, discussing the Expenditure Committee's report published at the end of 1973, and the Committee's investigation dealt with papers which were then two years old, although the most up-to-date statistics on postgraduate education at the universities in general have been published this very week. In the interim, we have had two General Elections. I have actually taken part in three elections if that is of interest to anyone. We have also had two changes in the incumbents of the Secretary of State's office at Elizabeth House.

The Expenditure Committee was rightly worried on the point of the senior official of the DES who said that they would see what could be done to improve the situation of speeding up statistical information. Two years later, there is no evidence of any improvement. I urge the Secretary of State and the Minister to turn their attention to this with the least possible delay.

I also share the Expenditure Committee's concern that no one seems to be able to apportion the real cost of postgraduate education. This causes a great deal of jealousy in other sectors of education. It is certainly a lot more difficult to obtain authorisation for a nursery school project than it is, for instance, for a university to institute a new research scheme into the breakfast habits of Tynesiders or why holiday makers go by caravan.

There is a suspicion that for many people postgraduate education is a journey along the path of least resistance. That is a point which was made by the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) very properly. It is putting off the evil day when the education and training for which the country has paid a great deal of money is put into commercial or industrial application to repay the country.

I know this sort of thing very well, because after my time in the Army, I did, in one insane moment in 1946, apply for a permanent commission. I did not do this in any way because I wanted to spend the rest of my life in the Army. I did it because it was more comfortable. I did it because I had not, up to that time, ever had to buy my own clothes. I had a battledress and a service dress. This is a very similar case, in which having had 13 years in primary and secondary education followed by three years in tertiary education, the world outside seems a difficult place, and the attraction of staying on for another year in the cocoon of a university seems more attractive than it is; such agoraphobia costs the country a great deal of money.

It seems very right that there should be the most careful scrutiny of those who are going in for a one-year postgraduate course. I am personally doubtful as to the overriding benefits of an MA as opposed to a BA. I do not think that it opens the doors to any more lucrative employment. In many cases, it simply clutters up the attendance at a university.

The University Grants Commite calculated that, until recently, the cost of providing one postgraduate place in the arts and social studies was equivalent to the cost of two undergraduate places, and that the cost of a science postgraduate place was equivalent to the cost of three undergraduate places. There is no more accurate calculation that has been published. However, I should like to ask the Minister this question: are we to assume that such comparisons are too embarrassing for current usage, or is it the case that those charged with an admittedly difficult task have given up the attempt?

What comes over loud and clear in the report on postgraduates is that there is an appalling dearth of statistics. Tertiary education is one of the things on which the country spends a vast amount of money. I would question the wisdom of such expenditure without realistic and contemporary statistics to show that we are getting value for money. This came over clearly in the report of the Committee, and it cannot be stressed often enough. We need more statistics, we need faster statistics and we need a great deal of information.

In my constituency, at the Isle of Ely College of Further Education, I am consulted almost weekly by people who feel that the foreign students are a drain on the educational resources of this country. I am also consulted by the foreign students who feel that the amounts of money they have to pay for their courses are making this country rich and fat. It would be very nice to have sufficient information in order to tell one or other side that they are right or that they are wrong.

I should like to touch briefly on the educational maintenance allowance. I think that any Member of my party would look at this and say, "Oh for the tax credit system which we on these benches have advocated so consistently". [Interruption.] And which Members on other benches have advocated from time to time, abandoned, and come back to. We have been steadfast as ever. I pause—in case anyone would like to show mirth as is their wont when confronted with the truth. And if hon. Members look back they will find that I was speaking the total truth.

What is important is contained in paragraph 3 of the report, which says, In education, the years from 16 to 18 are the bridge between compulsory school and preparation for a career. It is an excellent national investment to ensure that all with the will to cross that bridge should be able to do so. In view of this—and I think everyone, on all sides of the House, would agree—it seems scandalous that here again we have a discretionary situation. This is one of the 44 means-tested benefits about which so many people have spoken so often. If we as a nation are to invest in educating the youth of this country, surely adequate publicity must be given to the project, and care exercised to see that the investment benefits the right people.

I am delighted with the Secretary of State's announcement that the raising of the school leaving age will now be lowered to allow the exit from school of those who have passed their examinations in June. It is one of the things I have advocated and on which I have sought on two occasions to bring in a Private Member's Bill. But, I wonder—and I take the point made by the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovendm) who raised the matter and who asked how the educational assessment would be made—whether any student who stays on after the examinations at the age of 16 would not, by his faith in staying on at a school in which there was no curriculum for him, manifest his suitability for extra years of secondary education.

My plea is quite simple. Let us advertise the fact that EMAs exist, and let us not make them discretionary. Let us have them for those who want them, and for those who have been persuaded by their teachers that they need them. This seems to me to be the most valuable job of educationalists. If there were a tax credit system the problem would not crop up. As there is not, and as we have EMAs available, let us advertise their availability and convince as many 16 year-olds as would benefit from more education that they are available, and that they will be given without humiliating researches into their eligibility.

5.41 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Joan Lestor)

It might be useful if I intervene at this stage in the debate. This has been a debate of very high calibre and I do not want to speak for too long because I know that many hon. Members want to speak. But it would not be right if I did not try to deal with some of the points already raised and to make some general comments on the whole context of the report.

I should like to congratulate the chairman of the committee and all those who sat on it for the production of a report which has been of a very high standard. It is useful and thought-provoking and deserves a great deal of consideration.

I share the regret of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and others who have expressed their concern at the Government's delay in making their views known on this report. There are certain difficulties about this. The hon. Member for Banbury was kind enough to exclude me personally from the responsibility, which is that of my Department. I want to see that the job is done properly and that the various points made in the report, and by the various bodies commenting on the report, are given due consideration, because there are no simple, straightforward answers to some of the questions raised.

I accept in principle the need to ensure that pupils and students in the age groups that we are now discussing, and their families, receive the support they need to take full advantage of their educational opportunities. This is very important indeed. A new approach, in our view, can be studied properly only in the wider context of family support through the social services—perhaps, in particular, in the relationship between educational benefits and the Government's new child benefit scheme. This the Government intend to do, and we shall reply to the Committee's report in the form of a White Paper as soon as we possibly can. I cannot give a date for that, for the reasons I have stated, but I take the point that the House wants the Government's views on this. I shall try to indicate some of our thoughts as I go along, but it may not be as quick as all of us would wish to see.

I should like now to make one or two brief comments on some of the matters raised on which I can give an answer. The hon. Member for Banbury and other hon. Members spoke in particular about educational maintenance allowances and the publication of the report of the inquiry on this matter. This inquiry was carried out by my Department and the Welsh Office, in collaboration with the Mertopolitan authorities and County Councils Associations and the Welsh Joint Education Committee. It did not extend to Scotland, as I believe hon. Members are aware, because there are different arrangements there.

The inquiry was part of the continuing consultation between the Departments and the local authorities on the arrangements for financial assistance to the 16–18 year olds. It was not intended that it should form the basis of a formal publication. However, subject to the agreement of the local authority associations, I shall consider how the results of the inquiry can best be brought to the attention of the House, because I believe that it would serve a very useful service in the context of what we are discussing today.

On the question of statistics—a point made several times with a great deal of validity—the Department has been developing new statistical systems based on individual student records, which will provide improved information on postgraduates. Delays in the publication of these statistics are being reduced. The new system will also facilitate the production of tabulations for particular purposes and should be completed in 1975–76. I take the point—I think we are all aware of it—that one cannot base anything on statistics which are inevitably three or four years out of date. Therefore moves are now afoot to try to deal with those points. I shall keep the matter very much in mind.

This has been a most interesting debate, and one in which hon. Members have made clear their concern and deep interest in the matters which are the subject of the report. I cannot give a detailed analysis of the Government's view on this, as I said earlier. It is true that the recommendations of this report cover not only my Department but all sorts of bodies working in the postgraduate field. Many of these bodies have already been prompted to comment on the report, and their comments will be taken into account when the Government are in a position fully to make their views known.

I should like to confine most of my remarks to two or three specific issues, and also to draw the attention of the House to a number of special studies recently completed, or which are being carried out, in the field of postgraduate education. These were not necessarily a result of the Expenditure Committee's Report, but the conclusions of these studies will clearly have to be taken into account in considering what action is finally taken on the report.

The Vice-Chancellors' Committee set up in November 1974 a working group on postgraduate education, with wide-ranging terms of reference. It will report later this year. Another study is being made on university tuition fees by a working party set up jointly by the Vice-Chancellors' Committee and the UGC. Its report will come out later this year.

The Expenditure Committee's Report has been carefully considered by the research councils, both individually and in the advisory board for the research councils. They have provided their detailed observations, and we shall be taking them into account when in due course we reply to the report. Moreover, the Science Research Council has responded by establishing its own separate review of policy in the fields for which it is responsible. I understand that the report of its working party is now ready and will be published next month.

The Expenditure Committee should be very pleased that its report is being taken very seriously. Aspects on which the report touches are gaining support, and a large number of bodies are interested in it. It is right, in a matter of this kind where responsibility is widely diffused, for the Government to collect and consider all their views before giving their final pronouncement.

Against this background I should like to say one or two things about the main message of the report, which all hon. Members who spoke had also received. Some of the recommendations do not fully reflect the nature of the general criticism made in the report, but I want to comment on two or three of the main recommendations.

The report makes three main criticisms of the present system. It finds, first, that the rate and pattern of growth in postgraduate education has been insufficiently controlled. It uses the term "uncontrolled rate of growth". Second, it proposes that postgraduate education should be shaped not by student demand alone, but principally by the needs of the economy and of society as a whole". This point has already been referred to by hon. Members in this debate—with much more emphasis being given to post-experience courses.

Third, it proposes that the system of students' support should be radically changed to encourage the reshaping of postgraduate education". There is a great deal in the report's account of the purposes of postgraduate education with which the Government, and the various bodies to which I have referred, would not disagree. It is this Government's policy, as it has been of successive Governments, that whereas, in undergraduate education, places are provided for those who are willing, and qualified, to take them up, at the postgraduate level provision is much more limited. It is limited by the Department in the quinquennial settlement, by the UGC in its allocations to the universities, and by the judgment each university makes of its own priorities.

The amount of finance available to support students in particular fields is a further limitation.

Although this may result in a slower response to external changes than the report thought desirable, I do not think that overall it can or should be regarded as an "uncontrolled" system, particularly since detailed control is exercised over the scale and pattern of courses for which student awards are available from the central award-making bodies, whose students comprise one-third of the total.

The next point concerns the system's responsiveness to the needs of society and the economy. Here, there is a fundamental problem, the importance of which we all recognise but which I think the Committee perhaps under-rated. It is how to combine a sufficient level of responsiveness to social need with a proper regard for personal and institutional autonomy. The Government accept that social need is one of the main factors to be taken into account. But the established system of dual support for university postgraduate education, which the Committee wished should be retained—that is, support by the University Grants Committee on the one hand, and by the research councils on the other—specifically provides, through the research council finance element, a measure of gearing to currently perceived social need. Research councils support one-third of the total postgraduate students, and their policies in regard to overall numbers and distribution between subjects, as well as the nature and content of the training being given, draw extensively on the advice of employers, in industry as well as in the universities and government, about future needs. This is a complex problem which perhaps we should be looking at in much greater detail.

This brings me to the next point—the radical restructuring of the system of student support which the report advocates. It is here that I find the report difficult to follow, because it is clear that, even if one were to accept the proposition that some tightening up of the overall effectiveness of the system of control would be desirable, there are a good many ways of achieving that; and one would want to be very certain that the method chosen did not involve unacceptable disadvantages.

I do not think members of the Committee would claim that they had offered a fully worked out solution. They have sketched out a possible approach, and it is a very radical one, calling for much more rigorous central control than we have now. But we have to consider very carefully before we contemplated any move to a system which would put substantially more control over course provision into the hand of the central bodies. We also have to consider whether the change would be compatible with the existing pattern of control over the rest of the higher education system, or whether it would have repercussions on, for instance, the UGC's relations with the universities.

I should like to turn now to a separate point on which the report focuses attention, and that is postgraduate provision in the polytechnics. Here, it has to be recognised that the polytechnics have always been intended to offer a comprehensive range of higher education provision, with a big stake in education below degree level. It is true that the number and proportion of their students on degree courses is growing—this is to be welcomed—but it is not in their nature to operate at postgraduate level on the scale fully comparable with that of the universities.

There is a further restraint on their postgraduate activity in the prescription that the polytechnics are intended to be chiefly teaching institutions with a limited involvement in research.

The Science Research Council and the Social Science Research Council both published useful reports on their support of research and training in polytechnics at about the time the Expenditure Committee reported. The number of polytechnic staff on the SRC's boards and committees—which the Expenditure Committee criticised—has continued to rise gradually: the forthcoming Annual Report of the Council will show 18, compared with five mentioned in paragraph 137 of the Expenditure Committee Report: for the SSRC, the figure is 11.

However, in relation to the polytechnics I do not want to speak only of research. As the Committee's report fully recognises, taught courses are a key element of postgraduate provision. This is something which the polytechnics should certainly also offer. Again, I would not want to say for all institutions just what should be the balance between postgraduate and other courses, or what proportion of postgraduate provision should be in the form of short or longer courses. But I want to confirm the value of the service which the polytechnics are giving in many fields.

Let me say, as something of general application wherever universities and polytechnics are engaged in similar activities, that we attach the greatest importance to collaboration across the "binary line". This is especially necessary in times of economic difficulty, and I commend all the efforts that are being made, most of them rightly and properly between pairs and groups of institutions, to promote collaboration.

I turn now to the Expenditure Committee's report on Educational Maintenance Allowances in the 16–18 years age group. It is now some 10 months since the Committee's Report became available. But this is an extremely complex subject which cannot be tackled on a narrow front. It is tied up very closely with developments in the general field of social benefits. In particular, the child benefit scheme may be of direct relevance. For this reason, we consider it essential to wait until we can see the final form of the Child Benefit Bill now before the House.

But let me say now that the Government welcome the Committee's interest in the subject of educational maintenance allowances, and have a great deal of sympathy with and support for many of the views expressed in the report and by hon. Members who have taken part in this debate.

Some of the report's recommendations have already been acted upon. In November 1974, the local authority associations issued guidance to their members advising them that assistance given to full-time students under 19 on non-advanced courses should be equivalent to that which the student would have received had he remained at school. This would include, of course, the equivalent of educational maintenance allowance in appropriate cases, as well as taking into account such elements as the cost of books and subsidised meals.

I have said that we are in sympathy with the Committee on many points. We are well aware of the defects in the present system. But the Weaver Report, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Ovenden) referred, came out quite a long time ago. It could be described as the forerunner of this report and, indeed, the Committee based many of its findings on those recommendations. But it would not be surprising if, in the years which have elapsed since its publication, some of its relevance had been lost.

The Expenditure Committee's main conclusion, that the present arrangements should be replaced by a nationally prescribed, all-embracing, system of allowances at mandatory levels of payment, is one which now requires very careful examination on an altogether different basis, and this we want to do.

Meanwhile, those receiving the allowances are not being penalised. When the Committee met, the Department was about to carry out, with the co-operation of the local authorities, an inquiry designed to update the information on educational maintenance allowances collected in 1971. This shows that the scale of allowances has more than kept pace. The Committee noted that in the spring term of 1970 the average award was £72 a year. By the autumn term of 1974, this figure had increased to £ 127—a rise of 76 per cent. compared with a rise of some 54 per cent. in the cost of living over the same period.

Mr. Ovenden

The figures which my hon. Friend has just given do not take account of the number of people who may now be excluded from receiving allowances because the scales have not kept up with inflation. These figures relate only to people who are still eligible to receive allowances.

Miss Lestor

That is a valid point, because they would be ruled out in the process of inflation. I shall look into this and write to my hon. Friend giving him some elaboration of that. I think that that would probably be the best way to do it.

In any event, there could be no question of replacing the present discretionary arrangements by a mandatory scheme, which would require legislation, in the present financial situation. The aggregation of all existing educational benefits available in the age group concerned, the proposed method of assessing net income, the national scale for defining need and the proposals for standardising the graduation of the maintenance element in accordance with income are all matters which would have a significant effect on public expenditure. Apart from those inescapable financial considerations which we all regret, the Government are not persuaded that the Committee has found the right answers to all the problems involved.

There have been considerable changes in the pattern of social benefits since the Weaver Report. Much greater account is now taken of parental income and the number of dependent children. I am not claiming that the arrangements are perfect, but the present social benefit provisions do much more than in the past and have the effect of stabilising over a wide range of earnings the net available resources of the parent. There is already interaction between these benefits and the various educational benefits administered by local education authorities. As a result, some parents already find, in certain circumstances, that a rise in wages brings with it a loss of benefits greater than their gain in earnings.

That so-called poverty trap could well be aggravated if entitlement were, as the Committee suggests, based on the free school meals remission scheme. It is by no means certain that uniform arrangements for educational maintenance and other educational benefits could necessarily meet the needs of low income families. A great deal of research in that area is needed.

Looking further, beyond the immediate effect of the Committee's proposals, there are more fundamental conceptual problems which it is important to try to resolve. We must ask ourselves what are the factors nowadays that require cash grants to be paid to enable young people to remain in education. No such grants are available before the school leaving age—and that age has twice been raised since the war—thus arbitrarily removing two-year groups of pupils from eligibility for such allowances.

Are we discussing basic family support, or some substitute for the wage which young people might otherwise have been earning, or, in a more general educational sense, some kind of additional incentive to encourage them to remain in full-time education? To put it another way, if the domestic maintenance of families in need is already catered for through social security arrangements, and if local education authorities have duties and powers to provide meals, clothing, and other facilities for pupils, what is the gap in these combined arrangements that makes additional help necessary?

There are no simple or straightforward answers to these questions, but the Government accept in principle the need to ensure that pupils and students in these age groups, and their families, receive the support that they need in order to take full advantage of full educational opportunities. A new approach can be studied properly only in a wider context of family support through the social services. That is what the Government intend to do.

6.5 p.m.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)

In my turn I thank the Expenditure Committee and the members of the sub-committee for a valuable report. The Opposition regard this as an important topic. I hope the House will forgive me for having somewhat extended remarks to make about the report. The Opposition felt that only one speaker should perform from their Front Bench.

This has been a constructive debate which will be refreshing for education. I hope that we can always conduct our debates on education in a wider context outside the party boundaries, which have so often befogged such matters as secondary selection and reorganisation. However, I think it necessary to say that the remarks of the Under-Secretary of State were stodgy and unimaginative. I use those words in a non-controversial way as they were the very words used by the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) when, as the spokesman for the Opposition, he wound up the debate on the First Report from the sub-committee of the Expenditure Committee. We certainly have not advanced from that stage, with no printed observations at all.

That hon. Gentleman also said that the 16-year-old school leavers presented the toughest and most neglected problem. That problem is now faced by a Labour Government. It seems that it is a problem that has today received rather sketchy treatment from the Government.

I think that we must accept the principle behind the report as regards EMAs. Clearly parents should be relieved from poverty if their children wish to continue in the educational system. Of course, I can understand the embarrassment of the Government in not wanting to take action. The mandatory policy which the report recommends would cause problems for local authorities at a time when they are in great difficulty.

I think moreover that the Government are right to delay, given the changes in social security ideas. This was always likely under the Conservative proposals for tax credits. Those ideas were partly adopted by the Government in the Child Benefit Bill. That clearly has a great significance in the whole business. In the meantime, before the Bill becomes law—it will not be enacted until April 1977—what will happen to EMAs? Will they be updated, given that inflation is now running wild beyond 20 per cent.? What will be done to ensure that they are known to exist so that pupils and parents can claim them? I also think that a possible move this year at least as an emergency measure—this is a matter that the report emphasises—is the extension of this sort of help, and particularly for disadvantaged children, into the further education sector.

This year we shall see the greatest crisis since the depression for school leavers. If we consider the collapse in the job opportunities now coming before the local careers officers, the situation is staggering. We are now in the position where in most parts of the country there is only 30 per cent. of the vacancies that existed last year. In places such as Yorkshire the figure is only 25 per cent. What will happen to the school leavers?

Last week, the Manpower Commission proposed 7,000 new places using some of the £50 million allocated to help re-train the unemployed. There is, however, a job for the Department of Education and Science.

I regret very much that every time we approach the Department about the problems of school leavers we are pushed over to the Department of Employment. Surely the DES has a rôle to play. It is important that we try to find ways of encouraging people when they leave school not to go on the dole. Nor must we force them to stay on at school if it is clear that they will hate the experience. We should encourage school leavers to continue into the further education sector and to enjoy the benefits that many of the courses offer. Such courses would be available to them if there was only some form of financial help. At the moment, it is all a mess.

It is the Government's duty to sort out this area of mess. The Child Benefit Bill could make the situation even worse. We are in the position where under the Bill the awards and the allowances will go to the parents of all children, including the first child. However, under the definition in the Bill a parent could be a girl of 16 or 14—in other words, a person still at school. Such a girl could be claiming the new benefits, or eligible for EMAs. That leads us to the conclusion that the whole matter needs to be considered and sorted out. I hope that the hon. Lady was implying that in her remarks.

There are certain other anomalies depending on whether the 16–19 age group attends a school or a college—for example, in tax and family allowances, unemployment benefits and industrial training grants. The whole thing is not an interaction, as I believe the hon. Lady said, but a jungle, through which it is hard for this age group to find its way The Department must get to grips with the situation. There is a need for emergency action to be taken now.

The main report is, of course, concerned with postgraduate education. When the report appeared there was a pretty hostile Press. The Times Higher Educational Supplement of January 1974 reported that there was the ominous ring of cash registers about it. We are now in a different climate. Most of the evidence that reached the Committee came from the era of the 1960s, the era of the great educational explosion. At that time attitudes were geared to the fact that there was plenty of money and that education was a jolly good thing. It was clear that the AUT and the NUS took the view that while wanting more in one area they should also have more in other areas.

With the climate that we have now, and the difficulties for the forseeable future, so horrendous are our economic problems that we shall have these difficulties to face over the next five years or so. It is up to us to say that the educational world, like everybody else, will have to accept the restraint that there will have to be. Education is the second largest consumer of public expenditure and the educational world will have to share that restraint. It is extraordinary that this debate comes immediately prior to a statement on public expenditure and a most important meeting of the Vice-Chancellor's Committee which is to debate the whole field of postgraduate education, among other things.

There is, however, much that is valuable in the report. It raises some essential questions which Governments seem not to ask. We are certainly going to be in an era of "steady state" not of steady growth, and clearly the Expenditure Committee's narrow function, to get value for money, has relevance. It is there to see whether money is being wasted or could be applied in a better way; and in the present context that makes sense.

Where do we start? We must start not so much on the quantitative side, in this or any other field of education, because as far as I am concerned, given the change in the economic situation, the era of quantitative change is ended. We concentrate on qualitative measures. That is the essence of the Opposition's whole approach on all sectors of education from our desire to monitor the situation in the primary schools and in the secondary schools, to standards, and the qualitative nature of our post-school education.

Looking at the last 20 years of financial explosion in education, in most areas the school sector and the higher sector have moved into new buildings. There are still bad patches but some £7,000 million went into building; so if there is now to be a cut, that should primarily be in building so that the quality of service, and the servicing of the buildings is not prejudiced, even if those buildings must be put to higher productive use. Coming down to figures, however, with the state of affairs we have, and when we are spending these gigantic sums—and this Is the second biggest spending Department—it is really appalling that we do not know where the money is going, what return we are getting on it, or even whether the information is up to date.

I welcome the Minister's partial acceptance that there was to be a change and that certain improvements have been made. Answers to some of my Questions indicate that there are interesting developments in connection with OECD's Centre for Research Innovation, but we need to know more in particular about the whole costing techniques of the DES. Replying to my queries, the former Secretary of State wrote that clearly much more needs to be done on the subject before it would be safe to take account of relative costings in our forward planning". He was referring to marginal costs.

For a Secretary of State in 1975 to have admitted that we are just working out the figures on a sensible basis is amazing. Marginal costs are crucial. Polytechnic places, for example, may not be cheaper. There were some interesting papers on this in the report. We need to know whether the Government believe that there is validity in the LSE report on marginal costs for postgraduate students as against the marginal cost of undergraduates. It said that additional postgraduate places cost three times as much in the arts, science over three times as much and mathematics four and a half times as much as undergraduate places. I would like the Minister to say whether that is so, because we have here an area where, if so, we must scrutinise what is done, since this area spends over one-quarter of the whole budget, and the figures seem to be growing. Last year the DES and the research councils spent £17 million on maintenance against £10 million in 1970.

This year the proportion of postgraduates to the whole student body in our system is well beyond that in any other country. Taking straightforward figures coming from the University Grants Committee, 18.6 per cent. of the student body are postgraduates. In the United States it is only 17.7 per cent., Canada 13.3 per cent., Japan 3 per cent., Spain 1 per cent. and Sweden 8 per cent. Those are the OECD figures which encompass more than university places; on an equivalent basis, we have 28 per cent. as postgraduate students, a very high proportion.

Are we getting a good return? Is the money going to the right places? The report raises fundamental questions and the Minister has not said much on it, but I hope that the Department is getting to grips with it because we cannot go much further until we have decided how much money should go to the University Research Councils, how much to industry, or into special centres, as suggested by the Report, with a concentration of research—the so-called centres of excellence.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell and Wishaw)

Would the hon. Gentleman put his remarks into perspective by pointing out that in the case of the United States and Japan the number of undergraduates they have is vastly greater than the number in this country?

Dr. Hampson

Certainly, I accept that. Nevertheless, we have to know the relative costs. It is a fundamental question to ask. How are we to get the kind of results we might want and through what incentives? Surely the Government have the scope to try to influence the situation through the research councils and other institutions, possibly by tax incentive proposals. How have the Government reached the conclusion that if the staff per student ratio is raised to one in 10, £30 million is saved? How much research will be lost? We do not know the basis for the thinking of the Department or the Minister. This is a fundamental criticism, echoed by OECD, of the way the Department functions and its procedures, on which the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland dwelt.

Is the balance right between pure and applied research; in which institution should each be best undertaken? Possibly, we are arguing that industry needs more PhDs but is that a right assumption? One can be as academic in science and technology as in the arts and humanities. We may not in fact be lacking in technological ideas so much as in the ability to convert them for the market. So there is the field of management training and the more technical higher courses which possibly need development against other courses.

We have also to ask what is university research for? Is it to stimulate good teaching? Is it to train researchers and university staff, or to obtain the research results we want? Is it the atmosphere that is important? One finds in other countries interesting developments here which we should bear in mind. I am not saying that we are necessarily wrong, but often those who discuss this assume that what we do in this country is the norm and should remain the norm. When Japan looked at its system in 1971 it came to the conclusion that there was possibly a need to change its advanced courses and to set up, in one sense, the centres of excellence the report suggests, to take a concentration of research, as well as special graduate schools for the shorter courses of one or two years separate from that.

We need to consider all these matters. I doubt whether we or anybody, certainly not the Ministers, particularly those who have just come into office, will have looked at the whole perspective. It is clearly essential to do so if we are to change either along the lines of this report or along any other lines. It is a question of making the best use of the money available. It is always assumed that teaching and research go together, but that is not inevitable. Speaking as a former university lecturer, I believe that many of the shorter postgraduate courses which have proliferated are taken by students who do not really know where they are going and do not get, at the end, a qualification which will improve their employment prospects.

I speak from experience only in arts subjects. The situation may be different in other areas, and the proportion of students who take courses in the arts and humanities is relatively small. On the research side the approach of the Committee is somewhat questionable—namely, that research is only for the training of university staff. It could be argued that if there were quality PhDs industry could cope with them and they would be a success in industry. It might not be so much a problem of the nature of the PhD as of industry. The evidence of the Association of University Teachers was that British industry did not respond to higher research qualifications in the same way as did the authorities in Japan, France and Germany. The Government must create a stimulus or incentive which will cause industry to respond more fully and not be so suspicious.

When we look at the figures for part-time courses, we find that about half of the students are undertaking vocational courses in science, medicine and technology and only 19 per cent. are undertaking other vocational programmes, 18 per cent. teacher training, and only 17 per cent. arts courses. The balance needs to be examined with this in mind. I believe that graduates should be required to take taught courses to have a job qualification as a prerequisite to employment, as for example, do teachers. Obviously, however, the report mentions an important matter regarding more part-time post-experience courses.

We also need to ensure that there are short instructional courses or courses with a topping-up element, possibly of only a month's duration, because it is these courses in which industry is really interested. There appears already to be a good deal of growth in that respect.

It is very difficult to know in advance whether a piece of research is socially desirable or helpful to the national economy. Many of the products of research are not "useful", but much research which is of industrial use often emerges accidentally in the process of pure research. It sometimes takes years before any real benefit is seen. Possibly some cost-benefit analysis can be undertaken in this respect, but so far such an exercise has not been undertaken and the Department has never offered to assist in this respect. Therefore, we should not merely indulge in a "knocking" operation and say "We must make sweeping cuts where there seems no industrial relevance, no matter where they may fall".

There should, however, be a readjustment of the balance in the one- or two-year courses, and we should examine the nature and function of research courses. We need to pursue the subject of relationships with industry and should consider the appointment of more liaison officers to promote a contractual relationship between industry and higher education. If we are to be caught in an economic squeeze, it is important that some of these high-powered departments which have well-qualified staff undertake this work, so that they are not kept short of money. I believe that people in our best universities should be able to rely on the fact that in the next year or so they should be able to undertake contract work. We should not be afraid of going abroad for contracts—for example, we should accept work from the oil nations.

I should like to deal with the situation of the overseas student. The growth of the number of overseas students has been marked and this is causing some concern. There is a very large number of overseas students in some of the best university courses. To take one example, of 1,500 postgraduate students at Imperial College, 748 are overseas students and 770 United Kingdom students. I was told that the proportion of United Kingdom students as against overseas students has dropped considerably over a period of three years. We must remember that the cost of a science place in a university is £320 per student, that the cost of a medicine place is £3,400 and that arts places cost £1,800. Therefore there is a large gulf to be bridged.

I do not believe the report is correct to say that fees should be abolished for United Kingdom students and raised for overseas students. This suggestion will cause awkwardness and possibly embarrassment. I should like to see all fees at the university at a realistic level. It may not be possible to establish the full cost. How does one discover the cost to be attributed to overheads, administration, capital and recurrent costs? However, we could fix a realistic fee. It would then be a matter for argument as to whether the matter should be governed by grants or loans or by foreign Governments, or perhaps in the case of foreign students by the Ministry of Overseas Development. At least we should then know the true costs. Furtheremore, the students themselves would have this information and the climate would be much healthier.

In regard to polytechnics we need to look carefully at the pooling system. There is more to a polytechnic than research, but much of the activity in further education is being squeezed out—for example, such matters as part-time work and night work. This is possibly due to the financial constraints in the pooling system in respect of the non-higher students, and the matter of status may come into the picture. That is an important aspect which must be considered.

The Department now appears to be thinking across these various fronts. I hope that none of us will indulge in mere "knocking" of the universities. There is a great deal of thinking taking place in the universities. We appreciate that the Christopherson Committee is concerned about these matters. The universities have been pioneers in the operation of cash limits and, unfortunately, they have suffered acutely. It is only in recent years that there have been special supplementations to cope with inflation. The universities were badly hit following the 1972 quinquennial review. They were geared to an inflation of 12 per cent. and eventually the actual rate was 28 per cent. The universities are worried that the bad third year situation might be taken as a basis for the fourth year figure.

The universities are being asked to make cuts in their staffing ratios and also in postgraduate work. They are asked to take such action on top of being hit by inflation following the quinquennial settlement. Consequently, the situation for the universities is serious. Furthermore, they have also reduced their unit costs.

The report of the Expenditure Committee draws attention to the fact that we are living in times of great change and uncertainty. The assumptions of the 1960s are no longer with us. Indeed, the economic situation of the 1960s will not be with us for a long time to come and the expectations of students have changed. Because of that situation, and also following attitudinal surveys in the Department about sixth-form views, a great deal of research is being undertaken. It is essential that there is an open public debate about these matters—not within the Department of Education and Science and not subject to criticism in OECD about procedures, but in a much wider framework. We must also examine the position of the CNAA, and of the relevance of the Central Commission proposed in the First Report of the Expenditure Committee. We must thrash out the relationship of polytechnics and universities and also examine where the new colleges of education fit into the present system. We should beware of producing unwanted liberal arts degrees when we should be going in for specialised vocational work. Have we thought out this matter fully?

In the light of all these changes, I should like to ask the Under-Secretary of State whether she will set up a Royal Commission to examine the entire post-school situation so that all these matters can be sensibly and rationally argued by experts. Such a body should be balanced and not university-dominated. It should be representative of the whole body of experience. It should not be a body which merely takes minutes and wastes years. If such a body is set up it will be the first time that this topic has been fully examined. The Robbins Committee reported only on universities and a narrow field of higher education. That was ten years ago when the world was different. Even the statistical basis then used was out of date as ours is now.

The universities have given good value for money. It is important that we should dispel their fears that Whitehall is more hostile to them than ever. In seeking changes in postgraduate education we must recognise that they can be achieved through research councils or through other means within the system. This should be done through the university system.

We have heard a great deal about central control, but how far can one go before control becomes dangerous? Rather than bypassing the UGC, as the Minister of State has seemed to be suggesting, we should use it, because it is trusted, and exercise influence through it and revamped research councils to make changes in the nature and methods of postgraduate courses.

With the proviso that we must always remember that it is people that are going through the system—they are not units coming off the end of a production line that must be geared to the national interest. I welcome the initiative taken by the Expenditure Committee and only hope that the Department and the Ministers will move faster to deal with some of the problems we have pointed out than they have moved so far.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. George Thomas)

Five hon. Members wish to speak in what is left of the limited time the House expected to take for this debate. I hope that that will be borne in mind.

6.31 p.m.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

The hon. Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) has spoken at considerable length in this short debate. Education is a vast panorama and our main aim must be to democratise it.

The Expenditure Committee's Report on Educational Maintenance Allowances is short but very important and many educationalists will be watching this debate. It deals with young people from poorer families who want further education. There is no nobler aim. I can assure the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten), who said there was a battery of teachers wanting to speak, that one can be a teacher in a particular aspect of education and not know a great deal about other aspects, especially those parts of secondary education in which many young people require money to continue learning. This is one of the most overdue subjects for attention and it becomes increasingly important as unemployment among young people increases.

We would all agree that the 16–18 age range is the bridge between compulsory education and preparation for a career. The maintenance allowances are a splendid national investment because they enable young people to go on to further education. In the past, the young people from poorer families who most needed this education have not been able to take advantage of it.

There are wide variations between the size of allowances granted by local authorities and the scale of parental income on which they are payable. This demands rationalisation and it is good to see that the Committee recommends that there should be a single educational allowance. This is a long overdue reform.

The Committee points out the very low rate of take-up of these allowances, and this is one of the symptoms of poverty. In 1971, only 28,000 young people were given allowances and the total cost was only £1½ million. It is a sad reflection on our society that such a tiny amount of money was spent on such an important aspect of education. Families must know to what they are entitled. When I was a teacher in a primary school, I found that many families, often the most independent and proud, did not know about free school meals and clothing allowances and were very loath to take up these allowances although they were entitled to them. Allowances should be mandatory and administered by local education authorities with the same criterion as that for free school meals.

The aim of the allowances, as defined by the Education Act 1944 and the Weaver Report, is to enable pupils to stay at school and to take full advantage of the educational opportunities open to them without undergoing hardship or causing hardship to their parents.

I share the view of my union, the National Union of Teachers, that every young person has the right to education after 16 if he wishes it. It is the duty of the State to see that every advantage is given to such people. There should be an initial mandatory grant irrespective of parents' income. The NUT called for this development in its evidence to the Committee, and I notice that the National Union of Students, which deals more intimately with young people, their aspirations and wishes, differs from the report to some extent, good and welcome though the report is.

After the mandatory grant, further grants should be based on need. I am pleased to see the recommendation that grants should be paid in advance and in a lump sum and that the part relating to pocket money, clothing and travel should be paid to the pupil. That recognises the reality that young people want money to spend as they see fit. I remember that when I was a student I had far less money than my friends who were working. When we went out at weekends I felt I spent the tiny contribution from my parents and my brothers in one night while my friends who were working had much more money.

I agree with the National Executive of the Socialist Education Association that young people in further education are entitled to a wage. Young people working for examinations are among the most hard-worked people in our community. In many cases, they are worked far too hard. They work hard all day, have lots of homework and often go to bed shortly after finishing this work at home. They work as hard as anybody. Although the report does not recommend it, I would like to see young people paid a wage for the hard work they do in their place of learning.

Most young people agree with their parents to pay them a proportion of their earnings. I think young people in education would come to a similar arrangement. If we do not accept that, we are saying that the young people at work are better than those in places of learning. We trust young people at work, and we should trust those who are learning. This is an aspect of democracy that has been much neglected.

The problem of letting people know their entitlement to various grants will be solved by writing to the parents when the children are about 14½ years old. This is a good move. We should ensure national as well as local publicity so that people know their entitlements. This decision is indeed good news.

I want to mention a problem which is bound to increase in times of unemployment and financial stringency. It concerns those young people who leave school and fail to get a job and have to go on social security. Many of them want to be re-entranced into education, and this aspect must be examined. When they go back into education, having obtained social security benefit because they are out of work, will that social security be taken away from them at some point? This is something which must be examined so that young people who, through no fault of their own, are out of work will be able to re-enter education in the further education sector and know that the money that they were receiving will continue.

We owe a debt to the people who have furnished us with this report. As far as it goes—and I have tried to point out some aspects where I would like it to go further—it is a good report. It is an advance which must be welcomed, which must contribute to the cause of education, and by so doing it contributes to the cause of all our community. We must therefore welcome it and see that it is implemented in September.

6.42 p.m.

Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)

Bearing in mind your strictures, Mr. Deputy Speaker, about the need for brevity I shall confine my remarks to the report on postgraduate education and not deal with educational maintenance allowances, although I served on the Committee which produced both reports. I have been deeply disappointed by the delay in receiving any Government observations on the report, especially in view of the length of time it has been published. Delay is a kind word. I would regard the Ministry's approach as distinctly dilatory. I am not sure that there is not a special in-tray in the DES marked "mañana" into which is put anything which is a nuisance.

The report comes at a time when public expenditure is being more closely scrutinised than ever before. Its con- clusions are even more relevant now than they were when the report was produced in late 1973. I share the concern expressed about the lack of information about the costs of postgraduate education. This aspect gave us a distinct surprise, indeed a shock, when we first undertook our researches into this field of education. The University Grants Committee apparently felt that it did not matter for its purposes, but if one has to make any assessment or proper judgment of the value of postgraduate education one must have a proper basis of cost, and that is simply not available.

When we were drawing up the report we could make only a guesstimate that the annual recurring costs were probably about £78 million for the year 1971–72, and that this was probably less than a quarter of the total amount spent on universities. This of course applies only to universities. The position is just as obscure, if not more obscure, over the polytechnics.

We soon discovered also that postgraduate education covered a wide range of activities, and I am not sure that this would be generally appreciated by the public who probably think only in terms of the research student hammering away until he gets his higher degree in the shape of a PhD. There are the "taught" courses leading to the masters' degree, and these we divided again into courses with a definite vocational bent and those with no vocational content. Finally, there are the short courses of probably less than a year's duration and not leading to any particular qualification.

As a result of all our investigations, we came to certain conclusions which are striking and which were unpopular with the education Press. I do not think one would expect any report suggesting that value for money was not being obtained to be a popular report. We said, At the heart of our proposals lies the conviction that too many talented young graduates find themselves slipping into postgraduate work for no clear reason.' That is the central theme of our report. It is an easy way of putting off earning a living, and that is true in many but not all cases.

Dr. Bray

On a point of order. Is it not rather unsatisfactory that we have been without a Minister on the Front Bench for some 20 minutes?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I expect that we shall manage to survive, but that is not my responsibility.

Miss Fookes

I was glad that the hon. Member intervened because I was just thinking along the same lines. However, having had the benefit of the Minister's remarks, I am not sure that any of us was any the wiser and therefore it matters less that she is not with us at the moment.

We looked carefully at the conclusions of the employers about the use they wished to give to postgraduates, and the results were quite startling. As we said in the report, we found that ICI witnesses said, 'We would feel that we are cutting ourselves off from an appreciable proportion of the best brains if we did not set out to recruit Ph.D.'s in chemistry, whether or not their staying for a Ph.D. has done them any good'". In other words, they were after a share of the best brains but it did not matter so much to them whether those best brains had received postgraduate training or not. That situation would apply when one might have imagined postgraduate training to be valid and necessary. Again, the Department of Education and Science witnesses, reporting on many discussions they had had with the CBI, came to the conclusion that as far as industry was concerned, 'if they can get the best brains without the higher degree, unless they want a higher degree for a specific purpose, they are content to get someone with a first degree'. The unit for Manpower Studies in the Department of Employment said, 'an increasing number of postgraduates, especially Ph.D.'s, are applying for jobs for which employers require only a first degree"' I quote these comments as an indication of the general feeling amongst employers about the use or otherwise of postgraduate qualifications. I find this, as did the Committee, highly disturbing because it suggests that a great deal of public money is going into the training of these people without any specific benefit being obtained in employment terms.

Students themselves were often disappointed. We gathered that many research students wanted university posts and only one in eight at that time was successful in obtaining them. The others therefore had to be content with something less. We concluded that whilst postgraduate studies would need to be continued for a variety of reasons, there should be a far greater emphasis on training being undertaken in a period of employment when the students concerned acqured a far better idea of what they needed and would probably be better motivated and far more mature in their outlook.

At the moment the bulk of these courses are end-on from the first degree. This means that people with no experience of the outside world have gone from school to university to the first degree and then to work for the postgraduate qualification.

We suggested two possible ways in which this radical change could be implemented. First, we thought that the University Grants Committee could itself limit the numbers by quotas or whatever means it chose, but the responsibility would fall upon that body. Secondly, we thought that we might exclude, to a large extent, all full-time students immediately after they had taken their first degree. We recognised that this was a very drastic change and that it might well meet with considerable opposition. However, I believe that these possibilities should be seriously studied by the Government, and if they cannot swallow them whole, at the very least they should make a move in this direction by encouraging this trend.

The evidence we had from employers certainly showed that they thought that it was more useful to undertake specialist training after students had been in employment for some time. What is more, they felt that far greater use could be made of short courses. In this connection I was interested to hear the comments made by the hon. Member for the Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud), who suggested that the short courses were less useful. In my view probably short courses geared to a specific and definite purpose would be far more valuable than the longer ones.

I should like to turn to the financing system that we have suggested, because this, too, was highly controversial. We believed that a distinction should be made between the tuition fees that a student is asked to pay at present and maintenance. We came to the opposite conclusion from that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ripon (Dr. Hampson) who believed that tuition fees should be put up to a realistic level. We took the view that tuition fees, covering the educational side, should be done away with—they are only a token sum at present—and that far higher regard should be paid to the maintenance of students.

We believed that there should be a uniform system of grants to maintain students, but this does not appertain at present. Because of lack of time I shall not elaborate on this subject, but there are some students who under the present system do very well but there are others who get precious little, or indeed nothing at all, and have to finance themselves in some other way. We took the view that the amount of grant available for supporting the student should be distributed on a uniform basis, according to a set formula, and that as this would probably not be enough in itself a loan should be given for topping up purposes.

We made a special study of loans. As the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten)—the then chairman of the Committee—pointed out, we did indeed distribute ourselves in various countries to see how different systems operated. I went to the Netherlands and to Germany. When we all returned to this country we pooled our ideas.

Quite clearly a loan system on its own would impose all kinds of burdens, but we thought that there was great merit in looking more closely—even more closely than we were able to do—at loans on a topping up basis. I hope that the Government will consider this suggestion because it offers a means of helping students without placing a greater burden on the public purse which, at present, we cannot afford and are unlikely to be able to afford in the future.

I turn to overseas students, of whom there are a large number. The figures in the report go back to 1970–71 when there were approximately 11,000 in full-time studentships. That figure represented then about one-quarter of all full-time students. At that time they were being asked to pay only £250 per annum —again only a token sum. In our view it would be far better if they were to pay the full economic cost when this has been worked out. We were up against the difficulty that because of lack of information we did not know precisely what this was. We could offer scholarships to students from overseas, where this was though to be worthwhile, but we felt that the cost should be borne by the overseas aid section of our public expenditure. In that way a distinction would be made.

At present we are subsidising overseas students without knowing precisely what is involved. I do not think that any member of the Committee wanted to see generosity towards overseas students drying up—at any rate those from the developing countries—but we thought it was an important principle of public expenditure that we should know precisely where it was going and why, so that we could make rational decisions. Indeed, I think it is the whole tenor of the report of the Expenditure Committee on postgraduate education that we should have the necessary information on which to make rational and considered judgments. At a time when public expenditure is being squeezed the present situation is simply not good enough.

I hope that the Government will take on board some, if not all, of the proposals of the Expenditure Committee and that we shall, at the very least, have some answer to the points that we have made.

6.56 p.m.

Mr. John Garrett (Norwich, South)

I welcome the report on postgraduate education and congratulate the members of the Committee on their work. It is clear from the report that the whole area of postgraduate education is one in which a variety of policies have grown up in an unco-ordinated way, leading to anomalies and inefficiencies. The report illustrates them and has made useful comments.

However, in one respect there is an element of superficiality about the report. In spite of the mass of evidence that the Committee took and the papers that it produced in support of its recommendations, it is right to say that it could have carried out a much more careful analysis of a crucial point concerning public policy. This is not the fault of the Committee but arises from the lack of resources devoted to Committees of the House

There must be something wrong with a situation in which the Public Accounts Committee is supported by 400 investigatory staff but has terms of reference which are 110 years old and totally outdated, while Expenditure Committees have the right terms of reference but virtually no staff. That is something that is quite wrong about our organisation of the Committees of the House. I cannot understand how the House can ever develop effective investigatory Committees until they have the research support they require. Without Committees supported in this way, the executive will continue to dominate the legislature—as it does here—without any significant countervailing power in the hands of the House.

To illustrate the point, I shall briefly discuss an important aspect of public policy which the Committee touched upon and then left. Paragraph 67 of the report states: Throughout the past decade, postgraduate numbers have been largely determined by demand from newly graduated students, constrained only by the student's need to find…a means of maintaining himself". It then quite logically says: However, the benefits to society which accrue from having a body of highly trained specialists depend ultimately on the skills acquired and the use made of them. Our evidence shows that, at present, these relate predominantly to teaching and research. We do not accept that postgraduate education should be mainly a means of training more teachers and more researchers. It concludes: We think that postgraduate education should be shaped, not by student demand alone, but principally by the needs of economy and of society as a whole". The report then deals principally with administrative arrangements, rationalisation and the courses available. It shows no evidence of having considered what are the needs of the economy and society or, perhaps even more important, of having satisfied itself that the machinery exists in government to quantify those needs. I realise that the report was written in the heady laissez faire days of late 1973.

The Committee would have served us well if it had given us guidelines on how to answer the key question of what are the needs of our economy and society for skills which can be acquired only by postgraduate studies. Do the Govern- ment have the ability to answer that question?

Mr. Marten

I think that that would have gone beyond our remit. It is something that we could not possibly have done in a small Committee. It is for the Government to do.

Mr. Garrett

I disagree. I think that that is a legitimate question for an Expenditure Committee to deal with. Remember that I asked for guidelines on how to decide what are the needs of our society for which postgraduate experience was essential. I believe that there are some.

My experience in management and in the Civil Service leads me to the conclusion that there is a crucial need for certain vocational skills at the post-experience level which can be acquired only by postgraduate study. This need springs from the narrowness and specialisation of most undergraduate courses and from the increasing technical complexity of the management of large public and private organisations.

There seems to be a need for much increased postgraduate management education, not only in industry but in the health service, education and the social services. Middle managers in the health service, for example, who more often than not are graduates and are in charge of a staff of several thousand with millions of pounds to spend, are often grossly undertrained for the work they do in personnel management, operational research and budgetary control.

Secondly, the increasing technical complexity of management in all kinds of organisations has led to the need for new sub-professions of crucial importance. There is the need for the engineer-accountant, the main trained in chemistry or physics and marketing, the agriculturist, the surveyor trained in computing or the project manager. Management now needs the multi-disciplinary man with a good first degree and then vocational education.

The French Civil Service is a model for our Civil Service in this kind of approach. American postgraduate business schools have been providing such education for the past 50 years. I am not sure that there is a need for any management education at undergraduate level. All management education should perhaps be done at the post-experience level.

I agree with the Committee's proposal that the emphasis should be shifted to post-experience studies. I support its recommendation for the expansion of short postgraduate courses in technological subjects. I believe that these recommendations should be set in the context of national manpower planning involving the analysis of national need—probably by the Manpower Services Commission because the Department of Education and Science is not an interventionist body of that type—the identification of gaps between present and potential need, present provisions in key postgraduate skills and the establishment of specific programmes to meet those needs.

That does not mean the direction of students. Rather does it mean the making of places available on the basis of some kind of plan, some kind of systematic analysis of the kind of postgraduate skills we need or of the skilled shortages in our industry and public services at key points which are too serious to be left as they are or to the free play of market forces. The report must be set in the context of a requirement for manpower planning on a national scale. I wish that it had made observations on the systems required to identify, plan and meet the national need.

7.5 p.m.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell and Wishaw)

I am conscious that we have passed seven o'clock by which time we should be starting another debate. I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for your understanding of the importance of this report. I wish to speak briefly on the postgraduate education report and to welcome the measured response which the Under-Secretary gave to it. May I say that I entirely understand the reasons for her unavoidable absence a few moments ago.

I congratulate the sub-committee on its robust common sense in handling the report. I enormously liked the style of the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) and his boldness in tackling this hornets' nest of vested interest. I agree with the recommendations about financial control, the unification of student grants, the re- search potential of polytechnics and warnings about the dangers of elitism.

But I must refer to the underlying purposes of postgraduate education, with which, for understandable reasons, the Committee did not deal but which, if the House were to leave out of consideration, would give a somewhat unbalanced view of the attitude of this House to the world of higher education. I refer first to the continuance of what Asa Briggs described in evidence to the Committee as the intellectual development of the student and secondly to the pursuit of scientific discovery. I would not ask for more money but for more understanding of the basic purposes of postgraduate education.

The arguments which the Committee put forward, looking at the administrative structure of postgraduate education, led it to recommend a reduction in the number of pre-experience postgraduate students. There were a lot of associated recommendations such as short-term courses, post-experience courses, and so on.

I am a terrible example of the folly of pre-experience postgraduate education, a drop-out from the educational world, in that I was one of those 25 per cent. who somehow leapt out of the system into the outer world. I now spend my time, as do other hon. Members, maintaining paving stones, moving bus stops, chasing social security claims for constituents, and all the other activities for which PhDs are so well qualified.

I wish to look a little at the process of intellectual development which is the key to the role of postgraduate studies. Postgraduate study is qualitatively different from undergraduate study. It is a different kind of activity. The undergraduate is absorbing knowledge. He is walking along well-trodden paths. He is dealing with a polished corpus of knowledge and his achievement is measured. The postgraduate student is asking questions to which no one knows whether there is an answer. He is working in wild, uncharted country. He is dealing with the frayed ends of incomplete argument and he is enjoying the exuberance of discovery and the enormous frustrations of the barren slog of much scientific research.

As a job qualification, postgraduate education may rank low. It has never been a meal ticket in the way the PhD is in the United States. But the Committee was rather limited in the treatment of the evidence it took on the value of postgraduate education in other employment. It so happens that some of the witnesses who gave evidence to the Committee are old friends of mine—Jack Lofthouse of ICI, my old boss, and Peter Hall, an old friend from Ferranti days. I understand their attitudes, but I believe that had they been questioned in certain ways they would have brought out a rather different view of the role of postgraduate education at its best and certainly scientific research at its best in the wider areas with which they were concerned.

The view I would put is that postgraduate research is a valuable tool which must be digested and used together with a great deal of experience of the outside world. Reference has been made to the techniques needed. Hon. Members have spoken of the mathematical background needed for studies in economics and social sciences and so on. But a great deal of this can only be absorbed, not in three years of undergraduate study, or in one or two years of deliberately taught instruction at postgraduate level. It must come from practical experience of tackling research problems in the hard, disciplined, but rewarding activity in which postgraduate students are engaged.

In the sphere of intellectual development there is the enormous stimulus that young, likely, bright minds bring to their teachers and to the world of ideas. I remember Lord Blackett, the eminent scientist, who at the end of his life felt that he wanted to go back to university rather than continue in public service or the administrative concerns of the Royal Society. It was the stimulus of young minds which he found so refreshing.

The other purpose of postgraduate education is the development and the pursuit of the methods of scientific discovery. There was a revolution in the methods of research during the 1950s which our culture has not yet absorbed. It had something to do with scale, with logic, with scientific method, with scope and its relation to application. That was seen more clearly in Cambridge, Massachusetts than in Cambridge, England. Its development is traced most obviously in technology and in the progression from the Manhattan project through Polaris to Apollo. There have been similar developments in economics, social sciences, urban development and information systems, for example.

The structure of defining objectives, of looking at the tools we have available to meet those objectives, the theory by which we can use the tools to work towards objectives, the building of models, the seeking of evidence, the carryout of experiments, the testing and appreciation of errors, the search for falsification and the self-criticism which goes with that, implementation, tentative at first, but building up, the observation of performance, the monitoring of results leading back to the reformulation of objectives, the reappraisal of tools—that is the logic of scientific investigation which people attribute widely to Karl Popper and which has not been absorbed into the administrative structures of our society. The great problems of our society such as the attack on poverty, the administration of housing, the maintenance of full employment and economic growth, the way to deal with delinquency, are the system problems of our society.

We require an inquiring, scientific attitude. We need a moral commitment, and it is not only research and research experience which is required. But we need a permeation of the attack on the problems of modern society by the robustness, objectivity, and the exposure to the test of experience which is the characteristic of good research. Any activity which fosters that and which seeks to spread those qualities within our society should not be lightly brushed aside. The Committee would not wish its report to be construed as a criticism to those objectives of postgraduate education.

There is a danger that if we cut back in this area we shall not be in the same ball park as other societies. I do not refer only to the United States. I mean Germany, France and Japan, which have expanded and integrated their postgraduate studies with their total economic activity.

The most distressing remark in the report came from the Civil Service Department, which said: Apart from basic intellectual horsepower the other qualities required of an administrator are not necessarily to be found in the good research worker. If we require basic intellectual horsepower, we get basic intellectual horses. The Civil Service knows very well that it must attract and hold the aggressive, critical and constructive characteristics of good scientific research.

I am not afraid of unashamedly advocating the merits of expansion of scientific research in relation to our national resources and the proper role of scientific research in postgraduate education, because of a possible emergence of a threat of a new and horrible élitism. The process of free scientific inquiry is the natural ally of the democratic spirit. This report is one evidence of that. It took a Select Committee of Parliament to tackle this important area. I would also cite the experience of the House with the Industry Bill. The House of Commons, acting against the advice of Ministers, took the step of giving access to the machinery by which economic policy is made. That was an affirmation of the values of objective research and appraisal, which I think is evidence enough of the natural alliance which exists to the objectives which we on this side of the House seek in a socially just society, and the aims of the educational activities in the universities with which this report is concerned.

Question put and agreed to

Resolved, That this House takes note of the Third Report from the Expenditure Committee in Session 1973–74 (House of Commons Paper No. 96) on Postgraduate Education, and the Third Report from the Expenditure Committee in the last Parliament (House of Commons Paper (1974) No. 306) on Educational Maintenance Allowances.

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