HC Deb 02 March 1976 vol 906 cc1086-8
Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will introduce legislation to make universities open and comprehensive.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

We want to encourage developments that enable a wider range of students to be admitted and a greater diversity of courses to be provided, but we have no proposals for legislation.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does my hon. Friend not accept that a disproportionate amount of the resources devoted to education goes to a relatively privileged élite and that the facilities are grossly underutilised? Would it not be far more efficient and egalitarian to merge all further and adult education into one system?

Mr. Fowler

I cannot accept some of those propositions. It is not clear that the facilities are under-utilised. I must defend the universities against that attack. Over the years they have done a very good job in providing education at a very cheap rate by comparison with international standards. When my hon. Friend speaks of widening opportunities in further and higher education and the constant endeavour that is needed to achieve that, I have every sympathy with him.

Sir G. Sinclair

Will the Minister be more categorical in issuing a warning that to make the universities comprehensive with no criteria of entry would be to destroy academic standards? Does he realise that those countries in Europe that have tried this system envy the academic excellence of our universities?

Mr. Fowler

We should be totally clear that the Open University, which is totally open, has very high standards. I hope that we shall not have an attack on that open and comprehensive system. I want to see a comprehensive system of post-school education.

Mr. Grocott

Apart from anything else there is often an unnecessary duplication of resources between polytechnics, universities and centres for higher education. Would it not be in the interests of economy and of educational policy to have comprehensive education at 18-plus, in the way that we plan to have it at 11-plus?

Mr. Fowler

I agree with the implication of the question, which is that we must secure ever-improving links between the universities, the polytechnics and other institutions of post-school education to ensure that facilities are used to the optimum.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Will the Minister now answer the question put by the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk), which, if I may rephrase it, amounted to this: why is it immoral and wicked to select before the age of 16 or 18, and virtuous and praiseworthy to select after that age?

Mr. Fowler

What the hon. Member describes as rephrasing has ended up as an entirely different question. It is in no way virtuous or moral to select; it is merely that in higher education specialist courses are offered, sometimes in specialist institutions and sometimes in less specialist institutions. The guiding principle is admission to the course, not admission to the institution.