HC Deb 04 May 1976 vol 910 cc1041-3
3. Mr. Kilroy-Silk

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what priority he gives to the allocation of funds to universities as compared to those allocated to primary education.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Fred Mulley)

The Government's policies and priorities for education are set out in Chapter 10 of the White Paper, "Public Expenditure to 1979–80", Cmnd. 6393.

Mr. Kilroy-Silk

Does my right hon. Friend agree that this priority is misguided when a disapproportionate share of scarce resources goes to the universities and what is already a privileged group of society? Does he not agree that we need to shift resources away from universities to primary education to end the plight of the outdated Victorian schools that exist, for example, in my constituency?

Mr. Mulley

Of course I do not agree with my hon. Friend, or I should have made arrangements along the lines he suggests. It was right to give priority, as we do, to the statutory school age group of five to 16 years and then to the 16 to 19-year-olds. The university sector has suffered a greater loss of expecta- tions than the others, and I do not believe that university and further education is exclusively an area of privileged education. I want to see even more workers' children going to universities.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

The Minister knows Derbyshire well. Is he aware of the mass of Victorian primary schools there which need urgent renovation? Is he aware that funds have been cut, so that it is almost impossible to make any progress in putting children aged between 5 and 12 in schools that come up to modern standards?

Mr. Mulley

I am aware of the facts explained by the hon. Member. In Sheffield, however, which is close to Derbyshire, we are this year getting rid of the last outside lavatories, in spite of all the difficulties. It is a little hard that in our present economic circumstances I should be asked to put right this year all the shortcomings of the last 75 years.

Mr. Grocott

Is it not right that the funding and democratic control of universities should be brought into line with that of other institutes of higher education, the polytechnics, and so on? Is it not time to overcome the distinctions in higher education and to introduce a proper universal system of higher education, as we are doing with the 11-plus examination?

Mr. Mulley

If we were to introduce the comprehensive principle so that everyone who wanted higher education and who had the ability and aptitude for it was allowed to have it, I should get into even more trouble with my hon. Friend the Member for Ormskirk (Mr. Kilroy-Silk) because it would cost a great deal more money. The universities should remain independent institutions, and it would be difficult if, regardless of the party in power, they were subjected to political pressures.

Mr. Lane

Is it the Government's policy that there should be equality of treatment between universities and polytechnics?

Mr. Mulley

It is right that where degree courses are given, either in universities or polytechnics, the standard of provision should be roughly equivalent. As for finance, the University Grants Committee decides this in respect of individual universities. The polytechnics come within the sphere of the local authorities.