HC Deb 15 March 1977 vol 928 cc205-7
14. Mr. Gwilym Roberts

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what study she has made of the use of incentives to students in higher and further education aimed at attracting students to nationally desirable areas of study.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

In general, the mandatory awards system is intended to enable students to complete their course of study, whatever the subject. But I announced on 3rd February a change in the mandatory awards arrangements whereby payments of up to £500 per annum may be made by employers, or by way of scholarships, without a reduction in the student's grant. This will be in addition to the normal disregard of income, which is at present £185 per annum. I am also considering the possibility of a national scholarship scheme for students taking selected engineering courses.

Mr. Roberts

I greatly welcome the action that my right hon. Friend has taken. I am sure that she will be as aware as I am that many people who are involved in this area and who in the past have been reluctant to support such incentives are becoming increasingly concerned about the lack of support for some college courses that are regarded as important in the national interest, and they believe that something must be done to reorient students.

Mrs. Williams

I thank my hon. Friend for his support. I would only add to what I have said that I think that the status of certain professions, such as engineering, is also very important and that it is useful for society itself to reflect the special value that we place upon those going into industry, particularly productive industry, on either side.

Mr. Marten

Taking the problem back to a rather earlier age, what is being done to make careers guidance available at an earlier age to pupils at school?

Mrs. Williams

We are looking carefully at the careers guidance position. We have suggested to schools in the course of our document that careers guidance should start as young as 13. In many schools it starts too late. There are now signs of a marked move towards science and engineering in the schools and in applications to universities and colleges.

Mr. MacFarquhar

In view of my right hon. Friend's reported concern about the teaching of foreign languages, will she consider, in making special awards, the granting of higher education awards to pupils who wish to take difficult languages suitable for the export drive, such as Arabic, Persian and Portuguese?

Mrs. Williams

I shall consider that, but what we are primarily trying to do at present is to discuss with the bodies concerned the possibility of combining languages with technology and engineering courses, which at present is very rare. I think that there is far too much emphasis on the view that a person studies either languages or technology but never both together.

Dr. Boyson

Does the right hon. Lady agree that the limited number studying mathematics, science and modern languages in university from 1971 to 1975, which was static, was determined largely by the numbers reading those subjects in the fifth and sixth forms of schools? What does she suggest can be done to encourage at that earlier stage not only the careers guidance to which my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) referred but good teaching in fifth and sixth forms, so that the students are prepared for these subjects at university?

Mrs. Williams

There is an absolutely crucial step, which I think should have been taken even earlier with regard to the problem of resolving the shortage of teachers in mathematics and science, which for many years have been shortage subjects. We are inviting 11 colleges to mount special courses for teachers in the shortage subject of mathematics. We have already invited 11 colleges to mount special courses for teachers in the shortage subjects of technology and craft. I agree that a student cannot study maths and science unless he is taught by someone with an affection for the subject and who knows how to teach it.