HC Deb 10 January 1978 vol 941 cc1442-5

3.33 p.m.

Lord James Douglas-Hamilton (Edinburgh, West)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to set up an inquiry into Tertiary Education in Scotland; and for purposes connected therewith. Various bodies in Scotland have called for an inquiry into tertiary education. Those bodies include the largest teachers' union, the Educational Institute of Scotland, the Education Committee of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, the Association of Lecturers in Colleges of Education in Scotland and the National Union of Students. Therefore the students, teachers, lecturers and the Education Committee of the STUC support an inquiry. It is not every day that I am able strongly to support the STUC, but on this occasion I am glad to do so.

The background to the demand for an inquiry is that there are now almost 200,000 unemployed persons in Scotland. Many of them are searching for a job suited to their abilities and find it desperately depressing not to be able to obtain one. Nothing devalues a diploma, degree, training, or any form of qualification more than unemployment in a given subject and nothing is more depressing for industry and commerce than a shortage of skilled manpower in certain areas. At a time of appalling unemployment in Scotland tertiary education institutions should do all that they can to highlight existing and future employment opportunities.

The widespread demand throughout Scotland for an inquiry is based on three different grounds. The first is that there is a need for far more effective further education and training for school leavers in the 16 to 19 age group. About a year ago the Education Institute of Scotland and the Scottish Trades Union Congress urged the Secretary of State that employers ought to be required to give young people who wished to continue part-time education the opportunity to do so during working hours. An inquiry could look at that kind of possibility. It could also investigate whether there is a case for establishing an open college in Scotland, similar to the Open University, in order to give opportunities for those who work hard during the day to study technology at night.

An inquiry could also look at the particular problems of the further education colleges in the 1980s. We have all seen during the last year, the problems experienced by the colleges of education, but in the early 1980s, owing to population trends, the further education colleges are likely to have a substantial expansion, and in the later 1980s a severe contraction.

I submit that it would be a tragedy if further education colleges had to be closed in Scotland in the future because of inadequate forward planning. The first reason for an inquiry is that we must cater for the needs and prospects of those in the 16 to 19 age group. The second reason is that there is a need to rationalise and co-ordinate the provision of post-school education and training to make for the best possible use of existing resources.

As we know, the Government planned to close or merge 40 per cent. of Scotland's teacher training colleges last year. The determination of the Government not to shipwreck the colleges concerned but to retain them in diversified forms means that there is yet a stronger case for having an inquiry. There will now be a basis for the extension of various forms of post-school education in the colleges of education. But not only that: the youth opportunities programme of the Manpower Services Commission will make a substantial contribution to improving the prospects of unemployed youth.

That, too, reinforces the case for an inquiry. There are many in education who consider that the Department of Employment and its agencies, are providing an alternative vocational training, instead of the education departments, and there might well be a need to harmonise the roles of the education departments and of the Manpower Services Commission.

The object of an inquiry would be to plan a co-ordinated system of tertiary education, with maximum efficiency. It would have particular regard to the need to equip school leavers with the knowledge and skills that would best serve their aspirations as well as the needs of modern industry and commerce. Thus, the second reason is to have better co-ordination.

The third reason is that there is now a golden opportunity for future planning. I am asking not for more Government intervention but for very much better planning of the Government intervention which has already taken place.

The present system of tertiary education has grown piecemeal at a tremendous rate over the past few years, under a multiplicity of different authorities, and without any overall direction or strategy. To give just one example, the Nautical College in Edinburgh is a central institution under the Scottish Office. The Nautical College in Glasgow is under the local authority. We now have a golden opportunity to plan a more systematic and comprehensive post-school education system. An inquiry is needed to provide the information on which to base manpower planning strategy.

In spite of very high unemployment, there are certain British industries which do not have the specialised manpower requirements which they desire. It is a disgrace that in certain fields there are not the qualified men to come forward when vacancies arise at a time of very high unemployment. It is because the educational institutions in Scotland want to adapt themselves to the changing needs of a changing infrastructure that there is a need for an inquiry.

The Secretary of State's proposal to set up a tertiary education council is a welcome step in the right direction, but the council will need an inquiry to give it the necessary information to provide for policy-making in planning. An inquiry, possibly under the chairmanship of an eminent Scots judge, aided by well-known educationists, could well help gear the educational institutions of tertiary education to the employment prospects of Scotland in the future. Even if it helped only to save a few thousand jobs, it would not have been in vain.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, Mr. George Younger, Mr. Alexander Fletcher, Mr. Hector Monro, Mr. Malcolm Rifkind, Mr. Jim Craigen, Mr. Robin F. Cook, Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. Donald Stewart, Mrs. Margaret Bain, Mr. Russell Johnston and Mr. James Sillars.