HC Deb 13 January 1978 vol 941 cc2016-117

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Malcolm Rifkind (Edinburgh, Pentlands)

I beg to move, That this House takes note that Great Britain's universities and university staff are experiencing a grave financial crisis, believes that this crisis is seriously impairing the fulfilment of their educational and research obligations; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to ensure that the obligations imposed upon the universities are matched by the resources made available to them, and that university staff enjoy a phased elimination of the pay anomaly they have suffered since July 1975. Friday the 13th may not be considered the most auspicious date on which to raise the subject of the crisis in the universities, because it is undoubtedly the case that the universities need all the luck they can get. However, I make no apology for doing so because, remarkable though it may seem, today's debate will be the first opportunity the House has had to consider the whole question of the universities since January 1969. It is not surprising, given that remarkable circumstance, that the universities have felt somewhat neglected in recent years.

I do not claim any special knowledge on the subject of the universities, though in a previous incarnation I lectured at an African university for a short time. My special interest in the subject arises because in the city I help to represent—Edinburgh—there are two universities, and that helps to concentrate the mind wonderfully on the problems of university staff.

The motion deals particularly with the question of university finance. Although I am aware that there are many other problems facing the universities, it is clearly in this area that we are at present witnessing a crisis on the campuses of Britain's universities. There is at present a greater feeling of bitterness, cynicism and anger among university staff than at any time in the last 30 years. That bitterness and anger is directed at the Government, not because of any overt hostility to the universities on the part of the Department of Education and Science but because in the view of the universities—I believe a justified view—the Government have demonstrated in their attitude to the universities an injudicious blend of incompetence, inconsistency and indifference to the welfare of the universities compared with the halycon days when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition was at the Department.

The universities are today seething with resentment, as any hon. Member knows from the representations we have received and from the unprecedented mass lobby experienced at the Palace of Westminster a few months ago. University staff are not by tradition considered one of the most militant of groups in our community, but the actions they have felt themselves re-required to resort to indicate the strength of feeling on the subject. One major cause of dispute is the position of the salaries of academic staff. It is and always has been the case that no one enters university life in order to command a high income. No one suggests that the universities are the best way of ensuring a very high standard of living. But, equally, only three or four years ago university staff compared favourably not only with other sectors of higher education but with other comparable professions in our society. In the last three or four years, however, the position of this group has sadly deteriorated.

It is somewhat ironic that the very reasonable efforts made by the staff of polytechnics and other centres of higher education to achieve parity with university staff has put the university staff at a positive disadvantage to their counterparts in the polytechnics and the other centres of higher education.

The position is just as grim if we compare the position of the universities with comparable professions in our society. A professor today earns somewhere between £2,000 and £3,000 a year less than an assistant secretary in the Civil Service, a comparable level of responsibility. A lecturer with a PhD and post-doctoral experience earns approximately £1,000 less than a principal scientific Adviser, again a deterioration which has occurred largely only in recent years.

Given these figures, it is not particularly surprising that in the last few years there has been an exodus of some of the best brains from our universities to foreign universities, to industry and to the Civil Service. There always has been—and it is desirable that there should be—the maximum of interchange between the universities here and abroad and between the universities and other walks of life. But the sadness and tragedy of the last two or three years have been that the movement has been in only one direction and that our universities have suffered as a result.

That is not particularly surprising when one considers the salary scales of university staff. A university lecturer, who will probably not get that post nowadays until he is in his late twenties, starts on a salary scale of £3,333. Compared with other positions in our society with comparable responsibilities, that is an absurdly low level. I have been given examples of university staff throughout the United Kingdom who are on a level of income that entitles them to claim rent rebate, rent allowances and free school meals for for their children—a claim that relatively few miners can make. It is worth remembering, too, that academic staff, being on a salary, cannot increase their income by overtime. Their basic salary is their take-home salary, and that, clearly, determines their position.

The problem has not been helped by the unprecedented unemployment levels in the academic world in the past year. The latest figures that I have, which are for September last year, show a total of nearly 2,000 unemployed academics on the records of the Department of Employment, which represents a 38 per cent. increase in the three months since June 1977. That figure represents also a more than doubling of the level of unemployed in the 12 months before that period. Such a high level of unemployment, at a time of grave problems over salary, provides and produces a situation of serious crisis.

Perhaps the last straw has been the insensitive, unthinking and unsatisfactory way in which the Government as a whole, and the Department of Education and Science in particular, have handled the problem of the pay anomaly in the salaries of university staff that has existed since 1975 as a direct result of the implementation of the Government's pay policies. I shall not go into tremendous details about the pay anomaly. It is well known to the Minister and to hon. Members on both sides of the House who have received representations on this subject.

Briefly, the situation is that in 1975, at a time when, through independent arbitration, a serious and proper attempt was being made to remedy a justifiable grievance of the university staff compared with other levels of higher education, the Government's pay controls were introduced, and since then an anomaly has existed that has grown serious as the years have gone by. It is an anomaly that cannot be found in comparable terms in almost any other sector of the population.

The Government will no doubt take credit for the fact that the Minister and his colleagues have consistently admitted the existence of this anomaly, and consistently regretted that it has occurred, but the truth is that they have just as consistently refused to do anything about it. The way in which they have treated academic staff compares unfavourably with their attitude towards other sectors of the population.

We have recently been dealing with the firemen's dispute. One of the unusual features of the settlement of the firemen's claim is the Government's guarantee that if, as they have now decided, the firemen return to work, there will be no question of any pay controls frustrating the results of independent arbitration. In other words, the firemen have been given a guarantee against any future anomalies frustrating decisions of independent arbitration boards.

I pass no comment on the merits or otherwise of the guarantee given to the firemen, but it is unfair and indefensible to give firemen, or any other groups, guarantees against future anomalies while the Minister and the Department, and the Government as a whole, refuse to rectify an anomaly that has existed for three years. That is an unfair basis on any count and it is one which the Government have never been able to justify. How can they offer some groups guarantees against future anomalies whilst refusing to rectify anomalies that have existed for three years?

Another unfortunate effect of the pay control has been the refusal of the Government to accept the recommendation of the University Grants Committee that the ratio between junior and senior lecturing staff should be improved. There is no doubt that this is necessary. The UGC has recommended it, but the Government have refused to allow the recommendation to be implemented because it would interfere with their pay policy.

The effect of that is that a considerable number of university staff—in Edinburgh the number is about 30, but a similar problem applies in all British universities—who, on the basis of merit, are entitled to promotion to senior posts are being refused their legitimate promotion, with all the consequent effects upon their career prospects and level of income. This again is a direct result of the Government's unfair approach.

One might ask why the Government are being so insensitive and unfair towards university lecturers, when they are prepared to bend their policy and be flexible on aspects of their policy with other groups, such as firemen. The simple explanation—and it is well known—is that the university staff do not have what we nowadays call industrial muscle. They cannot hold the community to ransom. They cannot force the Government to act by making life difficult for everyone else.

The position was best expressed at the recent conference of the Association of University Teachers by Mr. Laurie Sapper, the general secretary, when he said "I should like to go to the Minister and say that we want 30 per cent. or else", but the trouble is that the Minister would say "Or else what?".

That is the problem. University staff cannot embarrass the community or make life difficult for the community as a whole and thereby put pressure on the Government. The Government know that and have been willing to take advantage of it. It is one of the most disgraceful aspects of the whole sorry business that the Government are prepared to take advantage of groups which cannot make life difficult for the community, whereas they are prepared to bend by giving guarantees against future anomalies to firemen and other groups who can hold the community to ransom. That is the most iniquitous part of the Government's approach to this issue.

At their most recent conference, university staff said that they were willing to accept the Government's 10 per cent guideline, albeit reluctantly, but the minimum they requested from the Government was an immediate announcement about a phased elimination of the pay anomaly. That is incorporated in the motion before the House, and I hope that that minium requirement will be acceptable to the Government.

The situation of university staff is extremely serious, and the problem of the funding of the universities is no less worrying to the community, or it ought not to be. A few years ago the universities were in a relatively comfortable position. The expansion of the post-Robbins era had created a feeling of optimism in the universities. The quinquennial system of grants was working well.

The quinquennial system which enabled the universities to plan ahead, knowing their likely income has disappeared, and today we see that the universities are being forced to make major restrictions not only in fringe matters but in some of the essential services that enable universities to do their job properly. It has been bad enough for the older universities that have had reserves on which to fall back. They have seen their reserves almost exhausted as a result of the curbs on their activities by the Government. The more recently established universities have had to witness the most serious problem of all.

I said that what had happened had had a serious effect on the vital workings of the universities. We see this in various ways. Many universities, including my own in Edinburgh, have had to cut off the heating of buildings at 4.30 p.m. or 5 p.m. and at weekends to try to economise. The practical effect of this is that students and staff who have required university libraries to continue their work, or have required the use of equipment to continue their research have been unable to do so in the evenings and at weekends. They are debarred from continuing the important work that they are doing.

We have seen, too, in the matter of library provision some of the most severe cuts that the universities have had to witness. There has been a severe restriction on the books available in the libraries. While it might or might not be argued that libraries are a luxury for the rest of the community, no one would doubt that they are the very lifeblood and tools of the trade of the universities.

The same is true of research. There has been a severe restriction on the ability of the universities to continue with existing research, and certainly to initiate any new research. This is because of the problems facing the various research councils. It might be helpful if I quote briefly from the annual report of one or two universities.

Hull University said: The economies which can be achieved in the remaining quarter … are limited if the university is to continue to exist—some books must be bought for the library, some consumable materials must be provided for Departments, and some heating must be provided for our buildings, which must also have a minimum of maintenance. Thus the main brunt of economies has now to fall on the recruitment of staff. Kent University says: … last year 30 established academic posts were left vacant because we could not afford to fill them. Nor was there any immediate prospect of further building for teaching or residence … the accounts show that … the main recurrent account was in balance and there was no overspending. Southampton University says: Much of our laboratory equipment is now nearing the end of its useful life, but the equipment grant is insufficient to enable us to replace it … The standstill on new buildings and the freezing of staff vacancies have meant that we, like other universities, have had to cut back on our planned expansion and at a time when student applications have never been higher, both in quantity and quality, this has lamentable consequences. For the next few years it will be more difficult for school-leavers to obtain higher education than at any time since the end of the War. This is a matter of considerable concern to the universities and should be to the nation. I may add that it should be to the present Government. But that is their record towards the universities.

We all accept that there has been a necessity for major cuts in public expenditure, and I do not suggest that somehow the universities should or could have been exempted from the necessary cuts required because of the Government's disastrous handling of our economy. But the most discreditable aspect of this whole sorry story is that the Government have been seeking to take some credit for increasing student numbers—for increasing the total student intake into our universities at the very same time that they have been refusing the resources needed by the universities to help them meet this new requirement. The Government have been trying to get literally the best of both worlds, bringing pressure on the universities to increase their student intake while withholding from them the appropriate resources which would enable them to deal with such an increase.

This is why my motion argues specifically that the resources available to the universities should be equivalent to the obligations imposed on them. There are various ways in which that can be achieved. It seems to me to be a matter of elementary desirability that it should be the criterion applied by the Government in seeking to impose new obligations on the universities.

Doubtless there will be some, perhaps in this House but certainly in the country, who will view the privations of the universities with a certain equanimity. There is still the popular misconception that university work is concentrated on the teaching of Sanskrit, the study of metaphysics or the interpretation of the works of Jane Austen. I do not cast any reflection on the desirability of these examples—the life of the community as a whole would be far poorer if all such subjects were to be eliminated from our universities—but, important as they are, they constitute, as most people realise, only a relatively minute proportion of the total work.

The vital importance of our universities can be justified quite simply. Quite apart from the esoteric or more intellectual subjects with which they deal, although those subjects are vital to the intellectual life of the nation, the universities also make a vital and continuing contribution to the life of our economic society, to the life of industry and commerce throughout the United Kingdom.

It has been estimated—it can be only an estimate—that the financial contribution made by universities to industry and commerce is about £350 million a year. I will explain how that figure can be justified. For example, whereas industry pays, directly or through compulsory contributions, to the industrial training boards for the education of its skilled or semi-skilled work force, it makes hardly any contribution to the training of its most highly skilled people, the training of whom depends almost entirely on work done in the universities and other sectors of higher education.

The training of engineers, physicists, chemists and all the other groups so vital to the wellbeing of industry is undertaken almost exclusively by the universities and other higher education establishments. Industry itself pays only a small contribution in the form of sponsored studentships. However, the cost of this education has been valued at about £100 million a year. In other words, in effect the universities and other higher education establishments subsidise industry by doing work which would otherwise have to be carried out by industry.

The same goes for research. That resource, directly related to industry and commerce, has been valued conservatively at about £250 million a year. In 1976 alone, over 500 inventions as a result of university research were notified to the National Research Development Corporation as being of industrial or commercial significance. I therefore emphasise that the wellbeing of the nation and the prospects for our industrial recovery depend, at least to some extent, on the ability of the universities to continue not only their academic work but also the vital education, training and research that they give to industry and the community as a whole.

I have spoken of the United Kingdom universities as a whole. I have not made specific reference to the position of Scottish universities. There is continuing debate on whether control of the Scottish universities should be devolved to the Scottish Assembly. I do not wish to concentrate on that topic now because it is not in the terms of the motion. But, among the many hundreds of representations which I have received from academic staff throughout Scotland and at public meetings, and which I have seen in many publications, I am not aware of one that has argued that the problems of finance facing the universities would in Scotland be in any way improved by removing their control from the University Grants Committee or the Department of Education and Science. There is nothing institutional about this problem.

While there may be other arguments for devolving the universities to the Assembly, nothing that I have seen or that has been said to me by any members of the staff of Scottish universities indicates that point of view. If the Government have taken one popular decision in this Parliament which has been welcomed by the universities, it has been to refuse to allow the universities to be devolved, retaining them as a United Kingdom responsibility.

In conclusion, I put five proposals to the Government as being a necessary course of action that they should undertake to support if they wish to be fair and reasonable.

First, there has to be an immediate or at least very early announcement of the phased elimination of the anomaly that has existed as a direct result of Government policy since July 1975. I hope that the Minister will take this opportunity, the first debate on universities in nine years, to make such an announcement. The rectification of an anomaly which the Government themselves admit to be unfair and undesirable, and which has had harmful consequences, would be greatly welcomed in university circles. I hope that the Minister will be positive in his reply on that aspect.

Secondly, there is a strong case for a general review of the position of academic staff salaries comparable with other sectors of higher education and other comparable professions. It is important to establish the relative value of the universities' contribution through their staff, so that we do not get a recurrence of the great resentment felt at present.

Thirdly, there is a strong case for the restoration of the quinquennial system for financing. I wish to see it restored in an improved fashion—on a rolling-forward basis which would enable there to be more flexibility than in the past, and enable the universities to plan their future research with some knowledge of future development.

Fourthly, I believe that the Government should ensure that the obligations, particularly in respect to student numbers, imposed upon the universities, are matched by the resources available to them. It is clearly iniquitous that the universities should come under two corresponding sets of pressures which are mutually incompatible as a direct result of Government policy.

Finally, I believe—this point is not directed so much to the Government as to industry—that industry should consider its responsibilities, and consider whether a larger contribution by industry not merely to the training of its skilled and semi-skilled work force but to the training of the most highly skilled people who work in industry—engineers, scientists, physicists and so forth—is not overdue.

We are all anxious to preserve the independence of the universities. Already a very high proportion of their revenue comes directly from Government. This is unsatisfactory, for if the independence of the universities is to be retained, it is important that they should have alternative sources of revenue, and one of the main areas from which this could come would be industry itself. At the moment the direct contribution of industry is very small and is only a fraction of the return which it gets from the universities which helps it to prosper. I hope, therefore, that industry will take note of the debate and improve its contribution.

I hope that the debate will be helpful, because I believe that the universities' success is a vital part of the recovery of the nation as a whole. I believe that the Government have been retrograde and indifferent to the problems facing the universities, but I hope that the worst is now over and that, the matter having been brought to the attention of the Government—not simply by hon. Members on both sides of the House but by the universities themselves, in an unprecedented fashion—the future policy of the Government will bear more relevance to the very real needs and crisis presently facing our universities.

11.32 a.m.

Mr. Ian Mikardo (Bethnal Green and Bow)

Although I shall later be making a few observations in a tone of mild and measured dissent concerning some of the remarks of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), I begin by saying that I think the House is indebted to him for putting down the motion and precipitating the debate. I believe that in this House we do not give education as a whole a fair share of our attention.

The motion which the hon. Gentleman has been good enough to put down gives us an opportunity today not only to consider the specific problems of the universities themselves but also to consider what we see as the function of universities as a part of the overall provision for education.

I have always thought that such debates as we have on education have been a bit spoiled by their being generally about particular sectors of education, either higher education, further education, secondary or primary education, or even preprimary education. It has been very seldom indeed, in my long recollection of the proceedings of this House, that we have had a look at the whole educational process and asked ourselves what is the object of the whole thing, what are we seeking to do with it, and what sort and volume of resources are necessary for the fulfilment of the purposes.

If we do not define the purposes, we shall certainly get the answer wrong, as the hon. Gentleman said. It is inconceivable that we should permit a situation to exist in which obligations and resources are not matched to each other, and with that part of the motion and the hon. Gentleman's observations I agree profoundly. I am bound to say, however, that I do not think he established the fact that at this moment the obligations of the universities are greater than the resources required to fulfil them. He may be right about that. I just do not know. He did not adduce any powerful evidence in that direction, but the general proposition that obligations and resources must be matched, and that the instrument must be designed and must be set in specific relationship to the purposes which it is required to fulfil, is absolutely incontestable. But I repeat that I think we shall be making a mistake if we take higher education—or, indeed, any other single branch of education—and look at it in isolation.

The hon. Gentleman's motion refers, quite rightly, to a demand on resources. As we know, within the budget of the Secretary of State for Education and Science there are competing demands for a finite amount of resources, and there are people who push, very properly and fairly, the requirements of other sectors of education in which they are particularly interested.

I want to examine the function of the universities and their fulfilment of that function in relation to the overall educational requirements of the country, but before I do that I want to say that there are quite a number of matters in the hon. Gentleman's motion with which I agree. The case which has been put by university teaching staffs about their anomalies appears to me to be unanswerable—as unanswerable as the almost identical case of a considerable number of other groups of workers. If we have a pay policy which automatically brings down a chopper on one given date for the whole country, in a country in which pay settlements are spread throughout the year, this is an obvious formula for the creation of anomalies. There are many such anomalies.

We have heard a bit more about the anomaly in the case of the university teachers for two reasons. The first is that it has had even worse effects than some other anomalies, although some of the others have also had some bad effects. The second reason is that university teachers are fairly articulate people and better at making their views known than are some other groups of workers. But I am bound to say to the hon. Gentleman, in all kindness, that I find it a bit difficult to take special pleading by a Member on behalf of one group of workers affected by anomalies caused by the chopper coming down when that Member is one who in general supports the pay policy and has not supported other groups of workers in a similar position. Perhaps he has not even heard of them, or bothered to study the case of other groups of workers whose anomalies have been brought about in exactly the same way—for example, the merchant navy officers, who were caught in exactly the same way as the university teachers.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

And Members of Parliament.

Mr. Mikardo

And Members of Parliament, as the hon. Gentleman says. He is absolutely right. If ever there has been a case which on its merits is unanswerable it is the case of Members of Parliament, but perhaps we ought not to argue that today, Mr. Speaker, otherwise we may begin to incur disapproval, which none of us would wish to do. But there are many anomalies, and the merchant navy officers have an almost identical case to that of the university teachers. I think, however, that it lies only in the mouths of those who have opposed the arbitrariness of the pay policy in general to argue the case for a particular group of workers affected by an anomaly.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the restrictions on the earnings of university teachers. He will be well aware that teaching staffs by no means represent the whole of the staffs of universities. There are many other members of staff apart from what might be called "housekeeping" staff. A large number of technicians employed by universities have been treated just as badly as the university teachers. When we look at anomalies we must look at the whole university picture and not merely at the situation in the lecture room. We ought to be looking at the whole area.

The hon. Gentleman directed all of his shafts at the Government. I do not say for a moment that they were all unjustified. But they are not the only ones. I say sadly that the industrial relations attitude of many vice-chancellors, and the climate of industrial relations in many universities between the vice-chancellors and their staffs, are absolutely appalling. In some cases vice-chancellors adopt towards their staffs the industrial relations attitudes of a 19th century Birmingham ironmaster. They are autocratic and dictatorial. They have not caught up with the modern climate of industrial relations of trying to carry their employees along with them in whatever changes they seek to make.

I suppose that the pinnacle on which a vice-chancellor sits predisposes him to a belief in his omniscience and a claim for absolute, autocratic powers. Vice-chancellors in general are men of considerable academic achievements. But it does not follow that a high level of academic achievement gives one any competence at all in man management. When the vice-chancellor, who is the managing director of this enterprise so to speak, insists—as so many often do—on keeping in his own hands the industrial relations and the personnel management functions, and when he is primitively unskilled at it—as many are—we obviously get into a great deal of trouble. This is an area which I hope the Minister will have a look at.

The trouble is that we live in a sort of penumbrate world when dealing with the universities. The Government say "Do not come to us. The universities are autonomous. We give them a grant which works through the committee of vice-chancellors. Keep away from us. We bear no responsibility".

When one talks to people in the universities they do what the hon. Gentleman has just done. They stick all the can on the tail of the Government. Between the two it is difficult for Parliament and Members of Parliament to carry out their duties of requiring and obtaining some proper degree of accountability in the spending of this not inconsiderable amount of public money with regard to this extremely important public function. This is another area which has to be looked at.

Since the hon. Gentleman's motion and his speech both rested properly to a large extent on the dissatisfaction of university staffs, I think that we ought to look at all the causes of their dissatisfaction. I know from first-hand experience that when one starts to look at all the causes one finds that pay is by no means the only cause. Indeed, in the minds of some of the people affected it is not the most serious cause. If we are to have a look at the way in which universities are run then let it be on a wider basis than the hon. Gentleman has suggested.

There is one way in which I want it to be wider. I want us to look at it against the criterion and the questions, first, what are universities for and, second, do they relate to the rest of the educational process and by what criteria are we making our decisions about the sub-division of the resources available for education between the different areas of education, including higher education as well as all the other areas.

Aside from a few routine obeisances to the arts and fundamental sciences I felt that the hon. Gentleman came very near to saying that the universities are there to train a commercial and industrial elite. The hon. Gentleman is indicating dissent. I can only say that that is how it sounded to me. I would not have thought that that is right.

In addition, if we take the present subdivision of the resources available for education among higher, further secondary, primary and pre-primary, I would not have thought it self-evident that the proportion given to higher education is too low. Indeed, if it were possible to quantify all the complex and difficult considerations that would have to enter into a judgment of how that sub-division should be made, I believe that we might well come to the conclusion that there are other parts of the educational system which deserve increases in the resources available to them even more than higher education does.

I am not an educationist. I am not an expert on this subject. But I know that there are a great many people who have given many years of study to it and who believe that the university graduate is fashioned in the primary school or perhaps even before he goes to the primary school. They believe that the quality of the end product—either at the end of secondary education, secondary-plus-further or higher education—is dependent not so much on the fashioning of the product in the last two or three years as on the fashioning of the product in the first two or three years.

There might be very great weight in that sort of analysis. If there is, we ought to stop and ask ourselves whether that part of the work which we do on the product at the early stages is getting its fair share of the resources compared with the part at the end.

There is only one aspect of education of which I have had any real experience. That is kids coming into the factories at the age of 16 and what happens to them if they try to continue some sort of education over the next couple of years. If I wanted to pick out a single part of the educational process which I think is most starved, most neglected, and to which the addition of a few more resources would do more good per million pounds spent than if devoted to anything else, it would be the bridging of the gap between school and work for the 16-to-19-year-olds.

The hon. Gentleman has spoken about the need to have well-trained captains of industry. No one will dispute that. But every captain that I have ever met has always been the first to pay tribute to the fact that he runs his unit on the competence of his NCOs, his sergeants and sergeants-major. One will not get an efficiently functioning industry with good captains if one has not got good sergeants. The sergeants are the chaps who, when they go into the factory at 16, are not content to say that their education has finished at that stage, and who want to learn more and to continue the learning process.

If one looks at a factory as a study in sociology—it is a community, a group, and it is therefore a proper subject for sociological study—the thing that strikes one most, and certainly what has struck me most in every factory in which I have ever worked, is the intense unhappiness of the youngsters who come into work for the first time, who recognise that their education is not complete, who want to learn and are keen to learn, and who have to ride an awful obstacle race if ever they are to get a chance of learning more.

The transition from school to work is too sudden, and a lot of psychological damage is done to people by putting it merely on the level of maintaining an efficient industry and maintaining an efficient economy, of which the hon. Gentleman spoke. The waste of talent is enormous because of this over-sudden transition from school to work.

Take little Johnny Brown. He has to leave school at 16 one Friday afternoon. In the community of the school he is a personage. He is one of the top blokes. He knows every inch of the building and everything that goes on in the place. He is in the football first 11. He is a prefect. The teachers consult him quite a lot about other boys in the school. He is a figure.

Johnny Brown walks out of that at 4 o'clock one Friday afternoon, and at 8 o'clock on the next Monday morning he walks into a different, differently structured, differently organised and differently environmented community, and one in which he is less than the dust beneath anyone's chariot wheels.

The first thing that staggers such youngsters is the noise. They are used to human noise but not to mechanical noise. Then there is the size and unfamiliarity. "How shall I ever remember in which bike shed to put my bike? How shall I remember which clock to use when I have to clock on? Which is the raw material store, the parts store, the semifinished store, the AID store and all the rest of it? All these clever chaps have been working here for years and they know everything about every one of these machines." And he is nothing.

How do we teach that chap? We let him off for a couple of half days a week to go to a school. Aside from that, we stick him next to a skilled worker, who, in spite of being a skilled worker, may have no competence in teaching at all, and we say "You watch what that fellow does and do it as well." If the fellow is on piecework or some other incentive payment system, he will lose money helping little Johnny. As I have said, anyway, he may have no competence to do it. He may be the best producer in the plant in spite of the fact that he is using bad methods, because he has better spacial judgment, better visual acuity or better judgment generally, or a combination of all of them. He may be using the wrong method, so, in the classic phrase, we get little Johnny coming in and learning from Bill, who learned the job from Arthur, who learned it from Charlie, who learned it from Ted, and Ted never knew much in the first place. One gets a sort of perpetuation of error from one generation of workers to the next.

Then little Johnny goes off for two half days a week, and perhaps a couple of evenings as well, to the local tech. What happens? The chaps on the shop floor say to him "You do not want to fool about with all that stuff there, all that algebra, trigonometry and slide-rule stuff, and mini-computers now. That will not help you to machine a dimension down to a couple of thou."

There is created in the kid's mind, the kid who wants to learn, a clash between the teacher for his two half-days and his couple of evenings a week and the skilled man in the factory. Unhappily, the teacher always loses out in this clash, because the teacher represents to Johnny the states of childhood and dependence from which he is trying to escape and the skilled worker represents the states of manhood and independence which he is trying to achieve. The value that a chap could get from this bit of further education is terribly diminished by that. It is the skilled worker who wins. "He is a clever fellow. He can do wonderful things with his machine. He can even, notwithstanding the safety notices, clean it while it is in motion. He must be a clever fellow." The teacher gets put into second place.

I do not believe that any of that will be of any use until we make the critical three years between the ages of 16 and 19 not work-based with a bit of education on the side but education-based with a bit of work on the side. I believe that local education authorities ought to have the supervisory powers over the education which takes place within the factory for those aged between 16 and 19.

I apologise for having spoken on this point at some length. As I say, it is the only part of the education process of which I have had any first-hand experience. I have done so in order to show that there are some competitors for the resources available to the Department of Education to which a great many of us never even give a hap'orth of thought. If we are going to make, as the hon. Gentleman has made, demands for greater resources to be put into only one particular sector of education, we can sustain those demands only by thinking of the wider picture and by putting those demands in relationship to the needs of other parts of the educational system.

Of course the hon. Member was right to condemn some of the things which are happening and which he described today. But one must also condemn a situation in which a young man or woman has a couple of years at teacher training college and then goes out and cannot get a job. This happens even though in some cities other teachers are battling to cope with oversized classes, giving neither the teacher nor the kids a chance. The teacher should have the chance to do a good job and the kids should have the chance to learn well. This situation also demands more resources. There is a third demand for preschool provision—an enormously important part if the educational process.

I end as I began, with apologies for having spoken for so long, but I do not think that there will be much competition to speak today. I thank the hon. Member for putting down the motion and the terms in which he moved it. If we are to make a fair judgment about the universities, let us think of them in relation to the total educational process and not just in isolation.

12.1 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) is not alone in thinking that there are many fields of education, not least further education for the age group that is just beginning work, in which important measures need to be taken. Indeed, there are resources in that area that could be used more effectively in co-operation with other sectors of education. Perhaps the hon. Members would care to ballot for a Private Member's motion on that subject and then put it down on the Order Paper. I should be happy to speak on it, but today we have the opportunity to talk about the universities, and I think that we should make the most of it.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) has chosen this subject for debate. He has done the House and the universities a service in doing so. However, the motion does not really do a service. It is misleading in its description of the situation and the atmosphere in the universities.

I do not think that it is fair to say that the universities are in a state of crisis. There is something of a crisis of morale among university teachers which is caused by the pay situation, but the general financial situation of universities is not one of crisis. Serious problems and difficulties have arisen over recent years. It does not help to overdramatise these problems of stringency, however, and we must remember that there has been a national economic crisis in which every sector has been called upon to make a contribution.

I am surprised that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands did not refer to the public expenditure White Paper that appeared yesterday, because it has a great bearing on the situation. I do not think that the situation is as drastic as the hon. Member has painted it, and the White Paper gives real hope for improvement. Perhaps he did not refer to it because his party is so hostile to the modest increase in public expenditure which is proposed in it.

In the Liberal view, we must seek to combine increasing prosperity with the provision of the things that the State alone can provide. There are certain things that the State alone can provide and in the universities the primary sources of finance must come from the State. Considerable public expenditure in this field is unavoidable.

The hon. Member posed the question whether the universities will be given enough resources to meet all their obligations or whether they should take on fewer obligations and therefore need less finance. He did not make it clear whether his party accepted the present obligations of the universities in terms of student numbers. Their present obligations have had severe financial consequences, but yesterday's White Paper goes a long way to meeting this problem.

I declare an interest in that I am a member of the Association of University Teachers who spent the whole of his working life in that profession before coming to this place. I still enjoy the status of lecturer at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, although I am unpaid and inactive in this respect.

The university teachers' pay situation is the nearest we come to crisis in this field because of its effect on morale and recruitment. The university is only as good as those who teach in it. Buildings and equipment are of no consequence if the best minds and abilities are not available to impart knowledge to future generations.

I do not think that anybody expects university teaching to bring in the highest financial rewards. Those who make it their career have often found that the alternative benefits it gives—the freedom to plan one's work and one's time—are more important than the financial rewards. Another important consideration for university teachers is that one is given the ability to do what one most wants to do, and this is a high prize. But if pay falls too far behind it will become increasingly difficult to attract the best brains in important subjects such as economics, engineering and architecture where there is keen outside competition. The universities are not in a position either to retain or recruit people when the attractions outside are much greater.

Also, pay for senior civil servants has leapt ahead in recent years, and the Civil Service has become another major competitor. Many people who go into university teaching have, as their first alternative, entry into the Civil Service. This also provides a source of competition later on, particularly in the specialist fields when the attraction of moving into a senior Civil Service post at considerably greater pay is particularly marked.

University teachers' salaries have been held down by one of the worst anomalies in the history of the pay policy. Their pay, since October 1974 should have been determined by the 1975 arbitration award. There is no fairer account of this situation than that which exists in the document that Ministers circulated to hon. Members when university teachers came to the House of Commons to tell us of their difficulties. That document said: Instead of receiving further cost-of-living increases of about 26 per cent. which they might otherwise have expected, university teachers received only the standard £6 per week allowed under the first round of pay policy, plus the consolidation of threshold payments. They were thus left at a substantial disadvantages compared with the further education teachers who had received a full cost-of-living adjustment at April 1975. The anomaly has remained substantially unchanged since that time. That is a perfectly fair statement by the Department of the case and the Minister made clear at the time that he accepted the seriousness of the anomaly. The Association of University Teachers has been extremely constructive in its approach and it has said that it is prepared to accept an increase of only 10 per cent. in accordance with the Government's pay guidelines in order to obtain phased increases that will rectify the anomaly. The firemen were given this with a giltedged guarantee that their money would be paid, come hell or high water, fire, earthquake or economic catastrophe.

The hon. Member for Thornaby (Mr. Wrigglesworth) managed to extract from the Opposition the fact that they did not feel bound by that commitment. We must therefore view the undertaking given to the firemen with considerable suspicion. We Liberals believe that future Governments will need pay policies, and a commitment to pay the firemen this guaranteed amount, whatever the circumstances, must be viewed with suspicion. What is it about the firemen's case which qualifies them for this treatment when university teachers are disqualified? Why should they have this extraordinary advance commitment which others cannot get?

Mr. Ronald Bell (Beaconsfield)

They went on strike and the university teachers did not.

Mr. Beith

The Minister will have to answer that point, because he is responsible for university teachers and higher education. I doubt whether that will be given as the official Government explanation of the situation, but I fear that it is true. It is quite wrong that the constructive attitude taken by university teachers should put them at a disadvantage.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the reason why there is so much disaffection in industry at the moment is that, although a few years ago the unions were settling on phased pay deals, it was the negative incomes policy that led people not to accept these and such a policy today? Unless we address our minds to this, it is no use thinking about future pay policy.

Mr. Beith

The remarkable thing is the extent to which people have accepted incomes policy during the last year, despite the problems. The university teachers have been foremost in accepting the incomes policy, but they want from the Government a clear indication of their rightful entitlement, no less than the firemen's, to have the existing anomaly put right as soon as it can be. There are the beginnings of an indication of the Government's attitude in the White Paper on public expenditure. There are signs in that document that the Government are allowing the means to make the payments which they will have to make.

I shall be interested to hear from the Government spokesman what the Government intend to say to the university teachers. It will be a sad indication of the Government's attitude if those who have been most responsible and constructive in dealing with an accepted anomaly when pressing their case are not given the consideration which has already been given to people who have taken a far more destructive attitude—some of whom indulged in thuggery of the worst kind such as that which was meted out yesterday to the FBU's general secretary at Bridlington.

Let me deal with university finances in general. The universities have had to live with the traumatic changes in their finances brought about by the collapse of the quinquennial system. This has been a serious problem for the universities to face. It has wholly changed the nature of their financial planning and has been a feature of the national economic crisis. The stringency which the last couple of years has brought about has led to a moratorium on the filling of university posts. That has not been entirely unhealthy in its consequences. If it can be operated with some care and skill, it can offer opportunities to do what it is hard to do in the universities—and that is to shift resources.

The structure of universities, with security of tenure, which may lead to rigidity in some respects, makes it difficult to shift resources from declining areas of activity and interest to expanding ones. Many universities have made good use of the disciplines which they have had to impose on themselves in a period of stringency. At the same time, these problems have put severe strains on teaching and research in many departments where there has been a rapid expansion in student numbers and where the frontiers of knowledge have moved so fast that staff have needed to spend more time furthering their own knowledge in their own subjects.

By good management the universities have avoided getting themselves into a crisis in this period. That is why I question the wording of the motion. They have difficult problems keeping up levels and standards of equipment in developing subjects where the latest equipment is essential. That has been impossible in some areas of activity. It has been particularly difficult to maintain university libraries so that students may have access not to the knowledge of five years ago but to current knowledge.

I recognise that in the public expenditure White Paper the Government have shown the way to meet some of these problems. They accept that anticipated increases in student numbers will have to be covered by expenditure within universities. One cannot increase student numbers without ensuring that there are enough books in the library for that larger number of students to read or enough equipment for the students to use. I welcome recognition of that factor in the White Paper.

Mr. Rifkind

The hon. Gentleman continually refers to the public expenditure White Paper, the contents of which are well known to me, but I hope that he appreciates that the White Paper makes no attempt to make any approach towards rectifying the serious decline in the last three years. I am sure that he agrees that that is an important point.

Mr. Beith

If we examine the university sector compared with the rest of education in respect of public expenditure projections, we must conclude that that sector would make unreasonable demands if, unlike any other sector, it expected full restitution, in view of the problems of the last few years.

I believe that the universities have managed their affairs very well in the last few years against this difficult background. The public expenditure White Paper offers better prospects for higher education than any other sector of education. Speaking as one who still has links with the university world, I do not want to pitch the claims of the universities at an unreasonable level as against the requirements of the rest of the community. People to whom I speak in the universities take the same view as I do on that aspect.

To say that is not to claim that we should abandon any attempt to husband resources in the universities as well as we can. That calls to mind the recent report of the Public Accounts Committee to which the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) referred in the debate on Monday. That Committee made a number of suggestions, among which was the question of home-based students and the fact that over the years since the war there has been a drastic decline in the number of students who live at home. That figure fell from 44 per cent. in 1950 to 16 per cent. in 1971.

The Department of Education and Science has obtained the results of research over a considerable period and is supposed still to be considering the matter. It is a difficult and delicate problem. The cost advantages of having a larger proportion of students living at home and travelling to a local university have to be set against the importance of giving the student freedom of choice to go to a university which offers the course he wants and which gives students the educational advantages that accrue from living "on campus" or in a university setting. Those advantages arise from living among students and having more time to spend in the various university activities rather than having to rush off to catch the last train home, thus missing the evening activities, the discussions and arguments which are an essential part of university life. There are many advantages to be gained from residence in a university.

I should be strongly opposed to any coercive measures or strong financial pressures which are imposed in an effort to encourage more home-based students, but I believe that the universities should encourage students to look to their home university as a first option to be seriously considered. It is possible:or students to spend perhaps the first year living at home, they then obtain a flat in the university in their second year, and in that way a combination of options becomes available. I taught many students who benefited from going to their own local university more than those who had come to us from further afield.

The best way to deal with this situation is probably for the universities to set out their stalls more effectively and attractively to potential students of their own local community. In that way they could attract students who might otherwise go into higher education elsewhere. It is on that basis and not by coercive measures that we could make more progress in this respect and we could follow some examples adopted by the Scottish universities, which have a much stronger tradition of home-based students.

When we talk of the use of resources we must recognise that there is some waste implicit in the present higher education system I refer to the way in which polytechnics want to appear more like universities and the way in which universities try not to look like polytechnics. This status race is based on illusion and not on reality. It is not true that universities are places in which something called pure learning takes place and that the people in them do not learn anything in particular

I worked in a university in which people were equipped to become dentists, architects, designers of ships, and town planners as well as benefiting from a variety of disciplines with less obvious immediate application to particular careers. But that did not make our university any less academic. At the same time, the polytechnic across the road had a steadily advancing commitment to various kinds of research. The activities of the two bodies are complementary. There is no reason why one or other body should make itself remote from the real world of industry or that either body should lack the equipment to train people for specific tasks. There are great dangers in one side or the other in higher education engaging in that kind of competition.

We Liberals want to see a similar and perhaps eventually a linked funding system for higher education, so that polytechnics did not see themselves as governed by different criteria. We want to see closer co-operation and sharing in some areas between universities and other higher education institutions and much more scope for transfer between the two. There is much more which could be done in making course credits transferable between different higher education institutions. There is much that we could do to help bring universities and polytechnics closer together.

I am sorry to say that what I have heard so far does not make me optimistic that the Oakes Committee—I refer with deference to the Minister—has the terms of reference, or has been set on a course, which will enable it to do as much about bringing higher education together as we would like. But let us wait and see. Perhaps my suspicions and pessimism are unfounded.

Another key principle in trying to husband our resources in the universities is to make sure that the people who come into higher education do so when they can make the best use of it. It must be made easier, and be seen to be easier, to dip into the higher education system at whatever stage of life is most appropriate to one's needs. That is not necessarily the period betwen 18 years and 21 years.

My own experience in universities makes me strong in the belief that mature students often benefit more than anyone else on the course from the study that they undertake. Their motivation for doing so is great. They have usually made a difficult decision affecting their career prospects and families in order to enter universities because they can see that they have a need for education. This is not always so readily apparent to those straight from school propelled by the system itself to obtain the educational opportunities for which they are qualified.

Therefore, we must do all we can to make it obvious not only to those who may become mature students now but to the young people who are deciding at 18 whether now or later is the time to seek higher education, that the doors will not shut if they leave it till later, if they go into a career and then seek a later opportunity for higher education. We must look at our fees and grants system with this very much in mind.

High tuition fees for self-financed students do not make the doors seem open at all. Indeed, they frighten people into believing that if it is not possible to get into the system now the chances later are very much reduced. The discretionary grants system with its increasingly arbitrary effect on those who are qualified to undertake courses, is profoundly worrying to those who think that they might take a later opportunity. Much as I prize the autonomy of local education authorities, I am worried about the decreasing predictability of whether someone who is qualified for, and needs, a course of study can obtain the finance for it.

When we speak of grants and fees we must turn to the question of overseas students. There are few people in the university who do not deeply regret the increasing moves towards discrimination against overseas students which are apparent in the financing system. One thing which is viewed with absolute horror is the attempt by the Government to impose a system of quotas on overseas students. I do not believe that the universities either will or can operate their admissions policies on a system of quotas against overseas students. In practice it does not work. It goes entirely against every principle that the university teacher understands.

The university teacher interviews a group of students and looks for those who can benefit from his course and are intellectually equipped to do so. What does he do when he finds that there is a black face, that there is a Maltese, a Canadian or an American in the queue of people applying? Does he ring up the physics department and say "I am one over the quota. Can you give me one from your quota for overseas students?"? It may reply, "No, we are full up. We tried to get something from theology the day before yesterday and are struggling to meet our quota." Universities cannot operate on a basis which undermines the basic intellectual tests which the university teacher must apply to those who seek admission to his institution.

If I have any confidence about the system of quotas, it is that it cannot be successfully applied. I would oppose it with even more vigour if I did not think that it would die a quiet death because it is so foreign to everything that universities understand about how they should operate.

I recognise that we face a problem if we have increasing numbers of overseas students from rich countries with considerable resources of their own, numbers increasing far beyond the resources of the university system to meet. I recognise the feeling in Government circles that an open-ended subsidy in this direction might not be a reasonable claim on priorities at present. Therefore, I seek as hard as I can to find an alternative way of dealing with the problem. All the ways found so far seem to be either inherently unacceptable, such as quotas, or likely to discriminate against the people whom we ought to be attracting into education in this country. I refer to students from developing countries, students from better-off countries whose family and personal resources would not enable them to obtain higher education, and students from countries where the régime probably seeks to keep out of higher education people of their kind. There are many categories of students that, for Britain's future influence in the world, we would want to see in our universities. Therefore, I am unhappy about the effect of the present discriminatory fees.

The only acceptable alternative that I see is some kind of bursary system, directed by the Ministry of Overseas Development, clearly directing aid towards those students whose countries were too poor to send them here or those students whose own resources were too poor to allow them to come to this country. There would be many practical problems, not least that of assessing the means of individual students who apply from other countries. It would have been preferable to avoid getting into this vicious question of discriminatory fees.

We cannot add to our denying access to the higher education institutions of this country to people who, if they were educated here, would probably be friends of this country for the rest of their lives, and who would bring many other benefits to British policies in many spheres.

Universities are central to the ability of this country to win its way in the world and to maintain a level of civilisation which means that we have something to offer the world and something of which to be proud. Universities do not and cannot live in isolation from either the financial problems of the country as a whole or from the rest of the education sector. They must see their problems against the background of the others that I have described. They have made a major contribution by the way in which they have managed their affairs over a difficult period. I hope that in the coming years the Government will make possible the kind of sensible university development to which I have referred.

12.27 p.m.

Mr. Gerry Fowler (The Wrekin)

I suppose that I should begin by declaring an interest as a part-time—very part-time—professor at Brunel University. I mention that not least because some hon. Members may ask "Why on earth are you still interested in doing a little university teaching?" The answer is simple. I find it a very satisfying and stimulating activity to indulge in from time to time. When we are discussing the pay and conditions of university teachers, we should not lose sight of the fact that there is great job satisfaction in teaching in a university. Whilst I have considerable sympathy with university teachers over the eradication of their pay anomaly, my heart does not bleed quite as much as it would for groups whose jobs gave them considerably less job satisfaction than is enjoyed by people in that profession. There are consolations, as it were.

It is notorious that Conservative Members are schizophrenic about public expenditure. Every time we debate it in general they want further reductions. Every time we debate a specific item they attack the Government for cutting too far. But the schizophrenia on this issue has gone even further. Today we have had the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) talking of a crisis in the universities, yet on Monday we were debating, among other reports of the Public Accounts Committee, the Ninth Report of the last Session, in which the Committee—chaired by a gentleman of some eminence in Conservative circles, the right hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann)—said: The UGC told us that, compared with 1971–72, the universities' average expenditure per student in constant terms had risen during the first two years of the 1972–77 quinquennium and had then steadily declined until it was now at or a little below the 1971–72 level. It seems to us that, in the country's present financial circumstances, grants which have enabled the universities to maintain their expenditure per student at about the 1971–72 level in real terms cannot be regarded as having imposed an unfair burden on the university sector.

Mr. Rifkind

Will the hon. Gentleman re-read his speech on Monday during the debate on the PAC reports when he pointed out that he did not agree with the Committee's view on this matter?

Mr. Fowler

I did nothing of the sort. I pointed out that I did not agree with the Committee's view on some other matters, but I refused to get involved in the controversy developing over those two sentences because I wanted to involve myself in it today rather than on Monday.

The view of the PAC was contested by the Association of University Teachers which said that since 1971–72 there had been a decline of 6 per cent. in university income per student. The right hon. Member for Taunton took them on and said, with some justification in regard to the technicality of the calculations, that the association was using the wrong baseline and that the reduction had been less. The Committee stuck to its original view.

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals said that there had been a sharp decline since 1973–74 after the first two years of the quinquennium. The right hon. Member for Taunton became embroiled with the CVCP on the exact interpretation of the figures, but there was general agreement that there had been a decline of 9 per cent. or 10 per cent. during that period. There is schizophrenia on the Benches opposite. The right hon. Member for Taunton does not agree with the hon. Member for Pentlands that there is a crisis in the universities.

Let us assume that the 9 per cent. or 10 per cent. decline in university income per student since 1973–74 is correct. In my local education authority there have, in the last three or four years, been two reductions of 10 per cent. in the capitation allowances for secondary school pupils. These are reductions in absolute terms and take no account of inflation in the prices of goods which the capitation allowances are designed to purchase. I shall not give other examples of reductions in educational expenditure because all hon. Members know about them. If there has been a decline in university income of 9 per cent. or 10 per cent. per student since 1973–74, the universities have not suffered more severely than some other sectors of education over that period. There has been a national crisis and it is pointless talking of a specific crisis in universities. I agree with what the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said on this point.

There are certain matters which have caused undue resentment in universities. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed mentioned the question of fees and I have some sympathy with what he said. I am notoriously opposed to the present level of fees and I note that an announcement has just been made to increase fees again, admittedly only to keep pace with inflation, but it is still an increase, and it maintains fee income at about 20 per cent. of the total income of universities and other higher education institutions. I said on Monday that, while this might be tolerable at the moment, it will cause grave problems in higher education as a whole in the late 1980s when the size of the 18-year-old age group will decline rapidly. Higher education institutions will be competing for students and the universities will suffer less than other institutions because they are in a better position to compete. Some of the colleges of higher education that we are now creating may suffer severely if there is an advantage in competing for students because of the fee income which they bring with them. I do not like the present level of tuition fees for that reason and for the reason given by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed.

On the subject of additional revenue, the PAC said: Insofar as this comes from students from richer overseas countries we welcome the proposed increases. I do not welcome them. It is absurd to talk about richer and poorer countries. We should be talking about people from richer or poorer backgrounds. There is a higher concentration of students from poor backgrounds in poorer countries and we sometimes slip into talking about the countries when it is the students' home background and personal resources which are relevant.

I do not like rationing by the purse. I should like us to move towards lower absolute fee levels or at least levels which fail to keep pace with general inflation and hence put a smaller burden on the student and represent a lower proportion of university income.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Why does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the nation does not come into this matter? If a student comes from a country, there is no reason why his Government should not pay or make a contribution towards his fees rather than our Government, because it is one set of taxpayers or the other who have to pay. If the country is rich, why should not those taxpayers help the student to come here?

Mr. Fowler

It may not have occurred to the hon. and learned Gentleman that there are countries which are relatively well off, not least the oil-rich countries, where some students are not popular with the regime and to suggest that we say to that regime that it should pay for the student is not helpful.

If one is opposed to rationing by purse through fee levels, one has to consider the alternatives. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed said that he dislikes the notion of quotas since it is alien to the way that universities operate. I dislike the notion of over-rigid quotas, but if we are to have some system of rationing of places—and I shall be coming to why we may need that—quotas operated in a fairly loose and flexible manner would be preferable to rationing by the purse.

If the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed suggests that we should have no system of control, he is really saying that higher education institutions should be allowed, indeed encouraged—and, if there were a low level of fees, that would amount to encouragement—either to take more students than they have places for and to indulge in overcrowding and use that as an argument for further capital expenditure and further recurrent grants in future, or to exclude domestic students who are capable of benefiting from higher education in order to accommodate additional overseas students. One may properly argue where the cut-off point should come, but I think that in present circumstances 75,000 is a reasonable figure for the number of overseas students.

We cannot say that there should be no system of rationing unless we have limitless resources to devote to higher education, which we do not. I was sad to see that the CVCP recommended universities to reject quotas. I think that they may be treading the path of further fees increases in absolute terms and as a proportion of university income and I think that they would greatly regret that if it happened.

I have been talking at various points in my speech of higher education as a whole. I was amazed that the hon. Member for Pentlands spoke only of the universities as if they existed in isolation. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) as to where educational priorities lie. I think that he was quite right about one major educational priority. However, even if we restrict ourselves to higher education, we have to ask whether the financial crisis in the universities is more severe than it is in other higher education institutions.

When the hon. Member for Pentlands was quoting from the report of the Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University he suggested that there was a surplus of good students over the number of places available for them. I know of no such evidence. If we consider the higher education system as a whole, I suggest that there is not a scintilla of truth in that assertion. We have surplus capacity in certain scientific and engineering sectors. Over the years, and even in the House, we have discussed repeatedly how we are to fill those unfilled places in science and engineering.

Since the reorganisation of the colleges—perhaps the hon. Member for Pentlands is not as conscious of this as I am because in the end the Scottish colleges of education managed to escape with little reorganisation, although with some reduction—there have been massive changes, including the closure of a college in the constituency of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed. That is a decision that I had to take when I occupied the post of Minister of State. There has been a massive reorganisation. I suspect that, in consequence, in the arts and some of the social sciences we now have surplus capacity for places on degree courses in higher education institutions as a whole.

I regret that some of the reorganised colleges are now finding it difficult to recruit as many students as they are allowed to take and as the Government's plans suggest they should be recruiting, whether on teacher education courses or on non-teacher education courses—namely, general higher education courses so-called, which are usually courses in the arts or social sciences. That is not entirely so, but it is usually the case. If it be true that there are many good students about and Southampton regrets that it cannot recruit more of them, we need have no fear that such students will not get a place in higher education.

That brings me to another central topic. The motion refers to research, and it is true that the other institutions to which I have referred are not research oriented. I do not mean that some research does not take place within them, but they are not primarily research-oriented institutions. When the 1966 White Paper announced the creation of 30 new polytechnics it was said specifically that they would be primarily teaching institutions. The universities' two activities go hand in hand. Their recurrent grant from the UGC takes account of general background support for research as well as teaching costs, and allowance is made for that. Admittedly, for specific projects, the universities have to go to other bodies such as the research councils, which will fund them. Funding is dependent on the research council's judgment on the so-called timeliness and promise of the proposal. However, general background support for research is in the UGC grant to the universities. That is one reason for the cost of educating a student at a university remaining for many years consistently higher than that of educating him to the same level in public sector institutions. That is one reason for the discrepancy. It is not that money is wasted in the universities. The reason lies in the fact that they are also research-oriented institutions.

It is not an act of deliberate policy that we have in the United Kingdom 43 university institutions and 30 polytechnics. In addition, we have a wide range of colleges of higher and further education that provide higher education and perhaps some courses of a lower level. I believe that that is an accident. No one has ever worked out what should be the proportion of research-oriented institutions within the higher education system as a whole and the proportion of primarily teaching institutions.

In 1972, in the White Paper entitled "Education: A Framework for Expansion", the right hon. Lady the present Leader of the Opposition announced a target of 750,000 places in higher education by 1980–81. The places were to be divided equally between the universities and the public sector. My right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Education and Science has announced a revised—indeed, it has been many times revised—target figure for the total number of places for 1980–81. It has been revised because demand from those qualified for and seeking places in higher education has not increased in quite the way that was expected.

My right hon. Friend has said how the new total will be divided between the universities and non-university institutions. She has said that there will be 310,000 places for the universities and 250,000 for the public sector institutions. The balance has shifted in favour of the universities and not against them. That shift will be found in the White Paper on public expenditure that was published yesterday, in which we see that the total number of university students is expected to increase from 277,000, although the CVCP asserts that it is 280,000, in the current year to 310,000 by 1981–82.

If we take the CVCP figure of 280,000, it makes the arithmetic a little easier. That is an increase of about one-ninth in the total student population of the universities over the period in question. It appears from today's The Times Higher Education Supplement that that journal has access to Government documents that are not available to hon. Members. It has discovered that university income—I assume that this means capital and recurrent grants—is scheduled to increase by about 20 per cent. over the same period. There will be an 11 per cent. increase in the student body and an increase of about 20 per cent. in expenditure on the universities. That appears to be the implication of the figures in the public expenditure White Paper, although we cannot ourselves break down its figures for expenditure in that way. It seems that we must rely on the documents seen by the editor of The Times Higher Education Supplement, which are not available to hon. Members. The figures in the public expenditure White Paper show a sharp increase in total expenditure on further and higher education over the same period.

I hope that the universities will draw some consolation from the events of the past few days—perhaps less from the motion of the hon. Member for Pentlands than from the public expenditure White Paper and its implications for them.

Before I draw my remarks to an end, I allude to the vexed question of university pay. I have every sympathy with the AUT in its present position. It was unfortunate that the anomaly arose in 1975. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow said, it was not unique to university teachers. However, they were hard hit. I think that they were the largest group caught by the imposition of pay policy. I hope that the Government will be able to commit themselves before too long to trying to rectify the anomaly, albeit in a phased manner.

On the other hand, we should be unwise to forget that on the figures given by the Vice-Chancellor of Durham University in his annual report the pay of university academic staff has increased in real terms by 53 per cent. since 1952. An increase of 53 per cent. over a quarter of a century is not very exciting, but university academics were not terribly badly paid in 1952 by comparison with other professionals. I do not think that it is quite as desperately serious a situation as it might be if we were debating the pay, for example, of firemen. I know of one reason for the two issues being different, apart from that given by the hon. and learned Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Bell)—namely, that the pay of firemen at the bottom of their scale, and for a long working week, is much lower than that of the humblest university academic. There is, therefore, a distinction between the two issues.

I hope that we shall not get carried away today and say that the only reason that we can give an undertaking to rectify one anomaly and not the other is that the firemen went on strike. The strike does not seem to have affected the issue much one way or the other. I hope that the university academic staff will not go on strike, I hope that the Government will respond to their requests, and that the universities will take heart from yesterday's White Paper which demonstrates that far from being biased against the universities the Government are, in terms of the development of higher education as a whole, biased in favour of the universities. This has not caused any pleasure in the polytechnics.

We now have a wide array of institutions in higher education. We have a more complex system of financing which makes it almost impossible to work out the proportion of university income that comes from public sources because it comes by so many routes, including a massive tranche in the shape of tuition fees which are paid by local authorities for home students in receipt of mandatory awards. I have not mentioned the direct Government-financing of central institutions in Scotland, although I suppose that we should show that in England we are aware of what happens north of the border. We have a Byzantine system. I wonder whether the time is coming for an inquiry into higher education as a whole.

The Robbins Committee reported 18 years after the end of the last war. We could now think of setting up a departmental committee because as a result of Robbins the universities are now under the aegis of the DES. If such a committee were appointed now, it would report 18 years after the Robbins Committee reported. I am not saying that now is the time for such a committee, but we should now begin to consider whether we might need presently another inquiry into the structure and financing of higher education. That would be better than party political battling over the universities.

12.53 p.m.

Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas (Chelmsford)

I join in the congratulations that have been offered to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind), both on his success in the Ballot and on his choice of this important subject. As my hon. Friend said, this is the first debate on universities that we have had in the House since 1969. He is to be congratulated on producing this decennial occasion. I hope that it will not be another decade before we have this opportunity again. My hon. Friend brought out clearly the profound sense of grievance in the university world and he showed how soundly based is that sense of grievance.

I listened with interest to the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) who started by being partisan and ended by appealing to us not to be partisan. This is having the best—or worst—of both worlds. I agree that it would be interesting to discuss the whole sphere of higher education. No doubt another opportunity for doing that will occur.

However, the motion is strictly confined to the universities and although any sensible consideration of the universities must take place in the context of the higher education system as a whole, you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, with your well-known determination to enforce the rules of order, would not allow hon. Members to talk at great length on higher education as such. If I confine my remarks to the universities it is not because of a lack of interest in the other spheres but because that is the subject that we are discussing.

The Opposition's policy on the universities is clear. We cherish and esteem them as the crown of our educational system. They have served the nation well. They have given us the best first degree in the world and one which can be achieved in the shortest time. The wastage rate of students in our universities is among the lowest in the world. Our wastage rate is 9 per cent. compared with 60 per cent. in the United States and 40 per cent. on the Continent. Student troubles have been highly publicised but they have been mild by the standards of many other countries. Over the past decades the universities have carried out a massive expansion without any lowering of standards.

These are great achievements, and it is a poor reward for these great achievements that those who teach in the universities are discriminated against so that they are worse off than their equivalents in the polytechnics. I have long advocated equal pay for equal work throughout our educational system but that is different from actively discriminating against the universities. That is the position which the Government have now reached.

The whole system of university finance needs examining again. The universities are suffering from an inflation rate which is well above the national average. The reason for that is that they are so labour-intensive. They are compensated for inflation in a manner which is too little and too late. They are being compelled to cut staff and their teacher-pupil ratios are suffering. Many of our brightest academic stars are voting with their feet and clearing out of the country to pursue careers in Canada, the United States, Australia and other EEC countries where the rewards are greater and where the facilities for pursuing their vocations are superior. The United States and other English-speaking countries will always be a magnet which attracts academics. The disparity between the position of academics here and in the United States and the British Commonwealth is now so great that we are facing a crisis.

The Conservative Party is determined that the universities shall have a fair deal. I am not saying that they should be in a position of special privilege, but there should be justice.

The period of massive expansion in higher education is over for the moment, but the universities must have the means to do their job well. Speaking for myself, I am unrepentantly pro-university. They provide our society with the cultural and critical centres which are essential to our progress as a nation. Like our grammar schools, they benefit those who have never entered their doors by upholding high standards and ideals of academic excellence for the nation.

More important than the expansion of numbers is a redefinition of the rôle and functions of the different higher educational institutions. I followed with interest the contribution made by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) on this subject since he, like myself, is somewhat detached from party politics. He raised the debate to a high conceptual level and raised the question of why universities exist.

I believe that universities exist primarily to promote the intellectual life, to preserve and transmit the essentials of our culture and to advance the frontiers of knowledge. They should, as Lord Boyle has put it, provide teaching in the atmosphere of research.

I welcome very much the robust remarks of Lord James of Rusholme on the rôle and independence of universities which he made at the North of England educational conference. What he was saying there, and what I certainly say today, is that the justification for the existence of universities is that they contribute to the intellectual life. It is sad that in Britain where arts and learning are concerned one always has to justify them on some external ground. One has to say that the arts are a good thing because they help the balance of payments. That may be so, but that is not the reason for having the arts. It is true that the universities may well benefit our industrial life, but that is not the ultimate reasons for having universities. We should try to make ars gratia artis more meaningful in our discussions than it is within the purlieus of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. I am afraid that at the moment it rates about equal in importance in both.

We have far too much cant about the necessity of making universities relevant, but who can say what is going to be relevant in the long term or even in the medium term? Today's relevance is tomorrow's irrelevance, and as Mrs. Beeton might have put it "First, catch your relevance." The only relevance that the universities need today is to be faithful to the perennial values of truth, honesty and beauty, and to enjoy the freedom to pursue those values without fear wherever the path may lead.

The universities need freedom. They must have it if they are to fulfil this primary need, and that applies to students as much as to teachers. They must be free to choose their own courses and study what they wish. Manpower planning in universities is a chimera, and, thank goodness, since Lord Crowther-Hunt left the Department of Education we have heard less about manpower planning from that source. I think that anyone who thinks about university education in terms of manpower planning should be given a copy of Newman's book "The Idea of the University" and asked to read it from cover to cover. If I had to choose between Cardinal Newman and Lord Crowther-Hunt, my vote would go to Cardinal Newman every time.

Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)

The hon. Member has made some laudable comments about the function of the universities, but he seems rather to underplay the part the universities have in contributing to industry. Is that the policy of the Opposition? Do they think that universities are relatively unimportant from the point of view of contributing to industrial technology?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Of course I do not take that view, and nor do the Opposition. My train of thought was started off by the brilliant contribution from the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, and I thought that it would be a good moment to redress the balance by stressing something which is not always stressed as much as it should be. Our approach is a balanced one and I leave it to others to stress the important point raised by the hon. Member.

Although the principle upon which research is carried out should be a detached one, nevertheless I believe that research carried out on such a principle yields practical results, and I say to the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Cronin) that without the research carried out in the universities the discovery and exploitation of oil resources in the North Sea would never have been a possibility. As he well knows, advances in medicine and the care of the old and the sick are heavily dependent on university work. The conservation of the environment, which has been such an encouraging feature of recent decades, would never have been possible and would never have prospered without the contribution of the universities. All this has been achieved by the principled approach of pursuing knowledge in freedom. This and other achievements have been placed in jeopardy now by inadequate public funding just at the moment when support from private sources is beginning to dry up.

It is most important that universities should be free to determine their own selection procedures. Heaven preserve us from the system in some Continental countries of open admission followed by expulsion when it is clear that students do not have the intellectual resources to profit by a university education or that the institutions do not have the teaching resources to educate the students. The only predictable result of such a policy is to create a student proletariat of frustrated and disappointed men and women ripe for exploitation by the extremists and agitators of the Right and the Left. We have seen that happen in Italy, a country which I admire greatly, but whose university admissions policy has a great deal to do with the amount of social unrest there.

Important as research is for the universities, teaching is equally important and these two elements have to be held together and maintained in balance. I should like to see much more emphasis in academic appointments on teaching ability. One does not need much to be a good teacher; one needs only the rare quality of having a teaching nature. I wish those making academic appointments in the universities would pay much more attention to candidates showing evidence of possessing that nature than to candidates able to produce a long list of publications in obscure journals.

Of course, research is vital but it should not be transformed into a superstition and nor should it be pursued to the exclusion of other academic needs. There must be advancement of the frontiers of knowledge, but there must also be the dissemination of knowledge. These are the equal ends of a university.

The Opposition are utterly opposed to allowing any deterioration in academic standards in our universities. We recognise the vital importance of universities to society, both in terms of educating the young managers, doctors and scientists of the future, and in terms of their contributions to knowledge and research. We believe that their independence should continue to be guaranteed through the instrument of the UGC. We totally reject any proposals to regionalise or comprehensivise universities within monolithic regional institutions along the lines which have been suggested in a recent Labour Party document. The treasured independence of the university sector and the freedom of students to choose which institution they want should both be retained, just as universities should be free to select their candidates.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin raised the point of what he called a schizophrenia in the Opposition. I believe that he was guilty of an incorrect use of that medical term, and the hon. Member for Loughborough would be able to confirm that. Schizophrenia does not mean that one is divided on two subjects. The word has a more complicated meaning than that—

Mr. Cronin

I thought that it was entirely appropriate.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My estimation for the hon. Member's medical ability has been reduced by that intervention, and it is some compensation to me on hearing the remark to know that I am not on his National Health Service list.

Let me make it plain that we recognise fully that the universities must bear their fair share of Government cuts. But what we are concerned about is that they should not be discriminated against and that they should have their right priority in educational expenditure.

Mr. Cronin

What is that?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

The hon. Member asks "What is that?" I am saying that we give the universities a high priority. What priority the Government give them is for the Minister of State to say.

Having said that, I go on to say that if we are critical of the Government, the major point of criticism is that the universities cannot be expected to suffer large reductions in revenue and simultaneously be asked to expand their intake of students. That was the charge made against the Government by my hon. Friend the Member for Pentlands.

The provisional grant figure for 1978–79 is based on student numbers of 279,000, yet already the provisional count for students in the current academic year is 280,000. I do not know the status of the documents that have been published in The Times Higher Education Supplement. They might throw light on the Government's attitude to this problem, but I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about them.

If I might utter a reproach against the way in which the Minister's Department is run, it is that we get much more information about educational matters from the pages of the Press than we do from the lips of Ministers in this House. If one wants to know what is going on in the Department one has to read the Guardian or The Times Educational Supplement, or, as today, The Times Higher Education Supplement, whereas we want to hear in this House from the Minister, and I hope that he will have something to say about that.

We cannot expect universities to reduce the numbers and pay of their teaching staff and let their research facilities run down to dangerously low levels, while at the same time blithely announcing a 14 per cent. increase in student numbers by 1981–82—no marks for that kind of approach.

The deprivation being suffered in the universities is real. We have seen this from recent correspondence in The Times. Lord Annan, the Provost of University College, said: … the last six months I have had to refuse permission to fill out of three recent vacancies in the electrical engineering department … Indeed, from 1974 until the end of this academic year University College will have had to abolish or downgrade 208 posts. Of these 77 are in the academic departments. Next year their running expenses for teaching and research are being cut still further so that they will be 25 per cent. lower in real terms than they were in 1977. The University Grants Committee stated the position in words that are startling. It said in its 1977 report, which relates to the academic year 1975–76: This has been a further year of extreme financial stringency, annual financing and short-term decisions … the absence of any clear basis for forward planning, on however spartan a scale, has been even graver than the severe decline in the value of income per student … the capital programme available to us was the lowest in money terms for 20 years, and probably in peacetime the lowest in real terms since the 1930s. What a reproach that is to the Labour Government who traditionally have placed such a high priority on extending educational opportunities, and particularly in making higher education available to more people.

I should like to ask the Minister a few questions. What has been the percentage fall in real terms in the recurrent grant for 1977–78? It was in March last year that the Secretary of State forecast that total recurrent resources available to the universities in 1977–78 would fall below the previous year's level by about 1 per cent., and would then rise for the following two years. It has become increasingly obvious that the forecast was very optimistic, including as it did an allowance for pay increases of a derisory 5 per cent., and for price increases of 12 per cent. to 13 per cent. A more realistic, though still conservative, estimate of the cuts that will be suffered has been made by the Committee of Vice Chancellors, which says that the reductions amount to between 2 per cent. and 4 per cent.

In the light of the Secretary of State's declaration that the Government would be prepared to review the grant position if the pace of pay and price increases was substantially higher than those implied in the cash limits, does the Minister accept that the Government are now under a moral obligation to grant an increase if the universities are not to be forced further down this slope of cutbacks and insolvency? What light do those documents in The Times Higher Educational Supplement throw on the situation?

I draw the Minister's attention to the need for forward planning in the universities. What proposals has his Department for returning to a quinquennial grant system, and to improving it? When are we to see a move in that direction? I point out to the Minister the chaos caused by recent changer in the fees and grant system. The main effect of the changes in tuition fees has been to cause great hardship to two relatively small but important groups of students; namely, self-financed home students and overseas students. With regard to the latter, are not the Government allowing economic adversity to become the breeding ground of a certain mean-mindedness? A coherent strategy on fees is desperately needed, and once again I pledge that the next Conservative Government will undertake a thorough review of student grants.

Let me now say a word for postgraduates. Post-graduate study is being attacked on all sides. Last year's vast increase in tuition fees—from £182 to £750 for post-graduate home students, which was an increase of more than 300 per cent.—has caused a dramatic fall in applications from self-financing students, many of whom study engineering and technology. This increase, coupled with the cuts in research council grants, is having a quite disastrous effect on postgraduate research.

The 1977 report from the Science Research Council, for example, states quite clearly that its reduced income will not allow the number of new postgraduate studentships to keep pace with the expected rise in the number of qualified candidates, and even with the revised figures announced in yesterday's public expenditure White Paper the Government will still be spending less on the research councils in 1978–79 than was spent in 1973–74. Thus, we find the Government cutting back in a savage way and attacking the post-graduate work that lies at the heart of promoting academic excellence and standards.

I raise here a minor question which relates to the financial situation, but which is an important issue of principle. Why do the Government, when faced with a shortage of resources, discriminate against the independent university, which is making no demand upon Government resources? University College of Buckingham licences have been accepted as the equivalent of degrees by the Law Society, the Council for Legal Education, the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators and the Institute of Chartered Accountants. Universities, amongst them London, Birmingham. Manchester, Glasgow, Leeds and Exeter have said that they will consider licentiates for post-graduate courses on the basis of individual merit, but Government Ministers and the Civil Service have adopted a hostile attitude to the new college, which can only be on doctrinal grounds, which has resulted in discrimination in three areas.

First, the Civil Service Commission has refused to allow Buckingham licentiates to qualify for graduate entry competitions. Secondly, the Ministry of Defence will not allow licentiates from Buckingham to qualify for officer graduate training. Thirdly, the Social Science Research Council refuses to consider Buckinghamshire students for its grants for further degrees.

What possible grounds can there be tot that? May we hear them from the Minister, or, better still, can we hear that the Government are prepared to adopt a less doctrinaire attitude to the University College of Buckingham which is making a real contribution to education, and is costing the taxpayer nothing?

My hon. Friend made the pay of university lecturers a principal part of his motion. Why are lecturers still waiting? They have, after all, waited long and patiently for the rectification of their pay anomaly, and the existence of the anomaly has been acknowledged by the Secretary of State and the Minister of State.

The lecturers have now put forward a sensible and reasonable proposal that they should receive a 10 per cent. pay increase, backdated to 1st October and subsequent staged payments to cover the cost of living increase which they have never received. Whatever the decision may be of the Secretary of State, I urge her to make it now and end the present uncertainty. It would greatly help if we could hear from the Minister of State that he was prepared to set dates for the stages of the rectification of this undoubted anomaly.

The question of the firemen's dispute has been mentioned. I would merely say, in the context of that dispute, that if the Government are expecting the firemen and others to take seriously their promises of pay increases, they could show the worth of those assurances by honouring the promises that already exist to those in the universities.

The Opposition and, I believe, most vice-chancellors, would favour an era of consolidation rather than expansion in the universities. Indeed, I would argue that one of the greatest strengths of our university system has been their small size and relatively slow rate of expansion compared with many continental countries. If, as a matter of principle, we continue to expand the percentage of young people entering our universities, we shall change the nature of the institutions, and not necessarily to the benefit of either the institutions or their students. Indiscriminate expansion is not, at this point in time, an aim which should be pursued.

The more academic and scholarly approach to the traditional United Kingdom university is not the best answer for many young people with more practical tastes and abilities who would benefit from a more vocational approach. We would like to see, therefore, the development of a diversified range of institutions in higher education, each with a clearly defined role, to match the diversity of human and educational need. This might include, for example, establishing clearer guidelines for new institutions of higher education so that we could offer more 18-year-olds two-year higher education courses, preferably of a more vocational kind.

Higher education is one of our greatest assets, yet those most closely involved with it are undoubtedly currently suffering from a sense of betrayal, and the distinguished heads of some of our most prized institutions are being forced into the position where they have literally to go round begging for more funds.

I stress again, therefore, the support and sympathy for the universities which is found on Opposition Benches. We regard respect for scholarship and the encouragement of academic excellence as being amongst the hallmark of civilised society. The universities are serving the nation well, and we appeal to the Government today to help them to do even better.

1.24 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Gordon Oakes)

Like many other hon. Members, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind). I am grateful to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) for pointing out that it is not since 1969 that we have had a debate on the universities.

I had some qualms at the wording of the motion, which refers to a "crisis" in the universities. I wondered what the hon. Member for Pentlands was going to say. If we were talking about the French universities in 1968, or about the American universities at around that time, or—much nearer home—if the hon. Gentleman wanted to talk to the hon. Member for Chelmsford about the existing state of the universities in Italy, I could understand the word "crisis" being used. But clearly, as the hon. Member for Chelmsford has just said, in a speech which said, in effect "God is in his heaven and all is well with the world", the situation does not imply the word "crisis".

I shall not take so complacent a line about some of the difficulties that the universities may face in future, not least through demography. We have to look, for example, at the effects of the trough in demography on the intake of the universities.

The hon. Member for Pentlands confined himself to two main aspects, as other hon. Members have done—university teachers' pay and the financing of the universities. I shall concentrate also on those two aspects, as well as trying to answer some of the more detailed points put by the hon. Member for Chelmsford.

I am in great difficulty in talking about university teachers' pay, because negotiations are going on this week between the AUT and the universities. The hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) has a Question on the Order Paper asking about the state of negotiations between the AUT and the Department of Education and Science. The hon. Gentleman is in error. There are no negotiations between the AUT and the Department of Education and Science. This is like any other wage bargaining. It is between the employers, the universities, and the AUT, representing the university teachers. Those discussions are now going on. They are current. I pay tribute, as did the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) to the approach of the union towards the constraints and the proper way in which the university teachers have put their case.

I stress again, because it must go on record once more, even though negotiations are going on, that, as my right hon. Friend and her predecessor and I myself have all said to the House, that the present position is wrong. There is an anomaly between the university teachers and other teachers in the higher education sector, and the Government seek to put that anomaly right, but within the context of the pay policy. Justice must be done and a wrong must be remedied.

That is not to say that it can be done in the way that, initially, the AUT wanted it to be done. The negotiations now going on are not only about the 10 per cent. but about the question of phasing, when that phasing will take place, the degree of anomaly which exists, and so on. All this is being discussed between the employers and the employed in the ordinary way. I am not being secretive in any way to the House, as I hope it appreciates, when I do not put my big feet in as Minister when delicate negotiations are going on. It would be improper of me to intervene in that way.

However, there are certain things that I should say in the general context of university teachers' pay. A number of hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, referred to a parallel between the firemen's dispute and the university teachers' pay problem. I hope that not many analogies will be drawn from the firemen's dispute. I accept that, in the position in which the Government found themselves in the firemen's dispute, they, perhaps, made a unique offer, and I hope that it will not be claimed for other wage settlements.

If I am asked why such an offer was made to the firemen and not to the university teachers, I suggest that the answer is obvious. It is not just a question of a strike—there is no strike by the university teachers. The real reason is that the Government were faced with a position where human life was at stake, and when any Government are faced with such a situation the matter is in a unique category. That is perhaps more obvious than in almost any other wage claim, no matter how powerful economically other claimants asking for a wage increase may be.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate what he has just said? Judging by its face value, are we now to accept that the degree of industrial muscle of claimants in a pay dispute determines, at the end of the day, the Government's response? Is that what the hon. Gentleman is saying?

Mr. Oakes

That is precisely what did not say. I said that it was not a question of industrial muscle or economic power of the union. There is a distinction between economic loss and the loss of human life. That is why the position of the Government in relation to the firemen is almost unique.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am not quite sure whether the Minister was leaving that point, but could I ask him to comment on the article in The Times Higher Education Supplement, which states quite specifically that an amount has been written into university current expenditure to meet the university lecturers' pay anomaly? It would seem to indicate that a decision of some sort has been reached on that matter within the Department. As this debate has coincided with that issue, it would be helpful if we could have something from the Minister on that.

Mr. Oakes

I intended to refer to it and this may be the appropriate time at which to do so. I have during the course of the debate seen the report on the first page of The Times Higher Education Supplement of today's date, in which Mr. Peter Scott interprets the public expenditure White Paper which was published yesterday as an indication that Mrs. Williams's promise to rectify the university teachers' pay anomaly will be kept. This is entirely an inference by Mr. Peter Scott. Just as I have said to the House that it would be wrong of me, while negotiations are going on, to make statements about the matter, it would be equally wrong for my Department to make any such statements at this time. Mr. Scott's inference is mistaken, and I take this early opportunity to squash the false report publicly. That is not to say in any way that the anomaly will not be rectified. I will not comment on the accuracy or otherwise of the percentage increases in regard to universities, but to suggest that the money in the White Paper has been set aside for that purpose and that the increase is an indication that the anomaly will be settled is an inference entirely in the mind of Mr. Peter Scott. It would be wrong for my Department to be making statements of that sort, just as it would be wrong for me to do so as a Minister in this House.

Before I leave the question of pay, I refer to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) as to the schizophrenia in the Conservative Party concerning university finance. I wonder what would happen if the Conservative Party was in power, bearing in mind what the Leader of the Opposition said in Glasgow this week. She promised that there would be no interference in the private sector but that cash limits would be imposed on the public sector. What price university teachers then? What would happen if we were to return to the sort of jungle that the right hon. Lady would seek to bring about in regard to pay negotiations in this country? The owl is an animal which would not survive very long in the fierce situation which would result from the imposition of cash limits. I do not think that any of us on the Government side would want to have a stilted pay policy of that kind, which would involve a free-for-all in the private sector at the expense of the public sector. That is apparently what the right hon. Lady has indicated as her pay policy.

As to resources, there can be no doubt that, in terms of financial support, the universities have experienced very grave difficulties over the past few years. Like the rest of us and like local government and many other institutions, they have had to bear their part of the burden resulting from the country's economic situation. They found it particularly hard to accept the suspension, from 1975–76 of the long-established Government practice of settling the universities' block grants for five-year periods and the replacement of this system by grants announced one year at a time. This move became unavoidable not only because of the need to look afresh at all Government expenditure but because of the national economic difficulties and because student numbers in the universities were falling far short of the numbers assumed when the grant for the period 1972–77 was originally settled. The difficulty for the universities, which I fully appreciate, was that their planning horizon had been removed.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford, from the Opposition Front Bench, and a number of other hon. Members, have asked me about the quinquennial system. We are fully aware of the difficulties which are caused to universities by settling grants on a year-to-year basis. We know that the universities would like to return to the old quinquennial system. However, in the present circumstances it is not possible to do so—certainly not yet. It was in order to help the universities as much as possible that, when the grants were announced in March 1977, the firm grant was given for the year 1977–78 and indicated grants were given for the following three years. The plan is that as grants are announced in successive years, the pattern of one year of firm grant and three years of indicated grant should be retained. Although it is not all that the universities would have liked, they have welcomed the new arrangements as a useful tool for planning purposes.

The hon. Gentleman also asked about the settlement for last year that was announced in March. The 1977–78 grant—which in real terms resulted in a 1 per cent. reduction in income compared with 1976–77—was settled as a cash limit. The cash limit allowed for non-pay prices to rise by 12 per cent. and for pay increases after August 1977 at the rate of 5 per cent. A settlement of academic teachers' pay within Government guidelines is the primary need. I hope that a satisfactory settlement will be reached. In that event, notwithstanding that the Government have said that they see no need for any general adjustment of the 1977–78 cash limits, we would be prepared to review this cash limit in the light of the circumstances of the time. I hope that that answers the very important point that the hon. Gentleman raised during the course of his speech.

Universities are concerned also that the provisional grant for 1978–79 is 1 per cent. below that for 1977–78, despite a forecast increase in student numbers. As my right hon. Friend announced to the House on 30th November, the Government, having received the advice of the University Grants Committee, have now proposed 310,000 fulltime university students as the planning figure for 1981–82. This figure replaces the previous target of 293,000 university students. It was on this latter figure that the grants announced in March were based. In the light of the revised forecast number of students in universities, all the provisional grant figures are being reconsidered. New levels of grant related to higher student numbers will be announced in the spring.

In 1977–78 the reduction in grant over the previous year reflected the cuts in expenditure announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in December 1976. Later year figures show a continuing decline but, as the announcement in 1977 made clear, these figures are provisional. The question must, however, be kept in perspective. Despite the cuts, income per student from the current grant and tuition fees taken together was in 1976–77 only a very little below what it was in 1971–72 in real terms. That was a point made very clearly in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin, when he talked about the quinquennial review. Income per student in 1976–77 was only about 1 per cent. lower than had been planned in the original quinquennial settlement.

In order to meet the revised student target of 310,000, some additional building may be required. My Department is at present considering with the UGC the capital needs of the universities in 1979–80 and 1980–81 in the light of the proposed expansion. While additional purpose-built departmental accommodation is not generally likely to be required, there will be a need for some projects providing for ancillary accommodation such as libraries, and for adaptations and so on.

The Department recognises that some projects for residential accommodation may be necessary if certain universities are to accommodate larger intakes and to use their existing teaching facilities to maximum advantage. For 1978–79 a capital programme of £9 million was originally announced last spring. Since then the programme has been increased to about £15 million.

It is expected that at least a further £20 million will be made available for capital projects in the years after 1978–79 and before student numbers reach their peak. Some additional resources may be needed by the universities in addition to those that I have just mentioned to meet the new student targets, but I feel sure that the sums already made available for 1978–79 together with those earmarked for succeeding years will together make a substantial contribution to the universities' needs.

Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton)

I do not know whether I have missed something in the Minister's rather complicated figures. Will he confirm whether it is true or not, as was put in The Times Higher Education Supplement just before Christmas, that to maintain the present level of public support for the universities would require an increase of more than £130 million in total current income? Is that true or not?

Mr. Oakes

I do not know exactly how the newspaper arrived at its figures. What I can say is that total expenditure is likely to remain relatively stable and take into account increased student numbers, but that was a point which worried the hon. Gentleman and several other speakers.

As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed and my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin, the public expenditure figures announced this week show a modest increase in public expenditure. I hope that the hon. Member for Pentlands will say whether he agrees that there should be a modest increase in public expenditure.

The hon. Gentleman, in his motion, wants a modest increase in public expenditure. Does his party agree with the White Paper and the proposals of the Government for that modest increase? I am afraid that we are back to the schizophrenia referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin not only with regard to pay but with regard to university resources.

A number of other interesting contributions have been made in the debate, particularly that by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo). I take his point about industrial relations within universities. It is vital that all sectors within the universities—not only the university teachers and students but the technicians and the people who do the maintenance of the universities—should be taken into account.

I would point out to my hon. Friend that when the University of London Bill was presented to the House it was at first an unacceptable Bill. It subsequently became an acceptable Bill because, under pressure from this House, the university decided that it must take into account not only the sector on the council but the often forgotten sectors that are so important to the proper and efficient running of the universities.

I would not condemn every university vice-chancellor. Some are very good at public relations, and the non-teaching staff have paid tribute to them. However, some are very bad. This is a matter which I feel the universities themselves must look at rather than a Minister, because we are living in 1978 and the old Victorian concept of staff relations within the universities ought now to have perished for ever.

I am particularly grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow for putting this debate in its proper context. There is always the danger in this House, when one is talking about a limited subject, for hon. Members to get carried away with that limited subject and not to look at it in the context of other aspects of education and public expenditure.

My hon. Friend rightly set his priorities on the 16-to-19-year-old age group. That is a great black mark in British education. We are probably one of the worst countries in the whole of the Western world with regard to the sort of contribution we make for that particular age group.

There is the difficult question of resources. We must look at the overall resources for all schools as well as resources for the universities.

Rather platonic remarks have been made that the Conservative Party cherish and esteem universities as the crown of the educational system. I do not dissent from that. I do not know whether the word "crown" was used in an anatomical sense or in a royal sense. If Conservative Members mean that universities should get priority over the other sectors of education, that is not the view of the Government. They must not be given priority over other sectors of education. They must get their just and proper priorities in relation to the whole educational sector.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed touched on some important points that must be considered. He spoke about academic graduates and the funding of higher educational institutions. Under its terms of reference, which I did not draw up, my committee cannot look at universities as institutions. It can look only at other aspects of higher education. We cannot pretend that universities do not exist. A representative of the University Grants Committee sits on the committee. We want proper liaison to exist in future between universities and other institutions of higher learning, and any machinery that we set up must take that fact into account. However, the terms of reference of the committee preclude me from looking at the universities. I have enough problems on my mind at that committee without extending those problems into the sphere of university education as well.

The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, like my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin, referred to overseas students. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for what he said. He felt that we had probably got the figure about right at around the 75,000 mark. There is a difficulty in having unlimited numbers. That could have two results. It could overcrowd the universities so that we had a situation akin to what happens today in Italian universities or, alternatively, it could prejudice the chances of British home students going to those universities. We must maintain a fine balance between our job as a nation of the world and our job with regard to our own students in this country.

As the House may know, the figures are quite alarming with regard to the mushroom growth of overseas students it, this country. Ten years ago, the figure was about 31,000. At present there are over 80,000. Some limits ought to be set. Negotiations are at present going on between my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State and the Minister for Overseas Development. We want to get this matter right and to keep it fair. But I believe the House must accept that we cannot have an unlimited number of overseas students coming in for the reasons that I have given as well as for financial and economic reasons.

As has been pointed out, the percentage costs that are paid in fees—even the new enhanced fees—are only 20 per cent. of the gross figure. Therefore, 80 per cent. of the course has to be funded by the taxpayers of this country.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford talked about the loss to British universities of people going abroad. There is a slight loss in this regard, but there always has been. I do not regard it as a loss, but rather as a cross-fertilisation. People are also coming into our universities from America and Australia, despite the pay anomaly. They want to teach in a British university because they like our universities and our academic climate.

I believe that we shall always have a swings-and-roundabout situation. Some people will leave and some will come back. Often those who leave do so for only a short spell and then return to teach in a British institution. That cannot be regarded as a criterion of the poor pay in British universities. It has always been the position and it always will be.

I have said that there are difficulties about pay. I do not want to go into that again. But cross-fertilisation is taking place. There is no evidence of some severe drain of people leaving our universities at present, by any means. It is the normal, current transfers between other English-speaking universities and the universities in Britain, in which we gain as well as lose.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford talked about manpower planning. Certainly I am not a Minister who believes with any passion at all that we can get manpower planning exactly right. If we could, it would be all right, but I do not think that we can because one cannot measure exactly future needs. Like my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin, I have had a painful task with regard to teacher training colleges, like my predecessors, after what clearly was becoming a very serious problem with regard to numbers was not tackled. My hon. Friend and I tackled it. Even so, it is a difficult sphere.

I do not agree with the tone used by the hon. Member for Chelmsford when he seemed totally to dissociate the universities of this country from the needs of the nation. One cannot do that. One cannot pretend that universities exist in isolation either for their own good or for the good of the students within them. Let us face the fact that most students in universities do not intend when they leave them to lead some dilettante existence. They intend to get a job that is economically useful to themselves and the nation. Therefore, some regard—not manpower planning—must be paid to whether youngsters going to university will find employment when they leave. One cannot turn a completely blind eye to that.

Indeed, from the recent evidence of increases in sciences courses, for example, it is clear that youngsters themselves are voting with their feet in that those courses are likely to offer them more security of employment than other courses that they might have entered more readily or more frequently in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Therefore, it is not a matter of manpower planning but, nevertheless, there must be some regard for the nation's needs and the needs of individuals at universities.

The hon. Member referred to a Labour Party document. It is a research document, a discussion document, which puts forward the proposition of bringing universities under local authority control, rather than the present system. There are some merits in that. There are many demerits, of course, because we have a unique system under the UGC in Britain of having some form of public accountability without, on the other hand, having political domination. Neither the hon. Member nor any other party in the House would want political domination of universities in a party-political way.

However, I am not nearly as complacent as the hon. Member seemed to be about the present pattern of universities with regard to the 1980s. I specifically mention the question of academic credits, where I think there is too much complacency in our universities now. We must accept that one university institution or, indeed, one institution of higher education, or sometimes of further education, might well offer something to the student, as happens in America, whereby part of a course could be reduced because of the proper qualification that the youngster has. There is too much internal refusal by many universities to look even at their sister universities, let alone other institutions. In the world of continuing education that we shall have in the 1980s, that shibboleth of refusal to recognise academic credits must go.

I mention continuing education particularly because the low rate of demographic growth that we have experienced has now hit primary schools and is beginning to hit secondary schools. Inevitably, after the peak of 1982–83 it will hit universities. There will simply not be enough youngsters around to go into the universities, unless standards are depressed very considerably or, miraculously, are raised by the school system to supply the necessary numbers.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

Will my hon. Friend recognise that it might prove possible—I agree with what he is about to say about continuing education—to increase quite sharply the proportion of the 18-year-olds who are qualified for a place in higher education were we to look more closely at the problem of the maintenance of the 16-to-19-year-olds in continuing education, and have a university system which would encourage more children from poorer homes to stay on at school and to proceed to university?

Mr. Oakes

Yes, indeed. That is a fertile topic to be explored, not only as a matter of maintaining university numbers but as a matter of justice and rights for the children of poorer families. Among other measures, the Government are now looking at this matter. Discussions are going on about educational maintenance allowances.

However, a much more numerically profitable source is in continuing education. I hope that the position will be that in some 10 years' time the university will not be as exclusive as it is at present and will contain about a 50–50 mixture—50 per cent. coming from schools and 50 per cent. who could be of any age, from 25 to over 70, pursuing knowledge together. That was the original intention of universities. It was not merely to train the young immediately on leaving school but as a focus in the community on learning.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford says he is pro-university. We are all pro-university. I wondered whether he would go on to say where he is anti. I do not think that it is true to say that there is a crisis in our universities at present. They have done well, like many other institutions, to cope with the difficulties that the nation has faced. They have played their part in bringing back economic progress to this country. The present Government can proudly say that that is the position now.

1.56 p.m.

Mrs. Margaret Bain (Dunbartonshire, East)

It is extremely difficult to follow all the various points that have been raised in the debate by both Front Bench speakers, but I find myself agreeing with much of what was said by Labour Members with reference to the speech of the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas). He seemed to rely on the fact that "schizophrenia" should have some particular definition. If he does not like the word "schizophrenia", perhaps I may suggest that the Conservatives' attitude to expenditure on universities could be defined as two-faced.

I suggest that many of the problems faced by our universities arise as a direct result of cuts made in earlier times. In view of the policies advocated at present by the official Opposition, such as we know their policies, there can be little comfort to that sector in terms of the money that should be made available to education. Perhaps if the hon. Member would be kind enough to define the amount of money allocated from the gross domestic product to the education sector and what percentage of that would then go into universities, we would have a little more confidence in what he has had to say.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I accept the hon. Lady's kind offer of Janus. It is more correct and shorter than "schizophrenic". I cannot, obviously, make a commitment about the future. The fact is that the Opposition have not asked for any cuts in education.

Mrs. Bain

On the question of "schizophrenia" or "Janus", modern psychiatric medicine can work wonders, but it is difficult to see both faces at once. Possibly the Opposition have not advocated cuts in education, but they have certainly advocated a programme of cuts in public expenditure far in excess of those made by the present Government. The Scottish National Party does not accept that. We do not accept that there is a need for expenditure cuts.

I also find myself in difficulty in understanding what the hon. Member was attempting to do in his definition of universities. It seems to me that he would move away from a situation whereby education was centred on the individual when he talks merely about centres of academic excellence and centres for research, which are part of the universities. He should remember that education is basically to produce a well-informed, well-balanced individual.

Having served on various committees relating to school education with the hon. Member, it seems to me that he is taking his attitude to school education up into the university sector, and that leaves much to be desired.

However, perhaps I may turn to the main points of the debate, which, despite the remarks of the Minister, must still centre on the issue of pay. It is all very well to pay tribute to the constraint exercised by the university teachers in their various claims over the years, and it is all very well to say that we should not pass comment now because of the delicate negotiations taking place. But the Minister has given very little hope to university teachers today. Many of them were hoping for some positive statements and conclusions, rather than well-intentioned, meaningful phrases, to use some of the "in" words.

Many hon. Members have referred to the constraint operated by university teachers, and one reference was made to the fact that there has never been a real strike within the university sector. Shortly after my being elected to this House, there was a half day strike in 1975 of university teachers in Scotland, particularly in West Scotland. It was my privilege to address 1,000 of them at Custom Quay, Glasgow, and the feelings they expressed then have not changed. How long can we expect their constraint and patience to continue?

Suggestions were made among the teachers that they could exercise influence on the Government by refusing to enrol first-time students. This would have had great implications for the employment of young people, particularly in the 17 to 18 or 18 to 19 age groups, depending on the part of the United Kingdom concerned. However, this suggestion was rejected by the teachers.

Another difficulty that university teachers experience is that of measuring productivity of any individual working in the educational sector. As a school teacher, I know how difficult it is in pay negotiations to try to explain productivity. One cannot base it on the number of degrees awarded upon graduation or the quality of those degrees because education is much deeper than that.

It is not acceptable to university teachers that constraint should continue. They showed constraint when the Prices and Incomes Board was operating in the 1960s and also during the three phases of the pay policy of the Conservative Government, which led to declining standards of living among university lecturers. This was brought to light in the Houghton Report, and the Minister has admitted in a recent parliamentary reply to me that there has been a real decline in the standard of living of university teachers which is causing concern.

When considering the anomaly of which much has been made today we should look at the career structure of young lecturers. In analysing a young lecturer's pay we find that he receives £2 to £2.50 an hour for his work. It is a misconception that university lecturers are pressurising for extra pay because they have middle-class life styles to keep up. The fact is that they are now negotiating about basics. At the age of 26, after many years of hard, grinding study, they find that the reward for their labour is not worthwhile. Also they find that the kind of status that is supposed to go with university lecturing is no real compensation for the poverty they experience.

They can pick up learned journals any week and find better jobs advertised in other fields elsewhere in Britain and even more so abroad. In relation to this I refer to a report that appeared in The Sunday Times. I do not place too much credence upon it because it was a rather peculiar report. It said that the average IQ in Scotland was three points lower than the English and Welsh equivalents because so many of our talented people are forced abroad for alternative employment. As one who has been trained in administering IQ tests, I do not place much credence on the concept of the intelligence quotient, but I believe that the general principle that many young people will be forced abroad holds good, and that is not good for the economy or the country as a whole. It should be a matter for Government concern. For this reason, the points made by the Minister in his reply were most disappointing.

I quote from a letter that I received from an individual employed in university education. This person was not able to lobby Members of Parliament on 16th November because of a derailment of a British Rail train. She says: Morale among my colleagues is abysmal. Standards of research and teaching are falling. Bright young men and women no longer wish to enter the profession. If we are to continue to train the high class professional men and women the country so desperately needs, our salaries must be restored to a realistic level without further delay. The country can no longer continue to do otherwise. That last sentence is the most telling, not just for Scotland, but for the United Kingdom as a whole.

One or two speakers earlier referred to research as an important function in our universities. It was suggested that more pressure should be put on the industries that help to finance research. In this context, reference has been made to North Sea oil. One particularly disappointing aspect of North Sea oil is that so little research has come to the universities throughout the United Kingdom. Some has gone to Robert Gordon's College of Technology in Aberdeen, and some has gone to the Heriot Watt. University in Edinburgh, but apart from that there has been very little in the university sector. Yet there is so much that could be done in the long term. Our universities could be looking at mid-ocean exploration for oil as well as the offshore exploration that we have in Scotland at present.

Another cause for concern is the fact that back-up facilities in universities are severely restricted. There are too few laboratory technicians, librarians, and so on, and the general level of resources for lecturers and students is too low. It has been drawn to my attention by members of the Association of University Teachers that when a post becomes vacant at a university it is very rare for it to be filled. This is regarded as part of the expenditure savings, and it places a greater burden on both lecturers and students.

Reference has been made to the need to look at the whole post-school educational system. The universities cannot be looked at in isolation. I endorse this point of view. That is why there is cross-party support from Scottish National Party Members for a Private Member's Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Lord James Douglas-Hamilton). I hope that the debate on that Bill will be of use to the whole of the United Kingdom and not just to Scots.

It is worrying that so many universities feel that the polytechnics are being given special treatment. The Minister did very little to allay this suspicion. Perhaps this argument does not affect Scotland so much because polytechnics there are not so common. The nearest equivalent would be the central institutions, and there is a feeling, even north of the border, that the central institutions are getting resources at the expense of the universities. I hope that the Minister will take an opportunity in future to allay these suspicions, particularly in view of the need to review the post-school system.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the hon. Lady amplify her remarks about the central institutions being given priority over universities? Is that really happening, or is there a feeling that the central institutions are becoming too like the universities? Will she say exactly what she means?

Mrs. Bain

As I said—and I thought I made it perfectly clear—there is a feeling, and very little has been said to allay it, that the universities will suffer in order to benefit other sectors of education. That is all the more reason for looking at post-school education in which I know the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) is interested.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) referred to my party and the question of devolving the universities to the Scottish Assembly. He pointed out that he had received no representations suggesting that the universities would be better off under the devolved system. I know that it would not be in order for me to go into this aspect of devolution today. Therefore, I hope that it will arise on Schedule 10 of the Scotland Bill next week when we are to have two days on the Committee stage. In all the representations I have received nobody has pointed out that the universities would be any worse off under a devolved system.

The key to this debate is the pay anomaly. The fact that the Government have not made it clear that this will end has done little to allay the fears that exist in the universities. I fear that we shall see a backlash in the universities. Although they may not resort to militant action, I believe that there will be a general build-up of resentment against these policies. The White Paper on Government spending, combined with this debate, will not help the situation at all. The universities, and indeed the whole country, were looking to a positive statement from the Department in this debate. The well-meaning statements which we have heard are not enough.

2.11 p.m.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, Central)

The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) has pursued a line that is all too familiar on behalf of her party. It is very much the same line as that adopted by the Leader of the Opposition. They seek to cash in and make political capital out of every conceivable grievance by every group that is seeking to bring pressure to bear on the Government to treat them in pay terms as a special case.

The hon. Lady behaved true to the form that we have come to expect of her party, but the point has already been adequately made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) and, indeed, underlined by my hon. Friend the Minister, that none of these matters can be taken in isolation from the Government's general economic strategy, not only in education but in other areas such as the Armed Forces and the National Health Service.

I made the same point a few weeks ago when we discussed the pay of the Armed Services. I happen to be a Member who is sponsored by a union most of whose members are mental health nurses. I believe that those nurses are just as important in our community as are university lecturers. I think they are both important, but I doubt whether anybody would seriously take the view that one group is more important than the other. No doubt when we come to debate nurses' pay, SNP Members and others will say that nurses, too, thoroughly deserve special treatment. That is what the SNP has said today, and I am seeking to put the matter in a national context.

In my view the National Health Service is more in need of additional funds than are the universities. The general pay structure in the hospitals, whether relating to doctors, nurses or auxiliary staff, happens to have a higher priority than the case of university lecturers and teachers generally. That view may not be shared by others, but it is the view that I take. The Government cannot avoid making choices as to priorities in the context of pay policy.

I was interested in what the hon. Lady and others said in this debate about pay policy generally. We have never had a clear, unequivocal statement from any of the Opposition parties whether they accept the principle of a pay policy. The Leader of the Opposition said in Glasgow that she is now in favour of a free-for-all in prices, incomes and the rest, but public opinion undeniably and overwhelmingly supports what the Government are trying to do in seeking to assert priorities in public spending and pay. That applies to pay claims submitted by any section of the community, however deserving, whether it consists of individuals or organisations such as trade unions.

The Government of the day are the only body in the country who can determine priorities. There is no special pleading to be accepted by the Government. However, every outside pressure group is pleading its own special case. This debate is no different in that respect from the debate on Services' pay a few weeks ago, or the case put up for doctors or dentists or whoever may be the group in question. At the end of the day, particularly in the public sector, the Government are answerable to the taxpayer who foots the bill. The Government must determine the overall sum to be allowed to university teachers, doctors, nurses or the Armed Services. The Government must then try to persuade those people that they must take their place in a queue determined by the Government of the day.

Let me turn to the speech made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind). He is generally recognised to be a moderate, middle-of-the-way Conservative in this House, but some of the phrases he used were extravagant to the point of absurdity. I made a note of some of them. He referred to the incompetence of the Government's endeavours towards the universities. He used words such as "insensitive", "unthinking" and "unfair", which is the kind of demagogic language of an Opposition with no constructive policies to offer on any topic but wishing to exploit any grievance which will bring political mileage.

The hon. Gentleman sought to make a comparison between university teaching staffs and the firemen, and implied that the Government yielded to the firemen because they had industrial muscle, whereas by inference the university lecturers were not being active because they had no industrial muscle. I remember a previous battle which the Conservative Government had with one group of workers who had no industrial muscle—namely, the nurses. They were the first to be clobbered by the then Tory Government incomes policy. The then Minister of Health was the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who thought that the nurses should not be allowed to have more than 2½ or 3 per cent. on their absurdly low pay, as it was at that time.

Let nobody pretend that the Government are being influenced by whether somebody has political or industrial muscle. They are being influenced by the national interest, and by that alone. The Government are the only democratically elected body who have a right so to determine the national interest.

My hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) referred to the schizophrenic approach of the Conservatives in this matter. I recently read the immediate reaction of the Conservative Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer on the Government's public spending proposals for the next five years. He severely criticised those proposals as being far too high and thought that the forward projections were too extravagant. The inference was that there should be no increase in public expenditure at all in the next five years. The general tenor of the overall policy of the Conservative Party in the last few years is that we should slash public expenditure even more than the Government have currently done.

I remember that when the current pay policy was originally introduced the Conservatives sought in this House and outside to obtain a specific undertaking from the Government that they would be firm, particularly in the public sector, but they said "We doubt very much whether they will be". However, they now come along and say "The Government should be more flexible on the pay of university teachers, the Armed Forces and certain others". in that debate it was significant that the Conservative Benches were far more crowded than they have been today. That may be because there are more retired colonels than retired professors in the Conservative Party. Be that as it may, the political exercise was the same. They were seeking to exploit the grievances of a particular section of the community.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Pentlands is not here now. He has put forward proposals with some of which my hon. Friend the Minister would agree. The anomaly exists. The Government concede that it exists. Inevitably when we are drawing the lines and fixing the dates for implementation of particular aspects of pay policy some people fall on the wrong side of those lines. University lecturers and teachers happen to have fallen, unfortunately, on the wrong side of a line.

The Government conceded that point by saying that the anomalies created by such a policy would be dealt with in the context of the pay policy, but they went out of their way to say, I think in the White Paper on this matter, that they could not be dealt with in the next 12 months. I presume that that means towards the end of this year—I am not seeking to put words into the mouth of the Department, and I could not do so, in any event—the anomalies to which this debate is linked will have been removed. This is dependent on how reasonable and responsible are the settlements made in other parts of the economy between now and then. How quickly we can resolve the anomalies, of which this is one, depends very much on the claims made by other sections of the community.

I would agree with my hon. Friend the Minister that there should be a general review of academic salaries—and not only of academic salaries. Why should we assume—I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow made this point—that the obtaining of a university degree or some academic qualification is worth any more than a qualification in other spheres? A high engineering qualification may carry with it no degree, but the person holding such a qualification may be as valuable a member of the community as anybody with a high academic qualification in Egyptology, Latin, or whatever.

Some years ago, for instance, I discovered that in St. Andrew's University there were more lecturers in divinity than there were students. How one justifies paying out public money to underpin that kind of nonsense, I do not know. But it is all done in the name of academic freedom. The universities receive the public money and then they are allowed to do what they like with it.

It has been said in the House and elsewhere over many years that there ought to be more accountability for what is done in the universities. If we are to bear an increasing burden of taxation to finance these institutions, there ought to be much greater public control and accountability for what they do with it. There is no case for having the kind of nonsense in St. Andrew's University that I have described.

I come to the problem of the Scottish universities. I am sorry that there is no Scottish Minister present. After all, the debate concerns the Scottish universities. It was opened by a Scottish Member, and I am the third Scottish Member to speak on the subject from the Back Benches. We have also heard three English Members. That means a fair proportion for Scotland, as I think even the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) would agree.

I would say to the hon. Member for Dunhartonshire, East who has spoken and then left the Chamber, that we can debate this matter, as she indicated, later, during the debate on the Scotland Bill. But I agree with the hon. Member for Pentlands, who opened the debate. I have had relatively few representations on the desirability of separating the control and administration of the Scottish universities from the control and administration of the others in the United Kingdom. The present system works. The University Grants Committee distributes funds and then allows the Scottish universities complete independence to get on with their job as they wish, within the context of the distinctive Scottish traditions and practices.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's views on the Scotland Bill. Would not he accept, in view of what he has just said about the different traditions in Scotland, that as education in Scotland is different—I am not saying that it is better—there is a case for devolving the Scottish universities to a Scottish Assembly?

Mr. Hamilton

Absolutely not. There is no evidence whatever that, the Scottish universities having obtained their cash, they cannot do virtually what they like with it, in conformity with and in recognition of the Scottish traditions and practices within the education system. There is no evidence that they are restricted in any way in that respect.

Another argument is that economies of scale in the use of very expensive facilities can be achieved only in the United Kingdom as a whole and only in one or two universities. I shall give an example. The hon. Lady quoted certain aspects of North Sea oil. I think that all university work on offshore engineering is done at Heriot-Watt. That is quite proper. It is inevitable in the present circumstances. But it is transparent that there is no need for any directions from anybody. The University Grants Committee and the Scottish universities understand—everybody understands—that that is a sensible thing to do.

The same applies to forestry in Aberdeen University. Two-thirds of the forestry in the United Kingdom is in Scotland. Therefore, it is inevitable and desirable that research, training and teaching should be done in a Scottish university, and so it is.

The third problem is the undeniable fact that Scotland is a small country with a relatively small population but with a relatively big land mass. Therefore, it is particularly well placed to benefit from the economies of scale. Under the present system, which happens to meet with the odium of the SNP, there are more universities and university places in Scotland than can be justified solely in terms of population. In 1976–77 the number of new entrants to universities in Great Britain was 77,000. Of that total nearly 11,000 entered Scottish universities.

Scotland has 11 per cent. of the total population of Great Britain, but according to those figures 14 per cent. of all university entrants entered Scottish universities. This is an undeniable advantage of the present system.

In some disciplines the ratio is even higher. I give a particularly interesting example. Eighteen per cent. of the intake of medical schools in the whole of Britain was in Scottish universities.

Mr. Donald Stewart

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hamilton

No. The right hon. Gentleman might not know these facts, and it is important that I put them on the record.

Of the veterinary students, for instance, 44 per cent. entering university entered Scottish universities. All this is done under what the right hon. Gentleman calls an English-dominated set up. That shows the nonsense which is talked by SNP members and those who think like them.

Mr. Donald Stewart

I am prepared to accept the hon. Gentleman's figures, but I have seen a letter sent to a fully-qualified student by Glasgow University telling him that he might not get a place and that it could not be confirmed until the university had seen how many applications would be made from south of the border. I know that there are a lot of extra students at Scottish universities, but they are not necessarily Scots.

Mr. Hamilton

I do not believe what the right hon. Gentleman has said. Even if it were true, he cannot argue a general case on one example. The figures that I have given are true. I dare him to challenge them.

Scottish universities have the maximum possible freedom to serve not only Scottish, but British and international interests as well under the present system as they could under any other system of administration. Unless the SNP or anyone else can prove that this is not so or that the freedom would be enlarged under any other system, they have no right to argue the case for another system other than on nationalistic, almost racialistic, grounds. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take that to heart.

My hon. Friends and I are glad to have a debate on universities. The Labour Party has always had a high regard for education as a whole, but I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow that education at nursery age is far more vital to the well-being of this nation than is education at universities. The people at the top end are articulate and educated enough to look after themselves. Many parents with children under five are not articulate and are not in pressure groups and too often their case goes by default.

If I were a Minister faced with the choice of spending £X million on preschool children or on university lecturers and students, I would unhesitatingly say that we should spend it on the under-fives. It is a problem of priorities, and my priorities are at the younger end of the scale and the deprived 16-to-19-yearolds who, for various reasons, cannot take full advantage of further education, formal or otherwise. They are the priorities of a Socialist party and, I hope, a Socialist Government. That is not to say that other sections of the educational world should be neglected it is just that they are lower down the queue.

2.34 p.m.

Mr. Peter Brooke (City of London and Westminster, South)

Half my blood is Welsh, but I do not have a single drop of Scottish blood. I say that as a matter of fact rather than as a matter of pride and it enables me to redress the balance drawn by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) who said that the debate had been conducted equally between English and Scottish Members.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) on having chosen this subject and on the admirable, comprehensive and eloquent way in which he opened what I consider to have been a very good debate. The tradition of Scottish education has always been high. The fact that my hon. Friend has been followed by the hon. Members for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) and Fife, Central demon-states how much we would lose if the SNP, whose leader is admirably present, succeeded in its ultimate aim of taking Scotland out of the United Kingdom.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) sought to widen the debate into the general area of education as if to rebut the uniqueness of the university case. I believe that the health, strength and the vigour of the universities are of unique importance to the future of education in this country. Unlike the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), I have never taught in a university or seem likely to do so, but I spent six years at the Universities of Oxford and Harvard and had a subsequent indirect involvement with the University of Poitiers in France and the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. Common to these four universities in four countries of different ages and different distinctions was the fact that they were a critical and unique resource in their civilisation and its evolution. It is no coincidence that Harvard, one of the greatest universities in the world, was founded in 1636 within 16 years of the arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers in the State of Massachusetts. It is a testimony to how important they felt university education to be when they settled that land.

All human organisations take their lead and their style from the individual who leads them. For better or worse, universities are at the apex of the educational pyramid. I do not take issue with the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow for bringing in the rest of the educational pyramid, but if we allow the apex to decay the rest will also decay. I suspect that my analogy may not be architecturally accurate, but the principle is clear.

Speaking after a Minister in such a debate is faintly otiose, but as I represent a constituency in which so many of our national institutions are located and I have a wide variety of establishments of higher education in the constituency, I thought that I owed it to my constituents to speak in the debate.

The institutions in my constituency range from the City University in the extreme east to Imperial College in the extreme west and take in the London School of Economics and the Polytechnic of Central London in the middle. Other parts of the University of London are dotted round the constituency, including great teaching hospitals and some of the most distinguished art schools in the country.

One of the consequences of representing as wide a range of interests as this is that the individual representations made to me by members of the Association of University Teachers have been many and varied. I shall not dwell at length on the details of the anomalies. They have been widely covered in the debate and everyone is familiar with them. The Minister has ruled them sub judice in terms of the negotiations which are going on at present.

The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow acknowledged the strength of the claim, but said that it was simply one anomaly among many and that the reason it had been brought so vividly to our notice was the articulateness of the people involved. My experience of the lobby in November was that a huge proportion of the union should have turned up from a wide variety of establishments in very bad weather gave some indication of the strength of feeling. They are not by nature or definition a militant group and their efforts over this matter have been considerable. I suspect that they were prompted in part by the knowledge that the anomaly relating to the air traffic controllers had already been settled in terms of today and tomorrow. Although I shall not dwell on the anomaly, and although I do not think that we should spend more time on it, it is important because the episode is yet another in the general saga of university pay. The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Fowler) reminded us that university pay has increased by 53 per cent. since 1952. The hon. Gentleman seems able to live reasonably contentedly with that figure, although I find it deeply disturbing.

More recently the relative arithmetic of pay since 1970 has been set out in a Written Answer by the Minister of State in response to a Question tabled helpfully and thoughtfully by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East on 9th November 1977. Behind the bare and clinical arithmetic of the figures since 1970 lies a variety of individual human realities that will affect the attitudes of men and women towards the profession.

Seven years ago the salary of a principal officer in the Civil Service was equivalent to that of a junior lecturer. Today a principal officer's salary is equivalent to that of a professor. The starting salary for a lecturer, after seven years' study, is £3,333. In my constituency there is difficulty in getting a secretary fresh out of secretarial college for that sort of figure. We have reached a situation where a married lecturer's salary entitles him to free school meals for the first 10 points of the university salary scales. A senior lecturer with 10 years' service is only 140p a week above rent-rebate levels. To put the profession into that relative state is not the way to maintain the recruitment, retention and morale of a group of such importance to the education and future of the country.

The hon. Member for The Wrekin, followed by the Minister of State and by the hon. Member for Fife, Central, taunted Opposition Members for advocating public expenditure cuts in general but recommending increases in particular. It is a taunt that is as easy, casual and automatic to make as the subject and object of the taunt might also be. One of the hazards that goes with all the paraphernalia of incomes policy is that we become obsessed with trivia and footnotes and are blinded to the true priorities and realities and the long-term value system of our society.

If we do not resolve the relative position of university pay, or produce a solution that university teachers can themselves recognise as fair, we shall be gradually imperilling the great standards of our universities which have made them the envy of the world and which, as the Minister of State has said, have consistently attracted tremendous demand from overseas.

In their capacity as the ultimate paymasters the Government are trustees towards us all of the universities that they have inherited from our past. It is their responsibility to discharge that trusteeship properly. I acknowledge the difficulties of the Government in present circumstances, but if we are to debate universities only once in a decade—I repeat my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Pentlands—those of us who are in the House must ensure that the long-term issue of university pay is set firmly on the record.

2.45 p.m.

Mr. John Cronin (Loughborough)

The hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) made an admirable speech. I am glad that he put forward so cogently the case on university lecturers' pay. All of us on both sides of the House would wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) on having introduced the debate. The debate is very overdue. It gives us an opportunity to ventilate a serious grievance apart from discussing what is best for the universities.

Having said that, I cannot give any more congratulations to the Opposition. A constituent wrote a few weeks ago to tell me that as a result of the university teachers' pay situation he would vote Conservative at the next election whereas previously he had voted Labour. I wish that that constituent were present. If he were, he would note that no education spokesman is present on the Opposition Front Bench. The Opposition Front Bench is occupied by the hon. Member for City of Chester (Mr. Morrison). The hon. Gentleman sits there extremely elegantly, but as a Whip he has no responsibility for and very little knowledge of education. It is characteristic of the Conservative Party that in its public speeches—Ah, I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) has returned to his place on the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I was having lunch, which was rather meagre.

Mr. Cronin

The hon. Gentleman is certainly entitled to his lunch. I was pointing out that during an important debate the Opposition Front Bench was occupied by a Whip who is a farmer and not an education spokesman. However, I am now entirely satisfied, and I withdraw my earlier remarks.

The return to the Chamber of the hon. Member for Chelmsford gives me the opportunity to say a few words about his speech. I was impressed when he said, in the most dramatic way, that he was pro-university. Surely we are all pro-university. It was not an exceptional confession on the part of the hon. Gentleman. For a Front Bench education spokesman to say that he is pro-university is rather like a bishop saying that he is in favour of sexual restraint; it is something that we expect of him.

The hon. Member for Chelmsford made an interesting speech, but he spoke of universities in terms of all sorty of idealist conceptions. It was only with prompting from myself that he addressed himself to the idea that universities have an important part to play in industry and technology. When listening to him I felt that I was listening to Lord Macaulay addressing the House of Lords in the middle of the last century. The hon. Gentleman seemed quite remote from technological and scientific ideas.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Lord Macaulay was, I believe, a member of this place.

Mr. Cronin

I accept the hon. Gentleman's correction. However, I think that by the nature of the prefix to his name he must also have been a Member of another place. I hope that he will continue to realise the importance of universities in respect of technology, and certainly science.

The hon. Gentleman referred to my medical qualifications. I happen to be a consultant surgeon. If he should by some unhappy chance, like some of his colleagues in the past, find himself under my care on the operating table, I am sure that he would attach a great deal of importance to the technical aspects of university training.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

On that medical point, and referring back to the exchange that the hon. Gentleman and I had earlier, is there not a difference between schizophrenia, which is a particular type of mental disease, and a split personality, which is something quite different? Is it not right that the two conditions have been frequently confused one with the other when unjustified allegations have been made against my party, namely, that it has a split personality rather than being schizoid?

Mr. Cronin

I think that that is the most impressive psychiatric red herring that I have ever heard thrown across an important debate. I am not a psychiatrist and I cannot give an authoritative opinion. I should have thought that schizophrenia and split personalities occupied very much the same sphere of mental disease. They occur in the attitude of the Conservative Party towards cuts in expenditure generally and increases individually. In that sense I think that we are entitled to say that Conservative policy has at least a schizoid if not a schizophrenic attitude.

Mr. Rifkind

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is no more schizoid than the attitude of some of his hon. Friends, and perhaps himself, who wish to reduce expenditure on defence and increase it on everything else?

Mr. Cronin

I think that I must get on with the main purpose of my speech. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would treat me severely if I were to start talking about defence matters.

I am happy to be able to speak on this occasion because I represent the University of Loughborough which is a university of high quality that makes an important contribution to industry, science and technology as well as academic knowledge. We have sensible and hardworking students. The teaching staff are efficient and dedicated. More important perhaps, they are enlightened and forward-looking. For example, the chairman and treasurer of my constituency Labour Party are members of the teaching staff at the university, as are a substantial proportion of my active party workers. I always approve of their advanced attitude towards social problems.

There is no doubt that university teachers everywhere are now greatly embittered and feel a deep sense of resentment about their salaries. A professor now receives £2,000 a year less than an assistant secretary. There can be little doubt about the relative merits of these occupations. It is an appalling thought that a newly-appointed lecturer, after years of training and research work, receives a salary of £3,333. Most of us pay our secretaries about the same and yet a girl can become a secretary after about six months' training. This indicates that university teachers are badly treated over pay.

It is important to emphasise that the university teachers' pay problem is due to an accident of timing and nothing more. I have no doubt that the Government desire to help the university teachers in every way. We all probably recollect that in 1974, as a result of the Houghton award, teachers in Colleges of further education received a further cost-of-living award. University teachers then sought to reopen their settlement. This went to arbitration and an award was made in June 1975. It was decided that the salary rates judged appropriate on an October 1974 price base should be put into effect in October 1975. A further allowance to take account of the change in prices between October 1974 and October 1975 was denied to them. Negotiations were in progress when they were ruled out by the introduction of the pay policy in July 1975. This was an accident of timing and sheer bad luck. The university teachers have suffered ever since.

The Minister of State said that negotiations are taking place between the Association of University Teachers and their employers, the university authorities. He correctly said that he should not interfere at this stage when negotiations are in progress. We must all sympathise with the Minister of State, who is an able Minister. He would be behaving like a bull in a china shop if he were to interfere at this stage.

Nevertheless, negotiations have reached a critical stage. It is important that the university teachers' grievances are remedied. The Minister of State realises that, although negotiations are taking place, in the background the Government are the real force behind the negotiations and will have the ultimate responsibility.

I am not addressing these remarks to the Minister in the hope that he will make a statement at this stage. However, I hope that he will indicate to the Secretary of State the feelings of most hon. Members about this sad anomaly. The anomalies have been recognised by the Government. I was glad to hear the Minister of State re-emphasise that there is a serious anomaly in university teachers' pay and that the Government intend to correct it at the earliest possible opportunity, consistent with pay policy. I should be the last person to support a breach of pay policy.

One of the problems is that university teachers rightly consider that their grievances could be greatly ameliorated without breaking the pay policy. They say that under paragraph 14 of the White Paper "The Attack on Inflation after July 1977" there could be an amelioration of their pay difficulties. I hope that the Minister of State or the Secretary of State will be able to tell the House soon that there will be an early rectification of the anomaly and to give the House some dates for phasing it.

The university teachers suffer from serious disadvantages. Their wage rate percentage increases are virtually synonymous with their earnings percentage increases. Unlike some other workers, their wages are not supplemented by bonuses, overtime or other additions. University teachers cannot benefit from productivity deals. That is particularly unfair since the number of students has increased by about 6 per cent. and staff by only 1 per cent. They are being hamstrung by not having a productivity deal, although they are entitled to one.

I am particularly impressed by the moderate and sensible way in which negotiations have been conducted by the Association of University Teachers. It has dropped its claim to have the anomaly rectified from October. It is prepared to accept 10 per cent. like everybody else. It wants a swift rectification of the anomaly in line with Government policy.

What scales would be in order to rectify the anomaly? We do not know what is being said behind closed doors, but I understand that the situation is hopeful and that shortly some progress will be made on the nature of the scales. However, university teachers are worried because they have received no assurance from their employers or the Government about the timetable to implement the correct scales. It is reasonable to ask that at an early date they should have some reassurances about the timetable.

Both the Minister of State and the Secretary of State have recognised the anomaly. The Government should set dates as soon as possible for the stages of rectification of the pay anomaly. I suggest that not only university teachers but the students have some grievances. That subject has not been dealt with substantially in the debate. There is at present massive public expenditure on opportunities for the young unemployed, and that puts in rather sharp relief the lack of additional help given to students.

Take, for example, the question of discretionary grants. Large numbers of courses in advanced education are taken by students who receive discretionary grants which are entirely at the disposal of local authorities. Some of these local authorities are having financial difficulties, and that means that the grants are either not available or are reduced. It seems to me quite unfair that students should be put at a serious financial disadvantage compared with others in this way. I suggest that the Minister looks into this anomaly.

The parental contribution situation is also unsatisfactory. This is simply a form of indirect taxation of parents who have the good fortune to have children who go to university. This whole matter requires serious consideration to see how it can be improved. At least there should be some improvement in the means test scale for the parental contribution.

The main rate of students' grants certainly should be given further consideration. Theoretically there is an annual increase based on what students will need in the following year, but it starts from a low base. Expenditure on books and equipment is low because the student's income is low. Quite often the board and lodging charge at universities is in excess of what is regarded as appropriate, and parents frequently fail to make up the full parental contribution.

These are therefore problems that should be considered with a view to helping students with regard to their grants. More suitable consideration should be given of the effects of inflation. At present the situation is reviewed from year to year, but inflation sometimes moves in unexpected ways.

Hon. Members have referred to improving the finances of the universities. The universities are grossly under-funded in terms of their ancillary staff, and their libraries, laboratories and physical maintenance. They are suffering serious hardship. There should be increased capital expenditure in this direction. My hon. Friend the Minister indicated that this figure would be increased and that is welcome, but I want it to be increased further.

The universities make a unique contribution to the standard of living in this country. Their help to industry is enormous. For example, I am a non-executive director of a company which exports £150 million worth of goods a year. We could enormously increase that substantial figure if only we had more engineers and scientists, properly qualified, from universities. This is just an example of how we should be doing everything possible to expand the universities, particularly on the technological side.

I should like the Minister of State to ensure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and the rest of the Cabinet know of the feeling of the House in this debate. He must understand, as we all do, that nothing is more important to the future standard of living in this country than maintaining the universities at the maximum extent of efficiency without any impairment from unnecessarily difficult financial circumstances.

3.4 p.m.

Mr. John Sever (Birmingham, Ladywood)

When I was first returned as a local representative in Birmingham and again when I was returned to represent the same area—Ladywood—in this House I was given advice which was similar on both occasions. It was that it is always essential in considering issues of the day, particularly one as important as the distribution of money to fund those issues to consider where the priorities lie.

It very much bothers me that the motion introduced by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rifkind) seems to override the question of priorities in education spending. When I first read the motion I was somewhat astounded to read that the universities were in crisis. Clearly they might be in need of a few bob, but we could keep ourselves busy for a week debating whether they are in a state of crisis. The hon. Member, however, has obviously done the House a service in bringing the universities to the attention of the House, albeit on a relatively sparsely attended Friday sitting, particularly since the subject has not been discussed for 10 years or so. Having said that, I think that it was incumbent upon the Opposition parties to present a somewhat more vigorous case in debating the issue than they have done, bearing in mind they have had 10 years in which to think about it.

The motion was introduced by the hon. Member for Pentlands with words such as "crisis", "bitterness", "anger", "sadness", "tragedy", "incompetence", and various other terms. It seems that he and I are not living in the same place, because I do not think that many of those words apply to the situation in the universities today. There might be considerable disquiet among certain employees in the universities, such as lecturers, professors and academic staff, but they are in line with and not in front of other groups of workers who have been referred to today.

The hon. Member for Pentlands said that university teachers seem not to be able to argue their case too effectively because they do not have what has come to be regarded as industrial muscle. Had the hon. Gentleman had spoken to his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, he might have had a quiet, or perhaps a loud, word with her to the effect that if she asks the nation again to become involved in a free-for-all on pay and salaries the people whom he supports will probably be at the end of the queue. The logic does not seem to be there, and that bothers me greatly.

Let me now touch on one or two other matters that concern general expenditure within education. I have been told by those on both sides of the House who are senior to me that the business of politics, in some respects anyway, is primarily a matter of weighing one priority against another and determining which is the most important. I recognise the difficult situation in education and the Minister has said that he will try to do something about it in the forthcoming negotiations, but there seems to be a crisis, in smaller italics, elsewhere in the education service, and here I refer particularly to pre-school educational facilities in the inner cities.

In the centre of Birmingham about six nursery classes have been constructed, decorated and equipped, but they remain empty because of a lack of public funds to enable nursery school staff to be employed. By any standard that is a public disgrace, and it is a cause of grave social concern to the families of the children concerned. It is in that sector of education that right and hon. Members have said that they would like to see a shift of emphasis, and I support them in that view.

I learn from yesterday's Birmingham Evening Mail that about a mile away from one of the classes to which I have referred, and which cannot be opened, a casino interest is to spend about £⅓ million on purchasing, decorating and generally tarting up a night club so that people in my city can spend their hard-earned money on gambling, playing cards, and so on.

The liberty provided by our society allows a company to do that, but it shows that while vast sums of money are available in the private sector for developments of that kind, we are starved of public funds for primary education, for nursery school provision and for the payment of the salaries of university teachers. If we are to have a reasonable education programme, a lot of money must be provided for all the different sectors and spheres within the education budget.

Hon. Members on this side of the House, and, I am sure, hon. Members opposite, want to see the universities funded as well as anyone else. But one thing bothering me is that, while there seems to be a worthwhile and satisfactory method of accounting for the money that goes to other sectors of education, it does not seem to apply to the universities so much. Reference has been made in the debate to the accountability of the universities to this House and to local government. There is a growing feeling in the country, particularly amongst younger Socialist politicians, that there should be a greater degree of public accountability for university funding.

It is not true that there is no political control of this money in the universities. I share one thing in common with the hon. Member for Pentlands—he and I both come from cities which boast two universities. I do not know whether that indicates that our cities desire to educate themselves better than anyone else, or that we need it more than anyone else. The universities are now in a situation where it may be argued that they are not necessarily as publicly accountable as they should be, and that the political control of some of the governing bodies is, in very real terms, determined by leading political figures in local government. That may be an area which would not come out too well under public scrutiny.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Mikardo) said that one of the most difficult periods of transition for young people was the time they left secondary school or further education and went to work. That is a particularly difficult situation for them, and one to which the Labour Party is, correctly—and courageously in some ways—directing its attention. It can be a somewhat controversial matter.

I share the feelings of those young people at that stage of their lives because, in a sense, I am in the same situation here. It is not too easy to make the transition from commercial life to a life in government and politics without much prior training. It must be that much more difficult for young and inexperienced people to make the transition from school to the work place. If we are able to find extra funds in future, I think that they might well be spent in that direction

3.13 p.m.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Recently, the right hon. Member for Western Isles (Mr. Stewart) raised a complaint about a constituent of his who could not be promised a place at Glasgow University Medical School because it had to see first of all the number of applications there were from south of the border. I am not able to say exactly when the right hon. Gentleman made that statement or, indeed, to verify his exact wording, but he should know that the Scottish medical schools, like the medical schools in England and Wales, operate within the UCCA clearing system for applications.

All students seeking places in medical schools, or in other faculties, put down on their application forms their choice of university, giving up to five choices. These are sent to all the universities of their choice, and the universities then proceed to deal with the applications, mostly by interview, although some medical schools make places available without interview. Aberdeen University Medical School is one of those which accept medical students without interview. I find it difficult to understand how one can arrive at a rational choice of which applicants will make good doctors simply on the basis of written information. However, most medical schools have an interview of some form or another.

Therefore, in the case raised by the right hon. Gentleman there is nothing anti-Scottish or anti-Scottish student in the fact that, at some periods, an applicant for a place who considers himself well qualified cannot definitely be told that there is a place for him until the total number of applications is available. I hope that the system which applies—if it does not, it ought to apply—when applicants are seeking a place in a university, whether to do medicine or anything else, is that admission is on the basis of the best qualified students. It will be a very sad day indeed if we reach the stage where universities, in looking at applications, consider the applicant's place of birth and residence and grant places on that basis rather than on merit. It certainly ought not to be done on a geographical basis.

This is not simply a north-south border issue. It would be very sad if the university in my constituency, for example, were to say that it would first take all students living within a 10-mile radius of Aberdeen, then all students living within a 20-mile radius of Aberdeen, and that any places left over should go to people from the nearest geographical point. I am sure that we would all agree that such a system would be a nonsense. It does not apply at the moment, but we have had a hint from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Scottish National Party that geographical or nationality issues should be taken into account when applications for university places are considered.

Mr. Cronin

Is my hon. Friend aware that the medical profession regards the present system of choice of students for universities in Scotland as being eminently satisfactory? Is it not clear that the right hon. Gentleman to whom reference was made is simply making political points for his own party?

Mr. Hughes

I do not want to get myself into any more trouble with the Scottish nationalists after what I said about them on Tuesday, but certainly this inward-looking attitude bothers me.

I know of students from Aberdeen who, because they thought that the university education which suited them best could be provided at a university in England, have chosen to go to York or to Southampton, or wherever it might be. I know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that we should not debate today at any length the question of university devolution, as it will be discussed next week—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Myer Galpern)

I doubt whether we should discuss in depth the matter that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has been discussing up to the present point. I do not think that it arises under the motion.

Mr. Hughes

The motion, Mr. Deputy Speaker, refers to the grave crisis in universities and seeks that the Government should make available more resources for universities. I understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Scottish National Party, while he would like more resources to be made available to universities in Scotland, has to some extent complained that these resources were being used disproportionately to the benefit of students who were other than Scots. I will not trespass on your good nature, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by going into the matter in great depth, but I think it is certainly worth making a passing reference to it, as we have discussed all day the position of universities and their resources, and especially as this is the first debate that we have had on universities for a decade.

One of the reasons that many of us are opposed to the devolution of universities to the Scottish Assembly is that there would almost inevitably be pressure to deal with universities on a localised basis. I put it no higher than that. That would be very unfortunate. There are already certain pressures in the universities, and I have been approached by people who have said to me that it is a disgrace that there are so many non-Scottish lecturers teaching in Scottish universities. Why should it be a bad thing that people from other parts of the country, trained at different universities, should be teaching in Scotland? Why should it be a bad thing, for example, if in England and Wales there are university lecturers coming from other parts of the United Kingdom—or, indeed, other parts of the world?

I have always understood that one of the great merits put forward by the advocates of a university education—who have always been elitist in their approach, incidentally—is that it provides opportunities for the pursuit of excellence and for discussion on matters of philosophy and so forth with people from all over the world with many different points of view.

Mrs. Bain

Wili the hon. Gentleman explain how the intermingling of two nationalities constitutes internationalism? Is it not the case that internationalism means the intermingling of many nationalities, which is how the SNP defines it?

Mr. Hughes

I am delighted that the hon. Lady has made that point. It is a point that I have made for many years. She has said exactly what I am saying, that the essence of internationalism is a mixing of many people. However, unfortunately, the type of propaganda and sayings which she and her party put out lead the ordinary member of the public to take the view that they want to have a Scottish exclusiveness in education.

Many times we have heard the complaint that Scottish universities are becoming Anglicised and that they are not taking proper account of Scottish history and so on. I believe that is all wrong and I am glad that the hon. Lady is repudiating those who have made that point.

Mr. William Hamilton

To be fair, does my hon. Friend recollect that the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing) told us in another context that she tried to get her son into Cambridge, which is quite a good thing?

Mr. Hughes

It is a very good thing. I would go so far as to say that any parents who would like to see their youngsters go into university education ought to be encouraged, irrespective of the university to which they want the children to go.

The motion is grossly over-stressed. As usual Conservative Members have over-dramatised the situation. I do not know whether this is a product of the kind of society in which we live, whereby we do not attract public attention to an issue unless we use the words "crisis", "chaos", "disaster", or whatever.

I do not entirely blame the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Rif-kind) for phrasing his motion in such a way. I suspect he was afraid that if he did not use the word "crisis" it would not be reported. Certainly, if one makes a perfectly rational and reasonable speech one does not find Fleet Street quickly using up its pencils to report that speech. One has to be dramatic if one is to be reported.

Nevertheless, one ought not to give too much credence to the way in which the hon. Member for Pentlands has drawn his motion. We constantly come up against this problem, whichever view of public expenditure one takes. In general the philosophy of the Tory Party is to increase public expenditure—although there is always one exception where it calls out for and demands particular cuts in public expenditure. In this case it is social security benefits. That is the only area about which they will open up and say they want a cut in public expenditure. Otherwise, they are always in favour of increasing public expenditure.

Nor is it simply on the basis of sectors such as universities or defence. It is within their own individual constituencies where they continually demand cuts in public expenditure. Yet they write to Ministers and put down Questions the purpose of which is to make quite certain that where cuts in public expenditure have taken place their constituencies do not suffer.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I want to make a generalised point. Is it not the case that in philosophy one cannot have a universal without a particular, whereas in politics one can and always has?

Mr. Hughes

I bow to the hon. Gentleman's superior wisdom. Indeed, I give him great credit for the convoluted way in which he put his argument. He is saying that I am absolutely right in suggesting that the Tory Party is multi-faced. There is a saying in Scotland that one has as many faces as the Forfar clock.

Mrs. Bain

That is an SNP saying.

Mr. Hughes

I would not go so far as to call it that, because people in small villages are sensitive about how they are described and Forfar is a charming town with charming people. The only defect of the people there is that they did not make the choice at one time of electing me as their Member of Parliament.

On the whole issue of public expenditure, it would be a great mistake if we discussed universities simply in terms of the cash available, either for teachers' pay or for facilities for research, or for anything like that. I agree with the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mrs. Bain) about the need to look at the position between what in England we call polytechnics and what in Scotland is much the same thing, what we call the central institutions.

Again, within my constituency we have the Robert Gordon's Institute of Technology. It is multi-disciplined, with engineering and electrical facilities, and it even has speech therapy and occupational therapy courses. All kinds of disciplines are to be found within that college. It has built up a centre of excellence in terms of the teaching of technical subjects which certainly rivals that which was previously provided by the University of Aberdeen. The present position is that they co-operate, and in some faculties one cannot tell who is a university student and who is a student of the Robert Gordon's Institute of Technology.

I do not know whether the people who work in the central institutions in Scotland, or, indeed, the people in the universities, are quite certain about exactly what rôle the institutions are meant to play. Are they meant to be mini-universities? Are they meant to be working at that level, constantly working up to degree status? What we have found over the years is that where the central institutions started off doing ordinary and higher national diploma courses, in engineering in particular, in other spheres of education as a whole they have gradually begun to construct their own degree courses. In that regard they are in direct competition with universities, not only in status but also in relation to the money available. We do not know how we shall get an adequate division of resources to each of these types of educational institution.

I sometimes wonder whether the elitism in the universities, of which I spoke earlier, is not spreading too much throughout our whole educational system. Industry, which, incidentally, is always complaining that it does not get a fair share of university graduates, actually contributes to it because it has put this elitism on universities. I wish that it were possible for people who have taken degrees in engineering to be willing to go into a factory, not starting by doing a five-year apprenticeship, which would be far too much to expect, but going back to a training course within a factory discipline in order to learn the tools of the trade, as it were. But that is not the position.

What has grown up is the view that if one has gone to university and got a degree, one must start fairly high up the professional ladder. One cannot start too low because one might find oneself being overseen by someone trained in a college of technology. If we are to take the benefit of our educational system into industry and commerce generally, we must get rid of this elitism.

That is why I am anxious about the way in which the polytechnics and the central institutions in Scotland are concerned about their status in relation to the university. They are concerned about the position that they hold in society. If they are to get more resources, we find the universities saying they can be given those extra resources only at the expense of universities. I am certainly not in favour of taking from one and giving to the other. I am in favour of a levelling up. That has always been a good Socialist principle. We should try to see that all parts of the country and all sections of society benefit from the best—[Interruption.] I will gladly give to the hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas)—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North is trying to inveigle other hon. Members to join in the debate.

Mr. Hughes

I shudder at the possibility of inveigling the hon. Member for Chelmsford into any situation.

We must reach a position whereby we can decide effectively how to spend our educational resources. I do not think that such a system has yet been devised. Up to now it has been basically a question of those who shouted loudest and longest getting the most benefit.

Thanks largely to the Labour Government of 1964–70 great emphasis has been placed on intermediate training. That is why the polytechnics and central institutions have a very important part to play in seeing that people who, because they do not have the capacity or the particular desire to go to university, can get the best possible education to fit them for the job that they will do.

If we are to benefit from advances in technology and industry, and if we are to progress and contribute to the general good, we must see that our educational resources are properly distributed.

On university pay there is common agreement in the House between all sectors and between Back Benchers of both parties and the Government. University teachers are in an anomalous position. But they are not the only ones. I have had many representations about university teachers' pay, as I have a very big university in Aberdeen. I agree with these representations. However, if anyone is entitled to be aggrieved by the non-implementation of an independent review of pay, it is hon. Members of this House. How many reviews have there been of anomalies in our pay and what has been done about it? Nothing—

Mr. William Hamilton

We have no muscle.

Mr. Hughes

My hon. Friend says that we have no muscle. It is ironic that this is the one place where we could go on strike only by working harder. The only way in which we can obstruct the Government's programme and see that business does not get through is by talking about it for longer. There is nothing that the Government would like better than for us to go on strike literally and not turn up to make any more speeches. They would get their business through easily. There is very little sympathy outside this House for the position of Members of Parliament in relation to salaries, and we must just accept that.

There are many pay anomalies in our society. Some cover very broad sectors such as the university teachers, while others affect very small groups of people. There is the case of a small school in Aberdeen—it is in the constituency of North Angus and Mearns and the hon Member for that constituency has done a great deal to try to rectify the position of this school. The anomaly arises partly because of the reorganisation of local government and partly because of incomes policy. Pay of teachers in the school fell behind, and now the school has been put in a different division. It cannot rectify the situation now, because the new county regional authority will not do anything about it.

We cannot regard the pay of university teachers as a wholly separate matter. I have told university teachers "You have not been picked on in regard to pay". There is no question of the Government saying "We will rectify the pay of every other group, but not the pay of university teachers". This matter must be considered as a whole. The reason that these anomalies have crept into the pay of university teachers lies in the rationale of all the income policies that are applied. The reason has been that of restraining incomes. That is what it is all about. It has not been about seeing that people's values in society are properly recognised. It is not because the Government have said to different parts of society "There are ways in which some groups of workers can increase their wages faster and others which cannot, and we have to correct the situation". This has been solely pursued on the basis of a negative restraint of incomes policies.

We shall not remove the frustration of university teachers or of firemen or anybody else if we fail to recognise the damage done by any refusal to accept the results of independent reviews. That is at the heart of the matter. There are others in the universities—such as technical staff, janitors and cleaners—who also find great difficulty in keeping pace with inflation and related values within incomes policy. It is not a matter that affects only university teachers.

How can we get people to accept that there is a need for a proper pay policy? The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said that it would be necessary in future for the wellbeing of the whole country for us to have a proper pay policy. That may be right, and I have sympathy with those who argue the need for a pay policy, but it will work only if it is operated by means of a rational system.

I have had a letter from a university lecturer in my constituency that makes this very point. That correspondent argues the case on two grounds. At first, he says that the anomaly which has crept in must be rectified. He also suggests, as the AUT has said, that university teachers are willing to accept 10 per cent. now provided that they receive a guarantee that there will be a phased eradication of the present problem. It is an extremely reasonable view to take, and I am glad that the teachers take that view. But my constituent goes further and says that we should ensure that we do not run into the same kind of difficulties in future.

We have had the Houghton Report on educational salaries and also a report on nurses' pay. Those reports were instituted because the pay in those sectors was out of phase and out of sense with the pay levels generally throughout the country. When people are dealing with pay they are concerned not only with the exact amount of cash which goes into their pockets but with the status which they enjoy in their profession at that level of pay. That is why there are so many frustrations when industrial differentials become compressed. One point that comes out of the discussion with university teachers and from correspondence with them is that they constantly point out that some people in industry, including firemen, receive more than a university lecturer is paid at the bottom of his scale. It is the status, the psychological impact of these matters, as well. So we are faced with the problem of how to ensure that we do not in future re-create this kind of anomaly.

I have been supplied with some additional material.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am sure that the Whip has not given the hon. Gentleman additional material. The hon. Gentleman has already spoken for 27 minutes, another hon. Member wishes to take part, then there is the winding-up speech, and of course the debate must finish by 4 o'clock.

Mr. William Hamilton

As the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) came into the Chamber only half an hour ago, I hope that my hon. Friend will continue for another 20 minutes.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It is not for one hon. Member to instruct another hon. Member on how long he should speak.

Mr. William Hamilton

I am not instructing him, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but only encouraging him.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman should not encourage his hon. Friend. The Chair has a duty to all hon. Members.

Mr. Hughes

As you have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I do not take any instructions from my colleagues on how long or how short my speeches should be. Having in previous debates had the difficulty of being talked out, as it were, I certainly shall not deliberately make certain that the hon. Lady is unable to take part.

The issue that must be faced fairly and squarely—I am glad that university teachers are among the first to begin to argue this—is how we can ensure that anomalies for them and for others do not again arise.

Mr. Sever

Would not my hon. Friend agree that one way in which to ensure that such anomalies do not occur in the future is by making sure that we do not adopt the sort of method for industrial negotiations advocated in Scotland this week by the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition?

Mr. Hughes

Yes, that is true, because if there were a total free-for-all the position of university teachers would undoubtedly fall further and further behind, although that has not always been the case. University teachers, by and large, have done pretty well.

What compounds the frustrations of university teachers and others is that we have had not exactly a stop-go system but a system whereby—and it does not matter where one starts in the time spectrum—there are periods in which we have incomes policy based on pay restraint. We then have free collective bargaining, and then the reimposition of incomes policy, with negative pay restraint as its base, and so on.

What interests me and what is causing all the frustrations and the loss of morale—particularly in the universities, because they have never previously faced the cold winds of the economy in the same way as other people have—is the narrowing gap between incomes policy, free collective bargaining, and then incomes policy again. There is less and less opportunity to iron out the anomalies. We have fewer chances of rectifying the difficulties and the differentials, the setting of one set of workers against another.

Therefore, if we are to deal with the question of university teachers' anomalies and how to put them right on a phased basis, the point put by a constituent in a letter to me that the matter ought to be underwritten by Governments is good. I do not accept the argument of my hon. Friend the Minister that the firemen's case was unique in relation to future pay increases. If we destroy the machinery to make certain that public service wages or salaries do not get far behind those of outside industry, if we do not have a system which ensures that that does not happen, we are in trouble. There used to be a permanent review body which compared Civil Service wages with wages outside. That has been suspended.

I believe that there is no uniqueness in the firemen's case and none in the case of the university teachers. If members of my union, the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, settled for a phased pay deal in industry, that should stand the test of time and should not be chopped down by incomes policy. If we say that university teachers are a special case, we are in for trouble. We have to look at their case in relation to others.

I have a great deal of sympathy with the university teachers. I know how they feel and I am aware of their frustrations. I know that they want their anomaly rectified as soon as possible, and I too, should like to see that come about, but if we have to ensure that greater resources are put into people's pay packets, I would not start with the university teachers. I would start with the firemen—it is a great pity that we did not settle their dispute earlier—and other members of society who need proper treatment.

3.46 p.m.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to the House for not being present throughout the debate, which I regard as one of great importance. I was leading a delegation and was only able to get here at a late stage in the debate.

I was startled by the comment of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Mr. Sever), who implied that we should hold these debates annually. We have not had this sort of crisis in our universities before. It is a compound of education cuts and pay anomalies due to incomes policy.

Most hon. Members with universities in their constituencies will have had the dismaying experience in the last few weeks of attending university courts and hearing vice-chancellors give alarming reports about the current state of, and prospects for, their universities. I cannot speak for Scotland, but I can assure the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) that the problems have not been exaggerated in England.

The Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster University, Sir Charles Carter, gave a report on 13th December last year in which he stated that Lancaster University faces uncertainty, financial stringency and grossly inadequate pay. Of these factors the most serious was uncertainty. This year's university grant is a cash limit tied to assumptions about wage increases which were, in Sir Charles' words, ridiculous. Though normally a very moderate man who chooses his words with care, he went so far as to demand that the Secretary of State should base grants for universities on true prices and not trickery". The annual grant to universities has been based on the assumption that prices would rise by no more than 5 per cent. Clearly that was deliberately set 5 per cent. too low.

Mr. Oakes

Will the Lady give way?

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman


Mr. Oakes

On this point will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

No. My time is limited. The Minister's hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) took a long time.

The Vice-Chancellor went on to say: We, like other universities, will suffer repeated deficits until this is put right, and since so much of our expenditure represents longterm work we cannot accept this. He went on to warn us that we were already planning for a substantial deficit in 1977–78. On the plausible assumptions about the actual level of inflation, that deficit could well exceed £200,000, despite prudent financial management which has reduced the cost per student at 1977 prices from £2,030 in 1973–74 to an estimated £1,672 in the current academic year—a drop of £358 in four years. Clearly the scope for such economies is limited if educational standards are not to be seriously eroded.

Mr. Oakes

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Through no fault of her own, the hon. Lady was not present when I made clear to the House that if the settlement for university teachers is greater than 5 per cent., which inevitably it is likely to be, we would look again at the cash limits.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Unfortunately, that will not be of complete assistance to our universities, although I thank the Minister for his intimation. It is essential that there should be a change in Government policy. If there is not, the whole system may well collapse. The libraries, for example, are throwing out valuable books, the heritage of the years. That is happening because there is no longer sufficient accommodation. That is the sort of situation that will not be accounted for by the point that the Minister has just made.

The morale of university staffs is at an all-time low. Many hon. Members attended the meeting of university teachers in the House on 16th November. We know how incensed they were that their agreed pay increase and cost of living awards were caught by the Government's incomes policy. That happened because the then Secretary of State was too slow in deciding upon them. As a result, lecturers and professors have suffered a large cut in their standard of living. They have suffered more than almost any other comparable section, with the possible exception of the doctors. It is all too often the very people whom we can least spare who are emigrating because of pay anomalies. We are witnessing the flight of our top rank university staffs to pastures greener than our own.

The Vice Chancellor of Lancaster observed that it appears that no pay anomaly, however gross and officially admitted, will be dealt with and that nobody will get 10 per cent. unless they are in the private sector". Hon. Members may well add that those in the private sector are able to exceed 10 per cent. if they take the precaution of moving into the Prime Minister's constituency. The Ford workers may not have shouted the loudest, but they managed to shout the most effectively. That can hardly be described as negative wage restraint. It is a positive discrimination in favour of those who have the largest industrial muscle or who live in strategic places.

It is useless for the Secretary of State to suggest that universities should increase the number of students by 30,000 from the present 280,000 unless the universities can see their way ahead much more clearly than at present. It is no use either the Secretary of State indicating that an extra grant would be provided in respect of that number unless and until the basic annual grant is restored to a footing related to actual costs. Until that is done, it is worse than useless to increase student numbers, as that can only reduce the quality of education received and increase the crisis in the universities.

To turn now to the students themselves, there is no doubt that the parental contribution is the cause of the greatest hardship to students. I believe that there are two ways of handling it. First, we should raise the threshold at which parents are called upon to pay a contribution. Secondly, the payment should be made through the tax system so that the parents do not themselves pay it to the student but it is paid direct to the student. In that way there would be no non-receivers. That is the element that causes an enormous amount of hardship.

Discretionary grants also cause considerable hardship. I believe that the range of mandatory grants should be extended. If we do not do something soon, far from filling the Secretary of State's target for another 30,000 students we shall get savage cuts. We are already seeing far too many people whom we want to go to universities choosing to opt out. In the long run that is something that we cannot afford.

3.53 p.m.

Mr. Rifkind

In view of the pressure of time I shall make the briefest of replies. The quality of the speeches that we have heard over the past five hours has emphasised the necessity for a debate on universities. It is most unfortunate that there has not been such a debate for nine years.

The Minister of State gave a firm opinion of the Government's view that the universities must be supported. The hon. Gentleman expressed his best wishes and said that best endeavours would be used to help the universities. Over the weeks and months to come we in the House, as well as the universities, will be watching the Government to ensure that their deeds match their words, which has not been the case over the past three years.

Question put and negatived.