HC Deb 06 February 1979 vol 962 cc194-6
12. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations she has received about the consultative document "Higher Education into the 1990s"; and if she will make a statement.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

My Department and the Scottish Education Department between them have received nearly 300 responses to the discussion document. I have been examining the overall tenor of this very encouraging response in the light of the most recent information about student enrolments and I have accepted an invitation to speak at a conference being organised by The Times Higher Education Supplement, on 5 March about the development of higher education in the next decade or so.

Mr. Canavan

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the concern in many education circles because the document appears to place more emphasis on demographic principles than on education principles? Does she agree that the projected decrease in population should not be used as an excuse for a contraction in the system but that it presents a golden opportunity for an expansion of the system by extending the opportunity for higher education to a larger proportion of the community?

Mrs. Williams

The document dealt with the demographic problems. My hon. Friend will recognise that in model E, which is supported by Ministers, we have clearly indicated our belief that there is an opportunity for a major expansion of adult education, paid educational leave and part-time study in our higher education institutions.

Many higher education institutions have not yet taken on board that there will be necessary changes if that is to happen. That is one matter that we wish to discuss in detail at the forthcoming conference.

Mr. Nelson

Can the Secretary of State confirm that the projected provision for higher education in the report assumes that the number of 18-year-olds who will be seeking education at universities or polytechnics will increase from about 13 per cent to 18 per cent.—an increase of 5 per cent? Has the Secretary of State seen the representations from many bodies which believe that that proportion is overoptimistic? Does she agree with those representations? If they were proved to be correct, will she review her provision for higher education places?

Mrs. Williams

The hon. Member is correct. The assumption is based on a related age participation rate in higher education of about 18 per cent. In the last two years the figure has not been so impressive. There are some reasons to think that the figure is increasing again.

We should have to reconsider the proportion of 18-year-olds entering higher education, but we should still hope that the gap that that would leave would be made good by more adult and mature students entering higher education.

Mr. Grocott

This is the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the polytechnics. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the real problems in higher education, which the polytechnics have illustrated, is the overwhelming tendency to concentrate resources on three-year undergraduate courses at the expense of day and block release courses? What steps does she intend to take to ensure that that trend is changed?

Mrs. Williams

In the Education Bill, which is now in Committee, consideration is being given to a clause to extend mandatory awards to new areas outside the formal undergraduate group. My hon. Friend also mentioned 16 to 18-year-olds. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and I have announced our intention to issue a White Paper in the spring on the whole question of day and block release courses for 16 to 18-year-olds. That matter is being urgently considered.

Mr. Carlisle

I accept that the next few years will represent a period of consolidation rather than expansion in universities, but what thought has the Secretary of State given to the extension of sandwich courses, particularly at the polytechnics?

Mrs. Williams

I share the hon. and learned Member's concern about sandwich courses. Last year the Government gave additional help to employers to enable them to offer sandwich places. The perpetual problem is that not as many sandwich places are offered as it is possible to take up. I join the hon. and learned Member in saying that it would be helpful if employers more readily came forward with sandwich courses, especially since they often criticise graduates for not having enough knowledge of the world of industry.

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