HC Deb 08 July 1980 vol 988 cc220-2
5. Mr. Montgomery

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proportion of the 18-year age group now enters some form of higher education; and what proportion of that year group entering higher education is expected in the coming years.

Mr. Macfarlane

In the academic year 1979–80 provisional estimates for Great Britain are that new young home entrants constituted 12 per cent. of the 18-year age group in higher education. Over the next four years this percentage is expected to remain at about that level.

Mr. Montgomery

Will my hon Friend confirm that school leavers with good A-levels should have no difficulty in pursuing a course of higher education? Does this not apply particularly to those who wish to study science or technology?

Mr. Macfarlane

Yes, that is the case. The opportunities for school leavers generally at universities and polytechnics will not decline. Provided that the student attains a reasonable standard in his sixth form he can expect to find a suitable place in higher education. While there can be no direction on our part, students would be wise to consider seriously courses in science, engineering and technology generally. That is the thrust of the Government's plans.

Mr. Gregor MacKenzie

What steps is the Minister taking to encourage 18-year-olds to go into applied sciences, to read engineering, and so on? There is a great shortage of young scientists thoughout the country, and not enough encouragement is given by Government to young people to enter these occupations.

Mr. Macfarlane

I do not think that that is strictly accurate. Over the past three or four years there has been a growing awareness of the paucity of such students in schools and colleges. The previous Administration and this Government have initiated a number of activities, such as the standing conference on school science and technology, the establishment of SATROs—the science and technology regional organisations—and the Finniston committee of inquiry. There is an upturn in the numbers applying for science and engineering courses, particularly among young girls in the latter discipline.

Dr. Hampson

Surely the question of increasing the number of entrants to higher education at the age of 18 cannot go to the top of the educational agenda now, when there is a need to expand the number of part-time places, particularly to encourage professional people to return to courses to update their knowledge and skills?

Mr. Macfarlane

My hon. Friend highlights the fact that flexibility and retraining are important. I hope that all those engaged in education will acknowledge that.

Mr. Freeson

The Minister sounds rather complacent about this matter. How much emphasis is placed on the question of technical education in the review that is being undertaken of provision for 16 to 19-year-olds? I believe that the Minister told us that the result would be available in he autumn.

Mr. Macfarlane

I confirm that. I hope to report to the House by the end of November. Certainly, it is an all-important subject. The aspect of technical education is something that has emerged from the curriculum survey and our views and findings on that will be made known before the end of the year.

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