HC Deb 14 July 1981 vol 8 cc959-60
1. Mr. Alexander

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science by what percentage the number of school leavers applying for higher education courses starting in autumn 1981 has increased over the figures for 1980.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Mark Carlisle)

By 31 March 1981 the number of applications from home candidates for undergraduate courses in United Kingdom universities was 4 per cent. greater than the number received by the same date last year. No comparable figures are available for the rest of higher education.

Mr. Alexander

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that every opportunity is taken at school to stress the great advantages of higher and further education of pupils if they are to achieve satisfying and satisfactory lives? If there are problems for pupils in obtaining admission to universities, is there scope for them to gain admission to polytechnics?

Mr. Carlisle

On the last part of the question, the details that we have show that there is some reduction in the number of applications for places at polytechnics and other colleges of further education, as against the number last year.

On my hon. Friend's general supplementary question, I reply "Yes, of course". I believe that we should make it clear that further training of all kinds is in the interests of all young people in Britain. I hope that as many as possible will stay on in full-time education beyond the age of 16.

Mr. Ashley

How can the Secretary of State be so sanguine about applications for higher education when there is deep anger and resentment in universities such as Keele university, in North Staffordshire, at the savage discrimination shown by him and the University Grants Committee in the exorbitant cuts? Will he reconsider those cuts and, equally importantly, avoid provoking student riots to supplement the present riots in our cities?

Mr. Carlisle

I did not think that I was being particularly sanguine. I realise that the reduction in expenditure on universities is bound to have some effect on the numbers of students. As regards Keele, we debated the whole matter last week. As the right hon. Gentleman knows, I said then—and I repeat it—that the decision on how to divide the money between universities is a matter for the UGC, and not for me.

Sir William van Straubenzee

Referring to a comment made earlier by my right hon. and learned Friend, is it possible to say whether there has been any trend in the staying on at school of those who would otherwise become the school leavers mentioned in the question?

Mr. Carlisle

We have indications from many parts of the country that there appears to be an increase in the numbers of pupils intending to stay on beyond the age of 16 this year compared with last year.

Mr. Christopher Price

As regards entry to higher education, will the Secretary of State now confirm that the Government have formally abandoned the Robbins principle—that all young people who are qualified and who wish to enter higher education should be able to do so? If the Government have abandoned that principle, what new principle do they intend to put in its place?

Mr. Carlisle

The hon. Gentleman must realise that the Robbins principle, in that respect, has not been achieved since the Robbins report was made. The numbers in universities and higher education have been increasing steadily, but the participation rate has always been considerably lower than the Robbins report assumed. The report dealt not only with universities but with higher education as a whole. The principle that I would set out is that the Government want as many people as possible in universities and colleges of higher education, commensurate with the resources that we can make available for such education.