HC Deb 18 November 1981 vol 13 cc291-376
Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) to move his motion, I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. I must also tell the House that no one who occupies the Chair today, neither Mr. Deputy Speaker nor myself, will plead for short speeches. It is up to hon. Members. If self-discipline is not exercised, fewer hon. Members will be called. I make that statement at the beginning to save us the embarrassment of pleading for short speeches as the debate goes on and thus, I believe, changing the character of the House. I shall call hon. Members as time allows.

4.1 pm

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Bedwellty)

I beg to move, That this House condemns the cuts in higher education made by Her Majesty's Government which deny places to qualified young people, jeopardise the existence of universities and public-sector institutions, and condemn teaching and non-teaching staff to costly redundancy; and calls for the provision of access to higher education to those qualified and able to benefit from it, for the strengthening of facilities for teaching and research, especially in applied sciences and technology, and for the abandonment of policies which destroy opportunity and contradict the economic, technological, scholastic and social needs of the nation. It is my pleasant duty this afternoon to welcome to our education debate two new education Ministers. Most spectacularly and surprisingly—and I think that he will understand what I mean by "surprisingly"—there is the new Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave). I express surprise, but I suspect that that is a fraction of the emotion experienced by the hon. Gentleman when called upon to take office. There are, of course, divisions in the Tory Party from which we, fortunately, do not suffer in our party. I know that there are Ministers who agree with all of the Government's policies and Ministers who agree with some of them. We now have a Minister who apparently agrees with none of them. He has a role to play which will be familiar to readers of Charles Dickens. The hon. Member was taken on by the Prime Minister in the same way as Oliver Twist was taken on by Mr. Sowerberry, the undertaker because there is an expression of melancholy on his face which will come in useful at the assorted educational funerals that he will have to attend if the Government carry on with their policies. Some people have been uncharitable enough to ascribe the hon. Gentleman's assumption of office to ambition. I believe that it was masochism.

Alongside the Under-Secretary of State, we have the distinguished presence of the new Secretary of State for Education and Science, the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir Keith Joseph). No problem arises as to the reason for that appointment: it was sadism. In addition, I believe that the Government, given their policies—largely authored by the right hon. Member for Leeds, NorthEast—could no longer afford to have the last of the great spenders at the Department of Industry.

A central and deliberate part of the Government's policies is the wish to depress demand in the economy. That and the particular means employed to depress demand have consciously exacerbated the deep-rooted problems which, as the right hon. Gentleman himself pointed out, exist in the economy. Industries whose size and strategic importance were so great that they could not be allowed to collapse completely even in the sacred name of monetarism were bailed out by the right hon. Gentleman. That imposed further pressures on the Government, who had set themselves utterly unrealistic spending targets.

New sources of savings had therefore to be found, and the easiest target for the Government was education. Education has been singled out for additional amounts of saving because in the short term I emphasise the words "short term"—cuts in education seem to provoke less forceful reaction among employees and users than in the great industries. Therefore, the cuts proposed by the last Secretary of State are being implemented—although we hope to hear better news today—by the present Secretary of State. In the process, the Government not only further depress demand and increase unemployment in their onslaught upon higher education generally and the universities in particular, but erode the civil rights of the people and tear up the roots of economic recovery.

Who could be better fitted for the task of incompetent destruction disguised as agonised deliberation than the Secretary of State for Education and Science? The right hon. Gentleman now occupies a position in the Government in which he may fully indulge his monetarist simplicities and his paleolithic philosophies. I am sure that he is delighted. He can make cuts, and in doing so he can explain how, the deprivation of individuals and institutions alike elevates the moral condition of the people and the standards of the institutions. He has given long attention to this and has long argued that more provision in education inevitably means degeneration in education. He has now been given the opportunity to argue that less provision will bring regeneration. Indeed, that has been his argument so far, in the limited number of public statements that he has made, although these have been crowded weeks for him.

Not for the right hon. Gentleman the defensive rationalisations of the last Secretary of State for Education and Science, whose political passing we all sincerely mourn: we now have a man with a mission to remoralise, rationalise and reorganise education in this country even if, in the words of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, it means the extinction for a whole generation of opportunities to enter the profession of research and scholarship. The right hon. Gentleman's attitude towards the regeneration of education—the elevation of standards by the narrowing of access—is reminiscent of the GI who, surveying the smoking ruins of a Normandy village in June 1944, said "Well, we sure liberated the hell out of this place". I fear that that will be the lot of some of the institutions of higher education in both university and public sectors.

There are, nevertheless, a few people in the academic professions who actually welcome the Secretary of State's approach. They never liked the expansion of higher education in the past 20 years. They always complained of entrance standards falling when, as the testimony of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals shows, standards were actually rising. Those few were always irritated by the characteristics of succeeding generations of new undergraduates whom they saw as ill-kempt, unruly, ungrateful and ungracious, and occasionally even accused them of being ignoramuses.

Although they are very few, those people actually welcome the Government's policies and the attitude of the Secretary of State because they believe, quite wrongly, that the cuts will somehow lead to the purification and cleansing of our universities, no matter what the consequences far the breadth and quality of provision of higher education for the people of this country. For those people to welcome the cuts being imposed upon higher education by the Secretary of State and the Government is like the crew of the "Titanic" giving a standing ovation to the iceberg. In their foolishness, they are inviting disasters which will engulf them, too, because if cuts are made on the scale and at the speed proposed by the Government they will be no respecters of even the most august emeritus. They will destroy much of what people in the universities have valued, even though those few people delude themselves into believing that the cuts can be made painlessly and profitably.

Those hapless elitists are few in number. Even academics who over the past two decades may have been tempted to think that universities would not be such bad places if it were not for the students have been roused out of academic lethargy into protesting to the Government. The remaining university staff—the majority of those who work in universities, who always took a more realistic view of the productive and creative role of higher education—have been stirred to outrage, as we have witnessed during today's lobby of the House by university teaching and non-teaching staff in their several thousands.

When we last debated this matter on 9 July, the then Secretary of State accused me of wild exaggeration because of my description of the damage that would be inflicted on opportunities, standards, employment, teaching and research by the cuts that had been publicised and were being advertised to the various institutions that were affected.

For the sake of accuracy, brevity and incomparable authority, I turn to that most temperate of bodies, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. I draw the attention of the House to the letter written by its chairman, Dr. Albert Sloman, on 4 November to the Secretary of State. The House should pay great attention to this letter, because the committee says what has to be said at least as well as, and probably better than, anyone else. It offers a case which has remained unanswered by the Secretary of State. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will use the opportunity afforded by this debate to answer it.

The committee said that it was looking forward very much to meeting the Secretary of State on 9 November, but he soon knocked that idea on the head. It continued: we believe the Government's current policy towards the universities to be profoundly mistaken and highly damaging. It is a policy which will seriously impair the quality of the work of our universities and jeopardise the very distinctive contribution which they make within our system of higher education. It is a policy which will involve the loss of some 10,000 places for new home students in each of the next two or three years, the very years when the number of qualified school leavers reaches its peak, a reduction in opportunity for young people willing and able to go to university of something like 1 in 7. And it is a policy which, in our view, is likely to save little or no money in the short run since the savings on recurrent grants have to be set off against the cost of compensating staff for dismissal. If so, the damage to the standards both of university teaching and research, in some cases irreparable, and the sharp reduction in opportunity for those born in 1963 or after will, in terms of public expenditure, have been for nothing. Later in that letter, the CVCP said that the universities were about to suffer cuts of 15 per cent. which would bring staff reductions of that order. That is why people talk of 3,000, 4,000 or even 5,000 university staff being made redundant. Yet, as every study has demonstrated, British universities can in no sense be said to be a failing or overmanned service. If the Government believe that, the onus of responsibility and proof lies with them. We have yet to have proof that the universities are failing or overmanned industries.

Opportunities for qualified youngsters must be a matter of grave concern to all hon. Members, who must face those youngsters and their parents and explain that, as a conscious act of Government, opportunites are deliberately being denied to people who in the recent past would easily have gained access to the universities of their choice. Those hon. Members who will have to explain why things have changed should prepare their arguments, because the scale of that change is vast and terrible.

The CVCP warns: A reduction in the number of home students has been imposed which requires a drop in the home undergraduate intake to around 70,000, the level of the intake of 1976–77". That would be grave enough if we were talking about a population of a size similar to that of 1976–77. The committee continues: But since that date, the number of qualified 18-year-olds will have risen by some 15 per cent. and there has been a growing demand from mature students"— which the DES now tells us account for 24 per cent. of all new entrants into British universities— for continuing education particularly in advanced technology. Surely the worst possible time to impose cuts of this scale and speed is when the number of 18-year-olds is at its historic highest and the higher education needs of adults are at their historic greatest. But this is the very time at which these cuts, certainly the largest since the war, are being imposed. One wonders whether that is acceptable in the context of our international challenges and other such matters of material concern. "No", say the CVCP, we are, in comparison with our industrial competitors a sadly under-educated and under-trained society.". Can the cuts be made without harming the research base in our universitiies as well as our national effort, as the previous Secretary of State argued on 9 July and as the White Paper in March made it clear should be avoided? Once again, the CVCP says "No". It says: At the same time both the quality and the volume of the universities' contribution to basic and applied research will be seriously affected at the very time when this contribution has never been more needed or more highly valued by British industries. The opportunities for able young recruits to research will be virtually extinguished for a generation". It is small wonder that the CVCP concludes: These are the reasons why we consider the Government's long-term policy for the universities to be fundamentally wrong". That is not the editorialising of a Labour newspaper or union newspaper, nor is it the view of the AUT or any of the other unions representing university staffs. It is the view of the CVCP, a highly responsible body. It went to see the Secretary of State for Education and Science, and it appears to have been a remarkably unproductive encounter. The committee said that the Secretary of State had completely rejected its case and could not offer any relief whatsoever in relation to the financial cuts, and was adamant in insisting on the inevitability of a reduction in the opportunity for school leavers to enter universities. He recognised that substantial redundancies of university staff were unavoidable, and undertook to study urgently the proposals which had been made for financial compensation to those concerned. Bloodied, baffled and bewildered but not bowed, the CVCP again wrote to the Secretary of State. We cannot accuse it of not being extremely tolerant and temperate in its persistence. On 13 November, it thanked the Secretary of State for the meeting and added: You agreed with us about the paramount need to maintain the quality of the British university system both in teaching and research but you seemed to believe that this could be done within the finanial limits and the time-scale you are imposing. This is manifestly impossible … Cuts of unparalleled severity imposed at such speed are certain to do untold harm to the quality of both teaching and research … You stated that the reduction in the opportunity for school leavers to enter universities was, in your view, inevitable, but at the same time you expressed concern about the quality of the undergraduate entry,"—— that has been a favourite point of the Secretary of State for a long time—— in particular in the sciences and technology". Dr. Sloman adds: I have to say to you that it is the view of my Committee that the quality of the entry this year is higher than it has ever been and that we are having to turn away students who, only a year or so ago, would have had no difficulty at all in gaining a university place". The Secretary of State frowned when I talked about the erosion of civil rights as a consequence of the cuts. That is what I mean—the earned rights of qualified youngsters to secure access to higher education which are now being denied as a result of Government policy. The CVCP added: You also referred to the attitude of universities to industry and expressed doubts about the contribution which staff and students were making to the industrial life of the nation". The relevance of universities to our industrial and technological effort is more than a hobby-horse of the Secretary of State, it is a hobby-brontosaurus. By coincidence, the right hon. Gentleman well knows that the CVCP has organised a special campaign on the industrial contribution made by British universities. That will take place next week, and the CVCP has asked the right hon. Gentleman to think again about what it calls the appalling wastefulness of the timing of the cuts".

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham)

Does that not reflect the fact that the birth rate reached a peak in 1963–18 years ago? That was the highest figure since the post-war birth rate in the late 1940s. From 1963 until the 1970s the birth rate fell steadily, and in the late 1970s it fell more rapidly.

Mr. Kinnock

The hon. Gentleman is factually wrong. The peak of the bulge will be reached in 1983, not in the current year. That is the year in which the cuts will have their greatest effect. Hence the strenuous complaints being made by the CVCP.

I was interested to hear the hon. Gentleman say that, contrary to the general Tory attitude towards education—more means worse—when it comes to demographic trends, more means better. Somehow, the standard of performance of new entrants to universities has risen in conjunction with the rise in the birth rate. That would be difficult to prove arithmetically, but I am prepared to take the hon. Gentleman's word for it for the sake of argument.

The House will note that the CVCP, which comprises reasonable people, wants the Secretary of State to think again. In its letter of 4 November, it said—I believe sincerely: Ministers have failed to understand the extent and the depth of the damage which is being done to our universities. The committee is innocently and fundamentally wrong about that. Ministers well understand the extent and depth of the damage being done to universities. Some will try to pass it off as the unfortunate and unavoidable by-product of the Government's economic and financial policies. However, they understand the consequences.

Others not only understand but deliberately contrive those consequences. They have long believed that there is too much and too great a variety of higher education for too many people at too high a cost and in too many places than is acceptable, in their narrow concept of higher education, and for their narrow purposes of social engineering. That is why Ministers have replaced a number-led higher education system with a cash-led system. The consequence is that human ability and interest are subordinated to the dictated availability of our financial resources.

Such action might look like the thrifty cutting of coats according to the cloth. In reality, it is cutting people to fit the coat, and that is a different prospect altogether. The result is the waste of abilities and the denial of earned rights of those who are able and qualified to take advantage of the facilities and opportunities offered by higher education.

Ministers who support that system—they certainly include the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Brent, North (Dr. Boyson)—are not impressed by the factual arguments of Salford, Aston or Bradford, the provision at Heriot Watt, the innovations of Surrey or any of the institutions which have been sorely afflicted by the cuts. Ministers are not listening to the supportive arguments made on behalf of the universities by representatives of business and commerce and of local communities. They do not accept the life and death importance of pharmacological or agronomic research being disrupted as a consequence of the cuts. Nor do they recognise the enterprise and vitality of courses in new subjects and fresh approaches to old problems which are features of development in universities in the 1980s.

Ministers loathe the so-called Robbins principle. They now fully intend to slaughter that principle. They use the argument of national economic imperatives to excuse their political assassinations.

In 1974 and at various intervals the Secretary of State has offered the view that there was never any extra demand for the traditional benefits of university education—the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake. As recently as last week he told the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts Could it be, perhaps, that in the precipitated expansion over the last 20 to 25 years some areas of higher education have expanded beyond what is justified for the expansion and transmission of knowledge and the economic needs of the country. That is a long-term belief of the Secretary of State. He now has an opportunity to put those terrible beliefs into practice. He has offered a justification for his rarified view of the modern university's role. He has given the complementary opinion that polytechnics and, possibly, some converted universities, as he calls them, should be the places in which advanced vocational training should take place. There is no provision whatsoever for such reforms and readjustments in the imposed cuts on university funding or in the cuts imposed on polytechnics, institutes and colleges of higher education.

We are left with a general and severe reduction in places, courses, and staff in every institution. The Secretary of State's view, given to the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts last week, was: Some of the people disappointed in achieving university places will then compete for polytechnic places and possibly displace other people with fewer qualifications who would, under past assumptions, have found a place in polytechnics. Anyone could tell the Secretary of State that things do not, and cannot, work as neatly as that for either institutions or individuals. Anyone could tell him that the consequences of the shift that he envisages are arbitrary and unsatisfactory and will inevitably mean that people who could and would have graduated in higher education—not just entered courses, but graduated from those courses—will now he unable to do so. The right hon. Gentleman would not be impressed by that advice or that acquaintance with reality since, with all the intellectual astigmatism for which he is widely renowned, he followed the sentence which I have just quoted with the deathless phrase "It obvicusly makes sense".

We must ask for whom the cuts strategy, in size and speed, obviously makes sense. Does it make sense in terms of national needs and national interests? No, we cannot say that, because it is more obvious to this generation than to any previous generation that economic development, technological mastery, social stability and democratic values depend not on the brilliance of the few, no matter how worthwhile it is to nurture them, but on the competence of the many.

Any strategy which denies the many from advancing their competence by advanced further education and higher education through an assortment of institutions conspires against the general national interest and the specific individual interest of those with the qualifications, interest and need to give themselves that sophistication of confidence which is a precondition of civilised life in this generation and for infinite future generations.

Does the cuts policy make any sense by saving money? No, it does not. The lowest estimate of redundancy costs of university lecturers alone is £120 million. The CVCP estimated a more realistic £180 million. If account is taken of higher education employees, who do not have a secure tenure, whether they are polytechnic or non-teaching staffs in both sectors of higher education, the cost of making cuts of the size and speed demanded by the Government cannot be less than £220 million.

The Secretary of State told the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals that he intended urgently to study the financial compensation. I hope that he will inform us of the findings of that urgent study and whether the Government will find not the £20 million that they have so far offered, but £180 million to £220 million for the various higher educational institutions to meet their legal obligations to those whose employment has been snatched away as a consequence of the cuts.

It is important that we receive an urgent and generous response, because we are now only weeks away from the important meetings of senates and councils that will take place in universities in January and February. It is insufferable for people who feel that they and their occupations are jeopardised—indeed, their future lives and fortunes are jeopardised by the cuts—not to be told at the earliest possible time what assistance will be forthcoming from the Government. Alternatively, do the universities go bankrupt? Must we finalise the destruction before the Government come to their senses and meet their obligations to the people?

Will the cuts produce a better higher education system? That would be a fair justification for them. However, the answer to that question must also be "No". Any necessary reforms to reduce duplication, enrich the curriculum and close the binary division will be hindered, not helped, by a financial regime in which, in every sector, institution or faculty, every employee must look after himself and not distract or preoccupy himself with the need for reform, which is apparent in our higher education system.

Will the Government's cuts make sense for research? Again the answer is "No". The freezing of recruitment imposed by the cuts will discourage development in the newer sciences and technologies. It will produce an aging lecturer and research force. It will prevent higher turnover departments, such as computer sciences, from replacing personnel lost to other work outside the university. It will diminish the time available to dons for research and updating by increasing their teaching obligations.

The effect on students will be a narrowing of the scope and breadth of their educational experience as university departments ossify under the pressure of the cuts. The consequence for further generations of students will be fewer school teachers with the necessary modern qualifications and experience, so that the weaknesses are compounded through generations. The immediate result for the financing of research, according to Lord Flowers, rector of the Imperial College of Science and Technology, who is an old political friend of mine, will be that over the next three years the University Grants Committee will not provide enough money to keep up its end of the dual funding system.

The Government's policies do not make sense for the non-teaching staffs of the universities. They have already suffered reductions through the rationalisations, changes and cuts over the last five or six years. As they and the academics with whom they work will testify, those non-teaching university employees cannot be further reduced without serious effects on the essential work of the universities. Laboratory technicians, administrators, librarians and manual staff are indispensable in the preparation and servicing of the work of a university. Their work will either not be done or be done inadequately so that they are dismissed. The result, at best, will be an immense waste of lecturers' and students' time and, at worst, the breakdown of the primary activities of the universities as teaching and research institutions.

It will be hazardous to life, limb and property if universities are not adequately staffed in the supportive services. If, as a consequence of the cuts, there are the 5,000 or 6,000 redundancies among the non-teaching staff that have been estimated, we shall fundamentally change the nature of universities by depriving them of essential support workers. Where is the "obvious sense", as the Secretary of State put it, in all that?

There is a grotesque logic that conforms with the Secretary of State's educational and philosophical persuasions. It is now about seven years since the Secretary of State entertained the nation with what has become known as his socio-economic groups 4 and 5 speech. I am sure that the Secretary of State does not want to be bored, so he will be relieved to hear that I intend to refer not to socio-economic groups 4 and 5 and their mating habits, as he did, but to an earlier part of his speech in which he said: Whatever we may have thought 15 years or so back, it is our right and duty to question, in the light of experience, the rapid expansion of the universities, and the belief that by increasing the number of undergraduates we necessarily multiply the benefit either to the young people concerned or to the nation. When young people are taken away from their home milieu, in late adolescence, crowded together in age groups, with diminished parental, and indeed, adult influence, and without the social disciplines which the need to earn a living impose, is it surprising that their late-adolescent rebelliousness should feed on itself, and seek ideological rationalisation? That business of being away from home, without responsibility and the social discipline of earning a living comes a bit rich from an old Harrovian. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say: No doubt many will grow out of it when they leave for the world, but not all. Some will carry on an extended adolescence as teachers in schools and in polytechnics and in universities, helped by the like-minded, where they will co-operate with left-wing gangs. The right hon. Gentleman said that, even more dangerously, others go into social work and corrupt the youth of this country even more.

There is no evidence for all that saloon-bar philosophy. Seven years later the right hon. Gentleman has yet to give an adequate justification for those sentiments to any of the groups that I believe he utterly misrepresented in their motivation, performance and excellence. When the response of outrage came forth from assorted parts of the community, the right hon. Gentleman said that he had been misunderstood. A short time later he appeared on television applauding the fact that he had received shoals of supporting letters from all over the country. That occasioned the following letter in The Guardian: Sir,—A smiling Sir Keith Joseph meets the press to announce that he is delighted with the public response to his recent remarks. But wasn't he the fellow who complained previously that his remarks were misreported?—Yours, Glenys Kinnock. I have a lesson not only of wit, but of brevity, to learn from my wife. That was a more than adequate response. The importance of the affair to this debate was the long-term evidence that it gave of a man, who I sincerely believe to be a man of compassion and high intelligence, holding opinions for a long time—opinions reinforced by assorted writings, books, magazines, speeches and broadcasts—which have proved banal when tested against any modern criteria.

I hope that in our prolonged acquaintance—at least until the next election; I do not like it when the Prime Minister keeps switching education Ministers, because it spoils my aim—the Secretary of State will convince me of the rationality of his views or concede that they do not have much relationship to realities. However, the system that he appears to want is one in which access to and provision in higher education should be reduced. University places should be available only to those who pursue knowledge for its own sake. The great yoke of publicly-provided opportunities should be lifted from the necks of our oppressed citizenry and replaced by a privatised university system.

Some of that is already occurring. Institutions that lost substantial funds with the imposition of so-called full-cost fees for overseas students are now sustaining themselves substantially by selling places on the international market. As that and various borrowing and lending and covenanting activities are taking place, the Government will reduce the value of student grants yet again, consider the abolition of the maintenance award and again float the idea of loans to replace grants as they cash-limit student awards.

If such a system were brought fully into operation, presumably it would satisfy the right hon. Gentleman's perceptions of liberty and his definition of utility. We shall fight and defeat his ideas just as surely as previous generations fought and defeated such ideas when they were laid across those generations' roads to freedom. The right hon. Gentleman thinks of himself and is thought of as a lover of liberty, but the liberty in which he believes requires that people are freed from certain communal obligations and must therefore seek and secure their liberties with minimal communal assistance. The right hon. Gentleman bases his views on the imagined equity and dispassion that he believes exist in the market place. All the legions of history march against that view of liberty. The story of the advancement of the common people in this country and in other countries is one of the expansion of public provision and the retreat of purchased private privilege. Public provision might be the enemy of freedom for the right hon. Gentleman, but it is freedom to me, and I shall tell the right hon. Gentleman why.

Public provision has been the means of my personal emancipation and the emancipation of thousands of my contemporaries and of those who have come from similar backgrounds in the generations following mine. It has given liberty to those generations—liberty that was absent for their fathers, grandfathers and forefathers, who were denied all but the nominal and tenuous freedoms that were easily subordinated by any boss or bully who could threaten and intimidate them with the loss of their homes or jobs, with poverty, sickness and all the insecurity that goes with a market system.

I am the first Kinnock to have received a university education. That is not because I was the first who had the capacity to take advantage of such an education or because I was the first who had the necessary native intelligence, whatever that is. I received a university education because my loving and highly motivated parents could rely upon the anonymous benefaction of millions of anonymous taxpayers—fellow citizens prepared to make subscriptions for the general good and for the emancipation of one Neil Kinnock, and many hundreds of thousands more like him.

That is how we obtained our freedom. That is how we shall keep our freedom. When we fight against cuts in higher education, in universities and in schools, we who depend and will depend upon public provision to give us access to the knowledge of the ages, mastery of technology and the development of our society, are fighting for our liberty and the liberty of those whom we seek to represent and emancipate. We have had the great fortune to be emancipated from the fears and constraints that threatened and controlled our forefathers' generations.

The consequence of the Welfare State is not, as the Secretary of State describes it in various articles, orthodoxy, sycophancy and caution. The consequence of our sort of Welfare State and democratic provision is quite the contrary. It is unorthodoxy, independence and audacity. I suspect that our objectives of using free institutions for freeing the people and expanding, extending and strengthening our freedoms are the bases of the right hon. Gentleman's objections. It is the insolence of our freedom that causes so much trouble to the right hon. Gentleman and those who think like him.

We shall not surrender our freedom. We shall continue to fight for it. We shall fight the right hon. Gentleman or anyone else. We shall continue fighting the cuts and the purposes behind them. At the first opportunity we shall rebuild, develop, expand and change higher education so that it meets the social, economic, technological, scholastic and aesthetic needs of the people in a way that it has never done before.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)


Miss Betty Boothroyd (West Bromwich, West)

Answer that.

4.45 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)

I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: this House regretfully accepts that all sectors of higher education, after a long period of sustained expansion, should contribute to the restraint in the rate of increase in public spending and welcomes the Government's commitment to ensure the effective controal of the resources devoted to higher education as a whole, to maintain the highest possible standards and to adjustments of the university system in favour of science and engineering. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, West (Mrs. Boothroyd) invites me to answer what we heard from the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). I hope that I shall answer with as much relish as that which the hon. Gentleman displayed when he spoke. I have read the hon. Gentleman's speeches and I have heard some of them. I have always admired the gusto with which he speaks in the House. His speech today was no exception to his normal performance. He was able to lean—he did so very effectively—upon a letter that was conveniently written to me on 4 November by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. In the process of replying I shall take up the various comments that he made.

In 43 minutes the hon. Gentleman never once connected the expenditure of the universities with their revenue. Surely there must be some balance between receiving and paying. The hon. Gentleman would have impressed the House far more if he had dealt with the question of who is to pay for the unlimited expansion of higher education, of which he speaks with ardour and, I have no doubt, sincerity.

The provision of public services, which the hon. Gentleman welcomes and applauds so fervently, depends upon the capacity to bear the cost of those services. Those who work in the public services do not pay the full cost of the public services out of their own taxes. The costs of the public services are paid for to a large extent, directly and indirectly, by those who work in and form the trading base. If we allow too large a public sector to crush, by the burden of paying for it, the trading base, as we have done under successive Governments over the past 20 years, steps such as those that the Government are reluctantly having to take in relation to the universities will become inevitable time and again.

It is not only me, a Tory Minister, who has enunciated this relationship. I have in my hand a list of no fewer than 13 proposals that were set out by Mrs. Shirley Williams when she was Minister of State, Department of Education and Science in the 1966 Labour Government. She proposed taking steps quite as draconic, if not more draconic, as those that the Government now propose to reduce the burden of public spending on higher education that was being placed upon the trading base at that time. The hon. Gentleman weakened a powerfully presented case by failing to refer in 43 minutes to the question who is to pay for unlimitedly expanding higher education.

There must be some balance between the capacity of the community to pay and what is provided. The sad fact that lies behind the set of policies that we are debating is that under successive Governments for two decades, if not more, we have had relative economic failure. We have had a thoroughly disappointing economic performance. No doubt we shall debate on another occasion the causes of that economic disappointment. We have had little growth in output. Compared with our neighbours and competitors, we have done far less well. Even more tragically, we have done far less well than most of us think we could have done. We may have done historically better than in almost any other previous period, but our neighbours and competitors have done dramatically better. There has been little growth in output.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that some of the failure that he has described may be attributed to our failure to provide as much higher education for as many people as that provided by most of our competitors?

Sir Keith Joseph

I shall especially enjoy taking up that fallacy at the appropriate place in my speech.

Mr. Maxton

It is not a fallacy.

Sir Keith Joseph

I believe it to be sadly misguided.

Our economic performance has been disappointing. There has been little growth in output. However, we have expanded public spending as if the economy had been and was continuously successful. That lies at the heart of the matter. Public spending is still expanding. If we are not to crush the capacity of the trading base to recover, if we are to stop taxation rising even higher, and if we are to restrain the growth of borrowing with the higher interest charges that that tends to bring, there is a need to restrain the growth of public spending.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

The right hon. Gentleman said that the decisions that he has taken on university spending are related to public service borrowing and to the net cost to the Exchequer. Will he tell the House the difference between the savings that he intends to make in the universities and the cost of paying for those people who will lose their jobs and who will have to be sustained by unemployment benefit because they will not be students at universities?

Sir Keith Joseph

It is not possible to give precise figures. We are in the realm of assumptions. I shall come to the relationships later in my speech.

The letter that was sent to me by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, which the hon. Gentleman legitimately quoted, is understandable. For the first time, the universities are having to cope with a really serious and painful adjustment—I do not for a moment deny that—and, of course, they are struggling to reduce it. It would be difficult to adjust in any part of the economy. For a chartered body such as the universities with, in some cases, tenure and autonomy, it is all the more difficult—particularly after years and years of sustained expansion and, to some extent, a sense of being in a sanctuary—to face up to the decisions that have to be made by general agreement in a large grouping of people, each with their interests and the interests of their subjects to protect.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)


Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)


Sir Keith Joseph

I think that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) got in first.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Secretary of State aware that the last two sentences that he used to describe the universities seemed to contain the sort of phraseology that he used when, as Secretary of State for Industry, he was talking about BL? Before he goes any further, will he assure the House that the formula to be used for the universities will be similar to that which was finally used to bail out BL?

Sir Keith Joseph

BL was in a market place, and universities are not—to the same extent. BL lost its customers. The Government did not lose its activities. That was due to the withdrawal of custom.

The universities would be far less vulnerable if they were not so dependent upon the taxpayer. The hon. Member for Bedwellty spoke as if the only healthy position for the universities to occupy was one of virtually total dependence on the taxpayer. That is a vulnerable position. I am not postulating a privatisation of universities. I am postulating that it would be more healthy for the universities if they did not depend so much upon Governments and taxpayers.

Mr. Dalyell

Might not the adjustment be so fast that it would create serious problems of tenure? Will the Secretary of State deal with the problems that were put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) on the Department's calculations as to how much the breach of tenure would cost should the decision in the courts go against it? He did not answer that question when he appeared before the Select Committee when my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) was in the chair. It is as well to put down a marker on this, because various figures have been given. A figure of £180 million has been mentioned, but some people—for instance, Flowers—say £250 million. What are the Government's calculations?

Sir Keith Joseph

I must restrain my willingness to give way. I have just started my speech and I shall come to the various subjects that hon. Members wish to hear about if I am given time.

I accept that the vice-chancellors and principals were sincerely and powerfully pleading their understandable case, but the Government are responsible for deciding how much public money should go to the universities, and they must make their decision in the light of all the factors available to them.

The hon. Member for Bedwellty should not be allowed to get away with his slovenly and pernicious reference to civil rights. Rights involve a duty. On whose shoulders is there a duty to bear the burden of endless expansion of higher education? Is it upon the shoulders of the hard-pressed constituents of North-East Leeds? is it upon the shoulders of industry and commerce, much of which is making scarcely a profit? The hon. Gentleman spoke glibly of rights, without explaining the limit to the capacity to pay of those who bear the burden. I hope that he will not again make a speech as economically ignorant as that.

Was the hon. Gentleman really speaking, as he seemed to be, as if there were to be no limits to the expansion of higher education?

Mr. Kinnock

indicated dissent.

Sir Keith Joseph

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has corrected himself. Apparently there is to be a limit, but will he lay it down without any regard to the trading base or to the taxpayer? No, I am sure that he accepts that there must be a limit. After all, the universities are not facing an unlimited demand for their products in any area. Even before the recession there were many criticisms from business that the universities were not producing the trained people that they wanted. The demand from business, as represented by the Finniston report, was rather in terms of business and industry wanting better, rather than more, training in universities. Even in the social areas, the demand for some of the university graduates is proving—and was proving before the recession—less than limitless. The Government have to make judgments about the burden that can be carried, bearing in mind the interests of the taxpayer and the trading base.

Mr. Kinnock

May I give the right hon. Gentleman a limit?

Sir Keith Joseph

No; the hon. Gentleman will have to make another speech or tell his hon. Friend who will reply to the debate, or another of his hon. Friends.

Against that background, and the need to restrain public spending, very few people are arguing for total immunity for the universities from any restraint on public spending. The argument is whether, after a period of sustained expansion, they should have an adjustment that is less sharp and less abrupt than is being asked for. For many Conservative Members and, I suspect, many Opposition Members, that is the heart of the matter.

I should explain a paradox. In the past, I have been uncomfortable about the pace of expansion in the universities. The hon. Member for Bedwellty validly quoted some of my past statements on the matter. Over the last several years I have also habitually spoken of universities in this country as one of our success stories. On the whole, by international standards, we have a first-class set of universities. However, it is no paradox, in the economic position in which the providers of the money for universities find themselves, that I should be here defending the proposition that some restraint is needed on the public money made available to them—although we are ready to argue about the scale and speed.

Mr. Kinnock

That is good news.

Sir Keith Joseph

We are ready to argue in the House. I would not wish to give the hon. Gentleman false hope.

The hon. Gentleman totally avoided the trap of treating the universities for the purpose of this sort of debate as mere economic agents. They are far more than that. They seek to expand knowledge and understanding, to transmit knowledge and understanding and to provide many of the skills wanted by society and the economy. At their best, they are radiant centres of civilisation. However, respect for their function and for much of their performance does not mean that they should be immune when growth in public spending needs to be restrained.

There is scope for rationalisation in our universities after so many years of surging expansion. Moreover, there is need to recognise the impending fall in numbers of the age groups from which universities draw. In three years the age groups concerned reach their peak. It would have been ideal if the restraint on university funding could have been adjusted after that moment had passed, but the urgency to restrain public spending is such that I feel that we cannot delay so long.

In considering the subject, it is also necessary to bear a couple of generalisations in mind. More does not necessarily mean worse, nor have I ever said so. However, nor does it necessarily mean better. It all depends on quality of purpose. As I said, some employers of university graduates believe that we need better rather than more.

Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir Keith Joseph

I have given way a great deal and I do not wish to detain the House too long.

There is no correlation here or elsewhere in the world between the numbers in higher education and national success or even competitiveness. There is no such simple relationship.

The case to be met by the Government is not that the universities should be in an economic sanctuary but rather that the scale arid pace of the change proposed are more sharp than can be managed without disproportionate harm. The Government have to make the decision. We made the decision taking account of all the factors known to us.

It will also be common ground that the allocation of the money proposed by the Government should be for the University Grants Committee. The UGC's concern is with what is best for the development of each subject—range and type of course and research—across the universities as a whole. Few hon. Members would disagree with the modest move that the UGC proposes from the arts towards science, technology and engineering. However, it has the difficult judgment to make among levels of goodness, between the stretched and the overstretched and between the duplicated and over-duplicated in allocating the money made available from the taxpayer.

I doubt whether many hon. Members would question the fact that it is not for Ministers to make the allocation. It is the essence of academic autonomy that decisions should made by peer reviews. The UGC, with its network of subject committees, is peer review across the universities. The function of the UGC, which is 62 years old, has been respected by successive Governments. I emphasise that its allocations on this occasion have attempted to take into account the effect on individual institutions, so far as can be predicted, of the loss of subsidy connected with overseas students.

It is too early yet to identify the effect in the coming year of the change in the status of overseas students, but the numbers in the universities are still above the Labour quota. Some universities are not affected because they never had many overseas students. Of those that are affected, some appear to be likely to earn more money from overseas students than they were receiving previously and others will earn as much. Possibly half of those affected appear to be likely to be worse off. I repeat that the UGC has tried to take into account the probable impact of the loss of subsidy in its allocation.

The Government do not doubt that the impact of the proposed adjustments over two to three years on universities and their teaching and non-teaching staff will be painful. There will be much distress during the adjustment period.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Ripon)

I am sorry to revert to the point, but it is crucial. Surely my right hon. Friend accepts that those of us who believe that the UGC was right in being selective are, nevertheless, worried that the collective impact of those subject-by-subject analyses on a handful of individual universities means that the cuts over three years will be devastating. Will he try to find a small amount of extra money to enable the UGC to ease the transition into a five-year period, particularly for four-year sandwich universities?

Sir Keith Joseph

I fear that I cannot give that answer, even to my hon. Friend. The universities that feel particularly afflicted have been invited to explain their problems to the UGC. No doubt the UGC will ask them what they are doing to try to meet the target.

There is a likelihood of some limited damage—I repeat, "some limited damage". However, if the country has been overspending for decades in the public sector far beyond the capacity of the trading base to support, there is bound to be some damage when adjustment occurs, whether we are talking of the loss of opportunities to go to university or of limited damage to some subject areas. It is unavoidable.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

What would it cost if the time to implement the cuts was extended from three to five years?

Sir Keith Joseph

I do not have a figure in my mind. Those who maintain that it would be educationally less harmful but still productive of the same savings to go slower have not made out their case. I concede that logically such a case could be made, but I do not believe that it has been made. If one is made I shall consider it.

Mr. Whitehead

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Sir Keith Joseph


Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

If my right hon. Friend is given evidence that on a strictly financial equation he would save more in total on redundancy payments by spreading his cuts over a longer period of four or five years, will he accept that?

Sir Keith Joseph

It is not a proper place to have a dialogue during this debate. However, let me ask my hon. Friend whether spreading the cuts over a longer period would produce the same savings in years one and two.

Mr. Skinner

Here comes another rebel from Europe.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Sir Keith Joseph

No, I am sorry.

I am willing to study any proposal that provides for the taxpayer the same savings in the same time but which spreads the operation over a slightly longer period. I do not believe that such proposals can be made unless they rest on assumptions which I do not believe to be valid. However, I am willing to consider them.

Mr. Whitehead


Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman will have a chance to speak later.

I do not wish to avoid the awkward parts of the position. [Interruption.] The UGC is trying to protect the rare subjects which might otherwise vanish from all universities, and it is trying to protect research. The dual funding of research into science, which depends partly on the universities and partly on the research councils, will be protected as much as possible. The research councils will do what they can to minimise the repercussions.

Not all those universities whose spokesmen have not said anything are unaffected, nor do those whose spokesmen speak the loudest necessarily have the strongest arguments.

It is said that we could go slower with less educational disturbance and the same savings. I am eager to be convinced, but the case rests on assumptions which are not necessarily valid. A slower approach might logically yield the same savings, but the case has not been made.

There is an urgent need for savings, in public spending and to reduce the rate of growth in public spending. Without pressure, I do not believe that universities would make the changes to provide the savings. The UGC's restructuring, to shift the resources from the arts towards science, medicine and engineering, will necessarily mean some redundancies anyway.

It would be wrong if the universities alone in higher education were being squeezed. There is also the non-university sector of higher education. Reduction in funding will not be limited to universities alone. Our aim is to encourage a more coherent—it will never be completely coherent—disposition of functions between the local authority sector of higher education and the universities.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has been discussing with local education authority representatives a method of moving towards that aim. I am glad to say that a structure for discussion is being set up.

I deal now with the points that were most strongly stressed by the hon. Member for Bedwellty. Student numbers at universities are now far beyond what the Robbins committee expected. But there must be some regard to what the country can afford in the number of places that are available. Because the economy has not grown as we would have hoped—and as was hoped when the Robbins committee was at work—we cannot afford the same scale of places for students as might have been expected.

Moreover, there are fewer jobs which require graduates than might have been expected in our days of optimism. It appears that graduates are increasingly turning for employment to jobs which were not previously done by them. In other words, there is to some extent an underemployment of graduate skills compared with the provision of them.

With regard to the proportion of the age group for which provision will be made, we have to accept that there will be a fall in the places available compared with the numbers in the relevant age. That cannot be denied, but again it is one of the by-products of our relative economic failure over the past 20 to 25 years. I remind the House that other parts of the economy have also had to adjust sharply.

On the difficult—because uncertain—question of redundancy costs, no one can know at this stage what they will be.

Mr. Dalyell

£250 million.

Sir Keith Joseph

Various figures have been bandied about, but no one can know them. I have undertaken to study the paper prepared by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and sent to me through the UGC. I shall be studying it carefully, with no implications of or commitment to more money.

In the immediate future, the universities are grappling with how to achieve the adjustment in funding of which they have been told. Evidence will be coming in over the next few weeks of what the universities are intending to do. In a few months, therefore, the UGC will be better able to review the provision within the limits of the funds available.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Surely the right hon. Gentleman must understand that if no more money is being made available and the UGC, in two or three months' time, will be reviewing the position, no university will be able properly to consider the future in terms of funding. Is he saying that in February universities which have faced a certain level of funding might be told by the UGC that they will get less in future than they have at present? How can there be any rationality in planning a system on that sort of basis? It cannot work.

Sir Keith Joseph

Accepting that universities have an additional problem of tenure in some cases, they are facing the same need to adjust as tens and hundreds of thousands of organisations have had to face. Of course, it is complicated. Of course, it is made more complicated by the decision-making process within universities. All that I understand, but that is what the universities have to tackle over the next few weeks or months.

Mr. Dalyell


Sir Keith Joseph

No, I shall not give way.

It is well recognised——

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. The Secretary of State is not giving way.

Sir Keith Joseph

Ministers understand very well——

Mr. Dalyell

Is the Secretary of State bringing in retrospective legislation in respect of breach of tenure?

Sir Keith Joseph

Ministers understand very well that universities, as islands of relative serenity and expansion, feel strongly some of the pressures that most of the rest of the economy has suffered. How it comes out will depend on how it is handled in the universities. The universities have to decide how to cope with the reduced funding that is made available. There will certainly be increased competition for places—and probably, therefore, higher standards. There will certainly be a shift of emphasis towards science and technology that most will applaud. There will certainly be a painful and distressing period of adjustment, out of which much that is better and welcome will emerge.

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

The Secretary of State said, in his disarmingly honest way, a number of very disturbing things in the course of his remarks. He let several cats out of the bag, as he usually does when he speaks. One of the most damaging things that he said was that this is not the proper place in which to have a dialogue. I know that it was an off-the-cuff response, but he should realise that there have been at this place this afternoon many thousands of university teachers who are accustomed to trying to reach decisions by rational argument and discussion—a process which I know the right hon. Gentleman relishes. They look to the House of Commons——

Sir Keith Joseph

I was suggesting that it was not the place in which I could ask my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), who was asking me a question, a question in turn to clarify that question.

Mr. Beith

I shall leave that matter until I can read it in cold print, but I hope that the Secretary of State will realise that those who have come to represent to us their concerns about the universities in which they work expect this place to provide a forum in which their views can be put. They expect the Secretary of State to respond to the arguments that they are advancing, including the important arguments—which are clearly felt strongly on the Conservative Benches—about how the proposed cuts could be phased so that they brought about less damage and might even prove more effective in attaining the financial objectives that the right hon. Gentleman has set.

The Secretary of State also admitted openly that such a process could not avoid bringing about damage in the universities. That seems now to be clearly accepted. Given his own recognition of the tremendous value of our universities and the high international standards that they set, that must be a cause for the greatest worry.

The Secretary of State also said almost nothing about the public sector of higher education, as it is rather curiously named. He called it the local authority sector. I am riot clear whether that means that he has made up his mind about model A or model B, but it is a sector on which he gave us only a couple of sentences, which told us very little indeed.

The most disarming admission of all was that which the Secretary of State made to the Select Committee when he explained what had happened to the Robbins principle. This morning The Timessaid that this was the End of the Robbins Era. Indeed it is. What the Secretary of State said to the Select Committee was that the Robbins principle was being redefined by what is going on now which one could have said about the Maginot line after the fall of France. That principle has guided higher education. I see it very much in the terms in which the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) saw it when he said that the public provision of opportunities in higher education has been the means of enhancing the liberty of millions of young people, of whom he is one, as I am, who would never have had the slightest opportunity of entering higher education if they had been dependent on a purely private system.

It is with that commitment to and that feeling about higher education that I regard with such disfavour a move away from the basic Robbins principle. We are moving away from it at a time when, for various reasons, there is extra demand for places in higher education. We are approaching the peak of the bulge. In addition, the fact that many more youngsters are expected to stay in the sixth form because of the lack of employment opportunities outside must surely mean that some of them become qualified for higher education and that over the next couple of years we shall have that additional increment of people qualified for higher education and seeking to go into it.

Are we to say to them "We told you to stay on at school and to get better qualifications, but now that you have qualified for higher education we must tell you that we no longer make higher education available for those who are qualified"?

At the same time, the cuts will have a very dramatic effect upon university staff, both teaching and ancillary staff, and the communities in which they live. Some of those communities are small towns in which the effect of the loss of 500 jobs, teaching and ancillary, can be very profound. Looking at the small communities in which some of the new universities are situated, and some of the older universities such as St. Andrews, for example, one can see what a dramatic impact the cuts will have. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardigan (Mr. Howells) has the university college of Aberystwyth and Lampeter in his area, and they are in two very small communities.

We must also remember the implications of the whole problem of tenure, to which the Secretary of State referred. He rightly pointed out that it is still not clear just how much it will cost if there are to be a large number of enforced redundancies in universities. The cost will clearly be very large. It is of profound importance to know whether that cost is to be assisted from Government sources, independently of these cuts. That has the most dramatic implications for universities.

Clearly, universities will also be forced into somehow bypassing or sidestepping the tenure system in the future if they are to expect to be forced to make redundancies in the years to come. I foresee many more short-term appointments and many more appointments which, in a variety of ways, avoid the traditional implications of tenure. I ask the Secretary of State to consider that matter, because tenure did not arise in universities as a result of some hard-fought trade union battle to get a particularly beneficial agreement. It arose from the long-established principle that those who teach in universities should not be vulnerable to pressures arising from political or academic disagreement forcing them out of jobs because of the views that they express.

Clearly, this move has profound financial implications. We must not let that system be simply thrown away in the course of an immediate crisis, nor bring about a state of affairs in which it is entirely abandoned by the universities under pressure, without considering what the wider implications must be. The Secretary of State, as one who throughout his political life has held controversial views and has courageously advanced them, sometimes in adverse conditions, must realise how important it is to maintain protection for the advancing of controversial views that particular societies or Governments find unhealthy or unacceptable.

In casting one's eye around the dangers, problems and implications of what is going on, one should also look at the problems in Scotland. The Scots have a very different system, to which exactly the same criteria are being applied. It is a system predominantly of four-year degrees, in which universities provide a high proportion of the higher education, and the central institutions, which are the nearest equivalent to polytechnics, play a much smaller part. These cuts, straightforwardly applied to Scotland, will have a profound effect, and an effect which is different from the effect in England and Wales.

One must then look at the effect on the economy and the future of British industry and business. It is perplexing to see universities that have deliberately set out to cultivate a close relationship with industry suffering particularly under the present round of cuts. One cannot look at what is happening in Aston, Bradford or Salford without asking what conceivable policy objectives are being served by that part of the UGC's advice to the universities.

Again, from what must be a hasty survey of some of the implications, the cuts will have all sorts of unforeseen effects on the standard of provision in universities at the most basic point. Conjuring up a picture—which might appeal to the Secretary of State—of the hard-working, determined student trying to get the best out of the system, one thinks of the student who spends long hours in the library because he has very little money of his own and cannot even afford to keep his room or his university digs warm. His time is spent in the library, making the most of what the university has to offer. But library hours are one of the things that are being cut by college after college. Libraries will be closing at 5 pm or 6 pm. All the resources and facilities that universities have accumulated over the years, such as books for students to read—which one cannot use simply by borrowing; effective study must depend on continuous access to a range of books—are being withdrawn from the very student who most needs the library and is most determined to use it. That is one of the things that the universities are being forced to do.

In addition, there may well be legal actions arising from the case reasonably put by students who have gone to university to study a particular subject only to find that that subject is not available when they get there, or—worse—is removed half way through their course.

That brings us to some of the arguments for phasing which have been advanced in this debate. I cannot turn to those arguments without first reflecting on the UGC. In the first reaction to the UGC's famous letter, I suppose that there must have been those who said "Let us get rid of this body." I do not share that view. I believe—I think that the Secretary of State believes it—that it is desirable to have such a body interposed between the Treasury and the universities. It does not, in formal terms, destroy the autonomy of universities, because they can decline its advice; however, they may pay a penalty for doing so, rather like errant local authorities, in subsequent years. They can make their cuts in areas other than those that the UGC recommends, but in present circumstances that will usually involve far more stringent cuts in some other field.

This process has shown up the fact that the UGC, as at present constituted and operated, may be incapable of carrying the burden that it is being asked to carry. The UGC has spent most of its life engaged in the process of selective expansion. It has discouraged measures of expansion that it has thought inappropriate. It has prevented or discouraged certain new departments and schools from being set up. But it has had very little to do with wholesale cutting. Now that the UGC is engaged upon this task, I think that its weaknesses have begun to show. These weaknesses are apparent in the Salford, Aston and Bradford cases. The range of knowledge and understanding within the UGC is necessarily limited; it has proved to be dangerously limited in certain important respects.

Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way because it is interesting these days to hear the views of his group on this issue. Does he agree that one of the problems is that the UGC is unnecessarily secretive and does not publicise its full criteria? Does he think that the full workings of the criteria operated by the UGC, together with the exchanges between the UGC and the Department of Education and Science, should have been made public before this operation started?

Mr. Beith

Yes. I was coming to that point. I was about to say that there ought to be public discussion of the criteria within universities, and that such discussion will require more time than is now at the disposal of the UGC. Time is necessary for two reasons. First, public discussion is necessary. There was no effective discussion of the UGC's letter. The universities received it and they had to try to implement something in time for this autumn's round, not just of decisions, but of student courses. Secondly, time is necessary because of the nature of a three-year university course, and because of the problems presented by tenure. The UGC should be given the opportunity to stage these decisions over a longer period, and it should be encouraged to reorganise itself in composition and in method of working so that there can be more discussion between universities about these matters. Discussion is important, and not simply to enable people to feel that they have taken part in the process. After all, it would be regrettable if, in a sudden response to one UGC letter, not just the one university that was asked but four or five universities closed down their departments of architecture or psychiatry. If the UGC's advice were taken as the sudden trend that all universities must follow, with no discussion, there could be the most dramatic and dangerous consequences. Therefore, I hope that there will be a new look at the way the UGC operates.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he agree that it is regrettable that the previous Secretary of State for Education and Science in the Labour Government, Mrs. Shirley Williams, was responsible for the abolition of the quinquennial review? That review provided the opportunity—I speak as a former member of the profession—to have a serious dialogue and discussion of the kind that the hon. Gentleman described.

Mr. Beith

I should have answered "Yes" if I had any real confidence that the quinquennial review process would have survived the exigencies of the economies and cuts that have taken place since then. No Government could now be relied upon to stick to the conclusions of a five-year review process.

Reconsideration of the way the UGC operates must be linked with our discussions about the public sector in higher education. We continually discuss what is happening in universities in total isolation from what is happening in the polytechnics and colleges, many of which provide courses in the same subjects, to the same standards, and covering the same range, and sometimes compete or offer parallel opportunities for the same kind of students. There are differences, but one cannot draw any clear distinctions. If the Secretary of State wants to draw clear distinctions between the two sectors, he is on the wrong track. In my experience most universities contain both the most obscure and abstruse academic learning and the most practical and immediate application of that learning in different forms. Most polytechnics contain the two extremes of the very practical and the very academic. We cannot draw a hard and fast distinction between the two, but we must consider the two together.

I am also concerned about the impact on mature students and those who—often financing themselves—go back to higher education later in life. I accept that the pegging of part-time student fees has been reduced from the half to the quarter level, but it is a matter of concern that it is linked to constantly increasing home student fees. The mature student who comes back into higher education, knowing why he is there, often gains far more from it than the person who has arrived at the top of an escalator as a result of an almost automatic process—as it used to be, although that will not happen very much in future. I therefore hope that in universities generally and in specialised institutions such as the Open University and Birkbeck college we shall open the doors more widely, not close them more tightly.

I must mention overseas student fees. This is not the time to dwell on what I see as the ludicrousness of a policy that charges the highest fees in the world to students from the poorest countries in the world—which invites students to come from Martinique and Guadeloupe at home student fees, while charging students from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, or even the Falkland Islands, at the highest possible rate. It is disturbing that there are already cuts of almost one-half in the number of students from some of the Caribbean countries and Sri Lanka. Whatever the overall monitoring and whatever the success of the universities that go into the market place for the wealthy students, we should be concerned at the fall in our contribution to the developing world, with all the long-term implications that that involves.

While all these discussions take place, there is the question of student support and student grants. I wonder how hard they are going to be hit. The costs facing students are rising greatly and real hardship is emerging. I am not talking about luxuries, but about such basic items as the rent in university halls of residence and in private accommodation in most university cities. I ask the Department to undertake a study that would provide a more objective basis for considering what the grant level should be. Any such inquiry would reveal that students' costs, particularly housing costs, have risen dramatically and by far more than the retail price index. That factor should be taken into account when considering the students' grant claim that is now before the Minister.

Meanwhile, as the Secretary of State admitted in his last two sentences, the polytechnic sector of higher education has also suffered cuts and has been squeezed, without any apparent co-ordination between the two sectors, and while discussions continue about the creation of a central body. It appears that the Under-Secretary has devised a kind of disposable razor as the instrument of cuts in the public sector before he actually creates a long-term central body for maintained higher education. I hope that we shall be given further details of the Government's thinking in this regard.

When I consider some of the damage that could be done to universities as a result of this process, I begin to wonder at the temerity of those of us who seek through an alliance of Liberals and Social Democrats to take the government of the country into our hands in a year or two. By that stage, permanent damage will have been done to our universities and polytechnics which it may well be impossible to undo, given the even worse economic conditions that will prevail by then. The Secretary of State should realise that he is damaging things that he has had dear to his heart through all his political life and they are things that we should value and sustain, not destroy.

5.39 pm
Sir William van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

As I have some fairly critical comments to make about various people's views, perhaps I should start with a sentence that I hope will commend itself. Two names come to mind as we start the first of our debates on higher education in this Session. One is Goronwy Roberts and the other is Edward Boyle, both of whom made great contributions to our higher education debates in years gone by. In my view, Goronwy was always one of the most courteous and charming Members of the House and outstandingly pleasant to his opponents. The strength and character of Edward Boyle commended itself in all parts of this House and in another place.

Some of my academic friends will not like it when I say, directly, that we must admit that much of the responsibility for the problems that face universities lies in their hands. At least in part, students are the victims of the inertia of vice-chancellors, professors and lecturers in bygone years. If only universities—which, of all groups, can plan ahead—had listened to the warnings of their friends, we would not be in such great difficulties. It is plainly not fair to blame the Government, in 1981, for a situation that should have been thought about and planned for long ago.

The friends of universities warned them for two reasons. It is a complicated argument, but I shall be brief, in accordance with the request that has been made. Obviously, universities were warned on a demographic ground. Of all groups, universities can plan ahead. As the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) said, there was a problem, for example, of tenure. Indeed, there was much wisdom in what the hon. Gentleman said about the reasons for tenure. However, as a gentle aside I should point out that the most obvious example of tenure is that of the parson's freehold, and for much the same reasons. However, gradual and substantial amendments were made over the years to take account of changing conditions and the same should have applied, and will apply, to universities.

The second ground for warning was that the nation's social conscience was no longer prepared to accept without question that the same, or a higher, proportion of the money available in advanced higher education, should be allocated to universities. In many ways I shared the growing interest in the other sectors of advanced higher education. That interest was not hostile to universities, but it was clear. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has mentioned the most coherent example of advice, which was contained in Mrs. Shirley Williams' famous 13 points, published in 1969. I shall not speculate and I am not a betting man, but if a dark cloud should fall on Crosby, the silver lining will be that Mrs. Shirley Williams will then be a Member of Parliament and can thus be specific about her educational policies.

The 13 points were contemptuously ignored by the universities. I speak with a little knowledge, because shortly after Mrs. Williams' tenure of office as Secretary of State for Education I had some responsibility for higher education. I remember the dialogues of those days. For example, I accept without question that many university courses must last for as long as three years. However, that does not apply to every course. Mrs. Williams thought that certain courses could be adequately concluded within two years.

I recently heard Mrs. Shirley Williams speak on the radio. I am sorry to mention her name again, because I realise that I have just mentioned three words that appear dirty to the Labour Party. However, I was not surprised to hear her say that in present circumstances, the Government had no alternative but to act in this way. Whatever Mrs. Williams may be now, she was once the shining archangel of the Labour Party's education policy. Labour Members cannot wriggle out of all the things that she said when she was a spokesman for the Labour Party. She put forward that policy with the Labour Party's full approval.

I listened with sympathy to the pleas that have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Rippon (Dr. Hampson) made a penetrating intervention and it has been argued that the universities should be given a bit more time. There is a fallacy in that argument and a point that would have to be met if it were conceded. There is a danger that the universities concerned—it would not be easy to select them—would use the additional cash for a breathing space and would not continue with the hard and dificult decisions that must be made.

I shall take Bristol university as an example. There is an understandable tendency among senates to postpone making decisions. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed put his finger on the point. As we were reminded at the beginning of the debate, the UGC is quite old. It is effectively an instrument geared to expansion and it is undergoing the most fearsome strains as a result of the requirements of contraction. However, it does not have—nor do Government—the control over individual universities that is found by analogy in the maintained sector of education. Indeed, I should not want Government to have that degree of control. I listened with great sympathy to the requests that have been made. Many hon. Members are in close touch with universities. However, if those requests are to be met, they must be geared—in a way that at present escapes me—to understandings or undertakings that such agreement will not simply be an excuse for deferring decisions, however unpleasant they may be.

I join those who have said that they are distressed by the way in which the strains imposed by contraction have led some university people to advocate the abolition of the UGC and to say that universities should come directly under the control of the Government. I understand the strength of feeling, but I beg my academic friends to remember that throughout the university world, that buffer or cushion between Government and the universities, is considered a typically British, but most effective operation. We dismantle it at our peril.

I cannot speak of present-day relationships, because my experience is 10 years' out of date. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to comment on this issue later. However, when I had something to do with the subject, the UGC's total independence and the lack of direct governmental control was a carefully observed fact of life. I have no reason to suppose that that has altered.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Secretary of State adopted a dismissive tone when he referred last week, during our Select Committee proceedings, to the chairman of the UGC, as if he was just another civil servant?

Sir William van Strawbenzee

I have not yet had the advantage of reading the transcript of the proceedings, but I shall do so. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State considers the chairman in that light, but perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will think that a few words of clarification later might be of general assistance.

Anxiety has been expressed about student maintenance grants. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will not take it amiss if I say in a jovial, light-hearted way—after all, I have supported him fairly trenchantly so far, and I shall certainly follow him into the Lobby tonight—that I got a slight feeling, from press reports, that the first thing that happened when he took up his appointment was that he lay on his back and invited the Treasury to tickle his tummy. That is a bad posture for a spending Minister.

My right hon. Friend has a fine example to follow in my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. I reveal nothing private because it is all in the records. After 1970 she stood up trenchantly to the Treasury. My right hon. Friend recently gave me authority to make public references to that undoubted fact in a lecture. I saw it all. My right hon. Friend saved the Open University. It is all very well for others to take the credit, but she, at the crucial moment, was its midwife. That involved expenditure.

I am happy for Ministers to examine all options. I have taken part in that process. However, I hope that we shall not inadvertently give the impression that we are willing the Treasury to make reductions in the education budgets. I have said firmly that I support, and will support, all that so far has been done.

I shall reflect on some of the comments in the press. I hope that when we talk about student grants we are careful not to make international comparisons. We should remember that we have a highly selective and competitive system. The idea that any long-haired lout can get into a university today is way out of date, as I frequently have the pleasure of saying to people in their deep leather armchairs in a well-known West End club. I say "Sir, you would not have a hope of getting into university." Nor would I.

Our students go through quickly and there are fewer drop-outs than in any other comparable system. Most drop-outs are n the first year. Whichever way one looks at the system, it is economically efficient. That is the point. One of the reasons for that—and it is a powerful reason—is our system of student support. I go along with much that was said at the end of an impressive speech by the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). For me, as for others, what really matters is the width of the social base from which the student population is drawn.

If one reflects one realises that one of the problems, as increased educational opportunity is provided, is that it tends to be taken up by the more intelligent, the people with the greater ability to take it up. How well I remember those glorious expansionary days in the 1960s. I took part, although not ministerially, in the decisions. Now that we can look back over 20 years, I believe that we might have gone too fast in the 1960s. There was a grave risk that that increased provision would be taken up by people from a narrow social base.

I shall give two examples from the education world. There are honourable exceptions. I truncate the argument. One example is the provision of nursery education, which substantially is taken up by better-off people. The second example is the Open University which was intended, to use the old-fashioned phrase, for horny-handed sons of toil. Today, if a genuine working man who digs holes in the road gets a degree, he has to be put in the front row and exhibited.

The Open University is a marvellous organisation. I am not knocking it. However, it has not succeeded in its social objective. But the maintenance grant has enabled countless young people from poorer homes to go to universities. It has also enabled countless girls to go to university—a fact that is often overlooked. We are still intensely Victorian in our attitude to women. Large numbers of families still think that the little girl's place is by the fire preparing to learn how to nurse the baby.

Nothing is immutable. All must be examined. I accept that entirely. I would not go to the stake for the basic minimum grant that goes to all regardless of income. I would not want any student to lose anything, ideally, but I would not go to the stake for that.

But I am profoundly anxious—and this is the the time to say it—when I read about proposals to raise the level at which parental contributions are paid. Inevitably, that will affect the worse off. Basically, I do not believe what I read in the press but I say that, just in case. By definition, if that happens, the poorer family will be hardest hit. I hope that, if that proposal is being examined, we shall look at the prospects exceedingly closely.

I am sad and weary of hearing about loans once again. I am pretty committed. I wrote the definitive half of the Conservative Political Centre pamphlet on the subject some years ago. The key question is "Will the loan bear interest at a commercial rate? Yes or no?" If the answer is "Yes", I beg Ministers and right hon. and hon. Members of the Opposition to sit down and do their maths to discover, at a compound rate of interest over three years with a 10 year gap before repayment, what burden would be placed upon the young student.

If the answer is "No, the loan will be interest-free or at a lower than commercial rate of interest", I can imagine the light in the eye of the rich daddy as little Fauntleroy goes to his university. He will be the only member of that high-tax paying family who can borrow money at a low interest rate or at a subsidy. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about bank managers' sons?"]—I do not know whether bank managers produce sons who are intelligent enough to go to university. The tax advantage to the high-tax-paying parents would be substantial if such a scheme were introduced on that basis.

There is something important and advantageous in the positive intervention by the University Grants Committee. We should pay tribute to its chairman and its members who at this time have a difficult task to perform. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred to a modest swing. I think that there has been an important swing away from the "arts" to the "sciences". That swing has been overlooked. It is a significant move. It might have enormous implications for the future. It is very much in line with the country's requirements.

I have no doubt about my voting intentions tonight. However, this is the time to voice slight unease about matters yet to be decided.

5.59 pm
Mr. Martin J. O'Neill (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

I wish to speak about a limited area of the university system and particularly about Scottish universities. They number eight out of a total of 46 and account for some of the more pressing problems which the UGC cuts have created. The Scottish National Party has suggested that a Scottish UGC should be set up. The UGC has created many difficulties and problems this summer. The Labour Party does not want yet another body in that area, because it does not believe that a devolution of power to a Scottish University Grants Committee would be helpful.

We must take into account some of the problems that face Scottish universities. The UGC has paid scant attention to those problems. Therefore, Scottish universities should not remain silent. Earlier this year I and some of my colleagues met representatives of trade unions and students from Scottish universities. They were critical of the response of the Scottish vice-chancellors and principals, who seem to he divided in their reactions to the cuts. The correspondence that I have had with the Scottish vice-chancellors suggests that they are now unanimous in their reaction. The complicated nature of the letter of 2 July meant that it took some time to percolate through the committees of the various institutions. However, once the import of that letter was properly appreciated, all the Scottish principals were united in their opposition to the cuts. They are united, although to varying degrees, on the points that I shall advance in the debate.

Scottish institutions have a four-year degree course starting from a broader base of subjects. It is difficult to know whether the school system has historically responded to the university system or vice versa. It is a "chicken and egg" situation. In Scottish schools, youngsters, at the age of 14, embark upon a broad range of advanced courses through the initial hurdle of O-levels. They enter university with qualifications which, although slightly lower than the English A-levels, are greater in number and more broadly based. Often the university courses upon which they embark involve activities within several departments.

A Scottish university course, at least for the first two years, has a fairly broad base. Thereafter, students embark upon the honours years. At the end of four years, they have a qualification which, in some respects, is more broadly based and better rounded than the English qualification. I speak now not with any sense of Scottish arrogance. I believe that it is a matter of common agreement.

At Stirling university the point about more broadly based courses took a little time to get through to some people. Criticism was made of the university's biology course. It was said to be rather vague. I believe that the expression used in some circles was that the course was "soft" because it lacked the numeracy in microbiology or biotechnology courses offered elsewhere. For those reasons, to some individuals it appeared superficially to be a less attractive course. But the experience of the past few months shows that it is probably the most popular biology course in Britain.

The potential for employment was recognised by employers and postgraduate institutions. They took the view that the well-rounded biology course offered by Stirling university could provide a productive postgraduate student or a malleable employee who could be sent to courses of activity in any area of industry. That course gives the lie to the superficial and somewhat ill-informed reaction of some people to the nature of Scottish honours degrees.

Scottish university students enter their chosen institution at the age of 18—not between the ages of 19 and 20 as in England and Wales—so we are dealing with a different demographic position. Scottish Education Department statistics suggest that the 18-year-old bulge will take a little longer to taper off in Scotland than in England and Wales. That will prolong the period during which 18-year-old undergraduates enter university. It will also extend the period during which the universities will have to contend with a sizeable number of students. The bulge in Scotland will continue for some time and will be extended even further because of the four-year course.

We should add to that the number of home-based students in institutions such as Glasgow and Strathclyde universities. In Aberdeen university, for example, the number of Scottish students is greater. One of the historic developments in Scottish education is that we have four institutions spread across the country—Glasgow, Edinburgh, St. Andrew's and Aberdeen—which are attended by many local people. That tradition has been maintained and a considerable number of students in Scottish universities are Scots. That is an additional factor to the demographic problems with which the universities have to contend.

Another problem—which is beginning to disappear—is that in England there is a proliferation of polytechnics, offering a wide range of arts and social science courses, which mop up some of the students refused places in universities. Scotland has a much tighter system of non-university higher education, with a few notable exceptions. The majority of degree courses in Scottish institutions are provided in central institutions under the aegis of the Scottish Education Department. Those institutions traditionally have a small number of students in their arts and social sciences courses, so there are limited opportunities.

Figures provided by the Secretary of State for Scotland to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mr. Craigen), but which have not yet been published, suggest that there will be an increase from 13,700 places in 1981–82 to 14,000 in 1982–83. I have received figures from the National Union of Students relating to Glasgow technical college and Napier technical college in Edinburgh. They show that, at best, those institutions will have the same intake of students in 1982 as in 1981. There will be no expansion in what could be called the public sector in Scotland and there will be only limited expansion in the area directly controlled by the Scottish Education Department. Scottish students will have less access to alternative courses than their English counterparts. If those points were of a Scottish nature only in terms of places for students, perhaps we should be approaching an equality of misery, because Scotland has been given something to take account of four-year degrees. However, we must look hard for compensating arguments of that nature.

We must also consider the contribution made by Scottish universities to the community in other respects. It is remarkable that no representative of the Scottish Office is present for this debate. What I have to say relates not only to the Education Department but to the Health Department. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) will mention the contribution made by Aberdeen university to the health service provided by the Grampian region health board.

There is a considerable exchange of staff between that health service and the universities. The universities' provision of clinical staff makes a great contribution to the health service in the north-east of Scotland. It is clear that, in the initial stages, the University Grants Committee and the Department of Education and Science had no appreciation of that whatever. The offhand remarks of the Secretary of State this afternoon must be questioned. Some hon. Members met him for discussions last night and raised that point. We hoped that he would reply to it today. Indeed, we left the meeting with the hope that he would address himself to that problem. I hope that the Under-Secretary, in reply, will take the opportunity to answer the point.

We are anxious to know what will happen to the quality of care and provision in the Health Service as a result of the cuts that could be imposed on Aberdeen and Dundee universities. I have received communications from the principals of both institutions expressing the anxiety of the community as a whole. We are talking not about jobs, access or the local economy, but about the direct contribution that the universities have made for a number of years to the quality and provision of the Health Service. It is a matter of life and death in the communities to which I refer.

We recognise that the Scottish institutions are rooted in the community. In many instances, they have done a great deal to establish themselves, often in difficult circumstances. The university of Stirling is literally on the doorstep of my constituency. The boundary of my constituency is the boundary of the university campus. That university is talking not about the closure of one or two departments and certain difficulties, but about the possibility of the closure of the whole institution within a short time. The UGC's requirement for a cut in student numbers and the difficulty of any compensation through overseas students sustaining the numbers make it probable that in a short time Stirling university will be in a terminal position.

I choose my words carefully because I do not wish to deter students from going to the university. The principal, staff and students have been doing their utmost to impress upon everyone to whom they have made representations that they want to sustain the levels of activity in the university for as long as possible. They do not want the viability of the institution to be undermined by lack of support from the public at large.

I appeal to the Minister to come into the open tonight and say whether he is prepared to allow such institutions to close. The Secretary of State adopts a cavalier attitude. We know that he is happy to use his sword to slash down any institutions that come before him. We had already heard the expression "diseconomies and disorders". We now hear an additional word—"diseconomies, disorders and damage". For Stirling university the damage could be terminal. We want an assurance that that will not be allowed to happen. That institution, of all in Scotland, is the creation of Lord Robbins. On televison and in the Financial Times, he has said that he takes great pride in that child, which at one stage had difficult birth pangs but which has now come through and is a lusty infant wanting and needing continued sustenance and support. We look to the Minister for that support.

Mr. John MacKay (Argyll)


Mr. Speaker

>: Order. I said that I would not appeal for short speeches, and I shall not do so. I simply comment that speeches are rather long.

Mr. MacKay

Is it not strange that at a time when the UGC is, quite rightly, shifting the balance from arts and social sciences to sciences, the biology department at Stirling—one of the stronger departments at the university—should suffer a cruel cut?

Mr. O'Neill

Thank you for allowing the hon. Member for Argyll (Mr. MacKay) to intervene, Mr. Speaker. Had he been present at the beginning of my remarks he would not have taken up the valuable time of the House with that intervention. I have already referred to that matter, and he can read it in Hansard. I am aware of the time factor, Mr. Speaker, and grateful for the opportunity to speak.

The Scottish universities are not asking for a UGC of their own. They simply want recognition of their special nature, of the way in which they teach their students, of the quality of education provided and of the special community links that Scotland enjoys with its centres of higher education.

I ask the Minister to take account of my points and to look favourably at the problems of the health service in Aberdeen. Will he also ensure that not simply the health but the very life of Stirling is maintained?

6.16 pm
Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire (Mr. O'Neill), for whom I have a high regard. I also have a great regard for the quality of education in Scottish universities. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not follow his arguments. I listened to them with great interest, as I am sure did the Minister. I am in the curious position of being the only Conservative Member of Parliament who is a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, but who is not a member of the Government. That is one of the more inexplicable events of our time.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on his appointment. In past debates hon. Members have spoken either about politics or about their own universities. I wish to mention not my university, but one for which I have a special concern. I refer to the new Ulster university at Coleraine. The Government are about to receive the report of Sir Henry Chilver on Coleraine. From the copious extracts that have appeared in the press, it appears that the Chilver committee proposes that Coleraine should be downgraded. At a time when the concerns of the Province are so much in our minds, to downgrade—in effect to abolish—one of the two universities in Northern Ireland would be an act of folly, or even worse.

Many statistics are quoted in our debates. I wish to quote only one. In Northern Ireland, 30 per cent. of youngsters who have the opportunity to go on to higher education come to the mainland, and 80 per cent. of them never return to Northern Ireland. The abolition of Coleraine, even if it is only contemplated, can only assist that brain drain at a time when the Government are rightly investing heavily in business and industry in the Province. I suggest that an investment in higher education and the maintenance and expansion of Coleraine would he money well invested.

One of the problems with our discussions is that they lack a sense of perspective. The Government's record in higher education has been good, whether in teens of money or numbers. I agree with what my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) had to say about the role of the University Grants Committee.

If there is criticism of the present policy, it should surely be directed against the Government and not against the University Grants Committee. I believe that, in a difficult situation, the committee produced in the main—I have certain reservations—a sensible and sophisticated series of recommendations. As I said when I intervened in the speech of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith), I regret very much that the Labour Government abolished the quinquennial review.

One can go back over a long period discussing errors made by previous Governments—not least by the Labour Government on the Houghton award, but also by Conservative Governments in the more distant past. With all respect to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock), that type of debate will not get us far.

The key problem at present concerns not only the number of university teachers whose jobs are in peril but—and this is what worries me most of all—the number of young people who may not and in many cases will not have the opportunity of a university education if the proposals go forward in their present form. It is perfectly valid to argue that the expansion in the 1960s was carried out far too quickly and with far too little thought. That is a justified criticism. I was a beneficiary of that expansion and strongly supported it at the time, but I now look back with some regret to the fact that we did not proceed rather more slowly.

I must say to my right hon. and hon. Friends, however, that although the expansion was too quick, there are serious dangers in contracting too quickly. I am sorry to say that the arguments of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did not convince me that it would be impossible slightly to extend the period during which the process of contraction would take place. I am glad to see that my right hon. Friend has returned to the Chamber. I know that in this, of all businesses, generalisations are perilous, but I must tell him that what concerns me most is not so much the amount of money involved as the fact that we are dealing with an extremely fragile and difficult matter. In any area of education it is very difficult to build up the reputation of an institution but it is all too easy to lose a reputation quite rapidly. Similarly, experience and technique cannot be created rapidly but, once destroyed, tend to be destroyed for ever.

Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)

My hon. Friend's case was reinforced by my experience today. The group of staff who came to see me from Imperial college and Queen Mary college—premier scientific establishments in this country—were deeply concerned about the whole process, but what disturbed them most was the timing of it. They felt that if the timing could be made more flexible, they might be able to cope.

Mr. Rhodes James

I thank my hon. Friend for confirming from his own experience the rather general point that I was endeavouring to make.

I believe that there are great dangers in regarding education in segments, as though higher and further education were somehow divorced from the education system as a whole when in fact they should form part of a larger system in which they have a particular role to play.

In my view, we have not really had a proper or coherent education strategy since 1944. The effect of the 1944 policy was considerable and has continued for a long time, but we now live in a very different world. We now live in a society in which it is most unlikely that a person will remain in the same profession, business or specialty from the age of 16 or 18 to the age of 65. As a nation, instead of regretting that, we should first recognise it as a fact, and secondly welcome and encourage it. We should encourage people to change their specialties. This cannot be done purely by the individuals. The role of higher education and particularly of the universities must come into play. The mature student, to use a term that I have always disliked, will therefore surely become one of the most important individuals in our country if we are to respond to the new situation in which we find ourselves.

In conclusion, I emphasise again my regret that we talk about higher and further education as though they were sancrosanct and separate. I regret the economic pressures under which we must operate at present. I hope very much that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State will review the time scale in which they wish to achieve their objectives. With good will and a proper dialogue I believe that it would be perfectly possible to create within five years a smaller, perhaps slightly less expensive and more effective higher education system. I really believe that. I hope that they will bear those points in mind.

6.25 pm
Mr. Stan Thorne (Preston, South)

I wish to deal with several points in about 10 minutes. I shall therefore not follow the line pursued by the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James).

I welcome the motion opposing and deploring the cuts. However, it contains a word which I regard as somewhat unfortunate. It refers to "qualified" young people, without really making clear what that means. That word was also mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock). I recognise that the Robbins concept referred to those who are "qualified and able to benefit", but I believe that there are many youngsters today who, although not "qualified", are certainly able to benefit from higher education. I need only recall my own experience.

At the age of 48 I was rendered unemployed, with little prospect of obtaining a job, having been a coal miner, a semi-skilled fitter and a railway signalman and having held a variety of other jobs for more than 30 years. Ruskin College, Oxford, although it had an age limit of 40, decided to take a chance on a 48-year-old. As a result, by the age of 52 I had been fortunate enough to acquire a bachelor of arts degree with honours and an Oxford university diploma. As the House knows, I am not a clever fellow. My experience therefore shows that a man or woman of average intelligence in our society can obtain a degree from a British university—a view that is held by many people involved in education.

It seems to me, therefore, that the Labour Party especially should take as its criterion "able to benefit" rather than "qualified and able" which implies some previous success in O or A-levels or in some other field.

I do not wish to become involved in semantics, but the motion also refers to the economic, technological, scholastic and social needs of the nation. I am far more concerned with the needs of working people than with the needs of the nation. A fall in student numbers of between 12,000 and 20,000 will not help our economic and industrial planning for the future.

The Government have shown that they are interested in private education by allocating £13 million to be spent on protecting the interests of a privileged section of society at the expense of those in need—reminding the House, not for the first time, that the Conservatives see education in class terms. Perhaps they take that view because only 25 per cent. of university places go to working class children. Here, as elsewhere, the two-nation economy operates. The percentage of working class children obtaining a university place is lower above a line drawn from the Wash through the Midlands down to Gloucester than it is below that line, and that has been the case for most years since 1945.

I draw the attention of the House to the UNESCO higher education league table in respect of 18-year-olds covering Sweden, the United States, Japan, Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands, West Germany and the United Kingdom. In 1978, the latest year for which UNESCO figures are available, Sweden was at the top of the table with 44.2 per cent. of 18-year-olds going on to higher education. The United Kingdom figure was a miserable 19.8 per cent.

The Government amendment uses the phrase after a long period of sustained expansion". I believe that to be completely false, based on the evidence available. In view of changes in technology and the rise in unemployment, there is a tremendous opportunity for the United Kingdom to offer higher education to men and women of all ages with the prospect of changing career between the ages of 30 and 50. Indeed, the needs of the technological revolution make it vital that those rendered unemployed by diminished demand for products, the lack of economic planning or technological change should be given every encouragement to undertake re-education and retraining.

The engineering industry in particular gains from the researches carried out in our universities, yet the number of engineers who qualified in Great Britain in 1976 was 11,025 compared with 62,961 in Japan. The number of research scientists employed in engineering in the United Kingdom is considerably lower than the number employed in Japan, the United States, West Germany and France. What effect does that have on our ability to compete in world markets? The Secretary of State was anxious to dismiss that consideration on the flimsiest of evidence. Has it any relevance to the share of motor car import penetration from Japan? I believe that it has.

As well as the new opportunity offered by changing technology, we must also consider the inevitable increase in leisure time. Clearly re-education in institutions of further and higher education is relevant in this regard. I have recently been approached by a constituent whose daughter, Miss Gregson, undertook some primary education in Lancashire before going overseas with her parents. The family returned in 1978, but the Lancashire education authority had refused a grant to that teenage student—a British subject—on the ground that immediately prior to the commencement of her course she had not resided in the area for three years. Apparently, she failed the three-year rule by a matter of weeks.

It is understood that there will always be cases at the margin that appear to be unjustly treated by such rules, but it is scandalous. that an 18 or 19-year-old should face such a barrier to obtaining a grant for further education, bearing in mind the amounts that the Government are prepared to waste on nuclear weapons and the myth of home defence in the event of nuclear war.

The cuts in education expenditure must be restored by the next Labour Government, who will be elected in spite of the discomfort of some of our Front Bench spokesmen in the face of Labour Party conference decisions which they appear unable to promote positively in the House.

6.34 pm
Mr. W. Benyon (Buckingham)

In what I hope will be a short speech I should like to deal with the impact of Government policy on a particular university about which I have a special knowledge. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) will forgive me if I do not follow his argument.

One of the difficulties about this House is that we cannot select the opportunity when we wish to raise particular matters. Therefore, although I am critical of certain aspects of what the Government are doing, like my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee), I have no hesitation in supporting them this evening. The motion's language is much too extravagant. It is ridiculous to suggest that the Government are destroying higher education. At present, it is quite the reverse. Higher education is in good shape, and is revered and honoured throughout the world. It is the details of the policy that need changing as well as the methods of its implementation.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham was right when he said that if only people had put their minds to this problem many years ago, we would not be facing this situation today. We all missed the opportunity.

I speak as a member of the council of Reading university. Only last Friday the full details of the policy were put before us together with the impact that it is likely to make. The change in student numbers that we have been asked to accommodate is very minor. Out of a total of 5,000, we have to accommodate a reduction of 260. However, we now know the figures for overseas students. In this academic year compared to last year the number of overseas undergraduates has dropped from 124 to 62 and the number of postgraduates from 317 to 210. Our best estimate, based on the most advantageous figures for overseas student fees, is that this will mean a loss of £600,000, and out of a total budget of £22 million that is fairly substantial.

As I have said, the university costs £22 million a year to run. The division of that expenditure is simple—50 per cent. goes on academic salaries, 25 per cent on nonacademic salaries and 25 per cent. on other running costs.

If the reduction in grant were phased over a longer period, and if it did not coincide with the reduction in the number of overseas students, it would be manageable in our case. I suspect that that is true of many other universities. As it is, the reduction can come only from the academic salaries sector. There is no other way in which we can make the cuts, unless we are completely ridiculous and, for example, cut off the heating throughout the year, which is reduction ad absurdum.

Unlike some other universities, we have full security of tenure. It is therefore very expensive to reduce staff. For example, last Friday we had the ridiculous situation when we were asked not to appoint to one of the foremost chairs in the university. It was like an army that recruited sergeants and privates and refused to have a general It did not make sense, but at this stage the university can adopt no other course because there is no other way in which to anticipate the economies that may be necessary.

The Government face a stark choice. There must either be a wider phasing of these cuts—for example, from three to five years—or there must be a larger redundancy fund. There is no other way in which universities can meet their obligations. It is not a case of insulating academics from a difficult economic situation. It is simply a case of legality. We cannot get round this one. We are not the only university or higher education establishment in that position.

I wish to ask three questions of the Under-Secretary who is to reply. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State seemed to imply that the answers are not available, but I cannot believe that his enormous Department has made no attempt, even on the back of an envelope, to get the figures.

What are the comparative costs of first, proceeding according to the present proposals, secondly, phasing the proposals over three to five years and, therefore, having a greater element of natural wastage, and thirdly, proceeding with the present proposals or phasing them over three to five years with the cuts in the overseas student element reduced or restored? I cannot believe that the figures are not available in some form.

Such is the uncertainty, not only in the academic world, but among lay people such as myself who serve on the councils of universities and other institutions of higher education that we should like to know what our responsibilities are. What will happen if a university cannot pay its bills? Who will carry the can?

Like most of my hon. Friends, I appreciate what the Government are trying to achieve, but I am greatly concerned about the method that they are using.

6.41 pm
Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)

I should like to take up the latter point raised by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon), because on a number of occasions in the past fortnight the Secretary of State has been pressed about what a university is to do if it stares bankruptcy in the face over the next few months.

The right hon. Gentleman's answer, given both to the Select Committee and, even worse, in the debate, is hopelessly inadequate for conscientious members of university planning bodies who are trying to plan what their universities should do between now and January. If they declare redundancies, the universities are likely to go bankrupt. But if they do not declare redundancies, the universities are still likely to go bankrupt, because the salary bill will exceed the capital expenditure allocation of the UGC. I cannot remember any Government having treated a public sector body in that way.

Last week the Secretary of State told the Select Committee that, if there were to be closures, he would prefer deliberate to random closures. He said that he would prefer a coherent process rather than a shambles. But everything else that he said shows that that cannot be true. He is heading for a shambles and it is inevitable.

The Secretary of State may say that he would not intervene if bankruptcy stared a company in the face, but to treat universities in that way is an approach that we have not seen by any Government. If the Government think that they ought to close three universities to make the system more coherent, let them have the courage of their convictions and stand up and say so. Simply saying that universities must take a chance and guess what the House of Lords will decide in about 12 months from now is proper compensation for tenured staff is as irresponsible an approach as I can remember any Minister taking in such circumstances.

I congratulate the Under-Secretary on his appointment, but if he is to preserve the reputation that he has gained as a fellow of All Souls, he must say something more coherent about redundancy. He must get his advisers to give him a better statement to read out than the statement read out by the Secretary of State.

There will be a shambles in higher education. Some of the most precious and desperately needed departments in our universities will disappear overnight because there will be the random bankruptcies that the Secretary of State told the Select Committee he did not want to see.

I do not want to pursue the Secretary of State's ramblings about whether higher education is inside or outside the market, but he should not be allowed to get away with the contention that public expenditure on higher education is a burden on the British public. The Opposition and, I believe, a majority of Conservative Members regard public expenditure on higher education as an essential investment and a service for the whole of British industry. None of the profit-making parts of our industry could operate without a flow of graduates from our higher education system.

Writing off that system as a burden because it is in the public sector is an utterly irresponsible way to treat some of our greatest and most important institutions. The Under-Secretary has made forthright comments, even since his appointment. I hope that he will not use the word "burden" but will perhaps redefine—as the Robbins principle is to be redefined—that element of the somewhat incoherent speech of the Secretary of State and tell us whether the Government believe that higher education is an albatross or a burden on Britain.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William Waldegrave)

There are burdens that are willingly borne, and the cost of higher education is a burden which, on the whole, taxpayers willingly bear. However, the capacity to carry burdens, even those that one is willing to bear, must logically be limited at some point.

Mr. Price

I do not deny that; but the Secretary of State, in pursuing his ideological approach to the subject, also said that there is no evidence from any other country that investment in higher education has any relationship to economic prosperity. He is just plain wrong.

I do not think that anyone could maintain that Germany's investment in the latter part of the nineteenth century and the whole of the twentieth century, and East Germany's investment since the War, particularly in what we call further education—there is in Germany a logical link, which we do not have, between further and higher education—and especially in education and training for 16 to 19-year-olds and higher education for the post-18s, has no relationship with Germany's economic prosperity. I hope that the Under-Secretary will answer that point.

I am sorry that the Secretary of State is not here—I understand that he cannot be here all the time—because I wish to refer to another point that he made before the Select Committee. At question 39 in the Select Committee minutes, he said that he could not remember what the Robbins principle was. He said: I hesitate only because I cannot recall what exactly is meant by the Robbins' principle. For a Secretary of State for Education and Science, that is not very good. When he takes the job, he is meant to think such things out.

Mr. Waldegrave

With respect, it took some time for members of the Committee to remember the Robbins principle, too.

Mr. Price

I had no difficulty in remembering it. I was allowing the Secretary of State a little more rope to hang himself. The permanent secretary did not seem to know it, and a host of DES witnesses on the back row also did not know it. I agree that it took some time before I read it out, but, when I did, the Secretary of State said "I stand corrected." He was convinced that the word "suitable" came into the Robbins principle, but it does not. He said: I stand corrected, but I think, Chairman, that the definition is still vague. My quarrel with the Secretary of State is that I do not believe that the Robbins principle is in the least vague. The Robbins report states: Courses of higher education should be available for all who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and wish to do so. Therefore, far from being vague, the Robbins principle has been the foundation of higher education in Britain since the early 1960s. All the policy assumptions underlying the development of higher education have been based on that principle. If one does not have that principle, one must have some other policy.

Countries which do not have the free demand principle for higher education recommended by Lord Robbins have a tighter system of manpower planning. If we do not allow students to take the courses they want, it is logical to say that we should work out how many people are wanted in certain areas. In Britain we are bad at manpower planning. Moreover, having considered the matter carefully from the far Right to the far Left, the Carnegie commission in America and the Select Committee last year came to the conclusion that if students are told what is available, that is as good a form of manpower planning and a good deal cheaper than the bureaucratic superstructure. I hope that the Under-Secretary will comment on the Robbins principle. Is it still there or is it not? If not, what is the Government's policy?

What is the Government's policy towards cash-limiting mandatory grants, as the Public Accounts Committee recommended? The Treasury Minute that came out yesterday appears to respond to the Public Accounts Committee report, but it says nothing at all. It says that it is difficult to cash-limit mandatory grants. We know that. Will the Under-Secretary institute a system of clawback? The whole issue of student numbers is wrapped up in that. If autonomous universities think that they can go over UGC targets and still offer efficient education, will they be allowed to do so, or will they be penalised if they do?

I like the Select Committee system, but I was disappointed in what it was possible to get out of the Secretary of State last Wednesday. In question 87 he was asked whether universities would be penalised if, in this new situation, they could find a method of becoming more efficient and take in more students. The Secretary of State replied: I think we would expect institutions to take the guidance from the UGC intensely seriously. If institutions were to flout the guidance of the L GC and the result emerged as a higher cost on the tax payer, we would have to take that into account. That sounds like a nasty threat, if it is a threat. If the Secretary of State is to claw back the mandatory grant and home student fee of every student over target from universities, could we be told so now? The university of Surrey and many other universities are trying to decide what is the best way to plan their numbers for the future. It is unfair to leave them not knowing what the rules are. The Minister will invent a set of rules some time next year and say that he is sorry, but the universities have broken the rules.

The university of Surrey has told me that it thinks that it can be more cost effective if it takes in more students than the UGC recommends. Dr. Parkes has assured the committee that if he criticises universities for going over target, he will do so on academic grounds alone. However, he does not know the sub-text and Government policy. He is frightened that the Government might claw back that extra mandatory grant and home student fee and, therefore, cause difficulty for the following year. What is the Government's policy? Are they laying down precise numbers for universities and polytechnics?

The Under-Secretary, when he replies, should say something about research. Much of the bitterness of universities that feel that they have been badly treated by the UGC stems from the fact that universities that claw in public expenditure for research from the research councils seem to have done well, whereas universities such as Salford and Brunel, that have been particularly successful in getting research funds from private sources, have done particularly badly because they are not on the research councils' lists. Does the Under-Secretary think that every university should be doing research? If he believes that they can all sustain research, he should provide the right amount of money. If not, he must make an announcement. Some universities think that it is almost impossible to do research.

Mr. Dalyell

On the lobby today was Dr. Smith from the department of electrical engineering at Salford university, and he said that the unique course in medical electronics will be discontinued.

Mr. Price

That is one of the many examples of the shambles and chaos that now exist, when there should be a great deal more coherence.

I agree with hon. Members who have said that we should blame the Government, not the UGC. It is not the UGC's fault that the system is in such a shambles. The fault lies with the Government, who have not provided enough money.

If the UGC has to carry out this exercise year after year—and last year will not be one off—there must be more coherence. Universities must know why they are at the bottom or the top of the list. A couple of weeks ago there was a graph in The Times Higher Educational Supplement. Someone thought that he had cracked the system. He produced a computer analysis showing why Salford was at the bottom and Bath was at the lop. I do not know whether that graph was right or wrong. Anyone who has read it can grasp that enormous efforts have been made by administrators and academics in universities in trying to obtain information that the UGC could make available to Parliament and the public tomorrow. Why should we not know how the UGC arrived at its solutions? Why does there have to be that secrecy? Why must the advice of the UGC to the Government in this critical period be secret? Why cannot the Government go in for some open government on this issue so that a real public debate may take place—not one in which the UGC keeps all the sensitive information under the counter, which means that Parliament, the universities and everyone else concerned have to make guesses?

There is much good will in the House for the Under-Secretary of State. He will do himself much good if he makes his speech contrast with that of his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and brings some coherence into the debate. If he does not, the Government Front Bench will have responded in a more incoherent manner than in any debate in recent times.

7 pm

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, East)

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) knows a good deal about this subject. I suspect that I am not alone among my hon. Friends in wishing to see some slight change of emphasis in the Government's policy. I am disappointed that Labour Members' speeches have had the effect of a scattergun that has been pumped by over-emotional hot air. We have not been able to address to the Government as we might have done the key issues on which we wish to see the Government take action.

Labour Members do no service to the cause of universities if they do not recognise that some rationalisation of the university system is long overdue. I share the view that perhaps it is unfair to criticise the University Grants Committee for creating problems when they were created by the Government rather than by it. The UGC system has existed over many years. I think that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that it has been with us for 62 years. However, during the past two decades the UGC, in negotiation with the universities, has not succeeded in achieving voluntarily the degree of rationalisation that is long overdue. For that reason if for no other it is not right that the Government should be wholly criticised for the situation before us.

It is equally unrealistic to suggest to the higher education sector in general, and to universities in particular, that they should be absolved from any constraints that are placed on public expenditure at any time, especially now.

The one feature that has emerged from the exercise that is taking place is the reintroduction of some forward financial planning. Some figures have been suggested that go forward to 1983–84. There are indications of the trends in expenditure that are envisaged during that period. It was the previous Labour Government who ended the quinquennial review and put nothing in its place. As a result universities have been operating from hand to mouth and from month to month well into the academic year before they have known how much money they will have. That is bound to result in substantial inefficiencies in the use of moneys in the university system. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will ensure that the universities will know for several years ahead the sort of funds that will be available to them. That will ensure that whatever funds are available will be used much more effectively than under the hand-to-mouth system that has applied.

I am more than somewhat anxious about the time scale in which these changes are intended to take place. During a previous debate on these issues I restricted my remarks to fewer than five minutes. However, I mentioned that I had anxiety about the proposed time scale. I said also that the issue of redundancy appeared to have been ducked. Much has happened since then. My right hon. Friend said in his opening remarks that the case against the time scale had not been proved. Only in the past week or two have we been able to obtain factual data on the practical effects of the proposals that were announced some months ago. The anxiety that some of us felt in our guts when we last debated these issues in July has become a reality. There will be a real problem in trying to implement the proposals within the time scale that has been laid down.

It is for the Government to acquaint us with the facts that have been put before them by the vice-chancellors and principals or by the individual universities that have made facts available to me and, no doubt, to other hon. Members. It is for the Government to tell us whether these statements are right or wrong. If they are anywhere near right, the Government must accept that in maintaining the proposed time scale there will be a cash flow disadvantage for the Treasury. If that is so and if the time scale can be modified—this is the alternative route for the Government—so that it becomes more flexible, we can improve the cash flow and remove the Treasury argument from the argument about changes in the university system. If it were only a financial argument in which we were involved and if the cash flow effect of the proposals were to be a negative one over a short term, there would be no justification for maintaining that financial argument or for continuing the exercise.

I do not suggest that we shall make the time scale more flexible by adding five years, two years or one year across the board. That would merely put off serious decisions that have to be made within the universities. A more flexible approach is required. The UGC decided that where changes were to take place in accordance with certain policies, they would take place selectively. That was right. if there is to be more flexibility in the time scale, that, too, should be introdused selectively. Account should be taken of the circumstances of particular universities and particular faculties within them. In some instances even specific departments within faculties should be taken into account. We must recognise the realities of initiating desirable changes within the university system.

My right hon. Friend must address himself to satisfying the House on these issues. He must let the universities know his view within weeks. I understand that the key decisions on how the universities are to implement the proposals will be taken from mid-December to mid-January. It would be unfortunate if they were to take what some might regard as draconian measures on the basis of false assumptions. A great deal of work must be done in the next few weeks to satisfy the House and the universities that we have the financial aspects and the time scale right and that they will know the plan for the future.

Universities have been given financial targets and student number targets. It has been loosely called the numbers game. Have the Government told the UGC to introduce the numbers game and to provide specific numbers against specific faculties within specific universities, or has the UGC decided to do that as part of its programme of allocating available funds? It is important to know who is responsible for the numbers game. I am concerned that it works out extremely unfairly in many cases, particularly in the case of St. Andrew's university, in my constituency.

I shall give an example to my right hon. Friend. The University Grants Committee, in its wisdom, has recommended the curtailment of courses in three departments within the faculty of arts at St. Andrew's. I leave aside the merits of that argument, but if those cuts were carried out by St. Andrew's, the number of students in the faculty of arts would be reduced by 60. But the University Grants Committee has reduced the allocation of student places in the faculty of arts at St. Andrew's by 120. So, there is a cut of 60 in the student numbers for that faculty which has not been explained to the university by the UGC.

Added to that is the fact that the faculty of arts at St. Andrew's has the highest standard of entrance requirements of any faculty of arts in any university. It is strange that a person at the margin who is rejected by the faculty of arts there will not drop out of university; he will certainly find a place in another university. But why cannot he come to St. Andrew's where the opportunities are more suitable? It is a small university of very high quality, and there is positive merit in the viability of its economics, good sense, good planning and maintenance of quality. We should maintain the student numbers at St. Andrew's very much as they are at present. Students who will not be able to enter St. Andrew's because of the cuts will still go to another university.

There were stories in The Times recently about some Oxford colleges hawking round places for which no particular qualifications are needed. I shall not expand further on that because I know that time is pressing and other hon. Members wish to speak——

Mr. Dalyell

The hon. Gentleman has made a special plea for St. Andrew's. We read in the press that many of his hon. Friends have made special pleas for their universities. Why cannot Tory Back Benchers get together and put forward effective political proposals? That is puzzling me.

Mr. Henderson

I am happy to help the hon. Gentleman on that matter. I believe that the UGC's overall policies and its decision to go for selective changes were right. I am complaining about the specific recommendations, which in some cases positively contradict its overall policies. I have drawn attention to one university that has particularly high entrance qualifications, a good quality of output of students, attractive staff-student ratios and attractive efficiency ratios by any measure. In every broad statement made by the UGC it has said that that was what it wanted in the university system. But in this case it is not following it through to a logical conclusion.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Henderson

If the hon. Gentleman, who has intervened in most speeches this afternoon, could contain himself a little more he might be able to hear more about what I wish to say to the Government. In addition to more information about finance, we need a further explanation of how the UGC has approached the question of numbers and why there has not been some introduction of a qualititive analysis to modify whatever proposals might be made.

Although I have great sympathy with much of what is being sought by the UGC and the Government, I am concerned that some good things that could come out of this exercise might be put at risk by unsupportable error.

7.15 pm
Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

It has been said from the Conservative Benches that the attack on higher education is a myth. I hope that whoever said that has been outside the Chamber and met, as I have, the lobby that has been here all day. Between 4.30 and 5.30 pm, I chaired a large meeting of members of that lobby in the Grand Committee Room. There were meetings before that and after. Up to the point when I left, there had not been one Tory Member of Parliament present.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

We were here.

Mr. Flannery

I have been here, too; but I have also been outside the Chamber to meet my constituents. There is a tendency for hon. Members to be in the Chamber, in some sort of ivory tower, and not have any understanding of what is happening outside. I believe that it would do Conservative Members the world of good to go out and meet those people, all of whom are pervaded by a fear of losing their jobs. They are people with all sorts of skills. Some are learned people, some are technicians.

Mr. Waldegrave

Since the hon. Gentleman has raised the subject, it seems a pity that the Opposition chose to stage this debate today. For example, many of my constituents have travelled to Westminster in the hope of seeing me, but they cannot. All those hon. Members who are most concerned with universities have courteously stayed in the Chamber to listen to hon. Members' speeches for much of the day, which has meant that the lobby has been much less effective and the House less well informed.

Mr. Flannery

I agree with the hon. Gentleman, which is rare for me. That point was made to me over and over again by people outside. I should have liked the debate to take place tomorrow when we could have had the benefit of the lobby having spoken to all of us. None the less, many Conservative Members who have not been present in the Chamber could have been there. The attendance here has been very slender.

One member of the lobby made a point to me that has a certain piquant interest. He said that the new Secretary of State did not know what the Robbins principle was. Of course, he did not know what it was. He knows little about education. That sort of remark is being made all the time wherever he goes. If Conservative Members do not know that, they should speak to people wherever they go and find out that the Secretary of State is revealing himself to be an ignoramus on education. As one member of the lobby said, having wreaked havoc in industry and closed factory after factory, he is now about to wreak havoc in education and close university after university. That is what many members of the lobby—many of them technicians—fear. There are 75,000 non-teaching staff in education, many of whom work in the universities.

It is time that the Government, who are taking public money for the assisted places scheme—for an elitist grouping to use our money on education for the children of people who already have plenty of money—realised that they are stopping our young people from obtaining higher and university education. That has been taken note of all over the country.

I make no apology for mentioning that on behalf of those thousands of people outside, most of whom could not get into the House, and most of whom have never had the opportunity to meet their Members of Parliament. I hope that they will go to Members' surgeries as individuals and as trade union members to talk about this subject.

Over the next three years, the cuts will amount to about 15 per cent. and the impact on higher education will be tragic for the sector of the community that most needs it. The average cut of 4 per cent. in the rest of the public services is bad enough, but the attack on the universities and higher education generally is a major attack of a sort that has never been felt before.

By 1983–84, about 44,000 students will have been refused higher education. That is a critical loss to the community and to industry—indeed, to the country—of trained manpower. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) read out the table for higher education in other countries. In Sweden about 44 per cent. of people are in higher education. In Netherlands the figure is between 30 and 37 per cent. We are at the bottom of the league with 19 per cent.

The Government pretend that they wish to build up industry to a strong competitive position. It is disgraceful that they are placing money abroad when they should be investing in our industry and education. Vital scientific and technologically based research is being cut on a scale that is bound to affect industry. Those cuts go hand in hand with closing training boards.

The Association of University Teachers began the lobby, but a further 10 unions joined in, as their members in university education are also suffering. Universities are suffering a double cut. There have been the across-the-board cuts, from which we are all suffering under this Government, and there is the fall in fees from overseas students, which has had a tremendous effect on university finances. In addition, with fewer overseas students coming here because of the increases in fees, we no longer have such great cultural and other benefits in the areas affected. Shopkeepers and others engaged in commerce around the universities will also be adversely affected.

I was present when the UGC gave evidence to the Select Committee. It has revealed itself as the pliant tool of the Government. We blame the Government, but the UGC should stand up to the Government. The cuts are drastic in certain areas.

Do the cuts share out the misery with reasonable fairness? Salford has a unique course in medical technology which will disappear. The cuts there will be 40 per cent., but in Oxford they will be only 5 per cent. and in Cambridge 2 per cent. The red-brick universities, which offer a broadening education for working class people with a practical and intellectual bent, are steadily losing their courses in the arts and social sciences. Women especially will suffer.

We do not complain only about the improper sharing out of the misery. We want the cuts restored. Demand after demand has been made on our Front Bench that a Labour Government will, if humanly possible, restore the money taken away from education.

At Bradford, Salford and Aston universities much technological work is done. However, precisely in the areas from which our industry needs technological expertise major cuts are taking place. The Under-Secretary of State has joined a team that will cut and cut. He will be included among those attacking education. It is not a myth.

How can the Government justify the cuts? What about the effect on unemployment, with about 100,000 people employed in universities? As many as 20 per cent. of those jobs are at risk. The AUT, for instance, has 40,000 academic members—librarians, lecturers, research officers, senior administrators and so on. ASTMS has 18,000 technical staff and a small academic section. NALGO has 18,000 members, and the other unions 11,000. They all fear for their jobs and for the very continuance of certain universities. Do the Government wish to go down in history for closing centres of learning as well as for attacking education from the cradle upwards?

The plight of the Open University has had little mention. The OU figures reveal a demand for education of which we should all be proud. Even with the cost of courses rising this year, a vast number of people have still applied to join. At a time when more and more people want education, fewer and fewer will be accepted on OU courses. There will be fewer opportunities to take the sort of degree that my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) took when he was no longer a young man. Many mature people wish to have more education, but the Government are preventing them from getting it. The Government should help the Open University by curbing fees and ensuring that more people have the chance to take a degree.

The Labour Party oppose the cuts. We shall do what we can to restore them. I reiterate that the UGC cuts will fall more harshly on the institutions that cater for working class students and the disadvantaged, such as Bradford, Aston, Salford and Stirling. We shall do all that we can to restore the tragedy of those cuts. The economies mean that some universities will become even more elitist. The courses that are being cut are those which broaden people's minds and include mature students and part-timers. The cuts affecting overseas students are revealed to have been carried out without research. They harm not only the universities but local businesses and ancillary trades.

The Labour Party is studying the problem of post-18 higher and further education. The bulge of 18-year-olds is reaching its peak, and more and more students are competing for fewer and fewer places. The Government have made a major mistake and perhaps have even committed a crime.

The lone Tory Member of Parliament who attended the lobby explained carefully and with integrity that student numbers would fall in the 1980s because all the numbers in education were getting fewer. It never struck him that, although the numbers in the younger age groups are going down, the bulge of 18 years ago is just hitting higher education. By 1982–83 it will be at its peak and will take time to taper off. We need more and more money for higher education even to stand still.

The cuts may deprive as many as 50,000 people. We wish to see the Robbins principle restored. The Government merely know the slogan; they should be taught what it means. We should make a pledge to broaden the education of people who never believed that they would be given the opportunity. We should help not only the traditional student but mature and part-time students. We should ensure that there is money for education, and never mind Trident, cruise and other nonsense. The money should be put to useful ends. If we expand education, it will not merely mean an increase in the need for teachers, students, technicians and ancillary workers; it will benefit all our people, and industry in particular.

The Labour Party is dedicated to expansion in education. We want the help and the advice of teachers, academics, students, technicians and ancillary workers, especially through their unions. I hope that the present struggle to expand education and stop it from contracting any further—which is the struggle against the Conservative Government and what they are doing—will bring into action a powerful force of dedicated educationists who will join together as they have done today in lobbying Parliament. Through them education will be extended to the many people who do not realise how well they could do if we gave them the opportunity.

7.31 pm
Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

I share to the full the Minister's regret that the Opposition were so ill-advised as to use their Supply Day today when hon. Members are engaged in the lobby when they had a Supply Day tomorrow which they could have used for this debate.

In the last education debate I was deeply concerned about the financial implications for Lancaster university of the possible fall in overseas student numbers. I am relieved to say that, unlike Reading university, Lancaster university has managed to put up the number of overseas graduate students and has had a reduction of only five in its overseas undergraduate student numbers. That does not mean that I do not regard this as a matter of importance—I do.

However, it does mean that today I wish to dwell on the cost effectiveness of the cuts with which the universities are faced. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science said that our public services depend on our national capacity to bear the cost. He said later that the argument on the Conservative Benches is whether the cuts are too sharp and too abrupt. Indeed it is.

In early October my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State—whom I congratulate warmly on his appointment—was good enough to come to Lancaster to discuss the cuts with all those members of the university who had, up to that time, written or spoken to me of their anxieties on the subject. We had a very thorough discussion with him and I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend for the trouble and time that he took. Those members of the university who met him were deeply impressed by the interest that he took in the arguments that they put to him.

After that meeting the members of the university worked out a detailed statistical model of just how costly the cuts would be if carried out on the proposed timescale, and how much money would be saved if the cuts were extended over a further period. This detailed study reached the Minister only on Monday of this week, but he has told me that he has already glanced at it and will consider it further. I am grateful to him.

The financial implications are spelt out in two examples. In the first, the age distribution of redundant staff reflects that of the university. In the second, all members over a certain age are required to leave, which, to make up the numbers, would include people as young as 52, because as Lancaster is a new university, the average age of staff is young. It has been assumed that all staff over 60 will retire, and that only 45 will be compulsorily declared redundant. Both these assumptions may well prove to be optimistic.

We cannot say at this stage what damages the courts would give for breach of contract but if the average amount of compensation were to be £50,000—and that is on the low side—the cost to the university of those 45 jobs would be £2,225,000, to achieve annual savings of £670,000. However, if £70,000 were the figure of compensation, damages of £3,150,000 would be awarded to save the same figure of £670,000.

That to me seems not to be very cost-effective. I know that the age structure of Lancaster is unusual in that only 22—less than 5 per cent.—of its academic staff are in the 55 to 59 age group. Therefore, we have perhaps a particular problem. Nevertheless, taken over the country as a whole, if all the universities have done their homework as thoroughly as Lancaster, the Minister will have sound figures—not just overall figures—within every age range on which to work out the cost of this particular programme.

These calculations exclude unemployment benefit that would be paid to the unemployed academics and the tax that would accrue to the Chancellor of the Exchequer from the salaries that would have been paid. Furthermore, they exclude the factor, which is qute unquantifiable, of the number of people who would stay put, and who might otherwise have moved into other occupations, because they think that if they stay put they might get a useful capital sum.

We have probably the most practical of all the universities. We have a superb business course, an excellent course in accountancy, and the teaching staff from our university are highly thought of and could well move into industry. However, if by hanging on for 18 months they will get a golden handshake, they will be inclined to stay put. These are the factors that must be taken into consideration. I beg the Minister in his reply to give some hope that the cuts will be phased over a considerably longer period, to enable the universities and their staff and students to tailor their needs much better than will be the case if the cuts are carried out in the present way and on the present time scale.

7.36 pm
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I have not had the benefit of a university education. Nevertheless, I feel that I owe a great debt to the university system, because I have three children who are in it at one stage or another, one who is currently applying to go to university, and a younger one who, I hope will follow the rest of her peers to university. I am aware, therefore, of the broad scope of education and of the investment that it represents in the future, not only for my children but for the nation. I am aware of the great debt that people owe to universities for the culture which has been made available to many people. This has been eloquently expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) and others.

When I listened to the opening speech of the Secretary of State for Education and Science, it struck me that it was the thinnest speech that I have ever heard him make or that I have ever heard from any Minister. He appeared to be suggesting that what had been undertaken was a sane, rational examination of the university system, and that we were discussing a period of adjustment.

The idea that higher education has been perpetually expanding at an infinite rate is a myth. Anyone who is familiar with the university system knows that over the past few years universities have been forced to make economies. They have not had money poured into them willy-nilly to satisfy every whim or demand. They have been undergoing a period of adjustment, but for many universities it is now not a period of adjustment; it is a period of total dislocation.

I should like to illustrate my argument by referring in particular to Aberdeen university, which is within my constituency. The problems are mirrored by universities in other parts of the country, but in Aberdeen they are particularly severe.

The hon. Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) suggested that we were also discussing some kind of forward planning. But the letter from the University Grants Committee detailing the cuts in the current grant was received by Aberdeen university at the beginning of July for the financial year beginning on 1 August of the same year. The university had 30 days in which to consider the detailed figures.

Aberdeen university is expected to cater for broadly the same number of students—in fact, 200 less—with a 23 per cent. cut in its recurrent grant. The UGC is saying to Aberdeen university, in effect, "You are doing a good job academically and your student numbers are about right, but you will have to do it with a cut of 23 per cent. in your funds".

I have not been able to discover exactly why this kind of cut has been made. We are told, for example, that it may very well be the case that the view taken is that Aberdeen university has very high unit costs. That is disputed by the university.

There are many points which could be argued, but I do not have time to go into details. However, there is one point that relates specifically to Aberdeen university and all universities in Scotland. In Scotland, the universities must pay rates. English universities do not pay rates. The University Grants Committee refunds the rates to the university, but my university friends argue that, although it is simply a transfer of funds from the UGC to the university to pay the rates, that money, which is not inconsiderable, is still counted as university income. It cannot be income if it is repayment of money that has to be paid out.

Mr. Waldegrave

I intervene on a relatively small point, which does not necessarily change the principle of the hon. Gentleman's argument. English universities also pay rates. Indeed, the problem of supplementary rates for London university is very severe.

Mr. Hughes

I readily accept that correction. I was advised that universities in England, being regarded as charities, were exempt from rates. I apologise for that error in the information given to me. However, that does not destroy my point that, if money that is made available for universities to pay rates is included as income and set against unit costs, it must distort the figures.

The reality is that Aberdeen university is being expected to fund itself this year with £2.75 million less. It cannot do that. It will face all sorts of problems. I shall not go into detail except to say that the university is seeking very hard to discover how it can cope with the minimum possible disruption being caused by this sort of cut. Among other things, it has gone to the extent of setting up a sub-committee, under Lord Arbuthnott, to consider ways and means by which university assets might be realised to help meet the deficit of £2 million on its accounts this year.

Selling off assets is not necessarily a good thing to do, because once one has spent them they have gone, but the university is considering selling land and buildings and is even considering—this shows how serious the position is—whether it can sell off rare books in its library to try to meet its costs. It is educational vandalism that it is forced into that position. It is tragic.

It is not wild men that are doing this; it is the principal of the university and the members of the senate and the court, who are looking very seriously at the problems facing them.

One of the matters under consideration is the question of voluntary redundancy. Even with voluntary redundancy, as has been said, the costs of paying staff who have voluntarily been made redundant will more than offset the savings that are to be made. Figures of three, four and five times have been mentioned in the debate.

The UGC apparently has £20 million set aside for what are described as restructuring difficulties—a euphemism for finding money to pay the fellows who are leaving the university, but I leave that aside. The UGC has sent out a letter saying that none of that £20 million can be used for the benefit of non-academic staff if their superannuation scheme, which is often an individual university scheme, does not already allow for early retirement. Academic staff have a provision built in, as they have had for many years, for early retirement. Whatever else happens, I hope that at least there will be parity and equity of treatment among university staff, whether they are academics, technicians, non-academic staff, manual workers or whatever, because it would be very bad to have different treatment for different people.

The Government do not appear to have foreseen certain problems in their decision to cut the money made available to the UGC. I use Aberdeen university as an illustration. I am not in the business of arguing that one faculty is more important than another. In the area of the Grampian health board, 23 per cent. of all the National Health Service clinical and laboratory work is performed by the university. The UGC has said that those posts are no longer protected. That means that to effect the savings demanded of the medical school, there will have to be a loss of 15 consultant posts—which is 7½ per cent. of the consultants who serve people in the Grampian area—15 junior staff—registrars, and possibly senior registrars—30 to 35 laboratory technicians and 10 secretaries.

That situation cannot be tolerated. The Health Service in the Grampian area cannot cope with such losses of staff. No one would argue that the Health Service in the Grampian area has enough money simply to pay for those people to be replaced. The position is extremely serious.

I think that the Government are beginning to be told exactly what is happening in different areas and with different universities. I do not believe that the position at Aberdeen, Stirling, Aston, Bradford, or wherever, is the position that they expected when the 5 per cent. cut was made. If they had expected that, the matter is much worse. But I do not think that that was so. I think that the cut was made and the Government said to the UGC "You carry on and we shall see where we go from there."

Having realised the dislocation, chaos and severe damage being done to many universities, the job losses, educational damage and so on, and seeing exactly what the position is, I believe that the Government can, without loss of face or feeling that they have been beaten or driven into a corner, look at the situation and the facts as they are and say "We are faced with a position which no Government expected, and therefore we must look at it again." They can do that with honour—although in some quarters "honour" is an overplayed word. They can do it with common sense and from the point of view of good government.

There is only one course open to the Government—to make more money available. It will not give me any satisfaction that the problems of Aberdeen, Stirling or anywhere else can or should be ameliorated at the further expense of Dundee, Heriot-Watt or anywhere else. I am not arguing for that. The idea of the Secretary of State is that in February of next year, when the UGC sees the whole picture, it can make adjustments. In other words, he is saying that it could take away one part and give to another within the total sum available. That is no solution for anyone. The Government must realise that. They must make available additional funds to tide us over a very difficult period.

The time scale over which the rationalisation is to take place must be extended. Even if people accept the Government's rationale that the time has come to slim down the university system a little more quickly—which I do not accept—they must realise that the effects of their decision are far more severe than they ever imagined they would be.

Whatever our general argument about higher education and the opportunities available, we can all agree that at least we should have time for a proper rational discussion, at least to give time to safeguard students in the universities and the present system. It is common sense, and I believe that once the Government know the facts they can come to no other conclusion but that a change of course is urgently necessary.

7.48 pm
Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

My speeches in earlier education debates this year have been concerned with legislation for the integration of the disabled in education. Tonight, I shall be speaking in reverse and trying to avoid a disablement being caused to some parts of our higher education sector.

I shall concentrate on two points which concern me deeply. I shall be brief, because other hon. Members want to express their views about the effect of the cuts on universities and on the general higher education sector. My argument for more time, which has been echoed by other hon. Members, affects the whole university sector, whereas my complaint about lack of information relates to my constituency, which contains the university of Exeter, although the matter has been raised by other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price). I agree with him that part of the present problem is the lack of information that is available to individual universities about the criteria upon which the UGC bases its cuts or adjustments in numbers.

Like other hon. Members who have universities in or near their constituencies, I have had long and anxious discussions throughout the summer with vice-chancellors, members of the faculties and the unions, and others connected with universities, who have had a worrying time during the past six months. Many of them are here today, and they have spoken to me and to other hon. Members. Many of them are concerned about their own future, which is entirely understandable, but all of them are concerned about the future of their profession and the reversal of the Robbins policy of expansion in higher education.

I shall not argue or support the Opposition case for ever-continuing growth of university places. It would be nice to live in a perfect world where that could happen, but, with falling numbers of 18-year-olds in the latter part of this decade and with the squeeze on resources as a result of the recession, I accept, as do the majority of university teachers with whom I have discussed the matter, that some contraction and restructuring of university finances must be inevitable.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee), who said that a reexamination of the whole structure of finance was long overdue. However, I do not agree with the method and the time scale of the cuts that are being applied by the Government. The universities are being brutally forced to accept and effect a major reduction and reshaping of their teaching and research, at a time when the numbers of 18-year—olds are still increasing dramatically, and within a time scale which has now narrowed down to two years. The result will be massive disruption, lasting damage, and—what concerns me most—a counter-productive redundancy bill running into hundreds of millions of pounds.

My right hon. Friend implied that he was not getting any evidence about the effects of these cuts. He had no evidence to show that we would run into this kind of cost for redundancy. All I can say is that I was surprised to hear him say that, because evidence has been presented by individual universities, by experts considering the matter from a legal point of view, and by vice-chancellors who have expressed their views about the cost of redundancies.

If we were being asked to support a five-year programme of change—designed to achieve, for example, savings by the time student numbers begin to fall in the second half of the 1980s—and if another objective were to reduce the numbers of art students and increase the numbers of science students, and if a third objective were to reduce the wide disparity between the highest and the lowest-funded universities, a subject which so far has not been raised in the debate, it would receive widespread support as a rational proposal.

However, in virtually two years, a 15 per cent. to 17 per cent. cut, a costly switch to the sciences—what is required is a switch from the lower costing arts-based courses to higher costing science-based courses—and a widening of the disparity are being required in the cutbacks. Education is too precious and vital to be treated in this way. I hope that my right hon. Friend, who is described in an editorial in The Times today as a "reflective" man, will reflect after this debate.

On 29 October, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary kindly received a delegation consisting of myself, my right hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. du Cann), the vice-chancellor of Exeter university and two members of the faculty. We had an extremely useful hour-long discussion with the Minister, and we were all extremely grateful to him. We recognised that he could not discuss the actual UGC allocation of cuts to Exeter university, but we stressed the dangers of the shortness of the time scale as well as the need for a reduction in the wide disparity between the high-funded universities and the low-funded universities. Shortly after, my hon. Friend was reported in the press as expressing sympathy for the concept of an extension of time for these proposals. Our hopes were somewhat lifted. However, as is often the case, a subsequent statement in the press showed that the Secretary of State has quashed our hopes in that regard.

Exeter university is generally recognised as a happy, hard-working and efficient place. About 22,000 applications are received each year for 1,500 places, and I think that I am right in saying that a number of members of the families of hon. Members have attended it in recent years. Indeed, the Secretary of State's daughter spent three fruitful years there quite recently.

I do not need to extol the virtues of our universities, as other hon. Members will agree—or, in particular, those of Exeter university. It serves the whole of the south-west peninsula from Cornwall up to Bath and Bristol, although the students come from the whole of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

And abroad.

Mr. Hannam

What is vital to the argument is that Exeter is one of the lowest funded universities in the country, receiving per student only £2,200, compared kith universities at the top of the list which receive over £4,000 per student. Clearly, the costs of educating students vary from one place to another, but surely no one can justify the continuation of a 100 per cent. disparity in grant provision.

This is an historic problem, and it was recognised by the UGC and Dr. Parkes in 1979, when they visited Exeter and recorded in their minutes the following statement: Turning to recurrent grant, the committee accepted that for historical reasons the university was under financed and that some adjustment was needed. But this change could not be achieved quickly … The university's position would, however, be taken into account when the Committee came to consider resources after 1981 in the light of any views that a new Administration might disclose on longer-term university development". The irony is that the UGC, having said that it accepted the under-finance provision for the university, has now, without disclosing any of the reasons, further reduced Exeter's funding, dropping from £2,296 per student to £2,106 in 1983–84, at 1981 prices. It means that, instead of the promised upward adjustments in our position, Exeter now drops to second to the bottom of the entire university list.

If we adjust the grant figures to allow for proportionate weighting for the costs of different subjects—allowing £2,500 for arts, £3,600 for sciences, £6,000 for medicine—the situation is even worse, because Exeter drops to the bottom provision—11.23 per cent. below the average for the United Kingdom—whereas universities, such as City, Brunel, Bangor and Surrey are 11 per cent. to 26 per cent. above the average. Even more perplexing, Exeter is being required to reduce its arts numbers and increase science-based courses at the same time as having its finance reduced by 17 per cent.

I hope that there will be a re-examination of the apportionment of the cuts. Surely the time to effect a reduction in this wide variation of grants for the different universities throughout the country is when a reassessment and restructuring of the whole basis of financing the universities is being carried out. If a longer time scale is applied to these cuts, it will allow such a reappraisal to take place.

The Secretary of State implied that vice-chancellors have access to the UGC to obtain all the necessary information about these cuts and the reasons for them. In fact, the vice-chancellor of Exeter university informed me that he was told that there could be no meeting to discuss the criteria upon which the cuts were based until January, at the earliest. By that time, many important decisions will have had to be taken, and the uncertainty is damaging that university.

The cost of redundancies has been raised again and again. Many figures have been bandied about. No one knows the exact levels of compensation that the courts may award to teachers who have their contracts broken. The vice-chancellors have put forward a scheme based on Civil Service redundancy compensation, which could cost the country or universities £100 million or more.

Exeter university has done a detailed analysis. The scheme would cost that university £3.18 million over two years—more than the £2.5 million cuts over three years that the UGC requires. The estimates of the courts would amount to more than £400 million for the whole country. Exeter's detailed estimate of the cost to it is £8.8 million, when the staff structure and the known redundancies are taken into account. Either way, the costs are enormous. If universities have to pay such amounts, in addition to the reduction in their grants, they will become bankrupt.

However, if the Government pick up the tab and allocate extra funds, the entire purpose of the cuts will be negated. The purpose is to save several hundred millions of pounds by 1983–84. If the Government extend the time scale to four or five years, a large part of the cost could be avoided. Most of those aged over 50 have already told to the universities that they are willing to accept early retirement, and natural wastage would account for the rest.

I do not deny that some universities have predominantly young faculty staffs and that they would still face high redundancy payments. However, close examination of the age structure of teachers who wish to be made redundant at Exeter shows that over four or five years most of them could retire under existing schemes or through natural wastage. We could therefore avoid vast expenditure on redundancy payments.

The point that I am trying to make is that, by demanding some cuts by 1983–84, the Treasury is not only likely to finish up with a larger total for redundancies than for savings, but will destroy or damage many of our fine institutions. H. G. Wells once wrote: The future of humanity is a race between education and catastrophe. As we witness the horrifyingly depressing actions of what can only be termed "ill-educated groups of extremists" in various parts of the world—I am not looking at any particular Opposition Members—we cannot but agree with H. G. Wells.

I must inform my right hon. and hon. Friends that if the Secretary of State is unable to allow more time for the dramatic restructuring of university funding and if no sign can be given that the wide and totally unnecessary variation in grants to universities will be examined, I cannot offer my support to the Government in the Lobby.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)

Order. I am aware that some hon. Members have been waiting a long time and are anxious to make their comments. If those who are called to speak show more restraint than usual, more hon. Members will be able to speak.

8.4 pm

Mr. John Golding (Newcastle-under-Lyme)

I speak for North Staffordshire in opposing the savage cuts that affect Keele university so badly. They will prevent many youngsters from developing their talents to the full and will create further unemployment in an area that has already suffered too much since the general election from the Government's policies. Responsibility must rest both with the Secretary of State and with the UGC. The Secretary of State must take the blame for the financial cuts and their severity'. Now is the wrong time to take educational opportunity away from our youngsters and to create unemployment. The time scale in which the cuts must be applied is, to Keele as to other universities, unacceptable. If there have to be cuts, the cost and hardship will be much greater if they are applied now than if they are applied over four years or more. Like other hon. Members, I hope that the Secretary of State will stop being obstinate and will extend the time limit. As other hon. Members have recognised, the cost of applying the cuts is an unknown factor because of redundancy payments. Many believe that the cost will outweigh the saving. What precisely are the Government's calculations?

I hear that the Government whisper that the cuts will be restored when the economy picks up. However, it is no easier to restore a university faculty than it is to reopen a factory whose machinery has been sold abroad. We face a brain waste or a brain drain as a result of the proposals. The Secretary of State has great responsibility. However, the UGC is not beyond blame for the way in which it has applied the cuts. There is no justification for the 34 per cent. cut at Keele. The national average is 17 per cent. Is it because of joint honours, the number of social science subjects studied jointly, the admission policy, the foundation year, Russian studies or the research load that such a cut has been imposed? It is hard to know.

I echo the remarks of hon. Members who have said that it is important for universities to know what criteria the UGC used. I doubt whether the UGC has been as thorough in its examination as we might have expected. It made a mess of its calculations for Keele by failing to add up correctly the number of students doing arts, science and social science subjects. Why? They failed to take into account the distinctive character of the mixed courses at Keele.

The UGC has admitted that it got its sums wrong, but it has said that it does not make any difference. That reminds me of when we used to mark our sums at school. When we heard that we had got the answer wrong, we were reluctant to put a cross on the paper. Those who think and teach traditionally are wrong to be prejudiced against mixed courses, particularly when they all include science, which the UGC wants to protect.

The need for scientists to have a wider education and for arts graduate; to be numerate and to know the methodology of science is as important to society now as ever. Giver-specialisation is not education. We need to educate people to solve problems, and not just to master techniques that are already obsolete. Keele university has also made a big contribution towards helping those who have been badly taught at school. I make that point because it is believed that the UGC has been influenced by the thought that Keele takes students that do not have good A-level results. So what? It is not what the students are like when they enter university that counts; it is what they are like when they leave. The UGC's thinking also seems prejudiced against the social services and in favour of the arts. Yet what justification is there for preferring ancient Greek and. Latin to social policy, education or international relations? Why does the UGC prefer philosophy to economics and politics?

Keele university provides a modern education and its foundation year and joint honours are valuable. Perhaps it does not pass the test of the UGC, but it passes two tests. First, increasing numbers of students want to go to Keele. Last year admission requests increased by 17 per cent. It is believed that there will be an equivalent increase—or an even higher increase—this year. Students are voting for Keele university with their applications. Secondly, employers like to recruit Keele graduates, because they want graduates with a scientific background but with arts and social science degrees.

The Keele experiment has been radical and good. It would be a great pity if that experiment were frustrated at every turn by a Government who are mean-minded about education and by a UGC that is too conservative in its educational philosophy.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having made a brief speech.

8.10 pm
Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)

I declare an interest since I am the only Member of the House who is still on the academic staff of a university. I am also in the unique position of being a member of the finance committee of the medical school in which I teach. I can speak from the sharp end rather than the theoretical end. Because research is involved in the debate it is appropriate to tell hon. Members that I have the honour to represent the House on the Medical Research Council.

At the risk of blighting my parliamentary career I must say that I agreed with much of what the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) said. He made a number of telling points, not least about liberty. However, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State put his finger on the weakness of that speech by saying that it did not explain how the bills were to be paid.

Other Opposition Members have said that more money must be put into the system. None of them addressed himself to the question whether the system is operating as efficiently as it might. If it is not operating as efficiently as it might, we could save money without increasing public expenditure. I operate inside the system and I agree that the system does not operate as efficiently as it might. There is duplication and a need for rationalisation. Therefore, I have no difficulty in supporting my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State when he says that universities should not be protected or exempted from public expenditure reductions. Higher education generally should not be exempt. Whatever might divide us this evening, I assure my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State that that unites us. It is by far the most important aspect in the debate.

Perhaps as part of that rationalisation we should review some of the research and some of the courses in universities. Perhaps someone would wish to review the course that I teach. That would be an acceptable exercise. I have no difficulty in saying that the Government's general policy is right, proper and defensible.

I have to part company with my Front Bench on the question of the time scale over which the Government seek to implement the changes. The Government's policy constitutes a serious problem. We all have sympathy with the universities that have been most discussed today because of their difficulties. I draw the attention of the House to what is happening in my medical school. The UGC decided that medicine should be exempt from reductions. I can talk from first-hand experience of a college that is supposed to be exempt.

I do not represent the college in which I teach, nor do I seek to do so. It is well represented by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Services, the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg). I use the college as an illustration. I am not arguing that the school has had a raw deal, or that London university has treated it badly. I am simply using it as an illustration from my experience. It is ironic that many in today's lobby said that difficulties were being caused because London medical schools were being treated too generously. I ask the House to bear that in mind as I relate some facts.

The grant for the college in which I teach is down 4.8 per cent. in cash this year compared with last year. If one adds the rate of inflation it is about 16 per cent. down, and that is for an institution that the UGC wants to protect. The salaries in the medical school and the rent that has to be paid to the hospital in which it is embedded account for more than 90 per cent. of the grant. The room for savings elsewhere is negligible. If we have to cut, we have to cut the number of people.

As members of a responsible finance committee we have already acted to protect the school. The Under-Secretary will be interested to know that nine academic posts, five technical posts and two secretarial posts have been frozen. In spite of making substantial savings, we estimated that the deficit this year will be about £250,000. That does not sound much but it is based on expenditure of about £4½ million. However, there is a rub. The University of London reasonably has said that pre-clinical staff-student ratios should be 1:10. In my school there are 38½ pre-clinical teachers. To achieve the 1:10 ratio we would have to shed 17½ pre-clinical teachers, or almost 50 per cent.

We are not unique in London university. St. Bartholomew's medical school has to cut by nearly 40 per cent. The Middlesex hospital medical school must make cuts of about 50 per cent. What do we do? Who goes? Do we decide that it does not matter whether students know anything about the body and send them into hospitals without having studied anatomy? That is unthinkable. What if students do not know anything about how the body works? Do we send them into hospitals without physiology? That is unthinkable. Perhaps we should do away with pharmacology so that students are not taught about drugs. That is unthinkable. What about biochemistry? Sending students out without biochemistry is also unthinkable. I hope that my hon. Friend begins to perceive the difficulties experienced by a branch of the system which the UGC wishes to protect.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith, North)

The hon. Gentleman is making an important point. Is he aware of the postgraduate medical school in my constituency where the shortfall in the current year is estimated to be about £500,000?

Dr. Mawhinney

I am talking about undergraduate medical schools.

If we do not do away with some departments but cut across the board, how do we supervise half a class at a time when dissecting bodies? In a laboratory with 54 students how many academic staff are necessary? Research would also be made more difficult.

The economics have been taken care of. I asked my medical school to tell me the average salary of the 17 cheapest lecturers. I was told that it was £11,000. I asked for the salary and associated costs of each of the 17 dearest professors. The school does not have 17 pre-clinical professors, but I was told that the cost was about £19,000. Those figures represent about one-third or one-quarter of the costs expected to be incurred through the courts in redundancy payments.

The Secretary of State said that he and the Department took the decisions on scale and pace on the basis of all the information known. I have to ask my right hon. Friend if he really had the information that I have given when he took the decisions. I cannot believe that he did.

I accept that we have missed opportunities to rationalise the university structure. It has grown too quickly, but we have missed the opportunities. My right hon. Friend might prefer that tenure did not exist. That would make life easier. But it exists. Some of us might prefer that departmental structures did not exist, but they do. Some may prefer not to have the specialisation that is taking place in our universities, but it is taking place. Some may prefer that new subjects are not introduced into the teaching process. That is happening in medicine because both London university and the General Medical Council approve of it and encourage it.

I am in some difficulty. I support the Government's general policy. No decision on the cuts has been made by my medical school and I am not trying to scare my colleagues this evening. However, I do not understand how I can be expected to support the Government in their policy and at the same time tell my students that their education will not be disadvantaged because almost half the teachers will have been moved out.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee), as so often, made a speech with which I wholeheartedly concur. He was concerned that cash may be used by universities simply as a breather to put off the inevitable. That is a fear, but no mechanism currently exists for dealing with the problem. We have been told that the University Grants Committee was set up for a time of expansion, not contraction. There is no mechanism for rationalising between universities. It is the fault of many universities that no mechanism exists within them to rationalise efficiently. That is a disappointment. One would wish that it were not so, but it is so. The consequence is that if we make cuts we must make them on an ad hoc and damaging basis, because the mechanism does not exist to do it on a rational basis.

We are faced with difficult decisions, which we would prefer not to make. I remind the House that I am not pleading for my college. I use it simply as an illustration. I support the Government's policy, although I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham said about student maintenance grants and student loans. He said it better than I could, but no more sincerely than I could.

Although I support the Government's economic policy and do not believe that universities should be exempt, what they wish cannot be achieved rationally and sensibly without damage during the time period envisaged. Unless the Under-Secretary of State can encourage us to believe that there will be a longer period during which the many necessary cuts take place, I must tell him with great regret that while I do not intend to join the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) in his Lobby—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"]—nor do I intend to join my hon. Friend in his.

8.23 pm
Dr. Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock)

The hon. Members for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) made two important points. One demonstrated the absurdity of carrying out the cuts because of the cost of redundancies. The other emphasised, by way of an illustration that could be multiplied throughout many British universities, the absurdity of introducing cuts at such a speed that courses would be distorted beyond all recognition. The hon. Member for Peterborough pointed out that decisions were taken by the Government on the basis of full information. I hope that, having been given new information this evening, at the very least we shall have a commitment from the Government that they will extend the period during which the cuts are applied. However, I would wish the Government to go much further and rescind the cuts altogether.

The Secretary of State said that the cuts were distressing but not damaging. I wonder what he counts as damaging. In asking that, I only echo the way in which the question was posed repeatedly at the lobby this afternoon, which it was possible to attend. One could either go to the meetings in Westminster Central Hall or attend the lobby before attending this debate at 4 o'clock. Many of us had ample opportunity to listen to those who came to see us today. No doubt many Conservative Members would have had ample opportunity to see individual constituents had they chosen to do so. It is a good idea to culminate such a lobby in a debate so that while the impression of the lobby is fresh in the minds of the Government and Conservative Members they will at least be disposed to act.

What is the Secretary of State prepared to count as damaging? I shall go through some of the things that he may be persuaded to consider damaging. The first point is that, as the proportion of 18-year-olds in the population rises until 1984, many will be deprived of the possibility of a university place. Many thereafter will also be denied. There will continue to be a high proportion of 18-year-olds in the population, and many of them will be well qualified to enter university and should not be denied the right of higher education. The estimate is that one in seven qualified students will be denied the opportunity of a university education at a time when the demand for university places has never been higher. That is damage enough.

I taught a number of mature students and found that they made a positive and valuable contribution. In many ways they benefited most from a university education. Another group that will be severely damaged by the Government's action is part-time students. There has been some amelioration of their conditions, especially at Birkbeck college, at which I have benefited in the past. The proportion of full-time fees that will be charged to undergraduate students has been reduced from 50 to 25 per cent., but they will still be index-linked. The fees will still rise and students must also bear the cost of books, time off work and meals when they attend evening lectures.

Undergraduate students will have reduced fees. As Birkbeck college and other such institutions point out, the UGC assumes that postgraduate students, because they receive financial assistance for their courses, should not enjoy any reduction in the fees charged. In the case of Birkbeck, that is not true.

I find it difficult to understand the Government's policy in general, but I find it especially difficult to understand why, with all the emphasis on self-help, part-time students and students making use of the Open University provision should be penalised by the Government. After all, they are struggling to educate themselves one way or another out of their own resources. Surely they should be looked upon kindly by the Prime Minister and others who exalt the virtues of self-help.

Not only will the 18-year-old students suffer because they will not get places, not only will the mature and part-time students suffer, but students who had been offered places are being disappointed because the offers are being withdrawn. That is sheer absurdity when, according to the Manpower Services Commission, the cost of financing each additional unemployed person is about £4,300. It would not cost much more than that, if as much, to allow them to take their places at universities and spend the next three or four years profitably in educating and advancing themselves and preparing for jobs that might become available, In a country that is already under-educated and under-trained, the Government's policies make no sense. They will damage not only the students in the various categories that I have outlined but our future economy.

Let us consider other groups that have been denied places. The universities believe that there has been a 35 per cent. drop in applications from overseas students. That means a loss of income for the universities. It also means a loss of benefit from the deeper understanding of other cultures that we gain through the presence of overseas students. I speak from experience. I learnt a great deal from some of the African students who attended my courses at Bristol university.

The Treasury has long been prejudiced against what it sees as the subsidy of overseas students. That is partly because it wrongly estimated the cost of providing places for overseas students. The Times Higher Education Supplement claims that America is enjoying a flood of applications from overseas students. That is hardly surprising when the average cost of a course in the American private universities is about $3,000 and in the public universities about $2,000. Our costs range from £2,000 to £5,000, depending on the course undertaken.

I am surprised that the Prime Minister and the Government are prepared to tolerate that position. The cutting of places for overseas students means an increase in the number of students from the developing countries, especially Asia and Africa, applying to Russia. They will form cultural and economic links with Russia, which is a further way to inflict damage not only on our cultural life but on our future economic development. Provision for overseas students is a means towards international trade, understanding and so on. Those are the benefits that the Treasury cannot calculate when it does its sums.

Research will suffer. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals says that the opportunities for able young recruits to research will be virtually extinguished for a generation. There will be an immense loss in all areas, and not only in the obvious ones of science and technology. Much has been made of the increased intake of science undergraduates and the fact that science and technology have been encouraged by the manner in which the cuts have been carried out. That view has not been expressed in the New Scientist. I have selected one or two examples. Pharmacists are worried about the proposal that they should shoulder much of the 25 per cent. reduction in student places in medical subjects. University places in pharmacy mean that good graduates are turned out to provide research in pharmaceutical companies. Our balance of trade in pharmaceuticals amounted to £500 million last year.

The computer industry is also feeling the pinch of the cuts, which could seriously affect the supply of graduates to the industry. The industry is expanding and demands well-trained, well-qualified and up-to-date trained applicants if it is to keep pace with America, West Germany and Japan. Biotechnology is an important and developing area. I am not an expert, but it will be an important industry in future.

It is untrue to say that the cuts may affect only some of the arts and social science subjects and especially attack the sociologists, who are always unpopular with Conservative Members. They will affect important areas which influence our future scientific development.

The Secretary of State does not seem prepared to accept that argument. He is not prepared to regard public spending in this area as an important public investment which will affect the whole of our future economic development and will enable us to keep pace with our competitors. When faced with that argument, he retreats into the most traditional view of universities—that they exist for the advancement of knowledge for its own sake. He does not add that universities have always also been defended on the grounds of the importance of independent criticism of social, economic and political arrangements. Perhaps he does not care to think about that too much. I agree entirely about those two aims of the universities.

Labour Members have sometimes emphasised the utilitarian value of increasing provision of university education. It is important to do that because education has that type of contribution to make to society. But we should not lose track of the importance of the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, and the importance of developing independent, rational criticism of our society and others. What worries me about the Secretary of State's view is that, although he was careful to deny that he believed that more university students means worse, he forgot to tell us about the contrary proposition. He has already said that proportionally fewer young people will get higher education, but that the quality of graduates will probably rise.

There is no evidence to support that proposition or, indeed, to support the claims sometimes made by Conservative Members, particularly the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) who is no longer present, with whom I have disagreed on more than one occasion. Like the hon. Gentleman I was a beneficiary of the Robbins expansion and began a teaching career at Bristol university at that time. My experience of the increased number of undergraduates was that their quality was high and that they were a pleasure to teach because of the variety of backgrounds and schools from which they were drawn. They had an enormous contribution to make.

There is no justification for the claim that the Robbins expansion took place too quickly. I believe that what lies behind this idea is the elitist principle that few people are qualified to benefit from university education. I believe that we draw from a very small pool in this country and that the pool could be much larger. Many people are qualified to benefit from university education. Some are crippled by their social and economic backgrounds and would require additional help to do so.

I believe that an elitist view that higher education should be limited to the few lies behind the remarks of the Secretary of State and Conservative Members. I can only believe that the Secretary of State feels that higher education should be limited to the better off, in view of his attitude towards maintenance grants and the cuts proposed in that area. It will be more difficult for people from lower and medium income families to go to university and to complete a university career. From my experience, it is certainly not true that the rich make better students than those from ordinary family backgrounds.

The trouble is that the new Secretary of State for Education and Science has not made a very successful transition from industry to education. He seems to have a sneaking feeling that he should do the same in education as he did in industry—that he must somehow root out what he considers inefficient or expensive and that ideally he should privatise the universities. I know that that has been explicitly denied today, but we need to have far more understanding of the right hon. Gentleman's philosophy.

The Secretary of State said in his evidence to the Select Committee last week: We have a situation in which the market for higher education is almost expelled from the universities because the bulk of the students do not use their own money, they use money from the taxpayer, and the institutions do not seek money from the customer, except to a limited extent from industrial support"— an unlikely area in which to seek fruitful support for the universities, in view of the Government's economic policies and their destruction of industry. He also said: It is conceivable, not immediately relevant, that universities should have more money of their own through endowment as a small part of it. I believe that the Secretary of State would really like to move towards something like the American system, in which there are two groups of universities—the private universities which may be well funded for various reasons, and the public universities, which all too often cannot offer the same standards due to the lack of State funds.

The Secretary of State should do two things tonight. First, he should postpone the effect of the cuts. Secondly, in the interim, we should debate the role of higher education in our society and he should spell out his underlying philosophy. The whole population may then decide whether they wish to return to a view whereby higher education is limited to a small elite—preferably the better off—rather than expanded to meet the needs of the many and to serve the community as a whole.

8.42 pm
Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)

I trust that the hon. Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) will excuse me if I do not follow on exactly what she has said. I shall make comments which will be apposite to what she said, but I de not wish to extend the length of my speech.

It is a matter of some regret to me that we have been debating higher education today on an Opposition motion so narrowly worded that we have been confined almost entirely to discussing the reduction in funds available to universities. It is perhaps even more regrettable because the debate is taking place on a day when there is a lobby from the universities. Again, therefore, we have found ourselves directed to that relatively narrow sector of higher education—indeed, to only one problem in that sector. I fear that it is an opportunity lost, because we have not discussed the broad difficulties of relating the provision of higher education to the long-term social, educational and industrial needs of the nation.

That might have been more useful than what is, in effect, a re-run of debates which have taken place time and again over the past few weeks, in which we have considered the special pleading of one sector after another within the economy—and some are far more worthy than others—to the effect that it should be excluded from the full rigour of the Government's economic policies. Special pleading is certainly valuable, and one may sometimes wish to support it. But during the past few weeks and months there has been special pleading by every sector of the economy, so it is no longer a matter of special pleading. Therefore, I feel that the time has not been used to the best advantage. It would have been far more useful to turn our attention to the fundamental problems of higher education.

The emphasis on university education was notable not only in Conservative Members' contributions. It is sometimes suggested in the popular press that the Opposition Benches are filled with ex-polytechnic lecturers. Yet, oddly enough, the word "polytechnic" was mentioned only once by an Opposition Member. It therefore falls to an ex-polytechnic lecturer on the Tory Benches to draw attention to the fact that the entire higher education sector, not simply the university sector, is being asked to shoulder the burdens.

It would be a pity if the impression were to be gained that the polytechnics were merely ancillaries to the university sector. I took particular objection to the suggestion that perhaps the polytechnics could mop up some of the people unable to obtain places at universities.

I was for many years both a teacher and administrator at Portsmouth polytechnic. The standard of entry into courses into my department—the department of economics—was higher than that required by some universities offering the same course. Indeed, the role of the polytechnics is that of an equal partner with the universities. They are not some kind of second tier.

The wording of the Opposition's motion has tended to lead us away from the real issues. For example, it contains the phrase jeopardise the existence of universities and public-sector institutions". That suggests that there is something unacceptable about those institutions not continuing in their present form. I can see no reason why there should not be massive structural changes in higher education, just as there have been massive structural changes in industry and commerce. There is no reason why there should be rigidity in education, because that is certainly not its greatest strength.

The motion also contains the phrase "qualified young people'', although that is of more distinguished origin. One of my tasks at Portsmouth was that of admissions tutor. As such, I dealt with people who were nominally qualified—in other words, they had the minimum entry requirements. However, many of those who presented themselves with minimum entry requirements—I have no reason to doubt that this is also true of every other institution of higher education—were not qualified. It would not be in the best interests of the individuals themselves or Britain's long-term advantage if minimally qualified students were given the impression that great advantage could be gained by obtaining a place in a university or polytechnic.

That is not a prize or reward. Entry to such an institution does not mean that the individual obtains an advantage for the rest of his life. There is very little advantage in attending a university or polytechnic for three years, ending with a third-class honours or pass degree, when a different course might well have led a young person into an area in which he could have excelled. It is, therefore, wrong to assume that people with minimal qualifications would be well advised to attend college.

Another fallacy in the Opposition's arguments—the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) began this train of wrong thought—was that the number of places ought to be related to the number of applicants. That is unreasonable. Even if the number of places equalled the number of applicants, we would still be unable to provide each applicant with a place on the course he wished to attend. For example, if there were a vacancy in ancient Greek and the applicant wished to study engineering, the correct number of places would not be particularly relevant.

It is necessary to decide the nation's real need. What is the need for vocational courses? What is the need of young people, who have an academic excellence, for work in subjects which allow them to make the greatest contributions? That is more important than some sort of numbers game:: there are so many 18-year-olds and they are to be provided with places.

There is room for an increasing number of students to receive education beyond the statutory school leaving age of 16. A few years ago I had the privilege of teaching in the United States public sector of education. My impression of that system was more favourable than that expressed by the hon. Member for Thurrock. I taught in California, where no fewer than four of every five young people of college age were in college institutions. However, they were not all on undergraduate courses, in universities or on full-time courses. Importance was placed on capital equipment, particularly in the college where I taught, and it was used far more intensively than is the case in this country.

The first college course started at 7.30 am. I once talked about parliamentary institutions at 7.30 am—an experience I would not recommend. The second course began in the afternoon, and there was a full evening programme—three inputs of students in the same buildings in the same day. Their laboratories and classrooms were used for 16 hours a day.

There is room for improvement in the use of our facilities. We need to rethink how further and higher education can best meet the country's needs. It is a pity that that has not been the Opposition's theme. One role of the Opposition is to suggest ideas for the future—not the next couple of years, but what ought to be happening after that. The Opposition should be pressing ideas on the Government. We have heard nothing like that today. There has only been carping on one topic—the need for universities to cut their coats according to their cloth. I believe that the Opposition have missed an opportunity for serious debate. I am glad to have had a few minutes to redress the balance.

8.52 pm
Mr. D. E. Thomas (Merioneth)

I do not intend to follow the lecture of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) on what the Opposition should do. As a member of the permanent opposition I intend saying one or two things about the rest of the maintained sector. The only reason we are not dealing with that question tonight is that we do not have the figures. As soon as the negotiations between local education authorities and the Department have been completed and the effects on the maintained sector become clear, the Opposition will want to look at the parallel effects of the cuts promised by the Secretary of State when he spoke to the Select Committee last week. I endorse what the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North said about the qualifications of students entering the polytechnics. However, part of my experience before coming to the House was with adult students who had no formal qualifications. They turned out to be among the best graduates that any university has produced in this kingdom.

The broadening of the base of higher education is a major objective in securing equality of opportunity in the fullest sense of the words. That means extending the pool and creating graduates and qualified people from those previously unqualified. It could be argued that the efficiency of an educational system which does that is greater than the efficiency of a system which provides only for A-level entry.

I intend turning some criticism back at the UGC, which has escaped rather lightly in the debate. That is because it has not always been clear precisely what formulae the UGC was operating under. The Committee received a letter written by Dr. Parkes on 2 November which gave an insight into the factors that the UGC considered before arriving at its distribution of grant. Those factors included demographic trends, qualified school leavers, new entrants to universities, undergraduate and postgraduate student numbers, student attainments and first employment, short courses in continuing education, data on university staff and finance and analyses by universities as appropriate.

In the same submission Dr. Parkes gave a veiled insight into how the UGC operated. We were told that various options were considered, including reducing the number of institutions in receipt of grant, the idea of a tiered system with the top tier liberally funded and staffed for substantial research, with others to be financed principally as teaching organisations, and the application of the same percentage cut to every institution. Those options were considered by the UGC. We were told that they were all eventually rejected in favour of a selective approach to the provision of student places within each subject group.

I am grateful for the contribution of the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney). I hope that what I say will strengthen his resolve. Medicine is no longer protected in the way in which it was in previous rounds of cuts. We were told by Dr. Parkes in his submission to the committee that although the heavy price that had to be paid in terms of studies in other fields affected principally the arts and social studies, it also affected medicine—which it was no longer possible to protect as fully as had been the case on previous occasions when resources for the university system had come under pressure—and some other aspects of science.

Dr. Parkes stressed that in order to protect the numbers in mathematics, computer science, business studies and some aspects of biology, it had been necessary to reduce them, including the formerly protected area of medicine. Now, because of the cost and length of study, six student places in arts and social studies are sacrificed to maintain one medicine place. The equivalent cost of maintaining one science and technology place lies between two and three arts or social studies places. As someone who has had teaching experience in arts and social studies, I am particularly concerned about the net effect of that. In other words a decision is taken on the cost per place in a subject area and because arts and social sciences are relatively cheaper, the cash-led policy has resulted in cuts in those subject places to maintain more expensive places in other disciplines.

Hon. Members have referred to the major problem of the UGC approach. It is a selective approach to the provision of student places in subject groups. The result of that policy option is disastrous in the impact on individual institutions. In our understanding of what the UGC has been doing, it has not been clear to what extent it weighted the results of its analysis for subject places in relation to what that did for particular institutions.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) gave the Aberdeen example. We have also had the Salford evidence. The UGC chairman told us in the Select Committee that some regional factors were taken into account in the context of Scotland and Wales, but in the context of the English regions, such as Salford, no regional factors were taken into account.

If we look at the effect in other subject areas, we can see clearly that the impact on institutions has not been sufficiently carefully assessed by the UGC in its work. It is important to criticise and analyse as far as possible what the UGC has done. Here again I endorse what the Committee chairman, the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) said. We must move towards a far more open system of government in relation to the UGC deliberations as they affect institutions, so that calculations do not have to be made and published by individual academics—for which we are grateful—to try to discover what is the UGC formula. No doubt the Social Science Research Council will soon be funding projects to find out how the UGC takes its decisions.

There must be more openness about the factors in determining allocation and also about the relationship between the Government and the UGC. I make one plea about the UGC. I repeat recommendation 6 of the fifth report of our Committee. We recommended that the lay membership of the UGC should be immediately increased to include representatives from local education authorities so that we could improve liaison. I hope that the Minister is looking at that now in the context of his revised national body.

It should appeal to the Secretary of State to increase representations from both sides of industry. That would lead to a more representative UGC that would be less open to charges of academic bias or the favouring of certain forms of university institutions. Such charges have been made—possibly justifiably—by academics who have been at the mercy of the UGC's cuts.

I shall direct my remarks briefly to the impact of the cuts on forms of teaching, forms of subject and especially forms of courses. The impact of the subject approach has been severe on inter-disciplinary courses. A particular target has been so-called social studies, which is how the UGC describes them. There are about 14 degree courses, especially at the technological and older civic universities, that are labelled behavioural science, social science, social studies and applied sociology. These are all at risk. Five of the six universities that are to suffer most as a result of UGC cuts are within that area of degree courses.

What is the impact of the cuts on sandwich degree courses? There has been much rhetoric from this and previous Governments about the possibility of deferred entry and degree courses in which parts of courses are deferred, or in which practical experience is inserted within the theoretical studies. It is clear that those courses are being affected by the cuts.

There is clearly discrimination against the part-time mode of teaching and learning. I accept that within the statistical analysis the UGC tried to obtain additional information on continuing education.

In the Scottish context I highlight Stirling university's contribution to continuing education, in catering for mature students and in providing part-time degree courses. It is a unique institution in the Scottish education system, which has a broader inter-disciplinary approach when compared with the English and Welsh systems and is, therefore, rather different.

The loss of departments and the effect of the cuts on Stirling will damage the tradition of democratic intellectualism, which is the basis of the Scottish education system. It is a tradition that has contributed substantially to education elsewhere. The notion of a universal and broad education across disciplines, which is basic to the Scottish system, is in danger as a result of the Government's policies.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning Scotland. Does he appreciate the great anger that exists in Scotland about the way in which the Government have approached the introduction of cuts? It is an integral part of our education system and of society that there should be free access to higher education. The Government's actions are sacrificing that principle. The Scottish people are voicing tremendous objection in the knowledge that 3,000 young people next year will not be able to gain access to Scottish universities when they should be able to do so.

Mr. Thomas

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making that intervention. The Heriot-Watt modern language course, and especially the interpreter-translator course, which is clearly invaluable to business, industry and commerce, has been attacked by the UGC as a result of the cuts. There are a number of specialised language courses that embrace both language and social studies that are being attacked particularly hard because of the cuts.

It is essential that we respond to the cuts positively. We must challenge head-on the basic ideology that has been exemplified by that position taken by the Secretary of State. At last the unacceptable face of the education ideology of Joseph-Thatcher has been exhibited. That is helpful because we can counteract it by restoring the ideology of a free and open-access education system. It would restore the notion of an expanded Robbins principle that would seek to bring up the age participation rate, the class participation rate—which is disastrous—the gender participation rate and the participation of ethnic minorities in our education system. The notion of a broad, open system is one that we must restore when the next Labour Government take over from this disastrous Government.

9.5 pm

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

In the few minutes that remain to me before the Opposition Front Bench spokesman replies to the debate, I wish to concentrate on just two points. First, because of their timing—I emphasise that—the Government have impaled themselves on the horns of a dilemma. They want to save money, but, as a result of the timing, they will actually spend more money. Because of security of tenure, which a Conservative Government, not believing in retrospective legislation, would not wish to undo—although it is arguable that there should be different arrangements for new appointments in future—the likely effect of quick redundancy, rather than natural wastage, will be a dissaving because expenditure will exceed the saving.

Secondly, we understand the the UGC, for reasons that I believe are good, wishes to change the emphasis from arts to science placers. That is a supportable proposition in the national interest. But the cost per place in the scientific disciplines is higher. So the second dilemma on which the Government have impaled themselves, because of the time span of two years that they have chosen, is that the savings they require can be made only by changing the balance in the short term away from the expensive scientific disciplines, which have a higher loading of non-tenure employees per undergraduate place, in favour of the arts.

We have those two dilemmas, both of which can be resolved only by extending the period to at least four years. I support both the single horns of the two pairs of dilemmas. I support a change of emphasis from arts subjects—except for languages, in which this country was once so strong but is now so weak—in favour of applied sciences. I also support the Government's financial targets. Because both objectives are incompatible with what the Government are trying to do over two years, I ask my right hon. Friend—who generally recognises evidence when he sees it—to accept that both propositions are indisputable and lead him therefore not to say that he has not seen the evidence that he has seen, but to draw the logical inferences from that evidence—that the time span must be stretched to four years at least.

9.10 pm
Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) because he has, in the best spirit of hon. Members who speak after nine o'clock, taken five minutes of my speech time to make a point that I would otherwise have made in five minutes or even longer. I hope that it will be answered by the Under-Secretary of State because it was a point well worth making.

I begin by reminding the House of the story of the young woman who was invited to dinner with President Calvin Coolidge—"Silent Cal" as he was known to his intimates. She gushed to him at dinner: Mr. Coolidge, I have a $50 bet with my friend that I can make you say more than three words at dinner. He said "You lose."

There is a great deal of difference between Silent Cal and Loquacious Keith, as has been seen in the debate, but the message and the end product is the same—"You lose". That is what the Secretary of State has told the university academics and the non-teaching staff, who are totally bewildered about the redundancies and about what will happen to them. That is what he has told the 20,000 or more students who will be denied the opportunity of a university place in the coming two or three years. That is his message in many areas. In response earlier to the hon. Member for Tiverton that is his reply to the attempt of the House to have a dialogue about many of the unsatisfactory features of the affair.

We have had a few dazzling flashes of the Secretary of State's technicolored dream coat of monetarism. He talked of a world in which universities—rather fewer, one suspects—are radiant centres of civilisation. There was the usual threnody for the decline of industrial Britain and the demise of Samuel Smiles. We have had a hint that fewer means better, even if the right hon. hon. Gentleman will not say—which is the reverse side of the coin—that more means worse. They are the same thing. Before the Select Committee the right hon. Gentleman said twice, in effect, that fewer means better. That is a fundamental difference of principle between the two sides of the House—between the Government and their many embattled critics.

Listening to the Secretary of State I was reminded of a quote from a recent pamphlet lamenting the free market dogmas that have taken over the Conservative Party. It stated: Above all, we swallowed down a great dose of liberal political nonsense which argued through the pamphlets of the IEA and the CPS as liberals have argued since the eighteenth century, that there was no role for Government in the commercial and industrial life of the country, and only the most circumscribed role in social policy. I could not have put it better—and that comes from the Under-Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman is replying to the debate. I feel that he is replying to the Secretary of State rather than to me. We shall wait to hear what he says.

I was also reminded in the debate of something which happened yesterday and which was touched on in the remarkably good speech of the hon. Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee). Many of us yesterday attended the memorial service for Edward Boyle. I wonder what that humane and civilised man, with his luminous intelligence, would have thought of the Government's proposals for the effective destruction of a great deal of higher education. We all remember him with affection. What was said about him should be echoed from this Opposition Front Bench.

The Secretary of State was told by the UGC—and he has apparently also been told in the correspondence that he does not see fit to give to the Select Committee or the House—that resources are being taken out of the system at twice the rate that would avoid diseconomies. The debate has gone beyond the rather ugly word "diseconomy", through disorder, to damage. At last the right hon. Gentleman admits that there will be damage. I believe that it will be significant damage to entire institutions, disciplines, confidence and the whole pursuit of higher education. However, if I understood the right hon. Gentleman aright, he said that it will all be better in the long run. Will it?

For example, let us consider the five points that the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals submitted to the Secretary of State on 9 November. This was its opening shot. The committee wrote to him later, in sorrow and in anger, and my hon. Friend the Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) quoted to telling effect from the second letter. The propositions began with these five. I shall put them once more to the Under-Secretary of State to see whether they have his assent. If we get his assent to some of them, we move significantly forward in seeing the nature of the problem with which the Government have lumbered the universities.

The first statement is that: Present Government policy will reduce opportunities for young people to go to university by about 1 in 7 over the next 2 or 3 years. If that is so, ought we to be presiding over a system that offers such diminution of opportunity?

Secondly: The 15 per cent. funding reduction imposed by the Government must mean the dismissal of substantial numbers of teaching, research and other university staff, beginning in the very near future. From hon. Members in all parts of the House, who represent university cities such as Lancaster or Sheffield or have the interests of university teachers or former university teachers at heart, we have heard that point brought home.

The third point is: This is happening at a time when the demand for university admissions from well-qualified young people and from mature students has never been higher. For example, the demand from qualified 18-year-olds is up by 15 per cent. from that in 1977. Will the Minister confirm that? When the Government took the wrong base line for determining the cuts for the next three years, they underestimated—I suspect deliberately—the degree to which this would mean a fall-off in opportunity thereafter. Are the figures disputed?

I come now to the realm of philosophical and more abstract dispute. The fourth point was: The policy will involve the extinction for a whole generation of opportunities to enter the profession of research and scholarship. That can be asserted not least on the basis that disciplines are being closed, and that in view of the tenure position, which has been stated, and because of the almost complete embargo upon the innovative in some areas—and in many areas upon new entrants into the profession—there will be, for a whole generation, a quantum loss in the kind and quality of the research that can be undertaken by the universities. If that is true, it is a serious charge.

The fifth point has been echoed by almost every speaker in the course of today's debate: If the Government is intent upon reducing the size of the universities in this way, it could achieve its effect far less wastefully by extending the period of the run-down. This would reduce the high cost of compensation to dismissed staff, and would also permit the maintenance of the intake of school leavers during the years when numbers would be at their highest, and thus lessen the burden of social security benefits. No hon. Member has come with a slide rule to consider what the cost in social security benefits would be if one takes account of the redundant staff, teaching and non-teaching, and the 20,000 students who will not get a place. Some of those students may get places at polytechnics, but they will displace others, who will go to the colleges, where they will displace others who will get no formal qualifications but who may get semi-skilled jobs, where they will displace still more into the dole queue, which is where the 20,000 will be. The bill for that will run into £100 million or more, at a conservative estimate. All that should be set against what the Government have been doing.

Over the past year we have seen the degree to which, after a slow process of diminution of the unit of resource—which is not something that has been going on for just the past six or 18 months—there has now been added a net loss in funds to the university sector.

The Secretary of State spoke as though the Labour Party was arguing in an unbounded and profligate way for an infinite expansion of university places for everybody, irrespective of who had to pay. The Labour Party considers the taxpayer who has to pay. The citizen body is the taxpayer and we believe that the public are more prepared to pay for this type of service than the Government have yet realised.

We also believe that the process of destruction that has been continuing since the beginnings of the diminution of the unit of resource for universities has now been greatly accelerated. We are talking not about setting a limit to expansion but whether we can set limits to the process of contraction now undertaken by the Government. That is the point at issue.

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths), who has been a polytechnic lecturer, chided the Labour Party for not taking up the cause of polytechnics. He complained about the motion, but it mentions the whole question of the higher education sector. We should consider—and I would like to hear a few speculations from the Under-Secretary of State—what the figures would be in the public sector.

When speaking before the Select Committee the Secretary of State, when asked about the 20,000 places that would be lost, said that all these people could go to the polytechnics. It is true that this year a great many of them have. There has been a large increase in applications and entrances to polytechnics such as those at Sheffield and Leicester. However, it is impossible to sustain that in terms of the likely block grant fixing and the cuts that will be made in public sector higher education over the coming year.

We have already seen the capping of the pool at the 1979–80 level of £320 million. At the end of 1980, that was reduced to £313 million. We have now seen leaked figures from the expenditure steering group in The Times Higher Education Supplement suggesting that spending on maintained higher education will have to drop from £337 million in 1980–81 to £311 million in the following year, £293 million the next year, and £281 million in 1983–84. That is a reduction over those years—in which we are looking also at the reduction in the university sector—from £337 million to £281 million.

If that is the case, in the public sector, too, lecturer numbers will be coming down. It is estimated that they will come down by about 13 per cent. The staff-student ratio will have to go up from 7.2:1 to 8:1. The non-teaching costs will have to be reduced by 17 per cent., and overall student costs by 9 per cent. From the time that we left office—taking the calculations of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities which are not made in the partisan way that the Labour Party would do them—from 1978–79 through to 1981–82 the figures show a reduction, taking 1978–79 as 100, to 93.7 for the universities in the present academic year, and to 88.4 in the adult further education maintained sector.

The answer to the hon. Member for Portsmouth, North and others who may have wished to raise the question of the public sector, is that the cuts which seem to me to be coming will be worse, if anything, than in the university sector. There is absolutely no excuse and it is dishonest in the extreme to suggest that students displaced in the university will he able——

Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the hon. Member that he should be addressing the House as a whole and not just his hon. Friends behind him.

Mr. Whitehead

I stand corrected, Mr. Speaker. Of course, I would wish to address you in the proper way at all times.

In the exercise which the Government have undertaken, they are cutting first the one and then the other. We have first seen the attack on public sector higher education. Then we have seen the attack on the universities. Now in prospect there is a further attack on the public sector of higher education. The next prospect after that is that we shall have the students' own income cut. It seems to me that that is the area where the Secretary of State will strike next. Here, too, as well as getting some facts about the public sector, we would like to hear what the Under-Secretary of State—who has been discussing these matters with the National Union of Students and others—has to say on the subject.

The main fact that has emerged from the debate today has been that the system as a whole now faces a tremendous increase in what the UGC has called diseconomy, largely because the Government have been unwilling throughout to look at the figures for cuts overall and the savings that are alleged to be made there, and look on the other hand at what will happen as a result of the redundancies that have been brought through.

Yesterday The Guardian, in its editorial entitled "Random carnage on the campus", said that the Education Secretary told the Commons Select Committee on Education that the cuts would cause only minor damage and in a small number of areas; although it was true that proportionately fewer young people would receive a university education, the quality of graduates would probably rise. Sir Keith was talking through his hat. So far from suffering minor damage, the universities are being hammered by three separate body blows, inflicted at the same time, which will wreak havoc in the system, setting back progress in some areas for a generation and utterly upending the Robbins principle … There are already signs that, in the face of such reductions, the universities are retreating into conservatism, scrapping many innovative ideas, especially in applied sciences, in order to preserve the academic core of their disciplines. It is a guessing game they are having to play with the UGC. This cuts the level of grant to the universities but does not presume to tell them exactly what they should get rid of". What should they get rid of?

Every university has made representations. In the major lobby that has been taking place outside the House today, with over 11,000 teaching and non-teaching staff, those Members of Parliament who have bothered to go along have been told the facts, university by university. We have heard in this debate from a number of hon. Members precisely what is involved. From my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) we heard of the position in Aberdeen. The University of Aberdeen will be facing, by the end of this year, a deficit of £2 million, and interest charges which the principal there has warned will be equivalent to two additional lecturers for each month the necessary economies are delayed. But the necessary economies, faced as the university also is with a possible redundancy bill, may drive it into bankruptcy. That is the point that the principal has made. When a university is faced with imminent bankruptcy, it ill behoves the Secretary of State to defer telling the House what he will do in those circumstances.

I take two or three more examples. We have seen at Aston university what has happened with a university that has suffered punitive cuts. I think that it is generally conceded that that is the case with Aston university. Among even the technological universities, it was one of the three or four that suffered most. What is happening there now is that major cuts in staff and courses to achieve the UGC economies have been demanded. These have set the vice-chancellor against his academic body, have divided the staff within the university and have wholly demoralised the institution.

At Bradford a 40 per cent. cut over the next two years in academic staff is now having to be proposed. The university has been told to reduce student numbers by 19 per cent. on the 1979–80 figures. It has been told to phase out a number of subjects. It is very interesting to see what it has had to do. It was told to look at biological sciences, medical science and the social sciences. But one of the courses that is now to be scrapped is the course run by Professor Tom Stonier. He runs a very innovatory course there called "science and society", an attempt to bridge the gap between technology and the rest of us. He recruits people with A-levels right across the arts side divide and he attempts to make them both literate and numerate. He attempts to think the future through with them. I think that his course is renowned throughout the country for what it is attempting to do in terms of not merely the education but the re-education of the students of tomorrow. Professor Stonier is honoured as a prophet in many areas of this country. He now faces the axe at Bradford university.

We have seen a number of other cases of universities where the first redundancy notices are already being served. The vice-chancellor of Brunel university is saying that 53 of the staff will face the sack by Easter. That was the original proposition there.

In the face of all this, I do not believe that the Government can delay bringing forward alternative proposals to combat the problem of redundancy.

I want to take two or three more examples from the cuts made and put them quite specifically to the Under-Secretary. The case of Heriot-Watt university has been mentioned. It has not received a great deal of publicity. It is worth reiterating that here is a university entirely concerned with courses in technology, applied science and business studies, yet it has been singled out for cuts by an Administration who have stressed the importance of universities providing courses that are relevant to the needs of industry and business.

The interpreter-translator course is almost unique. It has links with Eastern Europe and the business community there, and with the Soviet Union as well as the West. In every sense, it is an innovative course. It now faces the axe because of the nature of these cuts. It does not seem to me that that is something that we should be doing.

We heard at the lobby today from Professor Randolph Quirk that—I quote him; these are his words not mine— three or four institutions of London university now face closure. London university was expecting to take a 10 per cent. cut over 10 years. Now it has been told to cope with a 20 per cent. cut over three years. This afternoon Professor Quirk went through a number of cuts in research that will be carried out as a result of that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) mentioned Birkbeck college. I shall not go into the matter again, except to say that time after time the UGC said that it would look after part-time courses and make certain that there would not be a disproportionate cut in that part of our university system. When one considers what has happened to those courses at Birkbeck college, one can have no confidence in what is said on that subject.

I come finally to Bristol university, which is in the constituency of the Under-Secretary who is to reply to the debate. I can make the constituency point for him. The department of education at that university is threatened. The department of Russian, which the UGC told the university to expand, is to be wound up. The department of architecture, which the university was told to combine with Bath university, is to be wound up. I feel most strongly about the department of education, because it has part-time courses for returnees and postgraduate courses for teachers who are being retrained in the skills of physics, natural sciences and mathematics. They should be maintained. Because those courses are technically arts places in the department of education, they can be put into the UGC slot and taken for scrapping. I promised the people at Bristol university that I would ask the Under-Secretary whether he thinks that is the right thing to do. I certainly do not. I hope that he will see from what I have said in this brief survey of the universities that there is much by way of enforced error in the way that universities have been made to react.

This survey of the universities demonstrates to me the urgency of a decision on the nature of redundancies. Like The Guardian, I see a figure which shows a nil saving of money but an absolute saving of skill, talent and accumulated wisdom. I see a decision on the degree of support which the universities will need if the redundancy bill runs as high as £180 million to £250 million postponed at a time when it is urgent and necessary. A single university—for example, Bradford—can have a bill amounting to more than one quarter of the whole sum allocated for universities as a whole in the paltry figure given by the UGC.

Another point was put by the chairman of the Select Committee: what will the Under-Secretary do if the universities go over their targets? They have now reached the stage where, if they scrap their courses in the teeth of their staff and student demands, they may be bankrupted. They may be bankrupted because of their redundancy bill. Or if they keep the courses they could be bankrupted by the punitive measures which may be taken by the Government. I have asked the Under-Secretary twice in questions about this matter, but as yet I have received from him no specific statement about what the Government will do if universities go over the targets for student numbers over the next three years.

Lastly, we need to be told about the proposals for student grants. The press has made three or four different guesses about what the Government will do. Will they axe the minimum grant and save £7 million that way? Will they go over to grants for only two years and the discredited and pernicious loan system for the third year—or even the loan system throughout, as the Secretary of State seems to want? I hope that they will not take any of those steps, and that no such false economy will be undertaken.

I can well understand the embarrassment of the Under-Secretary when he replies. In an interview that he gave to the press a fortnight ago, he said that when he was a civil servant he rather despised junior Ministers. He said that he used to send them to open motorways. Now he has discovered the truth. Junior Ministers are now sent off to close universities. I hope that we shall not hear from the Under-Secretary any more talk, as we did from the Secretary of State, about a system of excellence that will arise from attrition and cuts of the kind that we have experienced. No doubt those at All Souls college, Oxford, are cushioned from talk of such cuts. If the Secretary of State were to walk into All Souls and ask its members what the attack on centres of learning meant, they would think that he was still talking about Thomas Cromwell's attack on the monasteries.

The Secretary of State has already done great damage. The greatest damage of all—which he has reaffirmed today—was inflicted when he said that the Robbins principle was dead. At least, he did not say that it was dead; he said that he was redefining it. Morticians had a phrase that they used when they took relatives in—grieving as they were—to see the heavily-painted corpse. They used to say "He is not dead, but sleeping". The Secretary of State says that Robbins is not dead, but redefined and redesignated. The right hon. Gentleman has left every Department that he has presided over saying "Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa." He has ruined the National Health Service, and he got the Rent Acts wrong when he was the Minister responsible for housing, he got it all wrong at the Department of Industry. I say to him that to say mea maxima culpa is no epitaph for our universities. It is an epitaph for the Government. It should not be an epitaph for our university system.

9.35 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William Waldegrave)

Until the last few minutes, the debate has been relatively calm. During its course I have been asked to do many things. I have been asked to redefine Robbins, to design a strategy for higher education and to settle several matters. Although Conservative Members have a slightly simpler system of collective responsibility than Labour Members, I am not sure that I would carry all my colleagues with me if I were to offer such definitions here and now.

It has been said that the Department's enormous resources should be put to this or that use. I apologise to hon. Members, because no enormous resources are available. I think that in the Department there are nine people of all grades in the division which deals with the universities. That is why I have to do something that I dislike doing—to answer many hon. Members and members of the public by means of stock letters that often do not meet the detailed argument. We are perhaps dealing with the most diligent and highly expert lobby of the many lobbies that exist in Britain. To those who have received replies that are as good as we can make them, but which are still often inadequate, I would say that we have been reading rather than writing.

University autonomy has a long history. As long ago as the Middle Ages blocks of revenue—in terms of land—were given to the universities so that they could be free from immediate pressures. In modern times we have replaced the award of blocks of land by giving a relatively protected share of national revenue to universities. Revenue has been allocated for hundreds of years for the good reason that academic institutions should not, in our traditional view, spend their time scrabbling for resources but should go about the job of academic learning.

That is one reason why universities have experienced such a shock. They are, in terms of their academic staff, democratic institutions. They are not used to such pressure of resources. The House should recognise the special difficulties that they face as a result of the recession's impact which they feel like the rest of the country. Again and again, universities have put good cases. However, they are not helped when those cases are exaggerated.

The hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) knew what The Guardian meant yesterday when it said that home student intake would be cut by 45,000. It did not quite mean Mat. It meant that 45,000 people might have got into universities under previous criteria. That is not quite the same thing—[Interruption.] "Home student intake" means something. By 1983–84, about 20,000 home student places will have been lost. The same leader in The Guardian gave wildly exaggerated estimates—although The Guardian is expert in education matters—about the potential cost of the vice-chancellors' redundancy scheme, which has not been fully assessed. The Times today said that the cost was £180 million. Adding noughts to figures spoils otherwise good arguments.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Dr. McDonald) said that to keep a person unemployed cost £4,000 a year. She knows that an 18 or 19-year-old person on the dole does not get £80 a week. I wish that he did, but he will receive £1,000 a year, if he is lucky, with an allowance for rent.

Mr. Whitehead

The Under-Secretary of State cannot be allowed to get away with making slurs about adding noughts. The cost of redundancies might be £200 million compared with the £20 million which the Government allocated. Is not that a case of the Government taking a nought away?

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman exceeded his allotted time. I surrendered five minutes so that hon. Gentlemen could make extra points. I shall not be able to answer hon. Members if I have a series of interruptions.

All my hon. Friends and most Opposition Members have conducted their arguments carefully and calmly up to now. Most hon. Members accept that university and higher education cannot be wholly exempt from expenditure reductions. The principle of universities is undermined by arguing that they should be defended in terms of economic utility. Of course, there are great elements of economic utility in the system. In this year's allocation the UGC has tackled the appalling problem of trying to protect the most expensive parts of the system. However, universities cannot be wholly exempt from the impact of the world recession on the economy.

The arguments can be put broadly under four heads. Allegations have been made of an attack on technology. We heard little of that canard today, although the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) mentioned it. Since he was the only hon. Gentleman to do so, I hope that the ghost has been laid. Laboratory-based courses are costly. The UGC has tried to switch the emphasis to technology and engineering courses and the physical sciences, even at the cost of cutting expenditure in the broad science area. That has caused great damage in arts subjects. In the most expensive laboratory-based courses one student costs as much as six arts students. That is inevitable. The national consensus is that switching the emphasis is right, but it has a big effect on arts courses.

The second and main criticism has been about the speed involved. To list the hon. Gentlemen who raised that point would waste valuable time. My hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Sir W. van Straubenzee) was the first to mention it and he was typical of many. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) made the same point.

The argument is that we have not offered detailed calculations of the options and that we have not made proper plans. That is not so. My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East was right. Only in the last few weeks has the scale of the problem become clear in hard detail. In a recession one cannot go to people running other valuable social services offered by Government and say "We must have some of your money because we want to postpone unpleasant cuts in our area." It is no good talking in broad generalities. The sums have to be done with the greatest strictness and clarity.

In the company of my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett-Bowman) I visited Lancaster university. I had a useful talk with many people there. I commissioned them to produce some figures. They have done that and I have asked others to do the same. Of course, the Department is doing its best to work on the same figures. I do not mean that it is trying to subvert the UGC, which must carry the main burden. It will also try to work from the same figures, but it is not easy. Of course, all those arguing from the basis of their own universities and their constituencies would wish it to be true that to go slower would save money, but it is not that easy to prove. We shall continue to look at the matter and I hope that we shall receive help from the university system. However, the case is not yet made.

Mr. Christopher Price

I take the Under-Secretary's point that the Department does not yet know the facts. As he says, the position is becoming clear and will be clearer in a few weeks. When the position is clear, will the Under-Secretary come to the Select Committee to tell it about the position and also give it some facts for the first time?

Mr. Waldegrave

As the facts become clearer to my Department they will, of course, become clearer to the House. I do not believe that I must promise to make things clearer to the distinguished Select Committee. The Government must face the problems as they emerge.

Thirdly, the House would not be well served if the Government did not face the fact that some of the cuts mean increased costs to the usual university age group. There will be a fall in the participation rate during the 1980s which will be restored by 1990. On present plans, it will improve by 1991–92. Of course, problems have been caused to the system by the phasing out of generalised subsidised fees for overseas students. The UGC made various assumptions about the impact of overseas students when it gave grants to universities. If those assumptions turn out in individual cases to be false, the UGC will be in close touch with the institutions. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Benyon) made that point about Reading university.

As the distinguished Chairman of the Select Committee knows, the UGC did not believe that under the present round of cuts any university would be forced to close. If that assumption should prove to be false, the UGC will be in close touch with those institutions.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (West Stirlingshire)


Mr. Waldegrave

I shall not give way because there are many points to answer in the debate.

Mr. Canavan


Mr. Speaker

Order. The Under-Secretary has already said that he will not give way.

Mr. Waldegrave

My hon. Friends the Members for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) and Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) said that we lack the capacity in Britain to make rational plans about the higher education system. We have heard much too little today about the other side of the binary line. We are not well served by the concept of the binary line, because I do not believe that there are only two sorts of institutions. There are many sorts of institutions within the higher education sector.

An initiative has been launched—it should have been launched many years ago—with the local authorities to try to set up an institution that can, although not at one stroke, settle the problems of planning across the binary line and deal with the allocation of resources by sovereign local authorities. [HON. MEMBERS: "Sovereign?"] They are sovereign in the expenditure of their own money. We hope that an interim body will be established by early 1982. With the assistance of the local authorities—which so far has been willingly offered—we hope to have an improvement in planning decisions and resources allocation in the area of higher education. I do not wish to raise expectations for that initiative too high. It will improve the decision taking. Opposition Members, apart from producing a quite useful discussion paper on the subject, did nothing while they were in office.

Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends begged for additional time. I hope that I have made it clear that the Government will listen to that argument with sympathy. However, such a decision must be made in terms of hard numbers, not of generalisation. We must spread the resources for which there are so many other priorities. Such a decision cannot be made simply in terms of generalised assumptions. I fear that they are not necessarily true.

Mr. Kinnock

I am obliged to the Minister for giving way as I know his time is limited. The point that I wish to make is important because it affects thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of pounds. I hope that he will answer it. It will not be long before the university councils and senates meet to determine these matters. If any or all of the three bodies that he specified—the universities, the Department and the UGC—can provide specific figures to demonstrate that if they adhere to the time scale the universities will be bankrupted, will he extend the time limit to accomodate them more sensibly?

Mr. Waldegrave

The UGC is willing to discuss with institutions the phasing of cuts within the resources available. If better paths to achieve the same object are available, the UGC will discuss them.

I am glad to say that my hon. Friends again and again defended the autonomy of the UGC. That autonomy is central to the strength of the British university system. I know that many Opposition Members agree with that view. It behoves hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Derby, North—[Interruption.] The UGC is responsible for the allocation of grants to Scottish universities and is well aware of the special problems that they face, especially the regional role of Strathclyde and Glasgow. The Scottish universities have come off slightly better than others when considered from a sensible point of view. [Interruption.] Opposition Members are not considering the matter sensibly. The system is integrated.

The defence of the UGC is central to the future of the British university system. The hon. Member for Merioneth (Mr. Thomas) said, almost contemptuously, that the chairman of the UGC is simply another civil servant. Technically, he is a second permanent secretary in the Department. However, he is rather more than that. He is the head of a body that, throughout this traumatic experience, has maintained the support of the greatest part of the academic community. That is a tribute both to him and to his work. He has answered the request of the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price) for further details about the work and the decision—taking within the UGC. He sent him a long and detailed letter. He will never be able to provide, as one hon. Member requested, weighted formulae for the allocation of university grants. He and his committee have done something that is all too rare in Britain—taken a selective view. They have not given in to the volume of appeal from the lobbies. They have tried to look at the system on its merits and have tried to design a university system which, within the reduced resources, will be, as strong as possible.

Mr. Canavan


Mr. Waldegrave

We owe a great debt of gratitude not only to the chairman but to those who over the past 18 months have put many thousands of hours into trying to minimise the impact of the smaller resources on the system. It behoves those such as the hon. Member for Derby, North in relation to articles in The Guardian——

Mr. Canavan


Mr. Speaker

Order. I think that the Minister is not giving way but s trying to conclude his speech.

Mr. Waldegrave

In calling for a different mix of courses, it behoves the Opposition to tell us whether they intend to do the work of the UGC. When the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) says "we", I suppose that he refers to the unlikely event of a future Labour Government who would take a different view of scientific courses. Will he and the civil servants be doing that work? The implications must be sorted out. Is it the policy of the remains of the Labour Party to do away with the academic autonomy of the UGC?

It is also fair lo press the opposition parties—of which there are now several, although not many are represented here—as to their policy on restoration. If Social Democratic Party policy is to follow the lines laid down in Shirley Williams' famous 13 points, radical things indeed are in store for the university system. Certainly those 13 points would make a far tougher agenda than we have imposed, as they include loans, disposal of assets and all sorts of other things.

I call the attention of the lobbyists to the fact that, with the exception of the hon. Member for Hillsborough, the Opposition have taken great care to explain that they do not intend to restore the cuts. They went out of their way to make that clear in The Guardian in an article which appeared on 27 October. It is quite a job to go round all the various Opposition spokesmen, as there are now so many of them, but nobody was prepared openly to say that the cuts would be restored. When the question was put to the hon. Member for Bedwellty, he broke into Welsh and said that it would be an offence against truth and reason—which is the Welsh for "No".

Mr. D. E. Thomas


Mr. Waldegrave

The odium falls upon the Government of having to do under the impact of the recession things which would have been far better done when the age group was already falling. That luxury is not available to us. The impact of constraints in resources does not give us that option.

Mr. Kinnock

In his short sojourn as a Minister, the hon. Gentleman is becoming an expert on offences against truth and reason. I was asked by The Guardian whether I would give an undertaking for immediate full restoration of the cuts. I said that it would be an offence against truth and reason for me to do so. We are committed to expansion and change in higher education——

Mr. Waldegrave


Mr. Kinnock

—no, I shall not give way—a policy which is not only welcome but will be a relief to the beleaguered higher education sector.

Mr. Waldegrave

The hon. Gentleman, once again, seeks to square the circle. He will restore the cuts without it costing any money. Like the leaders of the SDP or the competitors at a children's party, all the priorities come equal first. There is no need to choose. They just say that it will not cost anything. The hon. Gentleman was honest enough to say that it is an offence against truth and reason to state immediately how he intends to do that, but completely spoiled a burst of candour unusual in any opposition party by saying that he will be able to do the whole thing without cost. In saying that and by lowering the debate in that way he has fallen below the standards that he normally sets himself.

My hon. Friends need have no hesitation in declaring that the Opposition motion is in itself an offence against truth and reason——

Mr. Walter Harrison (Wakefield)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 240, Noes 284.

Division No. 6] [10 pm
Abse, Leo Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (L'lli)
Adams, Allen Davies, Ifor (Gower)
Allaun, Frank Davis, T. (B'ham, Stechf'd)
Alton, David Deakins, Eric
Anderson, Donald Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Dempsey, James
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Dewar, Donald
Ashton, Joe Dixon, Donald
Atkinson, N. (H'gey,) Dobson, Frank
Bagier, Gordon A.T. Dormand, Jack
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Douglas, Dick
Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (H'wd) Douglas-Mann, Bruce
Beith, A. J. Dubs, Alfred
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Duffy, A. E. P.
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp'tN) Dunwoody, Hon. Mrs. G.
Bidwell, Sydney Eadie, Alex
Booth, Rt Hon Albert Eastham, Ken
Boothroyd, Miss Betty Edwards, R. (W'hampt'n SE)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon A. (M'b'ro) Ellis, R. (NE D'bysh're)
Bradley, Tom Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)
Bray, Dr Jeremy English, Michael
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Ennals, Rt Hon David
Brown, R. C. (N'castle W) Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)
Brown, Ronald W. (H'ckn'y S) Ewing, Harry
Brown, Ron (E'burgh, Leith) Faulds, Andrew
Buchan, Norman Field, Frank
Callaghan, Jim(Midd't'n &P) Fitch, Alan
Campbell, Ian Flannery, Martin
Campbell-Savours, Dale Fletcher, L.R.(Ilkeston)
Canavan, Dennis Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Cant, R. B. Ford, Ben
Carmichael, Neil Forrester, John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Foulkes, George
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (B'stol S) Fraser, J. (Lamb'th, N'w'd)
Cohen, Stanley Freeson, Rt Hon Reginald
Coleman, Donald Freud, Clement
Concannon, Rt Hon J. D. Garrett, John (Norwich S)
Conlan, Bernard Garrett, W. E. (Wallsend)
Cook, Robin F. George, Bruce
Cowans, Harry Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, M'hill) Ginsburg, David
Crawshaw, Richard Golding, John
Crowther, Stan Grant, George (Morpeth)
Cryer, Bob Grant, John (Islington C)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hamilton, James (Botherwell)
Cunningham, G. (Islington S) Hamilton, W. W. (C'tral Fife)
Cunningham, Dr J. (W'h'n) Harrison, Rt Hon Walter
Dalyell, Tam Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Davidson, Arthur Hogg, N. (E Dunb't'nshire)
Holland, S. (L'b'th, Vauxh'll) Pavitt, Laurie
HomeRobertson, John Pendry, Tom
Homewood, William Penhaligon, David
Hooley, Frank Pitt, William Henry
Howells, Geraint Powell, Rt. Hon. J.E. (S Down)
Hoyle, Douglas Powell, Raymond (Ogmore)
Huckfield, Les Prescott, John
Hughes, Mark (Durham) Price, C. (Lewisham W)
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Race, Reg
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Radice, Giles
Janner, Hon Greville Rees, Rt Hon M (Leeds S)
Jay, Rt Hon Douglas Richardson, Jo
John, Brynmor Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Johnson, James (Hull West) Roberts, Ernest (Hackney N)
Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Robinson, G. (Coventry NW)
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Rodgers, Rt. Hon. William
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Rooker, J. W.
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Kerr, Russell Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Kilfedder, James A. Rowlands, Ted
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Ryman, John
Kinnock, Neil Sandelson, Neville
Lambie, David Sheldon, Rt Hon R.
Lamborn, Harry Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Lamond, James Short, Mrs Renée
Leighton, Ronald Silkin, Rt. Hon.J. (Deptford)
Lestor, Miss Joan Silverman, Julius
Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Skinner, Dennis
Litherland, Robert Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Smith, Rt Hon J. (N Lanark)
Lyon, Alexander (York) Snape, Peter
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson Soley, Clive
McCartney, Hugh Spearing, Nigel
McDonald, Dr Oonagh Spriggs, Leslie
McElhone, Frank Steel, Rt Hon David
McKay, Allen (Penistone) Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
McKelvey, William Stoddart, David
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Strang, Gavin
Maclennan, Robert Straw, Jack
McMahon, Andrew Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley
McNally, Thomas Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)
McNamara, Kevin Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
McTaggart, Robert Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
McWilliam, John Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Magee, Bryan Thomas, Dr R.(Carmarthen)
Marks, Kenneth Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
Marshall, D (G'gow S'ton) Tilley, John
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Tinn, James
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Torney, Tom
Martin, M(G'gow S'burn) Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
Mason, Rt Hon Roy Watkins, David
Maxton, John Weetch, Ken
Maynard, Miss Joan Wellbeloved, James
Meacher, Michael Welsh, Michael
Mellish, Rt Hon Robert White, J. (G'gow Pollok)
Mikardo, Ian Whitehead, Phillip
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Whitlock, William
Mitchell, Austin (Grimsby) Wigley, Dafydd
Mitchell, R.C. (Soton Itchen) Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Williams, Rt Hon A. (S'sea W)
Morris, Rt Hon C. (O'shaw) Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Morris, Rt Hon J.(Aberavon) Wilson, Rt Hon Sir H.(H'ton)
Moyle, Rt Hon Roland Wilson, William (C'try SE)
Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick Winnick, David
Newens, Stanley Woodall, Alec
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Woolmer, Kenneth
Ogden, Eric Wrigglesworth, Ian
O'Neill, Martin Young, David (Bolton E)
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Park, George Tellers for the Ayes:
Parker, John Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. George Morton
Parry, Robert
Adley, Robert Ancram, Michael
Aitken, Jonathan Arnold, Tom
Alexander, Richard Aspinwall, Jack
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Atkins, Robert (Preston N)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Atkinson, David (B'm'th E)
Baker, Kenneth (St.M'bone) Fry, Peter
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Gardiner, George (Reigate)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Gardner, Edward (S Fylde)
Bell, Sir Ronald Garel-Jones, Tristan
Bendall, Vivian Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Benyon, Thomas (A'don) Glyn, Dr Alan
Benyon, W. (Buckingham) Goodhart, Sir Philip
Best, Keith Goodhew, Victor
Bevan, David Gilroy Goodlad, Alastair
Biffen, Rt Hon John Gorst, John
Blackburn, John Gower, Sir Raymond
Blaker, Peter Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)
Body, Richard Gray, Hamish
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Griffiths, E. (B'y St.Edm'ds)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N)
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Grist, Ian
Bowden, Andrew Gummer, John Selwyn
Braine, Sir Bernard Hamilton, Hon A.
Bright, Graham Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)
Brinton, Tim Hampson, Dr Keith
Brittan, Rt. Hon. Leon Hastings, Stephen
Brooke, Hon Peter Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Brotherton, Michael Hawksley, Warren
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Sc'n) Hayhoe, Barney
Browne, John (Winchester) Heddle, John
Bruce-Gardyne, John Henderson, Barry
Bryan, Sir Paul Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Buchanan-Smith, Rt.Hon.A. Hicks, Robert
Buck, Antony Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Budgen, Nick Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Bulmer, Esmond Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Burden, Sir Frederick Hooson, Tom
Butcher, John Hordern, Peter
Butler, Hon Adam Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Cadbury, Jocelyn Howell, Rt Hon D. (G'ldf'd)
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Hunt, David (Wirral)
Carlisle, Kenneth(Lincoln) Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n) Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Jessel, Toby
Chapman, Sydney Johnson Smith, Geoffrey
Churchill, W.S. Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Kaberry, Sir Donald
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine
Clegg, Sir Walter Kershaw, Sir Anthony
Cockeram, Eric Kimball, Sir Marcus
Colvin, Michael King, Rt Hon Tom
Cope, John Kitson, Sir Timothy
Corrie, John Knight, Mrs Jill
Costain, Sir Albert Knox, David
Cranborne, Viscount Lamont, Norman
Crouch, David Lang, Ian
Dean, Paul(North Somerset) Latham, Michael
Dickens, Geoffrey Lawrence, Ivan
Dorrell, Stephen Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Dover, Denshore Lee, John
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Durant, Tony Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Dykes, Hugh Lloyd, Peler (Fareham)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) Loveridge, John
Eggar, Tim Lyell, Nicholas
Elliott, Sir William MacGregor, John
Emery, Peter MacKay, John (Argyll)
Eyre, Reginald Macmillan, Rt Hon M.
Fairbairn, Nicholas McNair-Wilson, M. (N'bury)
Faith, MrsSheila McNair-Wilson, P. (NewF'st)
Farr, John Madel, David
Fell, Anthony Major, John
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Marland, Paul
Finsberg, Geoffrey Marlow, Antony
Fisher, Sir Nigel Marshall, Michael(Arundel)
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N) Marten, Rt Hon Neil
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles Mates, Michael
Fookes, Miss Janet Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Mawby, Ray
Fox, Marcus Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh Mayhew, Patrick
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Mellor, David
Meyer, Sir Anthony Smith, Dudley
Miller, Hal(B'grove) Speed, Keith
Mills, Iain (Meriden) Speller, Tony
Mills, Peter (West Devon) Spence, John
Miscampbell, Norman Spicer, Jim (West Dorset)
Moate, Roger Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Monro, Sir Hector Sproat, Iain
Montgomery, Fergus Squire, Robin
Moore, John Stainton, Keith
Morgan, Geraint Stanbrook, Ivor
Morris, M. (N'hampton S) Stanley, John
Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes) Steen, Anthony
Morrison, Hon P. (Chester) Stevens, Martin
Mudd, David Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Myles, David Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Neale, Gerrard Stokes, John
Nelson, Anthony Stradling Thomas, J.
Neubert, Michael Tapsell, Peter
Newton, Tony Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Normanton, Tom Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Nott, Rt Hon John Temple-Morris, Peter
Onslow, Cranley Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Page, John (Harrow, West) Thompson, Donald
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Townend, John (Bridlington)
Parris, Matthew Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Patten, John (Oxford) Trippier, David
Pattie, Geoffrey Trotter, Neville
Pawsey, James van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Percival, Sir Ian Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Pink, R.Bonner Viggers, Peter
Pollock, Alexander Waddington, David
Prentice, Rt Hon Reig Wakeham, John
Price, Sir David (Eastleigh) Waldegrave, Hon William
Proctor, K. Harvey Walker, B. (Perth)
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Raison, Timothy Wall, Sir Patrick
Rathbone, Tim Walters, Dennis
Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal) Ward, John
Rees-Davies, W. R. Warren, Kenneth
Renton, Tim Watson, John
Rhodes James, Robert Wells, John (Maidstone)
Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Wells, Bowen
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Wheeler, John
Rifkind, Malcolm Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW) Whitney, Raymond
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Wickenden, Keith
Rossi, Hugh Wiggin, Jerry
Royle, Sir Anthony Wilkinson, John
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Williams, D. (Montgomery)
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Winterton, Nicholas
Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Wolfson, Mark
Shelton, William (Streatham) Young, Sir George(Acton)
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Younger, Rt Hon George
Shepherd, Richard
Silvester, Fred Tellers for the Noes:
Sims, Roger Mr. Anthony Berry and Mr. Carol Mather.
Skeet, T. H. H

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 32(Questions on Amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 273, Noes 21.

Division No. 7] [10.13 pm
Adley, Robert Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset)
Aitken, Jonathan Beaumont-Dark, Anthony
Alexander, Richard Bendail, Vivian
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Benyon, Thomas (A'don)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Benyon, W. (Buckingham)
Ancram, Michael Best, Keith
Arnold, Tom Bevan, David Gilroy
Aspinwall, Jack Biffen, Rt Hon John
Atkins, Robert (Preston N) Blackburn, John
Atkinson, David(B'm'th, E) Blaker, Peter
Baker, Kenneth (St.M'bone) Body, Richard
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Grist, Ian
Boscawen, Hon Robert Gummer, John Selwyn
Bottomley, Peter (W'wich W) Hamilton, Hon A.
Bowden, Andrew Hamilton, Michael ('Salisbury)
Braine, Sir Bernard Hampson, Dr Keith
Bright, Graham Hastings, Stephen
Brinton, Tim Havers, Rt Hon Sir Michael
Brittan, Rt. Hon. Leon Hawksley, Warren
Brooke, Hon Peter Heddle, John
Brotherton, Michael Henderson, Barry
Brown, Michael(Brigg&Sc'n) Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Browne, John (Winchester) Hicks, Robert
Bruce-Gardyne, John Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Bryan, Sir Paul Hogg, Hon Douglas(Gr'th'm)
Buchanan-Smith, Rt. Hon. A. Holland, Philip (Carlton)
Buck, Antony Hooson, Tom
Budgen, Nick Hordern, Peter
Bulmer, Esmond Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Burden, Sir Frederick Howell, Rt Hon D.(G'ldf'd)
Butcher, John Hunt, David (Wirral)
Butler, Hon Adam Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Cadbury, Jocelyn Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)
Carlisle, John (Luton West) Jenkin, Rt Hon Patrick
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Jessel, Toby
Carlisle, Rt Hon M. (R'c'n) Johnson Smith, Geoffrey
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Channon, Rt. Hon. Paul Joseph, Rt Hon Sir Keith
Chapman, Sydney Kershaw, Sir Anthony
Churchill, W.S. King, Rt Hon Tom
Clark, Hon A. (Plym'th, S'n) Kitson, Sir Timothy
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Knight, Mrs Jill
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Knox, David
Clegg, Sir Walter Lamont, Norman
Cockeram, Eric Lang, Ian
Colvin, Michael Latham, Michael
Cope, John Lawrence, Ivan
Corrie, John Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Costain, Sir Albert Lee, John
Cranborne, Viscount Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Crouch, David Lester, Jim (Beeston)
Dean, Paul (North Somerset) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Dickens, Geoffrey Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Dorrell, Stephen Loveridge, John
Dover, Denshore Lyell, Nicholas
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward MacGregor, John
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) MacKay, John (Argyll)
Durant, Tony Macmillan, Rt Hon M.
Dykes, Hugh McNair-Wilson, M.(N'bury)
Edwards, Rt Hon N. (P'broke) McNair-Wilson, P. (New F'st)
Eggar, Tim Madel, David
Elliott, Sir William Major, John
Emery, Peter Marland, Paul
Eyre, Reginald Marlow, Antony
Fairbairn, Nicholas Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Faith, Mrs Sheila Marten, Rt Hon Neil
Farr, John Mates, Michael
Fenner, Mrs Peggy Maude, Rt Hon Sir Angus
Finsberg, Geoffrey Mawby, Ray
Fisher, Sir Nigel Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Fletcher, A. (Ed'nb'gh N) Mayhew, Patrick
Fletcher-Cooke, Sir Charles Mellor, David
Fookes, Miss Janet Meyer, Sir Anthony
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Fox, Marcus Millss, Iain (Meriden)
Fraser, Rt Hon Sir Hugh Mills, Peter (West Devon)
Fraser, Peter (South Angus) Moate, Roger
Gardiner, George (Reigate) Monro, Sir Hector
Gardner, Edward (S Fylde) Montgomery, Fergus
GareWones, Tristan Moore, John
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian Morgan, Geraint
Glyn, Dr Alan Morris, M. (N'hampton S)
Goodhart, Sir Philip Morrison, Hon C. (Devizes)
Goodhew, Victor Morrison, Hon P. (Chester)
Goodlad, Alastair Mudd, David
Gorst, John Myles, David
Gower, Sir Raymond Neale, Gerrard
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Nelson, Anthony
Gray, Hamish Neubert, Michael
Griffiths, E.(B'y St. Edm'ds) Newton, Tony
Griffiths, PeterPortsm'th N) Normanton, Tom
Nott, Rt Hon John Steen, Anthony
Onslow, Cranley Stevens, Martin
Oppenheim, Rt Hon Mrs S. Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Page, John (Harrow, West) Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire)
Page, Richard (SW Herts) Stokes, John
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Stradling Thomas, J.
Parris, Matthew Tapsell, Peter
Patten.John (Oxford) Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Pattie, Geoffrey Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Pawsey, James Temple-Morris, Peter
Percival, Sir Ian Thatcher, Rt Hon Mrs M.
Pink, R.Bonner Thomas, Rt Hon Peter
Pollock, Alexander Thompson, Donald
Prentice, Rt Hon Reg Thorne, Neil (Ilford South)
Price, Sir David (Eastleigh) Townend John (Bridlington)
Proctor, K. Harvey Townsend, Cyril D, (B'heath)
Pym, Rt Hon Francis Trippier, David
Raison, Timothy Trotter, Neville
Rathbone, Tim van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Rees, Peter (Dover and Deal) Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Renton, Tim Viggers, Peter
Rhodes James, Robert Waddington, David
Ridley, Hon Nicholas Wakeham, John
Rifkind, Malcolm Waldegrave, Hon William
Roberts, M. (Cardiff NW) Walker, B. (Perth)
Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Rossi, Hugh Walters, Dennis
Royle, Sir Anthony Ward, John
Sainsbury, Hon Timothy Warren, Kenneth
Shaw, Giles (Pudsey) Watson, John
Shaw, Michael (Scarborough) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Shelton, William(Streatham) Wells, Bowen
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wheeler, John
Shepherd, Richard Whitelaw, Rt Hon William
Silvester, Fred Whitney, Raymond
Sims, Roger Wickenden, Keith
Skeet, T. H. H. Wiggin, Jerry
Smith, Dudley Wilkinson, John
Speed, Keith Williams, D. (Montgomery)
Speller, Tony Winterton, Nicholas
Spicer, Jim (West Dorset) Wolfson, Mark
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Sproat, Iain Younger, Rt Hon George
Squire, Robin
Stainton, Keith Tellers for the Ayes:
Stanbrook, Ivor Mr. Anthony Beny and Mr. Carol Mather.
Stanley, John
Beith, A. J. Rodgers, Rt Hon William
Crawshaw, Richard Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham) Sandelson, Neville
Freud, Clement Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Grant, John (Islington C) Steel, Rt Hon David
Howells, Geraint Stewart, Rt Hon D. (W Isles)
Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Thomas, Mike (Newcastle E)
Kilfedder, JamesA. Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Mabon, Rt Hon Dr J. Dickson
Maclennan, Robert Tellers for the Noes:
McNally, Thomas Mr. David Penhaligon and Mr. David Alton.
Mitchell, R.C. (Soton Itchen)
Pitt, William Henry

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House regretfully accepts that all sectors of higher education, after a long period of sustained expansion, should contribute to the restraint in the rate of increase in public spending and welcomes the Government's commitment to ensure the effective control of the resources devoted to higher education as a whole, to maintain the highest possible standards and to adjustments of the university system in favour of science and engineering.

Mr. Cyril Smith (Rochdale)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During the last Division many official Opposition Members went into the "No" Lobby and were ordered out by the Opposition Chief and Deputy Chief Whips. One hon. Member had passed the Clerk and his vote had been recorded, although he had not passed the Tellers. The Deputy Chief Whip ordered the Clerk to strike out the hon. Member's name. When challenged by myself and one of my hon. Friends, he called the hon. Member back so that he himself could instruct the Clerk to strike out his name.

I wish simply to ask whether it is in order for one right hon. or hon. Member to order the Clerk to strike out the vote of another hon. Member.

Mr. Speaker

Order. What goes on in the Lobbies never ceases to astonish me. The hon. Gentleman has produced a new example, but the hon. Gentleman whom he mentions had not passed the Tellers and, therefore, his vote had not been counted. Every right hon. and hon. Member is free to change his mind if he has so been convinced. I expect that the hon. Gentleman had given further thought to the matter.

Mr. Smith

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point is not that the hon. Member asked for his vote to be struck out but that the Opposition Deputy Chief Whip instructed that his vote should be crossed out.

Mr. Harrison

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I report a correct interpretation of the incident? The hon. Members for Rochdale (Mr. Smith) and for Isle of Ely (Mr. Freud) were excited. Their numbers were so low that they would have recruited anyone. The doors were not open. I had to advise my right hon. and hon. Friends, so I did.

When the hon. Member for Rochdale was the Liberal Chief Whip, he had such little work to do that he had time to try to recruit anyone, and he is still trying to do so.

On many occasions my right hon. and hon. Friends seek my advice. The hon. Gentleman believed that he could recruit another hon. Member to the alliance, but it did not happen. I gave proper advice to my hon. Friend. We were not voting. I consider that I have that privilege. I am the Deputy Chief Whip. As yet, the hon. Member for Rochdale is not the Chief Whip or the Deputy Chief Whip of those whom I control.

Mr. Clement Freud (Isle of Ely)

Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. It was your ruling that any hon. Member has the right to change his mind. Would it be equally your ruling that any hon. Member can have his mind altered by the Deputy Chief Whip? That is what happened in the Division Lobby.

Mr. Speaker

If that happened, it would not be the first time.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

Is it possible that some parties are so small that they do not have a Deputy Chief Whip?

Mr. Speaker

I think that we had better move on to the order dealing with terms and conditions of employment.

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