HC Deb 06 March 1984 vol 55 cc723-4
8. Mr. Fatchett

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he expects to receive a further report from the University Grants Committee on the effects of grant reductions for the period 1981 to 1984.

Mr. Brooke

In the summer.

Mr. Fatchett

When the Minister receives the report, surely it will disclose the most unprecedented attack upon university education—the loss of 2,300 academic posts since 1980, and a reduction in 1983 of 5,000 admissions to our universities. Is this not the first Government in history who have deliberately, as an act of policy, cut opportunities for young people to enjoy university education?

Mr. Brooke

Despite the increase in the size of the 18-year-old population, there should be places somewhere in higher education for all qualified young people——

Mr. Maxton

Should be, but there are not.

Mr. Brooke

Should be, and are, for all qualified young people who wish to enter. In 1983 there were about 50,000 more full-time home students in higher education than there were in 1979, and the age participation rate reached 13.4 per cent.

Mr. Madel

Given the pressure for university places, cannot a case be made for much closer co-operation on funding between the University Grants Committee, the national advisory board and industrial firms, so that those who wish to partake of higher education have as much opportunity as possible to do so?

Mr. Brooke

The Government welcome the industrial sponsorship of students reading appropriate subjects, and also welcome resources from private funding which, as it is free money, enables the universities to start new initiatives.

Mr. Freud

Will the Minister explain why the figures that he quoted in his letter to The Guardian bore so little relationship to his answers to me in a parliamentary reply? When the UGC figures are published, will the Minister place that report in the Library? If not, will he stay behind after Question Time and vote for the ten-minute Bill introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Steel)?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman has asked me two questions. The first refers to my answer to The Guardian. It was Lord Flowers who drew attention to the error in my answer. The rector of Imperial college is one of my constituents. We enjoy frequent tutorials, but this one was rather more public than usual. In response to the hon. Gentleman's second question, I refer him to the reply to his written question which I shall give him later today.

Sir Dudley Smith

Is my hon. Friend aware that many people believe that the grants of those who demonstrated so offensively recently at Warwick and Essex universities should be cut or ended?

Mr. Brooke

The discipline maintained at the universities is a matter for them.

Mr. Nellist

Is the Minister aware that if any actions at Warwick university were so demonstrably terrible legal action could have been taken against the individuals concerned? Is he further aware that even the £30,000 fine that the university chancellor imposed on the students union has now been withdrawn? Is that not the real situation rather than that portrayed by the hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith)?

Mr. Brooke

The hon. Gentleman has asked a largely academic question, as I have already acknowledged that the issue is for the university to settle.

Mr. Dorrell

Will my hon. Friend encourage the UGC to monitor the impact of its policies on adult education and the number of places available for mature students? Does my hon. Friend agree that changing patterns of employment mean that adult education will become more important in the coming decades, and that resources must be made available at least to maintain the number of places available for mature students?

Mr. Brooke

Continuing education and places for mature students are very much part of the review taking place this year.

Mr. Home Robertson

Has the Minister seen the strong representations made throughout Scotland against the proposed withdrawal of funding by the UGC from the pharmacy department at Heriot-Watt university? Given the rather bizarre circumstances whereby his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is still responsible for Scottish universities, what guarantee can the hon. Gentleman give that those representations will be given due weight?

Mr. Brooke

I think the hon. Gentleman will find that question No. 17 relates to that.

Mr. Home Robertson

We shall never get there.

Mr. Radice

I am not sure that the Minister gave a very good answer to that supplementary question. The hon. Gentleman has had the grace to admit that he made an error. However, will he confirm that although he claimed in The Guardian that funding for universities between 1980–81 and 1983–84 was roughly stable, the truth is that there was a cut of nearly 9 per cent. That is the truth and that is what he should have told the readers of The Guardian and the public when he wrote his letter.

Mr. Brooke

I seek to reassure the hon. Member by telling him that I have written to The Guardian achnowledging the error. I agree with his figures and I apologise for the error. Committing an error in The Guardian is not yet a capital offence.