HC Deb 15 May 1984 vol 60 cc136-8
4. Mr. Dixon

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he will next meet the vice-chancellor of the Open University to discuss its resources.

15. Mr. Eadie

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when he will next meet the vice-chancellor of the Open University to discuss its resources.

Mr. Brooke

My right hon. Friend has no plans to meet the vice-chancellor in the near future.

Mr. Dixon

Will the Minister bear in mind that the grant to the Open University has been reduced in real terms since 1980 by over £2 million and that during the same period the number of students has increased by 6,000? The amount spent per student has been cut from £924 in 1980 to £824 in 1984. In the light of the proposed cuts over the next two years, will the hon. Gentleman meet the vice-chancellor to explain why the Government are financially strangling this worthwhile institution?

Mr. Brooke

The cuts to which the hon. Gentleman has referred are in line with cuts which have occurred in other parts of the higher education system. I am hoping to see the vice-chancellor shortly.

Mr. Haselhurst

Is my hon. Friend aware of the new courses of a specialist nature that are being developed by the Open University? Does he agree that wider knowledge of their availability might assist to boost the resources of the Open University?

Mr. Brooke

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. There are enterprising opportunities for the Open University to follow, and I salute the enterprise that it has already shown.

Mr. Eadie

Is the Minister aware that the Government will stand accused of undermining the best adult education experiment in the post-war world if they starve the Open University of the necessary financial resources? Is he further aware that Members' postbags reveal the overwhelming support of the British people for the Open University?

Mr. Brooke

One would not think from these supplementary questions that the Government are effectively providing £60 million of public money to support the Open University. My right hon. Friend has asked the Open University visiting committee to play a part in identifying and appraising the options available to the university through discussion with the university and the Department, and to advise him on its plan of action. I hope to contribute to the discussion.

Mr. Madel

Will my hon. Friend encourage the Home Department to ascertain what more it can do to fund prison education through the Open University? Will he also encourage co-operation between industry and the Open University, to ascertain what initiatives could be taken to improve the training and education that many employees will need?

Mr. Brooke

I have always found the Open University enterprising in seeking new opportunities. I shall draw my hon. Friend's remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.

Mr. Carter-Jones

Is the Minister aware that the cuts in finance for the Open University have had an adverse effect on the education of the disabled, who depend substantially on the Open University for their degrees? Will he give some thought to providing additional funds for the scheme set up by MENCAP and the Open University to provide training courses for the mentally handicapped?

Mr. Brooke

As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Open University has provision to assist the unemployed. If he wishes to make submissions on behalf of the disabled, I hope that he will write to me.

Mr. Forman

I recognise that it is unrealistic to expect the Open University to be exempt from public expenditure cuts and control, but does my hon. Friend accept that the target for 1986 is too tight, and will he give sympathetic consideration to that aspect?

Mr. Brooke

It would be premature for me to respond to my hon. Friend's question until the Open University visiting committee has had the discussion to which I referred earlier.

Mr. Sheerman

Will the Minister confirm that his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has never visited the Open University? Will he encourage him to do so and to examine an institution which many believe could produce more courses, take on more students, do more to increase Britain's competitiveness and provide training courses for those who are between jobs or out of work? Is he aware that 51 per cent. of Open University students are taking courses in technological and science subjects and that they will be able to make a tremendous contribution to Britain's future? Will he start to regard higher education as an investment in people and the future, not as an area for cuts?

Mr. Brooke

My right hon. Friend does not see a clear opportunity to visit the Open University. He has told the vice-chancellor of the Open University that he will bear the invitation in mind. As to the cuts, let me pay tribute again to the contribution that the Open University is already making in continuing education in both its broad and narrow meaning.

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