HC Deb 21 May 1985 vol 79 cc857-73 3.30 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Sir Keith Joseph)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the Green Paper published today on the future development of higher education. Copies of the Green Paper are available in the Vote Office $[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. May I ask those hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber to do so quietly?

Sir Keith Joseph

Copies of the Green Paper are available in the Vote Office. It covers the United Kingdom as a whole and, therefore, I am speaking with the agreement of my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. I see my colleagues from those Departments on the Government Front Bench.

The purposes of the Green Paper are to present the Government's thinking on future development of higher education, to set the scene for the next decade, and to invite the views of those involved in higher education and of the taxpayers and ratepayers who finance so much of the cost.

The paper has been prepared in the light of advice on future strategy from the University Grants Committee and from the National Advisory Body for Public Sector Higher Education in England, published last September. In Scotland, a review of strategy and of planning and funding arrangements for higher education is being undertaken by the Scottish Tertiary Education Advisory Council. The application in Scotland of the policies addressed in the paper will be considered in the light of the council's advice, which will be available later this year.

As well as reaffirming the view of the aims and purposes of higher education defined in the Robbins report in 1963, the Government believe that it is vital for our higher education to contribute more effectively to the improvement of the performance of the economy. This is not because the Government place a low value on the general cultural benefits of education and research or on study of the humanities. The reason is simply that, unless the country's economic performance improves, we shall be even less able than now to afford many of the things we value most, including education for pleasure and general culture and the financing of scholarship and research as an end in itself. The Green Paper, therefore, emphasises the need for higher education to become more responsive to changing industrial and commercial circumstances, and the importance of close links between higher education on the one hand and business, the professions and the public services on the other.

Since 1963, successive Governments have endorsed the so-called "Robbins principle" that, courses of higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so. The UGC and the NAB have advised that qualification for higher education should be interpreted broadly and that the test should not be paper qualifications but "ability to benefit". So long as the taxpayer continues to bear most of the cost of higher education, however, the benefit must be sufficient to justify the cost. Subject to that, the Government accept that the criteria for entry to higher education—which will, as at present, remain under the control of institutions themselves — should place more emphasis on intellectual competence, motivation and maturity, and less on formal qualifications. Those criteria should be applied as rigorously to those with paper qualifications as to those without. The Government do not expect this change of emphasis significantly to affect the numbers of students for whom higher education should be provided. A consultative paper on student support arrangements will be published shortly, as part of the review of such arrangements which I announced on 5 December last.

As with their policies for schools, in higher education too the Government are committed to raising standards and the pursuit of value for money. In both these areas important reports have recently been published, and are under active consideration.

The report of the committee of inquiry into academic validation in public sector higher education, chaired by Sir Norman Lindop and published in April, deals with the approval, and monitoring of standards, of degree level courses in polytechnics and colleges. It recommends substantial changes in the arrangements of universities which validate public sector courses and of the Council for National Academic Awards. One proposal is that some institutions in the public sector should in future take full responsibility for their own academic standards and award their own degrees. The Government have invited comments on the report and will consider these before coming to decisions.

The report of a steering committee chaired by Sir Alex Jarratt, based on efficiency studies undertaken in six universities, has proposed significant changes in universities' planning and management structures. The present arrangements were developed in a period of increasing resources. Now that resources are no longer expanding, changes are needed if universities are to be able to spend to best advantage the public funding likely to be available. The Jarratt report will also be relevant to the rest of higher education where other efficiency studies are in hand.

In research, the Government wish to ensure that the available resources are used to the greatest possible advantage, which requires more selectivity and planning. The University Grants Committee is developing and promoting new selective allocation and planning arrangements. It is also important that commerce, industry and the public services should take full advantage of what higher education has to offer through research, technology transfer, business start-up facilities and consultancy services. The Green Paper stresses the need for higher education to pay more attention to the development of such services.

The Green Paper recognises that continuing education should be a growth area in higher education, whether for vocational or non-vocational purposes. The Government and local authorities have an important role in stimulating such provision, and the Government contribute directly to the development of in-career vocational education through the professional, industrial and commercial updating programme. But the cost should not fall principally on the taxpayer and ratepayer. Employers are urged to recognise more fully their need, in their own interests, to encourage and to pay for the development and updating of their staff,

while adults in work can be expected to contribute substantially to the cost of courses that they take for career advancement or for personal satisfaction.

The Jarratt report recommends a review of the role, structure, and staffing of the University Grants Committee. The Government have accepted this recommendation, and I shall announce the terms of reference and form of the review as soon as possible.

The Government's expenditure plans published last January indicate the sums that the Government plan to make available for higher education up to the end of the present planning period. Beyond this there are the same difficulties about providing projections of future funding for higher education as there are for other public expenditure programmes. The Government accept that they must give the best indications of longer term policies for higher education that they can, but planning also requires institutions to manage their commitments and the funds available to them so as to be able to pursue their objectives effectively in circumstances of change and uncertainty. Present projections of student demand suggest that there will be a substantial fall in student numbers in the 1990s and planning for the changes that will be necessary must begin shortly.

The Government will review their policies for higher education in the light of the responses to the Green Paper, and hope to be able to make a further statement of intentions in the course of 1986.

Mr. Giles Radice (Durham, North)

Is the Secretary of State aware that his statement and the Green Paper have to be judged by how far they meet Britain's needs as we move into the next century—the need to ensure a good supply of highly trained graduates, the need to develop opportunities for continuing education, the need to provide wider educational opportunities and the need for high quality research? By those criteria the Green Paper, like his statement, is a miserable flop.

Mr. Robin Maxwell-Hyslop (Tiverton)

Has the hon. Gentleman read it?

Mr. Radice

I have read it. It has few new ideas and is totally lacking in vision. Like the Secretary of State's statement, it is more like a compendium of departmental position papers than a serious state paper setting out a strategy for higher education.

Will the Secretary of State accept that the Green Paper is more important for what it omits? It is tendentious about student numbers beyond the 1990s. It says little constructive about the binary divide. It fails to establish a machinery for overall planning, although we welcome the inquiry into the UGC. It leaves the issue of student support, so vital when we are considering student demand, for another document. Above all, it is irresponsibly evasive about resources.

Is it not a fact that the Secretary of State has left the dirty work to the UGC, whose recent letter revealed that the consequences of the Government's plans will be that universities can expect a 2 per cent. real cut in their income in each of the next three years? The loss of revenue is equivalent to closing a medium-sized university such as Southampton, Exeter of Durham every year for the next three years.

Is it not the case that the 1981, and other, cuts impaired rather than improved efficiency? If the Secretary of State does not believe me, he should consult the UGC, the NAB or the Jarratt committee. Does he seriously believe that the prospect of more redundancies, departmental closures and shutting whole institutions will create a more effective and more adaptable higher education system? Is it not true that the Government's higher education policy fails to meet our national needs? It will not provide wider educational opportunities or supply the highly skilled graduates that we require. It will fail to meet the research requirements of industry. In short, it is a recipe for national decline.

Is the Secretary of State aware that we in the Labour party reject his defeatist approach and will campaign both inside the House and out for the vigorous, dynamic and innovative higher education system that we need ?

Sir Keith Joseph

One of the main themes of the Jarratt report is that universities need a management structure if they are to make the best use of the large sums made available to them by the public, and that that management structure must enable the academics involved to know the options before them. When the Conservative Government came into office in 1979, we inherited a crisis from the outgoing Labour Government, with enormous inflation. We had to act quickly. The reduction in spending in the universities had to be implemented by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Carlisle), as my predecessor, at a time when the management structure proposed by Jarratt was not in place.

The hon. Gentleman accused me of exaggerating the fall in student numbers, but there is a projected fall of no less than one third-33 per cent. —in the age groups concerned in the 1990s. Against that, the Government are projecting a fall in places for higher education not of one third but of 14 per cent.

The hon. Gentleman also accused me of being evasive about resources. The Labour party seems never to need to be evasive about resources, because it always proposes to spend more. Can the hon. Gentleman say whether he will spend more on universities than the Government are proposing to spend?

Mr. Mark Carlisle (Warrington, South)

I welcome the fact that today there are 60,000 more students in higher education than there were in 1979, but as the overall number of people in that age group is likely to drop dramatically in the 1990s, can my right hon. Friend say what assumptions he has made in his Green Paper about the likely proportion of 18 and 19-year-olds who will go to universities and other forms of higher education?

Sir Keith Joseph

I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend. Why is it that Opposition spokesmen always concentrate upon the numbers in universities, as though they despise polytechnics? As my right hon. and learned Friend has said, there are today 60,000 more students in polytechnics than there were when this Government came to office, although at the highest there has been a fall in the number of university students-9,000 and 5,000 last year. As my right hon. and learned Friend also said, there is not only a record number of students in higher education but also a record age cohort. The University Grants Committee, in its wisdom — I take responsibility for the outcome— decided to have fewer places in universities to protect the indispensable research component. Although the proportion of the age group in higher education is at record levels, we expect it to rise even higher and to be at 15 per cent. at least in the 1990s.

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

We on these Benches believe that the Green Paper marks a shift from the unacceptable to the intolerable. Does the Secretary of State accept that the Green Paper is basically a testimony to the failure of the Government's economic policy? Why is it that the Secretary of State should be the only man in the country who believes that we have an adequacy of qualified graduates, and therefore is doing nothing to increase the number? Will he accept that he is doing for universities what his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is doing for buses?

Sir Keith Joseph

The Government have been presiding over the expansion to record numbers and record proportions of the age cohort of students in higher education. I think that the hon. Gentleman must be discussing another phenomenon altogether.

Mr. David Madel (Bedfordshire, South-West)

When the Government's commitment to raising standards in the classroom has been achieved, bearing in mind what has been said about continuing education, will my right hon. Friend confirm that the numbers of those seeking entry into higher education will increase and that the Government will be perfectly happy for the polytechnics to take in more students?

Sir Keith Joseph

The Government very much hope that their aim of raising the standard in classrooms will lead to a larger proportion of school leavers being qualified to go on to higher education, if they so wish and if they have the necessary maturity and motivation. We are not assuming that will come to pass, but we very much hope that it will. If a larger proportion of the age cohort shows that it is qualified for higher education, the Government will be glad to revise their plans.

As for my hon. Friend's other question, economic constraints have to be borne in mind. We are happy to expand the numbers in public sector higher education, provided that the expansion can be brought about without any diminution of standards within current costs.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell (South Down)

Cannot the Secretary of State be persuaded to recognise that it is barbarism to attempt to evaluate the contents of higher education in terms of economic performance or to set a value upon the consequences of higher education in terms of a monetary cost-benefit analysis?

Sir Keith Joseph

I very much enjoyed the right hon. Gentleman's speech in which he accused me of barbarism because I felt protected by a sense that what I was doing was entirely justified. I equally enjoyed the speech of my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor in which—after I had consulted a dictionary—I found that my noble Friend had accused the right hon. Gentleman of living in cloud-cuckoo-land. We live in a time when, for better or worse, higher education is paid for out of public funds, when more and more research is very expensive and when business has not been as profitable as it should be. For all those reasons, it is necessary, if Britain's economy is to prosper in a highly competitive and increasingly technological world, for the provision for and acquisition and practice of science in research terms to be supported to a large extent out of public funds.

Mr. Robert Rhodes James (Cambridge)

It would be unwise to comment too soon on a Green Paper which has only just been made available to the House, although it has obviously been made available to the press beforehand. Although there appear to be elements in the Green Paper which are acceptable, wise and far-seeing, the general theme is one of contraction. Will my right hon. Friend be asking those of my right hon. and hon. Friends who believe in higher and further education to accept further contraction—

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

My hon. Friend represents Cambridge.

Mr. Rhodes James

This does not apply to Cambridge: it applies to the higher education of this nation. Surely a policy of contraction is not one that we can accept.

Sir Keith Joseph

I would far prefer to agree with my hon. Friend than to disagree with him, but surely he must accept that, while higher education is so largely dependent on public funds, there must be some link between the prosperity of the economy and the resources available to higher education, and that as our economy is fighting to regain profitable competitiveness in an increasingly tough world, that relationship is even more unavoidable.

Dr. John Marek (Wrexham)

The Secretary of State must recognise that his statement today will do nothing to dispel the gloom, concern and dismay which is felt within higher education. How much longer will he allow salary levels in higher education to be continually eroded when there is now a generally evident lack of motivation and morale which shows itself in the teaching, research and quality of research in that sector? If the Secretary of State does not want to go down as someone who contributed significantly to our decline as a developed nation in the eyes of the next generation, will he now announce as his aim a system of quinquennial planning or its equivalent in higher education so that there is stability in the system? Furthermore, will he give a guarantee that from this day there will be no more cuts in real terms in the system?

Sir Keith Joseph

Surely the hon. Gentleman knows that, in the days when quinquennial provision was made, no Government were able to fulfil the expectations created. It is not honourable to promise more than we know we can achieve in the way of stability.

Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden)

I accept that the Government are right to put greater emphasis on science and technology subjects in higher education, but does my right hon. Friend see an enhanced role for employers to persuade young people, even while they are still at school, that those are the courses that they should pursue?

Sir Keith Joseph

Yes, Sir. The Prime Minister had a meeting this morning, discussing that very subject, with the chairmen of 24 leading businesses in this country.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

The Secretary of State talked about more selectivity in research. Who, and on what criteria, will be responsible for that selectivity? On what rational basis will employers be asked to pay for medium and long-term research in universities?

Sir Keith Joseph

The method of applying selectivity is the responsibility of the UGC and NAB. I repeat, the Government take responsibility for the decisions of those bodies but carefully keep away from the detailed decisions that affect the allocation of funds between universities, leaving those decisions, in the case of universities, to the UGC.

As for the interest of business men in contributing towards middle and long-term research, it is for them to decide whether there is a business interest in it.

Miss Janet Fookes (Plymouth, Drake)

Is there to be any radical, or even superficial, rethinking of the respective roles of polytechnics and universities? Will polytechnics which are able to grant degrees be able in future to call themselves universities? My polytechnic in Plymouth would be an excellent candidate.

Sir Keith Joseph

My hon. Friend will find in the Green Paper a reference to the predominance of, and leadership in, academic work by the universities. The Green Paper also pays tribute to the indispensable function of the polytechnics in fulfilling their role, in which, far more than the universities, they serve part-time students. The answer to my hon. Friend's question about any change of name by polytechnics which give degrees is that I should need convincing that there should be a change of name.

Mr. Jack Thompson (Wansbeck)

Like other hon. Members. I have had an opportunity only to glance at the Green Paper. I note, however, the complimentary remarks about the Open University on page 19. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Open University will not look on those passages as being quite so complimentary when it bears in mind the cuts that the Government have imposed on its activities in recent years? Should not the Open University be encouraged to expand its work, bearing in mind the need for scientific and technological development?

Sir Keith Joseph

I shall send the hon. Gentleman the table in which is set out the recommendations of the Visiting Committee as to what the Open University needs and the decisions that the Government have taken on those recommendations. The Government have, to a large extent. followed the proposals of the Visiting Committee to alleviate the complaints of the Open University.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

My right hon. Friend made no reference in his statement to the role of overseas students when planning the future of higher education. By what criteria will he target Government support for overseas students?

Sir Keith Joseph

My hon. Friend will find in the Green Paper a reference to the study that is taking place into future policy in connection with overseas students. The proportion of overseas students is now 11 per cent. and rising.

Mr. Jim Callaghan (Heywood and Middleton)

How does the right hon. Gentleman justify the fact that, in the light of his statement today, thousands of young students with good A-level qualifications will be prevented from entering universities and polytechnics, and has he now abandoned the principle of Robbins?

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman should support his allegations with evidence. We have no evidence of any people who are qualified to enter higher education not being able to secure a place. We agree, as has always been true, and was accepted by Robbins, that every applicant cannot expect to find a place in precisely the institution and on precisely the course that he or she wants. In general, however, we assert that there are places for ail who are qualified and who want to take them up.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that universities and institutions of higher education should be the cradle of democracy and free speech? Does he agree also that it is disgraceful that, in many student unions, some speakers have not been alowed to speak within the law to properly convened meetings? Will he say a little more about the Green Paper's proposals to challenge student union funding as a way of overcoming this problem?

Sir Keith Joseph

My hon. Friend will find references to both subjects in the Green Paper. I agree that campuses of higher education should be especially careful to protect freedom of speech, even when they disagree with the opinions expressed, provided those opinions are expressed within the law. In both cases, studies are in hand. The vice chancellors and principals are considering what they can do to protect free speech further.

Mr. Gordon Wilson (Dundee, East)

As a representative of a nation which was the first in Europe to introduce universal education and which, in the middle ages, had five universities when England had only two, I repudiate completely the philistinic attitude behind the right non. Gentleman' statement. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman continues to occupy the position of Secretary of State for Education and Science when he does not even believe in education. Why did the right hon. Gentleman purport to make the statement on behalf of the Secretary of State for Scotland when, according to my perusal of the Green Paper, only four paragraphs out of 58 pages relate to the Scottish system?

Sir Keith Joseph

The Scottish policy is awaiting the report by the Scottish Tertiary Education Advisory Council, which we shall receive later this year.

Mr. Nicholas Fairbairn (Perth and Kinross)

As one who also represents a country which introduced universal education but who does not need to parade the fact, suggest to my right hon. Friend that one of the worst education measures in Britain, especially in Scotland, was the erection of colleges of excellence such as the Heriot-Watt college of engineering and the Strathcilyde college of business in the "bogusity" of empire building universities. We should concentrate on relevant education in colleges of excellence, and the snobbism of university status should be abolished.

Sir Keith Joseph

I am sure that our joint purpose should be excellence and fitness for purpose in every institution.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South)

Is the Secretary of State aware that, in any other country, if one were asked, "Which is better run—British universities or British industry?" the overwhelming reply would be "The universities"? In those circumstances, what does the right hon. Gentleman mean by proposing that the universities should be put in a position where some members of staff are not allowed to conduct research? Does the right hon. Gentleman agree with the UGC argument that research is needed to provide a proper background for teachers?

Sir Keith Joseph

Academics argue whether research and teaching must accompany each other if teaching is to be good. Many passionately believe that they must while others argue against them. As for depriving some from access to research, I think that the hon. Gentleman has it slightly wrong. What is at question is the distribution of public money. To make the best use of public money, it surely makes sense to concentrate resources on those who show evidence, to the UGC's satisfaction, that they can use the resources in the best possible way.

Dr. Keith Hampson (Leeds, North-East)

While I accept my right hon. Friend's case on the deep-seated economic problems inherited by the Government and the need to control the use of resources, does there not come a point when, to improve the economy's performance, greater priority must be accorded to resources in higher education? Does my right hon. Friend know of any other advanced Western country that is not increasing resources in higher education? Will he bear in mind that this concern applied in 1972 when my right hon. Friend, the present Prime Minister, introduced her White Paper calling for the expansion of education to contribute to the vitality of our society and economy?

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Sir Keith Joseph

Before the Opposition applaud my hon. Friend too loudly, let my hon. Friend and the Opposition remember that other Western European countries became much more prosperous than Britain, until the turning of the tide during the past six years. Alas, for the 40 years since the war, this country has been substantially overtaken by those other Western European countries. We cannot absorb their example without recognising that we must make the best use of our resources, which are nothing like as great as the resources of our neighbours in north-west Europe.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I have to take account of the fact that the following business is limited by a timetable motion. I shall allow questions on the statement to continue for a further 10 minutes.

Mr. Eric S. Heifer (Liverpool, Walton)

Is the Secretary of State aware that many of us who did not have the opportunity to go to university have been impressed by the fact that, since the second world war, people, especially young working people, have been given an opportunity to undertake higher education which they did not have before? Can the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance —the country would like to have this important assurance — that, although there might well be a need to get more graduates into industry, the existing arts departments in the universities will not be closed and that the industrial sides will be developed further through our present methods of higher education? As a fellow of All Souls, the right hon. Gentleman knows —if he does not, he should—that man does not live by bread alone. He should understand that.

Sir Keith Joseph

It would be idle for me to pretend other than that the Government have openly asked the UGC and the NAB to move a small proportion of resources and places from the arts and humanities in favour of the sciences, engineering and technology. I emphasise that the arts and humanities, when taught rigorously to appropriate pupils, are rightly regarded by employers as splendid training for responsibility in life. The arts and humanities are worth the high regard of all of us for the way in which they sharpen the minds of those who study them and for their contribution to scholarship and civilisation. As the Green Paper argues, unless we trade more effectively in the world, we shall not be able to afford the support of the scholarship and other civilised values that we wish to maintain.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we have reached the stage when an enlarged opportunity for higher education would aid our economic recovery and development and the progress of our society? Has he noticed that the press reaction to the leaks of the Green Paper has been to put the fear of Government into some universities? Is that my right hon. Friend's intention?

Sir Keith Joseph

My hon. Friend should bear in mind that since 1979 student places in higher education have been increased by 15 per cent. There are 60,000 more students in higher education—a record proportion of a record vintage. My hon. Friend seems to be espousing shaky arguments. It is only realistic to recognise the constraints on public spending. My hon. Friend is not at one with Opposition Members who are ready to support virtually every strike and outbid virtually every element of public spending. I hope that he will see the case in the Green Paper.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

The Secretary of State says that he wants higher education to relate more to the economy's performance. Is he not seeking to impose the same vicious cycle of contraction on higher education that his Government have imposed on manufacturing industry? How does the right hon. Gentleman deal with the challenge that the Japanese are training 10 times as many graduate engineers as Britain?

Sir Keith Joseph

The hon. Gentleman should not swallow such statistics too easily. The picture of our production of engineers is not truthfully represented—nothing like it — by the figure he has cited. The Japanese produce more engineers in proportion to population than we do. On the quality of engineers, it may be a different matter. The Japanese produce a significant proportion of very high-quality engineers, but some of the people who are turned out as engineers in Japan would not be so described in this country because their training is much narrower. I am not declaring contentment with our production of engineers, but the hon. Gentleman's comparison was altogether too glib.

Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop

To what extent does my right hon. Friend judge that the system of lifetime tenure of senior academic posts prevents public expenditure from being directed to what the country needs in terms of output and what the undergraduates need in terms of employment? Does he agree that a university such as Exeter, which concentrates on oil-related engineering, medical engineering needed by disabled people and Arabic studies, which the oil industry needs, is far more in line with the priorities that the country needs than some of the more esoteric centres which believe that they have a historic claim on our resources?

Sir Keith Joseph

In general terms, I align myself with my hon. Friend in believing that tenure is not an unqualified asset. That is why discussions are now in process with a view to introducing legislation to remove tenure in future higher education contracts. I emphasise that there is no reason to regard tenure as the only or indispensable protection of academic freedom, which we value and respect highly.

Dr. Oonagh McDonald (Thurrock)

How can the Secretary of State claim to be pursuing academic excellence when he is responsible for the UGC's 2 per cent. cut in annual grant to universities? Is not the right hon. Gentleman's elitism merely a cover for his philistinism?

Sir Keith Joseph

Like any other part of the public sector, the universities must try to make more effective use of the taxpayers' money made available to them and I am sure that they will strive to do so. I am also constantly urging them, even though this may be possible only very slowly, to increase the amount of funding that they receive from the private sector, and I am glad to note that in the past year they have succeeded in increasing those funds significantly.

Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that every encouragement should be given to innovative polytechnics such as Bristol to market and encourage the development of their own research work? Will he comment on the extent to which the Green Paper will assist that process?

Sir Keith Joseph

I can do more than that. I can comfort my hon. Friend with the reminder that legislation is now going through the other House and will soon be in this House freeing polytechnics to exploit their research activities more than they do at present.

Mr. Andrew Faulds (Warley, East)

Did the Secretary of State really mean what he said in reply to my honourable and admirable Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) — that questions of medium-term and long-term research should be left to the commercial interests of companies rather than to considerations of the national interest?

Sir Keith Joseph

Either the hon. Gentleman misunderstood me or I expressed myself badly. His hon. Friend asked me what would justify business men deciding to contribute to medium-term or long-term university research, and I replied that it was for them to judge their own business interest.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Grantham)

What proportion of qualified applicants cannot find a course in the subject of their first choice, and what plans are there in the Green Paper to reduce that number?

Sir Keith Joseph

I do not think that it is possible to answer that question, but I repeat that from the Robbins report onwards it has never been guaranteed that any individual applicant will find a vacancy in the institution of his or her choice and the subject of his or her choice. That remains the position.

Mr. John Maxton (Glasgow, Cathcart)

Does the Secretary of State accept the basic premise that one cause of our economic decline this century has been our failure to invest in higher education? If that is so, why are the Government not increasing investment in higher education rather than reducing it?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman allow the inquiry into the University Grants Committee to consider the establishment of a separate Scottish UGC in order to get away from direct funding through his Department?

Sir Keith Joseph

No, I cannot agree with the hon. Gentleman. The criticism of many historians has been that this country has failed to provide technical education in schools and in higher education. The Government have taken substantial steps to make good that omission, but the Opposition have criticised us on every occasion.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I appreciate the importance of the subject and I will allow a further five minutes, but then we really must move on.

Mrs. Anna McCurley (Renfrew, West and Inverclyde)

The press release states: In the universities the Government hopes that new selective planning and allocation arrangements can be formulated and begin to operate by the 1986–87 academic year." Does that mean that there is a possibility of the arbitrary' cutting off of research programmes which may not appear highly significant but which are none the less very valuable?

Sir Keith Joseph

I understand that the process is to be gradual and that the proposal is particularly addressed to the extra money' provided by the Government for the modernisation of equipment in some areas.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)

Will the Secretary of State bear in mind the importance of the Open University, especially for those who for a variety of reasons are unable to study at a traditional university? Will he give sympathetic consideration to a real increase in funding for that excellent establishment?

Sir Keith Joseph

The answer to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question is yes, but I cannot give such an unqualified response to the second part.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that many people will be delighted at the emphasis in paragraphs 2 and 5.9 of the Green Paper on the need for higher education to contribute more effectively to the improvement of the economy, which Lancaster has long done? Will he ensure that we continue to encourage foreign and especially Commonwealth students to come to Britain, bearing in mind the important contribution that they make to the stability and prosperity of their countries on their return?

Sir Keith Joseph

Within the sensible use of public funds I think that I can agree with both my hon. Friend's comments.

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington)

As history shows that Right-wing Governments always find it necessary to attack their country's intellectuals, and as the Government values are leading to the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms and civil liberties, was it not entirely predictable that our universities and academics would be similarly attacked?

Sir Keith Joseph

As the hon. Gentleman supported a Government who nearly destroyed our currency and our economy, I do not think that the intellectuals have anything to look for from him or his philosophy—as intellectuals and higher education now depend to such an extent on public finance and a prosperous trading sector.

Mr. Timothy Wood (Stevenage)

I accept and welcome the growth in the number of students in higher education, but will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that there is growing concern about the disparity in numbers, especially in science and technology, compared with many of our competitors?

Sir Keith Joseph

I do not think that things are quite as bad as my hon. Friend suggests. We must take into account not just the entry rate but the drop-out rate in some neighbouring countries. I believe that our figures are reasonably satisfactory compared with our neighbours in north-west Europe. It is true that our higher education figures are dwarfed by those for America and Japan but one would have to look more closely at the qualifications, input and output before making any definite judgment in that respect.

Mr. Gavin Strang (Edinburgh, East)

At a meeting with Scottish Labour Members, the university vice Chancellors pointed out that some of the students who had just graduated with first-class honours degrees had entered university with qualifications that would not now, with the cut in student numbers, enable them to gain entry. Is the Secretary of State satisfied with that state of affairs?

Sir Keith Joseph

I am very ready to accept that A-level grades are not an exclusively reliable indicator of future performance. They may be the least bad indicators that we have of one aspect of a candidate's qualifications. Character, record and other features have also to be considered by the institutions, and it is the institutions that now and in the future will choose their entrants.

Mrs. Angela Rumbold (Mitcham and Morden)

Given my right hon. Friend's clearly stated belief that the taxpayer is entitled to benefits from his investment, can he explain more clearly to the House the proposals in the Green Paper that extend the requirements for entry into institutions of higher education from mere formal qualifications to requirements for motivation, maturity and better performance?

Sir Keith Joseph

As my hon. Friend repeats those words, I find them almost self-justifying. Someone who had the necessary formal qualifications might give evidence to the interviewers at a certain institution of lacking the motivation or maturity to take advantage of higher education. That is the reason for the Government's view.

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

The Secretary of State talks of a 14 per cent. cut. What do his plans mean in terms of thousands of student and staff places to be cut in higher education?

Sir Keith Joseph

I imagine that the hon. Gentleman refers to the 14 per cent. fall in the projected demand rate in the 1990s compared with the 33 per cent. fall projected for the age vintage. We have the time—

Mr. Straw

How many places are to be lost?

Sir Keith Joseph

We do not know. The Government have declared the projections at this early date to give us time, with the UGC and the NAB, to work on such issues.

Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that polytechnics such as mine in Kingston will be pleased by the confidence demonstrated by his remarks today? In his planning, will my right hon. Friend compare the cost-effectiveness of equivalent courses in engineering and technology, which serve the vital interests of British industry, at universities and polytechnics?

Sir Keith Joseph

It is widely accepted that some departments at some polytechnics are probably stronger than some equivalent university departments. I should tell the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) that we hope to be able to publish next year a paper giving some of the implications of what we have announced today.

Mr. Bowen Wells (Hertford and Stortford)

My right hon. Friend has treated us this afternoon to volleys of jargon. What exactly does he mean by relevant courses in the universities? Does he mean that the university teaching profession will no longer be able to tell students that they must study what university professors decide to teach them?

Sir Keith Joseph

While higher education is almost entirely supported by public funds, some attention must be paid to public benefit. That is why the Government have thought it necessary to ask the bodies concerned to switch some resources and places from the arts and humanities to the sciences, technology and engineering.

Mr. Barry Henderson (Fife, North-East)

Sensible people, who mercifully exist in larger numbers in the universities than on the Opposition Benches, will welcome the initiation of a serious discussion on the long-term future of the universities. To a Conservative Government, this should be a matter of evolution rather than revolution. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the consultative documents about the UGC and student support will be published early enough to be considered alongside the Green Paper?

Sir Keith Joseph

My hon. Friend has misunderstood me. There is to be a consultative document on student support, but what is promised for the UGC is an inquiry, of which I shall give details before long. The consultative document on student support will be published before long.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

Why will not the Secretary of State publish the implications of the Green Paper now? If he knows the implications, surely he should publish them. If he does not, how can he present the Green Paper to the House?

Sir Keith Joseph

I beg the pardon of the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). It was my fault — I misunderstood his question. We know — they are published in this paper—the number implications of the fall in student places. It will be, for variant Y, a fall of 74,000. I have promised that by next year we shall try to interpret the implications for the higher—[Interruption.] It is all explained in the Green Paper. There are charts —[Interruption.] It is all spelt out in the Green Paper. There is nothing new in this. Variant Y has been spelt out for some time. We propose to publish next year the possible options open to the country to deal with the situation.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

In view of the grave anxieties expressed on both sides of the House, will the Secretary of State press the Leader of the House to initiate an early debate on the Green Paper, which is an admission of despair and a body blow to our economic prosperity? Will the right hon. Gentleman explain why. after six years of monetarist policies, he is announcing a retreat from the Robbins principle and denouncing the proposal of the Prime Minister, when Secretary of State for Education and Science in the 1970s, to get 22 per cent. of the relevant age group into higher education? Why do the Government now have a target of only 14 per cent.? Is it not a black day when a fellow of All Souls tells a House of Commons that includes more graduates each year that future generations are to be denied the opportunities that many of us enjoyed, and that, in the 1990s, we shall be training fewer graduates than ever before? Is not that an appalling state of affairs?

Sir Keith Joseph

I draw the attention of the House to pages 12 and 13 of the Green Paper, in which there are charts showing the projections. It is for the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends to press the Leader of the House for a debate.

Dr. Hampson

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is to safeguard the rights of the House that Government statements are not released until the statement is given in the Chamber. With a document as large as the Green Paper, hon. Members are seriously inconvenienced by this practice. We all have to rush out of the Chamber for the document. That is disruptive, and we miss part of what is said. Can you assist us, Mr. Speaker, in changing the procedure. even if only by making documents available at 2.30 pm?

Mr. Speaker

It is not for me to make the documents available. I realise that this is an important statement. That is why I allowed questions on it to run longer than 1 had thought would be appropriate.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Would it not be possible to arrange for questioning to take place on the day after publication of the Green Paper? We would then have a chance to read it. It is nonsense to be asked to discuss something instantly. My hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Mr. Thompson) says that he opened the report at a certain page that happened to deal with the Open University and so he asked a question on that subject. The situation is silly.

Mr. Speaker

There is much force in what both hon. Gentlemen have said. I suggest that they put the matter to the Leader of the House. Thursday would be a most appropriate time.

Mr. Bowen Wells

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I also gain your support for the idea that documents on which we are supposed to question Ministers in a serious manner should be distributed earlier than is customary? The press are given press releases to read, while we have to scrabble around and to listen carefully to what is said. That is a grave discourtesy to the House, to say the least, and does not add to the prestige that the House should attract.

Mr. Speaker

There is usually an embargo on documents issued to the press. The expressions of opinion this afternoon have been very relevant. I am sure that the Leader of the House would take note of them if the hon. Members concerned were to put the matter to him during business questions.

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