HC Deb 08 July 1986 vol 101 cc151-3
2. Mr. Watts

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the number of students currently attending polytechnic courses; and how this compares with 1979.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Kenneth Baker)

In 1979 there were 131,000 full-time equivalent students at polytechnics. This had risen by 1984 to just under 171,000: an increase of just over 30 per cent.

Mr. Watts

I thank my right hon. Friend for that most encouraging reply. Does he expect the growth in numbers of technically and technologically skilled students and graduates from polytechnics to continue? Will he take the opportunity to refute the wild allegations that a massive cut in pupil numbers is in prospect?

Mr. Baker

On my hon. Friend's latter point, the Government do not want to see any overall reduction in intakes to polytechnics.

On the question of technology students, I pay tribute to the excellent work of polytechnics in training for professions and careers in technology. For example, at Coventry polytechnic, only one student out of 29 who graduated from the industrial design degree course last summer was still looking for a job in December, while all those who graduated from the combined engineering and languages course obtained jobs.

Mr. Flannery

Is it not a fact that the draconian cuts in universities have meant that many highly qualified young people who would otherwise have attended university have had to seek entrance to polytechnics?

Mr. Baker

Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. Under this Government there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of full-time students entering univerisities and polytechnics. As I said in the House about a fortnight ago, the total increase is 80,000 full-time students, and nearly 140,000 if one includes part-time students. That is a record of which we can be proud when it is compared with the reduction in the number of students during the period of the Labour Government.

Mr. Michael Morris

If my right hon. Friend wishes to increase the numbers still further, will he examine closely the submission to his Department of an application for polytechnic status by Nene college in Northampton, which, by any yardstick, has achieved the academic requirements for polytechnic status?

Mr. Baker

I shall consider my hon. Friend's request. I hope to visit Northampton and Northamptonshire in the not-too-distant future.

Mr. Fatchett

If the Secretary of State wanted to give a complete picture of what has happened in polytechnics during the past seven years, would he not draw the attention of the House to the fact that the amount of money spent per student has decreased by 25 per cent.? Is that not the real figure that shows the Government's record on polytechnics?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman makes the mistake of thinking that it requires only money to buy good education. The polytechnics have demonstrated that there is considerable scope for greater efficiency, not least by filling previously empty places. Nevertheless. I applaud their success in increasing the student-staff ratio from 8.4:1 in 1979 to 11.5:1 in 1984.

Mr. Douglas Hogg

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is considerable concern about the funding of polytechnic evening-only degree and postgraduate courses? Will he give personal and careful consideration to the representations that have been made by Professor Burlin, which are set out in a letter dated 3 June 1986, addressed to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, who has responsibility for higher education?

Mr. Baker

Yes, I shall do that. I pay tribute to the family interest of my hon. Friend, whose great, great grandfather started one of the greatest polytechnics in Britain.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Before the Secretary of State becomes too smug and rewrites history, does he recall that it was the Conservative Government who tried to cut the number of students in universities? It was fortunate that local authority control of polytechnics took up the cut in student numbers. Can he tell us what will happen for the following academic year? Will he allow the polytechnics sufficient resources so that they do not have to cut places, or will he insist that there will be a cut of 9,000 places in 1987–88?

Mr. Baker

I am not trying to rewrite history. My hon. Friend's great, great grandfather founded one of our first polytechnics. The talk of 10,000 places being cut that is being bandied around is conjecture based upon hypothesis inflamed by exaggerated anxiety. I cannot announce an expenditure figure until local authority current expenditure is agreed. I hope to be able to give a figure to the National Advisory Board by the end of August. I assure the House that the Government do not want to see an overall reduction in the intake of polytechnics.