HC Deb 28 October 1986 vol 103 cc148-9
2. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received about resources for higher education.

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

I receive a lot of representations. For local authority higher education I have already announced an increase in funding of £54 million next year. I hope to be able to make an announcement about university funding quite soon.

Mr. Dubs

Is the Secretary of State aware that. despite his optimistic speech last month about the future of university places, many vice-chancellors see nothing facing them but ever-increasing deficits, cuts in services, cuts in staff and possible cuts in departments? Will he comment on the confidential report published in some of yesterday's newspapers— based on information from the Treasury and his own Department — which indicated that the crisis facing the universities was even worse than had been publicly acknowledged so far?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman knows that in the cycle of funding each year polytechnics and colleges of further education are dealt with first. I announced a substantial increase of 8 per cent. for those. I hope to be able to announce the position for universities quite soon. I trust that they will not be too disappointed.

Mr. Greenway

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the funding of higher education cannot be separated from the broad education budget? Within that context, will he do all he can to see that the teachers' pay queries are settled at an early date, with a fair result for them? Will he also ensure that the children are put first in those negotiations, that they get a fair deal, and that schools are not disrupted?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is a bit wide of the question.

Mr. Freud

In fighting for extra money for that important priority, will the Secretary of State ensure that access is widened so that those with genuine ability, even if they do not conform to the identikit picture of a student, have a chance of access to higher education?

Mr. Baker

I want to increase the participation rates of 16 to 18-year-olds. A total of 26 per cent. of those taking further education courses are 16 to 18-year olds. We expect the figure to go to 28 per cent. I want more young people to stay on at school until they are 18 and to go on to colleges, polytechnics and universities. Since 1979 there has been an increase of 140,000 in the number of full-time and part-time home students. That increase is one of which we can all be proud.

Mr. Forman

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his positive approach to the future of higher education is welcome and that Conservative Members give him their full support in his endeavour to associate increased funding for higher education with greater selectivity and a better managerial approach?

Mr. Baker

I welcome my hon. Friend's support. I appreciate the importance of the universities, but I am always anxious to point out the equal importance of polytechnics. We should take pride in the fact that in 1986 the number of first-class degrees awarded in polytechnics is up by 20 per cent.

Mr. Radice

Does the Secretary of State not accept that the message of the report of the Government's own accounting advisers is that continual cuts in funding since 1981 are bringing many universities to the verge of bankruptcy? Is it not time that the Secretary of State told the Prime Minister that there must be a U-turn in policy? To maintain standards, the Government must provide universities with more resources.

Mr. Baker

Over the past few years, changes had to be made in universities. I think that all hon. Members would agree with that. A significant change in attitudes and in giving priorities to some subjects over others is pure gain. I ask the hon. Gentleman to await the announcement that I hope to make quite soon. I think that he will not be too disappointed.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will my right hon. Friend tell the House what efforts the universities are making to attract outside funding from industry? Is the sum considerable, is it rising, or is it level?

Mr. Baker

I have been charged today in the columns of The Times with the fact that I suggested that universities were ivory towers and did not seek support from the private sector. The fact that I said that obviously hit a raw nerve. There has been an increase in private funding for universities over the past few years, and we all welcome that. The amount of private money that goes into universities amounts to just £47 million a year, which is well under 1 per cent. of their costs, and compares unfavourably with practices in America, Germany and France.