HC Deb 28 October 1986 vol 103 cc153-4
5. Dr. Godman

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received from the Association of University Teachers about the future funding of the University Grants Committee.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. George Walden)

My right hon. Friend and I met representatives of the AUT on 24 July, when we discussed various aspects of university funding and other matters.

Dr. Godman

Is the Minister aware of the very deep concern of members of the association in Scotland about the threatened closure of highly reputable university departments in Scotland? Is he also aware that this is particularly acute in Strathclyde university, where the very fine departments of mathematics and biochemistry are so threatened? Will the Minister assure the House that Scottish universities will not suffer such dismemberment of departments? Does he not agree that the time has surely arrived for the establishment of a Scottish UGC?

Mr. Walden

In the first place, I think that the hon. Gentleman is dramatising. Secondly, there has been no geographical discrimination against Scotland. Thirdly, if the hon. Gentleman is referring to the UGC's selectivity exercise, I can only commend the UGC for the boldness with which that exercise is being pursued.

Mr. Forth

Is my hon. Friend yet in a position to say anything to the House about the future of Ruskin college? Many people are most anxious to know what is to happen to this most valued institution.

Mr. Walden

I share the concern that has reached me about recent incidents at Ruskin college. For that reason I wrote to the principal of the college asking for his account of events there. I have now received that account. It has not reassured me. I have therefore asked the principal to call to see me next Monday. I am sure that no right hon. or hon. Member is against the education of trade unionists. If, on the other hand, that education is to be in the spirit of the intellectual equivalent of the closed shop—and that is what the accusations are about—the taxpayer, who, to a very large extent, funds this college, will expect clear answers to clear questions.

Mr. Dormand

When a person is deemed by a university to be capable of undertaking a first degree course, will he or she be assured of financial assistance either from the university or from the local education authority? If the answer to that question is no, what will be the effect, not only on that person, but on the wellbeing and economic state of the country?

Mr. Walden

I am not at all clear about the point of the hon. Gentleman's question. If he is asking his question on the basis of an individual case, I ask him to write to me about it. In general, more people are receiving maintenance grants than ever before.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

Does the Minister accept that Ruskin college has striven very hard to protect two rights: the right of an individual to express his views, and the right of other people to disagree with those views? Does he also accept that the college should not be criticised for trying to maintain fairness between those two fundamental rights, and that no one has the right to object to other people being critical of his views?

Mr. Walden

Ruskin's members are not there as union members or socialists but as teachers and students. Ruskin is not a party school diffusing received opinion. That comes from this week's New Statesman. I commend the article in question to the hon. Gentleman.