HC Deb 03 November 1987 vol 121 cc775-6
10. Mr. Canavan

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what subjects he discussed at his last meeting with the University Grants Committee.

Mr. Jackson

My right hon. Friend saw the chairman of the University Grants Committee last week, when they discussed university funding.

Mr. Canavan

Did the Secretary of State discuss with the UGC the contents of his recent speech at London university, when he said that universities would have to look for alternative sources of funding rather than relying on the Government, who apparently seem to be abandoning their responsibility for funding higher education? Would the Minister care to elaborate on his statement, particularly in view of the speech by his right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) at Aberdeen university recently, when he said that the Government and the UGC were directly responsible for the crisis facing universities?

Mr. Jackson

I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that Government expenditure on universities last year increased by 10 per cent. and that there has been a substantial real terms increase since 1979. On external funding, it is notable that non-UGC earnings of universities have risen from one eighth of their current grant in 1979 to one fifth today. That is a substantial improvement. In regard to Scottish universities, already in the four months that I have been in office I have visited three of the eight Scottish universities and seen the splendid work that they are doing. The UGC pursues a national policy and does not discriminate on the basis of different regions.

Mr. Hind

Did my right hon. Friend, during the discussions with the University Grants Committee, have the opportunity to point out that the committee could give good advice to the polytechnics and institutes of higher education — namely, that the Government's policy to free them from local education authority control would allow them to develop more towards the university model, and thus benefit education in this country?

Mr. Jackson

We believe that autonomy is of benefit to all institutions of higher education, and we see the changes being made in relation to polytechnics and colleges as a major step towards that development.

Mrs. Ewing

How can the Secretary of State reconcile his claim that the universities are benefiting when Aberdeen university, which is based in the oil capital of Europe, is now faced with the prospect of closing no fewer than six departments? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the sense of outrage in the north and north-east of Scotland over that proposal? When the matter comes before the UGC on the 16th of this month, will he pay particular attention to the matter of Aberdeen university and try to reverse the position?

Mr. Jackson

The hon. Lady should recognise that it would do no service to the Scottish universities to judge them by different criteria from those applied elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The same criteria are being applied to all such institutions, and they have been applied to Aberdeen university with the results that the hon. Lady has described.

Mr. Anthony Coombs

When my right hon. Friend next meets the UGC, will he raise the subject of the appalling incidents that took place at Liverpool university on 16 October last, when the visiting speaker, Mr. Ray Honeyford, was abused, spat upon and not allowed to speak, by so-called anti-racists? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that it was precisely that sort of Stalinist abuse of free speech that the Education Act 1986 was intended to prevent? What assurances will he seek from Liverpool university that such incidents will not occur again?

Mr. Jackson

Some of us believe that the only serious threat to academic freedom in this country comes from within some of the universities and other educational institutions. That is why the Government legislated to ensure freedom of speech in such institutions. I ask my hon. Friend to write to me with details of the episode that he mentioned, so that I can investigate it further.