HC Deb 19 December 1989 vol 164 cc182-3
4. Mr. James Lamond

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the annual postgraduate award for research students living away from home outside London paid by the research councils; and by how much it has changed in real terms since 1979.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson)

The basic postgraduate grant paid by the research councils in 1989–90 is £3,725 a year. That is 1.5 per cent. more in real terms than the equivalent grant paid by the research councils in the 1979–80 academic year.

Mr. Lamond

Would it not be sensible for research councils to be given more funds, despite the welcome increase that the Minister has just described, so that they can at least get somewhere near to competing against the money available in the City and commerce, to which young people are drawn, as we might want some of them to go into research? This is quite different from a student grant, as I am sure the Minister appreciates. In view of the costs incurred by research students, £3,725 will not encourage them to take up research.

Mr. Jackson

I should tell my hon. Friend—I think of the hon. Gentleman as my hon. Friend since we travelled round the Soviet Union together in a large black limousine—that the number of studentships awarded by research councils has increased by 11 per cent. during the past 10 years. The level of research grant is for the research councils to settle, but they are recruiting increased numbers at the present grant.

Mr. Key

Although the Medical Research Council, of which I have the honour to be a member, is grateful that the payment has been increased by £600 in the current financial year, there is a real problem of recruitment, competing against the private sector at a time of demographic contraction. Will my hon. Friend consider carefully the implications of that for the quality and the number of students who go into research?

Mr. Jackson

It is difficult to measure what one means by quality in this context. About one third of those who go on to postgraduate study have first-class degrees. That proportion has been more or less the same throughout the research councils for many years.

Dr. Bray

Will the Minister acknowledge that £3,725 is simply not a living rate and is a major disincentive which is having a drastic effect on quality? The proportion of first-class degrees is not a sufficient measure. I invite him to visit some leading research teams, such as that at the laboratory of molecular biology at Cambridge, to hear what they have to say. Is he aware that the Imperial Cancer Research Fund offers studentship grants of £7,269 and that the Wellcome Trust offers the same? It is utterly intolerable that the Medical Research Council and others should be unable to follow suit.

Mr. Jackson

The amount that we are paying is 1.5 per cent. more than was paid by the Government in which the hon. Member served 10 years ago. I visit many institutions and I am not aware that there is a problem with recruitment or quality. I think that the proportion of first-class degrees is a reasonable guide.

Mr. Conway

Is my hon. Friend aware of awards such as those made by organisations such as the National Fund for Research into Crippling Diseases? Should we not recognise the work that is done at the taxpayer's expense and welcome the tremendous contribution of many national charities which fund a great deal of medical research out of charitable donations?

Mr. Jackson

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The charities make an enormous contribution, especially to medical research. That shows what can be done. The hon. Member for Motherwell, South (Dr. Bray) referred to research assistantships, many of which are paid for by charities. Most of them are post-doctoral. Their number has increased four times during the past 10 years. Many are funded by the private sector and charities, and many more are funded by the Government.