HC Deb 19 June 1996 vol 279 c874
20. Mr. Chidgey

To ask the President of the Board of Trade what assessment his Department has made of the effect of reductions to the education budget on the funding of equipment for research in universities. [32130]

Mr. Ian Taylor

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) a few moments ago.

Mr. Chidgey

Is the Minister aware that, as a direct consequence of the lack of funding for equipment, universities are now unable to undertake critical experiments, and that multinational firms are consequently switching their research programmes from British universities to universities overseas? Does he accept that there is an urgent need for the Government to support universities' budgets, particularly the current £474 million shortfall for priority equipment alone—which is five times the amount that they have had available to spend in previous years? Does he accept that the Government must take some action to help on this issue?

Mr. Taylor

I do not accept that our best research universities are in the state that the hon. Gentleman describes. Nothing I see as I go around all those universities suggests anything other than the excellence of the research that is being carried out. We must be careful about spreading stories about the top universities in this country having such difficulties.

I do not deny that the forefront of research requires the forefront of equipment, which presents particular problems as the pace of change impacts on our research base. However, it is for the vice-chancellors to manage their affairs properly. It is evident that in not all cases have universities properly allocated money for research equipment in accordance with the ambitions that they publicly discuss.

I need much more information from the vice-chancellors to enable me to see what is going on. I underline the fact that, judging by the citations and the articles now being published, British universities are producing excellence, and inward investors welcome the accessibility and excellence of that research base.