HC Deb 22 May 1997 vol 294 cc831-2
9. Mr. Campbell-Savours

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what proposals he has to extend the use of information technology in higher education. [198]

Dr. Howells

We shall be looking to the Dearing inquiry to take into account the new possibilities opened up by information technology in its recommendations on the future development and delivery of higher education.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

May I welcome my hon. Friend to his post? I hope that, within the Department for which he has responsibility, there is appreciation of the original thinking that he will bring to its work. Is not the reality that any growth in higher education in the United Kingdom will not now come by way of expanding existing single-site universities, but by developing information technology in higher education and distance learning in the way that—I might say modestly—I suggested in my proposals for a university of the lakes two years ago? What is the Government's position on the matter?

Dr. Howells

I recall the impressive report which my hon. Friend circulated on the university of the lakes and on the state of higher and further education in Cumbria. I hope that we can now revisit it, because he is right about the need for new approaches to the delivery of education at all levels, especially further and higher education. He will understand, however, that we cannot comment specifically on any project, given that Sir Ron Dearing's inquiry will soon report to the House.

Mr. Boswell

Although I welcome the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to the Front Bench and, even in respect of this question, welcome some aspects of their answers, does he agree that information technology should be the practice of all engaged in higher education, including the humanities and more obvious subjects? Will he undertake to take a sympathetic line, subject to the Dearing recommendations, in respect of access and outreach, with particular reference to remote rural areas?

Dr. Howells

I should like to agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman said. The opportunity now available for the delivery of higher and further education, especially to remote rural areas, is tremendous. The sooner we get on with it, the better.