HL Deb 11 December 1963 vol 253 cc1208-315

2.52 p.m.

LORD TAYLOR rose to call attention to the Robbins Report (Cmnd. 2154), to the years of crisis facing higher education in Britain, and to the need for immediate and long-term action; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. This is a debate about boys and girls. We are having it because they have been doing so well at school—far better than we did, and better than ever before. They are the real heroes and heroines of the story; but they are also the niggers in the woodpile, though I hasten to add that it is our fault rather than theirs. The problem is that there are so many of them. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, tells us that there will be 936,000 18-year-olds in two years' time, which is more than ever before in history. These two facts put together—the unparalleled success of the boys and girls in the sixth forms of our schools in reaching university entrance standards and the post-war increase in the birth rate—are the cause of the crisis which has led to the Robbins Report on Higher Education.

My Lords, we shall be hearing a great deal about statistics in this debate, and I am going to begin with a very simple one. Our debate is going on for two days, for at least for twelve and perhaps for fourteen hours. When I speak to your Lordships my speed averages about 130 words a minute, which is on the high side, though not as high as the speed of my noble friend Lord Longford, who is the quickest speaker, I think, in your Lordships' House.


What about Lord St. Oswald?


If we take an average of about 120 words a minute, in the course of the next two days we shall be uttering something like 12 times 60 times 120 words, making 86,400 words—the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, who is very good at sums, will correct me if I am wrong—and if we go on for fourteen hours the figure will be over 100,000.

Among the twenty-five noble Lords who will be speaking are some of the wisest people in the land. They include the most reverend Primate, the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, who will, I hope, be saying something about the selection of students; the right reverend Prelate, the Lord Bishop of London, who I know knows a great deal about higher education overseas; my noble friend Lord Todd, who advises the Government on science; the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, who, until to-day, advised the Government on medicine; the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, the former headmaster of a great public school and the Vice-Chancellor of what will soon be a great university; the noble Lord, Lord McNair, whose report on the training of teachers was a very important advance in our history; and not least, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and many others.

In listening to this great volume of distilled wisdom I hope your Lordships will all the time remember that it is about young boys and girls and their future that we shall be talking. They are looking forward to their careers as scientists or teachers, as doctors or clergymen, as engineers or architects, lawyers or civil servants, business men or perhaps even politicians; and their road to these careers is now almost entirely through higher education, particularly through the universities. Unless we act now, as the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, tells us to act, the bars will be up for many of them and there will be no room for them in the inn.

To meet their need means change in our well-established ways; change on a huge and unprecedented scale; and such change is always painful to many of us. Robbins is bound to hurt. No one can escape from the unpleasantness of over-large classes in the universities at the start; from the appalling difficulties of housing these young people; from some loss of time and leisure for research in the next five years. But unless we face these changes we must bang the doors of our universities in many young and eager faces. Surely, this is a challenge to which we must respond in a determination to give them at least as good an opportunity as we had, or as their brothers and sisters had only five years ago.

To attempt to cover the whole field in an opening speech would be both foolish and unnecessary. To-day my noble friend Lord Greenhill will be speaking about adult education, to which he has given a life-time of service. To-morrow my noble friend Lord Silkin will be dealing with the place of the arts in higher education and also, I hope, with the very important subject of the teacher training colleges, or colleges of education, as Robbins would have us call them. My noble friend Lord Chorley will, I expect, be speaking for many of the teachers in our universities, and my noble friend Lord Shepherd will be dealing with training for business and the need for schools of business administration on the lines of that at Harvard. My noble friend Lord Longford will certainly be speaking about ministerial responsibility as, I hope, will also the noble Lord, Lord Eccles.

This afternoon, in a very little while, we shall be having the maiden speech of the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, as a Minister, and I may say that we are looking forward to it very much, and I will not take to heart his recent remarks. We shall, however, I must confess, miss his predecessor's erudition and ebullience and also his occasional excursions into science fiction; but we wish the noble Earl well in his new work. Then, winding up, we shall have the ripe wisdom of the noble Earl, Lord Dundee. I always admire his wonderful capacity to speak without a note. I do not know whether he will do so to-morrow, but I hope he will answer all our questions whether or not he has any notes. So we shall be having a multilateral, mixed force. I hope we shall attack the target area.

When the Robbins Committee were appointed there were two courses open to them. They might, as second-rate committees have done since time immemorial, have taken the evidence, raised their finger to the wind to see which way it was blowing, and then played for safety, and in due course they would have slipped back into richly deserved obscurity. Or they might have sought out the true facts of the situation by every means in their power. They might have evaluated the evidence for what it was worth—and some of it was worth a great deal and some of it was no more than a plea for the maintenance of the status quo—and then worked out the best solution of which human minds were capable: and this is, I think, precisely what they did. That is why the Robbins Report now stands beside the Beveridge Report, and the Minority Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law of 1909, which some of your Lordships may remember, as one of the great social documents of our age.

I suspect that the Government chose Robbins because they regarded him as a safe man. He is not quite as safe, though, as he looks. I think they thought he was a sound orthodox economist who would not be taken in by a lot of clever radicals. It so happens that Lord Robbins is a first-class social and economic scientist who would not be content with anything less than the truth and who would follow it wherever it led.

The Robbins Report has been claimed as a victory for the expansionists. It is not: it is a victory for sober statistical science over emotionally motivated prejudice. Lord Robbins is one of the great figures of the London School of Economics, as also was Lord Beveridge, and it was the authors of the Minority Report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, who founded the London School of Economics; and so we always come back to those old Fabians who built far better than they knew and are still building the social fabric of our country. We are in for another full dose of Fabian Socialism, and I cannot help being a little amused at the thought that it was the first duty of our first aristocratic Conservative Prime Minister for the past sixty years to announce his acceptance of it.

I learned the details of the Robbins Committee recommendations at the Brunel College of Technology just at the moment of its publication, and almost immediately afterwards I was due to make a television broadcast about it. And as I read them through, I could hardly believe my eyes. I must say I felt a tremendous inner glow of satisfaction, for I realised straight away two things. The first was that Lord Robbins's conclusions were in almost every respect identical with our Labour Party report on higher education, The Years of Crisis, which we had published seven months before. And incidentally there had been a good deal of laughter when we said what would have to be done. However, those people are perhaps laughing in another sort of way now. I knew then what I was not sure of before, and that was that we, in our amateur way, had managed to do our sums right. Lord Robbins's exercise in statistics is a very great exercise indeed. A wonderful collection of social work has been put into this Report. It proves its case up to the hilt, and I do not think there can be any real argument if one takes the trouble to read it—but I am afraid a lot of people who are criticising it now have not yet taken that trouble.

When I had read those conclusions, the second thing I realised was that because Lord Robbins's findings were virtually the same as ours the Government was bound to accept them, for obvious political reasons, though I must confess I was a little surprised at the speed with which the Government accepted them. Lord Robbins starts off with an axiom: that courses of higher education should be available for all who are qualified by ability or attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so. We, in our little document, The Years of Crisis, had used almost exactly the same words: We start from the assumption that all young people should be able to receive higher education to whatever extent their capabilities fit them to benefit from it. All boys and girls who gain entrance qualifications should be able, if they wish, to gain a place. The Government has accepted the axiom of Lord Robbins without modification, and this is a wonderful charter for the young people of our country.

Note that the criterion is the ability and attainment of the boys and girls, and not the national needs for the products of higher education. Lord Robbins tells a little story of how he was talking to the Rector of Moscow University and said to him (and he will correct me if I have got it wrong), "Here you are, in Russia, producing all these young people with higher qualifications. Can you be sure of absorbing them in the U.S.S.R.?" The Rector of Moscow University replied, "In the U.S.S.R. we can be certain of doing this", and Lord Robbins went on, "Surely in Britain we must be able to do as well as they can"; and I entirely agree with that.


My Lords, may interrupt the noble Lord to make a slight correction? It was not the Rector of Moscow University; it was an official of the Gosplan.


I readily accept the noble Lord's correction; I was quoting from memory. I think I am right in attributing to the noble Lord his following remark that we should do as well.

Notice something else. The proposals in the Robbins Report seem almost astronomical in terms of what we are used to, but they are no more proportionately—in fact they are rather less—than our great neighbours, the United States, the U.S.S.R. and France are doing or proposing to do. We differ from these three great countries in one important way; we have to earn our living in the world, not by exploiting our own soil or raw materials but by the use of our brain power. So if we are prudent we ought to be doing proportionately more to nourish that brain power than are our great neighbours. To those who are more concerned with the balance of payments and standard of living than with the duties of democracy towards its citizens I would say, Robbins is the absolute minimum for survival, and time is not in our favour. Already there are faint hearts who are up in arms telling us the thing is being rushed too fast. I remember they said exactly the same thing about the National Health Service; yet we did not hear the sick people complaining. It is just the same now; we do not hear the boys and girls complaining. We must rush, because to-morrow will be too late. These boys and girls are growing up now and we must be ready for them.

I said that the Robbins axiom was built on ability and attainment. This leads to our first great question: what are to be the criteria we use in judging the necessary ability and attainment? We can determine the size of the problem we have to solve simply by varying the mesh of the net we use to catch or reject the students of to-morrow. In other words, if we make things tough enough, we can cut the numbers to any extent we wish. Lord Robbins broadly assumed the continuation of the present examination standards, the present entry standards, and I think I am right in saying the Government have accepted this. But I would ask your Lordships to remember that it is far harder academically to get into a university now than it was thirty years ago, when many of us were entering university. When I went to London University all I needed was five "O" levels, but now it is three "A" levels, and not merely three "A" levels but three good "A" levels; and those who are talking, rather cruelly I think, about dilution and about letting people into the universities ought to remember the terribly tough academic standards we are applying at the moment.

We on this side of the House think entry at the moment is too hard rather than too easy. And because it is too hard, school curricula are being distorted and young minds are being forced to specialise far too early. Some of your Lordships may have heard, or read in the Listener, those excellent Reith Lectures by Dr. Sloman, the new Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex; and I am going to quote a small passage because it is exactly on these lines: Universities deplore premature specialisation, but it is in part of their own making, for by their entrance requirements they demand a standard in two, and often three, related subjects at the Advanced level that can only be reached if pupils specialise early. In fact, were an enlightened school to produce a pupil familiar with the greatest achievements of the human mind over the whole field of modern knowledge but without good marks in a narrow field, there would be a real risk that none of the English universities would admit him. That is a terrible state of affairs. Dr. Sloman goes on: Less competition for university places as a result of large-scale expansion would of itself greatly ease the problem of the schools. I have been thinking, and I believe that it would be possible now to get into a university with two or three "A" levels without having read a single Shakespeare play. I think that is a deplorable state of affairs. Something has gone wrong. What has gone wrong is that we have pushed an academic grid far too tight and we are thereby cutting out many excellent people who should be going to universities.

In his observations on general degrees the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, accepts this view, so far as university teaching is concerned. Here we fully agree with him. We believe that the case for the wide, general degree, with much less specialisation at an early stage, is proved beyond measure. But the implications of what may be called non-competitive university entry in terms of the number of places needed, has not yet begun to be explored. Time and again, in presenting their figures, Lord Robbins and his colleagues have stressed that they have been deliberately conservative. I am sure this is right. If you read The Times yesterday you would have seen the former Vice-Chancellor of Leeds University saying exactly the same thing—that, if anything, it is highly probable that the Robbins figures are on the low side.

What Lord Robbins had to recommend was so enormous that only a conservative approach could make it acceptable at all. But Lord Robbins has clearly warned us that his proposals are the minimum needed to achieve this generally accepted axiom. If we are to take in all the boys and girls who can both benefit from and contribute to higher education, the numbers may be far greater even than Lord Robbins and his colleagues have contemplated. In our little Report The Years of Crisis, which was only a brief document of 40 pages, as compared with Lord Robbins' 300 pages, we devoted about one-fifth of it to what, strangely enough, we both call "the years of crisis" immediately facing higher education. Lord Robbins devoted only one-twentyfifth of his big Report to it; but we cannot complain about that, because in his one-twentyfifth he made almost all the important points.

He points out that the trouble and the difficulty we are facing immediately is essentially a crisis in university places as opposed to other kinds of places. Between now and 1967–68, on the Government's pre-Robbins plan, there would have been a turning away from university of 78,000 boys and girls, and this would have reached a maximum in 1967–68, when in one year 25,000 would have been turned away. I think this is really a measure of the terrible failure of planning which has occurred in the last twelve years. I would add that I greatly doubt, however hard we try—and this applies to any Government—whether we can now put the matter fully right. I think we shall have great difficulty in doing so.

But, my Lords, there is one way not to do it. Your Lordships may have seen a letter in The Times from Mr. Williams revealing that a directive or an advice had been sent from the University Grants Committee to universities asking them not to increase proportionately with the other increases the number of students from the Commonwealth going to our universities. In his Report Lord Robbins (I think I am quoting him correctly, but if I am wrong I hope he will tell me so) said that we must not cut the proportion of Commonwealth students coming into our universities. We knew that to cut down on the intake of overseas students would be the easy way to cope with this crisis, and we said that this method must not be adopted. In my view, it is absolutely wrong that we should do this, because it is the one real contribution we can make to the developing countries, to our new Commonwealth. Yet we have this extraordinary situation of a directive, or an advice, going out from the University Grants Committee—and I can assure your Lordships that it has gone out—advising universities to keep the numbers of Commonwealth students at their present figure so that the percentage of new intake will fall. Of course, it might have been worse: they might have said, "We are going to cut it."

I want now to ask the Government a most important question, apart from the rights or wrongs of this matter—namely, who, in effect, has reversed the Robbins recommendation? Is it the Government, or is it the University Grants Committee? If it is the Government, have they considered the matter, or discussed it with the Commonwealth Relations Office? Have the University Grants Commission discussed it with the Commonwealth Relations Office; or how did they arrive at this decision not to increase the Commonwealth intake pari passu with the general intake? I am sorry to ask this question, but, fortunately, we are having a two-day debate, which will enable the noble Earl to obtain the answer. It is of great importance because it illustrates the great difficulties we are going to get into by putting the Universities Grants Committee in as a buffer between the Government and the universities. I am not for one moment against that, but we are going to have great problems arising over such matters as student intake; whether we should take in our Commonwealth fellows; and, if so, to what extent?

In fact, we can just about deal with this problem of the bulge, this crisis in the next five years. I think we fully agree with Lord Robbins that the young teachers will come forward; that the university teachers will be prepared to make the tremendous effort and the sacrifices that are required of them in the next five years, and that it will be possible to find the teaching accommodation. The real crisis and the real difficulty is going to be housing these students. Lord Robbins mentioned this in paragraph 590 of his Report, but he did not go into it in any detail. We went into it in quite a little detail.

The trouble is that since the war, quite reasonably, all the boys and girls have been, as I might call it, going on a university merry-go-round. A student does not go to his nearest university. If he lives in London, he goes to Leeds, Sussex or Sheffield; and if he lives in Sheffield, he goes to Exeter. They all want to get away from home; and, of course, for the first time, thanks to grants, they can afford to get away from home and to go to a distant university—and a very good thing too! At the same time, this presents the most tremendous accommodation problem, and it will be the hardest problem of all to solve in the next five years—and I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Robbins nodding agreement. We have said that we think the only answer is that a great many of them will have to go to their nearest university and live at home. We do not like it, but we cannot see how this problem can be otherwise dealt with in the immediate crisis period. I think it is only fair to make this clear, because I think this course will be forced on the Government, the University Grants Committee and the universities within a couple of years.

That brings me on to my next point: residence. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has recommended 225,000 additional student residences in the next seventeen years. As a result of that we should have 54 per cent. of our students in residence. This lends support to the remark of the former noble Viscount, Mr. Quintin Hogg, that the Robbins Report would involve building the equivalent of several new towns. But this is only half the story because universities are very heavily staffed institutions. The teacher/student ratio is roughly 1 to 7. It might change for the worse in this emergency period, but besides the teachers there are all sorts of other people who have to be housed in a university. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Todd, is going to say something about the problem of technicians, and certainly we shall need a great increase in their numbers. Then there are the various domestic staff at university, the cleaning staff, the cooking staff, the maintenance staff and all the rest. I have seen estimates which show that for every student one needs one person besides in the environment of a university in order to make that university go. It may be high, but that is the estimate I have seen. So if one has a new university of 10,000 students it will need, say, 5,400 places for students and "digs" for the rest, and then it will need ordinary homes with family accommodation for at least 3,000 people, and perhaps a great many more than that—I am assuming that many of the people will be recruited locally. This involves an enormous building operation.

I want to couple this with another Robbins recommendation, with which we fully agree: that the next batch of new universities should be inside our great cities and should not be located in Lancaster and York. We have nothing against what has been done so far, but we consider that the next batch, for very good reasons, ought to be within our great cities. How on earth is this to be done? We faced this issue in our little report, and we said that the only answer was to do comprehensive urban redevelopment; that is to say, to designate an area of a city and to put in something like a development corporation, with powers of compulsory purchase and with machinery to take the necessary population overspill in new towns and all the rest. As Lord Robbins rightly says, we must get on with this very quickly indeed to meet the crisis; ordinary local authority machinery will almost certainly be too slow. We must have new machinery and I think that development corporation machinery is the most appropriate.

Remember that Lord Robbins has recommended six extra new universities at once. Remember also that there is good reason for thinking that his figures are the minimum, and we say that there must be legislation to get the thing going. It is too much to expect the Government to put any more legislation into their legislative programme; I think it is full already. I would most earnestly and sincerely ask them to set up a committee at once to study the means necessary for locating new universities inside great cities. We are not asking this as a Party political point, but as a practical issue. It is no good asking the University Grants Committee to do this because it involves town planning and political and economic considerations far beyond their province. Somebody has got to deal with the legislation quickly, within about a couple of years, and the sooner we can have specific studies made on this point the better.

The next point is as to the size of the universities. We do not know what the right size of a university is, but we do know that it is very much easier to expand an existing university than to create a new one. Lord Robbins and his colleagues have a "hunch", and I agree with it, that the maximum size ought to be about 8,000 to 10,000 undergraduate students. Some people do not agree with that; they want a much bigger number. I have talked to the heads of American universities, which are much bigger than ours, and they have said to me, "Do not make our mistake; do not let them get bigger than 8,000 to 10,000. We have suffered from it ourselves." If your Lordships feel, as I do, that this figure is probably about right, I hope that instead of opposing Robbins you will throw your weight in behind the idea of trying to keep university sizes to 8,000 to 10,000. This is going to mean something else. It is going to mean that we again have to consider the question of more universities whenever a university shows signs of passing the 8,000 to 10,000 size.

It follows from this that the size of the University of London, which is between 24,000 and 27,000, is far too big. I think most people agree with this, except the Principal of the University of London, who is a very fine man and a very good administrator. But this problem is now urgent. Again I am going to ask the Government to think about this and take action quickly. The reason why it is urgent is that there are in London several potential colleges of advanced technology of university status. Are they to be added on to make the University of London even bigger? What about the new sister institution at South Kensington, the Imperial College of Science and Technology? This is going to change its status. Is it going to be part of the University of London, or is it going to be part of a new university of West London, as I think it ought to be? And what about taking into it the Queen Elizabeth College, which is just adjacent, because that would fit in very well? This, again, is an urgent problem which must be solved as a part of the job of university expansion; and I do not think it can be left, as Lord Robbins suggests, to the University of London itself because the University of London is, through its Principal, committed. So I think that we ought to have a good look at this matter, and that a proper committee or commission should be set up to look at it, and it must work very fast indeed.

I am going to leave out a whole host of subjects because other people will be dealing with them, and I have already spoken rather long. I am not going to say anything about the CATS; I am not going to say anything about the SISTERS (a horrible word, which means Special Institutions for Scientific and Technological Education and Research) because I know that the noble Lord, Lord Todd, is going to speak about them. I will say almost nothing about the teacher training colleges or the colleges of education and the very good idea for a bachelor of education degree. I am not going to speak about the brilliant idea for a council for national academic awards—how I wish I had thought of that one; we missed out on that—or about the University Central Council on Admissions. Everybody can make mistakes at the start, but by and large I think they have done a very good job; and it is very good that Oxford and Cambridge and the medical schools, who have managed to keep out of it, should come in as Lord Robbins has recommended. It is very important they should all be in. I am not going to say anything about the higher education advisory service because we were of the same opinion as Lord Robbins on that; or about his idea for correspondence courses; or about the use of radio and television, or the need for more post-graduate or part-time facilities.

We agree with almost every word of the Robbins proposals. We are particularly pleased about his proposals for teacher training colleges. I shall be very interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord McNair, has to say about them because your Lordships will remember his Report on this subject. If I may say so, with great respect, that Report was split fifty-fifty: his Committee had ten members, five went one way and five another. The noble Lord, Lord McNair, was rather against the teacher training colleges coming into the university ambit, and some of his colleagues took the opposite view. I shall be interested to see whether he has changed his opinion over all these years; because they have, in fact, already started to come in through the institutes of education.

I would remind those who think that the teacher training colleges should not come in of two others of Lord Robbins' axioms. The first is that equal academic rewards should be given for equal performance. The second is that there should be no freezing of institutions into established hierarchies; on the contrary, there should be a recognition and encouragement of excellence whenever and wherever it occurs. I think those are the things to remember when we are dealing with teacher training colleges and their future. I am not going to say anything about Lord Robbins's controversial proposal to raise universities' fees (he has a very good case for it), or about our wish to do away with the means test and to make the universities free. The two proposals are not mutually incompatible, but I do not think they are so important that we should argue about them now.

I want to turn to one final point, which is in some ways the most important question of all. I am going to assume that Lord Robbins's arguments about what has to be done are established beyond doubt. The question remains: how is it to be done? I venture to think that here the Robbins Report is weakest; and that here, as practical politicians, we may be able to make the greatest contribution. The Robbins proposal is for a powerful University Grants Commission to act as a buffer between the Government and the universities, to keep the money clean and uncontaminated by political considerations. I do not accept the idea that politics is a dirty business. I believe that universities are no less political than Parliament. Indeed, any reader of Sir Charles Snow can see this for himself. In Britain our two-Party system ensures that the dirt in politics is quickly exposed and dealt with far more quickly than in any other human occupation. It is true that we fight hard, but we fight according to well-established rules; and we have to work as teams, and in this we learn to sink our egos in a common purpose.

As I have listened to the pleas of some eminent academics to be kept out of politics, while receiving all the largesse which only political action can give, I have wondered whether they remember or, indeed whether they have ever read their Aristotle. In Book I of the Ethics, Aristotle says this: It is political science which prescribes what subjects are to be taught in states, which of these the different sections of the population are to learn, and up to what point. Whether they like it or not, it is we as politicians who must determine the broad pattern of our educational system, simply because only we have the power and the means at our disposal to do it.

At the end of the Robbins era, in 1980–81, the University Grants Commission will be allocating at least £500 million a year of public money. This leaves out the student maintenance of £221 million. If we accept the University Grants Commission principle, it is surely right to scrutinise with the utmost care what we are doing; for this is something quite new constitutionally. I remember pleading for the National Health Service to be run not by the Ministry of Health but by a National Health Service Corporation. I always gave the University Grants Committee as an analogy, and I was always told that Parliament and the Treasury—and particularly the Treasury—would never consider handing over control of huge sums of public money to a corporate body. But this is, in effect, what is now being proposed.

There are two jobs to be done; there is the broad strategy, and there are the detailed tactics of planning and developing our advance in higher education. Our present disastrous situation is due to a failure of strategic planning. Here we cannot absolve either the Government or the University Grants Committee; but it must never happen again. Someone must do the sums—the political arithmetic if you like—and must go on doing them, year in year out, so that we have a ten-year plan which is kept ten years ahead; and that, indeed, is what Lord Robbins says. This job itself has two parts. The first is the assessment of the potential intake of students to institutes of higher education (which is what Lord Robbins did) and the second is the assessment of the national needs for the products of the institutes of higher education; that is to say, the teachers, the doctors, the engineers, the scientists and all the rest. We have no complaint that Lord Robbins confined himself to the first; I think he was quite right to do this. But both jobs must be done in the future.

If you look at page 165 of the Robbins Report, your Lordships will see a little footnote about his allowance for doctors in the future. There is a strange cutting down in the percentage of students, so that we hardly go up by the percentage of the population increase over the next 20 years. Lord Robbins adds that he got this figure from the University Grants Committee. Where did they get it from? I have no idea. It is a most extraordinary thing. We are starved of general practitioners; we are relying on India and Pakistan, and all the countries overseas which are developing, to send us people to keep our National Health Service going. Yet here we find the University Grants Committee recommending virtually no increase in the proportion of doctors qualifying. This is not the way to do it. This is no good at all. Fortunately, I see my noble friends Lord Brain and Lord Cohen of Birkenhead, and I hope they are going to say something later on this point. Who is going to do these sums? Could the new University Grants Commission do them? I do not think so. They will be saying not merely how to spend the money, but how much money to spend. They will be doing the lot. This is really an abrogation of Government. Should the Government do it? Should the Civil Service do it? I do not think so. I believe that it is much better done, as we suggested it should be done, by a National Universities Development Council; and you will find a sort of pale echo of this in Lord Robbins' Report, in the proposed Consultative Council on Higher Education. We think that this strategic planning ought to be the job of some specific body, doing it regularly and taking an overall view.

Next, my Lords, I come to the tactics. We accept the principle of a buffer. I think it is a very good principle. I also think that Lord Robbins was quite right to reject the functional fragmentation of the University Grants Commission, by which there would have been one for CATS, one for universities, one for teacher training colleges and all the rest, which was what many people wanted. It was a very bad idea. But I am not quite sure that he is right to reject regionalisation of the University Grants Commission's work. I could argue that, but I will not argue it, on the basis of the necessary knowledge which a University Grants Commission must have of the work of the universities it is looking after.

But there is one thing that I think ought to have been looked at. Lord Robbins examined university government in great detail, and he concluded that the final arbiters of every university should be laymen, and not academics. But when it came to the proposed University Grants Commission he did not say this. Of course the present Committee is more than an academically controlled body. It has a Chairman who is both Chairman and Managing Director. He is the overlord of the university world, and we have endowed the Chairman of the University Grants Committee with quite extraordinary powers. Indeed, I should say that if you antagonised the Chairman of the University Grants Committee you could thereafter expect to have quite a job in getting what you wanted. That is a thoroughly bad situation. I am not reflecting on either past or present University Grants Committee Chairmen, but we have invested too much power in the Chairman of the University Grants Committee.

I make an earnest plea for the Government to look at this matter and to see whether we ought not to have something more like the B.B.C.—a corporation of laymen with a big planning commission of technical people, and a Director-General responsible to a corporation. I throw this out only as an idea, as one possible solution to what I think is a very dangerous situation as regards the universities themselves. I think our academic friends should be much more fussed about the nature of the U.G.C. than about which Minister is going to control them. They need not be frightened of a Minister, whoever he is, because he can always be called to account in Parliament. The long-term danger to academic freedom is control by anonymous civil servants or an irresponsible University Grants Committee.

My Lords, beware of the secret directive. We had a secret directive to the University Grants Committee a couple of years ago, when they were told to cut. The University Grants Committee had no powers of public reply. That is thoroughly bad. In the case of the B.B.C., very properly, there is provision for the Government to give directives to the B.B.C. if the need arises, and the B.B.C. can make a reply, but both have to be public. Of course there must be consultation between whichever Minister is concerned and the University Grams Committee—constant consultation—but if the Minister decides to issue a directive to the University Grants Committee And the University Grants Committee do not like it, then I think that this must be done in public for the future, and that it is a statutory safeguard which the universities ought to be thinking about a great deal more than they are. I am going to say nothing about which Minister ought to control university education. I have said my say in The Times, and my noble friend Lord Longford will be dealing with it in considerable detail later on.

In accepting the Robbins Report we are doing two things. First, we are deciding to change our universities beyond measure. I am going to suggest that this change is a very exciting, stimulating and vital thing. Fortunately, there are many people in the university and academic world who feel thus. One has only to read Dr. Sloman's Reith lectures about Essex to feel this exciting new surge forward which is coming; and by changing the universities we are going to change all our patterns of life, because it is the people in the universities who make society what it is. Of course, we must stick to and hold fast to the good things. I do not expect there will be great changes at Oxford and Cambridge. They do not need to change a great deal, although they need to change in some ways. My noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth grunts, and wants to see them changed greatly. I do not. I think they are pretty good, except for certain elements of entry and certain matters of the machinery of government. We want to have lots of experiment, lots of new ideas, lots of try-outs—and there will be some mistakes.

The second thing we are doing is this. We are giving a unique opportunity to one-fifth of our future citizens, and I want to say just one word to them because special opportunities carry with them special and unique obligations. Our students of to-day seem to me to be more hard-working, more intellectually honest and much more balanced people than they were, but they seem to be just a little lacking in drive, in ambition and in a desire to turn the world topsy-turvy and perhaps make it a better place but certainly alter it. They are almost too content. I do not blame them for this. I think it is partly due to this over-specialisation and to having to work too hard. But they cannot opt out of the responsibility of leadership.

A university degree is not a passport to a safe or easy life, to take a ride on the back of society. Indeed, the first draft of our Labour Party report on higher education we called not "The Years of Crisis" but "Learning to Serve", to emphasise this conception of a university course as a preparation for a life of service to one's fellows. I think that teachers of universities have not only a technical responsibility to turn out men and women with professional competence, but a social and a moral responsibility as well. I suppose this is best taught, not by precept but by example: and one cannot help remembering Chaucer's description of the Clerk of Oxenford, which I think is perhaps the ideal at which we should all aim: Sounding in moral virtue was his speech, And gladly would he learn and glady teach. There are two pieces of legislation which I must say have given me, in my lifetime, the greatest personal pleasure. The first was the National Health Service Act and the second the New Towns Act. Both were made and implemented by a Labour Government. I hope that the privilege—and it will be a privilege—of implementing the Robbins Report may fall, in not too long a time, to a Labour Government. If it does, as I hope it will, we shall certainly strive to be worthy of it; but, if not, we will do all we can to help the Government of the day to do the job as it should be done, for in turning Robbins from paper to reality we shall be building a good pattern of life for all our citizens in the years ahead. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.46 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me that we are greatly indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for drawing our attention to this Report, and also for alerting us to the magnitude and the urgency of the problem which this remarkable Report has brought to light. We are also indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for his illuminating survey of the main points made in this Report. It might well be convenient that later speakers should deal with particular aspects of the Report, and that is what I propose to do. I should like to make it quite clear, in view of the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, indicated the credentials, the representational authority, of certain of your Lordships who are taking part in this debate, that I am not speaking in any representative capacity. I now hold no administrative or teaching office in any university. My justification for speaking to your Lordships is that I have spent nearly the whole of my working life on the staffs of three universities of different types, and I was Vice-Chancellor of one of them for eight years. In that capacity I was a member of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, and therefore in close touch both individually and collectively with the University Grants Committee and many Government Departments. But I am really speaking for myself and from my own experience.

I must add my tribute to the manner in which the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and his colleagues have tackled their immense task. I do not believe that the educational system of any country has at any time been the subject of so thorough and so imaginative an investigation and Report as we now have. It is assured of an honoured place in the long line of great Government Reports that began in the nineteenth century. It is packed full of good "meat", and one does not know where to begin; but I intend to concentrate my speech on one out of the very many important points—namely, the future relation of our universities to Government, together with a comment on the Robbins criterion for the admission of students to a university. In specialising in that way I must not be thought to underrate the importance of the many other educational topics dealt with in this Report.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred to the training colleges. I have not yet made up my mind as to the future position of the training colleges. I can, however, assure your Lordships that the contact between the universities and the training colleges is very much closer today than it was twenty years ago. That is largely due to the institutes of education which the universities have set up. But I want to look to the long-term problem raised in the Robbins Report of the future relation of the universities to Government; and I shall try to describe to your Lordships the present situation as I understand it.

As your Lordships know, the present link between the universities and the central Government is the University Grants Committee, appointed first in 1919 and responsible to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In my experience, which is somewhat out-of-date, this is a most valuable body. It not only examines the needs of the universities and allocates block grants to them—and I may, in passing, mention that one of the features of a block grant is the degree of flexibility which it permits—but is available for advice to the universities and has both permanent and temporary sub-committees on matters of common interest to universities.

I recollect, with the greatest possible pleasure, the contacts I had, as Vice-Chancellor, with Sir Walter Moberly, who was Chairman of the Committee at that time. He was most helpful; one could go and see him at any time. And I feel quite sure, from what I know of Sir John Wolfenden, the new Chairman, that the situation will be the same under his chairmanship. It is proposed in the Robbins Report and accepted by the Government that the scope of the duties of this Committee—in future to be called the University Grants Commission—shall be broadened and that it shall be used for distributing much larger sums of money both to the universities and to certain other institutions to be brought within its scope. It is considered to be anomalous that a Commission charged with the duty of distributing large sums of money should be attached to the Treasury; but it cannot float in space and it must find another home. That other home is a matter which concerns the universities deeply, as I shall hope to show.

When considering what to do with the University Grants Commission and the universities in the future, it is wise to ask ourselves what have been the main conditions of such success as the universities may have achieved during the past eighty years in which the present pattern has emerged. My submission is that the first condition of their success has been their freedom and independence; and the second, their flexibility of administration and their variety. They enjoy freedom from political influence and governmental control and they have enjoyed a measure of independence by reason of ancient or modern endowments or their ability to attract money from private sources and, more recently, from local authorities and the Treasury.

The local authorities and the Treasury have respected that independence and have trusted the universities to make the best use of the grants once given. Most local authorities are proud of what they call "our university", and I, at any rate, have never heard of any attempt to exercise any influence upon them. It is only during the last forty years that they have become so heavily dependent upon the Exchequer. Freedom and independence are not mere catchwords. Let me try to illustrate. In making appointments the universities are free to select the man or woman who, by personality and intellect, is best suited for the position regardless of his or her views upon politics or religion (except, of course, in the case of the very few theological Chairs which are linked with a particular religious foundation), regardless of the question whether he or she is or is not persona grata to the Government or any Government Department, and regardless of nationality. I could give your Lordships a string of names of very distinguished foreigners whom the universities have been able to enlist in their service. I will mention only two names well-known to many of your Lordships: Arthur Goodhart of Oxford and Professor Chain of Oxford, who, with Professor Florey and Professor Fleming, shared the Nobel Prize in connection with their development of penicillin. That is the atmosphere in which the universities live. It exerts a powerful attraction on many men and women of independent mind and is a great help in recruiting their staffs. Moreover, when a university has good leadership this atmosphere percolates down through all levels and has its effect upon teaching and research of all kinds, scientific, literary, historical and so forth.

It is the duty of a university both to increase knowledge and to impart it. The best teacher is almost certain to be a learner—which means, in the natural sciences, that he must be an investigator. Both Professor J. J. Thomson and Lord Rutherford used to insist upon the reciprocal value of teaching and research. Students are stimulated by the knowledge that important research is being done in their department and by their own professors and lecturers; and they pay more attention to a teacher whom they know to be adding to knowledge. Research has both a direct value in its product and a collateral value in that it fertilises teaching. At any rate in science, fruitful research often comes in bursts of great activity, which may be followed by periods of frustration and disappointment. It is then that the teaching duties of the researcher come to his rescue and enable him to find satisfaction in a more routine task. In short, I regard research, in the sense of increasing knowledge, as the life-blood of a university and the primary test of its success. "Where there is no vision, the people perish."

My Lords, I will turn now to the second condition of their success, flexibility of administration and variety. I speak only from my own experience. There is in the universities much more flexibility in arriving at how members of the staff shall carry out their duties, how they shall divide their time between their different duties, what staff is needed for this or that department, what the departmental expenditure ought to be, what promotion is due to members of the staff, than we should, I think, find in the Civil Service or any of the other services.

A great deal of the administration in the universities is done by persons who are, or have been, teachers and researchers. Moreover, it often calls for rapid action, as when a Vice-Chancellor has to secure an option on a new site or has to avert the loss of a valued member of the staff who has been tempted to go elsewhere, perhaps across the Atlantic. When circumstances like these arise he has to act at once and has no time to consult any Government Department. This freedom and flexibility encourages variety. No two universities are the same. Witness what is happening under our eyes in the new universities, which are now being founded with the aid of the University Grants Committee. They are full of new ideas and experiments, due to the personal initiative of imaginative men and women, as Dr. Sloman's Reith Lectures show. So, as I see it, the real problem for the future is how to reconcile these characteristics, freedom, independence and infinite variety and a certain flexibility of administration, which the universities have inherited from the past, with what has now become an increasing dependence upon public funds.

At this point it may be useful to look abroad. Time after time I have heard professors in foreign universities express envy of the autonomy and independence of our universities. I have recently made inquiries in two neighbouring countries, France and Holland, and I shall try to summarise the results. In France, where the universities are under the Ministry of Education, academic freedom is in practice complete so far as concerns the appointment and promotion of university teachers and their power to express opinions without danger of interference. But in other ways it is seriously restricted. So long as a university wants to make no change there is no trouble. But, if I may quote a letter of a French professor: Trouble begins if we want new subjects to be taught or investigated, new professorships to be created, new appropriations to be made for the creation of a new centre or the development of a new line of research. New funds will then be necessary, and in order to get them we have to appeal to the Ministry of Finance through the channel of the Ministry of National Education. I continue my summary. The French universities suffer from rigidity and uniformity, partly by reason of the fact that university degrees are necessary for admission to so many professions. Thus, studies are organised in the same way throughout the universities, with, however, the advantage that the degrees of all the universities are of equal value. The professor adds: Whether this uniformity is a necessary consequence of a Ministry, or is due to Napoleonic authoritarianism, remains an open question. He continues: A comparable rigidity exists as regards personnel. Professors are civil servants, which means that only French citizens can be appointed. He continues: Foreigners can be engaged only on a contractual, that is, a temporary, basis. We have been perfectly unable therefore to follow the British example in 1933, when exiles from Germany have been most generously received in your universities.… As regards students also, we have no choice left to us: we are obliged to accept all applicants who are qualified to enter the university.… We could not decide, for instance, that we want to have no more than a certain number.… This again has some advantages: class prejudices will be excluded, but may have also, and has had, some inconveniences; we receive many students who are not well prepared to study in our field, with the consequence of numerous failures at the time of the examinations. I turn to Holland, where there are three State universities, or more if one understands the term "university" in the Dutch sense. There are other universities, which are run by churches and confessional bodies, and one by a municipality. As for the State universities, the Ministry of Education controls the whole field of their activities. He appoints professors directors and other high personnel, and has a complete discretion to accept or not the recommendation of the universities; but in practice, if he cannot accept it, he will invite the governing body of the university to reconsider it or to consult with him. The universities are not content with this situation. After the liberation in 1945, an unsuccessful attempt was made to secure the autonomy of the universities. My informant, who, in his own words, "immensely prefers" our system, says: On the financial side we felt very jealous of your English system of grants without any further dependence on Government. It is an interesting testimony to the permanence of some of the work of Napoleon that both my French and Dutch informants should mention him, though the Napoleonic occupation of Holland lasted for only about ten years. So much for the foreign evidence, though it might be extended. That would be interesting.

I am not suggesting that, if our universities were placed under the Ministry of Education, many such changes would soon take place. At first, things would go along much as they are, but we all know that there is a strong tendency for Government Departments to extend their jurisdiction, even though our civil servants are most loyal in carrying out strictly the terms of their mandate. All governmental administra tion tends towards uniformity and rigidity. The Government have now agreed with the Robbins Committee that universities should draw the Government's financial support through an independent body on similar lines to the present University Grants Committee". leaving the question of Ministerial responsibility for later decision.

On this question of Ministerial responsibility, the Robbins Committee considered the possible attachment of the University Grants Commission to the Lord President of the Council or to the Ministry of Education, and they rejected both those proposals. One of the reasons given by the Robbins Committee for not placing the universities and other autonomous institutions under the Ministry of Education is contained in their paragraph 781, which includes this passage: … the business of the main institutions of higher learning is not only education: it is also the advancement and preservation of knowledge … it is essential that much research should be domiciled in institutions of higher education". I underline that reason. I may be wrong, but I think I am right in saying that, apart from educational research, the Ministry of Education has no experience in assessing the value of research projects or their degree of priority, or of estimating their probable cost; and I doubt whether any Ministry of Education could understand the vital part played in the universities by research, and the absolute necessity of supporting it on a large scale.

Accordingly, the Robbins Committee recommends the creation of a new Ministry—namely, a Ministry of Arts and Science, which would become responsible for the new and enlarged University Grants Commission and, through that body, for the universities, the Research Councils, the Arts Council and certain other bodies. I believe that this is the right solution. The universities and the Research Councils have already much in common, and they share in the application of the principle of block grants, while being left with a wide discretion in the detailed spending of the money.

My Lords, I commend to you the following short extract from a public address recently given by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, Mr. Winston Barnes, who said: Universities do not merely provide a tertiary stage of education beyond that of the primary and secondary schools. Their business extends beyond education into the wider sphere that Bacon called 'the advancement of learning'. Through the research, which is the air they breathe, universities are related to the research councils and to research wherever it is conducted. I have now only a few words to say on the admission of students to a university. So far, everything that I have said is, I hope, in support of the Robbins Committee. I must now become critical on one point. In paragraph 31 it is stated as an axiom that courses of higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so. That is a sentence which is characteristic of the generous spirit which pervades this Report. I hope that the expression "wish to do so" means something more than "applies for admission". I hope it means that the applicant for admission must apply with a purpose—not necessarily a vocational purpose, but a desire to improve himself and make himself a more useful citizen. If your Lordships will consider your own children or other children known to you, is it not the fact that a number of young persons, quite intelligent and equipped with the necessary levels, are at the age of 16 to 18 completely "fed up" with the years of learning, studying and examinations, and are eager to do something practical—farming, engineering, business, local government service and so forth? I have known many such quite intelligent but not bookishly-inclined children, genuinely keen to start doing something different, to be on their own, and to enjoy the feeling of earning. I believe that some members of this group, after a few years of practical work, will want to go to university and will be all the better able to profit from it by reason of what they have been doing.

It is most important to facilitate late entry into higher education. But I doubt very much the wisdom of encouraging or persuading this type of boy or girl to go straight from school to a university. Moreover, it must be remembered that there is now a considerable financial temptation to go to a university. To such a boy or girl, having acquired the necessary "A" levels, the State now offers, subject to a generous means test, a cheque for about £1,000 for maintenance during the three-year course, or £1,330 for a four-year course, plus approved fees. To many parents this may seem to be a very attractive solution of the problem of what to do with the boy or girl for the next few years.

It is for these reasons that, in my opinion, it is important that, apart from the large number of boys and girls who admit themselves by winning open scholarships and exhibitions and thereby demonstrate their keen desire to go to university, the university should have a say in the matter and should satisfy itself by interview, enquiry of the school and so on, before admitting an applicant, that he really wants to go to the university and is likely to profit from it and is not merely following the line of least resistance or yielding to parental persuasion. Universities can do much good; they can also do much harm to those students who have come to them in the wrong frame of mind. So I am opposed to any wholesale, automatic, procedure of admission to the universities, and consider that it should be under careful control.

My Lords, I thank you for your patience. In my judgment, we have the best university system in the world, or, at any rate, on this side of the Atlantic. It can be improved; but let us not damage the principles of freedom, independence and flexibility upon which it rests.

4.18 p.m.


My Lords, I think it is only a matter of some 25 hours since I have been responsible in your Lordships' House for matters concerning university grants: indeed, only since my right honourable friend took his seat in another place yesterday. Many of your Lordships, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, said, are highly qualified to speak, from great experience, on the Motion that is before us to-day. It is, therefore, with especial humility that I venture to address your Lordships for the first time from this place. This is a subject on which the House has, indeed, much to offer by way of wisdom, and I am sure that we are all deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, for giving us this early opportunity of considering the Robbins Report and the decisions upon it. The noble Lord has made, if I may say so, some wise and objective remarks about it. There is evidently a wide measure of agreement in what I might call the triangle of Lord Robbins, Her Majesty's Government and Her Majesty's Opposition. It seems to me that there was a great deal with which we on this side of the House could go along with the noble Lord, Lord Taylor. I am sure, however, that my right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council, whom we all in this House—and not least your humble servant—miss so very much, will take them into full consideration in making up his mind about certain recommendations on which the Government have not so far declared themselves.

We have also been privileged to hear an interesting contribution from the noble Lord, Lord McNair, who not only took a First in Law at my old university and is one of the principal authorities in your Lordships' House on International Law, but has also, as we have heard, been associated with no fewer than three universities, is most knowledgeable about teacher training colleges and has told us some very interesting things (at any rate, they interested me) about the French experience of universities coming under the Ministry of Education and also in regard to reseach and universities. The two noble Lords who have so far spoken have certainly given this important debate a most auspicious start. We are all, I feel sure, particularly glad to see in his place the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, who has already intervened in the debate. I am sure that, whatever else there may be in my remarks from which certain noble Lords may feel obliged to differ, I carry the whole House with me in extending congratulations to Lord Robbins and his colleagues on his Committee for their truly impressive Report. It surveys, for the first time in our history, the whole of our system of higher education, and propounds the course of its future development. Few State Papers of this century have been more definitive or decisive than this one. None, I would venture to say, has been more compre- hensive, or is likely to have a greater bearing on the future.

Apart from the question of expansion, which is what we are mainly discussing to-day, the Robbins Committee discuss, I think for the first time in any public document since the Reformation, what higher education is about; what the universities are; what we want them for. And the conclusions to which the Committee have come are of vital importance for the future of our society. I had the opportunity, prior to this debate, of a brief discussion with my right honourable friend the Lord President. He has inspired me in this matter. He is a man who has been concerned with these problems for some seven years, and there is hardly, I imagine, anyone on either side of the House who will be more qualified to speak in another place. My right honourable friend asked me particularly to say to the House that, in accepting at once the immediate targets for expansion, the Government regard them without doubt as realistic and capable of fulfilment, and are determined to see them fulfilled by the provision of the necessary resources.

My right honourable friend has also asked me to say that in his view the clue to the success of the operation lies at the post-graduate end of the spectrum. Undergraduate places are a useful yardstick, indicating the scale of expansion, but a university is not a teaching factory. Even if it were, the clue to the expansion of undergraduate places lies in the training of staff and the provision of post-graduate facilities of all kinds, including research, which will enable staff of adequate quality to be recruited in sufficient numbers by providing them with the opportunities for work at their own level which will render the life of the university teacher attractive and rewarding in itself.

It is now nearly three years since my right honourable friend, Mr. Harold Macmillan, as Prime Minister, sought the advice of Lord Robbins and his colleagues. Memories are short. It has sometimes been suggested that the three years during which Lord Robbins and his Committee were labouring have been years of marking time so far as higher education was concerned. The very opposite is the case, my Lords. Almost at the same time as the Prime Minister announced the appointment of the Robbins Committee, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced a massive new capital programme for university development, totalling £110 million worth of building work alone to be begun in the four years 1962 to 1965. This programme was designed to be compatible with further development after 1965 to expand the university population, should it be so decided, to about 170,000 by the early 1970s. At that time, three years ago, the university population was only just in excess of 100,000. During the years that followed, this work has gone steadily forward, and it is estimated that this year there will be 125,000 students at the universities. In the course of the past four years, seven completely new universities have been founded on the initiative of the Government—an event quite unparalleled in the history of this country.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl, though I know it is his maiden speech as a Minister? If he is reviewing progress in the last few years and congratulating the Government on their remarkable showing, is he going to say anything about the severe cuts which were imposed by the same Government, and which led to such severe protests from the heads of universities?


My Lords, I could refer to some savage cuts in educational grants towards the end of the life of the last Labour Government. If we go in for that, and the reduction in expenditure on education, I think I should have to say something about that as well. However, let me now say that in the course of the past four years seven new universities have been founded, and in the course of seven years ten colleges of advanced technology have been developed, first under the protective wing of the local education authorities, and then as national institutions under the wing of the Ministry of Education.

These ten CATS have been brought to the pitch at which the Robbins Committee found them fit for university status. During these years, too, with the knowledge of the Government, the Royal College of Technology in Glasgow has been raised in status, and is now known as the University of Strathclyde. In successive years since 1958 the Government have authorised massive increases in the training colleges, culminating in the Minister of Education's announcement in January of this year of an accelerated programme of expansion, to bring students numbers in the colleges to 80,000 by 1970. This was a decision whose merits and scope have, I consider, been vindicated by the Robbins Report. I am glad to see that my noble friend Lord Eccles will be participating in this debate. A great deal of credit is due to him and, of course, to his successor. Substantial programmes for the expansion of the Scottish Central Institutions and Colleges of Education have also been initiated by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. These were the occasions, if any, on which the Government might have been accused of hasty action; and yet, curiously enough, it is only now when we know the facts that such accusations are heard.

No responsible Government would have launched developments of these dimensions, and of such complexity and importance, until they had satisfied themselves and the country that in doing so they were proceeding on the right lines. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said in another place, the base had already been laid, but without the full array of facts and figures, and the authoritative judgment of Lord Robbins and his colleagues, I wonder whether any of your Lordships would have considered that the Government could have carried the country with them on the scale of development which they have now accepted.

There are those who claim that we have been dilatory and those who say that we have been hasty. I submit that these critics cannot have it both ways. The true position is that having established the facts we are able to make effective decisions and go forward with a wide measure of agreement from very well-prepared positions. Expansion of higher education, my Lords, is a matter on which a wide measure of agreement is, indeed, necessary for success. It needs the freely given collaboration of the universities and other institutions of higher education. The expansion to which we look forward must not be a forced or mechanical affair: that is the very opposite of all that higher education in this country stands for. I am glad to say that in the conferences which my right honourable friend the Lord President and Minister for Science has so far had with the universities on these matters—he has already conferred with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the Association of University Teachers—this willing collaboration has been freely offered on the understanding that the Government will play their part.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl? The noble Earl has made frequent reference to his right honourable friend the Lord President of the Council and Minister for Science. I understood that there was a struggle going on in the Government—a long struggle; in fact too long—as to whether they were to have two Ministers or one; whether the Lord President was to win or whether the Minister of Education would have a say. Are we to take it from the noble Earl's frequent reference to the work of his right honourable friend in this sphere that he is prejudging the issue as to whether the Lord President is to be Minister of Higher Education?


The Government have taken absolutely no decision in this matter, and, indeed, I am going to deal with this question a little later in my speech. There are differing views on both sides of the House, as well as within Parties, I may say; but I need not go further into that at the moment.

Some people tend to talk as if universities were some kind of public utility such as roads. They are not. If they are to fulfil their end in our system they must remain what they are to-day, free and independent institutions. Some of the most emphatic passages in the Robbins Report are devoted to this issue and to the safeguards required for academic independence. In particular I quote from paragraph 731 of the Report. We regard the principle exemplified by the University Grants Committee as an essential ingredient of any future government machinery … This principle the Government wholeheartedly accept, and I am glad to be able to reaffirm it on their behalf so early in the tenure of my right honourable friend's new responsibilities. I am glad, too, that it is my friend, who is also a friend of several of your Lordships, Sir John Wolfenden, the new Chairman of the University Grants Committee, who will be largely responsible for this work.

Beside this question of principle, the ultimate distribution of Ministerial responsibilities—now I come to this point—and departmental organisation seems to me to be much less important. But, as I have already told your Lordships, there are strong and differing views, and all deserve respect. Some we have already read in the Press, and others will, I have no doubt, be expounded by your Lordships in the course of the debate.

Until the Treasury relinquished their responsibility for universities—they were finding it increasingly difficult to reconcile these with the main body of their duties—there were five Ministers, not two or three, who had responsibilities in the field of education: first, the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who has been responsible for the grants to the University Grants Committee; secondly, the Lord President of the Council, who has been concerned with post-graduate awards and scientific grants; thirdly, the Minister of Education himself, who is responsible for the teacher training colleges, the CATS and other establishments of further education; fourthly, the Secretary of State for Scotland in so far as education there is concerned; fifthly, the Minister of Labour, whose interest is in industrial training.

These arrangements have not worked badly, but some have argued that one Minister should assume all these responsibilities; others that they should be distributed in various ways between two or three Ministers. The Government are most anxious—and I am very glad to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, on this point—to weigh all that is said on this subject before reaching a conclusion upon it. Few would deny, however, that in the immediate future, which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, especially emphasises in the Motion before us to-day, there is a major need at Ministerial level for co-ordination of what I might term the short-term expansion of higher education to which we are all committed. I would remind your Lordships briefly what these commitments are.

Before Lord Robbins reported, the Government were planning for, and had undertaken to finance, 150,000 full-time university places and 15,000 places in Colleges of Advanced Technology and the equivalent institutions in Scotland by 1966–67; altogether, 168,000 places of degree standard or higher. The new short-term objective, as set by Robbins, is for the following year, 1967–68, and is for 197,000 places. Since this is a year after the end of the current university quinquennium on which detailed planning is based, no specific target had obviously been set for this year, but I think we might well have got beyond the modest increase of 4,000 places over 1966–67, which is shown on page 260 of the Robbins Report as "places planned". After all, the increase this October has been 9,000.

However that may be, the objective of 197,000 places four years from now is a formidable one. Determination, ingenuity and improvisation will be called for from all concerned, as well as finance; and, as we know, our building industry is very heavily loaded. After this period, which we hope will be a period of stimulation in our universities, demographic considerations will allow us to enter a period which will become one of consolidation. The age groups from which students come, after rising to a spectacular peak of nearly one million eighteen-year-olds in 1965 (the post-war bulge in the birth rate), will begin to fall away in the next few years before mounting again in the 'seventies. During this period the universities will still be expanding, but our hopes of additional students in the late 'sixties and early 'seventies are based on what we expect to be the greater proportion who every year will be staying on in the sixth forms and getting to the standards required. During this period also—the latter part of the ten-year programme which the University Grants Committee have been asked to frame—the base must be established before the further considerable expan- sion of the later 'seventies when demography again takes charge of our educational system.

I hope it will not be said that by taking decisions over the next ten years we have ignored the recommendations made in the Robbins Report about the scale of expansion down to 1980. Specific commitments, even for as much as ten years ahead, in this uncertain world, are unusual, but they are justified in this case not only by the elaborate provision that is needed but by the Government's desire to give an assurance both to the universities and to families that these pledges will be transformed into reality. The figures for 1981 are, as the Report says, not of the same nature as those for earlier years, which are put forward as: …the basis for an immediate commitment of effort and resources". There are, of course, critics who fear that we are attempting too much by what has been described as docile acceptance of this measure of expansion. Their arguments, though I do not agree with them, are not negligible, though in an important respect at least they appear to rest on a misunderstanding. It is said that standards would inevitably fall, that students and staff of sufficient calibre will not be coming forward. It is said that the great numbers with degrees will not find commensurate jobs but will be reduced to earn their livings on an office stool in some kind of discontent. Above all, it is argued that higher education does not have the generative qualities in society that have been claimed for it.

If these critics should prove right, this country is indeed condemned to contract and diminish. The Government have espoused the great principle that higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue it, and I have no doubt there will not be a speaker in your Lordships' House who does not reiterate that great principle. In so espousing it the Government believe, with the Robbins Committee and, I should judge, the great majority in this country, that higher education makes a man better both in himself and in relation to society. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, ventured to quote Chaucer. May I quote the words of Christopher Marlowe: aspiring minds". Nature itself doth teach us all to have To the extent that higher education does not do so, it is indeed a barren scholasticism of the kind that the historian Gibbon found at Oxford in the 18th century, where dull and deep potations excused the brisk intemperance of youth". That great historian found his fourteen months at Magdalen the most unprofitable of his whole life. Here, indeed, was the failure of an educational system. To-day the Government, for their part, will not shrink from their share in this venture of free partnership between them, the Government, and the institutions of higher education. They are giving it a high priority among the many other possibilities of expenditure which crowd in upon us.

I said a little earlier that in one important respect the critics of expansion base their views on a misunderstanding of the situation; namely, that standards for admission and the intellectual quality of students will deteriorate. If, my Lords, a certain leaven of the less intellectual sixth-formers were in fact to get into our universities, the sort of student whose qualities of character are good for the university community and who can get a great deal of good, if not first-class honours, from this education, I think it would be no bad thing.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl? This is a very important point and one with which I am most heartily in agreement with him. But if one accepts this view—and I accept this view—the corollary is that the expansion must be much greater than Robbins. I am with the noble Earl 100 per cent. on this matter.


I think it would be most interesting to get the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, himself on this point. He is certainly more qualified than I to give an opinion. But, on the whole, the Government have accepted the plan.

The whole foundation, as I see it, of the Robbins Report, and the figures which have been accepted by the Government, is that no deterioration of standards or student quality is involved, and as Lord Robbins demonstrates on page 88 of Appendix I of the Report, there are indeed considerable reserves of ability. I think that chapter on the pool of ability in Appendix I is a most interesting one and I commend it to those of your Lordships who have not already read it. There is no doubt that the number of new entrants will be large. But the fact is that they represent the growing numbers of actual young people in the age groups concerned, and the best estimates that can be made of the proportion—again a growing one—who will get to the present standards required and wish to pursue their studies.

My Lords I should like to conclude what I have to say by dwelling upon what for me, and I am certain for my right honourable friend and also for many of your Lordships, was one of the most satisfying features of the Report. It demonstrates—contrary to the views of professional pessimists—how high a place our university system in Britain occupies in the world to-day. The guarantees of its freedom are very generally admired and envied. Its rate of success among the students who enter it is outstanding. Its overall proportion of staff to students, while perhaps falling short of what many of us would like to see, is outstanding, and notably better than that in any of the countries visited by Lord Robbins, including the United States and the Soviet Union. Despite the expansion of the last few years, the recruitment of staff has on the whole kept pace with the growing number of students, although there have been some difficulties, of course, in certain faculties.

I might perhaps now deal with one point to which the noble Lord, Lord Taylor referred in regard to the U.G.C. and overseas students. It is not true that the U.G.C. have advised the universities to keep the proportion of overseas students at the present level. I cannot read the whole letter of Sir John Wolfenden on this matter, but I think I ought to quote this sentence: It is certainly the Government's hope that as the expansion programme develops the universities will be able to offer facilities for an increasing number of overseas students, particularly at post-graduate level".


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl again, since he has quoted me, and it makes it look as though I was misinformed. I am on a school council of a university, and as a member of that council have received a directive asking us not to increase the intake of overseas students above the present figure for the next five years. Surely there must be more in the letter than the noble Earl has revealed. He has revealed his bit but not our bit.


I certainly cannot read the whole letter through.


A piece will do.


The noble Lord no doubt has a copy of it as well. It is Sir John Wolfenden's announcement regarding the Robbins Report, dated October 24. I am certain I am right in saying that there will in fact be an increase, even if it may slow up to a certain extent. But, at any rate, people from abroad, particularly from the Commonwealth, continue to flock to our universities and other institutions. They know the value of the education they will receive. They constitute fully 10 per cent. of our university population; and even if, during the immediate years ahead, when our own age groups are increasing so rapidly, the proportion of students from overseas should fall slightly, I hope there will never be a year in which their numbers fall away, or indeed fail to increase, even if the rate may be a little slower.


That is what I said.


It is most fortunate then that on yet another matter there is general agreement on both sides of the House

My Lords, this indeed is a timely debate. It comes at a moment when certain major proposals have been accepted and ways of implementing them are being worked out; and when other problems still require decision. I know that the views which so many of your Lordships are so well qualified to express will be taken into full account, and I am sure that those views will weigh with the University Grants Committee and those in the educational world who are concerned with planning this great advance towards higher levels of civilisation, and, indeed, all those who, again in Marlowe's words, are "climbing after knowledge infinite".

In the modern world the future of higher education may be the secret for the success of free government. As Lord Robbins has shown, the university lies at the heart of the intellectual life of the country. This is where new knowledge is found and new thought is developed. This is where the real cadre of administrative talent is trained in all professions. This, above all, is the true mixer of classes. This is the point at which the egalitarianism of democracy and the aristocracy of merit become one. All should have an equal opportunity of getting there, but once there each will reach the level of his own ability. Therefore, the Government attach to this work the highest importance, since they regard the implementation of these proposals as of cardinal importance in their design for a free society.


My Lords, before the noble Earl sits down, may I say that we have heard at some length the views of the Lord President of the Council who is the ministerial chief of the noble Earl, who is the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry for Science, and we should like to congratulate the Lord President on being so narrowly returned recently to the House of Commons. But, having informed us as to what the Lord President thinks about it, can the noble Earl tell us something that is equally relevant—namely, what view the Minister of Education takes about this Report, and the debate to-day? I think it is relevant and I should be obliged to the noble Earl if he could tell us.


My Lords, I am sure that there is no difference between the views of my two right honourable friends on this matter. I do not, in fact, reply for the Minister of Education, but we may hear more on this later. I can assure the noble Lord that these views are fully accepted by both my right honourable friends.


I must say that I thought the noble Earl was replying for the Government as a whole. This is a new doctrine, for a Minister in this House to reply for one Minister, and not for another Minister who is equally concerned.


Then why did the noble Lord ask his question?


As they say in Lancashire, "Tha knows".

4.56 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that, despite this little exchange of the last minute or so, all your Lordships will be with me when I say how gladly we have heard the noble Earl who has spoken for the Government. I myself have admired the lucidity and vigour with which has has spoken. It never occurred to me, listening to him, that he was doing other than speaking for Her Majesty's Government. My own interest in this important subject is coloured by the fact that I was for a good many years a university teacher, and my experience included both an ancient and a modern university. I learned to admire the virtues of both and to see some of the difficulties of both. Were I still in academic life I am sure that I should be looking forward to the exciting possibilities in view as a result of the Robbins Report, and I join with all who have paid tribute to it as a remarkable document.

The public discussion of the Robbins Report has been chiefly around the question: Will the quality of university standards be maintained amidst an increase of the university population by 40 per cent. in the next three years, and by threefold by the year 1980? The Report argues that the standards can be maintained, since the increase of university population will bring with it the necessary increase of teachers, research workers and good scholars. But it argues the case with no sort of complacency, and it makes and implies some important caveats: that there must be special efforts to safeguard research; that there must be a better-thought-out balance between the broad courses and specialised courses of study; that there must be good tutorial methods developed, with the right sort of contact between teachers and students; and, above all, there is the plea that two-thirds of the coming expansion must be residential expansion. My fear is that the policy of expansion may go forward, but that, as years pass, the important caveats may not all, whether through pressure of expansion or for other reasons, be safeguarded as they should be. For instance, it would be most regrettable if the policy of making two-thirds of the increased university population residential were dropped or modified, on the ground that the best can be the enemy of the good. I believe that if a compromise like that were made, we might get neither the good nor the best, but the worst in academic development.

Nor am I sure that the Robbins Report sufficiently brings out what the quality of good standards really means. It describes penetratingly the chief elements in good standards: the needs of research, the varieties in the kinds of good teacher, the value of tutorial work, the value of residence, and so forth. But I believe that the secret of a good university lies not just in the existence of those elements in requisite quantities but, in a community wherein they are interrelated one to another, in a certain kind of indefinable genius. Mr. X or Miss Y enters a university, whether Oxbridge or Redbrick, or some species yet to be invented. What does he or she expect? To be trained for his profession, or taken along part of the way towards it? Yes. To collect a lot of knowledge so as to become a well-informed citizen? Yes. But there is far more that he should expect—namely, to give and to get in a community of minds and personalities. In this community of minds and personalities a number of things need to be happening, and happening altogether.

The man will be learning about his own subjects in more depth. He will also be getting some idea of what other people's subjects are about, his mental curiosity being stretched and his imagination widened. This widening happens partly through the element of breadth in certain parts of the curriculum and partly through the large unofficial world of intellectual activities which surround the working hours. The man, too, will expect teachers of more than one sort. Some will be teachers with a gift for being interested not only in their subject but in people, and they can help the student to find himself mentally and spiritually. Other teachers, without necessarily being less human, will be devoting themselves to research and the enlargement of knowledge: and I would say that a university fails unless every undergraduate gets a little of the inspiration from being in a place where there are people devoted to the pursuit of the sciences and the arts for their own sake.

All these things mixed together make up the virtue of a good university. The community aspect of it is vital. It means that minds are trained in such a way that character is inevitably being trained as well. It is not difficult to produce sophisticated men and women by collecting them to learn certain subjects. But it is not sophisticated men and women that a good university tries to produce. It is men and women whose knowledge grows with character, and with reverence for persons and for the things of the mind.

So, my Lords, when we talk about the quality of standards it is something like that which we mean. And when we ask whether these standards will continue amid a vast expansion, we have to realise—and no one in this debate has yet mentioned this point—that already they are greatly under strain. At present there are too many university students who have a lonely life in lodgings, long distances to travel daily, and little of the intellectual community which is so important. At present there are too many courses which lack the proper personal relations between teachers and students. It is also alarming to know that already in the years 1959–61 of the intake of new university teachers only 52 per cent. had themselves first-class degrees. Already there come to our universities some entrants with little ability to give and to get in the way that a university needs. This has nothing to do with social background or the wage-group of their parents: nothing whatever. It is to do with a failure to have the mind able to take its part in the institution for their mutual good.

Here, I would say something about selection. The problem of selection has not yet really been solved by the universities, or by the schools or by the Robbins Report. The Robbins Report approaches the question most helpfully, but I wish it could have had space to probe into it further. The only method so far discovered is to pick boys and girls who secure the highest marks in the appointed test. But I am sure it is possible for a boy or girl to get a high mark at that stage and yet to have worn out his mental powers and mental ambitions in the process. He has gone mentally as far as he will go at that time, though, as Lord McNair has reminded us, it is possible that after the lapse of a few years his powers might recover and mature. Such a man, although he has gained a high entrance mark, does not grow in the appreciation of what is going to be offered to him in the university.

It is possible, too, for a pupil at school to be less able to hit a high notch in university entrance and yet to be capable of all the development which university life calls for. The Robbins Committee mentions the need to look at the pupil's school record over back years. But do we not need more than that, if only we could discover what? The Americans use the word "motivation", and so does the Robbins Report, without pursuing the matter far. The noble Lord, Lord McNair, did not use the word "motivation" but spoke vigorously about this matter, and I support him whole-heartedly. The questions to ask are: "Why do you want to go to the University? What do you hope to do, to learn, to become, when you get there?" That is what we want to discover about the aspirant to a university place.

This means that on any showing the problem of selection cannot be solved by seeing school and university as separate worlds. In a good many ways the university problems partly begin in the sixth form, and indeed in the fifth form, at school. I believe that this consideration is one reason for the plea made by my old friend, Mr. Shearman, in his dissentient note in the Report, that it would be a pity to have two Ministries dealing with education rather than one. I think that his plea has great force.

My Lords, it has been said that the Robbins Report forecasts a revolution in our national life. So it does, and I believe it is a revolution that is overdue. I have put to your Lordships some considerations about the question "Will standards be maintained?", and my plea that the quality of these standards is hound up not just with certain factors being numerically maintained but with the holding of these factors together in intellectual communities with a certain kind of ideal at work in them. If standards are to be maintained and to grow, there must be no diminution for reasons of economy or for any reason of the caveats which the Robbins Report makes, and we need to look at the secret of quality more closely even than the Robbins Report does.

Within this coming era of expansion, the Church in which I hold office and, I am sure, all the Churches will give to the schools and universities the utmost service which they can. Left to itself expansion can extend the weaknesses as well as the virtues of our present university life. We do not as a country want sophisticated men and women. We want men and women whose acquisition of knowledge has come together with growth in character, with humility before life's mysteries, and reverence—reverence for persons and reverence for the things of the mind.

5.10 p.m.


My Lords, having recently delivered to Parliament no fewer than four heavy volumes on the subject which we are debating, I feel that some apology is necessary for inflicting upon your Lordships' House any further observations. But since our Report was published there have arisen so many misconceptions, both of our assumptions and our objectives, that I cannot help thinking that some intervention at this stage may help to clarify further discussion. I should like to begin with a few words on the case for expansion. On this, although our main recommendations have been accepted by the Government, they have been the subject of bitter attack in several exalted quarters—conspicuously, the columns of The Times where we have been accorded the unusual distinction of serialised leaders. The general tenor of these attacks is that our projections involve the dilution of standards and the degradation of the atmosphere of universities. "More means worse", is the slogan. It was coined, I believe, by Mr. Kingsley Antis, the author of the well-known university novel Lucky Jim; and, to be truthful, it is just about the attitude which I should have expected from his hero.

The first thing that needs to be said about these criticisms is that our projections involve no lowering of entry standards. For good or for bad—and many people, I agree, will think that we were too severe—we based our recommendations on figures which assumed no reduction of present entry requirements. The suggestion, therefore, that we were deliberately planning the intake of a less well-qualified population can be based only on a failure to read what was said. It can be argued, I recognise, that the numbers will not be forthcoming. Of course nobody can be at all sure of what is going to happen 20 years hence, and we were careful to say where our predictions had an element of uncertainty. But the idea that there is not sufficient talent in the country is not one that stands up well to detailed examination.

I defy any unprejudiced person to examine the tables in the Report, or in Appendix I, without reaching the opposite conclusion—namely, that the reserves of untapped ability are extensive. The present proportion, for instance, of young people entering higher education from the higher professional families is 45 per cent.; the proportion from skilled manual families is 4 per cent. Even in families of the same occupational level, the proportion reaching higher education is four times as high from families with one or two children as from those with five or more. It is possible, of course, as regards income differences, that there may be some biological foundations, but we do not know what they are; and to stress such factors and to ignore the obvious differences, the obvious influences of differences of wealth and environment, is to imitate the man in the American fable who could see the fly on the barn door but could not see the barn door itself.

I see no reasonable ground for doubting that the ability is there if we are willing to use it; and, what is more, I see no reasonable ground for doubting that it will come forward if we are willing to help it. All the indications of trend since 1944 point in the same direction. But, my Lords, if this is true, if there is a likelihood of numbers of the order we envisaged actually capable and willing to benefit from higher education, it follows that, if the editor of The Times and those who think with him have their way, henceforward we shall be progressively turning away ever larger numbers of young people who on present entry standards would have got in. That may or may not be a tenable position designed to safeguard certain excellences not believed to be otherwise capable of preservation, but it certainly needs to be explicitly formulated that way. I personally, my Lords, think that it is cruel, unjust and unwise; and nowhere does this come out more starkly than in the attitude adopted by the advocates of such views to the problem of the "bulge"—the prospective advent at the gates of higher education of the abnormally large number of young people born just after the war.

Here The Times leader writer, in his first attack on the morrow of the publication of our Report, actually went out of his way to reproach the Committee for highlighting this problem while minimising (which was grossly untrue) the problems of defective accommodation, deficient staffing, which have occurred in the past. It was Tom Paine, I think, who said of Burke on the French Revolution, that he pitied the plumage and forgot the dying bird. I am sure that university teachers are grateful to The Times for emphasising the considerable difficulties to which they, in common with many other people, are often exposed. But what shall we say of the attitude of those who, confronted by some 25,000 young people for whom places may not be available, can think only of the increased inconvenience and heavier burdens? They may think it better that the young people in question had not been born; but here they are, my Lords, and the question is: what is to be done about them? I do not think that they or their parents—or, I hope, the country at large—will be content with a demonstration that they may be something of a nuisance.

In the most recent attacks on expansion I have detected a change of emphasis. I suspect that The Times leader writer has been following Sir Eric Ashby's recommendation to read the Appendices. He has even a note of gratification that we have revealed some reserves of talent. The line now is rather that there is to be too much expansion; that, instead of planning for this, we should have devised an extensive substructure of lesser institutions, transmogrified technical colleges, junior colleges and so on; that in this way the present atmosphere of universities could have been preserved intact, yet a larger percentage of the relevant age group could have had the kind of education which is really appropriate to it.

My Lords, these views are not new. If we rejected them it was certainly not because they had not occurred to us. We did, indeed, think long and earnestly about the possibility of the introduction of junior institutions, and of the reservation of the universities for young people with much higher initial qualifications. We inspected such institutions elsewhere. We listened respectfully to witnesses who recommended them. But, in the end, we rejected them decisively. We rejected them on the grounds that we knew no tests which, at present levels of entry, would enable us to say with justice to one person, "You may go on to a university", and to another, "You must go to a junior college". We rejected them because we did not think that it would be a good thing for the universities themselves, at the undergraduate stage, to be composed exclusively of specially selected "eggheads".

When I was a young don at Oxford, though there were heavyweight "eggheads" about, such as my noble friend Lord Longford and the noble Lord, Lord Eccles, there was quite an appreciable proportion of students taking groups who would never have got in nowadays. Yet I do not think that the atmosphere of Oxford was appreciably degraded thereby, even from the point of view of The Times leader writer. Indeed, I personally think it a good thing that, at that stage, the prospective "eggheads" should mix with all sorts and types of character and talent, and realise that pure intellect is not the only admirable thing in life. We rejected these proposals, finally, because we thought that the creation of such institutions—the junior colleges and the like—would tend to the perpetuation of artificial hierarchies, and we conceived it as one of our duties to eliminate such distinctions, not create new ones.

But, my Lords, we did not recommend no change in university courses. On the contrary, we went out of our way to emphasise certain changes which the increased scale of operation would render desirable. In the sphere of severer studies, we underlined the need for more and better-organised graduate schools; and, what is more germane to the present controversy, at the undergraduate level we emphasised the need for more courses with a broad, rather than a deep, coverage. We said nothing to disparage existing honour specialisms for those whose bent made them fitted for such courses, but we urged that already there is a substantial proportion of students who would be better served, both in regard to aptitude and preparation for life, by courses of a broader nature. We said—and I think some of the commentators have missed this one: We should not recommend so large an expansion of universities as we do unless we were confident that it would be accompanied by a big increase in the number of students taking broader first degrees. To come back now to the critics of expansion. If the arguments regarding the reserves of ability which I have been developing are followed, it follows that the case against expansion must rest on the view that expansion as such must lead to a deterioration of standards of teaching and research. Not the quality or the deserts of the students, but rather the performance of the teachers and the general ethos of the universities is said to be at stake. My Lords, I do not deny that there are great dangers. I think, indeed, that we are asking of our universities and institutions of higher education effort even greater in some ways than they have had to undertake in the past. I do not close my eyes to the possibility that sometimes, somewhere, some damage may occur. No one who knows anything of the organisation of such institutions—and I think I may claim that the members of our Committee knew at least as much as most of their critics—no one who has had such experience, can deny that that is possible. But, my Lords, I do deny that it is inevitable. I do deny that it is even to be regarded as probable.

In the last sixty years the university population has risen from 20,000 to 118,000. Doubtless some good things have been lost in the process, but others have been gained. I do not think it can seriously be entertained that standards have suffered, that the quality of teaching has deteriorated, and that there has been a falling away in performance, in scholarship or in scientific discovery. The Times leader writer may detect some subtle deterioration in the quality of talk over nuts and wine, but it is not obvious in the learned journals and the output of scientific works.

One of the main fears clearly relates to size as such, and I would be the last to deny that there are real dangers here. Institutions which do not change their structure as they grow run obvious risks of loss of personal contacts and mass mediocrity. But, again, the dancers are not inevitable. Those who think that a university can never grow to accommodate more than 1,000 or so students should reflect that, London apart, which is sui generis, the largest universities in the country are Oxford and Cambridge; and that, although even their growth has brought its problems, it can hardly be said of them that the right university atmosphere is entirely absent. I am no advocate, my Lords, of monster organisations on the trans-Atlantic model, though even these have more to be said for them than is sometimes admitted. But I cannot believe that our talent for academic organisation in this country is so barren that we cannot raise the average population of universities to something nearer the Oxford and Cambridge size without losing all that universities stand for—and I am happy to see that the authorities of some of the new universities, not to mention conspicuous leadership elsewhere, are of the same opinion.

The greatest difficulty, of course, is in recruitment of staff. Can we get the manpower to carry this thing through? Now I think it can be shown, and can be done mathematically, that once an expansion of this kind is well under way it will feed itself, provided that the rate of growth is not actually accelerating. This was not shown by me personally, as one commentator has assumed: it was the discovery of a very brilliant young man of the name of Layard, who is shortly to join the staff of the London School of Economics—so it is Layard's Law, not Robbins's, that we are talking about. But Layard's Law operates only in the long run. In the short run there must be some strain; and if, in a position of this sort, there is super-added the additional strain due to the abnormal numbers of the bulge period, then I think it must be admitted that the difficulties may be very considerable.

But what is the moral?—that we sit on the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings while the admitting deans keep the super-abundant "bulge" candidates at bay? Surely that would be the very bankruptcy of academic resources and invention, to say nothing of the injustice to the young people and to their parents whose absence on military service was responsible for the abnormality of the subsequent discontinuity in marriage and birth rates. In fact, I am convinced that with a little ingenuity and contriving the thing can be done. There may be some temporary worsening of staff-student ratios, some crowding of lecture rooms and libraries. But with the help from the Government which, in such circumstances, they are entitled to expect I have no doubt that the universities can win through. There is quite a lot that can be done even by way of reorganisation of existing methods. But the proviso is all-important: the help must be forthcoming.

This leads me to a slight digression of a very urgent nature. One of the most urgent needs in preparing for the impact of the "bulge" in 1965–66 is the training of as many as possible graduates to be teachers in the intervening period, and for that purpose the universities need some assurance now concerning the availability of grants in 1964–65. My noble friend Lord Eccles put this point very forcibly when speaking on the Address in reply to the gracious Speech, and he asked for an immediate assurance from the Government. I am sorry to say that the answer he extracted was the reverse of satisfactory. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, replying from the Front Bench said that such grants: … are the subject of consideration by a a standing committee appointed jointly by the Minister of Education, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister for Science. The grants were last reviewed by the committee in March, 1962, and they will be reviewing them again in the spring. My Lords, this just will not do. With all respect to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, it is almost a parody of Government procrastination. Here we are confronting a situation which will present vastly increased difficulties if we have not trained substantially more university teachers by the summer of 1965, and the Government calmly announced, as if all were perfectly well, that the situation will be reviewed in the spring. I can only assume that the Government and their advisers are totally unaware of what happens nowadays in the markets of good academic talent. They assume that if only they could make some announcement by May or June the young men and women with Firsts and Seconds will be only too willing to take up whatever volume of increased studentships and fellowships are made available.

This notion goes back to the interwar period of 10 per cent. unemployment. Nowadays brilliant young men and women make their arrangements at Christmas or before for what they are going to do after graduation, given ordinary luck. If the Government really mean business in meeting the "bulge" they must not wait for the spring; they must take some very quick decisions here and now before we adjourn for Christmas. I am not at all unaware that this may involve some very untidy administrative loose ends. But the need is very urgent, and unless something is done, opinion in the universities will conclude that the Government do not really care about the concrete problems of the "bulge" but only about fine phrases and nebulous rhetoric about expansion.

Let me return once more to the wider problems. I do not believe it to be true that the best spirits in the universities are afraid of expansion. They are afraid of expansion only when it is attempted with inadequate means; but, given the means, they are only too willing to respond to the needs of the future age as they have so often responded in the past. "Give us the tools," they say, "and we will do this job." I come now to a much more controversial question: the question of the appropriate machinery of Government. It is, I believe, a question of much greater intrinsic difficulty than the questions I have just been discussing. It is a question which divides both Parties and a question on which men of undoubted good-will and experience can take opposite views.

With your Lordships' permission I want to say a few words about the solution that was put forward by the majority of our Committee So far. I believe, the case for that solution has not had the attention it deserves. This is a matter about which tempers can easily be aroused; but I hope that I can persuade your Lordships that the case I have to argue rests on reason and not on emotion. I take it that I do not need to linger on the general case for control via what I call the "buffer committee" principle. This is exemplified up to date by the University Grants Committee, and in our scheme under which that Committee is enlarged and re-christened the University Grants Commission. It is possible to disagree on the matters of detail and constitution of such a Commission; but I hope that on the broad principle most of us are united. Speaking personally, I am quite sure that in this principle we in this country have hit on an administrative device of immense value. It is certainly the subject of great admiration and envy abroad; and it must be a matter of intense gratification that this principle has been accepted by the Government. I hope that it is accepted generally.

I see that it has been denounced with bell, book and candle by the redoubtable Dr. Balogh, in last week's New Statesman. I must confess that does not worry me very much: Dr. Balogh is so frequently wrong. But since he is sometimes depicted, perhaps wrongly, as one of the most influential of the Labour Party advisers, it would certainly allay anxiety in the universities and help to keep this thing out of politics—which I hope can be done—if it could be assumed that his is not the official Labour Party line.


My Lords, may I interrupt on this point? The noble Lord is absolutely right in his assumption. We are for the "buffer" principle.


I thank the noble Lord very much. The division of opinion, therefore, relates rather to the question: to which Ministry should the Grants Commission be responsible? It was made very clear to us in evidence that the Treasury were not willing to take on the responsibility for the Grants Commission with the enlarged area which we proposed for it; and I think it is true that the position of the Treasury, as the guardian of the public purse, has been becoming, year by year, more and more incompatible with the position of the Department responsible for the universities. The obvious alternatives, therefore, were to transfer responsibility to an enlarged Ministry of Education, or to a new Ministry which combined responsibility for the universities, via the Grants Commission, with responsibility for the Research Councils and, possibly, for museums and galleries and the subsidies to learned societies. After much discussion, the majority of our Committee chose the latter, and we are pleased to find that our opinions in this respect were supported by the Trend Committee, which had been working on a parallel problem.

Before I state the positive case for this particular solution, may I dispose of one or two arguments against it? First, may I repudiate with all the emphasise I can command the accusation that what we were seeking to do was to create a new elite, an artificial separation between the population of higher and lower education. Throughout our Report we were seeking to dissolve artificial hierarchy. The whole tenor of our recommendations was to abolish unnecessary obstacles and false distinctions. Where we recognised distinctions, where we recommended differences of administrative structure, our recommendations were based not on differences of status artificially created but on real differences of functions. You cannot think such differences out of the world just because, from time to time, they give rise to false valuations and ill-based snobbery. If I may say so in all friendliness to my opponents in this debate, I find something extremely factitious in egalitarian objections to the recognition of the appropriateness of an administrative division which has commended itself even in Soviet Russia.


My Lords, is the noble Lord arguing that we have got to follow the Communist country of Soviet Russia?


No, my Lords, I was not arguing that, but we have to learn wherever we can, and we had no complaints in that country of the existence of one Ministry for higher and technological education and other ministries for the schools.


My Lords, in Russia the whole of medical education, for example, is not under the Ministry of Higher and Technological Education but under the Ministry of Health. I think that arugments drawn by analogy from Russia and attributed vicariously to us are a little unfair of the noble Lord, with much of whose remarks we are in agreement.


My Lords, I was not seeking to draw wholesale conclusions from the administrative organisations of that great Republic, but simply to draw attention to the fact that, on our brief visit, at any rate, we found no complaints on egalitarian grounds that this difference of function that I am talking about had been recognised in departmental structure.

But, in saying this, I would not have your Lordships think that we were at any time unaware of the imperative need of proper co-ordination between the autonomous institutions and the schools. I am perfectly prepared to admit—indeed, it is no admission; it was a positive submission on our part—that arrangements in this respect have been far from adequate in the past and are still inadequate. But this is a desideratum which it should be possible to meet without the existence of ministerial arrangements which, in other respects, may be undesirable. My noble friend Lord Eccles, in his impassioned utterance on the gracious Speech, conjured us to remember the need for such continuity in arrangements as would permit appropriate elasticity in dealing with late developers. I perfectly agree. But is it not invoking a sledgehammer to crack a nut, to argue that only the gleichgeschalting of university arrangements under a Ministry, which necessarily operates with a different style, is capable of procuring such continuity? Mr. Harold Wilson, speaking in another place, seemed to suggest that, without a common Ministry, we should say goodbye to any hope of a proper solution of the curriculum problem and of the problems of university entrance. Again, I agree that these are most urgent problems, and if I did not believe that these problems could be solved within the framework we proposed, I should not have signed the Report. But I see no reason to suppose that our solution requires a common Ministry. We devoted considerable time to the consideration of just these pro- blems, and I am sure that the machinery we proposed would be capable of meeting all such requirements.

Now, my Lords, let me come to the more positive arguments for our solution. I said earlier that we recommended differences in institutions or differences of machinery only where we recognised differences of function. The great difference which we recognised between the universities and the schools was that, whereas the schools were simply and solely concerned with education, the universities, while indeed deeply committed to education, were also equally committed to the function which, for want of a better phrase, can be described as the advancement of learning.

I think that it is a truly disquieting thing that, in the public discussion which has taken place up to date, this difference has not been more frequently recognised. It is certainly a circumstance that goes far to explain the intense apprehensions which exist within the universities at any move to bring them within the administrative ambit of a Ministry chiefly concerned with the administration of schools. For it is a fact, which must never be lost sight of, as the noble Lord, Lord McNair, has argued, that whereas without the performance of educational functions, the universities would fail of their mission, yet without the pursuance of research and the advancement of learning generally, the educational function must languish and, indeed, ossify. There has been in Russia (noble Lords opposite will recognise that on this occasion I am adopting a critical attitude) some tendency to divorce the two functions, but I am fairly confident that at the present time there are many indications in that country of an awareness that this divorce has gone too far and that spiritual health demands that these tendencies should be arrested. But once this distinction has been recognised, in my submission, we are compelled to recognise also the necessity for a different style of administration and for a separate representation in the Councils of State. At any rate, that was the conclusion to which we were forced and it is the conclusion which, with your Lordships' patience, I should like to elucidate a little further.

Take, first, the question of administrative style. That there should be some difference is surely admitted by the common recognition of the necessity of controlling the universities and autonomous institutions via a Grants Commission. I need not go into that again. But the necessity for difference goes well beyond that. It was never our belief—this is a matter on which there has been much friendly misunderstanding—that, even given a Grants Commission and the traditions associated therewith, the Minister in charge should be wholly a passive agent. It is not desirable that he should be so, and indeed, in the present circumstances, with so much to be done, it is most necessary that he should be active. But the activity of such a Minister should, at least in my judgment, differ greatly from the activity proper to that of the Minister of Education as we have known it. As Mr. Crossman put it in a very eloquent letter to The Times—the sentiments of which I hope he is not in process of repudiating—whereas the appropriate activity of the Minister of Education is in direct administrative intervention with the schools and the local government authorities, the appropriate activity of the Minister responsible for the universities is in exhortation, in inquiry, in the issue of broad instructions concerning the nature of national needs.

My Lords, I have the greatest admiration for the traditions of the Ministry of Education—the tribute thereto which the noble Lord, Lord Eccles, read from our Report happens to come unaltered from my own pen—but I find it hard to believe that these traditions can be so easily adapted to the requirements of responsibility for the Grants Commission as we conceive it. May I give a specific example? I find it extraordinarily hard to conceive that the arrangements regarding accountability for capital expenditure on the part of the universities which was so laboriously negotiated for us by the Treasury and which mean so much to the freedom of the universities, could so easily have been worked out under the ægis of the Ministry of Education had Dr. Dalton not succeeded in preventing that Ministry from taking over the U.G.C. immediately after the war; and I wonder very much what would happen to these much prized arrangements if that Ministry were to take over in future.

I wonder, too, whether it would be easy for that Ministry, accustomed as it is to the administration of institutions where teaching is the main requirement and research a minor or non-existent activity, to adapt its outlook to the financial and disciplinary requirements of institutions whose raison d'être demands that the claims of teaching and research are more evenly balanced. Speaking as a university teacher not employed in a faculty with very ready access to the research councils, I must say that it is hard enough to obtain such recognition even under present arrangements. I cannot but fear that it would be even harder if the body which controls us were itself under the control of a purely educational Ministry.

But now, my Lords, the question will be put—indeed, it has been put by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, in his letter to The Times: why should these needs not be equally well met under some super Ministry of Education, with a special Minister of State for the Universities? In his letter to The Times the noble Lord went out of his way to recognise that in the next few years the business of the universities would require the attention of a Minister. But he suggested that this Minister could best be a Minister operating under the authority of a Secretary of State for Education in general. At first sight, the suggestion is very attractive. But it has been my experience that the more you look into it, the more unsatisfactory it becomes. I pass over, for lack of time, the fantastic difficulties which would be created by any attempt to put the Scottish universities under a Secretary of State responsible for English education. But there are difficulties of principle—perhaps less emotional difficulties—which go even deeper.

Let me return to the subject of research. The arrangement proposed by the noble Lord would, I think, leave the research councils under another Minister. At least, I have yet to hear any serious proposals that they, too, should be brought in under the Secretaryship of State proposed: and, indeed, I cannot help thinking that the responsibilities involved by so wide an administrative area would be too much for any man, however good his intentions. But if that is so, then one of the essentials of a good solution from the point of view of our Committee is lacking. For it was our profound conviction that it was a prime condition for the efficiency of research in the future—which means so much to our position in the world—that the administrative arrangements linking the universities and the research councils should be closer. That is why we suggested putting it under one Minister.


My Lords, with all respect, I may say that that is exactly the view I do not hold and I think the noble Lord is absolutely mistaken on this point. The value of keeping research councils under a Minister separate from the Minister responsible for universities is that you then have another chance to get the money. Anybody who has worked in universities and tried to get grants, and perhaps failed to get them from the U.G.C. but managed to get them from a research council, knows the value of having a second channel, and of not having it all under one overlord for the benefit of research.


I do not think it is necessary to have two Ministers to undertake such successful manœuvres. But my objections go even deeper than that. I do not believe that the set-up proposed would, in fact, be an effective safeguard of the special functions of the universities as we conceive them. I yield to no one in my admiration for the devoted labours of junior Ministers and Ministers of State. But unless things have changed very much indeed since I was a public servant, influence in matters of major policy is not one of their prime functions. That is the province of the supreme Minister and his Permanent Secretary. But it is just here that the exigencies of the university function most need separate articulation.

Consider, my Lords, the situation which would arise if there should occur some dispute of a major order between the autonomous institutions and the others, which is quite possible. Under the arrangements proposed—that is, under the super Ministry—the dispute would be settled within the Department of State, in the last analysis by the Secretary of State himself. But that, in our submission, is exactly m hat should not happen. In our submission, if there is a clash between the functions of the research councils and the universities, on the one hand, and the schools, on the other, that is a matter which should be settled at Cabinet level and not within any one Department. And it is not because, as has sometimes been suggested, they wish to contract out of their national responsibilities that the universities wish for separate representation for their functions: it is rather because they take those responsibilities so seriously that they claim that they need special articulation. Only under a Minister with access to the Cabinet in his own right would they feel that this articulation was guaranteed.

My Lords, I would not have you think that our proposal for a Ministry of Arts and Science was conceived in a purely defensive spirit. That was not so at all. On the contrary, we conceived it as giving the possibility for a strengthening of the forces making for the advancement of learning in its widest sense on a scale and in a manner hitherto unachieved, either here or anywhere else. Hitherto, there has been no Minister especially charged with the fostering of these activities. A very healthy instinct has led us to distrust the idea of a Minister responsible for learning and culture with direct powers of patronage and control on the Continental model. I should be the first to agree that such arrangements are pregnant with danger to just those manifestations they are intended to preserve.

Instead, at first, perhaps almost unconsciously, we have evolved the splendid technique to which I have already alluded, the technique of the buffer committee exemplified by the U.G.C., the Research Councils, the various boards of trustees of museums and galleries, the Royal Society and the British Academy as administrative agents. In this way we have been able to provide State assistance to learning and to the arts without hampering and stultifying controls. But so far, at least, these various intermediaries have not been the special concern of any one Minister. There has been no one Minister concerned to voice their claims in the Cabinet. Much as the universities owe to the Treasury, I very much doubt whether any Chancellor has had the time to devote even a few days per annum to thinking about their problems, still less the problems of the other such activities for which he is responsible.

Is it conceivable that if there had been such a Minister as that we propose, that provision for, let us say, the British Museum, one of the chief cultural glories of our society, should have been so scandalously neglected as it has during the last half century? I must not expatiate on these matters in detail; it would occupy too many hours. But I must say, taking my experience from those branches of humane learning which I know most intimately, that I find it difficult to believe that our history in the last fifty years could easily have been worse. It was with this sort of consideration in mind that we felt that the idea of a Ministry of Arts and Science, working through a properly co-ordinated range of buffer committees, could give the advancement of art and learning an opportunity as it has never had before in this country or anywhere else, and bequeath to a future age almost limitless prospects of improvement.

My Lords, I have finished. I have tried to give my arguments the force I think they deserve. But I should like to say in conclusion that I am well aware that in a matter so difficult as this I may not have got things wrong. I can quite conceive that in twenty years' time the exigencies of Cabinet reorganisation may have made it convenient to have all the Departments connected with education and the advancement of knowledge grouped in some super Ministry under one Secretary of State. But I would plead that if that is so, then nothing for which I have asked to-day would prejudice such a reorganisation. It would be easy enough, as a matter of accommodation and administrative charts, to integrate a Ministry of Arts and Science into such a larger organisation. Meanwhile, however, if we started as we proposed its staff would have acquired the habits and traditions appropriate to their functions in a milieu free from distracting pressures, and universities would have been able to undertake the gigantic tasks that we require of them under auspices which they trust rather than fear. I do not think I can over-stress this last advantage. We are asking the universities to assume wider functions and heavier burdens than ever before in history. It is my final plea to you, my Lords, that they should not be asked to do this in a setting in which, rightly or wrongly, a large number of their members have little confidence.

6.6 p.m.


My Lords, it is in no spirit of mock humility that I inform your Lordships that I feel very much like a new boy appearing before a somewhat terrifying and learned group of high academics in order to plead for some small case in which I am interested. Perhaps, therefore, your Lordships will forgive me if I do not even approach the high standards to which we have listened this afternoon. It is true, as the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has said, that my own interest is confined to the somewhat narrow field of adult education, upon which I hope to say a word or so. But with your Lordships' permission, I should like to refer to one or two thoughts that have passed through my mind as I have listened to the speeches this afternoon. If it be true that the occupational disease of academics is argument, we have had a very good example of that kind of spirit this afternoon, and we may be sure that this is not the end of the argument by a long way. A great deal of good will come out of it.

There is a further thing that one may say, and it is this. This is not the only occasion in which there has been a widespread interest throughout the country in educational matters. In the course of my desultory reading, I have looked up one or two books and papers and I find that there have been educational advances suggested over the years which have shown a certain pattern of progress, but have never reached the high standards that were hoped for during the time that these appeals were being made. If I may say so, I think it is not to the advantage of the one thing we are seeking today if we are to treat this very important subject as one of mere Party political controversy, when the subject matter affects the future of our whole country. There is this to be said for our country. When we feel ourselves in a particular state of crisis there is no question as to what political Party one belongs: we all unite for the one purpose of overcoming the difficulty with which we are faced. And I suggest that we are faced with a very great difficulty to-day. That difficulty is not limited to this country alone. Some of your Lordships will have seen in the German View that is circulated to us—a very reasonable paper—that in a recent issue of November 20 there was an article on the problems of the crowded universities. They give numbers; they ask whose task it is to deal with it, what the danger is, and so on.

This is not merely a one-country problem. In the current number of the Labour News, issued by the United States Information Service and circulated from the American Embassy, there is, under the significant heading "Social Problems" an article headed "Education, Challenge and Change". It is an article (reprinted from the American Federationist) by Francis Keppel, United States Commission for Education, who was previously Dean of the Graduate School of Education of Harvard University. In the article, so typical of American productions, facts and figures are given of the position of employment and unemployment in America. Two tables are given, one headed "Unemployment is much higher among those with the least education", and showing a chart illustrating this fact. There is another chart with the heading: "The Biggest Increases will occur in occupations requiring the most education and training". The obvious inference is that, if you want your country to be prosperous economically, financially and industrially, that is the kind of examination to make in order to show that in this matter of trying to spread education among the people as a whole, your greatness as a country depends on the numbers to whom you can give education.

Therefore, my Lords, my own feeling is this: whatever may be the attitude of the Government towards the proposals contained in the Robbins Report (and no one can speak too highly of that Report, by virtue of its contents and tables, whatever differences of opinion there may be otherwise), one hopes that there will be a more material result from this amazing collection of facts than there has been in the past. And, to explain why I say "than there has been in the past", I should like, if your Lordships will permit, to read just a short extract from a lecture. The lecturer said: … it may be worth noting that a social force has come into being, new in magnitude if not in kind, which must favourably modify such boundaries … as I have outlined. This force is the modern alliance between pure science and industry. That on this we must mainly rely for the improvement of the material conditions under which societies live is, in my opinion, obvious, although no one would conjecture it from a historic survey of political controversy. Its direct moral effects are less obvious; indeed, there are many most excellent people who would altogether deny their existence. I would explain to your Lordships that this is an extract from the Henry Sidgwick Memorial Lecture delivered in January, 1908, by a man whose name is printed in the flyleaf as the Right Honourable Arthur James Balfour, M.P. He was obviously speaking as a philosopher—certainly not as a politician; but he was then seeing for himself the trend of thought towards the growth of science in the communities with which he was dealing so many years ago.

Last Wednesday there was celebrated in Glasgow a dinner of the Chemical Society of Great Britain, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery of the isotopes by, as noble Lords will know, Frederick Soddy. I am very vague about what isotopes do and are: all I know is that knowledge in isotopes must be growing because even the Penguin people have published a volume dealing with isotopes alone. But the important part of what I have just said rests on this, that although Professor Soddy was a Nobel Prizewinner, dealing with chemical and other physical questions, he wrote a book in 1926 called Wealth, Virtual Wealth, and Debt—a subject very different from the one for which he received the Nobel Prize. The book opens with this sentence: Technocrary claims that by the use of the inanimate energy of nature and by means of machines and mass production, man has become independent of his own physical exertions for his maintenance, the so-called 'iron law of scarcity', upon which the older economics was founded, has been abolished, that poverty and unemployment at one and the same time is now a horrible anachronism, that the average income and expenditure of the whole American nation could easily be multiplied many times with less hours of labour and more of leisure, and that the banker is out of date as the ruler of a scientific and technological civilisation. That, I repeat, was written in 1926. He also wrote another book in 1923.

In 1943 the first part of a book, entitled Red Brick University, was written (again it was published by Pelican in 1951) under the pseudonym of Bruce Truscott. The second part was written in 1945. I strongly recommend the reading of this book by those interested in the debates of to-day and to-morrow, because, whatever differences there may be about the opinions expressed, there is a great deal of factual material in this book, some of which shows that while the University Grants Committee have been compelled to say at one period that they could not afford certain outlays of money, at another period, not long after, they were able to say that they could give sums of money. There is sufficient to convince the reader that the University Grants Committee were not in as strong a position as they should be, considering the vital functions they were supposed to undertake—functions which we are saying to-day are inadequate for the enormous task that now lies in front of them.

I prefer not to enlarge upon these introductory remarks, but I would acid that I was deeply impressed by the publication of the Labour Party's Study Group on Higher Education, particularly in the paragraphs dealing with adult education. And although much of it is perhaps of greater reference to Scotland, it applies to a large extent to the country as a whole. At the time when I first became interested in this adult education movement the object was to give adults who, through different circumstances, had been unable to acquire the education for which they were longing an opportunity to attend classes and to follow the particular subjects in which they were interested to a level very much higher than that they could have hoped to reach in the schools which they left at the age of fourteen, or even fifteen. I can tell noble Lords of the transformations I have seen in individuals who, at first glance, would appear to possess neither the intelligence nor the capacity for intellectual work, but who have shown by the progress they have made and by the results they have achieved after ordinary examinations that they were capable of benefiting very considerably.

I give as an example one man who was unemployed at the time but who was able to persuade the local authority to give him a bursary for two consecutive years. He was, as I saw him, just a professional unemployed man, if you like, very poor in speech; he appeared to have no high intelligence and was the sort of man you would pass without a second glance. After two years he entered Glasgow university and came out with, I think, an honours arts degree in philosophy and economics. He had occasion to come to me to apply for a post as secretary of the district W.E.A., and I saw in that man, whom I had known as a student, a different man entirely. He could speak, he could argue, he could explain; he was a man alive, compared to what he had been when I first knew him. And that is not an isolated example. I could give other examples which have made a deep impression on me, some rather recent.

There is in Scotland, as some of your Lordships will know, just one residential college for adults, the house in an Abbey which was given to the country by the late Marquess of Lothian. We had, employed by us, a tutor in philosophy. His father and his brother were Clyde shipyard workers. He went to Oxford with a scholarship and came away with a qualification in philosophy. For nine years he acted as tutor at this residential college. The university of Strathclyde, probably appreciating his value, took him away from us, and we had to find a substitute for him. We cut down what is called in Scotland the short leet to two, one a woman and the other a man. The woman looked like, spoke like, a typical Lancashire mill girl; she had actually worked as a mill girl, and having attended tutorial classes in her particular town she then wrote her essay in the hope of entering Manchester University, which she did. She spent, I think, three years there, and left Manchester University with an M.A. honours degree. But, feeling that possibly this business of getting academic degrees was not a difficult thing to do, she thought she would enter for a doctorate in philosophy, and after the short period of two years came away with a Ph.D. in addition to her M.A. We were willing to engage her as our tutor in philosophy, but because she had applied elsewhere for another post at the same time and subsequently got it we took the second choice on our short leet.

He was a boy who had left a junior secondary school and then became a sort of errand boy and worked in a garage. He then decided that he would like to come to New Battle Abbey College in order to work, if possible, for a degree in Edinburgh University. To cut the story short, he got his degree at Edinburgh University, and from there obtained a job at the London School of Economics, from which he applied to New Battle for the post of tutor in economics. He is there to-day. But for the fact that there was this facility in adult education to enable him to become what he felt he most wished to be, there is a risk that he would have continued as an errand boy. Instead he is now, I believe, the tutor in economics at the New Battle College. That is an account of what can happen at a residential college.

There is another aspect of this matter which I should like to bring to your Lordships' notice. When the Glasgow University Extra-Mural Committee (which, in parenthesis, I may say was really the foundation of the late Lord Lindsay of Birker, who later became Master of Balliol and afterwards Principal of what is now called Keele University) was first begun, the adult students who came there were men and women for whom adult education was originally intended—that is to say, men and women whose early education was inadequate for their needs and who wanted to improve their education as they were anxious and willing to act as local members of municipalities, as Members of Parliament, with some knowledge of what is meant by politics, by history, by philosophy, by psychology and so on. For years that was the type of man and woman we catered for and they derived immense benefit from these classes.

Last year, however, I was moved to notice a distinct change in the type of student for whom we are now catering. They were no longer people whose early education had been inadequate. Some of them were graduates, some of them were professional people, some of them were people in rather good business positions. As an example of the kind of thing I was faced with, I will repeat a true incident which I told to a noble Lord opposite to-day, and it is this. The Extra-Mural Committee has formed the practice of calling together representatives of each of the classes it runs in order to ascertain from them their criticisms and their views on the improvements, the changes, the modifications they would like in the classes they attend. We asked them to give us this information. A woman student representing a particular class, got up and said that she thought that a class in first aid would be most helpful because of its social value; that she had spoken to the local Red Cross superintendent who was interested, and who said that he would get some of his own men to attend the class and that a class could easily be formed.

Then there rose another student. He was a young man, slim, with rather long hair, I thought, who said that he was a member of the jazz class, the kind of class which does not impress me favourably, but it fills a demand, and presumably it was high level jazz, if there is such a thing. He said, "My purpose is not to speak of the jazz club. What I have risen to say is that, as a lecturer in pathology, and for the reasons given by the lady who has just spoken, I should like a class in pathology in order that the general public may understand what the nature of illness is, how they can treat it, what are its social consequences, and so on". I looked at this man, wondering whether I was now in a different kind of world. Then a man, who did not even bother to rise from his seat, said, "Following on what this young man has said, I should like to add, as a pharmacologist, that I think we might have a class in pharmacology, particularly in view of the indulgence in drugs nowadays by the general public, who really ought to know something of value about drugs, the disadvantages and advantages, and so on. I think a class on that subject would be of great help socially".

My reason for telling your Lordships this is to impress upon you that, instead of dealing with what at one time was regarded as a mere pose, if you like, towards a condition which needed improving, we are now dealing, thanks largely to higher standards of education, a longer period at school, and so on, with a greater interest in the great advances being made. There is growing up an increasing number of already well-informed people who wish to pursue still further the educational facilities they have already enjoyed. Finding fields as yet unconquered, this is a growing tendency on the part of the extramural committees, certainly throughout Scotland. I do not know whether the same applies to England, too.

Here, we in Scotland—I am not particularly pressing Scotland at the moment—are in the unhappy position of not having what in England is called "a responsible body". We are a voluntary body, with no providing powers, but one in which an education authority being autonomous can do what it thinks best. Fortunately, it is helping considerably, and we see and know that there is an increasing demand and interest in the kind of education that we are providing. What we should like in the pursuit of higher education, which the Robbins' Report also deals with to some extent, and in regard to the need for adult education too, is to have funds made available, from the Treasury ultimately, for the erection of residential buildings for adult education. There are some 20-odd in England and Wales. So far we have only one in Scotland, although it is true that the Scottish Education Department is sympathetically interesting itself in a demand that we are making for an extension of the Edúcational College which is already being used for this purpose.

We still feel that we are not getting sufficient official support in matters of this kind, and for one, would like to stress the points raised in The Years of Crisis, particularly the demand made in the paragraph on adult education, and where extra-mural departments, W.E.A. districts, particularly fit the mature student for higher responsibility and for entry to a university institution. These and the other demands which we are making in this document would, I have not the slightest doubt, benefit to an enormous extent the higher standard of education which exists even now in Scotland. I hope that, if we can do this without raising undue controversy, we shall be performing a valuable social function in Scotland.

Perhaps, therefore, I may end with this appeal. Just as in 1919 the Ministry of Reconstruction set up a high-powered Commission under the chairmanship of the late Mr. A. L. Smith, who was then Master of Balliol, to go fully into the whole problem of adult education, so it seems to me that the time has arrived when a similar kind of inquiry should be made in order to bring up to date the demands and the possibilities inherent in adult education. I was greatly interested in the reference by the most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury to the name of Mr. Harold Shear-man. He will know about adult education, and he will also know that there was a report by the British Institute of Adult Education, whose President at that time was the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Sankey. The policy there laid down is not fully implemented even today, although it does not ask for anything that people in the present day who are interested in education generally, and particularly in adult education, would find any hesitation in supporting. I hope that noble Lords will bear in mind what I have said and support the plea that I have put forward.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, the Report which we are discussing to-day is not only, perhaps, one of the most important documents in post-secondary education that we in this country have ever had, but it is also one of the largest. I am sure we are all deeply indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and his colleagues for the immense amount of work they have put into its preparation. The general thesis of the Report, that we need a great expansion in higher education, is one with which I am in full sympathy—indeed, if anything, I incline to the view that the need is perhaps a little underestimated rather than overestimated in the Report. But I believe that that thesis has met with general agreement and has found ready acceptance in the country. At the same time, I think its extremely ready acceptance by the Government, and indeed by all political Parties, coupled perhaps with the fact that this is a long Report and therefore tends to daunt any but the avid reader, has produced an effect which is rather peculiar. It seems to me to have been compounded of about equal quantities of euphoria and anæsthesia; and this has resulted, at least until recently, in arguments being centred more on such matters as ministerial responsibility and not so much on the possible effect of the proposals themselves, not merely on the universities, the colleges of advanced technology and other organs of higher education, but also on the young people who are being educated. On ministerial responsibility I am not going to touch this evening. For one thing, I am a signatory of the Trend Report, and I should not wish at this stage to embark on a discussion of the merits or the demerits of alternative proposals.

I should like to offer one or two comments on some other features of the Report which is now before the House. I have for long held the view that there is an urgent need for an expansion in tertiary education in Britain: and I do not mean by that mainly an expansion of university education, in the sense that university education has hitherto been understood in this country. Our educational system has been built up in such a way that to-day our universities are highly selective instruments, aiming to extend the frontiers of knowledge by research and to impart knowledge at the highest level to what, I suppose, could be called an intellectual élite. I think it is true to say that our methods of selection have not been infallible, and it is also true that there is a substantial pool of ability in the country which, for various reasons, has gone untapped. But I believe that it is equally true to say that at this level our universities can bear comparison, except possibly in the field of technology, with any in the world, and are, indeed, the envy of a good many foreign countries.

The main weight of the expansion envisaged in the Robbins Report for the period up to 1980 is, however, being placed on the shoulders of the institutions described as universities whose student numbers are to rise from round about 130,000 at present to 350,000. In the same period the number of places in all forms of higher education is estimated to rise from 216,000 to 558,000. It is pertinent to ask for what purposes we are proposing to educate all these young people. That more and better education is always desirable is, of course, self-evident; but, speaking from the standpoint of science and technology, I confess that there are certain aspects of the figures and forecasts in the Report which disturb me.

Earlier this year I spoke in this House on the subject of technicians, and I stressed our desperate need for them. We depend for industrial progress as much on technicians as on scientists and technologists, and we need more of them, probably in about a ratio of 2 to 1. That need is not likely to diminish at present. We look to our colleges of advanced technology and technical colleges to provide them. Yet in Table 46 of the Report we find a forecast of only 36,000 students in "further education" pursuing science and technology in 1980, as compared with a total of 15,000 at present. Meanwhile, the numbers pursuing the same subjects of study in "universities" will have risen from 59,000 to 195,000. I have a long record as an exponent of the need for more scientists and technologists, but I feel that these two sets of figures look a little out of proportion. It seems to me, to put it frankly, that a very substantial proportion of the 195,000 mentioned will in due course be employed as high-grade technicians, and a question I ask myself is whether they are going to be properly trained for their future career.

Admittedly in the Report the word "universities" includes nine of the present ten colleges of advanced technology which are given the right to describe themselves as technological universities and to give degrees. The tenth is to be one of the special institutions to which I shall refer in a moment. Now, one could expect that a substantial contribution to our supply of highly qualified technicians might come from these in the shape of holders of ordinary degrees. If so, things might be all right; but I confess that I have an uneasy fear that the intellectual snobbery which makes people in this country so respect university qualifications in science as against technology might be reflected in a reorientation of the courses in these new technological universities to something more closely akin to the traditional university courses. If past university experience is anything to go by, it is likely that there will also he a strong tendency towards the virtual elimination of ordinary in favour of honours degrees, and perhaps also to-words a cessation of the "sandwich" courses.

Were these things to happen, my Lords, it seems to me that we should be producing not only people who would not have been properly trained for the vocation of technician but people who would regard it as something inferior to the qualifications which they had acquired. I have watched with very great interest the growth of the colleges of advanced technology, and I have great faith in them if they will hold to the new patterns of technological education which they have been developing so successfully. To discard these patterns now would be absolutely disastrous.

This brings me to a related point. We are told that there is an urgent need for five Special Institutions for Scientific and Technological Education and Research—the so-called SISTER. These are to be analogous to institutions like the Massachusetts institute of Technology or the Technical High Schools at Zurich or Delft. To this end three institutions at present supported through the University Grants Committee are singled out for massive advancement: Imperial College, London; the Manchester College of Science and Technology; and the Royal College of Science and Technology, Glasgow, which is shortly to become an independent university and with which, incidentally, I have the honour to be associated. I say here, in passing, to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, that if he would like to see how to go ahead with creating a great university in a large industrial city he might do worse than pay a visit to the University at Strathclyde.


My Lords, as a matter of fact I did so when I was writing my Report.


Of the other two SISTER, one is to be formed from an existing college of advanced technology and the other is to be an entirely new institution. Surely these five SISTER will be our technological universities; and are they not enough? It is difficult enough to envisage all five ever becoming comparable in scope and size to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology without having all the other colleges of advanced technology added to them. Or are we to accept two different levels of university in this field?

Why cannot we have simply the five SISTER as our main technological universities and let the colleges of advanced technology continue to develop as such, making their own distinctive contribution to technological education and research in close co-operation with industry; and letting them give, if desired, their own degrees or diplomas—subject possibly to some kind of general oversight by an intercollegiate council? But why, so to speak, upgrade them to technological universities when they are going to be different from another type of technological university? This is what seems to me bound to be the effect of singling out the SISTER for special treatment such as the Report puts forward.

It may well be that we should be ready to accept—and we may have to accept—different types of levels in the universities at large. I certainly find it very hard to believe that we shall be able to operate all the university institutions proposed in the Report exactly as we now operate our present universities. I do not think Lord Robbins expected that we should: he, too, accepts variety. Certainly if we try to operate them all exactly like the present universities, then I am quite sure we shall run into serious dilution; and after all in education, just as in my own subject of chemistry, dilution is a process that is easier to bring about than concentration, but it is also a great deal more difficult to reverse. The alternative course is to change our pattern of universities to something more like the pattern in America, where marked differences and different types of university are openly recognised and there is a range of universities from institutions not far removed from the liberal arts colleges up to universities such as Harvard and Yale. This would seem to me a more reasonable line to follow in order to preserve the virtue of the British system, while removing some of its shortcomings.

But sometimes when I am looking at the Report I wonder whether this is really intended. There are occasional criticisms in the Report of the position hitherto occupied by Oxford and Cambridge in the university hierarchy. There is even a suggestion that steps might be taken to diminish their attractiveness. Put in that form, this smacks a little of the wrong kind of egalitarianism, in which the process of levelling down rather than levelling up is favoured.


My Lords, may I intervene? With great respect to the noble Lord, we emphasised that we wished to do nothing to diminish the absolute attractiveness of Oxford and Cambridge, but in course of time to see other institutions arise presenting something of the same order of excellence.


I thank the noble Lord and apologise if I misinterpreted him. I am very glad to be assured that such is indeed the case. Indeed, I would say this. In paragraphs 36 and 37 of the Report, on pages 8 and 9, views very much like the ones which I hold are very clearly expressed. I have rather regretted the fact that I have not seen them quoted more often in discusssions of the Report. I believe in equal opportunity for individuals, but like the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, I do not believe in uniformity of educational institutions. I believe that each should make its own distinctive contribution, and that numbers alone are no substitute for quality and for the development of an intellectual élite, which we shall get only if we accept variation in the multiplicity of institutions which are being created.

The final brief point which I should like to make concerns the size of institutions of higher education, and particularly of the universities. I believe that large universities are better than small ones. Not only are they more economical in staff and facilities such as libraries, laboratories and equipment; they are also disproportionately more powerful in research, at least on the scientific and technological side. From the figures given in the Report I should have thought that, provided that the existing universities together with the proposed SISTER were each prepared to go to the size of 10,000, one could accommodate the numbers which are forecast; and I think that if each of the CATS went up to the same size of 10,000—and I think they ought to if we are going to get the supply of the technicians we want—the pressure on the universities would be lessened by a considerable amount. I myself cannot see why it should be necessary to begin forthwith—although it may be necessary later—the creation of a further six new universities, instead of allowing the half-dozen or so recently created universities to expand from about 5,000 to 10,000 each. It surely cannot be easier and more economical of money and staff to build six new universities, than to double the size of those already in existence.

My Lords, I may have appeared to be rather critical of some aspects of the Report under discussion, but I do not think these criticisms should be recorded without my adding once again that I am in full agreement with the general theme of the Report. I should like to add that I particularly welcome the endorsement in it of the vital importance of research in the universities, and the need for more and better post-graduate training than we have had, or at least than has been usual up to the present time. For this and very much else in the Report I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Robbins. But I think that points such as some of those I have mentioned ought to be at any rate considered rather carefully, before we undertake definite commitments in a general plan of implementing it.

6.56 p.m.


My Lords, in a debate of this kind, on a definite and fairly technical subject, it is clearly almost impossible for any speaker to say anything very original. I know only too well that most of what I shall say has been said, or will be said, probably a great deal better; and, in particular, the first half of what I want to say has been said with the incomparable authority and eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, himself. The justification I have for saying it again, and indeed for saying it at all, is that I can at any rate give your Lordships the reactions of a working Vice-Chancellor, even if a comparatively new one.

What I want to do as briefly as I can, is to pick out the points from this Report which seem to me of most urgent importance, on which we in the universities need decisions and guidance if our immediate planning is not to be frustrated. First, however, I should like to pay a tribute of the utmost warmth and sincerity to the Report as a whole. No disagreement, no controversy over particular elements in it, should blind us to the fact that here is a Report which at once takes its place among the major documents of educational history, the lessons of which we shall neglect at the peril of the development of the community and of the individual. No one can speak for the universities, least of all a new Vice-Chancellor, but I believe that this kind of welcome, this determination to co-operate to the limit in the Report's fulfilment, represents a very general view in the universities, and certainly among the Vice-Chancellors. Given the means, this is a job that we are eager to do; and that cannot be said too often.

As we give the Report this kind of welcome, I hope we shall remember that among its most effective origins was a debate in your Lordships' House about three and a half years ago. Many of us remember the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Wythenshawe—that devoted fighter for the universities—calling for the setting up of a Committee with very much these terms of reference; and at a time when a great deal of opinion, inside the universities and outside, too, was not only sceptical about its value but even hostile. No one would have welcomed the Report as it stands more wholeheartedly than he.

Its first and most obvious achievement is that it has taken the intuitions, the hunches and the guesswork of those of us who believed in the possibility of a massive expansion of higher education, and has given them strength and validity by a most careful and detailed statistical examination. In fact, of course, some of the evidence—for example, the rise of population—was clear enough before. The Ministry of Education tried to bring it home to the universities, but were not altogether successful in doing so. But here in this Report the situation is set out in terms that one would have thought were comprehensible to all. But the Report has gone further, and has shown that in fact most of our estimates have been too low, both in the emergency that faces us in the crisis years of 1965 to 1967 and in the conditions of the 1970s.

One would have imagined—and here I am simply echoing the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, but apparently it cannot be said too often—that the old nonsense of "more means worse" had been dealt with once and for all in the pages of this Report, and that further reiteration of the possibility for expansion was unnecessary. But the pages, not only of The Times but of some other papers, show us that still there is this strong body of opinion that needs conversion to the central thesis of the Report—not to the details, on which we can disagree, but to the central thesis—that it is possible to expand higher education without a lowering of the standards of student entry. In so far as the critics of Robbins are saying anything except a reiteration of "more means worse", they are simply reminding us that problems of accommodation and, above all, of staffing will make that expansion difficult. Of course they will. But are they prepared to say, in the light of Robbins, that the boys and girls from the swollen age groups of 1966, who will be excluded if we give in to these difficulties, are less worthy than their successful elder brothers and sisters whom we are accepting now? That is the point, and it is only obscured by a great deal of this special pleading about standards.

It is unfortunate that the noble idea of high standards is always used as a brake and a discouragement to expanding opportunity. Behind it there is often a sort of unspoken definition of what a university ought to be which introduces a circularity into much of the argument. One defines university education—and you can see this done by many of the correspondents in The Times and elsewhere—as something suitable for 4 per cent. of the population, and then announces that an increase to 6 per cent. will erode the whole idea of a university. Of course it will, if you define a university in that way. Thus one critic of Robbins has defined a university as a place for those capable of original thought. That is a perfectly feasible definition. The only difficulty about it is that, if you accepted it, you would exclude many, many thousands from universities as they are now, and it certainly has no relation whatever to the universities of previous centuries. But, otherwise, it is a splendid definition, so long as we all agree to it.

What one must not do is to build in a definition like that and then show that expansion is not possible because one cannot satisfy it. One may regret, of course, that the Report has not devoted more space to this crucial question of what universities are for, but it has, probably much more wisely, been more practical. It has based its calculations on the present standard of entry, contenting itself with pointing out that this itself is undeniably higher than that of previous generations; and it then goes on to show that the expansion it recommends can be accomplished while maintaining that standard. Those who reject the Robbins proposals on grounds of the maintenance of student standards should, if they are consistent, propose frankly the diminution, not the expansion, of present universities.

Now I turn from underlining what the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has himself said, and from what the Report tells us we should do, to the question of how we are to do it. Both the targets set by the Report, especially the short-term objective for 1965–67, let us face it, are going to be very difficult indeed to attain. They will demand great efforts and no little sacrifice from all those people in universities, and they must be prepared to face them. If these targets are to be contemplated at all, certain initial conditions have to be met. The first is clearly an adequate supply of money.

Incidentally, one of the greatest strengths of the Report is that the possibility of its financial consequences are underwritten by the authority of one of the greatest living economists. That, to some of us, is a great comfort. There is every excuse for certain misgivings on the part of the universities that some of those who so wholeheartedly welcome the Robbins Report are really willing the ends without the means. It is, after all, less than two years since we debated in this House cuts in U.G.C. grants—if "debate" is the right word for what went on that evening. Those cuts were trivial in amount, if you like, but they had very serious effects on university programmes, and still more serious effects on university morale. That kind of thing must not happen again. If we are to have any hope of reaching. Robbins's targets, if the universities are to make the determined and sustained efforts that we are going to ask them to make, they must be given reasonable assurance of reasonable means.

Nor is money the only factor, of course. If we are to build at the speed required by the long-term programme, certainly if we are to get within striking distance of the emergency programme, some traditional procedures and attitudes have to be drastically modified. The use of negotiated contracts, streamlining of planning procedures and some, perhaps, of the building techniques that were pioneered in the Ministry of Education after the war—these and other technical matters have to be decided now. Let us, in fairness, add that it is not only the Government who will have to improve their procedures: the universities themselves will have to cut though some of the jungle of committee work by which new projects of any kind tend to be surrounded.

There is a recurrent danger, of course, that academic autonomy can be used to produce machinery of almost incomparable effectiveness to prevent, not only rapid change but any change at all. The universities themselves must put their administrative house in order. But, of course, the primary responsibility is the Government's. If we are to make the best of the impetus of the Report, inquiries to the universities—urgent inquiries—asking what they propose to do must be matched by statements from the Government of what they propose to do—unambiguous and, above all, prompt.

Thirdly, one has to say a word about staff. Here, of course, one is up against the most intractable difficulties which face the kind of expansion which the Report envisages. To it there is, obviously, no sovereign answer: rather there are some partial solutions, some of the best of which the Report itself outlines. It is always constructive: it is very constructive over that. The use of graduate students for some teaching; a resolute examination of our whole teaching methods to see whether some of our students are not over-taught or, at any rate, over-lectured; the greater use of young university teachers from overseas, which one can quite often get—all these, and other approaches, must be tried.

One step must be taken at once, and this has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins. A very considerable increase in the grants available for post-graduate work, not least in the arts and the social sciences, will enable us to keep and train and educate precisely those people from whom university teachers come. For a comparatively tiny outlay, something very important could be done here. If I may be frank, my Lords, the thing which is worrying people in the universities is that a scheme costing hundreds of millions is accepted in principle, but when it comes to £400,000 or so to finance a few scholarships, there seems to be a hold-up somewhere. That sort of unnecessary blockage is the kind of thing which does more to harm morale than any much more fundamental change of policy. What we have to do is to convince the universities that at any rate one of their problems is understood and that a first aid measure is being taken to help them over what is going to be an extraordinarily difficult time.

The last major point in the Report on which I want to say a word or two is the most difficult and controversial one; and it concerns the machinery of government. It is gratifying that over one aspect there is virtually no disagreement. Nearly all opinion is favour of retaining the University Grants Committee or Commission, if in somewhat modified form; and, as an old boy, or "old lag", of the University Grants Committee of ten years' standing, I am glad of that. Most people have now come to think that the Committee or Commission should no longer be responsible to the Chancellor of the Exchequer but to some other Minister; and a large section of university opinion which was in favour of no change at all and which said "Leave us alone" seems now to accept that new idea. A Minister—but which Minister? Here I have to be quite frank in admitting that I am, I think, alone among Vice-Chancellors and, I imagine, in a small majority of general university opinion in that I quite definitely favour control by one Minister rather than two.

The Report marshalls the evidence, as one would expect, with great fairness and persuasiveness; and I have heard it marshalled again to-night with fairness, persuasiveness and force. But I, myself, remain unconvinced by its conclusion. I should welcome the feeling that I was under the Minister or Secretary of State for Education via my University Grants Committee or Commission. In so many of the attacks on the Ministry of Education, the University Grants Committee buffer is assumed to be the Minister of Arts and Science, but in some way he drops out when we are thinking about the Ministry of Education. Possibly because I have worked for most of my life in schools, it weakens my position in one way, because I am thinking of the interests of schools with half my mind. On the other hand, it strengthens my position because I know something about the Ministry of Education; and some of the critics of that Ministry do not. Sometimes when one hears their criticisms of what control by the Minister would be like, one imagines they do not know the difference between the Ministry of Education and a backward local authority; because, indeed, most of the schools they have known in the State system are not controlled by the Ministry at all.

But I come back to my devotion to the schools. I fear greatly the effect on them of creating a hard, administrative division between the schools and the universities. We know the bad effects of the division that already exists. A glance at the volume of diverse requirements, not only for different universities but for every faculty within every university, those entrance requirements that make nonsense of so many of our plans for creating a rational sixth form education, makes one realise what can happen when autonomy becomes anarchy and when decisions taken at one stage of the educational process are taken with sublime disregard of what effect they will have on the previous stage. I know how anxiously the schools, themselves changing and expanding, look to the universities to help them maintain their standards and give them intellectual leadership in the work they are trying to do. Of course, all this can go on if there are two Ministries; but how much more difficult to arrange those joint commitees that some people are so reluctant to undertake!

The fears that the universities have of the Ministry of Education appear to rest, and appear to rest in the Report, on their regard for two invaluable elements in their life: their autonomy and their research activities. Proper academic autonomy is a vital idea for educational institutions, although I often wish we could be a little more precise about what we mean by it and explain a little more exactly why it is so appropriate for some academic institutions and inappropriate for others. But where is the evidence that the Ministry of Education is indifferent to liberty or autonomy? On this I have some experience. I worked for 16 years in a direct grant school under the control of the Ministry of Education, and I can simply say that no one could have felt more free than I did under a succession of Ministers and officials, to whom I often looked not simply for money but for wise advice.

It is this experience that makes me fail to follow the Report when it talks about the administrative style of the Ministry as unsuited for autonomous institutions. Already the Ministry, like any other large Ministry, has a wide variety of styles to deal with, a range of contacts. At one end of the scale, it deals with 140 autonomous institutions, the local education authorities, and at the other end with the administration of one of the best museums in the world, the Victoria and Albert Museum. There seems to be a certain variety of administrative styles there. I wonder, myself, whether the universities would feel much more free under a small Ministry with, as it were, not much to do, except to administer the universities.

The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, spoke to-night about the Ministry that he wants, the Ministry of Arts and Science, being concerned not with the day-to-day administration but more concerned to exhort and inspire. I think those were the words he used. That is precisely what the Ministry of Education has always done. It gives advice and exhortation, but no detailed administration. I cannot see—and this may be due to my lack of experience—why the Ministry of Education should be thought more indifferent to the needs of research than the same or similar administrators under a Ministry of Arts and Science. After all, they are the same persons. They might move from one Ministry to another and, in fact, they will have to do so when the new Ministry is started. As Miss Gertrude Stein might say: "A Civil Servant is a Civil Servant is a Civil Servant."

The safeguard for a proper provision for research will surely come, as it does now, from the existence of a multiplicity of sources and, above all, from the existence of a strong University Grants Commission to fight. But, of course, behind this controversy there lies the deeper question as to the function of the universities. Probably this was not in the minds of those who signed the Report, but it is in the minds of many university people. The noble Lord, Lord Chorley—and I wish he were here to hear what I have to say, because it is rather critical, and I did not let him know beforehand—in the debate on the gracious Speech, said that the universities are basically institutions for original thought and research. Education, he said, is not a fundamental work of the universities at all. If one believes that, then clearly we shall have a strong reason for dissociating ourselves from the Ministry of Education. But is it true? Of course, it is true that research is a vital and important element in the life of the universities. But the strength of our universities surely lies in their combining the work of the teacher and the researcher under one roof, and often in one man.

I believe that the creation of two Ministries would lend colour to a heresy that one not infrequently meets, that teaching is a distraction from the real business of university life. We heard it this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord McNair, spoke about the time that would have to be sacrificed to routine matters like teaching. It is a dangerous heresy, particularly dangerous for the very bodies which, under the Robbins Report, will have responsibility for training every teacher in England. The creation of the colleges of education proposed by the Report, in itself one of the most valuable and imaginative proposals of the whole Report, is robbed of its significance if these colleges are to have no contact at all with the Ministry of Education.

But the impoverishment, I believe, would go deeper than that. I am not thinking only of the schools; I am thinking also of the universities. I believe that this division would have an impoverishing effect on the universities themselves, because it would divert them from what is part of their true line. The use of the word "Education" in the title of this Report, the realisation that it is about education as well as research, reminds us that ultimately this Report is about young men and women. It is easy to think in terms of figures, of demands for manpower, of pools of ability, and to forget that we are dealing with the opportunities for fulfilment of thousands of actual people, anxious for the insights and experiences that higher education can give them and deserving of those opportunities. We in this country have more than most believed in this educative effect of the university. The university, by its creation of communities, by its opportunity for broadening contacts with different kinds of people, by the opportunities it gives for leisure activities, shows that it is a place of education as well as of research.

In our planning, as the Report does, we have to see that the kind of universities we build are universities in the English sense, by which, in a surprisingly short space of time, compared with the longer time the Continental universities may require, many people will be given an insight not only into a subject but also into something much wider and deeper. That, I believe, is clear enough beyond the figures of the Report. That was in the minds, I believe, of the authors of this Report. Burke, in a famous passage, speaks of an age of the "economists and calculators" as inimical to humane feelings. This Report shows how wrong he was. Because the economists and the calculators have given us here a programme not simply for national well-being; they have given us a programme by which fresh opportunities are given for entering into that life of the mind which it is surely the greatest aim of any society to promote. It is in that light that we have to welcome and interpret and implement this Report.

7.25 p.m.


My Lords, there can be no doubt whatever, as other speakers have said, that the Robbins Report is one of the major political and social documents of our time. In range and in depth it is far-reaching, and I am happy to join with other speakers in this debate in expressing the immense debt that we all owe to my noble friend Lord Robbins and his Committee, and my admiration for this outcome of their very considerable labours, and no less for his own superb exposition this afternoon. In a field so vast and so complex in its ramifications as that covered by this Report, there are, of course, matters for doubt and for disagreement. That there are does not at all affect one's admiration for the Report as a whole, nor one's acceptance of the essential wisdom of the broad policy that it embodies.

I do not intend to speak to your Lordships about the fears that are widely felt, that, with the unavoidable emphasis on sheer numbers, the vast and rapid increase envisaged in the output of graduates must result, at least temporarily, in some lowering of standards, in some degradation of the graduate status. It seems to me that that must in some degree be so, and one of the vital considerations in the application of this policy must surely be the mitigation by every conceivable means of any lowering of standards. Nor do I wish to develop my own views on the question of whether there should be two Ministers or one, although I personally feel some sympathy with the opinions expressed by Mr. Shearman, in his Note of Reservation, and just now by the noble Lord, Lord James of Rushholme. These, and nearly all the rest, are matters of educational policy, in which I am but an ignorant layman. But there is one matter embodied in the Report which has nothing to do with educational policy and to which I think I am bound to direct your Lordships' attention for a very few moments.

In paragraph 784, in which the Committee propose the creation of a new Ministry, responsible for a limited range of institutions of higher education—in the main autonomous institutions—it is suggested that this new Ministry should be responsible also for the Research Councils and (going in this perhaps a little wider than their terms of reference) for the Arts Council and for other bodies "designed to forward the Arts". It is on this proposal that, as Chairman of the Arts Council and also of some other State-supported bodies concerned with the Arts, I feel that I must tell your Lordships that, in my view, the Committee are misguided. It is a proposal for which the Committee do not attempt to develop any logical case. They say merely: We suggest that it would be a most felicitous conjunction". As I read those words, I think I can hear the voice of my noble friend Lord Robbins speaking.

So far as the Research Councils are concerned, there can be no doubt that the Committee's comment is true. The new Ministry, however much it may be sought to disguise the fact by calling it something else—the Ministry of Arts and Science or whatever it may be—must be primarily a Ministry for Higher Education. There is no getting away from that. And research is, of course, necessarily closely linked with higher education, and especially with postgraduate education. The closer that tie-up can be the better. But when it comes to the Arts, the considerations are quite different. The Committee, indeed, recognise that ministerial responsibility for the Arts Council and the other State-supported bodies concerned with the Arts raises important questions which they have not attempted to consider. One may feel that it might have been better if they had considered them, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has done before putting forward this proposal.

If my understanding is correct, the intention is that the new Ministry—a Ministry for Higher Education, or whatever it may be called—should administer the universities and Research Councils, the Arts Council and other bodies concerned with the Arts, through a Grants Commission which would take over the functions of the University Grants Committee. The object of this set-up is wholly laudable: it is to secure the autonomy of the institutions served by the new Ministry. Whether, in the long run, it would be successful in doing so is a matter on which I must confess I have some doubt. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, is confident that it would. I am afraid that I am more sceptical; I hope that I am not more cynical. It seems to me that a Minister responsible for serving the universities and other autonomous bodies through the medium of the Grants Commission and responsible for very little else must inevitably find, sooner or later—and I think probably sooner—that he must start controlling those institutions in a way that is prejudicial to their autonomy. He cannot be content to act as a rubber stamp for the Grants Commission. Ministerial interest in the work of the bodies for which he is responsible will soon be followed by ministerial interference, and the special degree of detachment and respect for their autonomy which the Committee recognise to be so necessary if the connection of the State with creative activities is to be a quickening rather than a deadening influence … —words that are as wise as any in the Report—will then be gone.

So much, my Lords, for the general case. But the case of the Arts Council is worse. Even supposing the detachment, the freedom from political interference, to remain intact, the Grants Commission's preoccupations are with higher education and research, with knowledge and learning; the Arts Council's prime preoccupation is with the creative Arts, the living Arts. Although there is, of course, a sense in which all education is a creative activity, the two things are really quite different. The connection between them is, in truth, too slender to justify that seductive phrase about "felicitous conjunction"; the Arts would be, unhappily, overshadowed by their dominant big brother and elbowed into the background.

When the Arts Council considered this proposal their reaction against it was strong and spontaneous; and I was interested to observe that it was strongest in those very members of the Council who are most actively concerned with university teaching and administration. The present arrangement, by which the Council is administered direct by the Treasury, has indeed its disadvantages; but they are nothing beside the freedom from political interference that is secured by coming under a financial Minister and not a functional one. Wild horses would not induce the Treasury to interfere with the day-to-day administration of the Arts Council; and when Questions are asked in Parliament, the Minister always washes his hands of us and replies: "That is a matter for the Arts Council". A functional Minister would not be in so happy a position. We do not, indeed, ever get all the money we should like to have; and it is even possible that we might get more through a Minister of Arts and Science. But it would not begin to be worth it if that endangered, as inevitably it must in the long run endanger, the independence of the Council's work. For some other bodies with which I happen to be concerned the case for a change is no stronger, if, indeed the Committee had them in mind at all in their recommendation.

The fact is, my Lords—and I think we must face it—that the Committee's proposal, not in its intentions but in its consequences, is really a proposal for a Minister of Culture, on the Continental model—or, rather, for half a Minister of Culture. That is something that nearly all of us who are concerned with the Arts are particularly anxious to avoid; and I know that it is something which the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, also is as anxious as anybody to avoid. At the Arts Council we are often visited by people who administer public and private subsidies for the Arts in foreign countries. Without exception, they admire and envy the British system—and, incidentally, it appears most probable that the first steps towards organised Federal support for the Arts in the United States of America will follow the British rather than the Continental pattern. It would surely be folly to abandon a system that is envied by other countries and to adopt instead what will, in my view, with the best intentions in the world, soon become something equivalent to their own system, merely for the sake of "a felicitous conjunction", a phrase rather than a fact, and a phrase that is not even applicable in this context. I hope profoundly that the responsibility for the Arts Council and for other bodies designed to forward the Arts will remain with the Treasury and will not be transferred to a new Ministry of Arts and Science.

7.37 p.m.


My Lords, as a university teacher, I rise to take part in this debate with mixed feelings. First, there is the feeling of relief that must be shared by all in university life now that the period of waiting for Robbins is over. The Report is out, and the Government have now a more realistic appreciation of the scale of financial assistance required by the universities if their proposals for higher education are to be carried out. Secondly, though, there is regret, in spite of what the noble Earl, Lord Bessborough, has said, that this realisation has come so late. My mind goes back to that critical date of March 14 last year when Mr. Brooke made his statement in another place on Government assistance to the universities to which the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, referred. Then, even the relatively modest increases requested by the University Grants Committee were turned down on the grounds that the country could not afford them. So the hardships from which universities were suffering, and the drift of scientists abroad—all of which were emphasised in the debate in your Lordships' House in May last year—were allowed to continue and the situation has been only partially rectified by the review of university grants in the past few months.

Certainly the universities have been in no position to take steps to provide for the great increase in teachers that is required in the immediate future. Now, eighteen months later, a vastly greater expenditure on education, as well as in many other fields, is envisaged, made possible, we are told, by the great improvements in the economic situation—even though, incidentally, we have not joined the Common Market. It seems incredible that the basic economic position of the country can have changed so radically in such a short time. If all this is considered possible now, more should have been done then. One must sincerely hope that there will be no repetition of the "Go—Stop—Go" tactics that have marked our progress in recent years, because, once having embarked on this expansion programme, it would be disastrous if the costs were not met in full, and these may still have been underestimated. The last state might well be worse than the first, with inevitable cuts and lowering of standards all round.

There seems a very real danger that in spreading the resources available for education as widely as is planned, some important fields of higher education will not receive the support they should, unless priorities are constantly kept in mind. While not wishing for one moment to detract from the need to expand facilities for a higher general education as far as practicable, it is the subject of priorities in higher education that I should like to develop this evening, emphasising one or two that seem to me particularly important and which may not always receive the attention that they should in the face of more obvious and highly publicised needs.

One may first ask, why do the young want a university education? For some—I hope not for many—it may seem to be of snob value or a status symbol. For many more it may be a desire to enrich their own lives by all the benefits that a university education can bring, to follow a bent or to qualify for a profession or calling. But these reasons alone are not enough to qualify for the highest priority. This, it seems to me, must depend on the extent to which such an education is going to benefit not only the individual himself, but also his or her fellow men.

If one applies this criterion, many of the priorities that have to be safeguarded are obvious. There is, of course, first and foremost the training of teachers, both for school and university, on whom the whole future of education in the country depends. There is the need to train more doctors—an aspect which my noble friend Lord Amulree will be taking up—more mathematicians, scientists and technologists, upon whom the whole future of the country's industry depends, and those entering other professions for whom there is a special demand. I am not going to expand on these, as they are hardly likely to be forgotten.

But we must avoid the tendency to become too inward-looking, too bound up in our own problems. We have not only our own students to think about. There are all the students from overseas, and particularly from the Commonwealth, who depend on us, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, has already referred. This is one priority I should like to enlarge upon further, since, although the Robbins Committee considered their position fully, there is a danger that when the pressure is really on their interests may be sacrificed, or at least facilities for their training will not be expanded as fully as they should.

The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, referred to the recent letter in The Times by Mr. Williams of the Overseas Development Institute. In this letter Mr. Williams points out that the emergency period over the next few years is not only an emergency period for Britain. Many developing countries have expanding needs over the next few years for student places, both at home and abroad. The UNESCO report, The Development of Higher Education in Africa—Africa's Robbins Report—published just after Robbins, illustrates this. It shows that "Middle Africa", where all the Commonwealth developing African countries lie, at present has about 180 million people, of whom under 40,000 are now in higher education. The target is 80,000 by 1970. The estimated need for higher education places outside the region is 13,000 to-day and 24,000 in 1970, an 85 per cent. increase. He points out that Robbins, discussing a country of 52 million people with 238,000 students at present, envisaged a rise of 100,000 or 42 per cent. places by 1970, with an equivalent percentage increase for overseas students. Thus, he says, even the Robbins proposals implied serious problems for overseas countries, and these might be even worse if the reported advice of the University Grants Committee were acted upon.

There seem to me to be few more momentous decisions that have to be made than the amount of our educational facilities—particularly in certain fields—that we can afford to give to training overseas students. The whole future of many of the developing countries of the Commonwealth must depend very largely on the help we are able to give them in the field of education, as well as in economic aid. I should like, if I may, to illustrate what I mean from my own field, and to refer, as I have done once before in your Lordships' House, to the work done at my own medical school, the Postgraduate Medical School at Hammersmith Hospital. This is an international centre for qualified doctors and has given advanced training to over 14,000 students since it was opened thirty years ago, two-thirds of these coming from overseas. In accepting students, a high priority is given to those intending to become medical teachers, particularly in the case of those coming from developing countries, as it is only in this way that any real impression can be made in helping to raise medical standards in those countries. It is our ambition that in due course a high proportion of the teachers in the medical schools in those countries will have had some training at our school, and already we have made considerable progress towards this goal.

Help in medical education, though, is but one example. It should be extended to other fields, and to none of greater importance than that of elementary and higher school education, since on the standards of general education everything else depends. Only too often the students who come to this country for higher education have the greatest difficulty in taking advantage of it owing to their low general standards, sometimes even though they may come with high recommendations. Clearly the remedy is to give more help at these stages. In this connection it should be noted that while the overall proportion of full-time students from overseas in higher education was 10 per cent. in 1961–62, in our training colleges and colleges of education it was under 2 per cent. I believe, therefore, that the concept of the Commonwealth Teachers Training College, in which a high proportion of students from developing countries might be enrolled along with our own, would meet a vital need and should be developed to the full. Here the student not only would be trained to teach but might also be given lectures in social and political history in relation to the development of democracy, and also courses in world studies, the need of which in the training of teachers was emphasised by numerous signatories in another recent letter to The Times.

An integral and essential part of such a college would be the hostel or halls of residence—a place where the student would be looked after by understanding wardens and made to feel at home, and might learn something of the art and culture of our country and come to love it. The influence of such an experience on the minds of future teachers in mission schools, high schools and colleges of the developing Commonwealth would be enormous. With such persons in charge of the young, we should have little to fear from Communism in the continuing battle for the minds of the uncommitted.

The need for proper residential accommodation and care is, of course, not confined to the student teacher. For others, for example the law student, it is equally urgent. Many of these return to take up prominent positions in their Governments or Civil Service. How much greater would be the confidence one would have in the future of some of these countries if their leaders had received such training and enjoyed such experiences as I have described while they were in this country. A start has been made in providing residential accommodation for international students. One example is the Robert Mennell House at Wimbledon. But so far these efforts have barely scratched the surface of the problem.

There can be few more supremely worthwhile objectives for a would-be benefactor and philanthropist to promote, and the Government to support to the full, than in providing proper care for the overseas student. Indeed, there could be no more fitting memorial to the late President Kennedy in this country than that his name should be associated with such an international students' centre, promoting the ideals he had so much at heart and, in particular, helping to meet the needs I have stressed.

But in this matter of assisting these countries in education, the flow, of course, should not be all in one direction. There is a great need for additional posts for university staffs to enable teachers in various disciplines, before becoming fully established on the academic ladder, to go abroad for a year or two to assist in teaching. An essential provision of such appointments, however, would be that they should be for a sufficiently long period and that the holder, on returning home, might rejoin his department for a time so as not to jeopardise his chances of promotion or obtaining a post elsewhere. The recently advertised Special Commonwealth Awards provided by the British Council and the Department of Technical Co-operation, if available for teachers, will, I hope, encourage some to go abroad for a spell. But grants are most likely to do so if they also afford some temporary security to the teachers on returning home. My Lords, I have deliberately concentrated on our world obligations in the sphere of education because, compared with the vast majority of the human race, even as things are we are rich beyond measure; and this disparity is likely to be even greater if the Robbins proposals are implemented.

I would turn now, for just a few moments, to the subject of research in the universities, the importance of which the Robbins Committee fully emphasise. It was, of course, outside their terms of reference to consider research, with few exceptions, other than in general terms; but in pursuing the subject of priorities, I should like to stress some fields of research the importance of which in relation to others is not always sufficiently recognised. Again, considering the question in terms of world needs, rather than purely national needs, the overwhelming problem, assuming that the supreme catastrophe of a nuclear war is avoided, will be, as has been debated several times in your Lordships' House, the feeding of an expanding world population. Every aspect of the biological sciences that can contribute to this end must, therefore, be expanded to the full.

There is, of course, veterinary research designed to promote the health of livestock. Quite apart from the question of the need for more medical schools, will the needs of veterinary medicine, which in some respects has lagged far behind human medicine, receive their proper emphasis? There are agricultural colleges to which the Report refers. Will they be given the necessary support to contribute fully towards finding a solution to the problem of improving agricultural methods in the developing countries, both in the training of students from abroad and in research?

There are the problems of conservation of food supplies, the study and elimination of insect and other pests that ravage staple foods—the type of work, for example, in applied entomology and plant pathology that is being carried out at Silwood Park, the field station of Imperial College. Then there are the biochemical engineering problems involved in attempting to harvest and process the vast resources of protein in the leaf or marine organisms as possible sources of food—a matter which has been referred to in debates in your Lordships' House on the world food problem. There are also the problems of research into methods of population control and their application. My Lords, I believe that the time has come for a planned and concerted attack, on a much greater scale than has been con- templated hitherto, on all facets of this problem, particularly now that the future of institutes and colleges that might contribute to it is under review.

My Lords, I have not so far referred to the burning question as to whether or not there should be a Minister responsible solely for higher education. My guess would be that priorities in education would be more likely to be adequately safeguarded if this were so. But whoever is responsible, I hope that he will work in the closest co-operation with the Commonwealth Relations Office and the Department of Technical Co-operation to help meet the needs of the Commonwealth countries in ways such as I have described.

In conclusion, I should like to recall a remark made to me by the High Commissioner of one of the developing Commonwealth countries. He was commenting on the feeling he sensed among many people in the country that the days of Britain's greatness had passed. "On the contrary", he said, 'if Britain seizes her opportunities and accepts her responsibilities in the further development of the Commonwealth she has inherited, her greatest days as a power for good have yet to come". My Lords, I believe this to be profoundly true, and it is up to us to see that these responsibilities are kept constantly in mind.

7.56 p.m.


My Lords, at this late hour I think noble Lords will be grateful if I abandon my convincing arguments and eloquent periods and, putting my pride in my pocket, give your Lordships just a short summary of the points which I should like considered. I will begin by apologising to your Lordships for the fact that a business engagement will prevent my being present for the earlier part of to-morrow's debate, but I hope very much to be able to hear the Government's final reply.

The most reverend Primate the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of the university as a community. One of the most binding forces in an academic community is sport, and it seems to me desirable that that subject should be mentioned in this debate. If the new universities are indeed to be places in the centre of cities, there will be very little chance of adequate playing fields for the students to use; and even in more rural universities it is by no means easy (such is the tenacity of farmers for their land) to secure adequate grounds. In the circumstances, I urge strongly upon Her Majesty's Government that high priority should be given to the provision of indoor sports halls in which exercise may be taken expeditiously and in a small space. I would urge further the development of basket ball as a university sport. It is a most useful sport in America and has already been introduced into some of our universities by American exchange students. It will be well worth while for universities to consider bringing over some Canadian coaches.


My Lords, I do not want this to be thought frivolous, but would that mean stopping the playing of netball in favour of basket ball, or can they be taken as the same game for this purpose?


I was coming to the sports for women. Basket ball is a male sport in America and quite unsuited to women students—in fact, it is rather a dangerous sport. As regards women, I was going to mention very briefly the desirability of all-weather hockey fields which afford them a great deal of concentrated exercise. We must not, however, forget the desirability of getting the students out into the fresh air; and, without arguing the matter, I advance very briefly the proposition that it would be of immense benefit to the country, and a scheme well worth subsidising through the existing motor clubs, if all the physically fit students were given an opportunity to pass the examination of an advanced motorist. I urge that possibility, affording both interest and exercise and social profit, for the consideration of Her Majesty's Government.

Finally, I had intended to say a few words on the subject of religion in the universities. I speak in a completely unrepresentative capacity and for myself only, but for the past 35 years I have been connected with the organisation of the Roman Catholic Chaplaincies at Oxford and Cambridge, and I have more recently acquired some knowledge of religious conditions in other universities. People of university age tend to be religious: and it has sometimes seemed to me to be anomalous that our conception of education, enshrined in our Education Acts, provides that every school child up to university age should be offered religious instruction, but that the State is completely disinterested in that subject when the young person goes to a university.

There are two exceptions to that rule of disinterest. At Keele the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Free Church Chaplains are part of the staff and are paid as such, and I believe that similar arrangements exist in Belfast at the Queens University. At Keefe, at any rate, there is a chapel which all denominations are permitted to use, and I wish that I could say the same of other modern universities. Alas! I cannot. I will, however, say no more on this subject than that I think it is highly desirable that the leaders of the Christian Churches (and, if it is desired, of other bodies too) should in the ecumenical climate of to-day get together and discuss the matter, first among themselves and then with the university authorities, so that some standard of access for the chaplain to the student may be worked out.

8.3 p.m.


My Lords, I want to comment on only one aspect of the Robbins Report, and at this hour I shall do so as briefly as I can. As I am going to be critical, I should like, first of all, to add my very humble congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and his colleagues for this really wonderful Report. The aspect to which I want to direct your Lordships' attention for a few moments is the very guiding principle—the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, called it an axiom—which is the basis of their proposal for the increase in university places, and that is that all young persons qualified by ability and attainments, and who wish to do so, should have the opportunity of going to a university or an institution of university status. That guiding principle has been accepted by the Government in the White Paper, and their acceptance was reaffirmed by the noble Earl who spoke for the Government this afternoon.

Before accepting an axiom, which I believe is defined as a proposition which is incapable of proof, it is necessary, I think, to consider very carefully just what lies behind it, and, in particular, in this case, what lies behind the wish to have a university education, whether that wish is expressed by the student himself or by his parents. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord McNair, who had some comment to make on that, and pointed out that there might well be people who wanted a university education for reasons which on closer examination would not necessarily justify us in thinking that they were really going to get benefit from it. I think that if one were to go to aspirants for a university education, or to their parents, and ask a number of them why they were going to university, many of them would say it was because they hoped to get a better job, and some, I think, if they were very honest, would say it was because a university degree gives a certain status, a certain prestige, to a man in his later life.

It has already been said—and I should like only to reinforce what has been said—that a university education leading to a degree is not, as I do not think it ever has been, a passport for a good job; still less is it a talisman without which success cannot be achieved. We have only to look round the Benches of your Lordships' House to see living examples which prove that is not the case. If it is indiscreet to refer to present company, one might ask: would Ernest Bevin have been a greater man if he had had a university education? Would the late Lord Nuffield, a captain-general of industry, if ever there was one, have been a more successful man if he had had a university degree? I think one can find similar examples everywhere, even in literature and the arts, where one might expect a university degree to have a special advantage.

Then we hear a great deal about the need for more graduates in business. Here perhaps I may speak of my own experience. I have worked in a number of management teams, most of which have been composed partly of graduates and partly of non-graduates, and I simply do not think that one would have discerned any difference between the two streams. In fact, looking back, I would not be sure that in every case I would even have known whether one of my colleagues had been a university man or not. It certainly was not a question that ever arose when the time came to decide upon promotion or seek new members of the team. It would probably, of course, be referred to as a matter of routine and we would have some back history, but it certainly was not, in my experience, a matter that was greatly taken into account.

Even in the more technical industries, where there is no doubt a demand for graduates in management, I believe that demand is limited. I was most interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Todd, speaking with his great authority, said earlier this evening about the overriding need for more technicians as opposed to graduates. That, I feel, is a tremendously important thing which could easily be lost if too much emphasis is placed upon this increase in university education.

There is a rather interesting secondary effect, to which I should like to refer. A number of business and other organisations have been seeking more and more in recent years to engage graduates, and that might be thought to indicate that it was because they wanted graduates as such. My belief is that this arises not because the organisations want graduates as such; they are not seeking the special qualifications which the graduate spends three years in acquiring. What has happened is this. Because so many more boys, and naturally the ablest boys, are going to the universities, an organisation which recruits staff from school finds that unless it also recruits a certain number of university graduates the average ability of its intake goes down. If it had been possible for them to pick up the same boys who had qualified for a university education before they went to the university they would have been just as happy, and indeed in some cases would, I think, have had a little less difficulty with the rest of the staff. But it has been forced upon people because otherwise the average standard of intake will go down.

Of course, it should be true, and I think it is widely true, that graduates who have enjoyed a university education can do almost any job better than someone who has not had that opportunity. I personally have known of a most interesting case where that was illustrated on the shop floor. But at the same time it is not really satisfactory—I think this was again a point that the noble Lord, Lord Todd, was making—that we should train a large number of people up to the high standard of university graduates only to find that there is no work for them to do in which they can make full use of their qualifications. That, I think, is a situation that has already arrived. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, in the Report, brought out the fact that there were already a number of graduates who are employed in jobs where they were not making full use of their qualifications.

I was hoping to have more information about that from Appendix 2A, but so far I have been unable to secure of copy of it. I believe that there there is some analysis of the jobs to which university graduates go. I ask whether it is really satisfactory to train men and women to this high standard of intellectual skill and then to leave them with jobs that do not give them full scope. Is it not possible that we shall gradually get a group of dissatisfied, disspirited, disappointed, intelligent people? That is the sort of group that can easily become a rather dangerous canker in the body politic.

Apart from the question of jobs, I mentioned that another purpose which may drive or persuade people to go in for university education is the prestige that no doubt attaches to a university graduate. On that point I should like to ask how this prestige has arisen. I had a nasty suspicion, listening to this debate in which most of the participants have been distinguished people in university life, that there was a sort of, I would not call it mutual admiration society—that might sound a little imnolite—but a tendency within the universities to think that the universities were really more important and more valuable than they are.

I think the social esteem which the Robbins Report says. "will continue to grow" has arisen—I do not know whether your Lordships will agree with me here—in an ordinary way, because in the early decades of this century it was the social custom of the well-to-do classes to send their sons either into the Armed Forces or to the university, whether they got much out of the university education or not. So this body of graduates appeared to be a privileged caste. In fact, they probably were not nearly as privileged as the people outside thought they were; but, quite naturally—and we have seen this happen in many different aspects of life—this led the people from less well-to-do homes to get to university and see what was to be found. I think it is true to say that most of the boys from the less well-to-do homes probably made more use of the university than some of their richer friends. But I must say I am left with the impression that the prestige of the universities and the status of the university graduate has been excessively built up—here again, I was glad to find a little support from the noble Lord, Lord Todd.

It might be asked: does it matter if we produce more graduates than we can employ—that is to say, than we can employ, really making use of their services? I think that when the community is asked to pay a substantial sum to educate a graduate—the figure is not easy to arrive at, but I guess it is somewhere between £2,000 and £3,000—there is some obligation for seeing that we do not educate people up to this standard unless they are wanted. Your Lordships will remember that the Robbins Committee said that it was impossible to assess the future requirements of university places by reference to the need in different fields for graduates. I think we can accept that it is obviously not capable of close calculation. It really surprised me that they went on to say, with absolute certainty—this begins in paragraph 184—that no doubt there is need for at least these proportions of highly educated people, and no doubt we should have to go much further before there was any question of an excess of supply; and, finally, they state unequivocally that there is a broad connection between the stock of trained manpower and productivity.

That sounds all right, but what does "trained manpower" mean in this context? Does it really mean university-trained manpower? It seems to me, and with great respect to the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and his colleagues, that this section of the Report was not quite so closely argued as some of the rest, because, having said that it was impossible to assess the need in this way, it has then come—and no doubt this was a matter of discussion among the members of the Committee—without any clear explanation of why, quite definitely to the conviction that a greatly increased number of university graduates is needed.

I am conscious that I have ignored a tremendously important factor; that is, the stimulating and energising effect which a university education has on boys and girls who undertake it, and particularly on those who come from rather narrow homes. No son of my father could ever forget that. My earliest recollections of him, and my latest, were all of his undying gratitude to those who endowed scholarships which enabled him to have that wonderful experience. It is quite hateful to have to try to put a cash value on that sort of thing. But is that not really the duty of Parliament? The Robbins Committee have pointed out, quite rightly, that the sum involved is relatively not so much in relation to the wealth of the country; but it is a substantial sum, and I think all of your Lordships could think of other things on which even a small proportion of that could be spent, with tremendous advantage to some section of the community which is now suffering. I think there is a real obligation on those who are responsible not to stretch this enlargement of the university places wider than it ought to be stretched.

It is not for me to suggest where the money could otherwise be spent, but one thought occurred to me. Even a small cut-hack from some of these large sums could perhaps be used for the improvement, the broadening and deepening of the top end of secondary education, so as to give a benefit to a much larger number of students—those who would not in any case be going to university—in order to send them out into the world with some of those qualities which, it seems to me from the discussion this afternoon, it was thought could be secured only by university education. I feel that the broader, deeper education at the top of the secondary ladder would benefit a greater number of people and would mean that boys and girls were sent out into the world better fitted to play their part.

I recognise that it is presumptuous of me, with no qualifications at all, to challenge not only the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, not only the Robbins Committee, but the Government as well, and practically every other speaker to-day. It seems to me that the conclusion reached (I am sure as the result of careful thought on the part of the Robbins Committee) did not take account of some straws in the wind which I see blowing in another direction and which I have tried to describe. But I found sufficient courage to get up and say these things because from my own university education—which I must say was not a very successful one—I remember one thing: that if one is to find the truth one must be prepared to probe and test the foundations of belief. That is what, in my rather inefficient way, I have tried to do this evening. That is what I hope those responsible for taking decisions will also try to do, so that we do not so far increase the intake of potential graduates that we create a body of people who afterwards feel dissatisfied because they cannot play the full part which they have been trained to play in the country; and so that at the same time we do not spend resources which I feel might be better used to improve the education of the greater number who are not in any case going to find their way into the universities, and help them to lead fuller lives and be of greater use to the country.

8.22 p.m.


My Lords, since I am going to criticise the Report in one respect I should like to begin by saying how much I appreciate it as a whole and give it my wholehearted support for its proposals with regard to ministerial responsibility. There is, however, one aspect of the proposed new Ministry of Arts and Science which does arouse a little misgiving. We have recently had the advantage of a Minister for Science who has been responsible for various scientific Research Councils and other bodies which, however, have preserved a valuable measure of autonomy. The Report of the Trend Committee represents considerable expansion of the functions of the Minister for Science. I will not go into a discussion of those proposals now, but I think one may ask whether the existing functions of the Minister for Science will suffer if his responsibilities are to be so much enlarged by putting under his supervision also the universities and various bodies connected with the arts.

Some advantages there obviously will be. But is there not also a danger that, with so much on his plate the Minister for Arts and Science will be unable to give to the needs of science and scientific research the same detailed personal attention which the present Minister has been able to give? It seems to me vital that in the proposed new Ministry the Research Councils shall remain semi-autonomous, under their independent Chairmen, and that their executive officers shall have direct access to the Minister.

I come now to my criticism. The Report dismisses medical education with a little more than a mention. If my calculation is right, in 300 pages there are six lines of text and 6½ lines in two footnotes devoted to a branch of higher education which is vital to the welfare of this country. In a footnote the Report explains that the number of medical students, according to the University Grants Committee's figures, is expected to increase from 16,500 in 1961–62 to 21,000 in 1980–81; but it says nothing whatever about how this is to be done. And no-one reading this Report would dream that we are facing a crisis in the Health Service because we are not training enough doctors. First, if the general practitioner's list is to be smaller so that he can devote more time to his patients we must have more general practitioners.

The review of hospital staffing which has been carried out as a result of the Platt Committee's Report has shown that we need many more consultants; that is to say, a larger consultant establishment, which will mean an increased supply of doctors in the future to maintain it. These consultants will need more registrars and residents; but already there is a shortage in these grades, to which the Platt Report drew attention in 1961—I quote from their Report: Without the 3,628 doctors from overseas there would obviously be a breakdown of staffing below the Senior Registrar grade. Inevitably the number of these overseas graduates will dwindle as the facilities for training in their own countries increase, and an international crisis, such as a war, might suddenly reduce the supply. Their population is growing, but so also is ours. The population experts say that the population of England and Wales is expected to rise by 2 million in every five years from 1962 onwards, so that by 1980–81 it will have increased by 8 million.

It takes seven years to turn a medical student into a registered medical practitioner. After that he needs at least two more years further training for general practice, and six or seven years to make a consultant; so that any steps we take now to expand our facilities for medical education can have no effect on the output of our medical schools for from ten to fifteen years. What are we doing now? We are talking about founding two new medical schools which will take years to plan and build, and urging our existing schools to go back to the total number of students as cut down on the recommendation of the Willink Committee—the very schools incidentally whose grants this Government reduced only two years ago.

There are a number of questions which urgently need to be answered before we can plan the future of medical education in this country. First we cannot educate medical students unless we know what we are educating them for; nor can we know how many we need to educate unless we know how many are required for the different kinds of work which need to be done. The pattern of medical care is changing all over the world and some countries ere ahead of our own in realising it. We do not yet know what in future will be the relative importance of the consultant and the general practitioner, nor indeed what the scope of the general practitioner will include. We have not yet inquired whether better organisation both in the hospital and consultant field and in general practice could enable us to make better use of our medical manpower. We are just beginning to realise the importance of continuing medical education after qualification, and its going on for the whole of a doctor's professional life. But we have as yet little idea of what this is going to cost in terms of medical manpower or how it is to be related to the activities of the undergraduate medical schools.

We have also, as we have been told this afternoon, to consider our duties with regard to overseas students. Should we in future accept them as undergraduates, in which case we need more places in our undergraduate schools, or as post-graduates, or both? We have to take into account, too, their needs of our teachers in their own countries. At home it seems likely that we need more medical schools, but new schools cannot add to the supply of doctors for many years. Meanwhile, what is going to be our policy with regard to our existing schools? How are they to be enlarged in terms of bricks and mortar and staff to meet the need? The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, in his opening speech, alluded to the importance of providing accommodation for students, and I would stress particularly the need for hostels for medical schools. It is no use to expand existing schools without providing other accommodation where students can live; and in the case of medicine it is particularly important that they should be able to live for part of their training near the hospital, so that they can attend at any time of the day or night.

To these questions, my Lords, there are at present no answers. I do not blame the Robbins Committee for failing to answer them, for it may well have felt quite rightly that it was unable to do so. So far as I know, no body in this country, including the Ministry of Health and the U.G.C., has information which would enable it to do so at present. This is a matter of the greatest urgency, and I am sure there is need for an immediate inquiry to look at the future of medical practice in the health service, and to assess the requirements of doctors of different kinds over the next twenty years, and the educational facilities needed to produce them.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Silkin, I beg to move that this debate be now adjourned.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.