HL Deb 04 August 1965 vol 269 cc271-4

2.41 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what effect the recent statement of the Chancellor, of the Exchequer will have on the approved programme of university building and therefore on the attainment of the accepted time-table of university expansion.]


My Lords, university building projects for which contracts have not yet been signed will be postponed for six months, except in development districts and areas of high unemployment. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, in consultation with the University Grants Committee, will consider urgently how best to reduce to a minimum the effects of this decision on the growth in student numbers.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer. But may I ask him whether he is aware that the growth of the population which is likely to come to universities has, according to the estimates of the Department of Education and Science, increased so much beyond the original Robbins estimates that by the year 1970 the numbers possibly coming to universities will be roughly the same as the Robbins estimate for the year 1975; and that therefore, if the building programme is delayed it will be impossible for the universities to meet the challenge which has been put forward?


My Lords, the question of student population and the potential growth of the universities is very much in the minds of the Department, and is constantly being studied. We are, of course, only too well aware of the fact that there will be congestion in the universities; and that is why we deplore the need for these cuts in the building programme, which may be as serious in their effect on universities as were the cuts which were imposed in 1962. I was myself a member of a university at that time and I well remember how important they were. I can assure the noble Lord that we shall do everything we can to mitigate the troubles otherwise inevitably to be expected.


My Lords, perhaps I should declare an interest, as I am the Treasurer of the University of Essex, which of course is a completely unpaid post. I wonder whether my noble friend will undertake to see that a very special case is put up for the new universities. Is he aware that they are already finding it difficult to put up quickly the bread-and-butter buildings, which are already possessed by the older universities? Does he realise that, if contracts are cancelled now, these new universities, which are already grappling with a difficult task, will probably find themselves without the vitally essential buildings needed for their various departments?


My Lords, all these matters, and many others—since, in my experience, all universities are uniquely unfortunate—are being actively considered by the Department in an attempt to see what we can do to help. There are other cases where I have discovered that large and expensive buildings may have to stand empty unless certain additional small contracts are placed, and this situation we are investigating.


My Lords, can the noble Lord assure us that the Government have not abandoned the ultimate purpose of providing a university education to every applicant who wishes to have one and who can qualify by passing the necessary examination?


My Lords, this will remain our ambition. What we cannot necessarily define is the date by which we can accomplish it.


My Lords, has the noble Lord's attention been drawn to the report of the Estimates Committee in another place in which they state that. if the Robbins target is to be achieved without prejudice to accepted standards of university education, a further large increase in the capital grant of the Vote they were investigating (before the latest measures) would appear inevitable? Is this not a disquieting situation and does the noble Lord think it right that the new measures should bite on capital grants for universities but not, apparently, on grants for other educational building?


My Lords, I understand only too well the implications of what the noble Lord has said. The question as to whether the cuts should fall on schools or universities is an extraordinarily embarrassing choice and I think that, on balance, in the light of the information we have, the Government have made the right decision. The schools have had a raw deal for some time, and furthermore the important point which we always have to make is that new schools are required where new housing estates are being developed. For this reason the schools have had to have a greater priority than the universities.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that this is really a shortsighted decision? Is he not aware that, if we are to get greater efficiency in industry, we must have more highly educated people as soon as possible? I think the priorities have gone wrong.


My Lords, does the cut fall on technical colleges?


My Lords, yes indeed in some measure, and this is a matter which is now being investigated. I cannot say how much we all deplore the necessity for these cuts, which will in fact be cruel in their impact on universities and which may indeed damage our long-term prospects. However one point in mitigation is that the cut is only for six months. Furthermore, in some cases—with regard to technical colleges in particular—so far as I can make out the cuts will be more apparent than real, inas much as the building programmes are already behind schedule.


My Lords, the noble Lord said that there would be no delay in projects in development districts. Does this mean there will be no delay in any project for the University of Wales? Has he consulted his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales, and, if so, what agreement did he come to?


My Lords, the definition of a "development area" does not by any means include the whole of Wales. But I think that two university colleges in particular will almost certainly escape without any cut at all. This matter is still being considered, and I cannot make any further comment upon it at the moment.


My Lords, if the cuts are to be more apparent than real, why do the Government go out of their way to take credit for the cuts?


I did not say that: I said that some of the cuts for technical colleges were more apparent than real.


My Lords, do the cuts apply to the teacher-training college programme as well?


My Lords, the answer is yes, but only to a very small extent.


My Lords, is this an example of "Stop" or "Go"?

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