HL Deb 01 December 1965 vol 270 cc1249-67

2.55 p.m.

LORD ROBBINS rose to call attention to recent developments in the organisation of a higher education; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is now about two years since there was a debate in your Lordships' House on the state of higher education, and since many changes have taken place in this interval and more are in process of contemplation, it seems desirable that we should once more have an opportunity of discussing this very important subject. It is for that purpose that I have put down this Motion.

On the occasion of our last debate, the two leading issues discussed were the question of numbers and the question of the machinery of government. On the first of these issues, whether the expansion proposed by the Committee on Higher Education involved a lowering of entry standards, I think it may be said that discussion is at an end. Even The Times newspaper, which is not over-given to retraction, has had to admit that its accusations in this respect rested on misapprehension; and the latest figures of qualified persons coming forward show, without a doubt, what our Committee always emphasised: that its estimates were on the low side rather than on the high. It looks as though by 1973–74 the number of qualified school-leavers will be some 12 per cent.—that is to say, 25,000 people—more than our minimum projections.

The second issue, the question of the appropriate machinery of government, has also been settled, not so much by a consensus of opinion as by definite Government decision. For a time it seemed as though a middle-of-the-road solution had been reached, an all-embracing Ministry with, however, two Permanent Secretaries rather than one—a most ingenious compromise which at least went some way to meet the position of those of us who feared complete unification. This, however, was dropped quite early in the tenure of office of the present Government, for reasons which have never been made public; and, for good or for bad, we now have one gigantic Department comprehending all education, pure scientific research and the arts.

I still hold to my view that it would have been more in the public interest—more, that is to say, in the interests of education in general—had the field been divided; and what has happened recently only strengthens me in this conviction. If higher education had had separate representation at ministerial discussions, I wonder very much whether the recent cuts in educational expenditure would have fallen so heavily on this sector. Needless to say, I do not deny—how could I?—the necessity in our present position for some cuts somewhere, but that still leaves open the question where they should fall. I cannot forget the very candid admission by the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, here in your Lordships' House, that the cuts imposed on university expenditure will in fact be cruel in their impact and may, indeed, damage our long-run prospects. I wonder whether the present Secretary of State had much to say in defence of the universities when these matters were discussed. I do not think I am the only university teacher to whom such thoughts have occurred; but I do not wish to argue this case further on this occasion. For the time being, at least, we have to make the best of what we have, and my chief concern this afternoon is to discuss matters of general policy not directly related to the general machinery of Government.

The first of these matters relates to the number of universities. The Committee on Higher Education recommended immediate preparations for the establishment of six new universities. The Secretary of State has declared that no new universities are to be created for the next ten years. If this limitation is to be regarded as a limitation of access of expanding numbers to the university sector, I should regard it as wholly deplorable, and signs (which I shall be discussing later on) are not lacking that something of this sort may have been in the Secretary of State's mind; but in so far as it is to be taken merely as a reflection of the willingness to expand existing universities, I see no reason to take exception to it for the time being.

The recommendation of our Committee that the Government [...] at once proceed to the creation of additional universities was based on estimates which seemed to suggest a limit to immediate expansion considerably below probable needs. In the event, however, when the universities were asked to furnish estimates of what they could do in the next few years, the issue was, so to speak, over-subscribed: more places were offered than seemed likely to be wanted. In such circumstances, surely it is not unreasonable to concentrate expansion on existing foundations rather than to establish more. But I confess that, quite apart from the present Secretary of State's frame of mind, I am very fearful lest the standstill in this respect should lead to undue delay in forward planning, and I am not eased of this fear when I hear the chairman of the University Grants Committee talking of a period of peace and calm in the early 'seventies. We do not want later on to get into the same pickle as we are in now, and we must beware lest a plateau in the statistics should become a plateau of complacency about the future.

The next decision to which I would draw your Lordships' attention is the decision to upgrade the colleges of advanced technology to the status of technological universities, with all that that implies in terms of initiative in shaping their future development. In my judgment, this is one of the most hopeful events of the last two years: it should result in a marked improvement in the status and efficiency of technological education in this country at the most advanced level. I will admit, however, to a certain disquiet at the disposition of these institutions to change their names with the change of status. I hope it is not a symptom of any tendency to move their centres of gravity—their syllabuses and their modes of procedure—nearer to those of the traditional universities, for that, I am sure, would be retrograde.

The colleges of advanced technology have not been upgraded just in order to be transformed into universities, old-style. They have been upgraded as a recognition of their capacity to develop on the same lines as the technological institutes of the United States and Continental Europe; and it would be a sorry ending to the story if they were to spend their time trying to do something for which neither[...] past history nor their present organisation makes them suitable. But I do not seriously fear developments of this sort. If they were to manifest themselves on any serious scale, there are plenty of powers available to the University Grants Committee to keep them in check—if it has the disposition to use them. Given proper leadership, the universities, technological and otherwise, are not likely to go seriously wrong. In general, I think, there is every reason to be satisfied with what has happened to the colleges of advanced technology.

I wish, my Lords, I could feel as happy about the policy which is being pursued in the sphere of teacher training, but I am afraid that I cannot. On the contrary, I believe that the decision which has been taken in this respect is profoundly unfortunate, both in regard to the present status of the colleges and in regard to the quality of future recruitment. I hope that your Lordships will bear with me while I elaborate a little on the causes of this disquite.

I think it will be agreed that the colleges of education, as they are now called, are a vitally important section of our institutions of higher education. They provide for the training of a substantial proportion of the teachers in the schools. They are staffed by some of the most dedicated persons in the whole educational system. Since the lengthening of the course of study from two to three years, the quality of standard of a good deal of the work done is equal to that of the general degrees in the universities; and what remains, the certificate work, is of a nature which is not unworthy to be associated with the work of universities. The atmosphere is serious and friendly; the sense of community compares well, in my judgment, with that of many university faculties.

Yet no one visiting such institutions could fail to be aware of something wrong. There is a sense of remoteness from the rest of the higher education system; a sense of gratitude if one takes an interest in them; a sense of student discipline often quite alien to what most academics would feel should be the atmosphere of an institution of higher education; a sense of ultimate dependence for the shaping of policy upon the whims and wishes of local education authorities, sometimes, though by no means always, quite out of sympathy with the requirements of academic institutions of this kind.

I well remember the vividness of the contrast in this respect between this atmosphere and the atmosphere which we encountered on our visit to the U.S.S.R. When we went to Leningrad we visited the University, the Polytechnic and the Pedagogical Institute. I was well prepared for what we found at the two former institutions—fine standards, able personalities and a strong sense of purpose; but I was not prepared for similar manifestations at the Pedogogical Institute. But such, indeed, there were: a splendid staff showing not the least sense of inferiority to their colleagues elsewhere, and convinced that they were doing one of the most important jobs in the Soviet Union.

I could not help contrasting the position at home, where equally talented and idealistic persons too often seem disposed to apologias for their very academic existence, or to gentle reminders that they, too, perhaps make a contribution not necessarily to be found elsewhere. I could not believe that, whatever his other troubles—which may have been great—in the appointment of his staff, the head of this institution was dependent on the consent of some opinionated chairman of a local education authority.

Confronted with this problem, our Committee decided to recommend quite radical solutions. We recommended, first, that arrangements should be made whereby suitably qualified students should be enabled to take degrees from the colleges, stipulating, however, that the requirements should not be such as to impair the characteristic training afforded by the colleges by cutting this down to the Procrustean bed of more conventional academic syllabuses. I am happy to say that this advice, at least, has been taken, and that in some cases arrangements are well advanced whereby the universities, through their institutes, will offer degree examinations to students of local colleges of education.

But we went beyond that. We felt that in order to provide suitable academic supervision, and to redeem the inferior status of the colleges, it was desirable that their administration should be transferred from the local education authorities and placed in the hands of the universities of which they would become, as it were, full federated members controlled in the last analysis by the university governing bodies and receiving their grants through the University Grants Committee. We were very careful to provide that on the governing bodies of the colleges a link with the local authorities should be preserved. But we were clear that nothing less than a transfer of ultimate responsibility would bring about the change of atmosphere which we desired.

This proposal was indeed radical. In some respects I have always thought (and I can say this, since it was not mine) that it was the most hopeful and imaginative conception of the whole series of recommendations. But it was evolutionary rather than revolutionary. More than twenty years ago a Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord McNair, had sought to create a closer link between the colleges and the universities by the creation of the so-called institutes of education whereby the university tendered advice and discussed problems with representatives of the local colleges; and what progress there has been in the work of the colleges since that time owes much to these bodies. We simply carried the McNair recommendations to their logical conclusion and associated administrative responsibility with advice and consultation.

There was a further consideration in the minds of some of us which, if it was not the deciding factor, was at least an additional reinforcement. We had been pressed from various quarters to consider the creation of liberal arts colleges; and in our conversations in America and in our own deliberations we found much to recommend that idea. But from our point of view it had one vital deficiency; namely, that in the context of the educational structure of this country, an attempt to found such colleges, unattached to any other element in the system, was to invite the criticism that we were creating just another set of institutions of second-class academic citizenship. Some of the colleges of education have by now at least the standard and scope of liberal arts colleges. Moreover, as is well known, many of their students are there because, in present conditions, although qualified, they have found it difficult to obtain entrance to a university. It was our thought, therefore, that if the colleges were made part of the university system, some at least, might come ultimately to perform the functions of liberal arts colleges without evoking the imputation of inferior status which, without such a conjunction, would be almost inevitable. The Liberal Arts College of Nowhere-by-Sea has one kind of importance; the Liberal Arts College of the University of Somewhere, quite another. As I have said, this was not at all the decisive consideration behind our proposal; but we were very favourably impressed with the thought that, as a by-product, it would afford additional elbow room for experimentation in a favourable environment.

When our Report was discussed in your Lordships' House, these proposals were not unfavourably received. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, with his vast experience of local government, supported them in these words: I recognise that it would be a great wrench to the local education authorities and voluntary bodies if the functions of these training schools were passed over to what would be virtually autonomous bodies … On the other hand, there can be no doubt that the Robbins Committee have made a case for this change … I very much hope that the local education authorities … will be willing to accept what is for the common good."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 253, col. 1325; 12/12/63.] The noble Viscount. Lord Eccles, speaking as an ex-Minister who has done more for the colleges than anyone similarly placed in our history, said: The Robbins proposal to upgrade the training colleges and include them in the province of higher education is, therefore, a chance not to be missed. It will do more than any other single action to raise the status of the teachers."—[Ibid, col. 1338.] It was part of his very powerful case for a single Ministry that this change would need such a Ministry to carry it through.

Then the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London also gave our proposal the benefit of his support. He said: It is … right … that that change should take place, and that the colleges of education within the university framework should receive their finance … through the Grants Commission. He went on to plead for transitional arrangements which would not prejudice the transfer of the training colleges to the universities and, al the same time, will not deprive them of the expert help they themselves need … in the next two or three years."—[Ibid, col. 1351.]

Again, there is plenty of evidence that the proposals were not unwelcome in the colleges of education themselves which felt, as we believed they would feel, that they opened the way for a more fruitful and hopeful future. What is even more significant is the fact that, even among the universities, where, because of the increased burdens involved, there might well have been highly adverse reactions, there was evidence of a favourable reception and a considerable willingness to co-operate. According to the Principal of the University of London, the package deal was put to the universities at the end of 1963, and, so far as I am aware, was accepted by them all in a matter of months. But all to no avail. The proposal did not commend itself to the Ministers and when the announcement was made accepting our proposal regarding degrees, it was also made clear that the proposal for transfer of administrative responsibilities was rejected. In the announcement, indeed, there was a faint lingering possibility that the rejection was only temporary. The words "for the present" were there; as if, on some Working Party when the original proposal had been thoroughly defeated, there had been some last-minute concession to the desirability of a shop window which was all things to all men. But all that has now disappeared. Whatever may have been the extent to which Mr. Michael Stewart was still open to reason and persuasion, there is no ambiguity about the state of mind of the present Secretary of State. He is against the proposal; and, as I shall show, he has his own peculiar metaphysics to support this attitude.

I could readily understand it if considerations of administrative convenience had been thought to dictate some delays in the adoption of this plan. We are in a period when a rapid increase in the output of teachers, and especially those destined for primary and secondary modern teaching, is an imperative necessity; and although I would urge that, in the long run, the greater attractiveness of colleges in the new status we propose would ensure an even greater supply of teachers of even better quality than would otherwise be forthcoming, I can easily conceive the present fear that, in the short run, the business of transfer might upset the prospects of smooth output. I do not share these fears. I do not believe that, given a ministerial decision that transfer was to take place, it would be beyond the powers of the exceedingly able officers of the Department to bring it about without interruption of output or efficiency. Much more difficult things than this were done every day during the last war. But as I say, I could understand a decision on these grounds to defer transfer. I regard this as a matter on which men of good will could quite easily hold differing views.

But this is not the reason for this decision. It is now clear that it is all part and parcel of a much wider policy which is deliberately intended to take us in a direction completely different from—and indeed completely opposed to—the conceptions underlying the Report of the Committee on Higher Education. In his now famous exposition of what he called the "binary system", the Secretary of State proclaimed an eternal separation between the autonomous universities and the rest of the system; that is to say, the colleges of education and the institutions of further education—the regional, area and local technical colleges. The universities, including the technological universities, under the U.G.C., are to go their own ways. The rest are to be built up into a self-sufficient complementary, if not rival, system; and administratively there is to be nothing in common between them.

University teachers may indeed be members of the supreme examining body for this sector, the National Council for Academic Awards, which was recommended by our Committee and has been brought into operation with admirable expedition under the vigorous chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton. They may serve on advisory committees and the like. I suppose they may visit in what the Secretary of State chooses to call the public" sector. But there is to be a great gulf between the two systems, a gulf which, for the Secretary of State at least, is not at all to be deplored but positively to be welcomed as the sign and symbol of superior organisation; and any hopes of greater intimacy fostered by an academic and frivolous Report are to be stilled for ever. I am tempted to quote Matthew Arnold: Who ordered that their longings' fire Should be, as soon as kindled cool'd? Who renders vain their deep desire? A God, a God their severance ruled And bade between their shores to be The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea.

My Lords, as I have said, all this is diametrically opposed to the conceptions which inspired our recommendations. But let there be no doubt what these conceptions were. In seeking more intimate relations between the various institutions of higher education, we were not asking for a wooden uniformity. We were not denying the necessity for a hierarchy of functions. We asked that the training system should be integrated into the university system, but we did not suggest that they should shed their non-degree teaching. We suggested that as time went on some of the technical colleges should be nominated for autonomous status, as the colleges of advanced technology had been so nominated before them. But we did not propose to raise all the institutions of further education to autonomous status.

We recognised the necessity of junior institutions which were not self-governing. We proposed the National Committee for Academic Awards, not as a symbol of ultimate divorce, as the Secretary of State seems to conceive it, but rather as an instrument for providing the possibility of degrees of university standards for the many who for years to come would not be able to obtain entry to university institutions. We recognised the need for diversity both of academic and of administrative forms. But we conceived of the system as unitary, in the sense that it was flexible and evolutionary, and that it contained no unnecessary barriers or limitations on growth and transformation. We emphasised the importance of the possible transfer of individuals and institutions from one sector to another.

The philosophy of the Binary system negates all this. Far from seeking to minimise barriers, it positively creates them. We know this not only from the outright refusal to contemplate the integration of the teacher-training colleges into the universities; we know it also from the attitude currently adopted to any proposals for the incorporation in universities of any technical colleges. I must say, my Lords, that I find this attitude most disquieting. Here we have universities anxious to experiment with new syllabuses, new organisational forms. Here we have technical colleges, supported by local industry and by all accounts well suited to develop into university faculties. Splendid experiments are possible. Yet because the abracadabra of this precious binary system prohibits transfer, all suggestions for union are ruled out. Surely, compared to such an attitude the habits of the mandarinate at its most rigid seem enlightened and forward-looking.

In that speech at Woolwich at which he revealed the gospel of binaryism, the Secretary of State—for whom I have a great personal regard—regaled his audience with some foreign analogies. He referred with approbation—and rightly so—to the great technical high schools of Continental Europe. He dangled before the eyes of his hearers the prospect of being part of a comparable system, enjoying parity of esteem with traditional universities though performing different functions. "Why should we not do here in the 20th century", he asked, "what has been done successfully elsewhere at an earlier date?"

My Lords, with great respect to a Minister of the Crown, the analogy misfires completely. I readily agree that a system of the sort he described is easily conceivable. Even to-day, in a suitable historical setting there might seem to be a fair chance of establishing it. But the Secretary of State omitted to inform his hearers that for the Continental analogy to have any counterpart here it would be necessary for the colleges of advanced technology, not to mention the more specialised institutions (I dare not call them SISTERS), Imperial College and the like, to be part and parcel of his complementary, or rival, system. But the fact is that they are not. In spite of some protests from the romantics and the traditionalists, technology has long been part of the university system here, which is not the case on the Continent; and the decision has been made, and thank Heaven! is being executed by the present Government, that the colleges of advanced technology, are to be part of the autonomous university sector.

I do not know whether the Secretary of State has it in mind in the near future to provide the regional colleges with staff and equipment comparable to that of the new technological universities. Certainly that would be very expensive; and I do not think it has come to the ears of the teachers of these institutions that the Secretary of State has anything of that sort in mind as regards matter of pay. If the Government wished to have a binary system comparable in weight and standards to the Continental models, they should certainly never have acquiesced in the transformation of the status of the colleges of advanced technology.

Yet, my Lords, we are surely all agreed that that transformation was inevitable and desirable. I defy anyone who has read the evidence presented to the Committee on Higher Education to argue that, the standards of these institutions having reached their present level, it would have been sensible to deny them this transfer. It would not have been conducive to efficiency, because they had reached the point at which academic efficiency is best fostered by autonomy. It would not have been fair because the limitations of their status were passionately resented and compared bitterly with the position of other institutions of equal quality. "Why", they asked, "should the governing bodies of the new universities be free from the outset to govern themselves and, subject to general Government policy, shape their destiny, while we, who have a distinguished past and an honourable standing in the subjects with which we deal, are denied a similar privilege?" Any proposal to deny them autonomous status in order to build up a so-called public sector rival to the universities would have aroused the most intense protest.

This points to the fatal practical difficulty in this essentially abstract scheme. The Secretary of State may make speeches every weekend about his plans. He may paint the most splendid picture about the future of the so-called "public" sector of his binary system. But he will not convince either the teachers or the students that the picture is a true one. He will not prevent most students, with the necessary qualifications, from first seeking entrance to the universities, traditional or technological. If he wishes to force them into his sector, he will have to raise the requirements of the university sector and thus intensify the disparity of esteem which he professes—I do not doubt sincerely, although confusedly—to wish to avoid.

Furthermore, it is the lamentable, consequence of what he is doing already that easements and transfers which are practicable will be ruled out: that the pressure on the universities will be intensified. This is particularly so where the colleges of education are concerned. I was speaking the other day at one of these colleges—a good one. As a lifelong teacher myself I recognised at once an audience whose members were as quick of response as the average university audience. At question time, the principal posed this embarrassing inquiry: "Will not the expansion of the universities inevitably result in the creaming of institutions such as ours? Will not the better qualified students, who for vocational reasons would have preferred to train with us, come more and more to seek entrance to universities for the sake of the status involved?" I was compelled to tell her that, in my opinion, she was right. That, indeed, will be the outcome. But it need not have been. With the integration we proposed, the colleges would retain their attractiveness—indeed, it would be much greater. It is one thing to be a member of a college of education of the University of Somewhere; it is quite another thing to be a member of a similar college which has no such affiliation. Both on grounds of social justice and educational efficiency, resistance to the sort of change we proposed must inevitably be regarded as retrograde.

Why has all this happened? Why is it that perfectly practicable suggestions for introducing more flexibility and mobility into the system and bringing about more parity of esteem in large sections thereof have been rejected? Why is it that we are now confronted with the prospects of an educational caste system more rigid and hierarchial than before? Why is it that the hopes of liberalising the system of higher education, which were aroused in so many quarters two years ago have been so ruthlessly quenched?

It is always difficult to read the mind of a Minister, and I will not have the temerity to conjecture the peculiar permutations and combinations of ideas which have led the present Secretary of State into the somewhat surprising position in which he now stands. But in the universe of discourse in which he moves, in the comings and goings of the ideologists and the pressure groups, there are at least three influences which, overtly or in concealed ways, seem to be operative.

First, comes the influence of the idea that universities must be kept pure. There is a section of academic opinion—a small section, although, I am sorry to say, not without strong representation in very high quarters—which has always resented the intrusion of anything with practical applications into the curricula of universities. We all know the type—the sort of person who gets hot under the collar when he thinks of Lord Snow's Rede Lecture, the sort of person who looks down his nose when you mention American universities. Medicine they will just tolerate—as one of them said to me, "It is traditional." But, beyond that, anything vocational is anathema. To all such, the suggestion that the universities should assume responsibility for the colleges of education or that, from time to time, a regional technical college should be upgraded to the status of a technological university or should become the technical faculty of a more traditional type of university, is highly distasteful. It is the desecration of an idea.

But the idea is both outmoded and impractical. The technologies, other than medicine, have long ago been admitted to the circle of university activities. Cambridge, which can hardly be regarded as a parvenu among universities, has one of the leading engineering schools in the country. The belief that, for the majority of university students, there is no vocational motive in the university years, is fantastically not in accordance with facts. The truth is, surely, that there can be no hard and fast line between the pure and the applied, the academic and the vocational; and the modern university, with its multiplicity of types of study and courses, is already deeply committed to both. Certainly, having in mind the actual courses pursued in colleges of education, it is absurd to suggest that there is anything specially alien there to the atmosphere of a university. I would suspect that some, at least, of the colleges already do better for their students in the way of general education than quite a number of specialist departments in the universities.

The second influence hostile to the changes and possibilities we suggested is, of course, that of the local education authorities. I yield to no one in my admiration for what has been done in the past by some of these authorities, in the sphere both of the schools and of higher education. As I have already said, in the proposals we put forward regarding the colleges of education, we were careful to provide for continued association. I can easily sympathise with the frame of mind of a local education officer, who perhaps has fostered a college of advanced technology and has seen it taken from him or has participated in the splendid development of the teacher training colleges and sees now proposals for taking them, too. I can well understand his impure to fight the further limitation of his area of power—power to do good, as he sincerely believes. It seems to me very probable that the opposition of such outstanding educationalists, as some of these local officers are, has played a very considerable rôle in procuring the rejection of this policy. But I do not think that it has been in the best interest of education: and I believe that this clinging to the status quo has been supported by quite erroneous beliefs concerning the probable effects of transfer on local life and local activities.

Contrary to the allegations made in such quarters, I see no reason at all why there should not be effective co-operation between the colleges and the local education authorities, if the government of the former were transferred, as we suggested. And far from resulting in an impoverishment of the texture of local life, I am inclined to think that the increase of the local duties of the universities would positively enhance it. It would be a good thing in itself to involve the universities in wider responsibilities for the supply of teachers to the schools; and it would certainly make them more alive to the problems of the school curricula. I know, too, that there are some local councillors who cling to power as such and whose exercise thereof can hardly be described as beneficial. But I refuse to believe that this is true of the majority; and I still hope, with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, that they may eventually be persuaded to co-operate in a transfer which, I am sure, is in the public interest.

Finally, my Lords, I detect in all this a certain jealousy on the part of the Department of Education and Science for the area of its direct control. You can, indeed, read in the declarations of the Secretary of State a claim that such an area is necessary in order to offset the uncontrolled evolution of the autonomous universities. According to the principles of academic freedom, which we all accept, it is argued that university education can go where it will: that it is necessary, therefore, that there should exist a sector of direct control, at the same level, to provide counter-balance where it is needed; otherwise, there is no order, no system.

This is a very false conception. I do not think that anyone who has read the chapter on academic freedom in our Report will accuse its authors of failing to emphasise the importance of that principle. But, equally, I would have thought it impossible—though apparently it is not—to interpret that principle as implying a right of the universities to operate independently of the needs of public policy. It would, indeed, be ridiculous if a group of institutions, subsidised as they are, should claim to evolve without regard to such needs.

But that it not the situation. Whatever we might think of the lead, or absence of lead, which it has given in the last two years, it is really not open to question that the U.G.C. has ample powers, within the canons of academic freedom, to secure an evolution in accordance with the broad lines of policy laid down by Government. The contrast between the direct control of the junior institutions and the indirect control of the autonomous institutions is not a contrast between order and anarchy, efficiency and inefficiency: it is a contrast of administrative suitability. No one suggests that all the junior institutions are capable of efficient functioning with complete self-government: hence the necessity for direct control. Experience shows that at the senior level greater efficiency is secured by decentralised initiative: hence self-government subject to the indirect controls of the U.G.C. and the Government. I can well understand that in recent months Ministers contemplating a Grants Committee, most inadequately staffed for the enlarged functions confronting it, and, at the committee level, sounding the trumpet, if at all, somewhat uncertainly, must have felt tempted to keep restricted the area over which it operates. But I doubt if this is wise. Because a superior instrument is not functioning at full efficiency, it is dubious wisdom to forgo forever the prospect of its extended use. Rather see that it functions better.

There is a further consideration which, in justice to the Secretary of State and his Department, I think I ought perhaps to mention. The suggestion in our Report that at sometime in the future certain regional colleges might be considered for upgrading seems to havecaused in certain quarters a rash of quite unreasonable expectations. I have been told that at one time there were applications for consideration of this sort from more than 40 different centres. I can well understand that it was felt that this sort of chain reaction should be stopped; I should have felt so myself had I been in any responsible position. But this was a matter for one firm statement on the part of the Secretary of State. He would have been armed with the offers from existing universities for greatly enlarged rates of expansion. He could have explained that for the time being no additions were necessary at that level, and, that, in any case, the path to higher status must be arduous and the criteria of selection severe. Without destroying all hope in the future or denying all possibility of fruitful experiment, he could have deflated these exaggerated claims in one weekend speech. There was no need for a retreat into Chinese metaphysics and the proclamation of eternal compartmentalisation, utterly inimical to the needs of organic growth. Administrative strength is not shown by administrative rigidity.

My Lords, I do not believe that the binary system will be a success. I do not believe that the "public sector" as the Secretary of State conceives it can be built up to match the status or the efficiency of the autonomous sector. I do not believe that this will be so, either as regards research or as regards training. Nor do I believe that the prospective higher education population, especially the prospective students, can be brought to regard them in this light. I am confident that the system, as at present conceived, is not ultimately viable.

But, in any case, I am bound to say—and I say this with sorrow—that I regard it as a supreme paradox that a Government which is pledged to abolish artificial hierarchy and invidious distinctions in the schools should, at the same time and under the same Secretary of State, be actively engaged in preventing the elimination of artificial hierarchies and invidious distinctions in higher education. My Lords, I personally believe in the application, within reason, of the comprehensive system in the schools. But we all know that there are real difficulties here which it will tax the best ingenuity of this and coming generations to circumnavigate. In the sphere of higher education there are no such difficulties: the way is clear to the evolution of a system where what there is of hierarchy is based only on function and achievement. Is it not a supreme irony of contemporary history that, when public opinion is more prepared than ever before for such an evolution, public policy should be actively engaged in frustrating it? Is it not extraordinary that a Minister who is bending his powers to the diminution of the anxieties of the 11-plus should at the same time be pursuing a policy which must make the anxieties of the 18-plus even more formidable than they now are?

The Secretary of State is not a Member of your Lordships' House. We have, unfortunately, no Minister among us who can speak directly for the great Department over which he presides. But if he were present, I would appeal to him to think again. I would remind him of his own philosophy of educational equality on which he has written more eloquently than most of his generation. I would draw to his attention the atmosphere of frustrated plans and disappointed aspiration which has followed upon his recent decisions. I would appeal to him to think again, to think long and earnestly, before continuing on a course which can bring no pleasure of benefit to any but a few snobs at the centre and bullies at the periphery. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.