HL Deb 15 July 1970 vol 311 cc601-721

3.6 p.m.

LORD ROBBINS rose to call attention to the trend of future demand for higher education; and to move for Papers. The noble Lo d said: My Lords, it is nearly five years since we had a debate in which higher education was the central subject of discussion. Much has happened since then. Momentous decisions in this respect will have to be made in the near future. It therefore seemed to me to be worth while putting down the Motion which stands in my name, and I should like to take this opportunity of thanking all those concerned who have granted the facilities for it to be debated.

The big new fact which has appeared on the horizon since this issue, was last debated in your Lordships' House is the considerable change in our expectations regarding the probable increase in the demand for higher education in this Island. Every year since they were issued the estimates of the Committee on Higher Education of 1963 have been exceeded, as indeed have been the subsequent estimates of the Department of Education and Science.

Although the figures of the Committee on Higher Education were always explicitly described as minimal estimates which in fact were likely to be exceeded, the actual gap between them and the latest estimates is now so great as to surpass even the maximum expectations of 1963. In 1963, the year when that Report was issued, the minimum percentage of the relevant age group which was expected to get two or more A-levels by 1981 was nearly 13, compared with 7 in 1961. Now the forecast is no less than 24 per cent. I need hardly say that these crude figures do not themselves indicate the number of those qualified who are likely to wish to enter higher education. The business of estimation here is of such a degree of complexity as to be unsuited for detailed discussion in a debate of this sort, but I suggest that what I have said provides a setting for any discussion which is to have a proper quantitative background. It is a piquant experience for anyone who, at the time of the original projection, was reviled and reproached for wild over-estimation, now to find himself revised and reproached for a reverse performance.

Speaking for myself, I would say that I do not find it a; all mortifying to discover that in future there is likely to be more talent suitable for training than I and my colleagues originally thought to be the case. On the contrary, in a world in which superior intelligence is still a relatively scarce commodity likely to be helpful in all sorts of ways, I welcome it as an encouraging sign. I wish there were many more surprises of that sort in sight. But I do not for a moment deny that the new prospect carries with it serious problems—problems of cost, problems of organisation, problems of the ethos and the quality of our educational institutions. It is for that reason that I put: down this Motion, and it is to these problems that I wish to draw attention.

Before I do that, however, may I express the earnest hope that discussion of these very important matters will not be clouded by reaction to recent manifestations of unrest and violence in educational institutions. Noble Lords must not think that I personally am indifferent to those manifestations. As Chairman of the Court of Governors of the London School of Economics, in common with my lay and academic colleagues I have been at the centre of some of these troubles in recent years, and I am not at all unaware of both the pathetic and the ugly side of such disturbances. But we must not get things out of proportion. By far the larger proportion of the present generation of students are as decent, as industrious, as intelligent as ever we were—probably more so—and if they are more volatile, if they are more apt to fly off at a tangent, more likely to be worked upon by systematic wreckers, that is largely because the world is a considerably more anxious and perplexing place than it used to be, and perhaps because we, their parents and grandparents, have not been anxious and sensitive enough. It would be a cruel injustice if policy were to be weighted against their prospects because of the evil—I would say the deliberately evil—acts of a very few wrongdoers.

Having, I hope, made my own attitude completely clear on that score, let me turn to my problems and, first, to the problem of costs. There cannot be any doubt that the prospective increase here is disturbingly high if nothing is done about it. The sum to be expended would continue to rise pretty steeply through the years even if there were no expansion, simply because on present arrangements so much of the cost of higher education is cost of services; and unless economic growth is to come to a standstill the cost of services inevitably rises with increased productivity. Still more, however, must the aggregate rise if expansion is to continue at the rate projected. I have seen estimates made by very competent people to the effect that from a figure, including the maintenance grants, of about£390 million in 1966–67, the total direct cost will by 1981–82 have risen to a little less than£1,200 million. These are worrying figures and, although a faster rate of economic growth would render them more tolerable, we must not bank on that. We must not leave the rest to look after itself.

But whatever we do—and I shall be attempting to argue in a moment that there is a good deal that we can do—I hope that we shall not attempt to meet the situation by a crude limitation of numbers. I think that this would be folly from the economic point of view. There is a strong presumption that wider education is an important pre-condition of economic growth. But even if it were not, I should still oppose arbitrary limitation of numbers, on grounds of social ethics. An appropriate education is one of the greatest goods that we have it in our power to offer to our children. It is perhaps the best way of creating the equality of opportunity which I hope is the common objective of men of good will, whatever Party they belong to. And in the long light of history I suggest that perhaps we shall be judged more by our achievements in that respect than by anything in the sphere of power or material prosperity.

What I have said applies to numbers in higher education in general. I confess that my fears are greatest in regard to the universities. I do not expect that there are many who would wish to limit application to all forms of higher education, but it is no secret that there are many who would wish to do so where the universities are concerned. But consider, my Lords, what this means in terms of the human situation. It involves a deliberate raising of the standards prevalent to-day, so that some who would certainly be admitted at the present day will be excluded and will have to look elsewhere. I know of no grounds which would make such a policy desirable. Admission standards to-day are much fiercer than they have been in the past, and the main social effect of raising them still further in order to reduce numbers would be to increase the bitterness of those left out and to deprive the nation of the skills or at least some of them which they might otherwise have acquired. In my judgment, at least, the only possible argument for a policy of that sort would be if it could be shown that the sort of training which universities provided was palpably unsuitable and incapable of change. I do not believe that, but I shall return to the point in some detail in the development of my argument.

Meanwhile, let me address myself to what I regard as legitimate measures of cost reduction. I turn first to some substitution of loans for grants. I have always been in favour of this, in principle. The argument, in equity, seems to me to be unanswerable. If it is successful, higher education is a net benefit to the recipient. Quite apart from the intrinsic enjoyments associated therewith, it puts him or her in a position in which he or she may hope to gain a higher income than one who has not been so privileged. The clever ones are, so to speak, being subsidised at the expense of the not so clever. If proper provision is made to recover the loan only if higher incomes are so obtained—Professor Prest of Manchester has worked out a highly ingenious and, I think, practical scheme on these lines—then the arguments against a crude loan system, repayable whatever happens and hanging like an albatross round the neck of the unsuccessful, largely disappear.

I have always believed this, but in the past I was prepared to support a postponement of this change on the ground that the immediate introduction of such a system, way back at the beginning of the 'sixties, might frighten off potential and desirable recruits. The movement of the figures recently shows that such fears are now; days pretty groundless. I suspect that nowadays the boy or the girl who is deterred by such a system does not deserve the classification of being able and willing to benefit by the system. I hope, however, my Lords, that we shall proceed very cautiously and experimentally in this respect, starting perhaps in the graduate school and proceeding tentatively to a mixed system at the first degree stage. Do not let us deceive ourselves: it would not save much at the beginning; but cumulatively, as the years went on, it might be quite important.

But a loan system, however fully developed, would bring relief only to the Budget and to the taxpayer; it would do nothing directly to ease the strain on real resources. For that we have to look principally to ways of economising services. The first and the most obvious solution in this respect is some change in the staff/student ratio. This is a proposition which is very unpopular indeed in the academic world, where the exact maintenance of existing ratios has become something of a sacred cow. I cannot help thinking that this is unreasonable. The staff/student ratio in this country is more favourable to the students than that anywhere else in the rest of the world—at any rate, anywhere else known to me. Nobody in this country, I hope, proposes that we should adopt Continental habits, where there may be as many as 100 students to a teacher. But 100 students to a teacher is one thing: under 10, which is the position in this country, is another. And, my Lords, make no mistake: a change of a very few points in the staff/student ratio would save a great deal of money. The two academic bodies with which I have had intimate personal acquaintance have had, in most of the years that I have been connected with them, student/staff ratios well above the average—too much above the average, I would say—but I do not think the quality of the teaching has been all that inferior. In fact, I suspect that it has been rather better than the average.

The main argument against some variation of the ratio is, of course, that it means less contact between staff and students. My Lords, I respect the attitude underlying this view: anything which emphasises the importance of personal relations is to be respected. But I sincerely believe that it rests upon complete misapprehension. A good deal of the more impersonal work in educational institutions is much better done by machines, by tapes, by audio visual aids and so on. A little while ago I went to an educational unit of a great business organisation and gave myself a lesson in elementary mathematics on a machine which was being used there—a machine which allowed me, if I failed to follow the argument, to press a button and go through the lesson again. I could not help thinking how much better at this sort of thing the machine was as compared with some of my academic colleagues.

It is a great mistake to think that recourse to such methods in this respect means less personal contact than before. It can very well mean considerably more, in that the staff are freed for just those contacts which neither machines nor books can provide. Indeed, I find it very easy to imagine institutions with a higher proportion of students to staff than at present where personal contacts are more frequent and more fruitful. It is all a matter of organisation, within limits. I think it is a counsel of pure despair to argue that we have reached the limit of perfection in this respect and can do nothing to reduce the costs of an expansion which on general grounds is so thoroughly desirable. Traditional institutions will have to look to their laurels in this respect if they are not to be outdone by the competition of the Open University.

I turn now from the problems of costs to problems of a more complicated, qualitative character. I have no doubt that the larger proportion of existing institutions of higher education will continue to grow: the typical university will be larger. Only thus, indeed, can we hope to cater for greater numbers, whatever the exact extent of the increase, and only thus can we hope to reap the economies of scale which will keep costs within manageable proportions. But, my Lords, greater size brings its own problems. All who have lived through a period of rapid expansion of an educational institution must be acutely aware of the problems of growth as it takes place, in particular the problem of integrating new staff into the main traditions of the institution they are joining. But there are problems, too, associated with size as such. There can be no doubt about the dangers: the increased difficulties of communication; the diminution of the common corporate spirit; the liability of the more sensitive members, both of the staff and the student bodies, to feel lost, uncom-prehended, in a world of disconnected atoms. No one who has lived in an institution which has become big can fail to be aware of these risks.

Nevertheless, I am convinced that they are risks which can be countered by deliberate organisation. I am convinced that, where it is possible, some form of collegiate structure is a splendid safeguard. I do not think that in the modern age we can create units within each university which are legally and financially independent, as at Oxford and Cambridge, but if, as at the splendid new University of York, whose distinguished Vice-Chancellor I am happy to see among us this afternoon, as at every splendid new university, there are semi-independent colleges to which each student and each member of the staff can be attached, whether he resides there or not, and within which some social and some academic activities can be organised, we have a very fair substitute. I need hardly say that this sort of thing is not possible everywhere, especially in universities whose buildings are already established in the centres of large towns. But where it is not, where it is not possible to have a college structure, then I say that some other unit of internal organisation must be found, perhaps the department, or perhaps a group of departments, small enough to be a focus for human loyalty and intimate association.

In this connection I have often wondered whether it is not possible to make further use of existing colleges of education. I have no desire in this context to revive old controversies; indeed, I should like to go out of my way to pay tribute to what the Department of Education and Science have done to raise the status of these colleges and to improve their machinery of government—splendid work which perhaps has not received all the recognition it deserves. But I do submit, humbly, that at this stage a further transformation of some, at least, of the colleges into liberal arts colleges definitely attached to suitable universities might be a useful way of developing still further their potentialities and making economical provision for some of the demands of expansion.

But, my Lords, whatever is done by way of expanding existing universities and upgrading other institutions, it is clear to me that unless the proportion of the university population—I say "proportion" and not absolute numbers—is to be seriously diminished we shall need some new universities. The minimum anticipation of applications for 1980–81 so considerably exceeds the present potentialities of existing institutions that that conclusion is unavoidable. Personally, I do not regret it. The recent wave of creation of new universities has been immensely beneficial to the system of higher education as a whole. Doubtless it has imposed quite extraordinary ardours and endurances upon those most intimately concerned; but it has released life-enhancing forces of experiment and initiative, and I see no reason at all to suppose that these possibilities are exhausted. What is important is that the process of planning and preparation should not be long delayed. The second half of the 70s is only five years off. We must not be caught by a second educational bulge without proper provision having been made.

Finally, I should like to say a few words on the content of courses—a subject to which I attach the utmost importance. When the Committee on Higher Education made its main recommendation for university expansion it coupled with this the reservation that such expansion, especially university expansion, would not be desirable if the courses were not suited to t he varied needs of the enlarged numbers coming forward. In particular, we warned against the excessive predominance of first-degree courses involving undue specialisation. We said: 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 degree courses. Since those words were written a great deal has happened; there has been a good deal of experimentation in the new universities and elsewhere with new types of curricula. I confess that I am still not altogether happy about the state of affairs in many faculties South of the Border. I think that first degrees are still focused too often upon the production of future university teachers and high-grade experts, and too little upon the general education of those who have to discharge more usual functions in everyday life. We are still, I think, a little exposed to the reproach that we are machines to produce dons to produce dons to produce dons.…

This situation has two important disadvantages. First, it has a deleterious influence on the work of the schools: it compels too much concentration in preparation for university entrance at the sixth form stage. Secondly, and no less important, it tends to a lack of versatility on the part of the undergraduates so trained. The world of industry needs men and women of flexible intelligence and wide-ranging interests just as much as it needs specialised experts. I would say, speculating, that there is much more danger of academic unemployment where the first degrees are concentrated on depth rather than where they involve a greater breadth of study. I make no secret at all of my belief in the considerable superiority of Scottish habits in this respect. In my view, it is no accident that where British university habits have been imitated in the rest of the world—and they have been very widely imitated—it is the Scottish rather than English traditions South of the Border that have been the model.

In saying this, I hasten to make it clear that I am not opposed to study in depth in general. I am certainly not opposed to arrangements where the evident "aces" in particular subjects—mathematics or music, for instance—can get down to intensive work at a comparatively early stage. Nor am I opposed to the eventual training of anélite as such; all societies must have anélite if they are to have stability and progress. But I would emphasise that in my opinion the main place and time for such training is in the graduate schools when the first degree has been taken. There in the graduate schools (and I have been chairman of one for the better part of a quarter of a century) the selective process can be as fierce as you like. There, your concentration on depth can be as intensive as the nature of the subject demands.

I think that a good deal of progress has been made recently in various universities by the prolongation of the three-year undergraduate course into a fourth year's master's training, and I am interested in various suggestions now current for variations of such experiments. Nevertheless, it seems to me that we have still some way to go before many of the courses we offer to good second-class students are as suitable as they should be. I hope that the university authorities responsible will always bear in mind the fundamental principle that, so far as first degrees are concerned, it is the good solid seconds and potential seconds who should be: their main responsibility. A first-class mind is a gift of God, so to speak; the main job of the teacher here is to prevent it from being pushed around; to stimulate it and to allow it to find its own way. But with the seconds it is different: here, good teaching can easily turn a lower second into an upper second And, my Lords, always remember that it is the seconds who are responsible for the greater part of the main work of the world.

My Lords, I have done. I hope that I have said enough to draw attention to important problems and to indicate profitable fields of debate. But I would not wish to sit down before paying brief tribute to those who are bearing the burden and heat of the day in this sphere of national activity. In the last 25 years the institutions of higher education have been undergoing processes of change and development unprecedented in our history and surely they have done a magnificent job. We should be proud of these institutions; we should cherish them; we should be watchful lest, in enthusiasm for other educational developments, their claims are overlooked. For, with all their faults and shortcomings, they have done splendidly in the past and they deserve our moral and material support in the future. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.42 p.m.


My Lords, we have just listened to a deeply impressive address from the noble Lord, Lord Robbins. He has raised all the great issues and said something, based on long thought and experience, in regard to each of them. I salute him as my old friend and mentor in many fields—hardly as my old tutor. He held that position in regard to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, who has himself been so powerful and educationist and is so welcome on his return to office. I believe the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was Lord Robbins's first pupil and this original confrontation between the presumably nervous undergraduate—if the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was ever nervous—and the noble Lord, Lord Robbins—if he was ever nervous—must have been a very tense and finely drawn affair.

The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, gave me advice about reading before the Long Vacation. He handed me a list of economic books, and when he saw that I was rather downcast, he asked me what was troubling me. I said, "They look rather dull." He said, "Oh, really; I should have thought that that would rather have appealed to you." I think it was intended to put me in my place. But at any rate, the thought of teaching me appalled him so much that he took himself off to the London School of Economics, where he presided for many years and we have all benefited greatly from his wisdom on many occasions.

I am very pleased to be speaking in this debate not long before the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. We all look forward to hearing his first speech on behalf of a Government Department. The noble Lord has had what some people call the best education in the world, Eton and Christchurch. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, would say that Winchester and New College is better still. Having been educated at Eton and having taught at Christchurch I can understand the merits of both systems.

There are people, of whom the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, may be one—and many Members of your Lordships' House may agree with her—who feel that a grounding in the more ordinary education of the country, and teaching the ordinary children of the country, might equip them still better to handle the affairs of the country. I can only say to Lord Belstead that I am glad to think that he also has been a teacher; and so we may realise that he comes before us this afternoon as an educationist and also as a Minister. We wish him every possible success, and if he does not answer some of the questions I put to him, it will be only because I have not given him sufficient notice; and I have no doubt that the new Deputy Leader of the House will deal with them with all competence.

My Lords, I suppose there has been no such dramatic change in the social life of this country in recent years as we have seen in this tremendous expansion of higher education. In 1957 I initiated the first debate on universities ever held in this House; speaking, I am sorry to say, for 46 minutes—which is more than twice as long as I hope to detain your Lordships to-day. But speeches were longer in those days; there were fewer Members of the House and they seemed to fall asleep more easily. Things have been speeded up a lot in recent times.

In 1957 the number of university students was under 90,000 and the Government at that time were planning for a target of 106,000 for the middle 'sixties. I made what was regarded then as the rather fantastic suggestion that we should aim at 176,000 by 1967; that was about twice the number in 1957. To use the expression of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, I was reproached and reviled, or at any rate I was treated as an uneducated crank for putting forward such a figure. Of course, as everyone knows, that figure has been easily surpassed, and now we have well over 200,000 people in the universities alone, leaving out other forms of education.

Looking back, I notice that in that debate there was considerable discussion about whether there would, in fact, be a University of Sussex. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, who replied, had a great personal sympathy for it and had expressed that sympathy before he became a Minister. But in those days it was still a moot point whether there would be a University of Sussex. Yesterday I had the great pleasure of attending the graduation ceremony of Sussex University. I was there not, I am afraid, to receive an honorary degree; but, shining with a certain amount of reflected glory, there I was, sitting in a good position.

It was noticeable yesterday that at this University, which in 1957 we were still regarding as a rather doubtful feature of the future scene, there were close on 1,000 young people who took their degrees. That is just one of our new universities and I was glad to read in The Times to-day that two young people who got first-class degrees had failed the 11-plus quite a number of years earlier. So whether one looks at Sussex, or whatever university it is in which one happens to be interested, this has been a tremendous development under, of course, more Governments than one.

The Report of the Robbins Committee, a Committee which will always bear the name of the noble Lord, must be regarded as marking the turning point; and it is fair to point out that it was set up by a Conservative Government. In fact, it was set up by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles; at least he was Minister of Education at the time and I think I am right in treating him as having set it up in 1961. Its Report, when it was published in 1963, was accepted in principle by the Conservative Government, whose Minister of Education at that time was another very enlightened educationist, Sir Edward Boyle, now Lord Boyle, whom we all look forward to welcoming in this House with special warmth very soon. The first Minister of Education actually to be responsible for universities was in fact the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, who contributed stirringly to many of our debates in that period.

The Robbins Committee Report contained the far-reaching proposition that the courses of higher education should be available to all those who were qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them, and who wished to do so. The statement of that proposition, and its acceptance by the Government—and, I need hardly say, by the Opposition of the day—are undoubtedly the most momentous facts in the history of education in this country. In my opinion they stand on a par with the acceptance, eventually, of the Beveridge Report, and all that stood for, in a somewhat different social field.

In reciting those facts, which I have tried to do fairly, we give credit from this side of the House where credit is due. But that is not of course quite the whole story. One has, I am afraid, to recall that not much more than a year before the Robbins Report came out I moved a Vote of Censure on the Government in this House for their total failure to expand university education. The noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme (who I am glad is to speak to-day), and other educationists joined in this vote wholeheartedly, and no one could be found to defend the Government except their official spokesman, who, as so often, was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. I would recall also that in the Robbins Report itself we are told that the universities had less reason to be confident in the Government of that time. So, if I am giving credit to the Conservatives, do not let me fall into the error of giving exaggerated credit: that, I am sure, would put me in wrong with everybody. We have to remember that their record was good at the twelfth hour, but right up to the eleventh hour there were many reasons for criticising them very sharply. Be that as it may, the Conservative Government accepted the Robbins Report. But it fell to the Labour Government to carry it out.

I shall say only a few words about our own performance. In 1963, the Robbins Report gave a target of 339,000 students in all forms of higher education for the academic year 1969–70, six years or so on. By the end of 1969, the then Minister of Education, Mr. Short, could point out that there were already 443,000 students in higher education. That was an excess of more than 100,000 over the Robbins' target, so that we on this side are entitled to point out that we not only reached the Robbins' target but far exceeded it. Last year, the Minister of State, Mrs. Williams, pointed out that in 1963–64,£110 million was being spent on universities, and in 1969–70, £246 million was so spent. I think that the amount was actually a little more, but at any rate it was about 2½ times as much as in 1963–64. It was a colossal expansion, however we reckon it. And there was an almost similar expansion in the growth of staff.

I am not pausing now, but one could devote a whole afternoon to this. I must only pause to point out that we did devise and develop this whole system of polytechnics, about which so much that is encouraging could be said. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, mentioned the University of the Air, which we devised and have now brought to the verge of fulfilment. May I ask the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, one question, of which I have given him a little notice? It concerns the chronic sick and those in prison, particularly those doing long sentences of imprisonment. The sums involved are not large compared with the other figures we are talking about this afternoon; and there are cases where a whole life could be redeemed by giving proper facilities for study in the Open University. I think of one young person, who has been sentenced to life imprisonment and who, after leaving school quite young, has obtained three O-levels at the best grade, grade A, since being in prison. Somebody like that, I am assured, is likely to be accepted for the Open University, and no doubt there are other similar cases.

The problem is that, leaving out other problems of facilities, which in my opinion could be overcome, the fees, even in a non-scientific subject, would be more than£200 over the period, and the ordinary prisoner or chronic sick person has not got£200—not even 200 pence, or not much more. I feel that this is an issue which should be properly explored. T know that it is being looked into very carefully in the noble Lord's Ministry, in conjunction with the Home Office, but I hope that the noble Lord will show some considerable sympathy to-day for an attempt to make the Open University accessible to the right kind of person who may be in prison or who is chronically sick.

We cannot tell what the Conservatives would have done, if they had been in office—no one can ever tell what some other Party would have done—but I must say on behalf of the Labour Party that we have every reason to be proud of what we did and of what was being done (because great educational advances are not carried out by a few Ministers), particularly when we think of all it has meant to the rising generation of this country.

However, we are concerned to-day primarily with the future, and we certainly cannot evade the problem raised by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins: that far more students with adequate qualifications will be coming forward as candidates for higher education than was expected at the beginning of the 'sixties, when he produced his Report. Standing here to-day, I am not presumptuous enough to put a financial estimate on the cost. I remember that when, many years ago now, at the time of the Beveridge Report, I was working with Lord Beveridge when he was asked, "Can we afford it?", he would reply, as the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, would reply: "We cannot not afford it." I would give the same answer. "Can we really not afford to educate all these young people who are qualified to benefit from a university education and, therefore, ultimately to benefit the community through that university or other higher education?" I do not want to confine my remarks to university people alone.

That does not mean that the financial problems can be brushed lightly aside. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, discussed a number of ways in which we could rationalise the higher education of this country so that we could reduce the potential expenditure without reducing the quality of the education provided. I am afraid that, speaking for the Labour Party and, for that matter, for myself, we should be opposed to any kind of changeover to student loans in place of student grants. I am not going to argue this matter to-day. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, is well aware that this idea is not popular with many educational people. I would only say that we regard it, and shall always regard it, as socially regressive. I cannot believe that a Labour Government would support loans for students, instead of grants, if introduced by some other Government, and certainly would not introduce such a plan themselves.

There are, of course, other solutions, some of which have been touched on by the noble Lords who have spoken and others of which may be touched on during the debate. I am not going to dwell on them now, if only because, when the Labour Government came to an end, all these matters were being looked into, and I do not think that within a few weeks we could be expected, as a Party, to produce hard-and-fast solutions or attitudes. Certainly there would appear to be room for greater specialisation of facilities, for greater sharing of equipment between universities and other sectors of higher education (a point made by the noble Lord) and also, we believe, from the considerable savings we have made from experiments, for the self-financing of student accommodation.

Finally, my Lords, there is the vexed question, which I cannot stop to discuss now, of trying to bring about economies through changing the structure of the academic year. Of course, in Oxford and Cambridge; students are active inside the universities only for 24 weeks, and in most other universities for 30 weeks. It is argued that we could make more use of the universities if we had one more term. I cannot pretend that I am hopeful of changes along these lines. I have only one personal suggestion, and I hope that it will not be denounced by the academic speakers in this debate! I was glad to find, during the last day or two, that a few of my academic friends are favourable to it. I feel that we do not make anything like enough use of our postgraduate students in teaching. The ordinary postgraduate student, in my opinion, would actually benefit from teaching. A few hours of teaching would not detract from his research but would actually assist him in it. I have some first-hand knowledge of this subject, for various reasons. So I hope that in this way we should obtain some increase of teaching without an increase of expenditure—I repeat, without an increase of expenditure—because although at the present time postgraduate students in most cases receive some reward, I believe that a great increase could be brought about in the service they render, either with no increase or with very little increase of expenditure.

Before I conclude I must deal a little more fully with one of Lord Robbins's arguments with which I feel special sympathy and which I know arouses a lot of sympathy on these Benches, as was evident while the noble Lord was speaking, and also throughout the House. The noble Lord urges us not to allow the aberrations of a few students to turn us anti-student. He begs us not to give ourselves this excuse for cutting down the sums of money that we should otherwise regard as necessary for their education. How true, how right and how generous that is, coming from the noble Lord, who has suffered a good deal in recent times from some of these aberrations. The noble Lord has seen students at their best and at their worst for many years, and he has served them impartially with a lifelong dedication. What he said to-day was, of course, what one would expect from him, but it is certainly notable.

I am afraid it is true that there is a small subversive element among our students who are not content with the hope of overthrowing society in general. We had plenty of this type of revolutionary with us in the 'thirties, when I was a young don and the noble Lord, Lord Byers, and I used to study together.


I was a student.


Well, we were in the process of mutual education. Those of us who were educated or being educated in those days were familiar with revolutionaries. There were far more Communists in the 'thirties, I think, than there are to-day, even if we count some of our latter-day Maoists or Trots, or whatever they are called. It is not, therefore, that revolutionary students have increased so much proportionately, but what has happened is that to-day we have this element of students who are not content with a revolution of society, which is bound to take a long time: they want the revolution to start on their doorstep; they want to overthrow their own institutions. That is the sharp difference between the present situation and the one that existed in the past. One has to face the fact that there are a number of students with no little influence, whose idealism I have no reason to question, though I am not saying by any means that it is present in all cases, who want the revolution to start with the overthrow of the existing set-up in their own colleges. I should have thought that this was a very small majority; but it would be shutting our eyes to the reality if we did not face it as a phenomenon at the present time.

But what must be realised—and it was said with more force and more authority than I can command—is that the vast majority of students are as decent as we are. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, said that they were more decent, and that may well be so. When I look at my children and ask myself, "Am I more decent than they are?", or, "Are they more decent than me?", I can only say that I should feel that I had wasted my life if I had produced eight young children who were no better than I was. I personally hope that the the younger generation are better. However, I do not think that the comparison is one that anybody can undertake with any confidence. I simply say that we have no reason to regard them as any worse than we are, and I hope that they are somewhat better.

What we must realise is that the young students of to-day cannot be treated as some of us older ones were content to be treated as undergraduates; they cannot be treated even as they might have been treated 15 or 20 years ago. We, the community, must recognise (I do not know that I feel quite so guilty about this as does the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, but I do feel responsible in a slightly different way) that we have promoted this tendency and done our best to push it along. Whether we like it or not, we have decided that young people are to have the vote at 18 and are now to be regarded as adults and grown up. After that decision—from which I do not dissent—it is difficult to go on using the old phrases in statu pupillari, in loco parentis, or any other Latin tag that comes to mind.

It must be recognised that students must be given a new share in decision-making progress: indeed, that is being given effect to, though in many cases too slowly. Speaking as a chairman of the governors of one of the colleges of London University—a highly reputable college, but not so large or far-reaching a college as that of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins—I can testify to the solid, practical advantage already being derived from the presence of students on our own governing body. But this, in my view, is not all, and it is not what matters to most students. What they are groping for, it seems to me, is a more satisfying relationship with their teachers.

Soon after our debate in 1968 on student unrest I acted for some months as chairman of a commission representing staff and students which was seeking to sort out the situation at Hornsey College of Art after a sit-in, or what some people called a revolution. It was an edifying and instructive experience But what struck me most of all at that time—and anything that has come to me since has confirmed it—was the need for a closer contact with the staff; a more intimate access to the staff. The cry used to go up: "Cannot we have the tutorial system?". They might not have liked the tutorial system as it was administered in ancient days in universities, but that was the cry in one form or another. I think that this is the main demand of young people to-day. I believe myself that this legitimate demand for greater intimacy with the teaching staff will underlie all the arguments of the 'seventies.

With that fresh in my mind I shall always be most reluctant to see any deterioration in the staff/student ratio; that is to say, to see an increase in the number of students for which a member of the staff is responsible. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has gone into this subject quite deeply, and it may well be that there are methods of using modern teaching techniques which, as he explained, leave the tutor free for the more personal encouragement which is the most important thing of all in the relationship. I certainly have not got a closed mind in the face of that argument; I can only say that I should need a good deal of convincing.

Finally, I must press a question, or, in a sense, a group of questions on the Government. If the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, has not time to answer them, or has not had an opportunity to study them, then I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will deal with them. We are bound to ask the Government when they will make an announcement on university expansion for the next quinquennium—1972–77. Have they yet had advice from the University Grants Committee as regards numbers and as regards money? If they have not had that advice, how soon do they expect to get it? We bear in mind, as the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has brought out, that not only is there going to be a rise in the size of the university age group during the period 1972 to 1977 but also that a rising proportion—significantly larger than when the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, carried out his inquiry—is going to become qualified for university entry.

I should certainly wish, as I am sure all noble Lords on this side of the House do, to support the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, in his general line that competition for university entry must on no account be made more severe. The noble Lord, Lord Crowther—a great authority indeed on all things educational—who I believe will speak later, pointed out as long ago as 1959 the problems which would be caused for the schools by the shortage of university places. Do the Government really want to face a situation in which the younger brother or sister with better A-levels than his older brother or sister finds it harder, or even impossible, to get a university place? That is what university expansion is about. This is not just an educational but a profound social issue. It is reasonable to point out to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that when he was Minister of Education, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham of St. Marylebone, so far as we could judge from the outside, they were ahead of their colleagues on this issue back in the 'sixties. I can only hope that they will lend their pressure for progressive answers within the Cabinet. We, from outside, cannot tell what goes on within those regions.

We can ask the Government to say—indeed I hope that they will be able to say it, end I shall be shocked if they are not able to do so—that they are in no sense falling away from the acceptance of the Robbins principle that all who are capable of receiving university education should receive it. I hope that the Government will be able to say something encouraging to-day and, if not, something healthy very soon. We realise that they have not had very long to look around. Whatever the Government say, I must make it absolutely plain that we in the Labour Party have committed ourselves to this proposition that all who are capable of receiving a university education should receive it. We have put our hands to that plough and we will never draw back.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, revilement and reproach may have been the lot of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, over the past five years, but it obviously will not be so to-day in your Lordships' House. The congratulations and thanks which it is customary to give in your Lordships' House to the initiator of a debate like this are particularly heartfelt from anyone who has anything to do with education, because this is one of the major- educational problems of the next twenty years. Everyone who has to deal with education—and the Government who have to deal with it—must have our sympathy, because unlike some of the other educational problems which this Government will have to deal with, it will not be a problem of their own making. It is a problem that we all have to face and all have to be helpful about. We can be helpful in the best way if we do not fall into the trap which pressure groups of various kinds fall into (I suppose it is their business really) to say that the money must be forthcoming whatever happens, and that it must be found.

It is all very well for the noble Earl, Lord Longford, to say that we cannot afford not to educate these people, and I agree with him. But we cannot afford not (to build the hospitals; we cannot afford not to review our prison system, as I am sure he would be the first to agree. We cannot afford not to build a transport system. It is a question of priorities, and it is this particularly which legislatures and, therefore, political Parties must face; and I shall say a few words on this subject to-day.

I was very disappointed that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, did not appear in any way to tackle the problem of how we are to pay for this university expansion. He made one or two remarks on some of the suggestions that had been made, and made one or two minor ones of his own. The fact remains that a Front Bench spokesman for a Party which has recently been in Office, and which has had access to all the facts and plans for the immediate future, should be able to produce a more helpful contribution on this particular point. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, will fill in what the Labour Party's thinking is on this matter when we reach the end of the debate.

I hope that your Lordships will forgive me if I stray slightly outside the bounds of higher education, because it is other matters which decide the priorities for expenditure. We, in our Party, are very happy that the Government have said that primary education is their first priority in education. Obviously, the earlier you get to children the more chance you have of educating them for their full potentiality. The real priorities in education must be in primary education, pre-primary education and in such things as clearance of slums which so stultify and stunt the ability of our children at a very early age. But to say that primary education must be the first priority is merely to say that we shall have a far bigger problem on university and higher education entry in the future. The more children we manage to educate properly at the primary stage, the more children we shall have coming through asking for higher and further education. This is absolutely right and to be welcomed. One of the problems that we have at the moment is that there are too many children dropping out of school at the end of compulsory school attendance. This is a great disaster for us as a society and for them. We must ask ourselves whether, in the society of 15 or 20 years' time, with its demand for highly educated people of one kind or another, a lot of these people who drop out now are not going to find themselves almost unemployable.

I was slightly surprised at certain things that the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack said during the debate on the Queen's Speech. I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord is not here, but I gave him warning that I was going to make these remarks. Unfortunately, he has had to be present at the commemoration of St. ThomasàBecket who, he pointed out rather tartly to me, was not a comprehensive schoolboy himself, but came from a grammar school. I should like to reply: "And look what happened to him". During the debate on the Queen's Speech the noble and learned Lord said that he thought secondary re-organisation could best be solved by having selection later than at the age of eleven, and the parents then choosing whether their children should have three, four or five years education after that, in which case they would presumably go to different establishments.

The great advantage of comprehensive education is that it has encouraged and taught more pupils and more parents to continue with education beyond the compulsory age. The moment that you ask parents to decide at the age of selection that their children should go to a particular establishment because they will be going for only so many years, you make the process rigid and discourage people from staying on. This means that more and more people will be wanting higher and further education—and it is not only a demand, it is a need and something which we must encourage. We must be thinking of how we produce more further and higher education. I hope your Lordships will forgive me for combining the two, because the division between them is at the moment rather too rigid. More people are needing further and higher education. Indeed, we need further and higher education for all, further education starting with compulsory day release until the age of 18.

Before putting my main point as to how I think we ought to try to tackle the economic side, there is one social point I should like to make. A lot of the unwarranted trouble we have had in universities—and there has been a lot of warranted trouble in my view—comes from the isolation of the student community from society at large. We have to look at this problem and do something about it. We could try mixing up our age groups much more in higher education; we could try to bring back to the university and institutions of higher education people who have had jobs. We want more sandwich courses. Also, a great many young people value doing a constructive and creative job very soon after they are 18. I should like to see a much greater mixture, from a social point of view, in the field of higher and further education.

This leads me to say that we want much more education. Much more higher and further education we obviously must produce. We want it much more socially mixed by age groups, and indeed by other social mixes. One of the ways to do this is to draw a sharper line between vocational and non-vocational education, not in the sense that we say some people have vocational education and some people have non-vocational education, which has been the attitude some people have taken, but in the sense that we say that everybody needs non-vocational education and everybody needs vocational education But we might save on resources if we did not confuse the two so much. I am quite certain that vocational education can be made shorter, sweeter and more compact if it is not mixed up with non-vocational education.

Here I should like to pick up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and take it possibly one step further by suggesting that we should recognise vocational education for the academic life—the production of dons—as being what it is, vocational education, and in a way separating it. Possibly this is something that could be done through the graduate schools. I am not suggesting that vocational and non-vocational education should be dealt with in separate institutions; I think they should be dealt with in the same institutions. But I suggest that our thinking would be slightly clearer on this if we made the distinction.

And so, my Lords, the conclusions I come to on several grounds are that the kind of education that we want to see will have more sandwich courses, more adult education, less residential, traditional full-time education of the old type, more experiments like the Open University—and I am delighted to see that the Government are not proposing in any way to take away from that great experiment. We want to see a big expansion of the technical college kind of education. That is one way in which we can produce the education that our children will want, without our lowering in any way the standards, and we shall be able to afford it.


My Lords, may I intervene, since I have been rebuked for not explaining how we are going to afford it. I am ready to accept the rebuke of the noble Lord—but all the more happily if he will explain how he is going to afford it.


My Lords, I am going to have to afford less than the noble Earl who has just spoken.


It did not sound like it.


Well, my Lords, it certainly ought to sound like it. If we have less residential education, it costs less. If we have more technical college type education, it costs less. If we have more part-time education, it costs less. This is cheaper. It is also, in my view, socially desirable, for reasons which I have put forward, and I do not think there is anything in it which is educationally undesirable. Indeed, by having this kind of education much more involved in society as a whole, education itself will benefit to a very great degree.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, the results of General Elections have certain compensations, for it was after the General Election of 1951 that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, returned to teach at the Oxford College at which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and I were educated. All three of us at the same school and at the same university college—both selected. I do not know what modern educational thought would say to this. All I can say, perhaps, is, "Divisive we stand", and to thank the noble Lords for their kind words at the beginning of this debate.

In recent years the Government's case for education has been put by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, with a knowledge which her personal teaching experience alone has been able to bring. To-day, the task of replying to the debate—a task which the noble Baroness alwa3's fulfilled so well—is in the safe and familiar hands of my noble friend Lord Aberdare. But I feel that the same really cannot be said of the Government's opening statement. For, in an imperfect world, the great hope for fulfilment of the diverse interests in higher education lies—does it not?—in accurate Government assessment of future statistics; and I regret that I have long followed the advice of Mrs. Malaprop in having "a supercilious knowledge of accounts". In these circumstances I am indeed grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, for his expertise in initiating this debate. His knowledge of the subject and tenacity of purpose, and, may I add, his kind and generous words, command widespread respect; and the noble Lord is supported to-day by many noble Lords with tremendously wide experience in this field, to whom the Government certainly intend to listen—with, they hope, the greatest advantage.

May I assure your Lordships that within the available resources the Government will seek to find acceptable ways for higher education to meet the ever-growing demands, but there are many competitors in this field, and not only within the educational system. We must keep constantly in mind that the public expenditure bill, which is now under close review, must cover a host of other services. Nationally we have to expand the economy, develop our social services and fulfil the great responsibility of defence. Fresh from the hustings, your Lordships may have found during the last few weeks that individually many people do not always record their vote on great affairs of State, but rather on the removal of the university vote, or of the garden fence. And so, in all seriousness, it is within this whole divergent complex that we have to come to terms with the explosive social demand for higher education which the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has documented so clearly.

Detailed estimates of the task before us may vary, but, briefly, the broad picture is this. In 1962, when Lord Robbins' Committee were sitting, there were about 220,000 full-time higher education students in Great Britain. But by last year this figure had risen to 435,000—virtually double. In the same period, university numbers alone were up by 100,000. In this seven-year period the student population in the colleges of education grew from 55,000 to 123,000—over double—and in the further education colleges from 33,000 to 92,000—nearly treble. The target which the noble Lord's Committee set for 1975 was reached last year, and the numbers in higher education which were envisaged for 1969 have already been exceeded by 100,000. We on this side are proud to have had our hand in the formation of the seven new universities before leaving office in 1964, and are only too ready to agree to what the Party opposite have done while in power to keep the ball rolling, as it were.

It is good that we should remember that these cold figures which have been given from both sides of the House do less than justice to a remarkable achievement. I always remember a Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University near where I live at home explaining that one of the problems of setting up his University was that everybody and everything were new. This rapid expansion has involved the staffs of colleges in new problems over the construction of courses and in novel feats of organisation, often achieved in restricted accommodation. In view of certain criticisms, many years ago now, levelled at the Robbins Committee, I gladly add this. Extra pressure on higher education has partly derived from an increase in those gaining the necessary qualifications. In 1960, three or more A-level passes were gained by 4 per cent. of boys and girls. In 1968 this proportion had nearly doubled. The rapid rate of expansion, so much in advance of the Robbins Committee's target, has been achieved, in the noble Lord's words, by admission standards much fiercer than in the past.

It seems probable that this trend will continue during the 1970s. This assumption underlies the projections of future demand for higher education on which the Department of Education and Science have been working for some time, adopting the same basic approach as did the noble Lord's Committee; that is, the maintenance of a broadly constant level of opportunity to enter higher education for the growing number of suitably qualified young people who seek entry. This was called by the noble Lord's Committee the "social demand" approach, but since it concentrates rather on the aspirations of individuals it has come to be called the "private demand" approach, which is possibly a more apt description and one that distinguishes it from other approaches based on considerations of the economic and manpower needs of society.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, may wish to know that the Department's forecasts will be published during the autumn as the second in the current series of Education Planning Papers. These papers are intended to promote the discussion of major issues affecting the allocation of educational resources; they do not discuss policies or imply any Government decisions. The Planning Paper on Higher Education will set out in full detail the elaborate and complex assumptions on which the Department's projections rest, and will also offer corresponding projections of future costs. These, in turn, derive from their own complex of assumptions; and since cost analysis in this field is still at a pioneering stage the comparisons offered between unit costs at different kinds of institution are bound to be somewhat tentative. But the Department hope that the publication of its first essay in this field will stimulate others to contribute to the development of more refined methods.

My Lords, I hope that noble Lords who are interested in this problem will read the Department's publication when it appears. It is perhaps sufficient for me now to quote the total requirement for places in higher education in 1981 which emerges from the Department's assessments. This is a figure of some 835,000 places—400,000 more than were actually available last year. I should emphasise that the Government are not committed to this figure, or indeed to any other figure for the long-term expansion of higher education, and, if the noble Earl will forgive me, I will ask my noble friend Lord Aberdare to answer the questions with regard to the next quinquennium and the position vis-à-vis the University Grants Committee.

The Department's projection is the outcome of a planning exercise, and I know that other and rather higher figures have recently emerged from similar exercises which have undertaken a close study of this problem. In the nature of the case, none of these figures can have any great degree of precision, but if we can take the Department's figures as an indication of the order of the problem (and I think from what the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, said, that he would agree with this approach) then I think we shall all agree to-day that we have to face a challenging prospect, and one which brings us hard up against priorities within the educational system.

I was interested to hear the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, about the balance between the different sectors in education. Your Lordships will know perfectly well that, following our promise to the electorate, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has already staked a strong claim for primary education. But the Minister recognises, of course, that the whole of education is her province and that there are many other claimants for improvement: better salaries for teachers, smaller classes, nursery education, the forthcoming raising of the school-leaving age, the exceptional needs of priority areas, further education, the development of the youth service and of adult education, and in the context of all these, and no less pressing, the expansion of higher education.

In the course of reviewing the choices open we shall be examining within the Department how and where we can best get value for money without loss of standards, and the information about costs which will be set out in the Departmental publication which I mentioned a moment ago will, I hope, be relevant for this purpose. This will not be easy, but as the Education Service continues to make ever larger demands for money, manpower and other resources we must improve our capacity for analysing how these resources are used and measuring their effectiveness. We have listened this afternoon with great attention to the analysis made by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, of this problem when he spoke among other things, of student loans, staff/student ratios, and the use of audiovisual aids and machines; to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, who made the suggestions which are of particular interest for the possibilities of postgraduate teaching, and to the views of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont on vocational and non-vocational education.

Whatever we may hope to achieve from the resources available must be planned in the context of all the different kinds of institution to be found in this field, for we have a complex structure with different origins and traditions and different objectives and sources of support. We have the universities, old and new; polytechnics; colleges of further education concerned with technology, commerce, art and management, and colleges of education devoted almost exclusively to the training of teachers. And it is a pleasant encouragement for me that it was my noble friend Lord Eccles, who sits on these Benches, who during his time as Minister was responsible for two White Papers on technical education, and that it was during his period of office that the numbers in the colleges of education began to get near doubling.

Recent history has shown (and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, will not think me discourteous if I say this) that the further education institutions are destined to play a rather bigger role in higher education than the Robbins Committee were able to foresee. Of the 435,000 students in higher education last year, virtually half were not in universities but in the further education colleges and colleges of education. But, as your Lordships will know so well, these represent only the tip of the iceberg, because it is impossible to draw rigid lines, on the one hand, between higher and further education, and, on the other, between further education and the schools. If one takes into account all those students over the age of 18 who are continuing their education full time, part-time or in the evening, the total tally amounts already to about 3 million.

It is tempting to think that this huge and diverse enterprise can be brought under some kind of central control, and a number of schemes have recently been canvassed with such an end in view. My Lords, I simply make this plea: let us keep in mind the traditions of institutional autonomy and academic freedom which underlie the whole of our educational system, from the university to the infants' school. These traditions are incorporated in such notable institutions as the University Grants Committee, the Research Councils and the Council for National Academic Awards, and have found recent expression in the steps that the local education authorities have been trying to take to liberalise the government of the polytechnics and the other colleges for which they are responsible.

The Government set great store by these traditions and, to echo some recent words of my honourable friend, the Joint Parliamentary Under-Secretary, in another place, it will be our intention to consider in this context, and with equal care, the contribution that the several different kinds of institution in the higher education family, and not least the colleges of education, can make to the health and strength of the whole. It is to be expected that the future role of the colleges of education will form an important part of the inquiry into teacher training which my right honourable friend proposes to set up, and the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, on this subject in his speech to-day will undoubtedly be studied very closely.

My Lords, of course much of our debate will be devoted to the questions concerning resources and institutional structure upon which I have touched. But surely the heart of every education problem is the curriculum. I should like to emphasise, in case I have not sufficiently implied it already, that this is the concern not of Governments but of the great teaching profession, including researchers, academics, lecturers, dons, tutors, and including the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, who expanded on the beliefs first propounded in his Report. At the end of the day it is on their learning, devotion and teaching skill that the higher education system depends for its success.

It is for the Government to help to articulate the broad goals that society sets them and, in partnership with the local education authorities, to sustain the organisation and provide the resources needed for the job. Yes, indeed. But it is not for them to determine what is taught or how it should be taught. Having heard the generous and wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, all I would venture to say is that there is some evidence to show that among the issues which are stirring the hearts and minds of students these days is the question whether, in the process of devising courses and determining what shall be taught, enough thought is being given to what the students regard as the relevance to their needs and destinies. Certainly the authority of knowledge resides in the academic community; but in turn surely there is a heavy responsibility on those who teach to listen sympathetically, and thereby be able to give guidance in a changing world.

Lastly, my Lords, what of our objectives? Why to-day do we hold this debate and why is it so keenly attended? There is, I suppose, the conservation of our society and culture, and through education the opportunity for others to enrich and to add. There is the use of knowledge by training—possibly still, despite the efforts of the last Government and the good intentions of this Government, the least widely appreciated and most important challenge for the next decade. And there must be the expert application of knowledge through research and development. I remember so well seeing the beautiful highlands of the country of Kenya, slap on the Equator, where wheat blows in the fields and stock graze in the pastures but where only by science and tenacity were the scourges of rust and animal disease overcome. What heartbreak has been prevented by penicillin!How clearly does our freedom owe a debt to scientific thought in dark days thirty years ago!If the service of others were the sole objective of higher education, it would merit ten times over the interest which is already being shown by your Lordships' attendance here today.

4.43 p.m.


My Lords, as the first speaker after the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, may I be impertinent enough to congratulate him on a very fine first speech as a Minister, and to congratulate him on becoming a Minister in what some of us, with perhaps a slight touch of bias, regard as by far the most important Department of State. The noble Lord, if I may be impertinent again, has not only done his homework and made us interested in his homework, but given the impression of being passionately interested in it himself.

I need not emphasise the debt that we owe to the noble Lord, Robbins, for initiating this debate. The expansion of higher education is obviously one of the questions which is both inescapable and urgent, and it is right that this House should debate it at this early stage of the new Parliament. We owe to the noble Lord, of course, a still greater debt for being right seven years ago. In the face, as he said, of opposition and of scepticism, not so much from Government as from fellow academics, he maintained that a massive expansion of our population in higher education was possible and was necessary. There is not to-day one atom of solid evidence to say that he was wrong in his main conclusions. The great evils (hat were going to flow from that expansion—the lowering of standards, the sheer impossibility of recruiting staff, which was proved mathematically in The Times, the major erosions of academic freedom—none of these has happened. He would be more than justified if he just sat back with complacency and said, "I told you so." He has not done that. Instead he has warned us that the sheer logic of numbers insists that we must make still further efforts of hard and sometimes painful thought and immediate forward planning if we are to avoid inefficiency in the use of national manpower and, what is worse, injustice to individuals in the next ten years.

The central thesis of the Robbins Report was, as he said, that every individual qualified for higher education—not just for university education but for higher education—should receive it. I believe that over the next decade that must still be our guiding principle. Having said that, I want in what follows to attempt some interpretation of it. I believe that too many people still often tend, for historical reasons, to equate the phrases "higher education" and "university education", as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, indicated in a way. We have already created a considerable diversity of ever-rising standards of all kinds of higher education, and that diversity could well be increase.

Our central problem then becomes one of allocation to one or other of various sectors, and this, unfortunately, is far from easy. Thus, while I believe, obviously, in a very considerable expansion of the universities and in the creation of some new ones, I am not convinced that they need, or should, expand at exactly the same rate as the number of candidates qualified for higher education. Superficially I am disagreeing here with my noble friend, Lord Robbins, but I think it is very superficial, because the numbers about which we are disagreeing on this particular issue are probably rather small. We do not know. For me the idea of a university to-day, though it was not always so, of course, is a place where teachers and taught discuss and evaluate difficult and often original ideas of considerable generality. Universities therefore demand from those who enter them qualities of temperament and disposition that are not only academic-qualities of perseverance in the pursuit of knowledge which may be apparently irrelevant to getting a job, a strong intellectual curiosity, the capacity to work and think independently and, above all, a strong desire to learn because learning is enjoyable.

In other words, the university entrant must, to use the fashionable jargon, be strongly motivated. And not all of our students even now have that motivation, although they are certainly intelligent enough for higher education and would certainly enjoy and profit from some different form of it. As one girl of high intelligence, higher than that of many successful university students, said to me when explaining why she was unhappy at a university, "I do not want to read all those books by myself; I do not want to write all those essays; I want to lead a normal life". And a university is in some ways to some people a very abnormal life indeed. Why do such students come anyway? Often because of parental pressure and often because of pressure from the schools, who "want to do the best for their pupils", as they put it—and all praise to them. And since very recently doing the best for their pupils was synonymous with going to the university, if those pupils were clever they found themselves, and still find themselves sometimes, on a conveyor belt delivered at our doors. Now, increasingly, there are other doors, and it is those doors that I want to see grow more numerous still and more attractive.

It is because of this question of motivation, which I feel very strongly about, that I find the target of 400,000 university students by 1980, widely favoured, as rather on the high side; not (I must emphasise this or otherwise I would seem to be contradicting the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and it is a dangerous thing to do that, as people found out seven years ago) because I want to increase still further the scramble for university places and make universities more and more intellectually selective, not simply because I doubt whether the money is going to be forthcoming anyway, but because I think a significant number of those 400,000 might be happier and more successful in places other than universities.

Motivation is, unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, not an A-level subject. How do we test it? How do we tackle this problem of allocation between kinds of institution; to decide not whether a student needs higher education, but what form of higher education is best going to suit him or her? I wish I could give your Lordships a more helpful answer than I shall. I am sure it is a field in which we need much more knowledge. First, I would seek frankly to mitigate the mystique of the degree which has such a profound effect on parents and candidates. I know that the National Council for Academic Awards has helped the situation fundamentally here; but I am forced to believe, and I think forced to hope, too, that before too long polytechnics will be giving their own degrees. Like Lord Robbins, I hope, too, that it will not be long before the colleges of education become really closely associated, either with polytechnics or with universities, whichever in individual cases seems the more appropriate.

I hope the committee for which I have rooted (if I may use an unparliamentary expression) for the past twenty years, in regard to having an inquiry into the education of teachers, will be given terms of reference wide enough for the committee to look at the relationship of colleges of education with other institutions in this way. I hope that those terms will be wide enough so that they may contemplate extending the range of courses in these colleges, particularly, for example, in the direction of courses suitable for the number and variety of social workers that the great advance following the implementation of Seebohm will demand. It may well be that some of these colleges could most profitably experiment with two-year courses of a general character which could provide suitable education for those uncertain as to whether a full degree course is what they really want.

There are other ways, too, in which we can attempt to solve this problem of motivation. A great deal will depend, as it always does depend, on the schools and on school-university co-operation. The schools must make ever more determined efforts to guide their pupils, by explaining to them as clearly as they can what is really involved in the pursuit of particular kinds of higher education. It may well be that for a considerable number of pupils, though certainly not for all, a year between school and higher education, doing preferably some socially useful job, such as teaching small groups of immigrants to speak English, would give them a chance to sort out their own attitudes and aims. It is vital, too, that we should encourage and make easier transfers from one kind of higher education to another that now take place too seldom and are too often associated simply with failure.

It is clear, then, that while I recognise the absolute necessity of a substantial increase in the actual number of the university population, I am envisaging a proportionally rather greater increase in the numbers going to a diversity of other kinds of higher education. Here there are two points that I should like to make. Although, thanks to the beneficent influence of the Weaver Report, the government of education in the non-university sector has become far more liberal and realistic, there is one area where the polytechnics, for example, still stand in need of help. It may seem minor and technical; in fact it is not. In visiting universities in many parts of the world, without being chauvinistic, I have been struck by the fact that one great reason why they so often fall below our universities in efficiency and in a sense of community is the absence in them of that professional administration of very high calibre and complete identification with the individual university that is normal here—and I have the strongest personal reasons to know what a strength such an administration can be. Here I feel the polytechnics could be strengthened, and would welcome strengthening. An administration outside the institution with other duties, however efficient it may be, is no substitute for a strong, if small team of registrar, bursar and the like, identified with the college.

The second danger that faces polytechnics and other places of higher education of the same kind, is much more fundamental. In the inevitable search for prestige and academic respectability their staffs may be tempted to choose the obvious, and ultimately mistaken, way—the way of what is called "doing research." Here, I am venturing on ice so thin that I feel the cold waters of professional disapproval already closing over my head, because the mere idea of suggesting that there can ever be too much research anywhere is one of the major heresies in British higher education.

It is of course true that real research, the addition to knowledge of a great or even good innovating mind, is one of the finest activities of the human spirit. At the other end of the scale, there is also a value in carrying out a very humble piece of research as part of one's education, as I did myself. It had no conceivable value to the world, but it had great value to me. That the universities must be both the birthplace and the home of the great research worker is one of their principal functions and greatest glories. To answer questions if they fascinate one, or if the happiness or prosperity of the community needs answers, to give time to their staff for reflection and renewal, are necessary parts of the idea of a university or of any place of higher education. But in the expansion of higher education we must never make a fetish of simply "doing research" as a means of raising the prestige of an institution or the promotion prospects of an individual. It is gratifying to see that there are signs in the universities themselves of the greater emphasis and prestige that is being given to actual teaching than has sometimes been the case in the past.

The necessity of expansion during the next decade inevitably raises questions that may be touched on in regard to the size of institutions. Lord Robbins talked about those matters. About this I will say nothing except to plead for diversity. There are those who prefer to think in terms of very large civic universities. There are others, like myself, who favour a relatively quite small university of perhaps 4,000 to 5,000, with a core of undergraduates covering a fairly restricted range of disciplines so that you have fairly large departments, and associated with that core a number of specialist institutions. I would simply add that the notion that the smaller university necessarily is more expensive is unfounded. If you do your sums it would be scarcely, if at all, more expensive to build another university next door to the University of York than it would be to double it once we have reached the size of 4,000. That is a curious phenomenon, but if my arithmetic is right, it is true. I believe myself that in the interests both of learning and of economy, the existence of a number of small universities, and the creation of new ones in places justifiably crying out for them, like Teesside, can be justified as a complement to the expansion of the existing great civic institutions. They must of course go on.

I have mentioned economy, and this brings me to my last point—it is the last point for every speaker: how are we to pay for all this? The greatest dangers that we face in contemporary university development are the old ones: first, that we shall be prepared to will the ends but not the means; that we shall agree with enthusiasm to a larger university population, to more polytechnics, and not give the money to develop them properly. Secondly, there is the danger that we shall not plan far enough ahead. There is a legend that universities are expensive and extravagant institutions. Expensive, yes, but not unduly so in view of the national research tasks that most of them undertake (and the shortness, incidentally, of their degree courses), and actually no more expensive, in many cases, than polytechnics. Extravagant, I should say, on the whole certainly no.

We have every reason, every inducement, to be economical. That is why some of us have set up consortia of universities with their own O. and M. units. How can we make ourselves still cheaper? As noble Lords may know, the universities have considered with great care a series of economy proposals put forward by the D.E.S. We must certainly avoid, by mutual agreement and by common sense, a multiplication of small departments. We must, and already do, seek to employ our plant to the maximum by vacation use, and this will link up not only with the Open University but with what I believe will prove, in the years to come, one of the most important developments in higher education—the provision of mid-career training in a multiplicity of professions. For it is one of the most obvious and characteristic features of our time that knowledge grows so fast that an increasing number of people, teachers and doctors, administrators and social workers, need periodic refreshment if they are to keep abreast of their work or be prepared for higher responsibilities. There is often no need to set up expensive staff colleges for this. The universities and other institutions are ideally prepared to do the job if they are given the material and human means in the vacations. Increasingly the universities and polytechnics can serve industry and Government in this way.

Then we come to the two more controversial ways in which money can be saved. The first is by worsening the staffing ratio. That some worsening will occur is absolutely certain. It has occurred, is occurring, and will go on occurring. That it can probably take place within limits without disaster the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has indicated, and I would break with the trade union and go along with him—I mean my trade union. But the equation is a difficult one, for if it becomes too harsh we shall lose quality, and without quality then quantitative advantage is in vain because what we shall be purveying will not be the real thing, it will be a cheap imitation. My own fear is that in many institutions it would be the teaching that would suffer rather than the research. Of course, the other obvious and controversial way of saving is the perennial question of student loans instead of grants, and here I must admit that my heart is changing. I have hitherto opposed loans pretty strongly, yet if some really sophisticated scheme such as that proposed by my colleagues Professors Peacock and Wiseman were employed, I am coming to believe now that it would have advantages both financial and psychological.

What is vital to rational planning in the universities and their fellows, and hence to economy and efficiency, is that decisions should be made as far ahead as possible and not left to last minute crisis situations. In this context one must pay a tribute to the work of the U.G.C. and the D.E.S., in circumstances no doubt of very great difficulty, in trying very hard to give us information increasingly far ahead. But in the last resort 'the hard fact remains that if higher education is to develop as it should, then a greater proportion of our national income must be spent on it, and you have to do that or you cannot expand.

I would simply end by saying this—and it echoes one of the things said by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, which moved me deeply, although I am putting it in different words. Because of these financial difficulties, we sometimes find ourselves speaking of the increased number of young people wanting higher education as though it were a menace to be averted; a threat to be deplored. Should we not rather rejoice in it and be prepared for sacrifices both at a national and an institutional level to satisfy it? What the nation has a right to demand is that we in higher education are vigilant of our expenditure; that we, like the man or woman in the factory, are prepared to be as efficient and as hardworking as a harsh economic situation demands; that we should be prepared to be flexible in our administrative arrangements to meet a changing world, and that we should measure our needs against other parts of the educational system. It is in that comparison that the most agonising reappraisals will, take place. Above all, the nation has a right to demand that in return for the right means from the State, whatever our sphere of higher education we shall never forget our central function; that is, to enrich the minds and the spirits of the ablest of our young people. I sincerely believe that if we are given the means over the next decade, the colleges and universities of this country will rise to the challenge, by re-thinking, where necessary, about their practices and their ideals, not in isolation, but as part of a national educational pattern.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, it is an admirable tradition of your Lordships' House that the problems of education are discussed here so eloquently, and with such understanding. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has himself played a most notable part, not only in your Lordships' debates but in the creation of the new system of education which we now have, and which we are watching as it comes into being.

It is important to realise what has happened. I think I can put it most simply by saying that probably more pupils will go to the universities in the last part of this century than have been to universities in the whole of recorded history until that date. It is worth remarking that the universities we have at the moment, which are enormous, rich, extremely expensive, are apparently to be supplemented by another system of universities, equally large, equally important, equally expensive, which is to be created, somehow or other, in the course of the next ten years. We have an extraordinary task and it is important to realise that it is part of the growth of what the Americans have called the knowledge industry: the industry, they say, of acquiring, disseminating, and using new information, which has become the largest industry in the world.

As I have said, we are in the process of doubling our universities, and we have done so in large measure because of the example of other countries, and particularly because of the extraordinary example of the United States, in which as many as half of all the young people go to college, whereas here, however you estimate the figure, it is little more than 12 per cent. All these processes of expansion take place regularly, but there inevitably comes a time when they have to be checked.

I well remember in 1963–64 discussing the escalating cost of science and scientific research in the English university world and in the English research institutions. It was rising steadily at about 16½per cent. per annum, and had done so for about thirty-five years. It had risen at the same rate in America for about the same time, and I concluded that the question we had to resolve was not whether this process would stop, but when it would stop. We were able, in England, to organise a programme of reduction in the rate of growth, which has taken place almost imperceptibly and has brought down the rate of growth to a level which the Chancellor of the Exchequer feels he can afford. The Americans, on the other hand, went on long after we had stopped growing, and then suddenly cut from plus 16 to about minus 25 per cent. The effect of this on the American university world has been little less than catastrophic.

The same sort of thing has happened to the growth of the American universities. They too have been growing steadily; and some few years ago we used to say that the American universities added every year to their existing equipment, plant and buildings the equivalent of the total installations in England, and added to their undergraduate population a population about as big as ours. This process, too, seems likely to have come, at least temporarily, to a very abrupt halt, because even America, rich as it is, cannot afford to continue the process indefinitely. We may—I hope it is not true—be about to watch almost (he disintegration of part of the university world of America, not because of student unrest, but because of shortage of funds and because of the arbitrary and extraordinarily unsatisfactory way in which a reduction in cost has been brought about.

For example, it may surprise your Lordships to know that the Department of Astronomy in Harvard, which one would have thought of as as pleasant an academic enclave as one could find, has had to fire 85 out of 120 staff in the last couple of months because the Federal grant has been withdrawn. There are at the moment in America 52 institutions concerned with the study of nuclear physics in universities. This year 38 of them were closed, and of the remaining 14 half are to be closed next year and all the staff will be thrown on to the labour market. Over 1,000 Ph.D. physicists applied for 33 jobs during the course of the last meeting of the American Physics Society in Washington a month ago. It is almost impossible for Ph.D. chemists to find work anywhere. And, lest your Lordships think that this catastrophe has befallen only the scientists, I would remark that over 300 men with Ph.Ds. in history rioted and broke open the office of an employment agency in order to rifle the files to see whether any jobs were to be found. That was last month.

These stories are alarming and disquieting, and must give us cause for thought. I think it true to say, nevertheless, that the progress of expansion of our own universities must continue dramatically for several years, because we have a long way to go before we run into the problem, which the Americans have now encountered, of a university system too large for the community which embodies it.

I need not remind your Lordships that at the other end of the spectrum, if I may so describe it, the universities of India are producing thousands of graduates for whom no work whatsoever is in prospect. There were, I believe, 150,000 graduates in the University of Calcutta last year for whom there were only 10,000 or 15,000 jobs altogether. In the wealthiest country in the world and in one of the poorest, one finds the same serious disparity between the achievements and possibilities of society and the expectations of the graduates whom the universities are producing. So the first point I would make is that, although there is no doubt at all that the universities must grow—because there is a demand for places and a demand for their graduates—we cannot complacently assume that this expansion programme will continue into the indefinite future. There must come a time—and Heaven knows when it will be—when we shall have to call a halt. Even now we must not assume that the system we now have will suffice if it is merely increased in size.

I could quote many statistics which would shock your Lordships, and one at least I shall venture to mention. If you work out the average age at which a Ph.D. graduates in Harvard, you will find that it has risen steadily ever since the war. If you work out at the same time the average age at which a Harvard graduate retires, you will find that it has fallen steadily every year since the war. If you extrapolate those two curves—and many academic statisticians have drawn very profound conclusions from much less reliable data—you will find that, round about the end of the century, the average Harvard graduate will retire before he graduates. I simply quote this rather absurd fact to point to the extreme importance of not extrapolating curves too far, and of watching changes as they occur.

Education, as we have many times been told is the key to the progress of society, It is equally true to say—and perhaps more true to say, I suspect that the wealthy countries like to spend money on education because of the social good, and they often justify it on the principle that education of itself creates wealth. Be that as it may, our universities must grow for many years to come, and it seems to me extremely improbable that by the end of this decade we shall be spending less on higher education than we are now spending on educationa nd defence put together. This means that it is extremely important, as the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has said, that money should be spent to the best possible advantage, and that every possible care should be taken to make certain that the universities are as efficient as they possibly can be.

I should like, if I may, to deal briefly with a subject which has not so far been mentioned, and that is the actual details of university finance. As your Lordships will know, the universities get their money in quinquennia and the estimated cost of running all the universities in the years 1970 to 1972 was determined in the year 1967 at 1966 prices. Furthermore, there has been a series of supplementary grants, computed by what is called the Brown Tress Index, which are supposed to allow for the increased costs of running the universities since then. It is unfortunately only too true to say that the supplementary grants have been always too small and always too late.

The consequence of this is that the universities are at this moment—all of them; and I can speak for my own, in particular—in a state of extreme financial embarrassment. I doubt very much whether it will be possible for them to balance their books at the end of the quinquennium, hard though they may try and careful though they may be. The reason is this. The greater part of a university's budget is inevitably fixed by rates, heat, maintenance and so on, and only a relatively small part of it is, as it were, at the disposal of the university itself; and that part of it is, in fact, the cost of departmental stores and the salaries of academic staff. A university which is hard up, as we are, can save itself from bankruptcy, in effect, by stopping teaching, if by doing so it becomes possible not to engage any more staff. This is quite an absurd situation in which to find oneself. The only freedom that a university has for manœvre is in the reduction or increase of the actual teaching process.

One of the questions which I should like to ask the Government spokesman, is whether the Government would be prepared to consider the implications of this, and particularly the nature of quinquennial finance at a time of inflation. This problem has never hit us before, but it is a source of very great discontent and acute embarrassment to us at this moment. Not only is every university under great pressure to cut back on its teaching programme, but they find themselves unable to expand parts of their teaching programmes which students demand and for which they are already equipped.

I happen to come from a university institution concerned with science and technology and engineering, and some of the plant we have is appallingly expensive. I can emphasise this adequately only if I come to another point first, which is that the universities are subjected to the bizarre Treasury tradition that capital charges are not included in the running costs of an institution of any kind. My own institution is probably worth about£20 million as it stands. Some of our equipment—such as the computer, for example—ought to be written off in six or seven years. One comes, therefore, to the conclusion that the capital charges, if they were computed in the ordinary way, as a business would compute them, are at least as great as the recurrent grant which one has and out of which salaries have to be paid. Half of a university budget is never accounted for and never even contemplated. I have found that, for example, my department of control engineering costs about£1,700 or£1,800 a year, all in, per student. This is because of the enormous value of the capital assets, which the students have to use, and the fact that it has to be written off over a period of six or seven years.

Now the demand for places in the course is very great; and the students, if they come and graduate, are assured of very promising careers. But we find ourselves wholly unable to recruit more staff to look after them, simply because of a shortage of current funds. And the startling thing is that were we to double the size of the department, as we could with the resources we have, the actual cost of the next generation of students would be only a quarter as big as the cost of the class we now have.

My Lords, I believe that a financial control system which makes it impossible for a university to use the plant that it has efficiently to educate students who want to come and who can be catered for, and for whom staff could be engaged were the funds available, is inefficient. I have in fact computed that were we to expand the institute to its full capacity in terms of the available equipment and buildings, we could almost certainly take nearly 50 per cent. more students for about 40 per cent. of the cost of running the place at the moment; and a disparity as great as two or even four to one between what the economists call the marginal cost and the average cost is so enormous as to be unendurable. I beg the noble Lord who is to reply for the Government to see whether it is not feasible, even at this late stage, to make it possible for those universities already elaborately and expensively equipped to be provided with the resources that will enable them to make use of their equipment. There seems to be no correlation between capital expenditure and recurrent expenditure.

Now, my Lords, I should like to take another point which flows from this remarkable way in which we tend to ignore capital charges. The ordinary problem of housing students has so far defied the ingenuity of the universities, for the very simple reason that the grant the students receive is inadequate to pay the true cost, including the capital cost, of halls of residence. It seems to be assumed that all the halls of residence at a university were given to it by somebody like Henry VI—or by someone a long time ago—and that there is no conceivable reason why anyone should regard them as having cost anything. But in 1980 we shall need to have as many more universities as we now have altogether. So it is at least worth considering how financial control can be sensibly exercised.

Were the grants to students adequate to cover the capital charges, we should be able to do as the American universities and the universities in most countries do; that is to say, to build halls cheaply, perhaps by buying up old houses and converting them, and students could afford to live in them. The real problem of expansion will be at least as much in the problem of housing young people as it ever will be in finding room for them in the universities and in the lecture rooms. The system we have, which ignores all capital charges, has the effect of making it quite impossible for the universities to finance the halls of residence they need.

I think that many of our problems could be solved were the fees which students pay to come to universities very dramatically increased. If, for example, the fee, which now covers about six or seven per cent. of the cost of an education, were increased to perhaps£300 or£400 a year, universities would then be able to accept more students, and for every ten or a dozen students they accepted they could pay for an extra member of staff. We lose money on every student we take. We were told that fees cannot be increased because it would be politically inexpedient for local authorities to have to handle so much more money. This difficulty seems to me to be purely trivial and administrative, and could easily be solved. Secondly, the Treasury, very sensibly, observed that were they to do this they would be giving an open-ended commitment; in other words, they would make it possible for any university to accept as many students as it could handle.

There are many ways, too, in which universities could work more efficiently. In most English universities the average number of teaching days, we have been told already, is about 125. This means that the students have two days' holiday for every day's work they do. I am very strongly in favour of reasonable vacations, but no other country, so far as I know, is quite so generous as this. The colleges of education, it is very notable, are under great pressure to work for something like 48 weeks in the year, in striking contrast to the 24 or 25 which most English universities have been content to accept. Furthermore, the number of hours in a week during which lecture theatres are used is very much less in this country than in America. The number of hours that every seat in a university is occupied is only about half as great as that which is tradition in America. The reason for this is that the universities are under no possible financial incentive to use their plant more efficiently.

My Lords, there can be few living men who would more vigorously resist than I the suggestion that chartered accountants should run universities or control their policy. I believe, nevertheless, that if our expansion is likely to be limited by financial restriction, as inevitably it must be, sooner or later, the least we can do is to make sure that we operate in a system of financial control which gives universities as much incentive as possible to be efficient in using the enormous investment which has been entrusted to them.

Other noble Lords have spoken, and I have little doubt will speak, of the enormous importance of pure scholarship and of the contribution of universities to the society in which they live. But there is one point to which I think we must direct our thoughts. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, in his Report, very sensibly recommended that students should be encouraged to come to universities to study whatever subject interested them at the time. He did this because of the total lack of any reliable manpower forecasts. Nevertheless, the time must come, again because of the mounting cost of universities, when students are actively encouraged to go into those departments in universities from which they may emerge with the most likely prospect of a worthwhile career. The trouble, of course, is partly that the feedback, if I may so describe it, from graduates leaving universities to students entering on careers in the sixth form at school is slow, imprecise and unreliable; and the cycle of demand fluctuates very widely, and sometimes to the grave detriment of the students themselves.

At the moment, of course, everyone, very rightly and very reasonably, wants to do social science, and the director of the Polytechnic in Manchester told me in a moment, of great despondency about a week ago that if things did not change, as he hopes they will, he will end up with a Polytechnic of 10,000 people, 8,500 of whom will be reading social science. I cannot believe that this is likely to happen, but at the same time I feel that the time has come when one should take more positive steps than have yet been possible to persuade people of the likely careers that are open to them, and to direct their thoughts to particular academic disciplines, instead of allowing them, as we have always done in the past, to choose those subjects which appeal to them most. One of the reasons for the riots in the Sorbonne in 1967 was, I believe, that there were 927 graduate archaeologists that year and no single job for a graduate archaeologist in the whole of France. This sort of thing could happen here, for the problems that I have tried to pose are those of growth and are problems which may confront us in the fairly near future.

I do not want to embark on the question of loans but I would remark that I have tried many times, unsuccessfully, to persuade students who objected to the idea of loans that the only really sensible thing to do, in terms of social justice, would be to make sure that everyone who did not get a place in a university should be given a stipend of£400 a year free of tax for the whole of his life thereafter, this being about the difference between the income that he might expect as a graduate and what he might expect without a degree. But I have never succeeded in firing a student body with any enthusiasm for this programme.

Finally, my Lords, I should like to remark that I think I am the only person who has so far spoken who owes everything he has ever done to the 11-plus examination—an examination which I passed about fifty years ago and which allowed me to go to a grammar school. I went then to a university—famous even in those days—in which I think the diversity between the best and the worst was greater than in any other university in England, except possibly the slightly more ancient institution in Oxford.

I recall that when I was at university in Cambridge we had among us some of the ablest and some of the laziest, some of the most stupid and some of the most hard-working men of their generation. Some of them, in fact many of them, were at university for no other reason than that their fathers sent them there and that they wanted to do something before it was time to start work. It has been announced with growing horror that undergraduates do the same thing to-day. We are told all the time that a university should be a coherent, cohesive body of scholars. There has never been such a university; and if such a place were to be created I doubt very much whether it would be habitable.

I believe that diversity in a single university is possible and that it should be encouraged; and I deplore the idea that we should create an 18-plus examination which will separate the sheep from the goats and the poly-technicians from the university students. The system must be flexible: it must change; and it must, most of all, be willing to adapt itself to a changing world; to realise that a university has enormous privileges because of the resources entrusted to it, in materials and, most of all, in the lives of the young people who go there; that it must be an integral and essential component of the society which nurtures it; that it has a tremendous responsibility for shaping the whole of society as well as itself and that the future world will be made in the universities both of this country and of many others.

Let us remember that in other countries universities have other functions almost unknown to us. In many places they are the only places in which free discussion of political affairs is possible, and some Governments have reason to fear them more than they fear any other institution they have. It is worth remembering that in the last century, when the German universities were thought to have achieved their greatest intellectual eminence by creating the subject of organic chemistry, Metternich was overthrown by German students led by poets. Universities, my Lords, have done many things. They will change our world and make all our futures. It is appropriate, very appropriate indeed, that your Lordships should think about them.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, all educational issues, whether of primary or secondary or higher education, are almost as explosive as the explosion of higher education itself. On these subjects it seems to me that we are all either "hedgers", "ditchers" or "thatchers". There are "ditchers" such as Caroline Wedgwood Benn for whom the 11 to 18 or "all-through" comprehensive school is the only kind of satisfactory secondary school. Then there is, another "ditcher", June Wedgwood Benn, who was one of the contributors to the second edition of the Black Paper, to whom all change since the 1950s in education is on the whole a disaster. I am an unrepentant "hedger" in these matters. I am for trying to get the best of all possible worlds, or, at any rate, as much of the best as I can. So I am consumed with interest to see how the Secretary of State is going to pick her way between all the alternatives and what view she is going to take particularly of the issue of the expansion of higher education.

No country has guessed correctly what would be the demand for higher education. In America, more than 40 per cent. of the adolescent age group is in some institution of higher education to-day. It is believed that in the 1980s that figure will rise to 70 per cent. No one thirty or even twenty years ago had forecast such an astonishing development in the U.S.A. We, too, have underestimated the demand. One of our most brilliant educational analysts, Professor John Vaizey, a man always ahead of his time, forecast in 1957, before the Robbins Committee was set up, that by 1970 there would be 358,000 students in higher education. In fact, we know that to-day the figure is 480,000. In 1965, when he was a member of Lord Taylor's Committee, he calculated that by 1975 there would be 515,000. It is now estimated that there will be 635,000. Everyone pooh-poohed Vaizey's estimates as grotesquely high. They were not. Like those of the Robbins Committee, they were too low.

My first point about the question of expansion is this. There is a very great difference between the figures in America and the figures projected in Britain. In Britain to-day only 7 per cent. of the age group go to university and 13 per cent. to all institutions of higher education. By the 1980s, on the present projections, the figures will be 13 per cent. for the universities and 27 per cent. overall. That is a very different situation from that in America, in Japan or in Europe. Therefore, when people talk about this grotesque expansion which is taking place, they should remember that what we have in this country is controlled growth—and long may that continue. What would indeed destroy our universities is a move towards the European system where the Baccalauréat and the Abitur gives a boy or girl an unqualified right to enter university. That is the system which has produced the situation where the overcrowding is so grotesque and the facilities in the university so inadequate that students seem to me to have a positive duty to rebel.

But anyone who works in universities, as I do, is aware that many sensible people to-day fear further expansion. They fear that it is going to destroy the very qualities in our universities which made them admired and envied for so long; I think it is right and proper that these doubts should be aired and I am sure that we shall hear some of them later this evening.

May I try to deal with one or two of these criticisms to see whether I can reassure noble Lords on some of them? Will the universities, it is asked, be degraded into mere teaching machines and degree factories? Will Governmental pressure and lack of funds force them to abandon research—indeed, will pressure by ignorant students induce them to alter their curricula to meet demands for relevance which will not just be demands to teach the immediately useful but to teach whatever students fancy. I do not take that criticism, by itself, very seriously. It seems to me that we have made quite clear in our universities the degree to which we think it is fit for students to participate in government and, at departmental level, in consideration of the curricula. If I may say so, despite the headlines which certain court cases and disturbances have made, we have practically none of the alarming student troubles from which other countries have suffered.

Here I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, said, that it is necessary for universities to look again at their internal structure. We cannot all be collegiate universities such as Oxford or Cambridge, or indeed universities such as Durham, or Lancaster, or York, of which Lord Robbins was the Chairman of the Planning Committee, which were set up as new universities on a collegiate basis. But we can build on the departmental structure within our universities and use that structure which, although it can in itself be exceedingly inhibiting sometimes from art academic point of view, nevertheless can give a focus to which students feel they can belong. These institutions usually have the merits of their defects. The defect of the departmental structure is that it insulates students too much from what is going on in other departments. The merit is that it does make the student feel that he belongs somewhere and is looked after by the people of that department.

There are much more telling criticisms of university expansion. Will this so-called demand for higher education bring forward students of the same quality? Will the A-levels of to-morrow be what they are to-day? If we are to have 750,000 to a million taking A-levels, are we really going to get them examined properly? In any case, if the sixth-form curriculum is broadened, as everyone seems to agree that it should be, surely students will come to the universities perhaps more flexible in their attitude, and able therefore to opt either for science or the humanities, but certainly much less well prepared to take specialist degrees.

This, my Lords, is a much more serious criticism, but universities are already re-thinking some of their initial first-year courses. Indeed, in some subjects there have been complaints that the sixth-form teaching has been usurping university teaching because the university teaching has gone so far down into the sixth-form. I think there is a greater danger than this; namely, that the expansion of higher education as a whole will reduce the number of students willing to go back into the; secondary schools to teach because there will be more attractive and better paid jobs in the higher education sector. I know that the Robbins Report contended that if you expand the whole system, the proportion going into, teaching should remain the same. I am afraid that this has never quite satisfied me and I do not think there is the slightest doubt that one of the reasons for the fall in qualified science students is the drop in the quality of the teachers of science in the schools as well as the drop in the quantity. And this is one of the reasons, again, why I think that we have to face the fact which I understood the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, to hint at a moment ago, namely, that although our universities have prided themselves on their low drop-out rate, we ought perhaps not to worry too much about a high drop-out rate in some subjects if universities are going to increase their intake and there-lore accept the kind of student that the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, referred to when he told his story about the dear girl who could not see why she was reading books at all.

Then, my Lords, it is said that further expansion is foolish because too few students are motivated to learn the kind of things the university teaches. There is some truth in this. There are some students who are motivated to follow a vocational course at a particular level and who would have been much better taught elsewhere than in a university. That is why I hope that the Inquiry which the Secretary of State is going to set up into the colleges of education will have terms of reference which will enable that Committee to recommend that these colleges be expanded to teach vocational social service courses. There are far too many students, particularly girls, applying at the moment to social science departments in universities because they hope to be taught how to be a good almoner, or a probation officer, or a welfare worker. These are admirable ideals, and these girls are highly motivated; but I do not think that the university is necessarily the right place to learn these subjects. The colleges of education, however, could be admirable places in which to learn more, because already you have within those institutions girls and boys who are motivated to follow a profession.

When I hear this criticism about motivation I suspect that what the critic has in mind is exactly what the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, was referring to; that there are a lot of idle layabouts in universities who do the minimum of work and live happily on their grants. My Lords, let us have a sense of proportion about this matter. At Oxford and at Cambridge between the wars there were hundreds of undergraduates of that kind. Some liked to break up the place on Saturday nights and spend the weekdays hunting or playing games. Some were clever and able: they calculated to a nicety how little work they could do to defeat the examiners. Some did what the young are always prone to do: they fell in love; got into debt; were afflicted by a sense of inadequacy or by an anguish of guilt; became obsessed by politics, or by amateur acting, or by one of the thousands of distractions which any good university ought to offer. But we, of course, the vast majority, plodded on, not always very brilliantly; but we plodded on and got our degrees and, in the end, perhaps we do not do too badly.

Here I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that I remember with great happiness those weekends which I as an undergraduate spent at his college and at the college of the noble Earl, Lord Longford, when I wanted to relax from the more refined atmosphere of King's College, Cambridge. So, therefore, do let us keep a sense of proportion about motivation. Let me reassure your Lordships about this. The universities are, in fact, doing something about it. We are concerned about the matter. We have a pilot scheme going on by which candidates for admission are subjected to what are called predictive tests which, among other claims that they make, claim to test motivation as well as intelligence and certain intellectual attainments. These tests are similar to the College Board tests developed in America over the past forty years. And if the results of this pilot scheme convince the dons—I very much hope, indeed I think, they will—then we shall have an additional check on A-levels and headmasters' reports and interviews which are our present technique of entry. So I want to try to reassure your Lordships: the vice-chancellors have not been idle on this matter.

Again, it is asked: do we really need more graduates? The noble Lord, Lord Bowden, asked this question. Will there be jobs for those who get degrees? If we thought in terms of the past, I am sure that there would not be; but two things are changing: graduate expectation and the practice of employers. There is, so far, no evidence at all from the appointments boards that there is a serious blockage in graduate employment. Graduates recognise to-day that they will probably start as commercial travellers selling peas. They will start at that level. Perhaps some may get the opportunity of starting as foremen in computerised factories. Employers to-day, I am glad to say, are beginning to realise that it is worth while employing graduates where they would formerly have thought it ridiculous. Fleet Street is now full of graduate reporters. So are the media; and so are the larger industries. I think that the smaller ones are just coming to recognise that perhaps graduates are not unemployable simply by virtue of their education.

May I try to meet yet another criticism: that surely in such a rapid expansion as this we shall find ourselves driven to employ inferior dons. My Lords, this is a danger and it needs watching. We are a profession with no professional code of conduct; I think we ought to have one. We are a profession with quite exceptionally favourable terms of employment. If you can survive the first three years as a lecturer—and very few do not—you will have tenure from the age of 25 until 67. Nothing short of exceptional inability or idleness will restrict your earning capacity (but not lose you your job), and nothing less than gross misconduct can lose you your post.

I am sure that none of your Lordships will think that I am suggesting that there is a scandal here; there is not. Also, none of your Lordships will imagine that I am a secret supporter of the iniquitous Report of the Prices and Incomes Board in 1968, in which that institution thought fit, with its scarcely veiled sneers and its crude remarks on productivity, to show what little it thought of our teaching profession in higher education. But I think that this is a matter which, with perfect propriety, the Government might ask the U.G.C. to investigate. It will not be to-day; it will not be to-morrow; it will be in the next century that the defects of a rapid expansion in staff will really become apparent.

Lastly, there are those in the universities who complain bitterly to-day that Philistine university administrators and productivity-orientated bureaucrats are obsessed with controlling costs and urging that universities be directed only to socially useful ends, and that they be directed to produce the relevant course at the right price and, in particular, to make maximum use of their plant. Meanwhile, these people protest that if we add one further student to the already overblown total, that will destroy university education as we know it. I am not impressed by these arguments, though they come sometimes with great doctorial force.

There has been much talk of increasing the so-called efficiency of univerisities, but I have not seen much evidence that it has altered substantially the habits or the opportunities of dons. If a don wants to avoid administration and devote his time to research—that is to say, the time which he does not spend in teaching or preparing for teaching—he is perfectly at liberty to do so. If he is any good he will gain his reward by getting a readership or, by modern promotion prospects, a professorship. I am glad to say that there are dons who are willing to take a hand in administration, and I note that they are often the most distinguished in the institutions to which they belong. I am glad that they are willing to do so, because if they were not so public spirited then indeed the universities' claim to be self-governing institutions would go by the board.

Indeed, if you ask any university Senate whether they want to expand—and this is the real test of whether in fact universities do want to do so or are being forced into it—the answer is always "Yes". Ask any university whether the supply of adequately qualified students is holding up and the answer—except possibly in physics and chemistry—is always, "Yes". It is always some other university or some other department, never your own, which is in danger of admitting trash. There are of course self-interested reasons for this and I think that we ought to admit them. If you expand, your promotion problems in the profession are eased. Once you operate on a static budget your establishment becomes static. Expand and you can get extra staff for that new pioneering development in the curriculum or for that new research project. Expand, and big science can still go forward. But if you do not expand, then big science is going to be increasingly in difficulties.

Yet, nevertheless, the critics must face the fact that in answer to the last Government's question, "Are you willing to help expand the number of students in higher education?" the universities simply said that they were. But they did add one important rider: they said that it could not be done on the cheap. And I now want to turn to this question of costs. Let us remember that even if the present U.G.C. estimate of student build-up is achieved, the proportion of students in universities in comparison with those in other institutes of higher education will have fallen. When Lord Robbins's Committee reported that the proportion was 55, he hoped that it would rise to 60, but in fact, on the present projection for 1975 it will have fallen to 50.

Let us also remember that if in fact by the early 1980s there are going to be 450,000 students in our universities, the growth rate in cost will be of the order of 6 per cent. per annum. The growth rate for higher education as a whole will be less, because there will be fewer teachers that will need to be trained—that is to say, they will not have to expand at the same rate—so that the rise in cost will be about 5¾per cent. per annum. Indeed, the recurrent cost of education as a whole will rise more slowly, at about 4 per cent. per annum, because primary and secondary school numbers will not be increasing all that fast. What are these growth figures in comparison with the rest of the economy? Well, we are envisaging an expenditure of£300 million on universities, including student grants. The total of Government expenditure is£20,000 million. It is really not so fabulously large a sum to be spent on universities as some people would like to pretend. Would a growth rate of 4 per cent. for all education or of 6 per cent. for universities really endanger the very necessary expenditure needed for the Health Service, social security and roads?

May I add one last crumb of comfort to those who are disturbed by the cost of the expansion of higher education? After the Robbins Report, the Conservative and Labour Governments did something which was very remarkable indeed in the history of public finance. They planned for growth. They gave 20 per cent. more in real terms per student before the students had even arrived. There are a good many dons in the universities who have been misled by those halcyon days. They really believed that such largesse was going to continue to be distributed at that rate. Of course it is not. The Vice-Chancellors themselves have advised the Government that there can be substantial savings in capital costs in the next stage of expansion. But there was this very sensible, admirable forward expenditure on higher education; but, of course, it must be accepted that what went on in the late 1960s is not going to go on in the 1970s. There cannot be much saving on the recurrent cost in the universities, particularly in the older universiites.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, is questionable in hinting that there can be a reduction in the overall staff/student ratio. The present ratio is about 1 to 9. It is low because there are numbers of small, rapidly growing universities who have already, as I mentioned a moment ago, as it were engaged their staff before their students have fully arrived. But that is not true of departments in the older universities. They often operate already on a ratio of 1 to 15 and even higher. In fact they have a worse ratio than some polytechnics or even some sixth forms.

I say this because I must ask your Lordships to believe that in this quinquennium the universities have been squeezed, gently, remorsely and by a technique that shines with the brilliance that one associates with the Treasury mind. I am not referring to cuts in the building programmes or to any other overt cuts; I am referring to the operation of what is known as the Tress-Brown Index. This index is a subtle device for calculating by how much the universities' quinquennial grant is whittled away every two years by inflation. It is agreed practice that according to this index the Government make supplementary grants to the U.G.C. to reimburse the universities in full, so that the grant at the beginning of the quinquennium retains its value throughout the whole five years. During this quinquennium these supplementary grants have been paid late and they have not been paid in full.

Moreover, there have been other Government actions which have eroded the quinquennial grant. May I give one example? The Department of Employment and Productivity asked the universities to join a Committee which would examine whether laboratory technicians in universities were receiving wages comparable to their counterparts in other industries. The D.E.P. asked the universities to agree in advance to accept the findings of this Committee, and of course we did so. We did not want to pay our technicians too low a wage. The Committee recommended an increase of 21 per cent. in technicians' wages which was to be back-dated to April, 1969, quite independently, I may say, of any increase in wages received at any time during the quinquennium.

But what one Department of Government does, another disowns. The Treasury refused to pay the U.G.C. the sums to enable universities to back-date this comparability claim to April, 1969. So for one whole year the universities will have to find this additional sum of money, for which they could not possibly have budgeted. And when we are told about audio-visual aids and how these could reduce the staff/student ratio and how these could lead to immense savings, I must declare that this programme of audio-visual aids will be an exceedingly costly capital project, and unless funds are available and specifically earmarked for such a programme we shall never be able to get the universities to make the changes to their teaching methods and equipment which the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, was suggesting they should make. So it is this kind of erosion, silent, unspectacular, quite unable to be pinpointed at the time, and brought immediately to public notice, which is so serious.

The Vice-Chancellors' Committee estimate that by the end of this quinquennium the universities will have lost some£20 million by this means. I may say that the chairman of our finance division, the Vice-Chancellor of Lancaster, puts it at the much higher figure of£3() million. This is a staggering loss. Yet all the time the universities have carried on in expanding numbers, trying to meet the targets suggested to them by the U.G.C. "More fools they", you may say, my Lords. Cannot you imagine the Treasury chuckling at how foolish these dons are? "Why, they've even taken pride in admitting more students than they were given funds to admit". Cannot you imagine the Treasury smiling, "Just what we always said: there's a lot of slack that can be taken up in universities. No need to take their estimates at their face value any longer".

I must not disguise from your Lordships' House that the universities feel bitterly on this issue. The feeling expresses itself in saying, "We are not going to be taken for a ride again". We do not believe that if our university system is the best and most efficient in the world it can simply go on being cut in this way. High scholarship, favourable staff/student ratio, very low dropout rate, short degree course, decent conditions for staff and students—all these depend on funds. The universities, of course, will agree to expand again, but this time some of them, at any rate, will want to see the colour of the U.G.C.'s money before they do. If the funds are not forthcoming, then I wonder whether the additional students will be taken.

You can give educational opportunity on the cheap; you can provide facilities in the techs, and other institutions of further education (which test to the utmost the determination and motivation of the students to succeed). But you cannot give what we in Britain call university education on the cheap. It is a contradiction in terms. I think that this is probably what the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, meant when he said he thought that at some point we shall have to call a halt to university education, as we understand it, simply in terms of the cost. That is, in effect, what the Vice-Chancellors' Committee meant when they replied to the Government in their assessment University Development in the 'Seventies. We are proud to have doubled the numbers in universities between 1959 and 1969. But if we attempt to do this again, we must have the same conditions for learning, teaching and research.

There is only one further thing that I would say on this, and it refers to something which the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, said. I was astonished and bewildered when I heard the noble Lord say that he hoped that more small universities would be built. This was a heresy to which the Vice Chancellors' Committee succumbed in the 'fifties. When asked then for the optimum size of a university, they said 3,500. My Lords, we really cannot afford the overheads for universities of that size. We must plan for universities to take 10,000, but with the proviso to which the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, rightly drew attention.

I should like to end on a lighter note. In the debate on the gracious Speech from the Throne the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, attacked the noble Earl, Lord Cromer, for crabbing the economy (Cromer, of course, is a town famous for its crabs). I thought that the noble Earl exposed himself to attack, speaking as he did in the period of the General Election and that the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, was quite right to attack him and made some shrewd hits. The only thing which I thought was a bit hard was when he accused the noble Earl, Lord Cromer, of "skulking" on the Cross-Benches.

Speaking as a confirmed and notorious skulker myself, I thought then, as I do now, that we on the Cross-Benches should be entitled to express our opinions however strongly they may agree or conflict with those of the Government or the Opposition. We on these Benches are very highly privileged. We know well that the business of the House is carried on by the two Front Benches, and by their loyal supporters. We may preen ourselves on not being, like those loyal supporters, mere toads beneath the harrow of the Party machine, but we know that without the gentle discipline in this House, and the much severer discipline in another place, we on the Cross-Benches should be even more of an embarrassment to Parliament than we are.

But I would ask for the indulgence of the Front Benches on both sides of the House. Cross-Benchers, my Lords, are men and women of flesh and blood. Some of us have strong political sympathies. I am only sorry that a noble Lord whom I have long admired has not yet taken his seat so that he could speak in this debate to-day—and I refer, of course, to the noble Lord, Lord Boyle of Handsworth. Now there is a skulker, if ever there was one!And the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, is another. But would it not be absurd if Members of your Lordships' House were expected to cast aside the allegiances of a lifetime? We skulkers cannot be expected to change our general attitude to public affairs when we enter your Lordships' House. What is worse, of course, is that we often criticise those with whom we are most in sympathy. I criticised the late Government for the decision which at one time they reached on the site for the British Museum Library.

I look forward to the time—though I confess that I shall be little surprised if it comes about—when the noble Earl, Lord Cromer, comes down to the House because he thinks it is his duty to rebuke, in the interests of sound finance, the present Government for being over-expansionist in their present programme. Meanwhile, whatever my own political inclinations, I shall certainly support the present Government in all their efforts to expand higher educational facilities in a way that enables those who go to universities and colleges of further education to obtain a real advantage so that the country genuinely gets value for money spent.

Here I should like to add my felicitations, first of all to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for the tone and terms in which he spoke in this debate, and also to his colleague, Mr. van Straubenzee, who I gather will have special responsibility for universities, and whom we know well as a moderate and most sensible member of the Select Committee of another place which looked into educational matters in the last Session of Parliament. May I urge them both, however, to impress upon the Secretary of State not to disappoint the universities by imposing upon them, in the name of cutting public expenditure, a further squeeze which would force them to abandon their present plans to meet the need for more university places? But if she does impose such a squeeze, then I, as a skulker, shall be at her throat.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask whether he would include among skulkers members of another Party which has a limited number of seats in this House? If I am accused of skulking on a Liberal Back Bench, may I entirely endorse what he has said because I believe my own conscience?

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by acknowledging to the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, the gratitude we all feel to him, not only for introducing this subject but for the manner in which he did so. I had not intended to speak about any student discontent. I was prepared to follow the advice given by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, that we should not mention it in this debate. But as the noble Lord did not take his own advice, and no subsequent speaker has followed it, I should like to tell your Lordships of an angle of this problem which an intelligent observer of the scene passed on to me. She has studied the persons who have been convicted as a result of student protests, and has noticed that the majority of them are drawn from what one might call the intelligent upper middle classes, and not from those of more lowly background. She attributes the trouble in some measure to the fact that these were the children of very intelligent mothers—mothers who had brought up their children at a time when it was no longer possible for them to provide nannies, and the lack of common sense nannies had worked itself out in this way upon their progeny.

I should like to add, before I come to what I wish to say, how good it is to see the noble Earl, Lord Longford, back at the Dispatch Box in this House, without specifying particularly which Box he lays his Papers on.


My Lords, it is very kind of the noble Lord to refer to me in that way. I ought to explain that, like Cinderella, when midnight strikes I disappear again.


My Lords, I wish to make a special plea for the new and the emergent universities, to which some reference has already been made, particularly those developing on fresh sites and green fields, turning, as it were, the ploughshare into the micrometer, the sod into the electron; and my noble friend Lord Belstead, in his very perceptive speech, has put his finger on this tender point. In doing this, I must disclose a particular interest, in that I am concerned with the emergent Heriot-Watt University. Previous experience with the older and well-established universities does perhaps enable me to take a reasonably balanced view.

While there has been an aura around the brand new universities which have been created in these post-war years, from Sussex down to Stirling, one cannot say the same about the transformation of the technical colleges—Gats, as you call them in England—into universities. These have been willed into existence by Governments to meet the demands of our society for more scientists, engineers and managers than we have now, leaving it to the older universities to continue to provide the manpower for the ancient professions of doctors, dentists, lawyers and clergy, as well as the majority of teachers in our schools.

It is obvious that the University Grants Committee have been making a careful appraisal of the future needs of the universities in relation to student numbers, and especially in the immediate future. For each university tentative figures have been put forward of student numbers in the year 1976–77. This figure is to be used as the starting point for the consideration of the quinquennial grant for each university. I have listened with pleasure to the fulminations of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, on the treatment received from the U.G.C. and the Treasury during the current quinquennium. I think all the universities welcome the fresh and orderly approach of the U.G.C. Which is now being made to the coming quinquennium with ample room for discussion and adjustment.

At the same time, the U.G.C. have given universities a broad indication of building priorities for the next three building years, to 1974–75. The point I wish to make is that for the emergent universities developing on a new site special consideration should be given to the speedier provision of buildings. Extreme administrative difficulties arise when departments move out one by one at yearly intervals—not to mention the great inconvenience to the student. And inconvenience "is a word that students would not use in this connection: they would use much stronger words.

Moreover, adequate social facilities, both for staff and for students, must be phased-in simultaneously with the academic construction, and also such essential basic facilities as the library. To my mind, an emergent university must have a period of intensive construction so that the establishment on the new site of the essential subjects and facilities takes place in the smallest possible number of years. With all respect, I would suggest to the powers-that-be that the sum of£1 million a year for buildings is nothing like sufficient for the universities. This is no more than what was given many years ago, when the first of these new universities was established, and with current building costs represents a capacity to build at little more than half the rate of those universities.

I would point out that these emergent universities are not seeking more money than that to which they are entitled, but they are seeking for the total to be made available more rapidly. Not only will this make for better teaching and research, for better living conditions, but, more importantly, there will be a substantial overall economy in that more of the recurrent grant of such a university can be used for its main purpose, instead of being spent on ironing out and overcoming the difficulties of administering a university on two sites miles apart, not to mention the waste of time and energy on the part of students and staff.

Speaking bluntly for the Heriot-Watt University, I would say that unless the building allocations are substantially increased it will not be possible to reach the target of student numbers proposed for 1976–77. I must ask your Lordships' forgiveness for basing my observations on one university, but this is the one that I know something about. The same situation arises with others. If the aim of doubling our student population by 1982 is to be achieved, then it is going to cost a great deal of money, as many other noble Lords have already said today. It is also going to cost a lot in building construction. It may be that money can quickly be provided, that increased expenditure can be switched to it as student numbers increase. But, of course, buildings take time to erect; and buildings on new sites take even longer. Any holding back now on the provision of buildings will mean simply that we shall be unable to cope with the numbers of students coming up to the universities ten years from now. While I would certainly agree, with the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, about the need for still more new universities, I would beseech the Government to give priority to getting the emergent universities up to capacity. Concentrate efforts here and you will get results for the 'eighties.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, when he said that once a university Department is established and equipped then 50 per cent. more students can be accepted for 20 per cent. more cost. But they must be properly established and equipped. I am speaking, as it were, from one of Scotland's youngest universities, and I am glad to pass the torch to the oldest of the Scottish universities—St. Andrews—nearly as old as the oldest of the English universities; and so it is with all respect that I yield to the noble Lord, Lord Tedder.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, if I may intrude, I had intended, with all respect, to say with what great pleasure I saw the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, sitting in his place; but he has endured many hours of this debate and he has every right to a small relaxation from it. But there is a kind of conspiracy of confidence among the Welsh in London, even those who are London Welsh, and I hope that, although he will not hear these words, he will at least read them. He is a man greatly respected in Wales and also much respected in your Lordships' House.

If I had spoken at the stage where I thought I was going to speak in this debate I should have had the great embarrassment of speaking after three very distinguished, lordly academicians. I thought some ironist had indeed arranged this order of debate. But the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, has kindly intruded and given me a short interval to recapture my thoughts. Otherwise, I should have had to speak after that very brilliant and outspoken speech of my immediate predecessor in these difficult activities, the noble Lord, Lord Annan. I now feel like a superannuated old man—rather like a Shanghai pilot who has been asked his views about the Communist revolution.

We are all much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, not only for his Report, the major Report in our generation, which followed the Treasury Minute of 1961, but for his courage in facing the consequences of that Report to-day. I was most surprised that my noble friend Lord Longford, who is always so accurate in factual matters, had said that the Robbins Report had been accepted. The Robbins Report was never accepted.


My Lords, may I answer? I would submit to the noble Lord that the Robbins Report was accepted in principle by the Conservative Government. We must leave it to our friends opposite perhaps to arbitrate on this matter, but I should have said that there was really no doubt about that at all.


My Lords, I hoped that this matter of university education was beyond any consideration of Party politics. And one must know what my noble friend means by "principle". Because Lord Robbins had a wonderful dream of a separate Ministry for arts and higher education. He formulated an expanded Grants Committee, which had no responsibility in detail to Parliament. Are these matters of detail that can get excused from the record? What happened instead? The universities were not put under the benign authority of the Treasury—and I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Annan: in my dealings with the Treasury (I was once Vice-Chairman of the Arts Council and had some association with universities) they seemed to me the most intelligent, the most kind-hearted, the most benign Department I ever dealt with. And to be handed over—as happened because Lord Robbins's separate Department, separate Ministry, was never created—to that social Pentagon in Curzon Street, the Department of Education and Science, was a tragedy so far as universities are concerned. But that is what happened. And this we cannot obliterate from the picture to-day.

I have noticed that only on the Table before us are there any copies of the Robbins Report; I cannot see them anywhere else in the House. We have forgotten Lord Robbins's Report; we have forgotten the magnanimous principles which he presented at that time; and, instead, we have submitted the universities to a much harsher, bureaucratic control than they had before his own benign suggestions were before us.

I am quite convinced—I am sorry to be convinced, but I am quite convinced —that school education can never be outside the area of politics. I have always hoped, and I still do, that university education can be. But what happens if Ministers are not interested is that officials become more interested. What has terrified me since the Robbins Report is the increase in the powers of the officials of Curzon Street; the decrease in the authority of the University Grants Committee; the obliteration of the concept of the University Grants Committee as Lord Robbins described it in his Report; the supine attitude of the University Grants Committee to-day, with their single fixation about numbers—and numbers have dominated the debate this afteroon.

If we want numbers we must fundamentally change the whole organisation, the whole shape of universities as we have them to-day. It is true (and the noble Lords, Lord Bowden and Lord Annan, said this) that we cannot expend the vast capital and current sums now envisaged and keep the plant empty, apart from a few research workers, for three months in the year. Even more, we cannot keep empty the training colleges, which follow the same vocation as universities but make no pretence of research. We shall have to modify all that. I shall not elaborate this point because the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, has already spoken about it. I only wish that my noble friend Lady Stocks, who is indisposed, were here because she speaks about it with great effect in her new autobiography, and the main example she chose was the institution over which Lord Bowden presides.

In his Report, the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, outlined an area of advance in technology and in other centres of excellence, quite apart from Oxford and Cambridge, and indeed of a great advance in research. The danger to-day is that, from mere considerations of numbers, these considerations are going to be sacrificed. There will, I fear, be a wider difference between Oxford and Cambridge and the rest of the university world; and there will be a silent return to that snobbism which has been the centre of corruption of so much in our national life.

Ought we not to examine really where these increases are occurring? I hope that perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will be able to tell us. But have we had that great increase in science and technology in the really difficult subjects which the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, advocated? I have only impressions; I have no statistical evidence. But my own fear and feeling is that there has been a great increase in sociology—that dreary, inexact, unprofitable and sloppy subject—compared with any increase in the sharp disciplines of science and technology and mathematics.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord and apologise for the fact that I was not here at the beginning of his speech. Unfortunately, he switched the "batting order" which somewhat put me out, but perhaps I may answer that one question. In absolute terms the number of science students has greatly increased, but the percentage has in fact slightly fallen. This year it is about 55 per cent.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. In fact I prefaced my remarks with a few—I hope not completely un-felicitous—comments about himself, which I will not repeat to his embarrassment on this occasion. But if I may say so, the percentages are much more important than the absolute numbers. I should have liked to see the percentages increasing, because these are the important subjects and they are important so far as the future of this country is concerned.

The noble Lord leads me to the final point that I wish to make. In my brief period in your Lordships' House I have found all the debates to be conducted with much knowledge and with much exact wisdom, but I confess that this debate this afternoon has not so impressed me. I wonder how many of your Lordships have visited all the new universities? I certainly have not. How many of us have visited the new institutions?

I should like to end with a simple proposal. I realise that it is not very effective, sitting here on the Back Bench late in the afternoon—on an Opposition Back Bench and on a Wednesday afternoon—when there are so many good intentions and so little action. Would it not be possible to have some body—not a Royal Commission, because that would take too long, but some ad hoc committee of citizens from all sections of our national life to discover what is actually happening in the universities and in other centres of higher education, and at the same time to make some assessment of our national needs? Because if these amounts are going to be spent on education, the assessment of our national needs must be in relationship to them. It might take time—it might even take a year—but it would be better than reaching the wrong solution on what I regard as one of the major issues of our time.

6.33 p.m.


My Lords, may I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, even if he was a little premature in introducing me. I am always full of trepidation when I get up to speak in your Lordships' House, but here to-day, as a mere teacher among this galaxy of Chancellors, Vice-Chancellors and Principals, I am indeed overawed. It seems that the majority of the noble Lords who have spoken feel that most of the troubles in universities are due to the obstructive-ness and backwardness of the teachers and the dons. I hope that is not so; but if it is so, we really are doing all we can to make amends.

The noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, referred just now to the point about science numbers but, if I may make a personal point on that, our own university is concerned because we have received from the University Grants Committee permission to expand considerably in arts places but not in science places. I can say nothing more about that, except that such is the present situation in St. Andrews. St. Andrews has seen many changes, but I feel that the changes we may expect in the next decade will be as deep as any since the Reformation, and it is with a mixture of deep apprehension though of great hope for the future, that I rise to speak in your Lordships' House.

We have heard a great deal this afternoon about increasing student numbers and about the need for expansion. There seems to be general agreement that there is a need for more people to have tertiary education, but there seems also to be a doubt as to whether this should be of the present university type. In his speech the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, drew attention to this point. In the United States of America far more men and women per head of the population go to college than in the United Kingdom, but on the other hand far fewer have the very high academic training that our students have. There is always the danger, when thinking of the United States, to think in terms of the Ivy League and of the Big Ten—that is, of Harvard and Yale, or of Michigan and Ohio State—forgetting that these represent a very small fraction of the institutions providing so-called higher education in the United States.

In the late 1950s the academic standing of our various universities was comparatively even. One of the great dangers of further expansion will be an increase in the difference between the academic standards of universities inside this country. In fact I am worried. The new universities have so far been extremely successful in maintaining high academic standards, and the Cats (now on the recommendation of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and his Committee, universities) have also achieved extremely high standards. But I am worried about the future, if expansion continues, for this reason: really excellent teaching of an academic type is possible only in an institution where research is actively being pursued; and the country has neither the means nor, I feel, the need for research—at any rate, scientific research—on the scale that full-scale universities of the existing type would require.

In their Report Lord Robbins and his Committee laid great emphasis on the need to expand research with the expansion of undergraduate teaching. But it seems to me that we have already overdrawn on the funds available for research. If we are now to have yet another massive expansion the chances of a corresponding expansion in research look grim indeed. So either we must expand and expect a decline in the quality of our teaching, or we do not expand and so deny many of the youth of to-morrow the chance of proper higher education; or, alternatively, we think again.

University teachers, especially in science subjects, are finding it harder and harder to handle the material that a modern student is required to know in the conventional three-year honours course in England and Wales, or the four-year course that we have in Scotland. They are pressing for an extra year. On the other hand, many people now doubt the value of the highly specialised honours degree as a general education for someone not requiring expert knowledge for vocational purposes. Perhaps we should now give thought to the idea of a universal two-year general degree for everyone entering higher education. This is slightly different from the suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, but I think that we have some points in common.

After doing the two-year general course, those with an academic bent, and with that particular kind of ability necessary for academic achievement, could then go on for another two years, leading to a master's degree in some specific field of study. Finally, those with a research bent could go on for a further two years doing research and so ultimately obtain a doctorate. This would bring us much nearer to the American system, but it is a system which we could operate with very much greater flexibility. Teaching for the first degree need not be restricted to institutions of the present university type- There has been much talk this afternoon, of colleges of education: there are also colleges of technology, and perhaps the Open University could all contribute to teaching at this level.

If we are to have this vast increase in numbers of students that everyone is talking about, and we cannot at the same time expand the existing research schools substantially, then there would seem to be a case for dividing our institutions into the larger establishments devoted primarily to teaching for the bachelor degree and smaller establishments devoted to teaching for the master degree and to the prosecution of research. For scholarship and research a comparatively small institution, say around 5,000, has many advantages—and here I must say that I go along with the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, and not the noble Lord, Lord Annan. It is very noticeable that in the big American universities there is a tendency to hive off the graduate schools in separate buildings and ultimately separate campuses. Above all else, we must keep the research activity spread as widely as possible and not repeat the classic mistake of concentrating it in a few research institutes. For this reason it might be advantageous to pair a large primary institution with a smaller secondary establishment so that teachers in the primary institute would have contact with and opportunities for research.

I do not wish to take up your Lordships' time by putting forward any specific scheme. What I wish to suggest to you, and especially those of you who are taking over particular responsibility for higher education on the national plane, is that the time has now come for a very deep reappraisal of the university system. The report of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and his Committee completely transformed one aspect of university education in Britain, namely, the number and size of establishments of higher education. In my view, we must now look at the type of education these institutes provide. I hope that although Mr. Birrell and his colleagues on the University Grants Committee will be pressing the Government for decisions, the Government will not act too swiftly.

I should like to recount, if I may, what the former Principal of University College, Dundee, Major General Wimberley, told me. He said that as a soldier he had been trained to study all the aspects relating to a particular problem and, having weighed them up, make a decision and stick to it. This training helped him, of course, to command the 51st Highland Division throughout the campaigns in North Africa and Italy with great distinction. When he took up his appointment at Dundee he was appalled to find that his new academic colleagues, when considering a problem, after much deliberation decided on one course of action and often a week later would come back wishing to change their minds and completely reverse the decision made a week before. Very often a month later they would come back wishing to change the decision yet again.

In the academic and university context, General Wimberley had no doubt that the academic rather than the military method was the right way to obtain the best decision. May I therefore ask the Government that when they have to make a decision they will consider very carefully the complex and subtle problems involved and will not be ashamed to change their minds if the first course of action they choose proves a mistaken one. I feel this is one of the great troubles; that Government Departments and, if I may say so, politicians find it very difficult to go back on a decision they have made. I think that in the academic context the ability to change one's mind is vital.

Fortunately for us, it is not the job of the Government in this country to tell the universities what they teach or how they should teach. However, higher education now takes such a substantial slice of the national cake and has such a profound effect on the country's future that inevitably the Government and Parliament are involved. The Government can, and should, take the initiative to see that a complete reappraisal of higher education is taken as a matter of urgency. There are here to-day in your Lordships' House very many senior university administrators to whose advice I am sure the Government will listen. Ultimately, however, it is the teachers and the students who have to implement and to judge the effectiveness of any changes that are made. Though you will find us cautious, wishing to examine all aspects of any proposal, I am sure I can speak for university teachers as a whole when I say that we are very keen to make changes and will make sweeping changes if necessary, provided we are convinced that these are to the real benefit of our students and are consistent with true scholarship.

Unlike the university administrators, my real message then is to ask the Government to set up a new inquiry analogous to that made by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and his colleagues. I hope that such an inquiry will consider the merits and demerits of the two-year general degree and the development of primary and secondary institutions I outlined earlier. Whatever they recommend, we who teach in universities are anxious to reorganise ourselves if by so doing we can be more effective in the modern national context. However, the changes we can make within our own institutions are necessarily of a limited and marginal kind. If fundamental changes are to be made these must be on a national, or at least semi-national, basis.

I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I repeat what I said when I first spoke in your Lordships' House two years ago. Britain lacks great mineral wealth or vast national resources, but she is famous for one product, her sons and daughters. You, my Lords, who sit on the Government Front Bench have many awesome responsibilities and problems to deal with; but no decisions you ever take will have a greater and more lasting effect on the future happiness and prosperity of our country than those you take which are related to higher education.

6.48 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene in this debate with great diffidence, because up to this moment it has been almost as though the full membership of your Lordships' House were composed of dons, and the debate has been in effect don speaking to don—or educational administrator, I am told, as an alternative. At any rate, it has been academic speaking to academic. Before I go on to distinguish myself from the academic field may I say that I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, is not in his seat, because I wanted to take the strongest exception to what was implicit in his reference to the "skulkers", those who sit on the Cross-Benches. He implied, as it has been implied in your Lordships' House before, that those who sit on the Cross-Benches have greater freedom than those who sit on the Party Benches, and I want to repudiate that altogether. May I say straight away that I exclude my young noble friend, Lord Tedder, from the appellation of "skulker", though I wish that the regulations of your Lordships' House made it possible for Lord Tedder to be with us more frequently and to lend his talents to our debates. But I do object to those who sit on the Cross-Benches—and I do not regard them as skulking—or some of them, taking some flattering unction to their souls that they have greater freedom to speak than those of us who speak from the Party Benches.

As I say, this has been mainly a debate between dons, academics and administrators in the educational field. That is why I approach the matter with such diffidence. I left school when I was 15, but like any other citizen, taxpayer or ratepayer, I claim the right to have a view on the future trend of higher education. I need hardly say, in view of my accent, that I was brought up in a Scottish home, where my parents, themselves having had little education, had the view that education was a matter of great importance, that it had a twofold value: as something of great merit in itself, irrespective of what use might be made of it, and, more practically (I do not hesitate to say this), as a means of emancipation from the lowly estate to which the accident of birth might have called one. Having by the early death of my father been denied the university education which I might have been expected to get, by scholarships and so on, I have not, I think, been soured against those who were more fortunate and received a university education.

Perhaps at this point I should declare a very indirect interest in education. My son is a Professor of Economics at one of our newer universities. This has helped to maintain my interest in the question of future higher education, and I have not kept myself entirely unaware of developments in that field. I have always supported a great extension of higher education. Fundamentally, to me this means university education. I am not under-rating the value of polytechnics and other fields of higher education, but to me higher education means university education.

I must confess that I am appalled when I read of the much higher percentages of the appropriate age groups in other countries, not only in the United States of America (although perhaps it is higher there) who go on to university education than is the case in this country. But then I ask myself: are we strictly comparing like with like? Is university education the same in each country? I think the answer is, No, that it is not necessarily the same in one country as in another.

The next question is, what do we in this country mean by "university education"? Can we expand it indefinitely on the same basis as in the past? Can we be sure that the supply of university teachers, lecturers, readers and professors can be maintained in sufficient numbers, and of a high enough quality, adequately to deal with the increased number of students that has been projected by many speakers this afternoon? Here I think we have to stop and take stock.

The first question, and one which I think has been raised already this afternoon, is: are we likely to expand the financial contributions to the universities at the same high rate of increase as the rate of increase of the student population? That is a fundamental question which any Government have to face up to. It would mean an enormous increase in university educational expenditure, an increase so vast that I doubt whether any Government would face up to it, particularly in view of the demands in other educational fields, for nursery schools, primary schools, new comprehensive schools and so on.

But if expenditure does not keep pace with the increasing number of students what is to happen? There have been references to a reduction in the teacher/ student ratio; in other words, university education, as we now know it, might deteriorate if there were this reduction in the teacher/student ratio. I am referring to education as we now know it, and I think that that is the kernel of the matter. Are our universities too rigidly bound to the idea that all students must be assumed to be candidates for an Honours degree? I think the noble Lord, Lord Tedder, who preceded me, indicated that there ought perhaps to be some flexibility in this area.

I wander whether, in our present rather rigid system, we are not perhaps making the best the enemy of the good. Is it not reasonable to assume that there will always be a proportion of students who would prefer to aim at, and be satisfied with, what has in the past been regarded with some contempt, a Pass degree? If we say that there are such, if the answer to the question is in the affirmative, then does it not mean a radical change in curricula, in teaching methods, in the standards for teachers?—for there are those among the teachers who are eminently qualified to teach for Pass degrees, and also others who would teach for Honours degrees and who would also be expected to do research.

It may seem an impertinence for a layman to make such comments, but if the quality of university education is not to be eroded by an influx of students beyond the capacity of the present teaching staff to cope with, then either levels must be lowered or other methods must be considered. I am sure that Lord Robbins has fully considered these aspects, and I look forward to his comments when he comes to reply to this debate; because I am sure that he will at least agree with me that we cannot go on with the present rigid situation and cope with the enormous increase in the number of students who are likely to come to our universities.

6.57 p.m.


My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Archibald, I represent an interruption in the procession of dons, for I have never held a paid academic post in my life. I sometimes think that in these debates in your Lordships' House on specialised subjects it might be an advantage if there were more noble Lords who were willing to assume the role of Devil's advocate—other of course than the unfortunate spokesman for the Government, who sometimes has that role thrust upon him. It is not a role that I am going to attempt to-day, for I wish to grind perhaps another portion of the blade of the same axe as the Vice-Chancellors and the academic dignitaries who have spoken before me.

Speaking not as an academic but as one who, many years ago, was an economist, I cannot think of any application of public funds more urgent or more likely to return a full reward than an increase in the funds devoted to higher education. I have often noticed that when a team is sent out from this country to advise some underdeveloped country on the means of economic growth, their report almost always contains a powerful paragraph or section saying that, apart from everything else, the two things to which attention should be paid are building up the infrastructure of transport and education. Yet in our own underdeveloped country these are the two subjects to which we assign a priority so low that it almost becomes a posteriority.

To my great regret, I was unable to be in my place for the opening speeches of this debate. I made my apologies to my noble friend Lord Robbins, and he was good enough to give me some indication of what he proposed to say, so I am not entirely deprived in that sense. However, I do run the risk, I suppose, of repeating what may have been said in earlier speeches; and if I do so, I apologise. I think the risk is small, because I propose to confine my remarks to one subject, one that seems to me to get far less attention in discussions of this general topic than it deserves, and that is the contribution that can be made to the solution of the quantitative problem, at least of higher education, by the Open University of which I have the honour—and I esteem it a very high one—of being the Chancellor.

Let me start with just a few remarks about the origins of the Open University. It owes very much indeed to the initiative of Mr. Harold Wilson, both before he became Prime Minister and during his tenure of that office, and also to the maternal care lavished on it by Miss Jennie Lee. But it is in no sense whatever a political, still less a Party political, institutior, as many members of the Party now in power know. I have no fear at all that those of them who take the trouble to examine the facts of the subject will take a Party attitude to the further development of the Open University. I know that there were, and perhaps still are, doubts as to whether the institution should be called a university; and the matter is arguable. For myself, however, I have no doubts at all that the decision was right, and that it will be justified by the results. Certainly I can assure your Lordships that there is no more absolute and grim determination held by the staff of the Open University than that the standards of their degrees shall be at least the equal of those of any other university in the country.

The Open University is now established and functioning. It is staffed with a staff of a high distinction, recruited from a list of candidates far wider, I am assured, than is usually the case when other universities have posts to fill, and therefore, one must suppose, of at least average quality. The first phase of its building programme is finished, and the second well in hand. It is at the moment busy sorting out its first entry of students, and the courses will begin on time on January 1 next.

All the preliminary work for the Open University was necessarily based upon guesses. It was necessary to guess how many students would apply; what courses they would wish to read; what would be the cost of meeting their needs. It is most gratifying and encouraging to see how many of these guesses are now proving to be quite remarkably close to the mark. Up to date the number of applications—and I do not mean those who send in a coupon for some literature; I mean those who sign a form and send it in with cash as an earnest of their desire to be entered in the University—has reached 39,000. It is thus quite clear that the permitted maximum, the most for which the Treasury will find the money on January 1, of 25,000 places, is going to be very well filled.

Moreover, the fact that the applications are coming in so well makes it clear that this first intake of 25,000 which, let me remind your Lordships, is half that of all the other universities of the country put together, will be properly balanced. There were fears that there would be too many teachers. There are indeed a number of teachers, but no more than was expected, and the total is acceptable. It was feared that there would be too many women, and too many married women (not that there is any objection to women, or even to married women), and it was thought that their purposes might be less, serious than those of others. This is not true. The balance of the intake between men and women is 70 men to 30 women. Then it was feared that there might be too many elderly people among the applicants. This is not true. The median age of the applicants is 27.

In other words, my Lords, the typical student of the Open University is going to be a young man in his late twenties who has realised, now that he is entering upon his career, that his education was not all that it might have been, and who wishes to remedy the defects. In particular, there were; fears that there would be an imbalance on the side of the arts. This also has proved to be incorrect, and half of the total of 25,000 will represent students taking courses in mathematics and science.

How cart this new institution help in the solution of the general university problem that has been laid before your Lordships by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, this afternoon? The original purpose of the universities arose out of what used to be called "adult education", or "further education", and one of the rules of the Open University at the moment, in this first phase, is that it will not accept any students under the age of 21. It is designed for those who, while qualified to benefit from higher education, for one reason or another did not get it: because they failed to find a place (after all, even in this age, there were financial obstacles) or, to meet the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, because the motivation was not at that time adequate. I think I can now assure your Lordships that this purpose is being attained. The fear that the Open University would be a grand endowment for hobby education is being proved utterly false; this is serving a very real and necessary purpose.

Your Lordships may say (that the Open University, does not, by itself, directly contribute to the problem that lies at the centre of this debate; that is, how, in the years to come, the country is to provide for that increasing number of school-leavers who wish to have a higher education. I shall come back to that point in a moment or two, but first let me mention some of the other ways in which the Open University can very directly contribute. First, it can contribute by taking care of graduate students, and research. I have mentioned the large and highly qualified staff of the University. Apart from their main duties in looking after the undergraduate students they will themselves have facilities for research, and they will be able to take care of a growing number of graduate and research students. This is a direct contribution that can be made.

As time goes on, the University hopes to add a great variety of courses that can be described under the general heading of "post-experience and refresher courses". In our very rapidly changing world this is a need that becomes ever more urgent, and it can be illustrated to your Lordships simply by recalling how many Members of this House, and people of equivalent age, have found themselves under the necessity of trying to find out what language a computer talks; how to speak to it, and how to understand what it says. There will be more and more need of this kind. This is a need that can be met only by institutions of university standing, and it is one that the Open University is very well equipped to meet.

Thirdly, I hope that it will be possible gradually to develop the functions of the Open University in professional, and para-professional training. Very soon after the University began to function we received a letter from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, who then sat on the Woolsack, asking whether we could help to deal with the crisis in the supply of lawyers. It may come as a surprise to some of your Lordships, and possibly as an unwelcome surprise, to know that there is a shortage of lawyers in the country. One might not suppose it, but in fact there is. There is a very narrow bottleneck, so I am informed, in the present methods of training lawyers, and it is urgently necessary that further such facilities should be provided. We were compelled to reply to the Lord Chancellor at that time that we felt under a compulsion to learn to walk before we tried to run and that we could not meet his request at that moment. But within a very short time it will be possible for the Open University to begin to assist, to enlarge, to develop, to take over the educational programmes of many of these professions and what I have called para-professions which at present do not use universities for educating their aspirants.

And the essential point is that the Open University can do all this very cheaply. I do not make this remark in any competitive spirit. Indeed, one of the essential points which I find is so little understood in the other universities is that the Open University is in no sense a competitor of the existing—and if I may be forgiven the term—more conventional universities. It aims to do only what they cannot or do not do. Indeed, if any student presenting himself to the Open University has the opportunity of doing what he wishes to do in any other university, he will almost invariably be advised to do so.

Not even under the general head of money can the Open University be regarded as a competitor with the others. It does not draw its funds from the U.G.C. That may not always continue to be the case, but even if it does begin to draw its funds from the U.G.C. it will be competing with the other universities only in the same way that they compete with each other. By any test of cost effectiveness it is quite manifest, first of all, that whatever the Open University can do the cost per student of doing it is much lower than any other method; and, moreover, that to a much greater extent than in any other university the principle of increasing returns or dimishing costs applies. Once the basic overhead has been set up, as to a very large extent it already has been, the "add-on" cost of additional students is quite remarkably low. All these factors will help in one way or another to carry the load of the increasing demand for higher education

But now let me come back to the central question of what we do with the school-leavers. This is a very difficult question for any institution set up as is the Open University. Its methods, though they are not by any means confined to radio broadcasting, which is why it was not in the end called the "University of the Air", are by their nature more remote, less personal, than those of more conventional universities, though not entirely so; it is intended that teacher and student shall come together, but, quite obviously, less frequently than in a more conventional university. This is hardly the recipe for a youngster of 18 who has failed to secure a place at a more conventional university. He is surely not a person who can be told to spend most of his time sitting at home working by himself, with occasional interventions and interviews from a rather remote teaching and counselling staff. Nevertheless, the Open University is anxious to give all the help it can to this problem, and it can perhaps give some.

It cannot look after the pastoral side of university life, still less the residential. As I have just said, it cannot provide a great deal of personal oversight. But if others can, if local authorities, for example, have means of providing buildings and non-academic staff to take in increased numbers of undergraduates, then the Open University can provide the academic content of what they might study under those conditions. Let it not be thought that I advocate this as being a satisfactory way of dealing with the emergency of large numbers of students wishing to have a higher education. I only say that something along those lines, which could well be organised, might very well be better than nothing at all. If I go further into this subject I run the severe risk of saying something which will be either untrue or embarrassing to my colleagues, so I shall say no more than to assure your Lordships and the university authorities and university dignitaries who are present here to-night and who have spoken that there is the greatest willingness on the part of my colleagues of the Open University to explore all the possibilities by which—and, I repeat, at lower cost than by other means—we may be able to assist in helping to solve this problem.

When, completely out of the blue, I received the invitation to become the first Chancellor of the Open University, I knew no more about it than the ordinary intelligent newspaper reader could be expected to absorb. Since then I have been privileged to watch the growth of a most imaginative and exciting experiment, and if any of your Lordships care to know more about it, nothing would give my colleagues and myself more pleasure than to tell you what we are doing. I am convinced that no consideration of the futurs of university education in this country can possibly afford to leave out the contribution which the Open University can make.

7.17 p.m.


My Lords, this has been a long and exhausting debate, so I hope not to detain you for very long. First of all, I want to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, on having taken the heat out of a certain aspect of university life which has recently disturbed us, but I shall have to allude to it to some extent, because I think that the organisation of some of the universities in this country has contributed to the unrest among students and if the Government are contemplating further enlargement of university education on the present lines they ought to take this into account. Secondly, I think that this debate has set a very good precedent, inasmuch as most people, either tacitly or very explicitly, have declared their interest. So I think that I ought to declare my interest. Like some judges, I have been living on public money, earned at a university, though of course in an indirect and politically sterilised way—though I do not myself feel politically very sterile. Of course I am not a Vice-Chancellor and I merely have a worm's eye view, but I think I am less remote from some of the problems than the eminences who surround us in such profusion to-day.

I am a little doubtful about the wording of the Motion, which refers to the future demand for higher education. The demand for higher education is what we make it. Inevitably we limit it, either in certain material market ways, or through a variation in the severity of selection. Should we want university education? This is a problem to which Lord Crowther contributed very eminently from one point of view. But, of course, there are the other institutions of further education which also ought to be taken into account. Somebody said that we must afford an increase in university education, and that money could not be spent better than on university education. I must say that I take a somewhat doubtful attitude on that. Lord Crowther, I think it was, mentioned that British people going out to underdeveloped countries want first of all to have education established. I fear that my experience in advertising underdeveloped countries, which I think is greater than that of most of your Lordships, has been that the underdeveloped countries, by getting over-elaborate universities, have had retarded rather than promoted their economic growth.

I must remind your Lordships that when Britain was at its lowest ebb of intellectual education effort before the 1870s—Oxford and Cambridge had not been reformed yet; only the test repealed—when there was no compulsory education here but there was in Prussia, the British economy was at its most buoyant and the Prussian was at its lowest ebb. I do not believe that there is any direct relationship, and certainly no causal relationship. Indeed, it depends very much on what sort of education one is advocating before one can make any comment at all whether education will promote, will be neutral or will depress the progress of the country and its material excellence.

I fear that I am one of the people who unrepentantly believe that our selection system is awful, has been awful and is getting worse rather than better. It has been based, of course, on the Victorian education system, when what was taught to us in Cambridge was mathematics and in Oxford classics, and when, in the public schools, very little else was taught. Therefore, one could take a very good and adequate sample by having an examination in a very few subjects. But, of course, at the moment this is not the case at all. I was very interested to hear that people advocated the Scottish system. I would advocate the Scottish system or the American system of education in the colleges for the sixth forms, not obviously for the universities. What we want to do is to have a broad education between 14 and 18, and a somewhat more specialised education afterwards. I do not think that this has ever been considered in this country, but it ought to be, I think, because in my humble opinion, having been educated under both systems, this is a much more suitable system for a country in the sort of semi-affluent state in which we are.

The present attitudes and the situation of the universities are of course very much due to the Victorian failures. What has happened in England is that up until 1900 only a very small fraction of the population went to universities, and therefore universities became the sort of open road to aristocracy, just as the Church was in mediaeval times, and a university degree became a social entry towards social mobility—either that or a directorship in a prosperous company. I think that perhaps neither was the most suitable way to do the leap, but that is what the situation was. Therefore, of course, we have had this terrible tendency of looking at universities in a very snobbish way. I think one noble Lord on my side mentioned this, and I can subscribe to it wholeheartedly. One of the greatest disappointments I had with the previous Government was when they decided on the binary system, because of course the binary system increases this snobbism. The sooner we abolish the binary system, the sooner we call universities any education after secondary education, and education really rather more specialised than what one can and ought to have at the secondary stage, the better for England, because, obviously, "when everybody is somebody, nobody is anybody", as the song has it.

The terrible thing about the snob aspect of it—and I beg the pardon of all the mighty principals, masters, vice-chancellors and chancellors all round me—was its impact on how we decided to carry out this great expansion. I have not criticised Lord Robbins for his estimates, because I think that estimates are always wrong. It is my firm belief—and this has not been diminished by my service in the Government—that all estimates are wrong. I hope the Front Bench on the other side will take note of this; they need to.


My Lords, while agreeing with the noble Lord in his pessimism regarding estimates, may I ask him whether he would go so far as to say that estimates should not be made?


Well, I do not know whether they should be published. But, anyway, that was not my gravamen. I am delighted that the noble Lord was wrong, and so is he. Where I perhaps take issue with him is that he wanted to create, or at least he gave the impression that he wanted to create—he gave the impulse—new colleges in the Provinces, just as we created little new colleges in the bush near Ibadan; and, interestingly enough, (he new universities in this country are very much like the new African universities. They are very different from the Scottish universities. They are improperly conceived Oxfords and Cambridges—improperly conceived because, of course, they have a pseudo-imitative urge for collegiate organisation without the independence and complete intellectual freedom of the college. These colleges, as in America, are very much under the central administration.

The interesting fact about this debate—and, after all, we are debating a quasi-economic theme—is that nobody has really referred to any figures. Figures, as against estimates, I do believe in, and these figures show an extraordinary and very interesting story. That is to say, academic salaries are hardly more than one-third of the total expenditure; and what is very interesting is that academic salaries have not increased anywhere near as much as other expenditure on academic services, maintenance of premises and especially rates. Rates, we know. Why did these other things increase so much? They increased because we went about expanding our universities in a very odd way. We have these plate-glass universities now, as a colleague of mine has called them. They are extraordinarily expensive in common services. They must have a university library, but whether you have 2,000, 3,000, 8,000 or 9,000 people, the university library costs more or less the same—and, of course, the problem is very much the same in relation to the other services.

Then there is the housing problem. Nobody on the Continent, and very few people in America, would think that two-thirds residential universities are necessary. I do not think for a minute that they are necessary; on the contrary, one of the things I should like to stress is that certain of the troubles in the universities have been caused (I am not now talking about the L.S.E. but of certain other universities) by the fact that they are artificial little societies out in the wilderness, away from the cities, away from the industrial society in which we live, away from the; influences which would help them to become useful members of the community. They are thrown back on to one another and, obviously, the militants get it every way. It seems to me that one of the things we must absolutely avoid is to have a further expansion in the number of universities. We must try to concentrate the expansion on the existing ones and on the large ones.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord how many of the "plate glass universities" he has seen and, secondly, how many of them have two-thirds resident?


My Lords, they have not yet got two-thirds resident, but they are aiming at it. I have been to about a dozen.


My Lords, may I say that the noble Lord is extremely fortunate to have been to a dozen because, so far as I know, only seven of them have been founded.


My Lords, I think that the term "plate glass universities" can be expanded to mean all the eight new universities, certainly plus Stirling, and plus the technological universities.


My lords, may I explain to my noble friend Lord Annan that I was using the term in the sense in which the noble Lord himself used it—in the sense of the book written by the son of a friend, a book which deals with seven of them?


My Lords, three things need to be scrutinised very carefully. There is, first of all, the problem of independence. The problem of independence is of supreme importance; but one ought to inquire: who is independent, and from whom and on what field? I fear that some of the drive towards independence was by those college administrators who wished to build enormous monumental works (I am not talking of Europe in this particular instance), which cost an enormous amount of money, and are not frightfully pleasing to me, at any rate, although they might please others, and in order that the administrators should be able to order non-standard lavatory pans. This is independence and intellectual freedom as some people conceive it.

I conceive it differently. I conceive it, for instance, in the sense that academics and not laymen should be in control of universities. I conceive it as having more professors than one in contentious subjects, so that lesser fry like myself should have independence in the sense of being able to fly from one professor with whom one is embroiled to another. This, to me, is independence. If the university is small, and especially if the university was founded in the sort of way that most of our universities have been founded, this sort of intellectual freedom does not exist: because when the universities were founded they were very small and in most cases had only one professor. This professor obviously had the decisive voice in building up his university. I think that the restiveness of the staff, which is a new problem in this country, is a result of this sort of thing—and I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and the noble Lord, Lord Radcliffe, are not entirely blameless for this situation.


My Lords, may I interrupt at this point? The noble Lord perplexes me when he speaks of the tendency of departments to have only one professor. This was true of my young days; but although I cannot give the exact figure, my impression is that certainly most departments of any size in most universities now have at least two heads. I wonder what is the experience of Lord James of Rusholme at York, which is one of the universities with which I have some personal acquaintance.


My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, did not listen to what I said. I said that they started with one professor and as that one professor had the predominant voice in creating his department he created it, as God created Eden, after his own image. That is what I meant. I do not withdraw that.

It must be admitted that real academic freedom is a commodity that is very rare at the moment in this country. I am sorry about this, but there it is. It seems to me that we ought to have far more co-ordination between universities through the U.G.C. or some sort of independent body. It is an impossible situation that universities should be able to outline their own syllabuses irrespective of the national needs. It seems to me that very little has been done in this respect. There is much more to be done about the selection of people who go to the universities. It seems to me that the present system of 17-plus has produced undue—and unduly early—specialisation. Yet nothing will be done about the examination system and about entry into universities unless people act together.

Therefore it seems to me that one of the most urgent needs is for the universities to get together with the University Grants Committee to inquire what one could do to broaden out the secondary education and to have an entry examination which has at least six or seven subjects at a sufficiently high level to guarantee some culture, yet not undue specialisation which would unfit the young person from pursuing other subjects at the university if he so wished. It seems to me that from this point of view the American system is much better, and that it is in this respect that we need urgent and drastic reform—but without the Ministry getting the power to enforce this reform: for this, in my opinion, would be intolerable.

7.38 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful for the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, preceded me in this debate because he has said very clearly many of the things that I wanted to say. I have been listening very closely to the whole of this debate and I found myself all the time thinking what a wondeful thing it was that we had the Open University. I am not saying this merely to "pick up the slack", but certainly all the thinking that has been done on it seems to illumine the problem that we are talking about. Whatever we may think about the ultimate academic standards (and, like the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, I think they will be very high indeed) we have in this experiment one of the boldest break-throughs both in teaching method and in substance and approach that have been achieved anywhere in the world in this century. I say this with diffidence in a discussion in which we have had so many eminent academics taking part and, if I may say so, reinforcing my own opinions on the rather narrow view taken of what constitutes education in a proper sense of the word. We have had a great deal of discussion about intakes, numbers projections and the rest of it. We have given very little thought—at least in this debate; many of us have done a great deal of thinking outside—as to what all this is for.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, made the point, which I would reinforce, that we in this country are producing people. We always knew we had them, but we started to feed them properly and give them a little better education, and then we discovered the immense amount of talent which had been squandered in this country for so long. That is catching up with us. We are now discovering that people are capable of taking advantage of higher education and, what is more, will insist on it. If we do not produce the adequate expansion, in whatever form it may take, we shall build up for ourselves the most appalling problems in this and every other country.

One thing is plain. To-day, with communication in the widest sense of the word, the younger generation is becoming more and more aware of the opportunities which are passing it by, in terms of what the young people could have done had they had the chance to do it, and in terms also of the changing circumstances of the world which they are not in a position to exploit or to develop. If I may say so with deference in the presence of the Chancellor—here I must declare an interest in the Open University as I was on the Planning Committee and I am on its Council—this was present in all our thinking in the planning stage. We did not, even at the moment of our inception when it was handed to us as the "University of the Air", consider something which is crude and obviously necessary and which is called "national need". We considered for whom we were doing it and why we should be doing it. We discussed what the content and nature of the wider development should be in order that we could bring about, beyond, if I may say so, the Welfare State, what Julian Huxley has very properly called the "Fulfilment State".

Once you have given to people the substance of their survival, they ought to be given—as I certainly insist—the opportunity to find the expression of their personality and the development of their opportunities. This was the basic thinking behind the Open University at that stage. We have gone a very long way, but not from that; I still believe that is the nub and core of what we are talking about. We realise, by the methods we have developed and the thinking that has gone into it, that we can help your Lordships, and everyone else, to find at least a foresight of what could be possible.

I continuously boast about the Open University because, I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, in a fairly full and exciting life this was certainly the most exciting experience I have had. It has opened up so many vistas and possibilities and shown what men of devotion and imagination can do when they are confronted by a challenge—and it was a challenge. When we handed over the University of the Air, as the Open University, to the academic staff we had to recruit, that was the moment of truth. We could have gone all wrong; they could have gone all wrong. We could have picked the wrong people; people with inadequate qualifications. As one who sat on many of the selection boards, I can assure your Lordships that the staff we have now is of the greatest possible qualifications in terms of any conventional university qualifications. They are much more—and this was our challenge to them. Did they have the imagination to cope with the new situation and the facilities with which we were provided?

When we grounded it, when it was no longer the "University of the Air" and became the Open University, it was quite obvious why we had to do that. While we were using all the facilities of television, radio and so forth we were in fact more than aware that not only with these but with any other new methods, facilities, techniques and innovations that might come along, there was still the problem of how person could communicate with person; that there should be not just a voice talking out of the air or a face talking on a screen. We did, and have, developed from that, which I think is a point educationists everywhere should study.

There are to be the tutors, the counsellors, the opportunities to meet and the opportunities for residential courses. This afternoon someone talked about the waste time at the universities. The Open University is taking up a lot of that waste time. We are going to use the facilities which our universities do not use, both residential and in terms of equipment, and so forth. We are hiring; and here I want to say that in a previous debate there was some misunderstanding. Someone asked how the B.B.C. could afford this, that and the next thing out of the licences that are paid. How could something like the Open University be promoted? The B.B.C. is being paid to do the job of the Open University; it is not being done at the expense of the licence holder who might prefer to see a programme "bonanza", or something like that.

Beyond that, I think we are entering into an experiment which will answer many of the questions which are being asked here, about motivation and so forth. There is only one way in which this expansion can be coped with. We are concerned with a figure of 25,000 people out of goodness knows how many. Up to yesterday the number who were seeking to register was coming up to 40,000, and we still have to October 30 before we close the register. Of them we can take only 25,000. This is something which deeply involved and concerned me. We called it the "Open University" and it was to be something which was open to anybody anywhere. It is open to people who have not managed to get their 11-plus pass, or O-levels, and so on. We threw the doors open to them as well as to people with other qualifications.

There is this wide-ranging experiment, geographically and otherwise, and we have built into it a feed-back which will keep us in touch with students in a way which I doubt whether people in universities have ever done before. I am talking not only about coming face to face, counselling and looking after people. We shall know what the students are thinking. What is more, we have provided—and the Chancellor will bear me out—for student participation. We want to know how the students are reacting; in fact it is the way in which we must learn in this development. This is one of the most important educational experiments, certainly in terms of higher education, that has ever been attempted. I assure your Lordships that the next ten or fifteen years will prove that this was in fact one of the biggest break-throughs in the problems we are discussing here to-day. It is a contribution to the solution of the problems of this country and, I am certain, in terms of techniques of our experience, and all the enormous care and imagination which is being put into communication, it is a contribution to how to teach better. From that we are going to make our contribution to the developing countries and, with deference to my noble friend, Lord Balogh, we may even correct some of the mistakes about which he was complaining.

7.49 p.m.


My Lords, I should first like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, for initiating this important debate; and secondly, I should like to explain, as is customary, my own interest in it. I am currently engaged in teaching comparative religion part-time in the field of further education. But by no stretch of the imagination could I be described as belonging to the stream of distinguished academics who have preceded me and to which the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, referred. I feel diffident about participating in this debate, but in considering the demand for higher education, it is in my submission essential to consider what kind of education it is that is being demanded; and conversely, what kind of education it is that is being currently offered. Consequently, my Lords, I was very glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, point out the importance of considering the content of what is taught, and it is this aspect in a wide-ranging debate that I wish to pinpoint.

It seems to me that there are a number of factors to be considered in deciding the type of higher education that can be offered, after first taking account of the free choice of the individual and his or her aptitude for any particular course. First, one must consider the needs of the country in terms of ensuring a supply of suitably qualified graduates and technicians to meet the ever-increasing needs of industry and of advanced technology. Many speakers from public platforms and many learned authorities in the pages of newspapers and journals have argued, and will in the future argue, cogently and persuasively for an ever-increasing emphasis to be placed on the necessity for a scientific and technological education, while hands are raised in horror when it appears that there is a trend in sixth forms away from science and allied subjects and towards the arts. It has been and no doubt will be argued that our economic survival depends absolutely on our ability to turn out scientists and technologists of outstanding ability and professional competence, in order that Britain may keep her place in the forefront of the most industrially advanced nations in the world.

I do not in any way deny the necessity of this aim, nor would I quarrel with its sentiments. I merely wish to add my voice to those who would make a plea for a balanced further educational system. For, secondly, one must consider the requirements of the country under the broad blanket term of social need, and this must include medicine and dentistry, the legal profession, the social sciences and the teaching profession. These professions are all, of course, essential and all have their advocates, but the type of social need I wish to emphasise to-day is a need that is all too often ignored as irrelevant or even non-existent. It is the need for education in, and hopefully for the understanding of, the nature of true values in an age that increasingly regards all values as subjective, questionable and subject to possible rejection. But within this broad field, the values or human qualities that to my mind particularly need safeguarding are the values of tolerance and true understanding, both of which must be based on knowledge. The trained professionals who can provide this are, to some extent, the social worker and, to a large extent, the teacher.

The need for tolerance and understanding has never been more urgently needed than to-day, for two great social problems now impinge themselves upon us. First, there is the question of the successful integration of coloured immigrant families within our community and, secondly, there is the question of the integration and harmonious relationships of the two rival factions in Northern Ireland, In the former case, intolerance may be largely rooted in ignorance of social customs and religion; in the latter case, religious bigotry on both sides seems to be one of the main factors, although by no means the only one, causing tension. To help meet both these pressing social needs and perhaps seek for a solution in the long term, education is greatly needed. For intolerance and suspicion are often based on ignorance, and ignorance can only be dispelled by knowledge. It is for the teaching profession to disseminate this knowledge and this means, with particular reference to the debate to-day, that special emphasis must be placed on the education of teachers, specialist teachers. And the type of education that is particularly relevant, bearing in mind these two areas of social tension, is in the fields of religion and culture.

My emphasis on this aspect of social need is not in any way intended to diminish the vital need for trained scientists, technologists, doctors, dentists, lawyers, sociologists and economists, among others, but merely to point to a small yet rich corner of the educational field—and there may well be others—that is often apt to be overlooked. The study of foreign customs and religions may seem on the surface to be a luxury to-day, for religion as such is regarded by many as irrelevant or as the opiate of the people or as just plainly absurd. But to the coloured immigrant in our midst it is highly relevant and vitally real. Common sense alone demands that we equip at any rate our future generations with some knowledge of it.

Consequently, the type of religious education that seems to me most appropriate to meet this challenge is not the specialisation that an undergraduate prospective teacher would undergo in a conventional Honours Degree in theology, perhaps heavily weighted with the study of Old Testament Hebrew and New Testament Greek, together with some early Church history (necessary though I believe this is in another context to meet another need), but rather a broadly based study of comparative religion, with particular emphasis on studying the religions of immigrants one might meet to-day, as seen against the social and cultural backgrounds of their own countries. This perhaps could be linked with the study of the sociology of religion in our own country and the philosophy of religion as such. This, of course, must be seen as an essential adjunct to technological education and within the broad area of the study of the humanities.

In view of the urgency of this particular social problem and the necessity for finding a long-term solution, one might justifiably ask: What are the universities in Britain doing to provide suitable degree courses in comparative religion to equip prospective graduate teachers to disseminate to their pupils accurate factual knowledge, based on sound scholarship, of the religious beliefs and customs of our immigrant population? Sadly one must report that very little is being done, especially if one compares this country with the trend in the United States of America and with Western Europe. In this country we find that only two Departments of Comparative Religion have been established, one in Manchester University in 1904 and now, very recently, one at Lancaster University. Our two great universities at Oxford and Cambridge provide virtually no facilities for students who wish to study the great religions of the world in depth. Elsewhere throughout the country we find a similar story. At a handful of British universities we find usually one man engaged as a lecturer in comparative religion within a large faculty of theology.

At colleges of education the problem is somewhat different. Although many colleges sec the necessity for including comparative religion as an integral part of their main subject in three-year courses in religious studies, they are frequently hampered in their desire to do so by a severe shortage of qualified teachers. This has been made very clear by Dr. Sharp in his article in a book recently published, entitled Comparative Religion in Education. The main reason for this current shortage, in my opinion, is entirely the way in which this subject has been neglected at university level, although many other colleges as a matter of policy stick to the conventional theological approach. If there is a severe shortage of qualified teachers in this subject at colleges of education, it follows that it must be even more neglected at school level, where the seeds of understanding must be sown. How this subject can be deployed in schools is another story, and I am glad to see that the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, has tabled a Motion for debate on this very subject in your Lordships' House.

Very sound arguments can be made, I believe, for establishing comparative religion as a highly suitable first degree course on academic grounds alone. Evidence can also be given of the ever-increasing demand by students to take this subject as a first degree course. Both Professor Smart, at Lancaster University, and Professor Brandon, at Manchester University, have strongly emphasised this fact in letters to me. If it is suggested that this thirst for the knowledge of other religions is misplaced and that the best course is to study conventional Christian theology at one of the university faculties of theology which offer courses without reference to any religion other than the Christian, then it seems to me that this could be compared to advising an aspiring biologist that a complete knowledge of his subject could be gained by studying only the fauna and flora of Great Britain.

These points could be argued out, but I merely wish to-day to emphasise the importance of giving comparative religion an adequate consideration on the ground of social necessity in this country and on the ground that, as the world is daily getting smaller, people in all walks of life will find themselves encountering fellow humans from the four quarters of the globe with beliefs and customs very different from their own. Common sense alone demands that our future generations be adequately educated to understand and to be enriched by these beliefs and customs, without which a plea for tolerance becomes just an empty, pious hope.

My Lords, I hope that this plea for what is often regarded as a minority subject in further education, or even by some as no subject at all, will not be regarded as a voice crying in the wilderness or, to use contemporary jargon, as a plea for an off-beat subject in a way-out age, but rather one for the recognition that the possible alleviation of a serious social problem might well lie within one's grasp. The onus lies upon the appropriate authorities to allow this subject to be given adequate treatment in the field of further education at university and college of education level, at liberal arts courses in technical colleges and at university extra-mural departments.

Finally, my Lords, I can only reiterate my conviction of the necessity for tolerance, and particularly tolerance of religious views and customs strange to us. We have only to look to our own country across the water, to Northern Ireland, to see the result of centuries of intolerance and bigotry, now overlaid with acute social and economic problems. Recent history prompts us to look at the Indian sub-Continent, where the problems of social and economic unrest vie in certain sensitive areas with the tensions caused by mutual Hindu and Muslim religious intolerance. Let it be a warning, for if ignorant intolerance is allowed to get a grip, we may well live to regret our sense of priorities that pumps money into technology, for all its necessity, and yet forgets also to cultivate and to foster a proper understanding of what men deeply believe and hold most dear.

8.2 p.m.


My Lords, I hope the noble Lord who has just resumed his seat will forgive me if I do not follow him in his interesting plea for a new faculty, or at any rate a new course, in the universities. I have a great deal of sympathy with his attitude. I should have thought that courses in the universities of the wider kind for which the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, argued in his Report should produce an educated man who would be filled with the spirit of tolerance and of independent thought for which the noble Lord is asking.

If I may turn from that, it is now, as the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, reminded us, some eight years since his celebrated Report created such a sensation, not only in the university world but also, I think, in the general world of culture outside. My noble friend Lord Evans of Hunger-shall rather chided us for not all coming in with the Robbins Report under our arms. But, of course, we do not need to. It has been our "Bible" for a long time. I myself spent the year or two after it came out wandering about from one university to another, discussing it with members of the University Teachers' Association, who were all extraordinarily interested in it. That Report really has changed the whole climate, as well as the apparatus, of the university work in this country. I do not think I need emphasise that; it has been brought out in many speeches this afternoon.

There is nobody so well equipped as the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, to open a discussion on the future requirements of the universities during the 'seventies. I have often heard him disclaim that the Report should be called the Robbins Report; and it is true that he had an exceptionally good Committee working with him. But those of us who know him, and know his cast of thought, will all agree that it bears the impress not only of his personality but of the wide range of his thought, and it is quite properly called the Robbins Report. Most of these Reports are called after the Chairman, but I do not think there has ever been one which merited it more than this particular Report.

One of the things that has appealed to me this afternoon has been the tolerance of the discussion. We have pretty well succeeded in keeping Party politics, in the technical sense of the term, out of higher education. It was gratifying to me that while the noble Lord, Lord Bel-stead, very properly, claimed that the Robbins Committee had been appointed by his Party, he gave due praise to my own Party for the splendid way in which they carried through the policy of the Robbins Report. I wish that one could say the same about secondary education, which I think the noble Lord, Lord Evans, said has always been too much involved in Party politics. Unfortunately this is happening again. It is largely due at the moment to (shall I say?) an excessive egalitarianism among some of my friends. Egalitarian attitudes are very good, provided that you do not let them take charge of you completely, in which case it is a very heady beverage which tends to unsteady you on your feet. Fortunately, as I have said, university education, and indeed higher education generally, has so far escaped this. I think it is agreed pretty well on all hands that people capable of university education should be selected for university work.

In France, as I think Lord Annan said, they have a very different attitude. There, everybody who has been through a secondary school, if he wishes to go to a university, is entitled to do so. There are no real entrance qualifications. The result is that France has these enormously large and amorphous universities in which the relationship between the teaching staff and the students is almost non-existent; and from time to time this gives rise to fracas of a type which we do not know in this country. In spite of all the excitement over the last few years, nothing of this sort ever happens here. This, I think, is due to too much egalitarianism in the French outlook, and the result is these enormous and ill-disciplined French universities. An eminent French professor was talking to me about this only a week or two ago. He said: "I very much envy you your comparatively small and well-organised universities in England, where things do not go wrong in the way they are continually going wrong in my own country". I think that we should bear these things in mind.

This, I feel, enforces the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, in his speech this afternoon. Rather than extend our present universities—both the old ones, and those that have been created during the last years, since the Robbins Report appeared—he asked for a number of new universities. This, in my view, is a very sound point. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was right when he said that the original figure of 3,000 or 4,000 students which the Vice Chancellors wished to have is too small, but certainly if you get into the 10,000 mark you are getting too big. I have always felt that not only the French universities but those in America and other countries have suffered from their enormous size, which prevents staff from having proper opportunities to know each other and the students from getting to know the staff. This presents a problem of organisation that it is beyond the university administrators to solve.

The only strong feeling that has been raised about our universities over the past years has been that raised by the demonstrations and sit-ins. I was glad that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, dealt with this subject. I think the problem is really over, but it arose because the feeling that the university don was in loco parentis to his students lived on so long. As the noble Lord, Lord Robbins (or perhaps it was another noble Lord), said, Parliament itself has now agreed that 18 is to be the age of majority, and it is really quite absurd that boys who have the vote, and who may enter into legal relationships as adults, should be expected to regard tutors and dons in the universities as being in loco parentis. It is now generally agreed in the universities that this attitude on the part of the teaching staff is out of date.

I have been reading in the past few days a new and interesting pamphlet produced by the Association of University Teachers, The Universities in the 1970s, in which this point is clearly and excellently made. My own impression is very much that of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, that this difficulty is now over; it has already been solved in quite a number of universities, and is now being solved in others. Apart from little difficulties here and there, over the past months there has not been a great deal of trouble.

I have been talking about the difficulty arising from the lack of recognition of the student as an adult, as a man entitled to deal with his teacher as one man with another. I am not talking about the political ebullience which arose at Cambridge in connection with politics in Greece. That is something quite different, and it may well be that from time to time there will be further outbreaks of that kind. They have always occurred.

I remember that when I was an undergraduate at Oxford before the First War a well known trade union leader, Mr. Jim Larkin, came from Dublin to speak to the more Left-Wing members among the undergraduates. He was taken by the more Right-Wing members and dumped in a pool, and certain of his garments were removed. That was the sort of thing that occurred, but at that time we did not do much in the way of damage to property, except possibly to some articles of domestic use which were not infrequently smashed, and which have in the interval rather disappeared from use. There was always an undercurrent of joviality on these occasions; and if these demonstrations are not taken too seriously, and if the police are not turned out in too large a force, there is no need to be too worried about them.

The crux of the whole of this debate, and the problem at the present time, is the tremendous expansion which is expected over the next ten years. Whatever the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, may say, the whole feeling in the country at the present time is towards higher education and, more particularly, towards university education. It is gratifying to find how, throughout all groups of society, there is this feeling that the brighter members of the family are entitled to, and ought to have, a university education. The result of that is a popular drive which it would be very difficult for any Government to resist. It may well be that it will be tremendously expensive. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, was quite right to remind us of this.

The Robbins Report in a way was a Conservative document, although, many people, as has been mentioned, felt that it was altogether too radical. I never took that view of it and, as the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has said, in some ways it turned out to be conservative. He, as an economist, realised the difficulty—which does not always appeal to those of us who are enthusiastic about getting on with education—that all education has to be paid for. I always had the feeling that this weighed more with him than appeared in the pages of the Robbins Report itself.

Obviously, the amount of the gross national product which will have to be put into a university system that requires places for from 400,000 to half a million students by 1980 is a, very large amount. It is going to be difficult, and it will require great courage on the part of the Government to meet it. It may be that we shall have to tighten our belts for a few years. In the end, however, I do not think there is any question that it will pay for itself. The enormous expansion of wealth in this country has already to a large extent flowed from the fact that education has become so much better over the past years. When the new entrants to the universities have been through their educational process there, and are contributing to the wealth of the community, I am sure that productivity will rise and provide the wherewithal out; of which this tremendous influx can be paid for. That obviously is a matter which must be carefully considered, and it is altogether too late to start going into statistics of this kind at the present time.

The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, made a number of very interesting suggestions for keeping down the costs, particularly the proposal for loans, to which he said he has recently been converted. I should like to close on this point. He will remember that at the London School of Economics we used before the war to have a committee which made advances of this kind to students who were in difficulties either in meeting their fees or in keeping themselves in their lodgings. I was for a number of years a member of that committee—I am not sure that he was ever on it. I know that several of those students to whom loans were made benefited enormously from them. I could, if I wished to do so, name one of the most distinguished professors in any university in England at the moment who was a recipient of one of those loans. He got on so well that he repaid it rapidly. There is a great deal to be said for these loans, and I have always felt that this was one way—although possibly not one of the most important of them—by which these difficulties could be solved.

8.19 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, on his appointment, and my noble friend (if I may still so address him) Lord Aberdare. I am delighted to see both these noble Lords occupying the Front Bench. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, when he replies for education, at least has a stake in the Department which I never was lucky enough to obtain. I can assure him that this will stand him in very good stead in the debates which we shall be having.

I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, for giving us the opportunity of discussing again his splendid Report. As so many other noble Lords have said this evening, they have used this Report over the years, and I too, in a very humble way, have used and quoted from it frequently. I was rather heartened by the fact that the noble Lord referred to the seconds as being responsible for the work of the world. Perhaps in this group I may include myself.

We are debating tonight the question of higher education and the trends of higher education. I always find it a little difficult to discuss only one aspect of education. I always see education as a continuing process, a process which begins from birth, is continued in the home, the school, the college, the institution, the places in which we work and the places in which we spend our leisure time. I believe that unless we can think of it as a continuing process we may fall into the trap of debating whether one aspect is more important than another—although one recognises that when talking about a very full Report of this kind we naturally have the opportunity to discuss some of the more intimate details of how the Report should be carried out.

I am quite sure that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will take note of all the practical suggestions and the comments made by eminent Members of your Lordships' House who are so actively concerned in the day-to-day administration of universities and other institutions of higher education. I appreciated his warm comment on the record of the previous Government. This is one of the occasions when I would have dearly loved to be on the opposite side of the House, because the record of the previous Government in the field of education was really supreme. I am only sorry that the electorate did not see fit to accept that as a reason for re-electing the Government.

However, there is little doubt that many of the proposals in the Robbins Report have been carried out already. I believe that one noble Lord took issue with my noble friend Lord Longford when he said that the Report had been accepted. Perhaps the Report in toto has not been accepted. But I am sure none of your Lordships will quarrel with the fact that the target of places has already been exceeded, or with the fact that we now have 200,000 full-time students in universities, exceeding the target of 197,000. I am not one of those who despise numbers I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Archibald, who said that for far too long the talent of many young men and women in this country has been neglected; they have not had the opportunity of engaging in higher education. Even now the total is surely a very small percentage of the numbers of boys and girls entering school.

During the last few years the colleges of education were asked by the then Secretary of State for Education to find more places for students, and so we got the amazing growth of from 59,000 places in 1962 to 107,000 in 1968. I have seen many projects from colleges of education; and in this connection I would merely ask Her Majesty's Government to ensure that we utilise the services of all the teachers. Sadly, I have met some lately who have not been able to find a place in which to teach, and have reverted to other forms of activity. We have seen another part of the Robbins Report accepted and acted upon. The former colleges of advanced technology became technological universities: and nine colleges received university status in 1966–67. I do not know what your Lordships feel about that: I find it exciting and rewarding.

The noble Lord, Lord Crowther, has of course given us a telling description of an exciting project which was started during this time—the Open University, something which is an experiment on a grand scale and is going to bring to many people who would not otherwise have had the opportunity a chance to participate in higher education. We had during this time the Weaver Committee on the Government of Colleges of Education—under very eminent chairmanship—and the Committee's Report was acted upon.

I had the privilege of introducing a small Bill in the House at that time. We had the Government introducing radical proposals for the establishment of thirty polytechnics in England and Wales; and we had the Council for National Academic Awards establish the power to award degrees in non-university institutions. In that connection we immediately had the fantastic figure of 15,000 enrolments.

This evening the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has followed through many of the points raised in his Report. I was particularly interested in the fact that he referred to the suggestion that numbers must not be arbitrarily limited. I am sure that none of your Lordships will quarrel with that. The raising of entry standards would, in my opinion, be socially regressive. We therefore have to look at ways of reducing student cost per place. I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, but happily it is not my business at this point of time to decide how the money shall be raised. I believe that this matter has been handed over to their Lordships on the other side.


My Lords, I did not ask the noble Baroness how the money should be raised now; I asked her what plans the Labour Party had to raise the money in the future.


My Lords, we of course have plans for this in the Labour Party, and, if the noble Lord would like, I should be very happy to let him have them. I should not think they are entirely relevant, as I believe there are other plans now from the Government of the day. I would only say that there are perhaps ways of reducing the student cost per place. I was very pleased to hear the noble Lord, Lord Bowden (I think it was), and other noble Lords, suggest a much more extensive use of existing facilities. Anybody who has observed the massive expansion of student numbers in the colleges of education at a relatively low capital cost will see the attraction of this. In further education, studies show that a good deal of equipment is under-used—this I know from my own field of further education—and there would seem to be scope for rather more sharing of facilities at least between different sectors of education. This is beginning to happen as between schools and community needs. We have shared swimming baths, school halls, playing fields and the like; and I would suggest that we should see more of this happening between the various sectors of higher education.

On the size of the universities, I noted that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, entered a reservation. I would say, at the risk of sounding perhaps a little backward, that I am rather disturbed when I actually see the size of some of the new universities. Quite recently I visited a university in the Midlands and was shown the study area where hundreds of students were sitting at small desks with fences around them. It seemed to me rather as a writer in a newspaper described your Lordships' House at the State Opening: No place for those who suffered from claustrophobia—I believe he also said "and neurotics". Well, we assume that we do not have neurotics in universities, and I would hope we do not have neurotics in your Lordships' House, either. However, there is no doubt that size brings with it advantages. These are obvious and are outlined in the Report, and have again been enlarged upon to-day. But, equally, size brings with it many disadvantages. We tend now to move always in large units. We travel in large units; we work in large units; we go to schools and colleges in large units; we live in large units and, Heaven help us! we even shop in large units. I am always inclined to the view of Burke, who said that we must be loyal to the little platoon. I believe that size carries with it many difficulties, which I am sure those who are concerned with the universities will bear in mind.

As the only woman participating in this debate, I should like to draw attention to the references in, the Report to women, which I do not think any other noble Lord has done. Women account for only one-third of the total of the full-time university students—though I have a heading before me which says, "Woman power at Oxford supreme", which shows they took more Firsts than did men students. So the quality is there even if the quantity is not, and I would ask Her Majesty's Government to give encouragement for more women to have the opportunity to participate in higher education.

During the debate on the Bill in connection with equal pay, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, showed that he appreciated very much the discriminations against women in the provisions of that Bill, and as I recall he called upon the Government to do something about it. He is now in a splendid position to help the cause of women in higher education and I am sure that he will do so, although I do not think that Her Majesty's Government have started too well in relation to handling the females among their number. I think they only have two women Ministers as against the much larger number in the previous Administration. Also, rather sadly, they have temporarily suspended the Women's National Commission, which was a body of women's organisations. I do not expect the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, to reply to these comments because it would not be his Department. I believe it comes directly under the Prime Minister. I will merely say that it is not a very good start in relation to the cause of womanhood to suspend a Commission which was costing nothing and was doing extraordinarily good work. I am bound to say that I gather that it is only in temporary abeyance while the Prime Minister thinks about it, but there was a much smoother flow when it was started under the previous Conservative Government, and there was no time lag when the Socialist Government came in—simply a change of chairmanship.

I notice that the Report refers to married women and older women returning to teaching. I have had the privilege of meeting these mature students. They make splendid teachers, and I would urge the Government to give all the help possible to these women to enable more of them to enter not only the colleges of education but also the universities. I would ask, too, that more information should be given to the school leavers about the opportunities in higher education. Unfortunately, we still see young people having to search around to find out just what facilities are available to them.

I noticed in the Queen's Speech a reference to educational opportunities. The precise words are: My Government will expand educational opportunities as growing resources make this possible … While I would not expect the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, to expand too much on this to-night, I hope that he may well be able to give us some idea as to whether these educational opportunities will include higher education as well as the field which has been more specifically referred to; namely, that of primary education.

I also noted a reference in the Queen's Speech to an inquiry into teacher training. In February of this year the then Secretary of State for Education and Science requested the area training organisations responsible for the academic supervision of teacher education to undertake a major review of the content and structure of the courses of teacher education in England and Wales. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell me in what way these two inquiries will be different, and whether they will run on similar lines.

I liked the little malapropism of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, and I was rather glad that he did not use the other one—"A nice derangement of epitaphs". We will await this information, and we hope that it will not be delayed. In his very charming and splendidly produced speech, on which I congratulate him, the noble Lord did not give an answer to the questions raised by my noble friend Lord Longford. He gave us no indications of Government policy or the plans for the numbers of students in 1972 to 1977. I do not think this information will be difficult to obtain. More particularly, the noble Lord did not answer (and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will be able to answer) whether Her Majesty's Government accept the principle underlying the whole of the Robbins Report, that everyone qualified for higher education should be able to receive it.

One of the most interesting parts of the Report concerned the aims of higher education, and it is something that I have used more or less as a guiding light in many of my own discussions. Your Lordships will recall that there were four such aims: instruction in skills suitable to play a part in the general division of labour; that what is taught is taught in such a way as to promote the general powers of the mind; that the search for truth must be an essential function of the institution of higher education, and the transmission of a common culture and common standards of citizenship.

The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack said in the course of a brilliant speech on Thursday last: Surely it must be to quality—quality in the whole range of our activities; the pursuit of excellence."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 9/7/70, col. 405.] The Robbins Report puts that in another way. It says: Finally we must demand of a system that it produces as much excellence as possible. It must be so devised that it safeguards standards. None of your Lordships will quarrel with that. If we are to produce the leaders of the future this is something on which we must rely—a standard of excellence. We are living in times when in many quarters there has been a breakdown in personal relationships. We are living in a democratic society and this has been described as a way of life. My Lords, this is the way of life and every other way is the way of death, when even the people perish. Education is necessary to help us to maintain the progress we have made towards the democratic ideal.

8.36 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate all your Lordships who are still here. This is our second late night, and I think all of your Lordships who have remained are among the very fit few. It is a tribute to our institutions of higher education that they breed a race of people who not only are gifted in the brain but also have the energy and fitness to stick out these long sessions.

It does not seem to me to be very long since the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, last introduced a Motion on higher education. I remember it as well as he does, although in fact it was almost five years ago, on December 1, 1965, and he reminded us of it this evening. On that occasion the noble Lord, Lord Snow, who was speaking for the Government, said: …the history of higher education in this country divides into two sections, one pre-Robbins, and one post-Robbins."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1/12/65, col. 1294.] I am sure your Lordships will agree that that is the measure of the noble Lord's achievement in the educational field, and we are again in his debt to-day in that he has drawn our attention to the problems of the future in the field of higher education.

I hope the noble Lord will not be disappointed at my reply to this debate. I am afraid that I can really only echo what several of my colleagues have said from this Dispatch Box in the last few days: that this Government have been in office for only some three weeks and no major policy decisions have been taken on these matters. Therefore there is not a great deal that I can say, except that my noble friend Lord Belstead and I, between us, have listened to every word that has been spoken in this debate to-day, and everything that your Lordships have said will be given most careful consideration. The noble Baroness asked me that, and I can assure her that it is so.

I hope the noble Lord will at least feel that this debate has been not only worth while but also has been particularly well timed, because the very fact that decisions have not been taken means that the most authoritative speeches that we have heard to-day can be studied before decisions are: taken, rather than afterwards. This House is particularly rich in talent from the universities (at the moment we seem to have a young student present), and in no subject perhaps is this House better qualified. Sometimes, perhaps, Scotland and agriculture might be said to be themes on which we have a great deal of interest, and even perhaps driving cars; but, on the whole, in the field of education we have heard the most authoritative and interesting speeches to-day. I can only assure your Lordships that from the Government's point of view it has been an extremely useful debate.

Like other noble Lords, I would only say that I too am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Boyle of Handsworth, has not yet taken his seat, and therefore has not been able to speak in this debate. But I am sure we shall very much enjoy and learn from his contributions in the future. I would thank the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for her kind references to my noble friend Lord Belstead and myself. I have every sympathy with her. She said that she had no stake in the Department of Education and Science. Nor have I: I am, as she knows, at the Department of Health and Social Security. So she will have every sympathy with me if I make mistakes which arise from that reason.

As my noble friend made clear in his speech, the major problem to-day lies in planning the nature and extent of the expansion of higher education that is necessary in order to meet the expected rise in numbers of school-leavers with minimum qualifications for higher education. As he pointed out, the Department's projections suggest that in 1981 there will be a requirement for some 835,000 places in higher education. On their present sites the existing universities—and I mean the 45 institutions that are on the University Grants Committee's list—can be developed to take some 400,000 to 430,000 students, although I fully appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, had to say about this figure. That means about 200,000 more students than there are in the universities to-day, and it would constitute about half of the estimated total of places that have to be provided by the 1980s. There would also have to be a substantial increase in the number of students in polytechnics and other colleges.

As the House is aware, the previous Government put forward to the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals 13 specific suggestions to explore every possible avenue of reducing university costs. The replies of the Committee were not entirely negative. For example, they did not oppose the possibility of some students not proceeding to the customary three-year course but to a different course lasting only two years and leading to a different qualification. They accepted that there was scope for more intensive use of buildings and equipment. They accepted the possibility of more sharing of facilities between adjacent institutions, and accepted with reservations some further increase in student/staff ratios. These are all possible means of reducing costs and expanding numbers at the universities. The proposals and the comments that we are receiving on them will be most carefully studied by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I am grateful that many of your Lordships referred to different aspects of this problem: in particular the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, made a number of valuable comments, and so did the noble Lord, Lord Annan, as well as Lord Robbins himself.

The Government are well aware that universities and colleges are anxious to know as soon as possible what the pattern of development will be in the 1970s. We certainly do not intend to be dilatory in making up our minds; but it is surely better to come up with the right answer rather than a hasty answer that might be wrong.

I may be able to answer the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in saying that at the universities at present building programmes providing new places to come into use up to and including the academic year 1974–75 are already in hand. The recurrent grant on which numbers of students largely depend has long since been settled for the present quinquennium, which still has two years to run. The University Grants Committee themselves have proposed that the same kind of timetable should be followed as in the 1960s for negotiating the grants for the next quinquennium which starts in August, 1972. They have already taken the first step indicated by this timetable and have asked universities to consider their plans for 1972 to 1977 and to submit their proposals.

In the light of these proposals the University Grants Committee expect to be able to advise the Government in the summer or early autumn of 1971—that is, some twelve months before the quinquennium starts—on a provisional allocation of grant for the first year of the new quinquennium. A firm allocation for the period right through from 1972 to 1977 should be fixed about a year later, so giving the universities time to make their dispositions for the quinquennium as a whole. Some noble Lords, and my noble friend Lord Balerno in particular, referred to difficulties in this respect. There was a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, and I think by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, on the difficulties caused as a result of inflation in the course of a quinquennium, and certainly their points will be most carefully considered.

So far as the colleges of education are concerned, to which the noble Baroness referred, the future pattern of higher education depends fundamentally on whether the colleges should be extended and should diversify their rôle. This is a matter which the impending inquiry into teacher training will consider, and it would be premature to come to conclusions which might affect the colleges' future until that inquiry is complete. I understand that that inquiry has overtaken the previous inquiry to which the noble Baroness referred. May I repeat what my noble friend Lord Belstead said: how gratefully we acknowledge the work that has been done by these colleges in the past decade. I am sure that the Department of Education and Science would also wish me to acknowledge with gratitude the handsome tribute paid to them by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, on this account.

The polytechnics have quickly established their new position in the higher education world, though most of the 23 so far designated were created only this year. Their governing bodies, academic boards and directors, with the strong support and co-operation of the local education authorities, are immersed in the heavy but exciting task of planning their expansion so that they can take a full place, confidently and distinctively, alongside their well-established sister institutions, the universities.

I cannot mention the polytechnics without paying a tribute to the Council for National Academic Awards, over which the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, presides with such distinction. The Council has a vital role to play in the expansion of the polytechnics. The degrees the Council awards are no whit inferior in standard to degrees conferred by universities; indeed, some people have been heard to say that the standards they set are often more exacting. The students who obtain their degrees are keenly sought after by employers. In five years the number of students studying for their degrees has grown from 4.000 to more than 20,000. I should like to pay tribute to the many distinguished people from the universities, the technical colleges and industry who, by their visits to colleges, their hard work in committee and their constructive study of syllabuses, have made possible the rapid expansion in this field. I hope that as the polytechnics develop their own strength, their need for academic tutelage will diminish and with it the heavy load on the council's members and officers. While we are reviewing the entire range of higher education it is right that we also recognise the contribution of our further education institutions as a whole, and not only the polytechnics.

My Lords, I listened with the greatest of interest to the most interesting account given by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther, of the development of the Open University. This was also spoken of most warmly by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. The Government are concerned to extend educational opportunities and to meet the constantly growing demand for higher education—whether it is a demand for systematic, professional and vocational courses, or for education with less clearly defined aims which will improve knowledge and understanding of the world around us. The Open University was intended, with the aid of educational technology, to meet these purposes. However, as frequently happens with completely new developments, it has involved much heavier expenditure than was envisaged in its early days.

Your Lordships need no reminding that the Government are reviewing the programme of public expenditure. Every service, every development, has to be looked at, searchingly and objectively. The Open University, like anything else, is being examined from this point of view. Its claims must be weighed against others, not only in higher education but throughout the education system. However, I can assure your Lordships that in the course of this examination the views expressed so eloquently to-day will most certainly be taken fully into account.


My Lords, before the noble Lord leaves the subject of the Open University, is he able to answer the question of which I gave notice, about the position of the chronic sick and of prisoners in regard to the Open University?


My Lords, I am coming to that now. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, raised the subject of the long-sentence prisoner. As he knows, there are certain difficulties. He mentioned the difficulty of fees. The fees for an ordinary degree course are£140, and for an Honours degree course£180, spread over three and four years respectively. The amount that a prisoner would be expected to pay is a matter for the Open University. As the noble Earl knows, there are other difficulties, particularly access to radio and television, attendances at tutorial classes or summer school, and permission to use apparatus for science courses and so forth. But I understand that the Open University are in touch with the Prisons Department at the Home Office, and I have every hope that some of these difficulties can be overcome.

I have only one more thing to say. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, touched on the question of where students are to live. Finding the money for new residential places at£1,000 and more a place is a big problem, not only for the Government but for the local authorities and the institutions themselves. The universities are to be congratulated on having already raised loans from commercial sources sufficient to provide over 5,000 places, both cheaply and at little cost to the Exchequer. They will clearly have to rely heavily on this source of finance in the 'seventies, but in order to give them a fresh impetus the University Grants Committee are now ready to offer grants of up to 25 per cent. of the total cost. A number of people, including the students themselves, have put forward some new ideas for financing residence for students and other young people. We shall consider these ideas, but I can say to-day that we accept straight away one suggestion which has been put forward, that housing associations for postgraduate married students should be eligible for the same subsidies as other housing associations entering into arrangements with their local authority.

My Lords, I regret that that is the only decision I can offer to-day. I hope it is of some comfort to your Lordships. I should like again to thank the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, for giving us this opportunity for what has been a most interesting and valuable debate.

8.55 p.m.


My Lords, I fear that I trespassed unduly on the time of the House in opening the debate. I intend to avoid that error at this late hour. For me this has been an afternoon and an evening of absorbing interest. Speeches of great distinction have been made from various parts of the House. I was thrilled to hear from my noble friend Lord Crowther the authoritative account of the prospects of the Open University. I was stimulated and moved by the contributions (if it is not invidious to make a selection out of so notable a set of speeches) of Lord James, Lord Bowden, Lord Annan and others.

A great miscellany of subjects has been touched upon this evening, but I detect a certain continuity of direction and interest in what has been said. Three things, in particular, seem to me to stand out. The first is that the fact and the desirability of future expansion is recognised and has not been called in question. Secondly, it has been recognised (although in certain quarters it may perhaps be thought that the recognition was not sufficiently strong) that this expansion will cost a great deal of money and create many problems.

Thirdly, there has been exhibited in a variety of ways a determination to grapple with these problems with an open mind, not to be hidebound by traditions as to the future; to be willing to experiment with new forms of degrees, with new associations and institutions; even with the possibility (and I was immensely fascinated to think that it occurred to my noble friend Lord James) that in some cases the structure of higher education would be greatly improved if there were some interval between school leaving and the adoption of certain university careers. I myself have always thought that the Russians had a speck of an idea here, although in that country it is probably carried too far: there is an interval of two years between school leaving and the serious taking up of higher education, an interval which I should have thought would have been disastrous in the case of certain subjects but in other subjects has much to be said for it.

While as a teacher I have always found it more exciting to lecture in the day to students just fresh from school, who are able to appreciate one's poor jokes and not in the least intolerant of any devocations that may come into one's head as one talks, I have always thought that people who came along in the evenings, from offices and so on, or people who came back from two years with the Services, probably approached the subjects in a frame of mind which was quite as fruitful. But I must not expatiate on this. I would merely add that it seems to me to be gratifying that we are all now determined to approach these problems with open minds. I hope, at the same time, that we shall remember we are dealing with a going concern, and that the development of the next ten years will depend largely, if not entirely, on what is done in existing institutions.

I conclude with the remark with which I ended my opening speech: that we should cherish these institutions, we should be appreciative of the difficulties with which they are confronted, and we should realise that they constitute the main hope for the future. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion standing in my name.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.