HL Deb 04 March 1971 vol 315 cc1533-89

5.52 p.m.

VISCOUNT HANWORTH rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are satisfied that present day university education is fulfilling the long-term needs of the nation as a whole, and whether they will set up a broad-based Committee to investigate this question and make recommendations. The noble Viscount said: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Unstarred Question appearing under my name on the Order Paper. I think noble Lords will be relieved to know that I do not propose to speak for more than about 12 minutes.

I gave considerable thought before putting down this Question, because I want to raise matters which I think are important but should be discussed without Party bias and without the emotional overtones with which this subject is so often associated. I put it down as an Unstarred Question because I did not realise the number of noble Lords who would be interested to speak. In fact, I did not know about this until comparatively late in the day. I also feel that at the present time some of the issues which I am going to raise are very live ones. People are beginning to think about these problems; and I should have been sorry to have had to postpone this Question or turn it into a Motion, which might have delayed the debate for a matter of perhaps months. Anyway, may I apologise to noble Lords that this is the wav it has turned out, and for the fact that the hour is now rather late?

My Lords, throughout my life I have been taught when considering any problem to define the object or the aim at the outset, and that is precisely what I think needs to be done in considering the future of university education. I believe that we are tending blindly to assume that all education, no matter of what kind, is per se good, and the more people who have it the better. I suppose that this is, broadly sneaking, true. After all, we are learning something new nearly all our lives. But it seems to me that this viewpoint is being extended towards the unacceptable proposition that all academic learning, no matter of what kind, is equally useful and acceptable to everyone; in other words, the qualitative aspect is not being given sufficient weight.

Before going on to suggest what I think the objects of higher education are, or should be, I should like for a moment to consider the historical reasons why our thoughts about education have developed as they seem to have done. In the Middle Ages, education was clearly allied to culture, and separated those who possessed it from the rather barbaric outside world. This sort of distinction found expression in more modern times in the differences between the educated and the uneducated people, and, of course, was one of the factors perpetuating our class system. From this stem the natural, logical but, if I may say so, slightly doctrinal views of the Socialist Party on such matters.

In earlier days, of course, the accent was on Classics, and this influence continued right up to the last war. The utility of Classics, my Lords, has often been justified on the grounds that it provided a better training of the mind and taught a logical approach to problems which other disciplines were not able to do so effectively. I hated Classics, but I think there may have been something in this argument, and it certainly supports what I am going to say later on.

During this period the older universities considered themselves first of all, and foremost, as seats of learning and of research. And the staff gained distinction not by their ability to teach the average student but by their academic achievement; also by their reputation in relation to those students who could obtain a first or high second-class honours degree and might be assumed to add lustre to the universities' academic reputation. Perhaps at this time this did not matter too much. Those with private means were said to gain many other things besides learning from their stay at "Oxbridge", and those without such means came mostly in the top academic bracket. Alongside our universities, but considered well below the salt, were the technical colleges, with a much more down-to-earth policy and role. In our recent expansion of universities, many technical colleges have been upgraded or absorbed, and instead of re-thinking the role of the new universities the tendency has been to concentrate solely on obtaining high academic reputation and to follow the former ideals of "Oxbridge".

Returning now to the main theme of this Question, I suggest that the aims of higher education can conveniently be considered under three broad headings: first, to train future academics and research workers; secondly, to give students training which will be useful in their work afterwards and is directly of benefit to the nation; thirdly, and perhaps almost more important, to develop intellectual ability and to make students happier and better potential citizens in the very broadest sense of the word. As I have already said, universities have concentrated on the first objective—that is, the training of future academics and research workers—and they do this, I think, fairly well, although I am sure there is room for improvement; for example, in Ph.D. courses. However, this sort of approach is valuable only for those capable of obtaining a first-class or high second-class degree, and these represent only a small proportion of the total student population.

The second objective is met to perhaps the greatest extent where the subject studied is directly concerned with some profession—for example, engineering—and particularly if direct contact is maintained with industry by attachments to firms during the Long Vacation or as a part of the course. I am not suggesting that industry are ideal mentors or that they know how to use highly trained and intelligent young men to the best advantage; but such attachments certainly help to keep a realistic approach to what is taught and the students' reactions to it. Nevertheless, it seems that there is an increasing tendency for industry to place less and less value on university training, except for the higher grades of specialists in such subjects as mathematics and physics. This is extremely unfortunate, because one of the main reasons for expanding universities was to provide for the increasing need for highly trained people.

The fundamental reason for this dissatisfaction is, I submit, that university education is not training people to think clearly, to tackle and analyse problems clearly; nor to increase their power to make logically based criticisms, to weigh factors and to arrive at valid conclusions.

This is my fundamental and most important criticism of our present-day education. And, my Lords, if it fails to do this, is it really education? What does it then achieve unless it be a cramming of supposed facts, many of which are often highly irrelevant to anything a person may require or want or need in afterlife?

Before considering the third aim, that of creating better potential citizens, I must make it absolutely clear that I am not—I repeat, not—suggesting that university education should be solely directed towards what is likely to be needed by the professions and industry; nor am I suggesting that the individual choice of subject should be restricted more than it is at present. I will, however, say quite categorically that unless a university course can be justified as training future academics and research workers, as a general training of the mind or under the heading of citizenship (which I am about to discuss) it does not deserve the large expenditure which is involved.

If the future of democracy lies in the electorate taking an increasing part in deciding major issues—and I think that this is how it must go—it can be successful only if a growing number of people are capable of understanding, assessing and weighing the complex issues which are involved. They must be able to approach supposed facts with scepticism, and to recognise propaganda and publicity for what they are. They must know the point at which personal feelings and emotion affect their judgment. I am not saying that judgment should not be so affected, but simply that people should know at what point they are weighting a factor with emotion. This is surely a major part of education. Most of it comes under the heading of training people to think, which I have already mentioned. This sort of thing is taught to-day in business schools, in the Services, in staff colleges and elsewhere. But is it sufficiently a part of a university arts course, or even a science course? Perhaps in universities it could be dignified by the title of logic which has a respectable academic ancestry. I would also suggest that to-day there is a vital need for arts students to know something of what science is about and what, in general terms, it can and cannot do. This, I should think, is quite as important as the reverse process.

My Lords, what I am really saying is that learning for learning's sake is not enough; that its usefulness in the broadest sense—and I do not exclude personal satisfaction and fulfilment—must be taken into account when considering its value as a whole. As I said at the outset, the purpose of the Unstarred Question was to encourage the people concerned with shaping our universities' destiny to think about what I feel is a very important matter. And I hope that this can be done in a non-Party and unemotional atmosphere. It is therefore unwise to start making detailed criticisms of universities. Nevertheless, in conclusion I propose to make three. Although these criticisms do not apply to all universities they are points which I should like considered by those who are responsible for shaping the destinies of our universities.

First, the standard of lecturing and the methods of instruction in our universities are sometimes extremely poor. Almost all other responsible organisations, and of course the teaching profession, realise that short courses of instruction on lecturing and teaching are essential. They also know that some people, however academically well qualified, are temperamentally unsuited to teaching or helping all but the very best of students, who are capable of getting a really good degree. Universities are therefore almost alone in appointing lecturers with almost a complete disregard of these two considerations. I do not believe that this situation—which, incidentally, causes a great deal of student unrest—will greatly improve until the status of a senior and efficient lecturer is no longer primarily judged on his published research work.

Secondly, I consider it the greatest mistake that university staff who are concerned with student education should often be appointed directly after finishing their own education. They cannot possibly have acquired the balanced point of view and maturity which some experience in the outside world could give them. Thirdly, although some students, even at 19, are imbued with a sense of purpose strong enough to continue to work efficiently alone, apart from supervision essays, for three or more years, I do not believe that this applies to the majority. I will categorically say from experience in after-life that it does not apply to many people of maturer years who need the stimulation of working as one of a team or being responsible for controlling others. Universities must provide a corporate atmosphere which fosters interest in work and other social activities. Some try hard to do this; others, in my opinion, fail badly. I venture to think that perhaps some noble Lords, who I fancy may disagree will me on this point, may view their student days through rather rose-tinted spectacles. Be that as it may, I should still argue, as I have said earlier in this speech, that the conditions at university are not what they were in the more leisured days.

My Lords, I have purposely avoided making any recommendations as to what I think might be done to improve matters. I have not been able to go round looking at universities in enough detail to feel that I could say anything useful. What I am trying to do is merely to raise these questions in the hope that those who know far more than I do will assess them and come up with the right answers.

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, the number of speakers on the list shows the great interest aroused by the Unstarred Question tabled by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. I am sure that the whole House will be grateful to him for the opportunity he has provided for discussing this subject. The Question itself not only provides noble Lords with an opportunity of expressing their views but provides Her Majesty's Government with a timely opportunity to state their views and, perhaps more importantly, their intentions in this field of higher education. Inevitably our minds go back to the Robbins Report and, once again, we are aware of our indebtedness to Lord Robbins and to his colleagues. They made this nation face a challenge. That they underestimated that challenge, that the targets they projected have already been overtaken, is more a tribute to quickened growth of demand following the expansion of opportunities than a criticism.

From that experience there are many important lessons to be learned. One of the most important, I think, is that when we have improved the quality of our primary schools; when we have given them the resources, particularly teachers, that will enable children to proceed to secondary education equipped to take advantage of what is there available; and especially when we have created a truly comprehensive secondary system and raised the school-leaving age; then the tremendous increase in demand for higher education will make what we refer to to-day as the "explosion" look more like a "bulge".

The Question tabled by the noble Viscount speaks of university education. I would dare to suggest, my Lords, that we have to look at this within the context of the existing framework of higher education as a whole. We have the universities and the polytechnics; we have colleges of education and also the most recent development, the Open University. These vary considerably in the freedom they enjoy, the roles they fill and, I fear, the status which is accorded to them. Mr. Tyrell Burgess, writing in the New Statesman on January 29 this year, put the position of the universities as follows: The independence of universities is much prized even by people outside them: it is one of the first things that totalitarian powers attack. This means that we want the universities to be able to resist the demands of society, and their financing through the University Grants Committee is designed to secure their independence. But it also means that we cannot expect them to respond quickly to social or industrial demand; to produce different kinds of graduates, for example, or to widen opportunity. I should like to set beside that what was written by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Lancaster in that very valuable little book Patterns and Policies in Higher Education: Personally I think that the British universities have reason to be proud of their recent record of innovation, of research into their own activities, and of regard for economy and the public good; this suggests to me that we have got the balance between freedom and order about right. My Lords, the polytechnics, on the other hand, are under the control of the local education authorities. Their intake has been based on far less rigid and formal entry requirements. They have developed largely on the basis of professional and vocational education. In their growth they have been very responsive to the demands of the students, local industry and commerce. The degrees awarded to their students are conferred by the Council for National Academic Awards—the C.N.A.A. If I may say so, my Lords, that is not too exciting a set of initials. They strike me as being somewhat clumsy, and some people think that when compared with university degrees they suggest a distinction with a difference.

The Open University, which owes so much to the interest, influence and determination of the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, is, of course, quite new and unique. One of its great virtues is that the world may see on the screen something of what is going on there and how it is being done. Would-be students can get an excellent insight into what it offers. I think it open to question, my Lords, whether we really need a new committee; but if we do have one, it ought to review the matter of university education—as I think I have said already—within the context of the whole field of higher education. At the moment we have an inquiry going on into teacher training. There are many who feel that this should have been—or, for that matter, still should be—part of an investigation into the whole area of higher education. I should like to see colleges of education catering for a much wider range of courses and for a broader intake of students.

I have mentioned the different sectors of the service of higher education, and one questions whether the total resources made available to them are being used to the best advantage. One has in mind such things as the pooling of resources in terms of student amenities, the sharing of libraries and equipment and the sharing or the interchange of staffs. I think that notice could be taken with advantage of the media of communication used by the Open University. Far greater use should be made of top professors and teachers by using T.V. on a much greater scale, and video tape and things like that.

Looking at the book issued by the Department of Education and Science for 1969, I think that, in one particular at least—medical education—there appears to be some gross inequality of opportunity between the sexes. May I give the figures? In 1968 there were 1,995 men students compared with only 683 women. I should like the Minister to say whether he regards this position as satisfactory; and if it is not so regarded, will he give some indication of how the matter is to be dealt with? I would also ask the Minister whether he is satisfied that we can afford the wastage which occurs at present in some of our universities. I am told that it is sometimes very considerable and I should like to know whether, in some instances, it is 15 per cent, or approaching 20 per cent. If it does reach that figure at any college or university, it is very considerable. If people drop out, it is a matter for concern. They were selected because they qualified. I am saying that not only is it wasteful, but, speaking in human terms, it is also thoroughly had for most of the individuals concerned.

I doubt whether this wastage would happen but for the long lists of candidates for entry. It seems to me that there is need to provide, or to improve the provision, for changing courses or indeed colleges where an unwise first choice has been made. We cannot afford the wastage of rejection, and perhaps I may be permitted to say also that we cannot afford the wastage of selection either. We cannot be satisfied with the system that we have until places are available for all who are qualified. For this is surely the essential ingredient if we are to have a comprehensive system of higher education—comprehensive in terms of opportunity and availability of courses.

In this context, I find it disturbing that the proportion of students going to universities from the homes of men who are workers does not seem to rise in any significant way. I believe that this is a matter of concern, because this is an area of great potential. I think it was the Robbins Committee who remarked that if working class children get to A level they do not drop out. That prompts me to raise the issue of sixth-form grants. I should like to ask the Minister whether he is able to indicate that any consideration is being given to this matter, since it is vital, if we are to encourage young people to continue full-time study after compulsory school-leaving age. The nation needs all the brain power that it can develop. I wonder whether Her Majesty's Government are reviewing, or will indicate that they are prepared to review, the question of parental contributions in regard to student grants. Now that we have raised the age of majority to 18, it is surely a little absurd that the position remains as it was before.

We are witnessing the development of polytechnics alongside universities, and there is some feeling that the distinction between them tends to reflect adversely on the polytechnics. Anything that can be done to secure equality of status is to be welcomed. Parity of esteem is not merely an ideal to be prized; it is a goal for achievement. By all means let us have a varied and differentiated system but a system within which there is equality in principle in terms of support and appreciation. Could we not have recognition that courses offered in different establishments are of full higher education status?

I began by saying that this debate gives Her Majesty's Government a timely opportunity to state their views and intentions. I should like to ask the Minister what estimate the Government have made as to the number of students likely to be qualified for higher education in the years 1981–82. The figures projected in this valuable little Penguin. Patterns and Policies in Higher Education, is of some 847,000. Do the Government accept that figure? Does that figure take into account the truly explosive effects of raising school-leaving age and of secondary reorganisation? I have a feeling that when we get to 1981–82 the figure is going to be much higher than 847,000. What are the student figures that the Government are working on for the next quinquennium; and what is the cash allocation for the universities to be? Will the polytechnics be treated in as generous a manner, in a manner that indicates parity of esteem? For it is by the treatment that is meted out that the impression as to whether one type of education is first-class and another second-class can be avoided. It is a very old saying that: He who wills the ends must will the means. If this nation is to prosper and its people to be resourceful in their enjoyment of life in all its facets, then we must develop a system of higher education that is comprehensive in terms of intake and opportunities.

The Question suggests the setting up of a Committee. Committees can be used, and so often are, to delay. There are in this field of higher education matters which call fairly urgently for decisions, and these decisions fall to be taken by Her Majesty's Government. Rather than a Committee, I think it would be better at this stage if they told us what they intend to do in regard to numbers of students, finance, facilities and full use of existing resources; if they could give us something of a master plan, maybe by way of a White Paper. If they cannot do that, then there may be merit in appointing a Committee. But if a Committee is appointed, then one hopes that it will get to work quickly. There is a point that I think ought to be taken into account. It really is not so long ago since we had the Robbins Committee and the Robbins Report, and in so many respects that Report indicated the way ahead.

6.27 p.m.


My Lords, I join in expressing gratitude to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for asking this Question, and I associate myself with him because I agree with so much, if not all, of what he said and the various criticisms he made. I must apologise to your Lordships if I am unable to stay to the end of this debate. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, I had not anticipated that there would be so many speakers, and I am afaid that I have another engagement. Unless your Lordships have got into the habit that you so well started the other evening of getting through six speeches in 18 minutes (which must be a record for your Lordships' House) then, as I say, I may have to leave before the end of the debate. I do not think that I am going to be provocative, and I am certainly going to do my part to see that things are kept fairly short.

I join with the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, in saying that we must look at this in the context of higher education as a whole. I do not think we can take university education as it is, because it is part of a bigger scene. This field is vast, and I should like in my brief intervention this evening to take three or four points which seem to me to be causing concern to those who are involved in this work, and to suggest three or four possible remedies.

The noble Lord, Lord Annan, in an interesting and important speech made recently to the University of East Anglia, warned us about too great a reliance on degrees and different classes of degrees. In a recent visit to a university, I enjoyed the kind hospitality of the son of the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, and was able to appreciate the enormous good work he was doing there. I was made well aware by a number of people of the perturbation of those responsible for the welfare of undergraduates of the number of undergraduates at universities who do not really want to be there but who have gone because of pressure, sometimes from their parents, and in some cases from their teachers and schools. I think that this is an unrealised problem, but it is one to which the universities are waking up more and more.

Another point raised recently is that there is a study by the group which produced the excellent paper Higher Education in the 'Seventies, which strongly made the point that persons wanting a higher education should not necessarily be confronted just with the choice of a three-year course or nothing, but that there is a considerable case for shorter courses. Another matter which seems to me to call for some concern is that of the difficulty of integrating the student in society. The student tends to feel rootless and uninvolved when he wants to be involved. I am sure that that is one of the reasons for the sometimes excessive reaction to political events and matters of the internal university order which characterised the university scene a couple of years ago and may well do so again.

The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, touched on the problem of the failure to provide higher education for the children of manual workers. To-day, the proportion of the children of manual workers who receive university education is about 25 per cent. That is not to say that 25 per cent. of the children of manual workers receive university education, but that 25 per cent. of the university population are children of manual workers. We may say that this is a great step forward, but the proportion is the same as it was in 1926. There does not appear to be much sign that it will necessarily be any different in another 44 years.

Although these may seem very separate problems, I hope to show your Lordships in a moment that they tie in together.

One of the great headaches of the next few years is going to be the problem of paying for university education and higher education. I do not believe, any more than Sir William Alexander, that the sums of money mentioned in the White Paper on Public Expenditure for Education will cover the expenses to which the Government are quite rightly committed. We have underestimated, and we are still continuing to underestimate, what the cost will be. It is right that primary education should be given a priority by the Government, although I and some of my colleagues would prefer that pre-primary education ranked as high. There is little doubt that the priority headache of the present Government is going to be how to pay for and deal with higher education.

These are some of the points which are giving rise to concern, but taken together they point to a need for some radical rethinking of the higher and further education complex which is why, in slight contrast to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, I hope that another committee will look at the problem. The work of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and his colleagues, was absolutely first class. It is not all that long ago, but things have moved very quickly in this field, a lot of work has been carried out and a lot of problems and points have arisen since then. Such a committee might look at the difference between vocational and general education as the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, suggests, not with a view to saying that one type of person should have a general education and one type of person should have a vocational education, but that eventually everybody should have both, and that you can do it more effectively, efficiently and more cheaply if you realise the difference between the two and plan accordingly.

Perhaps there should be less examinations and pieces of paper internally in the education system. Perhaps—as the professions do—employers should be made to do their own selection, instead of relying on the certificates which come out of the institutions of education. This would go some way to meeting my noble friend Lord Annan's point. Perhaps there should be more short courses in higher education, more sandwich courses, more part-time courses, thus giving a greater integration for the student in the community and in the nation. It might also help with the provision of education for the children of manual workers—witness the interesting experience of Bristol College of Science and Technology which, in the course of becoming the Bath University of Technology, noticed a falling off in children coming from manual workers' homes, not because of the higher education requirements, but because of the change of image and the type of institution that the college had become.

My Lords, these are just a few suggestions, but I hope that they will be enough to suggest that there really is a case for looking at the whole complex of higher and further education again, and that is why I join with the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, in asking the Government to set up a Committee.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, first I should like to refer to what the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said about his recent visit to a university. I should like to assure him that at that university he left a very profound impression, and for days afterwards the students were still thinking about what he said and using what he said as material for those informal, and sometimes interminable, discussions of which students are so fond and which are so useful for the development of the academic mind at that age.

I propose to take up a rather different aspect of the question which the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, has posed. I wish to apply myself to the question of whether the exhibitions of student violence and intolerance may be taken as an indication that university education is not fulfilling the long-term needs of the nation as a whole. In the past year, student violence has been manifested in at least three of the Scottish universities, though perhaps not on quite the scale in which it has been happening in certain universities and polytechnics in England. Recently at Heriot-Watt University the final of a series of purely academic lectures on the international scene was given by the Chancellor of the University. The invitation to deliver the lecture was, however, based rather on the fact that he is the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and has extensive experience of the problem. The title of the lecture was, "Britain and the International Scene".

The actual lecture was delivered in continuous noise created by a relatively small number of persons, some of whom shouted continuously. There was never a minute of the hour's lecture without uproar. In consequence, despite a microphone, the greater part of the lecture was unheard by the audience. The majority present—both academic staff and students—had to listen to slogans, many quite incomprehensible, some of them obscene to a degree, and some of them blasphemous. The lecture was concluded with an attack on the platform which was foiled by the police. An analysis of the situation disclosed that very few of the interrupters were students of the University. Subsequently it was discovered that several bus-loads of students had been brought in from other universities in Scotland, and from one in England. These persons gained access to the hall by means of forged tickets.

The point I wish to make is that only a very small percentage of students resort to violence. This is proved by the fact that in any one university the very few who support violence have to adopt the technique of "rent-a-mob" in order to gain the disruption by violence. What matters is that the 98 per cent. of students who are opposed to violence do nothing about it. Admittedly the vast majority are not interested at all in "demos" of any kind—peaceful or violent. They want to get on with their studies and the other more fruitful and beneficial activities of the healthy undergraduate—healthy, both in body and in mind; and this is understandable. But the 30 per cent. or so who involve themselves in the election of students' official representatives are in large measure to blame if their elected representatives fail to condemn utterly student violence in all its forms.

It is this 30 per cent. of students and their elected mouthpieces who make one wonder whether present-day university education is fulfilling the needs of the nation as a whole. To seek truth is the essence of the university; and truth can be discovered only where there is freedom of discussion, orderly discussion. Any denial of freedom of speech in a university spells doom, doom to the quality of its teaching; and denial by violence is fraught with the most grave national consequences. A very wise and experienced professor who was present at the lecture by Sir Alec Douglas-Home told me that it reminded him of a similar demonstration of student violence—similar even to the unkempt appearance of the demonstrators, tousled and unwashed, and without humour. That demonstration, my Lords, took place when he was a graduate student in Germany in the early 'thirties, and soon after it Hitler took over.

I suspect, but I have no proof, that those student hooligans who resort to violence are receiving grants from the State at an average appreciably above that of the majority of the students. If so, this highlights the Question we are debating. Certainly these hooligan students are contributing nothing to the welfare of the nation which provides them with a living as well as with an education. Certainly it would be a pity if the present appeal by the National Union of Students for a very substantial increase in student grants were to be turned down, or substantially reduced, because of these outbreaks of student violence by a very few. But we must recognise that public opinion is hardening against students and any increase in their grants. No other major country in the whole world makes such generous grants to its needy students, and grants on such a wide scale, as Britain does.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, asks whether … university education is fulfilling the long-term needs of the nation". My reply is that to a very large extent universities are doing so, but they are doing so at only about 70 per cent. of their possible efficiency. Moreover, universities are also fostering, albeit not deliberately, an academic bias which will certainly poison the well of truth. The universities, I submit, have as great a duty to protect the majority of their students as they have to care for the minorities. But, with all respect to the noble Viscount, I question whether we need a Committee to point this out. But I know what we do need: we need more resolution in combating violence and intolerance, resolution at all levels throughout the universities—students, staff and governors—and to that resolution I would add humour. In conclusion, I venture to quote from Samuel Butler: For Truth is precious and divine, Too rich a pearl for carnal swine. My Lords, rather than a Committee, we need courage to deal with carnal swine.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure I shall be voicing the opinion of the whole House when I say how much we have appreciated the speech which has just been made by the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, on one particular, important aspect of university life that receives a good deal of prominence in the Press and which can create a great deal of undeserved antagonism towards students as a whole. With other Peers, I feel we owe a debt to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, for raising the important issue of university education at the present time, and for introducing the subject as he did. The form in which the Question is set must in the nature of the case make it an impossible one to answer with any degree of accuracy. The Question refers to "the long-term needs of the nation". That can be defined in a number of different ways: in terms of the nation's quality of life, the quality of life of all its citizens; in terms of economic prosperity and progress; in terms of unity within the nation; in terms of social and political awareness, and in terms of the opportunity for individual citizens to develop as fully as possible for their own self-realisation, and so to be in a position, if they choose, to make a positive and valuable contribution to society and to the world.

How far are universities contributing to these ends and to these needs? I do not think one could begin to give an appropriate answer to that question without first asking an underlying one to which the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, referred: "What are universities for?". The answer is often erroneously defined at the graduate stage as trying to match a planned number of trained graduates to a projected number of employment vacancies. This is, however, to take much too narrow a view of what university education is all about. The arguments here are sometimes clouded by the fact that some university courses provide not merely an education but also a training—for instance, in medicine or in law. But, although the element of training is in the last resort dispensable, for one can train elsewhere for medicine or for law, the element of education is strictly speaking indispensable; it is essential, independently valid, and the overriding purpose of a university course.

Essentially, this purpose is to teach a man or woman to distinguish the true from the false; the genuine from the spurious; the valuable from the meretricious; the significant from the insignificant, whereby he may refine his sensibilities, order his thoughts and exercise his powers of judgment and of expression to the point where he is capable of intellectual maturity. Whether this is achieved through the study of the law of tort or of Mediaeval French literature or of the molecular structure of proteins is in essence immaterial. The value of university education is to provide a basis to contributing in the student's work and family life without respect to the particular job that he or she obtains.

To this I would add a further purpose in universities; namely, to enable students to associate with others of their own age and with scholars and teachers in different faculties, so that they may at least obtain some concept of education and learning in its widest and most universal terms. Furthermore, the life and setting of the university should offer a wide variety of activities to create a stimulating social environment, without being isolated from the community as a whole, so that those who go to university may have the fullest opportunities of development as people. If these factors, or something like them, can be taken to cover what universities are for, this immediately raises the question as to who should be admitted to university education, how much will it cost and what results one might expect to find as a result of university education in terms of meeting the long-term needs of the nation. What I have to say in this regard excludes the important aspect of post-graduate research and the estimate of its contribution to the nation, and the relationship to its cost in men and women hours and in finance. I confine myself to students taking a first degree.

The Robbins Committee and successive Governments since that Committee made their Report have always attached great importance—with which I imagine all your Lordships would agree—to providing an education at university level, not necessarily in a university as such, for all who are capable of profiting from it, who are capable of completing it successfully and who wish to enjoy it. It has been the official view that to deny young people the opportunity to benefit from a university education or from an education at university level was both socially unjust and politically unwise. University expansion in the 'sixties was therefore designed chiefly on the basis of calculating from the growing future demand from suitably qualified sixth formers for university education. Both the overall student numbers and what is commonly called the student "mix"—crudely, the proportion of science based to non-science based students—are derived from calculations and projections of possible future demand.

But in relationship to what universities are for, this objective by itself is inadequate and fraught with certain dangers. We cannot do educational justice to students if the primary intention is to mould them to fit specific jobs. Faced with the challenge of the pressures of existing policies, universities, and particularly the new universities which have been established to provide for the rapid increase in student numbers, have achieved far more than is often attributed to them.

What is being asked of universities has, however, produced at least three major problems. First, the new universities have not always been in a position to provide a total university environment adequate for the rapidly increasing numbers entering these universities. In particular, there has been a lag within some universities in the provision of social amenities sufficient in quality, scope and size to keep pace with the annual increase of intake. Second, these universities have often not been able to provide or to find sufficient satisfactory living accommodation for students. Naturally it is the extreme cases where students are having to put up with squalid "digs", or accommodation too far from the university, which receive the greatest publicity. The proportion of students inadequately housed may not be large, but it is on a scale that is certainly worrying. And if at the present time that issue is worrying, further expansion is likely to make this particular aspect of accommodation an acute problem. I profoundly hope that the University Grants Committee may yield to what I understand has been the frequent request of Vice-Chancellors to allocate more money far student residences.

The third problem, which is natural enough in any rapidly expanding university situation, is the provision of courses which are suited to the particular qualifications and motivation of individual students, together with adequate contact on a personal level between teachers and students. University education will fall far short of the best unless those who teach not only are capable of teaching but also regard their responsibility to their students as having about an equal claim as their success and diligence in personal research. Here one may ask whether it might not be desirable, as the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has suggested, to give more flexibility to students to change their courses, particularly at the end of their first year, and even, if need be, to switch to another university if its courses are better suited to the interests of that student.

All these problems are understandable growing pains in a rapidly expanding university situation. They are responsible for at least some of the unrest and frustration experienced by a good many students, but not for the character of student unrest and frustration which has led to the type of violence which the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, referred to. If it be the case that by 1980 the number of young people who are likely to profit from a university education will be doubled, will the country be able to afford this without lowering the quality of education, including amenity and social facilities and the provision of further accommodation for students from central funds? If the standards are allowed to fall one can predict a large number of young people going to university, being frustrated when they get there and failing to benefit. In some cases this is undoubtedly happening at the present time.

There is a further cause of possible frustration if the increase in student places is pursued on the basis of present policies; that is to say, how many students emerging as graduates will find themselves frustrated by having come to university with wrong expectations about job possibilities after graduation, being led to expect that more prestigious and better paid jobs will result as a consequence of their getting a degree? There is already a good deal of anxiety among students at the present time about what the future may have in store for them in the way of worthwhile jobs when they come to graduate. It looks as if we are faced with a choice between frustration at the "in-put" end—sixth formers with adequate qualifications failing to gel a place—frustration during the university period because the facilities are inadequate or because the student is channelled into a course which is determined by factors other than the long-term intellectual benefit of the student, or frustration at the "out-put" end in connection with the jobs which graduates find.

My own view is that when the Government have decided how much of their Budget can be allocated to this vastly important factor of the nation's life—university education—the number of places should be determined by the maximum numbers commensurate with a university education of adequate and high quality—and here I particularly welcome the emphasis on quality which was mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth—including amenities and social environment, and the number of students should not be increased to the detriment of the quality of the education provided. I believe it is in the long-term national interest to underpin the quality of university life in a setting which has regard not only to the intellectual needs of the students but to the spiritual, social and physical needs as well. A young person will be much better off with no university education at all than with frustration, disillusionment and apathy, which can all too easily result from inadequate provision within university life—a situation which is counter-productive on leaving university.

Priority must surely be given to the maintenance of the quality of university education and, within the conditions required for this, a sustained effort to provide as much finance as possible to increase the number of university places in order that the universities may be able to accept all, or as many as possible, of those who show that they have the capacity to benefit from a university education. I am referring solely to university education because this is the sphere of education to which the Question refers, and not to the many other important aspects of further education. Provided that the calibre of university education is adequate, I do not believe that graduates who fail to get what have been commonly regarded as graduate jobs will necessarily feel that going to university has therefore been a waste of time. Even with the disappointment of being unable to get the work they would like to do, they will be more likely to appreciate university education as of lasting value in its own right; and, if so, both they and the community will stand to benefit.

The last point I wish to make I will state briefly, but I think it is important. I am sure it will be in the national interest if those who are accepted for universities are encouraged and enabled to start their courses a year or so after leaving school. The intervening time could be spent in a number of ways which would help them to gain in maturity, in sense of responsibility and in breadth of experience, and thus to be in a better position to relate the opportunities of a university education to the objectives of their lives as a whole. I believe that Her Majesty's Government are giving some thought as to whether a feasible or acceptable plan can be found to achieve this, but I recognise that there are a number of problems and difficulties to be resolved if it is to be achieved. I hope, however, that, whether or not a broad-based Committee should be appointed, as the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth has proposed, this last matter will be taken into consideration by Her Majesty's Government as one of the factors which could do much to enable young people from their university education to gain the greatest benefit and so make the biggest contribution to the life of the nation.

7.3 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Viscount who put down this Unstarred Question and gave us the opportunity of discussing this important subject referred, of course, to the objectives and aims of university education. In my view, nowhere have these been better presented than in the Robbins Report, and I therefore make no apology for quoting from it at a little length—and I can only say that I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has not put his name down as one of the speakers. The Report says: We deceive ourselves if we claim that more than a small fraction of students in institutions of higher education would be where they are if there were no significance for their future careers in what they hear and read, and it is a mistake to suppose that there is anything discreditable in this. It must be recognised that in our times progress, and particularly the maintenance of a competitive post, depends to a much greater extent than ever before on skills demanding special training. … While emphasising that there is no betrayal of values when institutions teach what will be of practical use, we must postulate that what is taught should be taught in such a way as to promote the general powers of the mind. That seems to me to state very well indeed, and also to some extent to resolve, what I see to be the dilemma of university education in the practical technical subjects, and nowhere is that dilemma greater than in medicine. If most of my examples are derived from my experience in the teaching of medicine, it is only for the reason that I think it illustrates this dilemma between what is a good general education and what is a training for a practical art. What the Robbins statement means to me is that I am right to teach and to practise the practical arts within a university education, but in doing so I do not dogmatically instruct my students but teach them how to lead to their own conclusions. So much for the method in which the practical technical arts may be taught.

But as to exactly what should be taught we are in even more difficulty. Clearly the medical student must be taught certain scientific principles, and in some of these he should seek the opportunity of studying in depth, and developing, of course, the habit of weighing evidence, as an educated person and a scientific person should do. But on the other hand the doctor particularly, and I guess the lawyer, the clergyman and others, needs to know a little about a great many other things, and it is here I think that university education tends to fail.

It has been a notable experience since I joined your Lordships' House that a very large number of issues have arisen—I have myself taken part in the discussions: issues which are of great importance to doctors but about which in general there is no information given to students during their university education. Perhaps I exaggerate a little by saying no instruction is given at all, but very little. Subjects such as abortion, contraception, prevalence of bronchitis in coalminers, all these have been discussed in my time in this House; and also divorce, smoking, homosexuality, the facilities for the disabled, euthanasia, the misuse of drugs and the treatment of the dying. None of these are adequately covered in an ordinary university course on medicine. Neither are certain other important subjects, such as sex education, the ethics of human experiment and emotional factors in organic disease. I am not saying that nobody teaches these subjects, but I do say that on the whole the university teachers in medicine are not particularly interested in them and have little or no experience in them. I of course know that very few of our 25 or so medical schools are at present trying to remedy these defects in medical education.

What I feel to be this dilemma was summed up for me, when I was a member of the Royal Commission on Medical Education, in the words of one of our more scientifically orientated members, when he said to me, "After all, man is a chemical engine". How true, how splendid, how scientifically correct and how revealing, and how right that we should from time to time see man in that way! Man is a chemical engine. So, my Lords, is an amoeba, an earthworm, a dogfish; but what a horrible philosophy to teach the doctors of the future. Too long medical school education has taught of man as a machine, man as a corpse, but never man as an individual.

The difficulty is twofold, the teachers and the taught. Other noble Lords have referred to the fact that university teachers are not always selected by their ability to teach. Neither in my profession are they selected by their ability to practise medicine. I have many times been asked by notable universities to give a reference for an applicant to a chair of medicine in their medical school. I have been asked about the academic attainments of the candidate and how he would fit in with the university atmosphere; what kind of a colleague he is and, above all, what is his record in research. Hardly ever have I been asked whether he is a good doctor who will teach the right attitude towards his patients.

In the Royal Commission Report we heard a great deal about teaching subjects at university level; but I think a certain amount of nonsense can be made of this if it is carried too far. For instance, I personally believe that to witness the birth of a baby is a part of medical education which everyone should have, whatever his subsequent career is to be. But I never found the answer as to how babies are born "at university level", though I admit the sad fact that some of them are conceived on university premises. University teachers as a whole have an unfortunate tendency towards what the noble Earl, Lord Lauderdale (quoting, I think), referred to the other day as sheer technological arrogance, the very obstruction of wisdom. Sooner or later the universities have to realise that, in addition to studies in depth, the doctor, the lawyer, the engineer, the theologian or the musician want a little knowledge of a lot of things—in medicine, such things as sociology, psychological factors in disease, and so forth. Yet if one tries to present these subjects at the level of informed discussion, rather than as studies in depth, only a small proportion of the students will turn up, partly because our examination system is such that they are far too impressed with the necessity for passing examinations and therefore less interested in any subject or discussion on which they think they will not be examined; and also, very importantly, because they are from the very beginning of their course conditioned to be interested only in certain aspects of medicine which happen to interest their teachers. Through this, there is a danger that by the time the students have finished their medical course they have been so indoctrinated in science that the inspiration and the compassion, and the zeal with which they entered the medical school, will have become dispersed.

My answer to the question raised by the noble Viscount is that I am not satisfied with the present-day university education as fulfilling the long-term needs of the nation; but I am not by any means certain that a broad-based Committee to investigate the question and to make recommendations would do very much good.

7.14 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to express my agreement with the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, in asking for a new look at our present university set-up and the direction in which it appears to be now moving in a fairly rapidly changing social and economic structure. I would ask those noble Lords who like myself can to cast their minds back to pre-1914 years, to the early part of the century. Those noble Lords will remember that the universities which have been described as "redbrick" were already well developed. During the inter-war years they continued to develop and many university colleges brought up under the tutelage of London University attained university status and, in their turn, became redbrick universities.

Then, in 1960, came that very high-powered debate on university education. This produced the Robbins Committee, which in due course produced the Robbins Report, which again in due course produced the great proliferation of new universities all over the country. Owing to the changing tastes in architecture I cannot call them "redbrick", but one might call them "glass and concrete".

It is interesting to notice that redbrick followed the academic pattern of the Oxbridge university year; that is to say, three terms—in the case of redbrick 10 weeks; in the case of Oxbridge 8 weeks—with something over four or five months of vacation. That university pattern was no doubt relevant to the social and economic structure of the 19th century, when many rich young men regarded a few years at Oxbridge as a sort of finishing school, and a few others, including a number of serious scholars who had come up the hard way, regarded Oxbridge as a training for one of the learned middle-class professions, in which case many of them did a great deal of work during the Long Vacation. It was always understood, for instance, in the case of Oxbridge Greats, which required the mastery of many texts, that these texts were read and digested during the vacation time in preparation for the lectures and tutorials to be attended during term-time.

That pattern of the university year was relevant to the social structure of the 19th century. It involved little or no public expenditure; it was not a burden on the taxpayer, and it brought into the orbit of undergraduate life only a small proportion of the 18 to 22-year-old age group, which is of course a vital and creative age group. Neither of those assumptions applies to-day. Our universities cost a great deal of money to the taxpayer, through the University Grants Committee, and to the ratepayer through local authority grants. Moreover, that pattern no longer represents that small proportion of the 18 to 22-year-old age group. I do not happen to have with me the figure, but it is a very much larger proportion of that age group than was the case when that pattern of academic life was perpetuated in the 19th century. What I am saying applies mainly to arts faculties, because in engineering faculties certainly (possibly this is so in other science faculties now) a lot of work is done on the shop floor with engineers, as part of the necessary university training.

I think it is true that with those who are now attending arts faculties of universities the real up-and-coming subject is sociology. In the debate in your Lordships' House on July 15 of last year sociology was described by the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Hungershall, as "that dreary, inexact, unprofitable and sloppy subject", which he contrasted with the "sharp discipline of science and technology and mathematics". I would query one of his adjectives: I do not think it is a dreary subject, certainly for sociologists, because it tempts the merest beginner to talk with exhilarating self-confidence about a very wide range of contemporary events.

That brings us back to this question of these protracted university vacations of five months in the year. What do the students do? They do all kinds of things. Some of them pursue the Oxbridge tradition; they work very hard indeed at their texts, often under great difficulty in homes where quiet times for reading are not easily available, and where often parents take the view that long university vacations are a kind of outsize school holiday during which money should be earned. Of course in many cases money is earned. It was recently remarked by the representative of the National Union of Students that it is less easy to achieve vacation earnings on account of the present high level of unemployment. In fact, among my own personal circle of my grandchildren's generation it is quite easy for the grant-aided undergraduate to make enough money to enable him to enjoy the amenities which his wage-earning contemporary is able to enjoy by paying for them.

Many students, for instance, work in garages; others go into catering establishments. I believe that during the summer season the restaurant of Chichester Theatre is largely staffed by students; and if that is the case it accounts for the very high level of service and politeness one finds in that place. Some of the students go abroad, adventurously trekking and hitch-hiking across Europe and into Asia. Many of them go abroad on assignments in order to assist undeveloped countries. Many of them accept the God-given opportunity (perhaps it should be called a State-given opportunity) to move about the country, demonstrating against any Government in any part of the world whose policy they happen to dislike—and even possibly their own Government. As I have said, I think that such activities make a particular appeal to the sociologists, who feel that they can talk with great self-confidence about the questions relevant to their demonstrations.

Now, my Lords, what is all this coming to? I am going to suggest that most degree courses, certainly in arts faculties, can certainly well be covered in two years. In fact, all of them were covered in my college during the war, and I do not think that academic quality suffered from the more intensive work which those shortened courses involved. It is natural that three or four years at a university on a grant is a very attractive proposition for a young school-leaver—even a young school-leaver who is not particularly interested in studying any particular academic subject in depth. Universities provide in term time a very agreeable life for students, and I think that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich can feel assured that student entertainment is well developed. Only last week I read that the National Union of Students were rather concerned because the half million pounds which was granted for student entertainment was eaten into by the exorbitant charges of "pop" groups.


My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Baroness? I think "entertainment" was not a word which I used. I agree with her point. My concern was that, for instance, amenities such as a major place to eat at should be available to students when they start their courses. It was in its wider sense.


My Lords, we will take it in a wider sense to include facilities for games, sports, and debates in debating halls, which are all agreeable things which students do, and should do. Supposing that is the case, I think the verdict on our present university set-up must be that it involves a stupendous waste of buildings and equipment. Large acres of buildings, such as engineering buildings, physics buildings, chemistry buildings and common rooms, stand idle for about five months in the year. That applies also to halls of residence, except those which happen to be located in pleasant places such as London, Oxford or Cambridge, where letting is possible for conferences and for that reason expenses are held within check. But it does involve a terrible waste of buildings and equipment. When one compares that waste with the stringency under which hospitals work for fifty-two weeks of the year and twenty-four hours of the day, one feels that the priorities of our country are a little wrong.

In the debate in July last year the only speaker who mentioned the word "priority" was the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. None of the representatives of universities spoke or thought in terms of priorities. Naturally they were interested in securing what they regarded as necessary and desirable for the form of higher education with which they were especially concerned. One must realise that the universities group is a very strong group in this House—I suppose it is really the strongest single interest. It involves a large number of eminent college Principals and Vice- Chancellors, either regnant or retired, and a good many members and ex-members of the University Grants Committee, This tends to distort our priorities a little, and leaves one wondering whether more money should be spent, at the possible cost of the expansion of the universities, on our primary schools with their outsize classes, our Health Service, our Hospital Service, and especially on our over-extended Police Service, which is not even sufficiently manned to enable it to enforce motoring speed limits. Indeed, there have been occasions, such as were referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, when our police force, over-extended as it is, has had to extend still further—as it did quite recently—to give protection to Mr. Amery when he was speaking at Sussex University on a subject that somehow involved him in the charge of being a "Fascist", whatever that may mean.

All this may lead us to the question, which several speakers have hinted at, whether we are overdoing what might be called the mystique of the university degree. Every college or institution of further education, owing to the competition of other such institutions, now has to press for university status and the right to confer degrees at the end of its course. That point was referred to by two speakers in the July debate. It was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who has already been quoted. The noble Lord suggested that a university social service department was not necessarily the right place for young people seeking a qualification for the welfare work foreshadowed by the Seebohm Report. In the same debate, Lord James of Rusholme reminded us of the tendency to "equate the phrases 'higher education' and 'university education'". Are we overdoing the desire for a university course leading to a university degree? If so, what is going to happen to the value of a university degree? I will end by quoting W. S. Gilbert's phrase: When everybody's somebody Then no one's anybody".

7.31 p.m.


My Lords, in my speech I shall differ in many ways upon things which matter now from the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, who has given me the opportunity to speak. There is, however, a matter of history on which I should like to add to what he said. For many years in our history education was enjoyed to a great extent by the aristocracy, but, if you go back further, it was not. During the Middle Ages, when our universities were founded, our aristocracy was in a delicious state of ignorance. Education was left to clerks and ecclesiastics. The aristocracy signed its name or, like Chaucer's squire, was taught fighting, carving, dancing and the arts of deportment.

Your Lordships' House is very fact-minded, in despite of which I am afraid that I have decided to give a speech in which there will be a good deal of opinion. I ought therefore to say that when I wanted to go to Oxford I was never examined in any particular subject. The dons decided to have me because of what I had said to them in a series of interviews. My invitation was a fluke, and in exchange for the work that I did for the course I got a bad degree. I have made this humble confession so as to disarm my critics, for whom too much opinion about our universities will be rather tiresome.

My contemporaries at Oxford had one of three attitudes towards their higher education. There was one small group, recommended by my Provost, Sir John Masterman, who came to the university so as to enjoy themselves before facing the hard economic realities of life. The existence of this group was fostered by the intellectual vanity of the other undergraduates. The chief point of difference between Oxford and the outside world is that at Oxford industry is not commended; it is actually despised for the slight which it casts on your native intelligence. If somebody gets a First even, the cry goes up that he worked so hard for it. Rather than get a First it is more respectable to take no degree, because that means you have not done any work at all. The young dandies who came up to Oxford to enjoy themselves were encouraged also by a pamphlet of Warden Smith called Idleness as Part of Education, even though the idleness commended to them in that pamphlet was of a rather special kind, quite different from what they had in mind. There was a strong flavour in them of the 1890s and the 1920s—the two eras were much alike in their frivolity—and the best favoured books were Zuleika Dobson and Brideshead Revisited. Under that literary influence, they ran up huge tailors' bills and took instruction to become Roman Catholic. I wish that the present Vice-Chancellor at Oxford would leave this form of higher education alone. Nobody should interfere with pleasure of this kind, which should be enjoyed by any who are willing to pay for it.

I remember another group among my contemporaries at Oxford who were there for the pure love of learning. They, again, were a small minority. Nearly everybody would agree that they, too, should be left alone. My attack will be aimed at the majority of undergraduates who, in the words of an eminent don, confuse learning with earning; who, supported by the public purse, come to the university so as to alter their own position in society. For the assignment of places in our society, examinations are not necessary. For the greater part of our history the most complicated tasks have been carried out by men who did not have to take examinations. In his Study of the British Genius Havelock Ellis has shown that of all our eminent men described in the Dictionary of National Biography some did not go to a university, and of those who did, few took any advantage of the education which they received there.

Within the space of a generation or two, the families of such men have always been able to enter the aristocracy. The insistence that we must have examinations to assist the rise of talent has been entirely psychological. Even though our aristocracy was never a closed one, like those of Venice or Japan, the element of heredity in it offended people's sense of equality. That shrewd observer of politics, De Tocqueville, remarked that people must have this equality at any cost; it means more to them than liberty or any of the other great liberal watchwords. The Left is coming to see that the achievement of such equality is something of a will-o'-the-wisp. Now examinations are criticised severely because it is their purpose to publish, with as much precision as possible, the extent to which we are not equal. There is another feature of our examinations which no psychologist can ignore: they are a Puritan thing. Education is not so popular in England as it is in Scotland and Wales, which are the strongholds of Nonconformity. The Scots and the Welsh love their examinations as an opportunity for the self-punishment which, in their religion, bites very deep.

I will show now how remote the subjective exercise of competing in examinations is from the practical task of selecting the right man for the right job. Often a course which an undergraduate takes at a university is in a subject which is not connected at all with what he intends to do. We are told, nevertheless, that this does not matter, as the course, whatever it is, teaches the undergraduate how to think, I do not quarrel with the idea that an undergraduate should be taught to think in a particular kind of way, if that is so that he may enjoy doing so. The Oxford way of thinking, so brilliantly recorded in Christopher Hampton's play, The Philanthropist, is most attractive. But as a preparation, in most instances, for the exercise of earning a living, it is a positive hindrance. I have witnessed the misery of my contemporaries at Oxford on this account, as they have for the most part ended up in commerce or one of the professions. Going into some commercial enterprise, many think there will be some opportunity for their original thought, and they are quickly cut to size. Going into one of the professions, they are bored to tears by preparing for an examination which demands the recollection of a great amount of detail, no imagination and hardly any analysis. A taste of that in law has driven some of my friends back to the university.

If, as in medicine or the law, the course which the undergraduate takes at a university is the same as his future source of livelihood, that does not make it any more necessary. Sometimes this is denied by an angry doctor who writes a letter to the newspaper saying, "How would you like to have your appendix taken out by somebody who had not been examined in how to do it?" The running, a few decades ago, of a good firm of solicitors shows, nevertheless, that the knowledge and skill needed for an occupation may be acquired perfectly well without any education. The purpose of the examinations in that profession was to establish who was eligible socially to become a partner and collect business as he went grouse shooting. Whoever took the examinations had to pay a large sum of money to his firm so that he might work for them for several years under articles. The only source for that large sum of money was hereditary. Meanwhile, the good repute of the firm rested on the work of the managing clerks, who never took an examination.

In this matter, the law does not stand alone. On January 31 an article in the Sunday Telegraph said that we ought to shut up all our colleges of education, as the only way to learn how to teach is to teach. It is suggested even that practice should form part of the educational courses themselves. In Scandinavia an Education Bank may be set up, which will enable any student to work in a concern without cost to himself, so that he can acquire practical experience.

The forms of education which I have outlined as so useless impose a hard sentence on the students themselves. Education is given now to the number of people who desire it, not to the number of those for whom there will afterwards be better jobs. Even though that is the principle of the Robbins Report, however, it does not prevent people who have been to a university from thinking that they should have the jobs for which such an education would once have qualified them. One female undergraduate who wrote to The Times in the autumn complained that for every job for which she applied there were between 40 and 300 applicants.

Of course, any of our students can go on to work for some further qualification so that they may then get the better kind of job. In America this pattern has prevented a man from earning his living until he is 25. In Italy, I am told, the age is 30. But up to those ages it is hard for students to marry; and whatever Government imitates these countries gives a public licence for promiscuity. If, on the other hand, our students do not continue with their studies, the consequences are even worse. The French and the Germans know how dangerous it is to put a large number of students into the difficulties of the female undergraduates I Lave just mentioned. They know that it is a classic recipe for revolution and a Fascist Government.

The thought of this brings me to speak of the other political consequences of our higher education. We are less prone to an awareness of such consequences than our neighbours on the Continent. The noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, the former Prime Minister and the authors of the Penguin Education Special believe that the University of the Air is not a political institution. But no matter what their motives may have been at the time of its inception, neither the former Prime Minister nor the noble Baroness can deny that the Open University has this same political consequence as the rest of our higher education. Our students acquire the shallow, rational 18th century habit of mind which, as the authors of the Penguin Education Special inform us, leads them to question our old institutions such as, I expect, the House of Lords itself. Such an attitude is not to be commended so automatically as the authors of that paperback would have us assume. Disraeli told us that our country is great because of its institutions. Many arguments for respecting the traditional flavour of our institutions may be found in the writings of Burke and the great, but rather forgotten, German school of history in the last century. I will merely say that for their survival institutions like the House have rested on one basis only—that of our consent.

There is another very sinister danger in our higher education, of which the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, has spoken, and in conclusion I shall support him. A week ago I listened to a fascinating talk which Professor Andreski gave to the Monday Club. It is for others to judge how gullible I may have been. I will give merely the gist of the information which I picked up from Professor Andreski and the members of the Monday Club who spoke when he had finished. We are here in Parliament to make laws. In our universities, a small group of students have broken the law and used violence so as to impose their will on the Vice-Chancellors. Even though they are under no legal obligation to do so, the Vice-Chancellors have given in to them, because the cause which the students say they represent is equality or some other goddess of the Left. Equality, however, is not what these students want; they have used its name as the technique by which to obtain power. The appointment of a lecturer comes up to be renewed. If the lecturer should not approve of sanctions against Rhodesia, or show in any way that he does not have Left Wing, Marxist inclinations, this small knot of students will not have him and the Vice-Chancellor concerned sees that his appointment is not renewed.


My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord, but it would be interesting if he could inform the House of any specific instances when the appointment of a university lecturer has been vetoed by a group of militant students, and when the Vice-Chancellor has acquiesced in that veto.


My Lords, the difficulties under which I labour here are, first, that no such information of any specific instances was given at the Monday Club; and, secondly, that I think the members of the Monday Club said that in matters of this kind they were "clipped" a bit by the law of libel. They said as much.


My Lords, I think that is a little weak. The noble Lord has been challenged and he is not able to substantiate what he said. To suggest that the Monday Club may be limited by the laws of libel, and here to repeat what was said without making any attempt to substantiate it, appears to me to be a rather serious matter.


I concede that it is, my Lords, but may I say that I prefaced this part of my speech with the remark that it is for others to judge how gullible I may have been. I have spoken of how a lecturer has his appointment renewed according to his political views. By this means, the staff of the university comes to consist largely of members of the extreme Left Wing and Marxists. Because they are examined by such lecturers, the majority of students come to see that in order to qualify they must give a Marxist slant to their essays and examination papers. In this way the majority of students become indoctrinated. Because they possess the intelligence which enabled them to go to the university, some of these students will come later to take up key positions in our society.


My Lords, may I interrupt again? It is perhaps unfair to press the noble Lord, but I would urge that it would be of enormous intellectual interest if he would produce a single examination paper which has been thus influenced in any university in this country.


My Lords, I remember the statement made by a member of the Monday Club, a Member of Parliament. He said that in this instance he could not mention which university it was, because he had to protect himself against the law of libel.


My Lords, I think the noble Lord may comfort himself with the assertion that if that has ever taken place, which I rather question, it is the minutest exception rather than the normal practice.


My Lords, I am of course extremely pleased to know that that is the case. I have little more to say. I was going to say that the political process which I have just described is familiar to us all. The extreme Left and the extreme Right are very close, and we do well to remain somewhere in the centre.

7.46 p.m.


My Lords, the matter raised by the Unstarred Question of the noble Viscount, Lord Han-worth, has so many important facets that it cannot really be treated adequately in a relatively short debate such as we are having this evening. Despite the distinguished list of speakers, there are some great educational guns not firing this evening, and I feel that the matter could easily have been the subject of a major debate in your Lordships' House. If it were, I feel that a conflation of the views expressed by your Lordships would be of the greatest value to those who are in charge of higher education. But I believe the matter demands a more prolonged examination than we could possibly give it here. Consequently, I feel that there is something to be said for a committee of the kind which the noble Viscount proposed. However, it would not only need to be broadly based, as he suggested; it would need to be immensely authoritative—as authoritative, indeed, as the Robbins Committee which has had such an immense influence on educational developments. It would not be an easy committee to select, but I should like the Government to give some consideration to the possibility of selecting it.

I intend this evening very briefly to consider only one of the very important issues which I believe this Question raises. The one aspect that I want to mention exhibits a highly desirable trend in higher education. To make my point, I want to interpret the noble Viscount's Question rather more broadly than perhaps he intended, and more in the sense in which the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, and the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, interpreted it. I want, in other words, to talk in terms not only of university education, but of higher education leading to a degree. There are to-day many higher education establishments, most of them called polytechnics, at which, under the general ægis of the Council for National Academic Awards—of which for some years I have had the honour of being chairman, and whose initials, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, are quite unexciting and extremely difficult to replace with anything more inspiring—it is possible to obtain degrees of the same standard as those obtained in universities. A large number of the courses leading to these degrees are of a particular character, and it is of that character I wish to speak. I am of course referring to sandwich courses.

In 1956 there was created the National Council for Technological Awards—the N.C.T.A. Its primary objective was to provide, in places of higher education which were not universities, awards of a standard equal to those in universities. The courses which grew up in the colleges under the N.C.T.A. system had two remarkable characteristics: they were all honours courses and they were all sandwich courses, and in the few years of the N.C.T.A.'s existence there was a tremendous growth of the sandwich course system, which had the enthusiastic support of large sections of industry. It was in this period, roughly 1956 to 1963, that the colleges of advanced technology (the famous CATS) were designated, and they matured on the sandwich system in a most satisfying fashion in that period. Incidentally, may I interpolate here, taking up the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, that on the sandwich system expensive facilities were used to the utmost because both the sandwiches and the end-on system could benefit throughout the whole year.

In 1963 there came the massive Report of the Robbins Committee. This Committee said, among many other important things, that the system developed by the N.C.T.A. was so manifestly successful that it should be extended beyond the boundaries set by technology into other areas. In other words, it advocated that the sandwich system which had grown up in technological fields should be far more widely used. For this purpose, they proposed the creation of the Council for National Academic Awards—a body for which, during the whole of its existence, we have been seeking a better name, with no success. Secondly, the Robbins Committee said that the ten colleges of advanced technology had done so well under the N.C.T.A. system that they should become universities. They did in fact become universities, and to the best of my knowledge they have not significantly departed, in the fields in which they were operating the sandwich course system at the times of their charters, from that admirable system; that is to say, of the 45 British universities, 10 have a major operation in the sandwich course field.

In the polytechnics and colleges operating under the C.N.A.A. system to-day, there has been a growth since the C.N.A.A. started in 1964 from the mere 3,000 left after the creation of the ten new universities, which took most of our clients away, to nearly 24,000 to-day. Of this 24,000, 15,300 are sandwich course students, and the present rate of increase in the number of those students is over 6,000 a year. The most up-to-date figures I have been able to obtain for the sandwich course students in the new universities suggest that there are nearly as many there to-day as in the polytechnics, which suggests that the total sandwich course population at the present time is round about 12 per cent. or 13 per cent. of the total population aiming for degrees.

I believe that this trend, now so clearly significant, is wholly desirable. I do not think that all courses under the C.N.A.A., nor all courses in universities, should be sandwich courses. Obviously not. In some areas, in some disciplines, that would be quite inappropriate. But where the system can be applied I believe it is wholly beneficial. From the narrow professional point of view, it is highly desirable that when a young person gains a degree and is going into industry or commerce—and I am really dealing with the second of the noble Viscount's three broad headings—he or she should be instructed in both the practical and the academic aspects of their work. But—and this. I believe, is much more important; and here I really come to the third of the noble Viscount's headings—the sandwich courses give a wonderful opportunity for young people to learn not only how to think and how to apply their knowledge, but to learn about people, about industrial and business practices and about the need for organisation and discipline in the industrial life in which they are going to work.

A well-run sandwich course produces for business, for industry, for life itself, a maturer and more responsible individual than the majority of university courses. I do not mean, of course, that at the end of a university course a person cannot, by appropriate social contacts, gain what the sandwich course person has gained by the end of his course, but I say quite seriously that at the time of arrival for a post the sandwich course student is by and large the more responsible person. I am prepared to have noble Lords disagree with this view, and it could be suggested, in view of the interest I have disclosed, that I am not entirely unbiased. But as an industrialist—with another hat on, so to speak—I have long been confronted in technological fields with both kinds of product and I believe that my judgment is a dispassionate one.

Now the sandwich course system is developing satisfactorily in other than technological fields. Of the 15,300 sandwich course students I have mentioned as working under the C.N.A.A. ægis, 3,825 are on arts and social studies courses. Of these, admittedly 3,013 are on sandwich business studies courses, largely as a result of the recommendations of the very far-sighted report of Mr. Crick and his Committee in the same year as the Robbins Committee issued their Report, but I think there is a strong current flowing into other non-technological areas, such as public administration, town planning, marketing, sociology and law. It is really quite remarkable what is happening; and it seems to me, my Lords, that this is a movement strongly to be encouraged, not only in the polytechnics but in the universities. There is no doubt that the universities have had a tremendous and beneficial influence on the development of the CATS and on the development of the colleges which have become polytechnics. There seems to be equally little doubt that the sandwich course system can have a reciprocal influence on the development of universities.

The two ends of the spectrum of higher education for degrees are still perhaps quite a long way apart, but in the middle of the spectrum it is already difficult to distinguish between the newest universities and the polytechnics. Both are applying with great intelligence the sandwich course system. This, my Lords, is a situation which seems to me to be capable of most advantageous development. I believe that such development could be a major factor in eliminating the obnoxious elements in university life which the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, so eloquently described.

7.58 p.m.


My Lords, in talking this evening I am running into that unpleasant experience that many journalists, teachers or politicians go through—the discovery that it is often easier to talk on things about which you do not know very much than it is to talk on things about which you are supposed to know a certain amount. I am a university teacher by profession, so I ought really to be able to enlighten your Lordships quite a lot. But, fascinated as I have been throughout this debate this evening, I am hesitant about my own contribution. In spite of this, I am grateful to be able to take part, and I thank the noble Viscount for the opportunity. If he will forgive me, I want to give him and the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, one small "donly" rap on the knuckles about the use of the word "Oxbridge". Where is it going to take us, my Lords? When I was working in America, even allowing for American raids on our language, we did not talk about "Berkstan" or "Harvale"; and I hope that in considering Government reforms we are not going to talk about "West-white", either.

I agree, however, with the noble Viscount about the perils of scholasticism, and what in America we used to call the "publish or perish" syndromes. I worked out, while I was there, that there were some 17 people being supported, at quite a good rate—with, say, two ranch cars and about 17,000 dollars a year—by the writings of Sir Philip Sidney alone; while I yield to none in my admiration of that great poet and gentleman, I am not sure whether he bears up to that kind of cost analysis. I disagree with the noble Viscount on his interesting point about what could be called the "Nicholas Nickleby" of the profession—the early appointment. It seems to me that the fact that in a modern university quite a lot of the undergraduate teaching load is taken by fairly young men, men fairly close to their own first degree work, which they must have done very well, is a way of bridging academic as well as emotional generation gaps. I think that to have gone through first degree work does not necessarily equip one badly for teaching immediately: it might even make one's teaching more succinct.

This generation gap was clearly not evident in what we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. There was an inconsistency that I found in something he said. He talked about students being rootless and uninvolved, yet at the same time he argued for less focus on paper achievements, on examinations and work of that kind. One has sympathy with the idea of the absurdity, often, of examinations. I, as a tutor and lecturer, am impatient with the essay form. I find my students going through three years with all their work for me in this one form. I do not see why they should not make a speech to me or write me a sonnet instead of presenting me belles lettres. However, I must move to the right a little about the need for tasks. It seems to me that one must think of the right tasks, but that only through tasks is it possible to create the necessary self-esteem for fulfilment and to break down the rootlessness.


My Lords, I hesitate to interrupt. I would gladly write the noble Earl a sonnet, were it not at such short notice. The point I tried to make—I do not think it involved a contradiction—was that on one side there is a lack of roots for the student in the community in which he ought to be living. I certainly did not, on the other hand, want to do away with tasks as such, or even internal examinations. All I regretted was the tying of degrees and certificates so much to the market outside that the university is often doing the employers' work for them, rather than concentrating on education and the setting of tasks on education alone.


My Lords, I take the noble Lord's point. I have been working with a group in my university in discussions about examinations which one can take with books. Obviously, the pure testing of memory is not necessarily a testing of intellectual skill. But the great difficulty is that examination results to some degree must be negotiable tender. With the enormous body of scholarship and secondary material now written, one must be a very advanced don to keep track of cribbing. There are problems of this kind.

Another slight inconsistency came out in the speech of my noble friend Lord Balerno. He said squarely (and I do not mean that in a punning sense) that student violence was very much a minority affair. I am sure that in that we all agree with him. Yet I would be prepared to wager with the noble Lord, were he here, that his speech, more than any other, is the one which will be reported to-morrow. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, got to the heart of the matter and highlighted the differences between vocational and general education: and here I get on to my own theme. And I should like to compare my experience of the American system with our own in this respect. The question, it seems to me, is how much general education the universities should undertake. The old idea was that a university was a society of learned men, and those who would go up, were their interests primarily academic, would benefit from attending as apprentices to such learned men. They were not essentially teaching bodies. This is all very well if you can assume a very high standard of secondary education.

Although this debate is about higher education, I want—and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, would approve of this, as would my noble friend Lord Belstead, who is primarily interested in secondary education—to stress the connection between the standard in secondary education with first degree work. It was quite clear when I was a junior teacher at Harvard—and as a junior teacher I had people in the first two years—that the standard of entrance at Harvard was much lower than at my own University College in London. But Harvard was able to put its students through four years of first degree work, and after that time the majority of the bright ones would go on to vocational training, to graduate studies in arts or science, to business school, to medical school, to the excellent law school, and even to the school of government. It was not impossible for a graduate student at Harvard's school of government to spend his vacations working in the White House. There was that kind of "hot line" in operation.

Now we are better; but even though the Robbins Report was made nearly a decade ago, I feel for him and his Committee when he wrote: The institutions of higher education sometimes complain that too many entrants cannot express themselves clearly in English, have an inadequate understanding of elementary mathematical principles and have made no significant progress in any modern language. One has experience of people coming into universities who would fit that description. As I say, there is a much higher incidence of such people in America; but there is more time and more money to do something about it.

I would say that we must constantly work away at our standards of university entrants. Any don rejoices to have students with some reasonable background with whom he can work. While the noble Lord on the Opposition Front Bench might agree with me, I must issue a caveat, again based on my American experience, about comprehensives. I am not dogmatically against comprehensive education—I know from experience that there are some excellent comprehensive schools—but my experience in America was (and I think that here I am in agreement with my noble friend) that one got another kind of selectivity. At Harvard certainly there were great problems arising over this. If you went to a local neighbourhood school in a professional middle-class district you had a good chance of getting into Harvard; and likewise if you went to a private school—what we call a public school. But if you went to almost any other it would be different. As a result, before I went there admittedly, the whole entrance requirement orientation of that university had changed. They were concerned not simply to take people on their academic merits but to "balance their books" to some degree. But the fact that they had consciously to choose certain students who were well below the standards of others points, I think, to a danger in the comprehensive system. I found in my own class that one might have two students in the front row, one of whom could not express himself in English at all and the other who you knew would be a graduate student. That was difficult to handle.

In America, more money was around. When I arrived at Harvard the investment account of that university had just hit 1,000 million dollars—and that would not take into account any questions of plant, Government grant for special projects, or the like. What we have to decide is what, given our realities, our economic crisis, our inflationary situation, we can do. My Lords, I want to close by saying this. I am very glad that, in spite of our situation, we are putting student needs and the question of student grants under review at the moment. There is no question that £420 a year does not sustain a life with any pretensions to leisure for intellectual activity and the like in London at the present time. This is really a problem. Many of my students coming to London University live out as far as Kent, and their commuter bills must be fairly considerable.

There is the question of academic salaries. Academics are realistic men. They know that in many ways their lives are privileged. As Lord Robbins pointed out, they can arrange their hours. They are not tied to office routines. They have a considerable degree of freedom to pursue their own interests. I do not think that they expect huge salaries. The same is true in America where they are highly paid by our standards. A professor at Harvard might earn, say, 20,000 dollars; but he would know that a dentist in his own home town might be earning 40,000 or 50,000 dollars, and he would welcome the difference. Nevertheless, my Lords, people at the head of my profession, who can enjoy their teaching or their research, also have very considerable chores of administration; and they are paid rather less than a junior Minister in the Government—and I am not one who thinks that junior Ministers are overpaid.

The third factor, and one to which I should like to give great emphasis, is the question of graduate schools. In an inflationary situation, with expansion cut back, one has, as it were, to spin a coin about choices. At the moment, I would pump any spare money that was going, or even money that I had to wrest from the Treasury—or that I had to ask my right honourable friend the Minister of Education and Science to wrest from the Treasury—into improving the quantity and quality of our graduate schools. It seems to me that we really need methodological skills for tackling our problems paramountly at this time.

This seems to me to be borne out by the connection that I make mentally, and perhaps emotionally, between the debate to-day and the excellent debate in your Lordships' House yesterday. I should like to close with two quotations from that debate. One of them comes from the speech of my noble friend Lord Brooke of Curnnor, who said that he believed that one of the gravest symptoms of our present national sickness (he was not meaning a cultural or spiritual sickness; he was talking about inflation pure and simple) is the falling away in investment and investment prospects. It seems to me that we still look on universities, on education, as a major national investment, perhaps the paramount national investment; and if we have to tackle one end of it, I think it should be the gradute end on which we should concentrate at this time. The second remark with which it would be appropriate to end comes from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, who said that there could be no university, no institution for the purveyance of art, music or drama whose very way of life, whose planned existence, was not threatened by such a development—that is to say, by the development of inflation.

My Lords, one of the minor pleasures of this debate was to watch the exchange between my noble friend Lord Sudeley—who is a very old friend though not in the political sense—and the noble Lord, Lord Robbins. Were the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, also a personal friend of mine, I could give him a long account of my noble friend Lord Sudeley's expertise and experience as a tease. I have never taken his opinions very seriously, and I would point out to him that this is a serious subject. I think it was Solomon Grundy who was born on a Monday and he did not have a very long life.

Finally, my Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, asked for a committee to review our needs in higher education. I do not know what my noble friend Lord Belstead feels about this, but I see no need for such a committee. We have a long way to go to implement the findings of the Robbins Committee and I think that work will stand us in good stead for at least another decade.

8.15 p.m.


My Lords, unlike the avid autograph hunter, the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, has not asked "how many" but "how much"; and in concentrating the attention of the House on the qualitative aspects of university education he has initiated a discussion on issues which do not always receive the attention they deserve. It is an essential principle that our universities, though considerably dependent on State finance, are autonomous institutions conducting their own affairs; yet a stimulating and constructive debate such as we have had this evening sheds welcome light on to higher education, and I will seek to reply to the main points which have been raised.

The noble Viscount spoke about three objectives of university education; first the training of future academics and research workers; second, the general training of the mind for the benefit of the individual and the nation; and thirdly, preparation for citizenship. Certainly the Government would not dispute the importance of these objectives. Indeed, I seek to reply to this debate bearing in mind that two of the four main objectives of Lord Robbins's Committee were instruction in skills suitable to play a part in the general division of labour in the country, and that teaching must promote the general powers of the mind, I suppose that traditionally the universities have supplied the country's trained graduate manpower. At one time, primarily, this meant the clergy; then a widening range of professional men and now the rapidly increasing needs of industry.

Noble Lords on both sides of the House have said that the university must educate as well as train and deliberately develop the critical faculties; and in a university surely there should be found an education in citizenship, whereby living in such a community the student may learn, perhaps unconsciously, to play a part in society. In expressing views about the training universities instil into students, some reservations have been expressed especially about Ph.D. courses. Your Lordships will know that many postgraduate students are supported by Exchequer funds, in some cases through the awards schemes of Government Departments, but more commonly through the Research Councils. Of these agencies, the Science Research Council disposes of by far the greatest number. In 1969–70 more than 7,000 students were reading for Higher Degrees or Diplomas supported by an S.R.C. award, compared with just over 5,000 students on similar courses supported by all the other Research Councils and the Education Departments of the two countries.

Following the Swann Report 1968, and Mr. McCarthy of I.C.I.'s study on The Employment of Highly Specialised Graduates, there was a move away from fundamental research and from training science-based specialists. In the current academic year, for every 10 new research studentships awarded by the Science Research Council about 7 studentships were given for advanced courses, and it is to be hoped that industry and the schools will benefit from this change in emphasis.

In addition, in 1968 the Science Research Council and the Social Science Research Council set up a Committee to encourage broader postgraduate training. To this end, a small number of research studentships have been allocated to experimental training schemes of this kind which were already under way at universities, including Aston, Imperial College, Loughborough and Stirling. Until recently the Joint Committee's efforts concentrated on introducing scientists and engineers to subjects such as economics, psychology, and sociology. It now intends to explore the converse approach of providing social science graduates with a useful training in science and engineering.

My Lords, the Social Science Research Council is, of course, the youngest of the Research Councils, and is conscious of the lack of systematic evidence of national needs in the Social Sciences. Last year it set up its own Working Party to consider the broad issues of postgraduate training as well as the Council's long-term objectives, and the most effective way to achieve them. In addition, no mention of this policy would be complete without acknowledging the work of the C.N.A.A., whose Chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, has spoken in the debate this evening. The C.N.A.A. has encouraged the development of courses which provide a broader study of science or technology, or, I think I am right in saying, with a mixture of social sciences. And there is no question in my mind that these courses appeal to many sixth-form pupils who would not choose a traditional degree course in science or technology. I think I am right in saying, too, that it was one of the concepts of the Robbins Report that girls either would or should increasingly demand higher education. I have some figures here to which I will refer in a moment.

The impetus, if I may say so, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, of sandwich courses, to which he drew attention this evening, is most impressive. It is a wonderful thing to think that, even if we stick faithfully to the terms of the noble Viscount's Unstarred Question, this evening we are still discusing 10 universities, as the noble Lord has made us aware. The noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, is, I think, shortly giving up his chairmanship of the C.N.A.A. I am not sure whether this will be the greater loss to the Council or the greater gain to industry, where I believe the noble Lord is returning.

Suggestions have been made that there is a growing tendency for industry to place less value on university training, except for certain science and maths specialists—at least, this is the way that I read the noble Viscount's remarks—and that more should be done to train students to sift and weigh factors and reach valid conclusions. While the broad objectives of university education remain unchanged over centuries, the demands constantly change. In the 19th century it was traditional to service Church and State and to man the established professions. Now we are in the middle of an unparalleled technological revolution. I must say that, as I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, I could not but reflect that industry now has assumed its role as a vast employer of our most able and skilled men and women, and demands that common sense and basic knowledge should be supplemented by highly developed skills and techniques. For the university this requires, to say the least, considerable flexibility and capacity for adjustment.

There is in fact a growing awareness within the universities and industry of what each has to offer, and the Docksey Working Party on Universities and Industrial Research paid tribute to the needs of the other. The fact is that it is increasingly difficult to-day to turn out specialists and give them a broad, liberal education; and those who are facing this problem, be they universities, polytechnics, colleges of further education or all those who are collaborating from industry, deserve our good wishes for success.

But, my Lords, I would suggest that we should not make too much of the thesis that study in depth produces narrowness of mind. For surely a great strength of the British people has always been their adaptability. I remember many years ago at a dinner in Oxford having the Nuremberg war trials explained to me in the greatest detail by a quiet, studious individual, who had, I knew, special responsibilities for overseas students at the university. It was only later that I discovered that this academic to whom I had been talking was none other than Brigadier Williams, former member of Field Marshal Montgomery's staff, whose brilliant analysis of the unusual dispositions of German and Italian troops at Alamein had been a major factor in the successful delivery of the final blow in that battle. Appearances can be deceptive. We were led, after all, in the last war by a C.I.G.S. who was a great soldier and a man who had lost his heart or his life to bird-watching. This afternoon we have been addressed by a Polar explorer who is also a Bishop.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, suggested in his speech that many students may find difficulty in working efficiently alone. If this is so, they are perhaps not so very different from previous generations. Our older universities always realised this, and both Oxford and Cambridge provided a supervisory system which through regular essays, "sonnets" and discussions subtly yet firmly guided us along the path of independent study. So students to-day need similar opportunities, even if expanding numbers may require more cost/effective teaching methods. This was something to which the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, referred on July 15 in the debate on his Motion on higher education. The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, also spoke briefly on it this evening; and on this subject I entirely agree with what has been said.

I would acknowledge that the Schools Council's most recent survey suggests that some sixth form pupils do find a strain in the transition to university education. The factual content of many A-level courses is considerable, but I think it is vital to remember that the percentage of young people with qualifications for higher and further education steadily increases, and gives no credence to any suspicion that pupils to-day are somehow less self-sufficient than they formerly were. They may need less, not more, specialisation: and here I would draw your Lordships' attention to the action of the Schools Council, which has specifically asked its two sixth form working parties to take account of the desirability of broadening the scope of sixth form study. What effect this will have ultimately on examinations no one can yet say, although Lord Gowrie's reminder of the four-year United States course is a factor which surely must be borne in mind.

But the possible effect, with the agreement of the universities, who are represented on these working parties, was summed up by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, in the debate on July 15 last, when he reminded this House of this passage from his Report: … 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 First Degree courses. I listened with great care to the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, and I hope that perhaps he, the noble Lord, Lord Sudeley, and the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, who briefly mentioned the matter, will forgive me if I do not precisely follow them in any argument on social matters in universities. What I should like to say is that it seems to me that the present generation of university students probably have more opportunity of acting and thinking independently than earlier generations did. The rights and responsibilities of citizenship are acquired now at a younger age, and sometimes this leads to reflection on whether this can be accounted such very good fortune for the present generation. For many people university is the last opportunity to explore all the thousand and one things that young people feel the need to discover before the everyday responsibilities of life are theirs.

Yet I acknowledge that it is a matter of fact that to-day many students wish to handle matters related to welfare, recreation and student activities, and to have an effective voice in the management of their institution. Also, with some responsibility for the youth service of the Department, I see some part of the voluntary work which takes students to-day beyond their college boundary. Such things as student community action in London, and similar work in Birmingham, remind us of the large number of student groups who raise money for charity, visit hospitals and prisons, help the disabled, and work with the young, elderly or handicapped. I suggest that this is relevant to the needs of society to-day, and relevant also to this debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, asked me several questions as did other noble Lords. I hope that they will not think it discourteous of me if I attempt to answer only some of them. I listened to what the noble Lord said about polytechnics and their supreme importance. I would simply say from this side of the House that we are very glad, as the Government, to have been able to authorise an increase of £2½ million in the polytechnic building programme. The interest of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has been demonstrated in the continued designation of more polytechnics in the last eight months. I welcome this opportunity to recognise the work which is being carried on by local education authorities, governors, staffs and all connected with the polytechnics.

The noble Lord also brought up the subject of admissions of women and girls. Admissions roughly correspond to the proportion of applications. On wastage, the general figure of wastage in universities is about 13 per cent. I must say that I thought it was lower. I am advised that it is about 13 per cent., which, by international standards, is low.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether that is an average figure? If it is, clearly it would be higher in some instances.


My Lords, yes, I am advised that that is an average figure. If one is casting about, and I think the noble Lord in his speech was, for ways in which this figure can be reduced or wiped away, there is the idea of the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Norwich, for the deferred year. I listened with the greatest interest to the right reverend Prelate, and certainly acknowledge on behalf of Her Majesty's Government that there are educational and economic arguments in its favour, and the hope that a deferred year might provide opportunities, for instance, for increased voluntary service. The view of the Vice-Chancellors was canvassed on this matter, and I think I am right in saying that the answer was that this concept should not be regarded as appropriate for all students in all subjects. The Government are seriously considering the matter—the right reverend Prelate was quite right about this—and will take into account varying views, including those of students.

An extremely interesting article has been written by the National Union of Students on this subject. If the right reverend Prelate would forgive me, I would prefer not to be drawn further on the matter excent to give the assurance for which the right reverend Prelate asked, that this factor will be taken into account in planning higher education for the future. The parental means test, about which the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy asked me, is under consideration. I think I should inject into the debate the fact that its absolute abolition would mean a loss of something like £35 million to £40 million to the Exchequer. The noble Lord and the right reverend Prelate will remember that the Department's planning paper gave a total student population of 840,000 for 1980. I think the noble Lord said 1981–82.




Yes. This was a projection and not a policy decision, as has been made clear in the House before. The provisional decision on grants for the first year of the next quinquennium should be made by the end of this year, and the final quinquennial settlement of 1972–77 ought to be reached by the autumn of 1972. If that is so, this will be the same timing as it was for the previous quinquennium. I would, therefore, put it to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, that whereas this is an admirable moment for political pressure, it is not a suitable moment to canvass conclusive Government pronouncements. The noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, brought up the subject of the under-use of buildings and equipment. This, again, was one of the 13 points that was put to the Vice-Chancellors in 1969. They broadly accepted that concept. The implications are: more intensive use of buildings and equipment; possible reorganisation of the academic year and more sharing of adjacent institutions. All I can say this evening is that it will be interesting to see how this concept, which has been broadly accepted, works out in practice.


My Lords, and more sandwich courses. That would have at least the same effect.


And more sandwich courses. The noble Viscount, and the noble Lord, Lord Platt, referred to teaching standards. There are sometimes criticisms of teaching standards, not least from the students themselves, who are, after all, the consumers in this matter. This is not new. What I think is novel is the growing practice of the universities, with the encouragement of the University Grants Committee, to try to provide systematic training in teaching for academic staff. The results of an inquiry just over a year ago showed that more than half of the universities had training courses of some kind, either working or planned. One particular aspect of this question is the growing importance of educational technology, which cost effectiveness must surely at least hasten. As a practical measure, what the University Grants Committee have done is to select eight of what they call "high activity centres" in universities to carry out research into the best ways of using various media. I am sure, too, that the Open University is going to contribute quite a lot in this regard, not only because of its new techniques but because it subjects the teaching of its staff to public scrutiny.

The noble Viscount also questioned the appointment of university staff before they had sufficient experience in another job and of the outside world. I would approach this matter from a rather different standpoint from that of my noble friend Lord Gowrie. I would certainly agree with the noble Viscount that it is highly desirable for a teacher to bring to his work knowledge which may broaden the mind and experience which can strengthen convictions. Yet we must beware following this through too far, lest it lead to objecting to the employment of any newly-trained graduate in any occupation at all. The higher education research unit of the London School of Economics carried out a survey, published in Report No. 145 of the National Board of Prices and Incomes. The noble Lord may be glad to hear that out of a sample of between 300 and 350 successful applicants for lectureships in 1968–69, over 16 per cent. came from industry or other careers, and a further 11 per cent. had experience of universities overseas. As many as 55 per cent. could not have been appointed immediately after graduation since they held doctorates or other high degrees. Civil Engineering was notable, in that it found 60 per cent. of its recruits from outside education. This was an interim report, and the final analysis will be of interest to the House.

Finally, the noble Viscount, Lord Han-worth, has asked for a Committee to investigate whether universities are fulfilling the long-term—


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord before he comes to his final point, whether he, has anything to say in regard to the point that I suggested about more money for student residences, as the expansion increases, from U.G.C. funds?


My Lords, I apologise to the right reverend Prelate. I think the answer is that student grants are under close consideration, and if there is to be a change in the grant this will be from September, 1971.


My Lords, my point was not about student grants, but about grants for residencies—that is for actual buildings for accommodation. I gather that recently some allocation has been made from the U.G.C. in certain instances, but I believe that there is great pressure from Vice-Chancellors that the amount should be increased.


My Lords, I am sorry to have misunderstood the right reverend Prelate. I remember when he made that point seeing nods of approval from all sides of the House. Once again I have, somewhat lengthily, gone into the question of the chronology of the forthcoming quinquennium, and I am not in a position this evening to make announcements ahead of what my right honourable friend may be saying. If I have any further information on the point I will write to the right reverend Prelate.

Finally, the noble Viscount has asked for a Committee to investigate whether universities are fulfilling the long-term needs of the nation. I would not want the noble Viscount to think that this has not been considered deeply while preparing for this debate. Indeed, it has not been possible for me to listen to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich without appreciating all that this aspect of higher education can imply. At the same time, the University Grants Committee recognised from the start of university expansion in the late 'fifties that a broadening of undergraduate education would be needed.

As recorded in their survey of the quinquennium, 1957–62 (Cmnd. 2267) they found this trend of thought to be held in most universities, with increasing emphasis on courses leading to joint or general honours degrees. The Committee welcomed this at the same time as they recognise the danger of losing too much of the value of study in depth. And in their Report on the previous quinquennium, still as long ago as 1957, the U.G.C. had asked the universities to consider what they were trying to do with the students entrusted to them; what qualities of mind they should develop; whether the courses offered and the kind of life the students live would develop these qualities sufficiently.

In 1962 the Committee recorded that they had found almost everywhere the fundamental thinking which they had urged five years earlier. Then in 1967 the U.G.C. again pointed to the need for greater flexibility in courses, for some diminution of the intensity of specialisation and a conscious effort to foster the training of more graduates with a general competence over a reasonably broad field of associated studies. I hope your Lordships may agree that it is clear from our debate to-day that the U.G.C.'s words over the last decade and a half have not fallen entirely on barren ground. In the past ten years or so, the Robbins Report has led the way for a constant outpouring of valuable reports dealing with various aspects of university and higher education, many with a bearing on the issues raised by your Lordships in the debate this evening.

Any Committee, my Lords, however broadly based, would be hard put to discharge the immense task which the noble Viscount and other noble Lords this evening envisage, and I am convinced that it would inevitably duplicate the vast amount of work which has been done. Critical examination is good for us all, but it is in the universities, above all, that we are likely to find critical faculties developed to the highest degree. So, in resisting this call from the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, this evening, I trust that he will not underestimate the value which Her Majesty's Government place on a debate of this kind, and that he may agree that the constant process of interaction which prompts society to define its needs more precisely brings a response from the universities which is both flexible and vigorous.