HL Deb 11 May 1971 vol 318 cc850-4

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

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether, in view of the expected increase in the number of university students over the next few years, they are aware of the serious problems facing universities in providing suitable student accommodation especially in those universities, such as the University of East Angla, which are situated in small cities, where the number of lodgings available is limited.]


My Lords, both my right honourable friend and the University Grants Committee are aware that the question where students are to live as universities expand in the 1970s is of great importance and public interest. The Committee, which is responsible for determining grants to individual institutions, advises my right honourable friend on the universities' needs for residence before she settles the total allocations for university building of all kinds. Projects starting in the 5 years from 1968–69 to 1972–73 will provide over 23,000 residential places and by 1974–75 universities are expected to have accommodation for about 106,000 students, compared with 82,000 in 1969–70. The Committee has recently completed an inquiry into future requirements for residence and into the prospects of an increase in the number of students living in lodgings or at home. Several universities have already succeeded in financing residence by means of private loans supplemented by grants from public funds. The problems of raising loans on a sufficiently large scale to meet future requirements are now being considered by the Committee and by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals.

My Lords, I apologise for the length of that Answer, but I hope that it may have given some indication to the right reverend Prelate of the present position and the future intentions of the Government for consultation.


My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister for a most encouraging Answer to the Question. There are two supplementary questions that I should like to ask, to which his Answer has itself provided some reference. First, can more money be made available to the University Grants Committee for the purpose of providing student accommodaton; and if that cannot be provided to the extent that is needed, could the universities have the same facilities for obtaining loans, and at comparable rates as are available to local authorities? Secondly, would not the Minister agree that serious social consequences are likely to result from the failure to provide students with reasonable accommodation? Can he therefore give the House an assurance—I was not sure whether such an assurance was given in his Answer—that the future expansion of universities will be limted to the number of students who can be provided with adequate accommodation, so far as one can estimate?


My Lords, my answer to the right reverend Prelate's first and last questions is that I am sure he will acquit me of any discourtesy when I say that I cannot forecast a future budget which is, after all, administered by the University Grants Committee, ahead of the allocations by that independent Committee, which is one of the cornerstones of the way in which our universities work. On the middle part of the right reverend Prelate's question about loans to local authorities, I assure him that my right honourable friend is in close touch with the University Grants Committee on the question of residence. But she has of course to consider it in the context of the development of higher education as a whole in the 'seventies, to take into account the most important needs of the polytechnics and colleges of education, and also to face quite squarely the strange question at the moment of the decline in the number of home-based students, a decline which has continued ever since before the war. Although I know that that last point is not relevant to the University in East Anglia, set in the most beautiful part of East Anglia, nevertheless the right reverend Prelate's university is well known for its extremely energetic and forward-looking ways of raising loan finance.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether it is not a much more serious problem that an increasing number of university graduates are finding it more and more difficult to get jobs commensurate with their qualifications at the end of their university careers?


My Lords, I entirely agree; but I think we are a little off the Question.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the present system of university grants operation for the financing of student residences bears very hardly on the new universities, who have to find the whole of the cost of building student residences out of voluntarily raised funds? As one who has had some part in raising funds for the new University of Surrey, is my noble friend aware that this system places a great strain on these universities?


Yes, my Lords. I thank my noble friend for drawing the attention of the House to that matter, and I will draw the attention of my right honourable friend to the question that my noble friend has raised. This, I think, forms part of the consultations to which I referred in my original Answer.


My Lords, can this whole question be considered in relation to the terrific waste of student accommodation and university equipment occasioned by the spread of an Arts degree course over three years, each year consisting of three ten-week terms?


Yes, my Lords. Again, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing up that point. This is taken into account by the University Grants Committee when it gives the 25 per cent. grants, which at the moment is the common form of its grants, and not the 100 per cent. grants to which the right reverend Prelate was really referring in his original supplementary question.


My Lords, in view of the importance of the statement the Minister has made in reply to the Question, would it be asking too much that it should be circulated in the OFFICIAL REPORT? And has he any information from his Ministry as to what is to happen in regard to the application for the Tees-side University?


Yes, my Lords, the reply will of course appear in Hansard tomorrow.


My Lords, may I ask my noble friend whether he is aware that when East China was occupied by Japan 50,000 Chinese students emigrated for a thousand miles on foot, carrying their school books and accompanied by their teachers, to the South Western town of Cheng-Tu where they carried on until the Japanese were expelled, living and sleeping in Nissen huts, feeding on a bowl of rice a day, clad in coarse Chinese gowns, entirely devoted to their studies, reinforced as time went on by thousands of recruits? They were visited by a British Parliamentary delegation in 1942, which included my noble friend Lord Ailwyn and myself. Does not my noble friend think that we might learn a little from the behaviour of these Chinese students, who so clearly considered that learning is of far greater importance than comfort?


Yes, my Lords; but the point at issue is how far people in this country are prepared to travel to do this. The Chinese proverb that I should like to give back to the noble Earl is this: If 10,000 students were to live at home and attend a local university instead of going to a distant one, over £10 million could be saved on capital costs alone.