§ 5.40 p.m.
§ BARONESS BIRK rose to draw attention to the continuing inadequacy of students' grants; and to move for Papers. The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I raise this topic to-day because I believe that financial difficulties in the universities and even in other places of further education are ominous, and since this is the month when Stage 1 of the negotiations for the new triennium is taking place, it is also the right moment to discuss it. I am aware that the plight of the students is not a popular cause. However, that does not make it any less right. Directly they are mentioned, the "Oh, students!" syndrome is set off. Indeed, as a Governor and an ex-student of the London School of Economics, I often find that the mention of L.S.E. sets off the "Oh, L.S.E.!" syndrome, too. It is true that a small minority of students make nuisances of themselves beyond the realms of tolerant justification and in doing so receive publicity which really is not merited. However, as a third-year student said to me yesterday, "Lots of kids are away from home for the first time and sometimes they lose their heads. You have to remember this." Pressing for change and using protest as a means to do so is built into the fabric of our society, and it would be wrong if this did not continue.
§ Higher education provides an opportunity not only for training the mind but also for testing our ideas. Two matters are most important. First, if we really believe that further education has value not only to the individual but also to society, then surely it is madness to spoil the educational loaf for a small financial crumb. The Prime Minister has constantly stressed the need for more capital investment in industry and technology. What better investment could 1115 there possibly be than in those who will be formulating the future for us? Since no civilised society can exist on industry and technology alone, the creative talent and liveliness of mind and spirit in the whole range of arts and sciences must have the chance of being tapped by higher education. The benefits are indisputable. But the trouble is that the cost always comes before the benefits, and as Governments are notoriously instant, priorities so often go wrong. I agree we cannot afford everything and there are many things that I, like others, would wish to see done, but instead of cheeseparing on education, I would suggest the vast sums expended on Concorde, Maplin and the Channel Tunnel indicate we are living beyond our national income.
§ Secondly, I am very concerned that many of the half million students to-day (and the Government plans to increase the number considerably, to something in the realm of three-quarters of a million by 1981) emerge from the system alienated from the society which will be depending on their intellectual and social responsibility, because they feel they have really had a bad deal. I am not suggesting that students should be cosseted any more than any other section of the community, but without the grave financial stresses which beset so many of them to-day, they still face the academic and social stresses which are part of not only being a student, but of growing up and developing, particularly for those who come from poorer homes without a strong educational background. These students often find that it takes them a lot of time to settle down in whatever area of study they are undertaking. It is not really as though they, and those who speak for them, are asking for the economic moon. Indeed, what we are discussing is really "peanuts" in terms of national expenditure. The payment of higher grants has been constantly supported by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, a highly respectable body which can hardly be described as revolutionary. As recently as last month, the Committee issued a Press statement expressing concern that the situation had become acute over the last two years.1116
§ It also seems to me a very depressing fact that there is so much time and effort spent at the moment within the universities and some of the other places of further education on battling over this subject, when the energy of the students themselves, the staff and the vice-chancellors could be far better employed on other matters which are of more direct interest to the universities and to the students. It also means that some of the things that we were always "going on about" when I was a student now take second place while students are protesting—unfortunately, but it is necessary—on their own behalf.
§ My Lords, there is no time to go into the history of grants, except to question whether the Anderson Committee Report which laid down the principles of the grant system is now being discarded. Perhaps the Minister will deal with this point when he replies. At present, the full student's grant is £520 a year for London, Oxford and Cambridge, and £486 for everywhere else collected together and known as "elsewhere". Continuing inflation has greatly eroded the grant so the present full grant represents 67 per cent. in purchasing power of the 1968 grant and 56 per cent. of the grant in 1962. I really think the National Union of Students is right when it says that in money terms the grant has risen by 45 per cent., but in value has dropped by more than 25 per cent. This is based on the 1972 figures. Since then, the cost of living has risen even further. In addition, the £20 increase which was given last May not only does not even begin to catch on to the tail of inflation, but gives no protection against the 3 per cent. rise in food prices last month which, as we all know, is the highest that they have seen in the last 20 years.
§ Food is an extremely important part of a student's budget. The student health physician of the London School of Economics told me the other day how concerned he was about the increasing number of students who are not eating enough, mainly those who are living in "digs", cooking for themselves, since they find it difficult even to afford the refectory charges, although the L.S.E. refectory runs at a loss of about £10,000 a year. I found on inquiry, although the figures 1117 vary, that losses are fairly constant in universities all over the country. I have also had a breakdown of expenditure given to me by the Rector of Imperial College for students living in hall. They consider the costs there are on the fairly low side. Students pay a rental of £3.75 a week. Where else in London or outside could you find such a low figure for rental? That works out at £116 a year on the basis of the 30 or 32 weeks in college. They pay £217 a year for food, which again is based on the current refectory prices and does not reflect what it would cost outside; £75 for books, which is a high item in any student's expenditure today, and £60 for clothing, laundry and so on. They have £93 for pocket money covering the whole year, and including the cost of joining in various activities at university which really are part of one's education, as well as leisure activities. There is £17 for travel, which is not high for the London area. The total comes to £634.25. As Sir Brian Flowers pointed out, if the economic rent were charged it would be £15 more. Students who are not living in halls of residence, and these are the majority, are generally worse off, unless they live at home; if they do, the comparable full amount is £390. But in the period since the last review we have seen the rents for unfurnished tenancies rise by about 40 per cent. and for furnished tenancies, which are those which are naturally most used by students, by 60 per cent.
§ In addition to these points, we come to the anomalies in the system. I hope that the Minister will be able to give us some good news about these to-night. First of all, those whose parents' residual income starts at £1,500 a year get less support from their local authorities, since their parents are suposed to make up the rest. The fact is that they do not do so in far more cases than appear to be realised. Whether or not the Ministry has the figures on this I do not know, but if they have not they should find out all over the country; I have only been able to do so in a small way and with the help of the Nottingham University, which carried out a survey among 431 graduates representing a 10 per cent. sample. I have some information in this field. They find that 32 per cent. were on the full L.E.A. grant, and 43 per cent. received parental contributions ranging from £23 to £557 1118 a year to make up the full grant. But this term 25 per cent., with contributions ranging from £5 to £93, which averages out at £31 to £32, did not receive their contribution, and this is a great deal of money, even if you take the £31 to £32, when you are really on short measure and short rations.
§ The students were also asked to state in the questionnaire the reasons why this was so, if they knew. Some of them said that their parents could not afford to pay; some said that they did not want to ask them to support them, often because they felt that they could not afford it, even though they had been rated on this basis. Many others said that they and their parents did not see why people over 18 should be a continual parental burden. I would remind your Lordships that we have now made 18 the age of majority. In a survey at the Bristol University this year it was there discovered that 5 per cent. of those whose grants were based on a parental contribution were over £100 short. Similarly, talking to students in London one seems to find the same story repeated. I find this rather alarming. This has a much wider aspect than the immediate question of student grants. We know that there are many difficulties in growing up, tensions that arise due to what we generally call the generation gap, but if in addition to this we have this kind of tension within the family, all I can say is that it then becomes socially divisive and creates trouble between children and parents which really ought not to arise, and about which we should do something.
§ What then happens to those students whose grants fall short? Well, they scrimp and scrape. They are, many of them, underfed. And they work during the vacations. I have no objection to and do not disagree with students working during vacations, particularly the long vacation, but it should be remembered that during the short vacations they have work to do themselves; they have tasks that are set. It is very difficult, if you are not in a Hall of Residence, in these days of very short housing, to give up rooms, especially in the London area; you usually have to keep them on and try to sub-let in between.1119
So far as work in the vacation is concerned, I should like to read out a telegram which I received when I arrived this afternoon:
The Association of Veterinary Students strongly supports your Motion and would remind you that veterinary students have particular difficulties because of the requirement to see veterinary practice during vacations when other students supplement their grants by working.
I imagine there are other groups of students in this category.
§ Another of the anomalies is that the Anderson Committee when it reported made no distinction between men and women students, but in 1968 married women became a different category, and now receive a grant of £295 if they are living with their husbands, which is £95 less than that of other students living at home. It may be a good thing—I certainly think it is but I doubt whether the Minister will agree with me—to encourage young people to make sure they are compatible before they jump into wedlock, but I find it difficult to believe that the Department wants to encourage "shacking up" by giving married women a much lower grant as a matrimonial deterrent. In view of the statement in the Government document Equal Opportunities for Men and Women which we debated last week, and the Government's stand in that document on student grants and sex equality, it surely is time that this matter ceased to be under consideration and was equalised immediately. I hope that the Minister to-day is going to take this very good opportunity to announce that this in fact is so when he replies.
§ Then there are the discretionary grants. This is very important and often gets overlooked. When we are talking about students I think that very often many people are inclined to think we are talking only about university students, but we are not. We are also talking about a great number of students who are accepted for a course which is not a degree course or equivalent, where the local authorities have a mandatory duty to make grants to them (and this includes teacher training), but for the other courses where a local authority can discriminate as to the grant. This seems to me to be grossly unfair, because there are a number of cases, with which I will neither bore your Lordships nor take up your time, 1120 where in adjoining authorities a student will get a grant in one but in the other one next door, through the geographical misfortune of living there, he would not. Since in April, 1974, all mandatory grants will attract 90 per cent. Central Government support, it would seem to me to be a good moment to make sure that recognised courses in a recognised establishment should also receive a mandatory grant. This would help all those students on evening courses. It would also help students doing Open University courses, where they have to incur considerable expense in travelling to tutorials as well as the other work involved. This would not cost, to start with, very much more than £1 million, but it is very important, it seems to me, socially by enabling people who have perhaps missed out socially and environmentally in their young years to participate in further education; they would then have a chance of outweighing the disadvantages.
§ Fourthly, there also seems to me to be a very big problem over the postgraduate grants; it is the post-graduates on whom further research depends, and they certainly are very under-granted. It means that many people with valuable and original contributions to make have to forgo their study—and again I have, I am sorry to say, a great many examples of this which have been sent to me only in the last week—and take a job in industry.
§ Finally, in these anomalies, there is the whole question of accommodation, which I have no time to go into, but it seems to me we have to start looking at the most economical way of providing more accommodation for students. Rather than throwing figures into the financial arena which will probably be out of date tomorrow, and although at this moment it appears that the critical short-fall is, at least, £150, the way I see it the whole grant system needs re-structuring. Grants should be assessed annually in relation to a student's cost of living index this varies considerably from the general index, so that it is difficult to use that. Students have to spend a much greater amount on books which are not included anyway in the general index, and less on other things. I think that London needs a special grant for both undergraduates and post-graduates, and should not just be lumped with Oxford and Cambridge, 1121 particularly because of the difficulties of travel and accommodation. When a young person is 18 he or she is an adult and should be treated as such, therefore we should do away with the parental contribution in its present form.
§ I should like to see the dependent child's allowance abolished for taxation purposes at 18, and that amount used for taxation, because once young persons of 18 are working they are working on their own, but if they are in part-time or full-time education they should be supplemented by way of a grant. They should not be in the position of having to be an adult on the one hand but considered a dependent child on the other. This is quite wrong.
§ In the interim, if this does not cover the financial side well enough, I would suggest that those parents of children in higher education whose income is something in the nature of £5,000 or £6,000 a year, should be subject to selective taxation. I know of all the shrieks about this idea, but this Government pride themselves on an imaginative approach to taxation, and it should not be beyond the wit of man— or in this case woman—and the Treasury to work something out. After all, it would be less complicated than a loan, to which I am entirely opposed but which many people support, and the difficulties in administering a loan, and also collecting it, would be far greater. We are a credit crazy society, and for young people to start with a debt hanging round their neck, and then have to spend a certain amount of time trying to evade it, seems practically and morally quite wrong.
Finally, in January of this year, the Prime Minister, in speaking to the Society of Education Officers, addressed himself to two self-inflicted examination questions. First,
Does our present system of education prepare individuals adequately for the kind of life which they will lead after they leave school or college?".
Does education help us to strengthen the cohesion and improve the quality of our society.
The answer to both should be "Yes", but I am doubtful whether at the moment one can say that. But both of these are implied aims towards which we all
ought to be moving, and I hope we are. However, these aims are threatened by the continuing inadequacy of the grants for education, and particularly of student grants. This is really only a small piece of financial grit, but it is a very irritating form of grit which is wearing at the educational gears and stopping us in our progress to top gear in education, which I think is what we all want to see. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 6.3 p.m.
§ BARONESS SEEAR
My Lords, I am speaking this evening primarily as a university teacher about university students, and I will be brief. I want first to draw the attention of the House to certain notable differences in the approach to university education in this country and in a number of other countries, because I believe that often when people are thinking about the financing of students they draw their arguments from what goes on in the United States or in certain European countries. We, rightly or wrongly—and I think rightly—have still, despite the extension of numbers, a selective approach to university education. It is competitive. It is not there by virtue merely of having passed at a minimum level a given examination. Therefore, in this sense we are deliberately setting out to attract the cream. We also try to keep our university education in a very short period of time. Our normal degree is still a three-year degree, and this is unusual in the world as a whole.
Taking these two points together, I submit that it means that we are asking our youngsters, the best we can find, to work very hard for a relatively short period of time. I do not go along with the idea that it is quite a good thing for them to spend a good deal of time supplementing their grants by taking jobs, either during the week, which is what a great many of them do at the present time, or even during the vacation period. I know that it is becoming customary to say that it does them no harm to work during vacation, particularly during the long vacation, as the noble Baroness just said: but they have a very great deal of their own work to do, and their own work is getting on with their studies and not exploring the inside of Woolworth's, serving across the counter, however entertaining that experience may be. They get plenty of experience of life 1123 in one way or another in being students; they do not need to get it by taking jobs round the corner.
At the present time, particularly in London, which is an area where I have direct experience so far as students are concerned, they simply have not enough money to do the work that they are supposed to be doing. They are being paid the grant they are getting to do this work and presumably we want them to do it by having got them to university. They have not been getting enough money to do this without either cutting down on tile food and essentials that they ought to have or by supplementing it by work. This seems to me to be extraordinarily poor economy. We want them to get on with the job which is their job. I do not go the whole way with the students in saying that they ought to have a student wage, but I do not want them to live penuriously. I think that with reasonable frugality they ought to be able to spend most of the year, and certainly all term time, concentrating on what they are supposed to be doing. There are all too many of them who do not realise the reading they are supposed to do. It is not sensible, when we have this still highly selective approach towards students and cram it into a short period of time, and have still, thank goodness! high standards in our universities, to weaken their own attack on their studies by cutting down the grant and limiting it, with the expectation which is now growing up in a great many people that, after all, it is quite easy for them to get a job and earn on the side. That is a stupid way of doing it.
Although I am not taking the line of the student wage, we have to remember that these young men particularly, and young women as well, are comparing themselves with their own school-fellows who have gone into a job. The average wage of a man now is £42 per week, and this average is calculated to the age of 21. A lot of their old school friends have gone into jobs in which they are able to support a standard of living way above that that the students are able to get. I do not think that the money should be the same, because the students, if they are any good, know that they are going to be able to earn a great deal more than this; but to have such a big 1124 gap between the standard of living of the students and the standard of living of the youngsters in a job is very unwise. It is discouraging some of the youngsters, particularly from families where university education is not customary, from going on to the higher education which they can take and which we need them to take, because they see how much better they do if they go straight into a job.
That being so, there are four points to which I should like to draw your attention. As the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has said, the triennial review is just starting, but on the last occasion the students settled for an unreasonably low base line in their negotiations with the authorities. I cannot speak for them, but I think that your Lordships would find that many of the people concerned with those negotiations, and not only on the students' side, now recognise that this is so. So let us start this time with a realistic base line in terms of the grants. Secondly, here I would very much support the point that the noble Baroness made about a student cost index and an annual review. What has caused so much trouble over the last period has been the rate of inflation and the fact that such increases that have been given have not anything like caught up with the rate of inflation but have fallen right behind the rise in prices. Let us make a decent job of it and have a reasonable base rate, and an annual review based on a student index.
I also think it is time that we got rid of the parental contribution, for the reason that the noble Baroness gave: that students are now adults, like all the rest of the population, at the age of 18 and for a special reason which your Lordships will perhaps not be surprised that I want to point out: that the parental income limit undoubtedly to-day bears hard on girls. It is still true that in a family where there are two or three youngsters still at school or of university age, there are many parents who say, "We will put our money in for the boy, and the girl can take a secretarial course", or something of the kind. It is very tempting; and it is very tempting for the girl to go along with it and to feel, "In our family there really is not enough money to go round for both my brothers and myself, and, after all, there is the boyfriend up the road, so I will not push too 1125 hard". So, once again, the girls get left behind in those families from which a parental contribution is demanded. It is also true, as I know from experience, that quite often parents do not pay up for one reason or another, and when this happens the student really it in a very poor position indeed.
Finally, once again I should like to plead for the married woman student living at home. I know a great many of us have said this before—I have myself said it a number of times on previous occasions, and I am sure other people will say it to-night—but we know that a great many women, when they were leaving school as girls, did not take the courses they were capable of taking, and we know that they are now coming back in large numbers. We also know that they are a very important potential of the people that we need in the professions and occupations which require a university training. For the wife who has to make considerable adjustments at home and who has to persuade her husband, who may or may not be supporting her in her effort, it is highly discouraging in her attempt to take training in order to get back into the labour market at the level at which she is capable. It is very hard indeed for her if, in addition to having to make the adjustments at home, which often involve the husband in a certain amount of inconvenience, she has to say, "On top of this I am going to present you with a bill for a couple of hundred pounds a year". That is bound to lead to quite a number of them either not starting, or giving up because the going is too tough. So I very much hope that the Government will concede that the married woman living at home should be, as the Anderson Committee originally intended, treated in exactly the same way as any other student.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, I must begin by apologising to the House, to the Minister and to my noble friend who introduced this debate that I have a previously made appointment. I am not going to say that it is a meeting: it is some culture from which I feel I shall benefit. It would have been very unfortunate, I think, if there had not been a spokesman from the Front Bench of the Opposition. Indeed, I believe my col- 1126 leagues incurred some strictures on the occasion of the previous debate, although I am quite sure that my noble friend would not do that to me.
My Lords, with such a star-studded list of speakers and with such an able introduction, followed again by a splendid contribution by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, I feel there is little for me to do other than to underline some of the points which have been made but I should like to hearten the Minister by beginning with a compliment to the Department, because I was delighted to see that they had announced that there was to be an increase in the dependant's allowance. I seem to recollect that in the last Government I had the rather difficult task of trying to introduce this, and that I received a roasting from the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, and, so far as I recall, from my noble friend Lady Summerskill. So I am very glad to see that at any rate Her Majesty's Government have dealt with the problem of the dependant's allowance.
The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, outlined the problem of students to-day. As is the case with the other two noble Baronesses, I have been in touch mainly with students living in London, and it may be that the London situation is peculiar. Nevertheless, we have to recognise that a very large number of students are in London. Unlike the other two noble Baronesses, my concern has been with the students in the teacher-training colleges, and we read from the literature issued by the Department that there has been a notable increase in the number of students entering teacher-training colleges —a statement which gave me great delight. It will be tragic if some of these girls who have come forward to take training to become the teachers we so desperately need are unable to stay the course because they see the temptation of going out to earn, very easily and very quickly, a wage of £28 to £32 a week as a typist.
If we look at the booklet which describes the grants to students in teacher-training establishments, we see that those in lodgings in London receive £500 for their student year. This includes, I note, travelling at £15 a year. My Lords, I did a quick calculation of my own travelling expenses, and I probably live as near the House as any of your Lordships. Coming from Fulham costs me 40p per 1127 day, which works out at about £62 for 30 weeks. This seems to me a far cry from £15; and I was rather interested to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, give the figure of £17 as a travelling allowance. I should be interested to know where one would start and where one would end, travelling at such a low rate these days within the London Transport system. The £500 also includes £54 for equipment and other materials. I have recently had a book given to me for inspection—not a book that one would say was peculiar to any particular type of student, but a general educational work which all students should have. It cost £4.50. My Lords, it is easy to say that one should borrow these books. We all recall from our student days that any book we wished to borrow was always on loan to somebody else who wanted it at the same time; and one must have the books to be able to take the course. If you are a specialist—P.E., music or art—your costs are even higher.
I would appeal to the Government to change the system, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has already emphasised, from that of some grants being discretionary and some being mandatory. The system of discretionary grants means—and we all know cases like this—that one local education authority will be generous and another education authority will be not only less than generous but perhaps even not give the student anything at all. It puts the student entirely at the mercy of a particular local education authority. The group receiving discretionary grants is very much larger than is probably appreciated. Most of the students in the residential adult education colleges of course receive discretionary awards, and they are in fact doing a particularly useful kind of study. There are some figures which have been prepared which show that 81 local education authorities helped these particular students by mandatory grants; 19 gave them discretionary grants, not at the same level; 16 gave them very much less; and 7 had what they called "another policy", which I would suggest to your Lordships probably means even less.
I think, too, that the anomalies which have been outlined need to be considered carefully. If we look at this question of the parental contribution, it is indeed a 1128 curious idea that a student at 18 is still dependent upon his or her parents, and that they must have been supporting themselves for three years. Since we have raised the school-leaving age to 16 this seems to be difficult, if not impossible. But we see rather curious cases which seem to show that within this system one cannot win. We have the case of the student who was a post-graduate in the teacher-training scheme. She received her grant: based on her father's earnings, which varied from year to year because of his type of employment. She was given a final assessment at the end of her post-graduate year, and then in the following year, when it was discovered that her father's earnings were a little more, she was asked to repay quite a substantial amount. The complicated correspondence seems to me to suggest the high cost of operating any kind of means test, and this is no exception. Then, at the other end of the scale we have the young man who had worked for three years before entering college but who was regarded as dependent because part of his earnings had been during his period with Voluntary Service Overseas and he had not received £7.50 per week, which is the amount specified by the Department of Education. So it seems to me that whatever way one tries in this particular situation, one cannot win.
The time has come for all students to be dealt with by a national system of mandatory awards. All students over the age of 16, whether in further education, in teacher training, in art or technical colleges should be eligible for grant prescribed by national regulations. I should like to underline what the noble Baroness said: that we save money on our educational system at our peril.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ LORD GRIDLEY
My Lords, I rise with a certain amount of trepidation, having to follow three noble Baronesses in this debate. I hope I shall not be responsible for introducing anything like a discordant note about anything said by the previous speakers. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for raising the subject of student grants as I think that this is an extraordinarily important matter in the present circumstances of my country. I have an interest to declare. I am a parent. I have a 1129 daughter who is at Oxford, at St. Hilda's College, and who is in receipt of a grant. It is with considerable interest that I have listened to the comments made this evening. What depressed me was that one might think, listening to the previous speeches, that we had made no progress in this country in respect of education over the last 25 years. Looking back over that time surely one would think that our youth have some reason to be grateful for the facilities that exist to-day. Surely it is not enough that we should bring to the attention of this House only the difficulties which exist; it should also be pointed out that they have inherited something worth while and therefore it is up to them to make a contribution towards it. I make that point at the outset as this is a controversial subject.
To my way of thinking, students can be extraordinarily interesting and extraordinarily exasperating. I do not suppose that the "squares" (if you wish so to call us) of my generation are amused—and I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has referred to what I am going to say— to see our police, with the burdens facing them at the present time, with trouble in this country and in Ireland and possibly with picketing on strikebound areas, having to lift student protesters off the road or to take certain action at sit-ins. Our public watch on television the marching, shouting processions and the police supervision. To look at those television pictures, to see those smiling, shouting faces one would need a great deal of persuasion to be convinced that those students were hungry and suffering. It is fair to make that point. I think it is also fair to say that there has not been quite so much marching and protesting in recent weeks as in the past.
My Lords, what situation do we face now? The picture I have painted of students is not helpful to them and it is not helpful to those who would support them in requests for increased grants. It is the people of this country who pay for these grants. We must bear that in mind. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, suggested in her speech some form of additional taxes to be raised; so that this matter affects the people who pay the taxes. I am merely putting to your Lordships that if people receive grants 1130 for university education they owe us a responsibility in that respect. Knowing the difficulties facing us at the present time, people outside the House, people who perhaps have not had the benefit of a university education, ask: "Why should we continue to subsidise irresponsibility?"
§ BARONESS SEEAR
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, coming from an institution which, of all the colleges in the country, has been most associated with student disturbances, is going to tell us that at the height of the disturbances at the L.S.E. our library was full of people not joining in the disturbances but getting on with their work. Their activities attracted no attention at all from the mass media or the Press.
§ LORD GRIDLEY
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for bringing up that point. I am not trying to indicate that I do not realise that certain disturbances have gone on in the universities and that there have been outside elements. I realise that. I am trying to point out that if people have a chance of going to university, they should bear the responsibility which goes with it. We have to pay for these things. While it is being suggested in this House to-night that grants should be increased, there have been speeches made over the last few days pointing to the fact that we have lost 400,000 in the production of cars. This, in terms of the industry's exports, represents a loss of something like £400 million. That is the situation.
I should like to say something about the grant figures. In my own case, I am divulging my daughter's position. She is at Oxford and therefore gets a grant of £520 per annum. Of this, £90 per term has to be given to the college for board and lodging, representing £270 for the year. The student is left with £250 on which to live. But she and other students with whom she is friendly have been able to obtain work quite easily and to get well paid during part of their holidays. I do not feel that these activities have in any way interfered with their studies. At the present time, and in the situation facing us in this country, I find it extremely difficult to find any justification for increasing student grants. But I would favour the appointment of a Committee of some kind to go into the various 1131 anomalies, to see whether injustices exist and to rectify the financial difficulties where these are revealed. But I feel that we have to be sensible about this and that we must make our students sensible. They are the people who will be taking over responsibility from us when we are incapable of exercising our influence any further. I feel that in considering the future of universities and of students in this country one must bring a sensible outlook to bear on the problems which exist. One should not look at the matter as though it is the poor students who suffer all the time. I cannot agree with that viewpoint.
§ BARONESS BIRK
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I just put in a question, in case he is not here at the end of the debate? He was talking about irresponsble students and saying that we should not increase their grant. Is he disputing the figures, the size of the grant and the point of inflation, or does he really think it quite right that students should not be able to manage on their grants?
§ LORD GRIDLEY
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that question. Of course I do not think it right that a student should not be able to manage, but I should like to be convinced of this. I am not convinced at the moment with what I have seen at Oxford and Cambridge. Wherever I have been, I have seen a lot of students who seem to find it possible to find outside work and they are extremely well paid, and there are many jobs going around at the present moment. That has been my experience.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ LORD ENERGLYN
My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend the Baroness for bringing this subject before your Lordships' House. As she has pointed out, this is an excellent place in which to discuss a subject of this kind. I must declare an interest: I can see it only as a don dealing with undergraduates. So all my remarks are exclusively related to undergraduate life.
As I see it, the grants are not really a problem, but rather a facet of a situation which has risen as a result, as the noble Lord has just said, of the very praiseworthy development of adult education in this country. We can refer now, of 1132 course, to adult education in university life, since we are dealing with young people who are mainly over the age of 18 and, as such, wish to be treated as adults. Some of them would like to see a salaried scheme, possibly like an apprenticeship salary in industry, because, as they might justifiably argue, they are passing through an apprenticeship into positions of responsibility in later life. But many of them reject that salaried idea because they see attached to it a political activity to which they do not wish to subscribe. They can see within it the danger of their more politically minded colleagues indulging in trade union techniques; and they do not want that to dominate what, after all, is to them a precious area wherein they can indulge in absolute freedom of thought.
I have mixed with these young men and women for a very long time. I am sure that what they tell me is from the depths of their hearts, and that they are proud also to belong to this unique institution in the world, the British university. There is nothing like it anywhere in the world as a place where young people can indulge freely in thought. This is why they are very cautious about selecting one form of grant-in-aid in preference to another. For example, I remember being in a crowd of undergraduates, and we were talking, naturally, about how poor we all were. I said, "Supposing we cut off all aid to emerging countries, we should have enough money to solve your problems. Would you agree?" To a man and woman they naturally refused to consider that. This really, I think, reflects the true characteristic of the British undergraduate.
It seems to me that the complexities we have heard referred to can perhaps be dealt with more proficiently by others than myself, but I would ask that the Minister keeps in mind—and I hope he will forgive me for being donnish in suggesting that he keeps these three things in mind—three facets of this situation. The first is that, whatever we do so far as grants are concerned, we must preserve the independence and the individualism of the British university; and remember, at all times, that they operate under individual Royal Charters. So any wild idea of collectivising them is "not on". The second thing I would 1133 ask the Minister to remember is that we have some well-tried organisations in this country, among them that well-tried and honourable organisation called the University Grants Committee. It is a Committee which receives money from the Treasury and directs it into the university without strings. It is this lifeline of finance which retains the independence and the integrity of our British universities.
The third point may seem at first sight superficial and trivial, but I would remind your Lordships that the university is a place full of scholars who can be classified only as graduates and undergraduates. The undergraduates are not students in the sense of young people attending school. They are entitled to this title "undergraduate", because along with it goes the grant to which the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, referred earlier. They recognise that we should enhance it; and therefore, I make a very strong plea, so far as the occupants of the universities are concerned, that they be referred to, in future, as "graduates" and "undergraduates".
Finally, my Lords, bearing these three facets in mind, may I suggest that this situation can be remedied by accepting, I think, what most students would want, and that is equality in the award, and that each potential undergraduate should receive a basic reward, regardless of the parental background? Moreover, as the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, has said, this should be done on a national basis. If it were done on a national basis, it would remove a large area of complicated administration at Government and local government levels. I therefore return to this wise, well-tried and honourable institution called the University Grants Committee, and I suggest that the recent efforts they have made to remedy many of the defects in our financial structure equip them to be the body to look at this situation. I would suggest to the Minister that if the University Grants Committee were charged with the task of looking at this situation they would emerge with a pattern of financial support and development which would meet the situation, complicated though it is, as we see it at the present time.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ LORD ANNAN
My Lords, I am sure that anyone engaged in higher education, 1134 as I am, must be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for having raised this topic this evening, and opening it with a speech which showed how much hard work she had done, and how well she had briefed herself. What we have to recognise, in respect of the present state of students grants, is that the Anderson principle is at stake. By the "Anderson principle", I mean that principle which was laid down in the Report of Sir Colin Anderson's Committee on student grants, and which established that every student should be able to have a basic grant which covered the maintenance costs of his higher education. Now the reason why this principle may well be discarded is because it was breached in 1967 at the time of the devaluation. At that time, student grants were deliberately not raised by the full amount. Ever since then the grant has lagged behind the right level. There is another reason why the principle may be discarded. The three parties engaged in the negotiations that are going on at this moment about the level of student grants have divergent interests. These three bodies are, first, the National Union of Students; second, the Vice-Chancellors' Committee, and the local authorities who have to administer the institutions to which students belong; and third, the Government.
Let me take the first of these three groups, the National Union of Students. What are their interests? I am not privy to the counsels of the N.U.S. They are at this moment engaged on the first two stages of negotiation, in which the Vice-Chancellors Committee is not concerned. But I have a shrewd suspicion that their priorities are different from those of the Vice-Chancellors. The Vice-Chancellors, as I shall explain, are interested in the level of the basic grant more than anything else. But the National Union of Students are, quite reasonably, not concerned solely with the basic grant because their constituency is far wider than the universities. They represent the large number of students in the polytechnics, colleges of education, colleges of art— now being absorbed in the polytechnics —and in the colleges of further education. Their priorities are different from those of the authorities of all these institutions.
One of the things which I suspect they are putting very high on their list is to 1135 make discretionary grants into mandatory grants, so that a local authority is compelled to pay a grant to a student who is attending a college of art just as much as it is compelled to pay a grant to a student who is attending a university. The second thing which I suspect they are very interested in, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, referred, is the abolition of the parental means test. This, as we know, they are arguing could be done if children's allowances were removed. They are also concerned with the question of equal grants for wives; they are in effect imploring the Government no longer to go on scandalously encouraging cohabitation in our places of higher education. They are also asking for higher grants for study abroad, which have been badly hit by devaluation. Then they are asking for an annual review of the grant, so that grants are not eaten away during a triennium by inflation. I think we should note here that students up to date have been the only group in the institutions of higher education who are not to some extent protected against inflation. They are the only people who cannot get their level of support reasonably frequently reviewed.
Then, my Lords, they are interested in removing anomalies. Here I should like to thank those speakers who have spoken about the particular difficulties of the students living in London. I do not want myself this evening to make a special plea for the London student except in one case, and that is for the London postgraduate student. I would ask that his case be looked into. The situation is simply this. A post-graduate student is allowed to earn a certain amount over and above his grant. He receives £695 per annum. and he is allowed to earn a further £175 per annum, which he usually does through teaching in his institution —though only a few are offered such teaching. Unlike the undergraduate, he is not allowed to earn more than a certain amount. His total earnings are limited and have a ceiling put upon them. In London, the post-graduate receives no more than a post-graduate anywhere else. He is the sole person who receives no London allowance. Academic staff receive a London allowance; undergraduates receive a differential if they 1136 are in a London university; and of course the technical staff receive a London allowance. This is an anomaly which I should hope the Minister can give us an assurance will be looked at. Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, I do not expect the Minister this evening to give us assurances that all the points we have raised will be implemented at once. That cannot possibly be done while the negotiations with the National Union of Students are going on. But what I should like an assurance about is that this particular point about the post-graduate student in London will be borne in mind by the Government whether or not it has been raised in the negotiations. So much for the side of the students.
Now, my Lords, let me turn to the side of the Vice-Chancellors. What concerns a Vice-Chancellor, or a director of a polytechnic or a local authority is the level of the basic grant. This basic grant other than at London and Oxford and Cambridge is about £100 below what it should be. The Vice-Chancellors—and here I can speak only for them—are entirely behind the National Union of Students' campaign for better grants as a whole. But what they are primarily interested in is the basic grant, to which the National Union of Students will not necessarily give top priority. Why are the Vice-Chancellors so interested in this basic grant? Because university finance rests on the assumption that students must be able to find money for the very modest meals served in refectories; to find money for the growing rate of rents in lodgings; and to find money for the rents of halls of residence or rooming houses run by universities. If they cannot find the money for these purposes. then a particular part of university finance is deeply distorted.
Let me give your Lordships an example of why it is distorted. Some time ago the University Grants Committee informed universities that they were no longer prepared to find money for student residence, and they told the universities that they must borrow this money on the open market. But the University Grants Committee said: "We will give you an incentive to go out and borrow in that we will give you a small subsidy towards the rate of interest at which you will have to borrow". So the universities did this. They went out and borrowed on the open 1137 market. They erected halls of residence; and of course they have to charge in the rents for these halls of residence not merely the rent which is needed to maintain the hall of residence, but the money for the repayment of the debt and the interest on that debt. Therefore there are bound to be higher rents in those halls of residence. If we do not get a correct basic grant for our students, then they will be unable to pay the rent in university residences. I suspect, also, that they will be unable to pay the going rents for lodgings in most big cities to-day.
I come now, my Lords, to the third party in the negotiations; namely, the Government. The Government hold out a bag of gold, and they say to the N.U.S.: "Here is a bag of gold. What will you spend it on? It is entirely up to you to choose" The last time that question was put to the N.U.S. they chose the fringe benefits. In saying that, I am not denigrating them. But they did not put as their top priority the basic grant. That was why we found rent strikes and refectory sit-ins and universities faced with a situation they were powerless to resolve.
May I here interpolate a suggestion for the Minister to consider? He could, I think, help institutions of higher education such as universities if his Department were able to treat refectories as generously, in terms of certain matters of finance, as hospital refectories and canteen are treated. These financial matters are rather complicated, concerning as they do the writing-off of equipment, and I hope the Minister will excuse me for not going into detail. All I am asking at the moment is whether we can have in our refectories the same rules as operate in hospitals under the Department of Health.
The difficulty is that refectories in universities have been treated very much under the terms of the 1925 Act governing the Oxford and Cambridge colleges. Under that Act, one of the concerns of the Government of the day was to ensure that the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge did not use their endowments to enable their Fellows to dine every night off oysters. In my institution, I hasten to assure the Minister, no oyster has been seen for very many "ears; the only delicacies I can think of are the squids, which are used in neurobiological 1138 research. But it is really ludicrous to go on treating refectories in universities and other institutions of higher education in the same way as they were treated in 1925, when very stringent restrictions were put upon college kitchens in order that they might not use endowments as subsidies.
To-day under the U.G.C. rules, refectories and halls of residence must also pay their way, and that is why the universities must charge the full price. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, referred, quite rightly, to the fact that some refectories do make losses. My Lords, it is true that they do make losses at times, because occasionally it is not possible for them to put up prices quickly enough to meet rising costs. But the fact that some make losses is quite a different thing from subsiding a refectory. I hope that no-one will leave this debate thinking that universities are able to subsidise their refectories out of the grants they get for teaching and research. That is the last thing they wish to do, and it is the last thing they will do. I think it is very important that that point should be realised, because I began my speech by referring to the fact that the Anderson principle was at stake.
I must say that the Vice-Chancellors are in no doubt about one thing. If, at the end of the negotiations, the Government are unable to raise the basic grant by the full amount and the Anderson principle is finally breached, then the Vice-Chancellors' Committee will undoubtedly make their view known to the public that Anderson is dead. They will then say that in view of this fact they expect students to earn in the holidays, and this will become part of the whole business of being a student. That will be a major change of principle.
We all know that students do earn in the holidays. Here I should like to refer in closing to the courageous speech of the noble Lord, Lord Gridley. I did not think it received universal approbation in your Lordships' House this evening, and I am sure that it would be very unpopular if delivered in universities and other institutions of higher education; but I think it is good that such a speech was made, because it expressed a point of view that is well known to me in industry and also in organised labour—though I 1139 do not mean to imply that the trade union movement itself would back that speech. However, certainly many men in the working class would say that students are well off and that there is no need for grants to be as high as they are. All I would say in reply is that one of the things the Anderson principle managed to establish was that in this country we have a higher percentage of working-class students than in any other European country. Such students are the ones who will be seriously affected. We shall find a decline in their numbers, and indeed a decline in the total numbers of students who go to institutions of higher education, if the grants are not kept to a reasonable level. If we really find ourselves in a position where those in higher education are only the ones who have been brought up to believe that that is the natural place for them to go because the jobs they are destined for are those which naturally demand higher education, I think the country will be the loser. I am also certain that the universities would also be the losers. I should like to close on that note and ask the Minister whether he will be good enough to bring the points I have mentioned to the attention of his right honourable friend the Secretary of State.
§ LORD GRIDLEY
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask a question of him? I must first thank him for having said what he did about my own speech. In view of his great experience and the really magnificent speech he has just made, I should like to put a point to him about the payments which parents are required to make as a contribution towards the grants made by the authorities. Is the noble Lord saying that some parents do not make a contribution to their children who are going to university? If so, has he any evidence that this is happening on a fairly large scale—that the contributions which parents should make towards students' education is in fact not being paid? Secondly, I should like to ask: is the noble Lord making out a case that it is more expensive in London and that therefore the grant should be greater for London than for Oxford or Cambridge? I believe that is what he is saying.
§ LORD ANNAN
My Lords, the answer to the first question is, I am afraid, undoubtedly, Yes. There are a great many parents who are expected to contribute to the grants which their children get but who do not do so. Sometimes this can be for perfectly understandable reasons: because a parent may have two, and sometimes even three, children at institutions of higher education. One can see that in such cases a parent would be very hard pressed, even though allowance is made for this in the Anderson principle; but am afraid there is a great deal of evidence to that effect.
With regard to the noble Lord's second question, I was referring mainly to the post-graduate student. I think here the case is unassailable. As regards the undergraduate student, I think a very strong case could be made out for a differential between London and Oxford and Cambridge, but I was not pressing for this in my speech.
§ 6.59 p.m.
§ BARONESS STOCKS
My Lords, may I say at the outset that I am not referring to post-graduate students' grants or to the work of post-graduate students, but to first degree students at universities. My noble friend Lady Birk has made it quite clear that in order to preserve what is regarded as a civilised life for students in the modern world it is necessary for them to work in the vacations. and in spite of our regrettable level of unemployment, they are, surprisingly, always able to do. The noble Baroness also made it clear that this does not apply to veterinary students, because they are required to work during vacations. Also, I think it does not apply to medical students or engineers. But I am thinking in terms of first year undergraduate students working for first degrees.
Only this morning I read in the Daily Telegraph that the University Grants Committee has issued a directive to universities to point out that owing to the dearth of applicants for places in science faculties, there is great pressure on the arts subjects, on the humanities, social science, psychology, English and history. I can throw some light on the reasons for that preference but I will not do it now because it would be slightly controversial. That is the situation. What does a student in the modern world require for a civilised existence? As my noble friend 1141 pointed out, a student requires food of course, and a capacity for responding decently to changing fashions in dress; perhaps cigarettes, but certainly a high degree of mobility, because students to-day are extremely mobile. They like to move in large numbers all over the country, either supporting demonstrations by other students, or supporting the mass picketing by trade unions for which they have a natural sympathy. It is clear that under present grants they cannot do those things easily.
May I widen my remarks to embrace the whole university system as it is at present. My accusation against the universities is that, like poor Jim Jay in De La Mare's poem, they have got stuck fast in yesterday. They have inherited a pattern of terms and vacations which were relevant to Oxford and Cambridge in the latter part of the last century. Then Oxford and Cambridge were regarded by some as the necessary preparation for one of the learned professions, and were regarded by many as finishing schools for the rich, providing social amenities. Any reader of Trollope will be able to fill in that picture. But why, oh why! has it been necessary that that pattern of terms and vacations should be handed from Oxbridge, to Redbrick and from Redbrick to the glass and concrete universities which have proliferated all over the county under the inspiration of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins? It seems unnecessary for that prolongation of university life, the first degrees, to be perpetuated now in our universities. If we did not perpetuate it we could perfectly well afford to pay the kind of grants which my noble friend Lady Birk regards as necessary. It can be done. It was done during the War, in my own college of Westfield, when we fitted our three-year degree course into two years without, I am convinced, any loss of academic standard or the quality of the degrees which resulted. That is something which could, and should, be done at the present time and in the present climate of opinion.
Finally, my Lords—yes, finally—we must remember that the public purse is not infinitely expandable, though it can be replenished from time to time by the printing of quantities of paper notes. We must face the question of priorities. At the moment we are spending quixotically 1142 on the universities and on buildings which are used for part of the year and not used for the rest of the year. We are starving the Police Service, we are starving the National Health Service, and it is time that we began to look in terms of priorities. I hope to goodness that we shall.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ LORD BOWDEN
My Lords, may I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for initiating this extremely important debate. So much of what has been said is accepted by everyone; there can be no doubt in the mind of anyone who has tried to cope with students that their basic grant is too small. The Vice-Chancellors' Committee has raid so many times, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has reminded us, and it went on record a couple of years ago at that time as saying that the total sum which was given in grants was at least £20 million less than necessary in its considered view. It is anomalous that students should find that they are earning less than half as much as the part-time cleaners who clean the hall, for example; or about a third as much as their own contemporaries, who, having left school at the same age, have gone into industry, or business. They find it extremely puzzling and very humiliating that they should be so hard up. There is no doubt at all that their present standard of living is lower than one should reasonably expect in a civilised society.
Although this is certainly true, far more important are other problems which have been raised already this evening; the parental contribution and the discrimination against married women and against those students who do not attend universities. The parental contribution is levied on all parents whose disposable income is greater than £1,500 a year, which is considerably less than the average income earned by ordinary people. In other words, the parental contribution begins when people's salaries are in fact very small.
It is undoubtedly and deplorably true to say that a large number of students do not receive anything at all from their parents. I have been shocked because it is common in my own university. It is true to say as a generalisation that students who are the children of the very poor are not so badly off; they manage more or less on their grant, small though 1143 it is. Students who are children of the very rich do quite well, because their parents usually make up the grant to something approaching its original value, and perhaps even more than that. But it is the ordinary middle-class parents, whose income is anything between £1,500 and £3,000 or £4,000 a year, who so often fail to make up the students' grants either because they cannot or will not. We have many cases of hardship which have been a great source of distress to everyone who has seen them.
I am sure that students are right to press for some system which makes it unnecessary for them to persuade their parents to give them money they can ill afford. Many students resent the fact that they should have to approach their parents —with whom maybe they are not on particularly good terms—and ask for what they regard as charity. I would even go so far as to say that when my own daughters went to college they resented the fact that I should be asked to pay their grant for them. Although they knew I did not begrudge it, they felt it was wrong that I should have to pay. This view is widespread among students. It does them credit, but it is a great source of difficulty and hardship among students that so many fail to get the parental grant.
The question of married students has been raised already many times. We seem to feel that it is wrong for girls to get married at the age of 20 or 21 if they are at university, although, as we well know, the average age for marriage among girls outside university is such that many of them expect to be married before they are out of their teens. If women students get married they lose heavily financially. So either they get married and conceal the fact, which is a very serious crime, or some of them fail to get married but cohabit nevertheless. The Minister will remember from his previous incarnation, that St. John once told us that "The wages of sin is death" Today, in 1973, under a Tory Government it is £4 a week.
I feel that this is an intolerable situation, and I hope that the Government will be able to do something about it, even if they cannot make an announcement this evening. The question of grants is really very complicated. Engineers and physiotherapists have to work for 45 weeks a 1144 year and cannot possibly spare time to earn anything. Students who have to go abroad find themselves acutely embarrassed because their grant of £500 in 1968 is today worth no more than £350 in either France or Germany, and no student can live on it. We have cases—and they are all too frequent, I am afraid—of students who had to apply for supplementary benefits in order to make it possible for them to live during the vacation. It is clear that the social security system was never devised in the expectation that students would have to depend upon it, but in one of my own halls no fewer than 38 students applied. Nearly all of them got grants because the social security people were more sympathetic and more understanding than the local education authorities had been.
There is real evidence of considerable financial hardship—frequently, and very courageously, borne by students who feel that they must somehow stick it out and who will not complain, whatever the difficulties they have to accept. It is quite wrong to say, as the noble Lord opposite said a moment ago, that students are irresponsible and demanding. Thy are neither the one nor the other. My own student body have been extraordinarily sensible and they have never demanded or expected more than they should reasonably be given.
§ LORD GRIDLEY
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question on that point? My picture of students protesting in front of television with banners and so on was not with the idea of exhibiting them as being irresponsible or anything like that. Of course they can do that kind of thing. The point I was trying to make was that if they come now to the Government or to the country and say that they want more grant, that sort of behaviour operates against them and against having sympathy with them in getting their grants.
§ LORD BOWDEN
My Lords, is it very often true to say that it is not until the television camera rises and the men say, "Let us have some action" that the riot starts.
I should like to re-emphasise one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, the vexatious question of the financing of student halls. Students have said many times that they do not want the kind of 1145 luxury which was common in Oxford and Cambridge in my own youth. They are well content with a most modest hostel type of hall. But it is not possible to pay for a hall out of the funds which students can afford to pay if they have to pay the mortgage. In the old days, students lived in a hall built by someone like Henry VI. To-day, the university is required to build it on land in the middle of a city, at great expense, and to borrow the money to pay for it, It has to charge students a rent which covers the mortgage as well as everything else. We have found that if we get the maximum sum which the Grants Committee can give us, and pay mortgage on the assumption that bank rate is 10½ per cent. (as it was not long ago) the whole of that part of the student grant which is expected to pay for board and lodging would be spent on lodging and nothing would be left for food at all. This is the situation with which the universities are confronted. They have to provide somewhere for their students to live, and the system does not allow them to do it at a rate which students can afford to pay. Some old and very good luxurious hostels have already been paid for, but students have to pay the mortgage on the very much more simple, spartan hall which is now being built. The Government should look at this problem.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, mentioned university refectories. We have in my own institution a large number of craftsmen and workmen of all kinds. We have to provide a works canteen for these people on a scale which is normal in factories in the district. We find that our students have to pay much more for their meals than the workmen do—again an extraordinary anomaly which one would like to remedy. I do not believe that it is enough to subsidise the refectories. A large number of students do not eat there regularly, and it is far more important that students should have a grant which makes it possible for them to live, as so many of them have to do, in lodgings or at home, or wherever they please. The question of the Anderson principle is acutely important and I fear that the Government have repudiated it but have lacked the political courage to say so. If this is true it is deplorable. I hope very much that the Minister will assure us that it is not so.
1146 Now, my Lords, I should like, if I may, since this topic has not been mentioned, to refer briefly to the effect that the student grant reductions have already had on universities and on their expansion. For many years, as your Lordships will remember, the number of students entering universities has grown much faster than anyone had foreseen; but this situation changed dramatically about three years ago. The number of students entering universities last year and the year before was significantly lower than had been foreseen, and in 1974 I think it likely to be about the same as it was in 1973 although a forecast of a 5 per cent. increase had been made by statisticians who knew the number of children who would he leaving school that year. I have talked to many headmasters who have told me that some of their brightest boys no longer want to come to college because they do not think the advantages which come from graduation are worth the financial sacrifices which they have to make while studying.
This decline in student population, which is not very great in total, masks some catastrophic declines in the recruitment to certain departments in universities. These departments are those particularly concerned with the education of people who intend to go into industry and make things which can be sold on world markets. I refer to mechanical engineering, chemical engineering, chemistry and, most of all, metallurgy. Most undergraduate schools of chemistry in the country are half empty at this moment. Postgraduate schools are still not doing too badly, but the decline in entrants to undergraduate schools has been quite sudden and quite catastrophic. This year, for example, my own school, which I can take as typical and which has nearly always recruited about 140 undergraduates a year, recruited 67. Our school of chemical engineering was the largest in Europe for many years. It used to recruit about 110 students a year but it recruited 37 students this year. This catastrophic decline is matched by a decline in schools of mechanical engineering.
But the worst case I think of is the decline in students of metallurgy. I think this is because the metallurgical industries suffered a slump a year or two earlier 1147 than the chemical industries did, and students who wish to read metallurgy are very much influenced by their prospects of employment and by the circumstances in which they will live while they are in college. In my own institution we have room for about 36 undergraduates a year: this year we recruited six. The University of Birmingham has two schools of metallurgy. This year they recruited 11 students between them. The total number of graduates in metallurgy last year in the whole of this country was 200; the number in Russia was 5,000; the number in Japan was nearly 3,000.
I now find myself recapitulating arguments put forward by the Barlow Committee which said in 1946 that British industry cannot hope to compete on world markets unless it has an adequate number of engineers and technologists. The British Steel Corporation is about to spend about £3,000 million on modernising itself. This is a sum of money so gargantuan that it would pay for Maplin, for the Channel Tunnel and for the Concorde put together twice over. It is a sum of money which, if it is invested properly, can transform our industry and make it competitive in the world. But, my Lords, there are not going to be any metallurgists, there are not going to be enough mechanical engineers, to use the steel when it has been manufactured. There are not going to be enough chemical engineers to make chemical plant for British industry when the steel is available. These are very grievous possibilities.
It is quite extraordinary that a subject such as metallurgy, which is of crucial importance to the industry of this country, should have suddenly collapsed and almost disappeared. Let us hope that the decline will be followed by an equally rapid increase in the next few years. I have no means of knowing whether it will or will not. All I can tell your Lordships is that when I have spoken to schoolboys and asked them why they do not become mechanical engineers, or chemical engineers or metallurgists, they all say the same: It is ridiculous to lose so much while we are in college when we have no guarantee of a really successful career thereafter.
1148 It is notorious that bad news travels much faster than goods news. Two years ago the I.C.I. almost overnight reduced its annual recruitment of chemists from 600 to 70. Similarly, I.C.L. reduced their recruitment of electronics engineers from 493 to 50, again almost overnight. This sort of news travels fast and discourages would-be chemists or electrical engineers or chemical engineers, and this is another reason why some important university departments are half empty. I beg the Government to believe that, unless the student grants are improved, and prospects for employment are known to be better than they have been, the bright future of universities will never materialise and the enormous investments which have been made in British industry will be totally profitless.
My Lords, these are very weighty matters and I cannot do justice to them this evening, but I beg your Lordships to believe that the students' grants are too small; that they are much too small in those cases where the students have to depend on parental grants; that they cannot possibly attract married women —and married women are going to play an increasing role in our community. I do not think that the full significance of the decline in recruitment in some university departments has been grasped by the Department of Education. I do not believe that the effect of a sudden shortage of graduates emerging from the universities and able to take their proper role in productive industry, has been admitted, accepted or understood; but it will be inevitable unless and until the students believe they have a fair deal while they are in college and reasonable prospects thereafter.
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ LORD WYNNE-JONES
My Lords, the sombre remarks with which the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, has just concluded explain why this topic is of such importance to us to-day. The noble Baroness, Lady Birk, has put before us this subject at a time when it is most appropriate. The argument which is so often made about students and which was made extremely ably by the noble Lord, Lord Gridley, is that students frequently behave in irresponsible ways and create an image which is deplorable and reacts against any claim that is put forward on their behalf. One does not really expect young 1149 people at that age to behave with the greatest shrewdness in putting forward their claims. It might well be that if they were playing the matter very shrewdly they would take a different line, but they are behaving in a very normal and natural way. However much one may deplore some of the things they do, nevertheless they are the actions which they take because they believe in them.
It is important to realise that the grant which is made to a student by the State is not made because we think that that is a nice young man, or that that is a nice young woman, and we want to keep him or her for three years without having to do any work. That is not why the grant is made. The grant is made because it is essential for the future of the country that people should be well trained and well educated. In the old days before grants were made by the State, these grants came from the parents because the parents wanted their children to have the education; they believed it would be good for them and that they would serve the country better after they had been well educated. Furthermore, there were benevolent trusts which gave money as well in this way, and later came some scholarships. When I went to university, if one did not get a scholarship, or if one had not parents wealthy enough to support one, the only way of getting through university was by saying that one intended to be a teacher. Then you received a teacher's training grant for three years and had to promise that at the end of that time you would be a teacher. It was later found out that this promise was often impossible to enforce, and always difficult to enforce, and consequently the situation depended very much upon whether or not the student happened to feel he had a sense of obligation in the matter.
We now realise, and have done for a long time, that the whole future of the country depends upon having people who are well trained in a whole variety of ways. The noble Lord, Lord Bowden, has just pointed out the importance of certain types of training which students are not now undertaking, and how much we are going to suffer because of this. It would be disastrous for the country if we were to cut down the supply of highly trained people. This supply comes through the universities; it happens 1150 through the polytechnics; it happens through training colleges and in a variety of other ways. It is essential for us to realise, also, that the pattern of higher education has been changing enormously over the last few years. To-day it covers a range which it did not cover 25 or 40 years ago. It is now much wider, and the polytechnics to-day are playing an extremely important part in the whole advance of higher education. I would myself guess, and indeed hope, that in the next twenty years or so the polytechnics may take in many more students than universities take in. I have no doubt from what I have seen of them—and I am closely associated with one—that they do the job extremely well.
It is interesting to note that, owing to the peculiarities of our financing system in this country, the polytechnics do not come under quite the same type of pressure as universities do. The students of course do, because they get the same student grant, but some of the problems which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has mentioned, which are extremely important ones, as I well know—those about university halls of residence and also the catering facilities in universities—do not arise in the same form in the polytechnics because the financing of a polytechnic is not done like university financing. Polytechnics get a grant direct. It is through the local authority, but in the end it comes through a pooling system and from the Government. They get a grant direct for putting up buildings. They can put up halls of residence without needing to have benefactions or without having to go and raise the money on the open market.
I remember that when I was in America some years ago I found that there the building of halls of residence, and indeed of most university buildings, took place in quite a different way from ours, because if a State wants to have university buildings, such as halls of residence, then it raises a loan, and does so at an extremely low rate. I asked how it was possible to raise a loan at 2½ per cent., and the answer was that that was quite possible because if one subscribed to that loan one did not have to pay income tax upon the interest on the loan. Consequently, wealthy people put their money into State loans for putting up university buildings, and they do not have 1151 to pay income tax on it. We do not have a system of that sort, and consequently when a university is forced, as universities are to-day, to borrow money in order to put up halls of residence, they cannot possibly have students coming in at fees which are possible for the student to afford and also make the hall of residence viable economically. Therefore, they are in real difficulty to-day. It is this sort of thing which is putting immense pressure both upon the students and upon the universities.
I am sure we were all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for explaining in such detail where the difference comes between the attitude of a university administrator (and of course the University Grants Committee) and the student. They are quite different attitudes for this very simple reason: that one is concerned with the administrative problem of meeting high interest charges and of making the place run in a solvent way, and the other is, quite naturally, concerned with having an income that can meet the costs which it is expected to bear.
I think it must be quite clear that it makes no sense at all to have a grants system where the grants are inadequate to meet the basic needs of students. It seems to me that it is nonsense to have such a system. Therefore the Government must surely look at this matter carefully and see how they can make the grant adequate to meet the actual costs which students necessarily have to bear. If they prefer to do it by saying that they will relieve the universities or polytechnics, or whatever they may be, of all those charges which make them raise their costs, that is one possible way of doing it; but clearly, however they do it they must make the grant to the student adequate to meet his basic needs.
Clearly one must realise, as has been said earlier in the debate, that the student is someone who is not being kept in luxury by the community. If a student, on the average, were to go and take a paid job, he would get something like, say, £35 a week. Instead of that he is accepting a grant which is more like £500 a year. In other words, he is accepting a grant which is little more than one half what he would get if he 1152 were earning money, and this is a real deterrent to the working class boy or girl.
I can well remember some years back when I was living in Newcastle and I was in the university there, my wife, who was on the City Council, was talking to a woman whose boy was at the local grammar school. This boy was doing quite well, but his mother decided that she could not afford to keep the boy on at school and for him to go to university. My wife begged her to keep him on and said, "Look, he has excellent opportunities. From what I understand he has done very well at school, he has every chance of getting good 'A' Levels and of going on to the university and doing well". But the reply was "He can go out now and earn so much, whereas if he stays on at school I have got to continue to pay for him, and if he goes to the university he will only get half of what he would be getting in a paid job."
This state of affairs applies all over the world. A few years ago the Carnegie Trust in America made a careful analysis of the costs of running a university and the costs of keeping students. It pointed out in the end that, contrary to popular belief, the student was really subsidising society over the period of his training, and so far from the student being someone who is being given money for nothing he is working hard over this period—probably harder than he does at any other time in his life—and at the end of that time he will be someone of much greater importance and value to the community than he was before he took his university training.
If one looks at what happens in other countries one finds that our system of grants—and I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who referred to this —means that a higher percentage of students come from the working class than in other European countries. I quote from the latest O.E.C.D Observer, and the figures are as follows: in France, in 1968, the ratio of students from what they call the upper stratum and the lower stratum of society was 28 to 1; in Germany in 1964 it was 48 to 1; in the Netherlands in 1964 it was 45 to 1; in this country in 1970 it was 5 to 1. That is a sensational difference, and it means that this country has been doing a far better job in educating the intelligent 1153 young people in the country who are capable of benefiting from education. We can go a lot further, I have no doubt, but at least we have made a much better job of it so far than have other European countries. It would be a tragedy if we went back on it. We have an opportunity in this country of continuing to set a high standard and an excellent pattern of higher education—I deliberately do not use the term "university education" because I do not think we ought to discriminate between university education and polytechnic education and in fact all forms of higher education. I think we are setting a good pattern and can improve on it, but in order to do this we must be certain that we encourage our students to go through. We must, therefore, pay them adequate grants and also, as has been repeatedly pointed out this evening, we must remove the discriminatory clauses.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ LORD BALERNO
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for giving us this opportunity, and also to tell her that in Scotland all student grants are mandated. There are no discretionary grants there, and we are very puzzled and amused by the great variation in grants that occurs in the case of students from England who come up to Scottish universities. I think it would be a good idea if the Scottish principle were applied throughout.
The noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, put up a very strong plea in support of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, on the Sir Colin Anderson principle. I think this should be given the most serious consideration by the Government, with a base grant for all. However, I would say that one might perhaps base the grant on the academic time that has to be spent because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, indicated in regard to veterinary students, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks, indicated in regard to medical students and engineers, they do not have opportunities for remunerative work in the vacation. Their professions require them to do their work throughout the vacations. Therefore I certainly think they are entitled to a larger grant, based on the extra time spent.
I most certainly strongly support the noble Lord, Lord Annan, in his plea for 1154 refectories. Speaking as a biologist, one knows that young animals must be properly fed. If they get their feed, good and proper, through the subsidising of the refectory they will be very much better students, although they may be more vigorous in protest. But there are, especially among the women students, those who will sacrifice for other things, perhaps adornment, quite a lot of the money which they should be spending on food. It appears that there might be a change of heart from the U.G.C. in the matter of the running of residences. Should that happen to be so, I ask the Government to give it every encouragement.
My Lords, there is one important question I want to ask the Government, namely, is there another nation in the world which treats its students more generously than does ours? I doubt it. We should remember this in any discussion we have on the subject. It is a very complex subject, and I know that everything depends on getting the priorities right. I do not envy the Government at all in having to come to a decision here, with so many varieties and so many improbables, but I wish them the best of luck.
§ 7.41 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I had no intention of speaking. I know the Minister wishes to answer the debate and I promise not to detain the House for more than two or three minutes. We have heard many admirable speeches. I want to make it absolutely clear that I am not suggesting for one moment that I do not wish the students' grants to be adequate for the purposes which have been outlined in those speeches. I do not wish to say a word against the plea that there should be improvements in some of the ways that have been mentioned. I desire adequate grants for students. The sole reason for my intervention is that I do not think that those who plead for more adequate grants do any good to their cause by minimising some of the outrages being committed by students against the most obvious interests of the university, such as the occupation of the administrative quarters or rendering the giving of lectures impossible, however much many of the students may desire to attend those lectures. It may be said that this is all done by a minority of the students, and I think that is true.
1155 I happen to have worked fairly hard myself for the universities. I was on the promoting body of one of the new universities and did my utmost to raise money for that university to get greater comforts for the students, but when I see very often the minority of students being allowed effectively to stop the work of the university by occupation, sit-ins, by riotous prevention of lectures and even, which I feel very strongly about, by preventing in their spare time students from hearing any representative of a Party that is not approved by the majority of the Left Wing opinion in that university, I am appalled. That is the negation of the work of the universities. It may be said that that is nothing against the plea introduced by the noble Baroness—
§ LORD ANNAN
If the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting. I totally agree with what he says about the interruption of someone whose political views one does not approve of, but nevertheless I would remind him that in his time as an undergraduate, though not at his university, as we see from Lord Davidson's memoirs, there was a case when Keir Hardie was to address a meeting of the Fabian Society at Cambridge. He was kidnapped at the station, locked in a room by Lord David-son's friends, was released and allowed to address his audience in the Corn Exchange. The meeting was broken up by the rapid despatch of stink bombs. I would only say that this is not a new phenomenon in our universities. The only difference is that the menace seems to be directed now against the Conservative Party where once it was directed against the Labour Party.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, I have the greatest respect for the speech that the noble Lord made in the debate. I know there have been troubles in universities before. Even in my day at Oxford it was once my job and that of others to protect and obtain safe passage for a rather famous Prime Minister, but it was safely accomplished. The difference between the outrages then and the student outrages now is that then they were not justified by something calling itself the National Union of Students. What appalls me about this is that they are still considered the appropriate body to negotiate. So far as I can see, they have not taken the trouble to object to the outrages that 1156 I have mentioned, the stopping of the work of the university by the occupation of premises, the intervening in industrial disputes and so on. I deplore that not least because it tells against the true interests of students. I believe it is a minority. The National Union of Students ought not to try to justify that minority but should try to prevent them from committing their outrages.
§ 7.49 p.m.
§ THE PARLIAMENTARY UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE, DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION AND SCIENCE (LORD SANDFORD)
My Lords, education does not bring me to this Dispatch Box as frequently as the environment did, but it is enchanting when I do get here to find myself answering a debate introduced by a succession of four gracious noble Baronesses in turn. I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, for raising this issue to-night. It gives myself and my colleagues in the Department of Education and Science and the students in the National Union of Students, who together are at this time reviewing this matter, the benefit of your Lordships' views. It does so in the same weeks as the National Union of Students will be conferring, as they will be on Friday.
My Lords, whereas I agree with several noble Lords, like my noble friends who have just spoken and the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, that there are some students who are quite exasperating in their behaviour and do in fact spoil the good case that all students should have their grants reconsidered, I cannot agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, that students as a whole class are unpopular, or that they are as a whole class alienated from society. I think we need to get out of our minds the picture created by the bad behaviour of this minority. I have no time, and will not attempt, to cover all the points that have been mentioned in this debate. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, will excuse me if I do not deal with the problem of refectories, although that has a bearing on the subject but that is not to say that the points I do not mention will not be considered. Where I can do so happily in some cases, I will write to the noble Lords concerned.
But to get back to the remarks themselves.
1157 The basis of the present system of review is this. There is a study in depth once every three years of the changes which have taken place in the students' cost of living. The levels of the various grants to which students are entitled are then adjusted in the light of these changes and the new rates are announced for the next three years. The National Union of Students has asked that in order to combat the difficulties arising from rising costs the rates should be adjusted annually on the basis of a student cost-of-living index. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, will be glad to know that I can confirm that this proposal is, along with other suggestions, being considered during the current review. But in practice, as I will show in a minute, the Government have tempered the wind of inflation throughout this three year period, and particularly in the last year of the current triennium, by interim increases in the rate of grant.
At the last review, three years ago, the Government provided £76 million for improvements in the grant structure, and most of this, though not all, went into improvements in the basic grant rates. For example, the level of grant for students living away from home to attend universities other than Oxford, Cambridge and London—and perhaps that is the expression I could use without the tongue-twisting prelude throughout the rest of my speech that is, those attending provincial universities other than those three —was raised by 13.1 per cent. in the first year, from £380 to £430; by 3.5 per cent. in the second year, from £430 to £445; and by 4.5 per cent. in the third year, from £445 to £465. In addition, considerable improvements were made in the system of parental contributions.
The Government recognised, however, earlier this year, that in spite of these improvements both students and parents were beginning to experience difficulties because of the rate of inflation. In consequence, we introduced a package of further improvements to apply in the current academic year, the third year of the triennium, in addition to those already agreed and announced. The main items of this package were an additional £20 per annum, raising the grant from £465 to £485, a f0075rther 4½ per cent., on the main rates of ordinary maintenance grant and a further substantial improvement in the parental contribution system.
1158 Looking at the effects of all that, in the three years as a whole students living away from home and attending provincial universities will have had their rates of grant raised from £380 to £485, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, will agree that that is by no stretch of the imagination a reduction. That is an increase of 27.6 per cent., compared with an increase of 28.5 per cent., fractionally more, in the Retail Price Index over a similar period of time. I do not think that can be described as trailing miles behind the rise in prices and the cost of living. The total allocation of public funds to mandatory and teacher training awards has risen during that period from £107 million per annum in 1970–71 to an estimated £144 million for 1973–74, or over 34 per cent. I think we can say that that is rather more than "peanuts"; it is quite a considerable sum and quite a considerable percentage. Side by side with that, the level of residual income at which parental contributions are expected was raised from £900 per annum to £1,500 per annum, a rise of 67 per cent., compared with a rise in the average earnings index of 43 per cent. over the same period. I would say, and I hope your Lordships will agree, that bearing in mind the constraints to which everyone has been subject over the past 12 months, neither the students nor the parents have done too badly.
Now I come to the current review. At the time these interim measures were announced the Government also announced their intentions of embarking upon the next review to cover the period 1974–77. I should like to confirm what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has already said, that this review is now under way. The National Union of Students were invited, as they were in the previous review, to take part in the exercise to ascertain the changes which had taken place in the student cost of living over the previous three years, that is between September, 1970, and September, 1973. They accepted this invitation on the condition that certain other changes in the student support system which they wanted to see would also be discussed. In consequence of that, two parallel working parties, consisting of members of the Education Department and the N.U.S., were set up and began work as long ago as the end of July. These working parties 1159 have been meeting regularly since then and will be completing their work within the next two or three weeks. The Government will then be in a position to consider how much money it would be fair to make available to students in the coming triennium.
Now I turn to one or two, but I am afraid not all, of the special topics which have been raised during the debate. The first one is parental contributions. Having made the points that I have just made, of course I accept the force of all that has been said, and I would not claim that all students have been relieved of all financial hardship—far from it. One outstanding problem is the one mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and others —that of students whose parents do not pay the full assessed parental contribution. There is no legal obligation on parents to pay this contribution, and, as I have said in earlier debates, we do not consider, and nor, I imagine, would the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, that it would be right to legislate in a matter which is essentially domestic in character.
§ LORD BOWDEN
My Lords, may I make one observation which may amuse the noble Lord. I believe that in Germany not only is it obligatory for the parents to pay, but obligatory for a parent who runs a large Mercedes to provide his son with a small one.
§ LORD SANDFORD
Well, my Lords, that is a point to note. It has also been suggested that since parents of students in full-time education receive tax relief the contribution might be raised through the tax system. We have considered this, but there are a number of real difficulties and we have concluded that that scheme would not be workable. Another suggestion is that a voluntary loan scheme should be set up, available for students whose parents do not make their contribution; but I think this, too, is open to objection, in that many parents who now make their contribution, if they knew about this suggestion would refrain from doing so. The point here is that it would also mainly benefit the better-off parents rather than benefiting, as we want to do and as we are doing at the moment, the poorer working class parents, whom the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, rightly 1160 have very much in mind. Our fear is that it would not be long before the whole parental contribution system was undermined.
Of course, it has been said by many before, and not a few to-night, that we should in fact take the deliberate step of abolishing the whole parental contribution system. While there are attractions in this suggestion, the hard fact remains that to do so would require something over £60 million, and as the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn, recognised (and so did the noble Baroness, Lady Stocks) if such a sum were available there are many other areas which might qualify for higher priority. What I should like to do is to take the opportunity to-night to ask those parents who do not at present hand over to their student sons or daughters the assessed contribution to think carefully about the hardship this can cause their children. My Department has recently sent a letter to all authorities asking them to ensure that all parents are told directly of the amount of their contribution and are made fully aware of their responsibility to pay this sum to their children.
I turn briefly to discretionary awards. Attention has been drawn to the problem which arises in this field in respect of courses other than teacher training and below degree standard. We recognise that this system can result in different treatment of students, depending on the policy of the local education authority responsible for their award. I believe that these differences have been exaggerated, though I would not deny their existence. Our information is that most authorities, in exercising their discretion—and I recognise this—in fact pay the full mandatory rates of grant for students on Higher National and other advanced courses. But at the lower levels there is such a wide diversity in the length, standard and aims of courses and the needs of the individual students that it is essential that local education authorities should have a degree of flexbility. Nevertheless, my right honourable friend has, in the past, reminded local education authorities of the undesirability of wide variations of practice in dealing with students in similar circumstances, and discussions are now proceeding with the local authority associations with a view to issuing more detailed guidelines. At the same time the review 1161 and discussions with the N.U.S. are covering this subject also.
I think that I have time to deal with only one other topic raised in the course of this valuable debate—the grants for married students. If your Lordships will agree, I will shirk the questions on the ethics of "shacking up", the doctrine of holy matrimony, and the exact computations of the "wages of sin" in monetary terms, and just turn to the issue of the special rate of grant for married women students, which is quite complicated enough. The first point I should like to make is a simple one, and it is that the wife who has to study away from home, or whose husband is himself a student or incapacitated and dependent upon her, presently receives the full rate of grant. It is only where the student is living with her husband in their own home that she receives a lower rate. I would put to your Lordships that this is not so entirely unreasonable for the mature student whose husband is earning a salary sufficient to maintain the family adequately. In these circumstances the current rate of grant of £295 represents a very useful tax-free addition to the family budget. And it has to be borne in mind that the husband's income is not taken into account in this computation. However, for the young student with a husband still making his way in his chosen career, the situation, we recognise, may well be more difficult. I recognise the strong feelings which exist about this grant, and I see the force of the points that have been made about it; and I can promise that we shall be giving special attention to this aspect too in the current review.
I am anxious to conclude in order to give the noble Baroness a moment or two to reply to the debate. I believe that I have shown that this Government are well aware of the problems with which students are confronted, and that they recognise the need for an adequate system of students' support. They are, in fact, engaged in a review to that end at this very moment. But this Government, as any Government would have to do, also have to bear in mind the demands which this makes upon the taxpayer and the ratepayer. As the noble Baroness said, we cannot afford everything we should like to have. The present cost to public funds of awards to students taking advanced courses is increasing every year. The 1162 students have the opportunity of participating fully in the fact-finding work of the present review and, furthermore, of working with members of my Department in costing their various other proposals. I am sure that this co-operation between the student representatives and the Government will work to the advantage of the students and will ensure that their needs are accurately ascertained, sympathetically considered, and, in the end, fairly met.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ BARONESS BIRK
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for his reply. However, he will not he surprised if I am not happy about it all, and with a great deal of it I do not agree. I will not raise all the points again. On the basis of raising the grant generally, the figures that he gave, although I am sure they are accurate, all started from too low a base some time ago, and that is where it has gone wrong. So far as the parental contribution is concerned, I find it difficult to accept that it is impossible to do what we have suggested. Anything is possible for the Government if they make up their mind to do it. This subject needs to be looked at again, and I am glad that the noble Lord said that the door is not quite shut, because I think it is not only a financial problem but a very deep social problem. So far as the discretionary grants are concerned, all I can hope is that we shall move towards the mandatory system, because so far as concerns further education that is how it has to end up.
I agree with those noble Lords who condemned the sort of violence and prevention of freedom of speech that happen from time to time, but those of us who did not stress this aspect were not minimising it but we were really putting it in proportion. I should be happy if from time to time the N.U.S. itself came out openly and condemned some of these practices. Perhaps that is asking too much. But earlier, when I knew this subject was coming up and I found that these students were having demonstrations on the Royal Wedding day, I thought, "My goodness! Who needs enemies? Save me from my friends!". There is a great deal of misjudgment. In conclusion, I should like to thank all noble Lords who have joined in the debate. I am delighted that we have had such a distinguished array of speakers. I again thank the Minister for 1163 his courtesy and for his perhaps unsatisfactory, but very nicely put, replies. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.