HL Deb 04 April 1974 vol 350 cc1029-31

3.23 p.m.


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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to enable the Open University to provide an increased number of places in view of the sharp increase in the number of applicants.


My Lords, the grant settlement for the Open University for the years 1974 to 1976 provides for between 36,000 and 42,000 undergraduate students. The University has recently written to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, asking for an increase in grant for the years 1975 and 1976 so that a greater number of students may be admitted. My right honourable friend is considering this request, but he has made it clear to the University that he must do so in the light of other educational priorities and in the context of Government expenditure generally.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply. Will he keep in mind that we have reached the ridiculous and wasteful situation whereby only 3,000 of more than 40,000 applicants for courses in 1975 can be accepted unless there is a further Government grant? May I say that I have sufficient faith in the Minister and his colleagues to believe that they will not allow this ridiculous situation to continue.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her expression of confidence. I am sure what she has said will be noted by my right honourable friend.


My Lords, will Her Majesty's Government bear in mind that the cuts now made in higher education are having a crippling effect on the universities and polytechnics, and that if the Open University (which has the enormous advantage that it takes in mature students who are prepared to work and know what they want to do) does not have the permission and the money to go ahead, then the future for our civilisation will be very grave indeed?


My Lords, I am sure my right honourable friend will note what has been said. I am certain that within the context in which he has to operate he will do his best to satisfy all whose claims have priority.


My Lords, surely this matter should be considered in conjunction with that of the money that is to be spent not only on higher education but in other areas of education also? Some of us think too much money is being spent at the moment on university education, while the secondary and primary areas of education do not get enough money.


My Lords, I would draw the attention of the noble Baroness to the last part of my original reply.


My Lords, supplementary to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, would the Minister ask the Government to view this matter against the belief held by many that the Open University is the most exciting and imaginative educational concept of this century?


My Lords, I think that is generally accepted. I think my right honourable friend needs little reminder about that.