HL Deb 23 May 1974 vol 351 cc1630-70

3.45 p.m.

Debate resumed.


My Lords, I have been interrupted on one or two occasions, but I was in the process of saying something to the right reverend Prelate who has been discussing the Open University and the fact that it provided education for both sexes. I was impressed by the fact that at the end he said: "Amen to all that!" I hope, in view of the fact that I am going to discuss the position of women in the Open University, that whether he happens to remain or goes he will say, "Amen to all that!"—because we rarely have from those Benches a right reverend Prelate who says that after we have discussed the position of women. In fact, the attitude of those on those Benches to women in their own institution reveals that they are, to put it mildly, slightly bigoted on this subject.

I do not claim to be an authority on education, but it must be a very stupid person who can fail to have formed some opinion about the Open University, considering the fact that it is brought into the homes of all of us. I take it that every noble Lord in this House at some time sits and watches the television. I recall that it was about four years ago when I and my husband decided to, "polish up our maths." on the programme of the old Open University. Ah! how easy it is to say this! My noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner is toiling through a course—I think it is an Arts course. I shall not wish him to toil through a mathematics course, because he will say, "I must give this up." After our one viewing of the mathematics programme, we learned not only of our appalling ignorance but also something very refreshing; that was that the Open University had the latest methods of teaching. The Open University has a new method of teaching in this generation. I then began to understand why the "fall-out" in mathematics in the first year is 50 per cent.

That fact should not, however, depress anybody, because the "fall-out" in the other courses is much smaller; and I am told that the "fall-out" in evening courses is much higher. This is my first point, because I am looking at the whole question of education rather broadly. It seems to me that, without a thorough grounding in mathematics and science at school, a student must be handicapped in the choice of a course in the Open University. Therefore, it is not surprising that the majority of students opt for Arts and Sciences and the Social Sciences. I should like to know what is being done to provide an adequate supply of teachers, particularly to girls' schools, to ensure that girls are equipped for a scientific and technical career? When it comes to the Open University a young woman or a young man says, "Here is the chance I have lost". One reason why it is found difficult to take a science course or a mathematics course is that teaching of these subjects in girls' schools is of an abysmally low standard, and a very limited number of teachers are coming forward to teach girls.

It seems to me that in its initial stages the Open University offered a great attraction to some of the finest men and women in the country. I must confess that I know only the men personally; it simply happens that the women have not yet come my way. These are people with academic knowledge combined with a social sense. I am hoping that this social sense will help to compensate some of them for any economic disadvantage.

I want to ask whether we are sure that after the first fine, careless rapture these dedicated individuals can be replaced. They came forward to help. They were inspired, indeed. But they will have to be replaced and I should like to know just how we are throwing our net in order that we shall find the right people to come into it. I should like to hear that the source of supply is assured. If not, how is it to be refreshed? I feel that we must not allow the momentum of this very fine fillip to the education of the country to slacken for the lack of means. When we see a new movement surging forward we all know that if something happens which might slacken enthusiasm there is the awful chance that it may deteriorate.

My Lords, I want to thank my noble friend Lord Gardiner for his excellent outline of the activities of the university and its administration. I understand that there are 4,000 tutors and councillors from all kinds of institutions of further education each giving five to ten hours per week. Many of them do three times as much work as they are paid for, out of enthusiasm and the stimulation they get from their students. There is no question at all of these people sitting back and saying, "We will do the number of hours that we undertook to do". They are prepared to go on overtime, which is a very refreshing attitude these days.

The Open University course materials provide a very refreshing experience for many of them. I think it should be recognised that through them Open University ideas diffuse into the work of the other institutions, and some of their ideas diffuse back. In fact, all of our educational institutions in this country have benefited from the Open University and its new approach to learning. By creating a university which has had to rethink all its teaching material, the Government have given the country a valuable and much-needed shake-up in many of its academic ideas.

My noble friend Baroness Lee talked about those professors in the universities who stimulated students and of others who left them cold. I can recall a physics lecturer who should never have been allowed to address students. He was impossible and, of course, what happened was that the students cut his lectures. The result was that our physics suffered. Finally it is the student who suffers. Here, though, a remarkable thing has happened. A new institution has been created. As my noble friend has said, whereas in the beginning it was derided by those people who sit back in their universities and feel confident that nobody can touch them in scholarship, we find that a small revolution is taking place, because the new men and women who have come along are diffusing their ideas with the older universities.

It has been said, and it is a fact, that other countries regard this innovation of ours as one of great success. I think that it could make a most important contribution to the Third World. Therefore I think it should be regarded by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as a very worthwhile investment providing intellectual dividends of incalculable value. This is a university which can be easily exported. Knowledge, which so many of the countries in the Third World are longing for, could be conveyed in this way. Therefore we must not think just in terms of getting an extra amount of money for certain aspects of the university; we must think in wider terms how this university, if it is made more successful, can make a contribution to the Third World.

The disabled have been mentioned. I am pleased to think that a special contribution is made to the disabled through this university. On Sunday a very important man who works in the university field came to tea and he was simply talking to me without pose, without trying to impress, about how he taught certain deaf students. I think that any highly intelligent man or woman, almost at the end of an academic career, who sits down and teaches students in an elementary manner is making a wonderful contribution to humanity.

The occupational analysis of the applications for entry provides an interesting study. The most striking increase this year is the 14.6 per cent. increase in the category classified as "housewives". This includes women in unpaid domestic duties or working in paid employment for less than 20 hours per week. As has been mentioned before, of course the figures could be higher if there were more places. I understand that for the total of 15,000 places there were 45,000 applicants. No country can afford to ignore untapped intellectual resources, and there is a vast potential in the home which is denied full expression. Girls whose emotions have led them to early marriages and subsequent child-bearing, often experience a sense of frustration and sometimes even trouble with their husbands owing to the dawning knowledge that they are intellectually unfulfilled. The Open University is their salvation. But there is one aspect of this that disturbs me. I am told on very good authority that the housewives who apply can only be described as middle-class. I want to know what can be done for the working-class woman who cannot, in the first place, afford the £30 tuition fee. I understand that some local authorities will pay for a week at a summer school, but even that is not universal.

On May 17 a Question was asked another place. The Secretary of State for Education and Science was asked whether he approved of a system of grants for students attending courses at the Open University, and, if not, whether he would state the reason for that situation. Mr. George Fowler replied Local education authorities have discretion to make grants to Open University students. My right honourable friend's approval is not required."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons; 17/5/74, col. 548] I should like to know precisely what that means. What is the extent of this discretion, and how is it exercised? How much is given; what is the maximum that is given, and to whom, and what aspect of the tuition does it cover? Of course women come to my mind when I am asking these questions, because I know the prejudice that can be found in the most unlikely places, and I am a little apprehensive lest sex discrimination should rear its ugly head if discretion alone determines a grant. In my opinion this is the most important question that can be asked during this debate, because it asks how the poorest, who potentially have very able minds and have only been able to show their abilities in the simplest way, and sometimes only in a domestic form, can be helped.

My Lords, I come to my final point about this, because it should be said now. The special needs of a woman student at the Open University focuses attention on the need for day nurseries and nursery schools, which successive Governments have promised. I believe that the local authorities feel secure in the knowledge that mothers are unlikely to be militant, and therefore continue to show a callous indifference to their needs. I should like to know whether the Government would consider giving scholarships to the category of student who, while serving society as mothers, find themselves denied any financial help, except that which they might prevail upon a husband to give. If they are unfortunate enough to be married to a mean or selfish man, they are denied the education which in their case can be both satisfying and productive. I am sure I have no need to remind the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, that if we educate a mother, we are educating the whole family.

4.0 p.m.


My Lords, if I may, I shall make a few brief remarks from the point of view of broadcasting. But before doing so may I add mine to the customary expressions of thanks to a noble Lord or a noble Baroness who makes it possible to discuss an important subject. I give the warmest congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, for the part she played—unconventional, determined sometimes brutal, but in the end successful—in those early difficult days when criticism, mixed with derision, surrounded much of the controversy when the idea was first put forward.

As for broadcasting, it is a self-evident proposition that it is the medium through which the vast majority of the people of this country can be reached. It is the medium through which the first-class teacher can gain a vast audience. But if there were any doubt about the broadcasting element, from the point of view of the students, the facts are revealed by certain viewing and listening figures. At least three-quarters of the number of students on any Open University course watch or listen to the broadcast material; in fact, the proportion on some courses rises to 95 per cent. But the transmission costs are relatively small; they represent some 10 per cent. of the entire broadcasting costs. Of course, the main problem is the hours available for the broadcasts. All noble Lords know them—television between the hours of 6.40 a.m. and 7.30 a.m., and between 5.25 p.m. and 7.30 p.m. on B.B.C. 2 plus Saturday and Sunday mornings. Listening times on the radio are roughly similar, except in Scotland.

There is an urgent need for better timing. Yet the B.B.C. would be roughly assaulted if it injected a great deal of this didactic teaching material into the peak viewing times. It is in a very real difficulty. For my part I reached the conclusion, after some hesitation, that the position will not be satisfactory until there is a service devoted substantially to education. I say "substantially", for there are other claimants, such as regional broadcasting. But the position will never be wholly satisfactory unless broadcast teaching is available at what I may call the normal evening hours, and without too much of an early morning strain on some of the students.

There is another problem. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, approached it just marginally. It is the problem of the student within the family of non-students or those less enthusiastic. This is no time to refer, I suppose, to the policy of a somewhat extensive development, but I can see no ultimate solution to this problem until a second set is provided. We think of television sets as very expensive, but it is conceivable that sets for an educational channel may in the future be supplied at a relatively low cost. After all, in our external service broadcasting it was in the early days discovered that there were too few radio receiving sets, particularly in parts of Africa, and there was soon devised what was known as the "saucepan set", a very cheap set that was widely distributed. I hope that we are going to have the opportunity—I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, is hoping to get an opportunity for such a discussion—to discuss the disposition of the fourth channel. Suffice it to say now that for my part I am relieved that the early decision which was at one time threatened does not now seem likely to be made, and I hope that this problem will be gathered up for fuller and further study by the Annan Commission which is to look at broadcasting as a whole.

I think the central point, the one that emerged most strongly from that persuasive speech of the noble Baroness who opened this debate, is that for 1975 applications for admissions are at least four times the number that the university can accept on its present budget. That really is a lamentable state of affairs; it is no good disguising it, and for this situation to continue would be a very sorry state of affairs indeed. The cost-effectiveness of broadcasting can easily be increased, for its costs are the same whether there are 40,000 or 80,000 students. Indeed, to satisfy the experts, the cost per student will fall as the numbers rise, and the B.B.C. would not require any direct share of any increase.

May I say just one word on colour. About one-fifth of the Open University programmes are made in colour, so the majority of students see their programmes in black and white. I suspect that as the years pass black and white will look more and more old-fashioned and may supply a deterrent to watching programmes, and in any case overseas purchasers will expect the educational programmes they purchase from the Open University to be in colour.

I have just two final points to make. By the way, the relationships between the Open University and the B.B.C. are excellent. Naturally enough, there have been some uneasy phases, but I understand now that the relationships are good. It should be said in simple terms that the Open University has been an immense success. It is worth saying, because there was not only derision in the early days; there was genuine doubt. There was overemphasis on the broadcasting aspect of it at the outset; the use of the original phrase, the "University of the Air" of itself led to some doubts. I suppose that my doubts were those of my generation: was there any substitute for taking notes, even if the act of taking notes only fastened one's attention? Was it not also true that for most people watching a television programme may have been enjoyable, but the next morning they had not the faintest idea of what had been said, they had merely an overall general impression? The founders of the Open University have been wise enough to use broadcasting in the best possible way, but not to regard it as the only element in the teaching process. By the study groups, the written work, and by the summer schools and the rest, it seems to me that they have achieved a satisfactory system and a high intellectual level.

Lastly, do not let us forget, when we are speaking about students who register and the costs that are incurred in respect of students, those who have not the slightest intention of ever becoming a student and sitting for a degree but who enjoy tremendously this kind of serious teaching. Nearly fifty years ago I saw something of this as a university tutorial lecturer. It was astonishing the way in which people would come for the sheer delight of a serious, intellectual exercise, and, having stuck at a three-year course in biology, they then went and did a three-year course in philosophy. It was an important part of their lives.

Just as the school's programmes are listened to, eavesdropped upon, by a large number of people who feel that it keeps their minds alive to watch such programmes; just as the educational programmes of the B.B.C. are often listened to or viewed because of inertia, leaving the set on, which very often leads people to listen to a programme of a quality and character that they would not have positively selected, so with the Open University courses, whatever the number may be. If it is 50,000 it is trivial in broadcasting terms, but not trivial in human terms. Do not let us forget those who will eavesdrop upon such programmes, even tough programmes, but who have not any desire ever to sit another examination, or any examination, and certainly have no intention of seeking a degree.

It surprises me to learn, if it be so, that the Open University has not been discussed in the first four years, but I can say for myself, as one who approached it rather sceptically, that I have come to appreciate that a university of this open kind does not necessarily mean a lowering of intellectual standards. Indeed, the intellectual standards of the university are high. I can only say what I said in the course of my observations, that as matters stand for next year only, the applications are four times the number of places. That is not an acceptable situation. It is a situation that can be redeemed by an amount of money that is trivial in relation to the country's expenditure as a whole.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, over a period of approximately 150 years we in this country have been slowly developing a higher educational system. Let us remember that at the beginning of the last century England was probably the most backward country in higher education in the whole world. There were two universities in the whole of England, because at that time Durham University had not yet come into existence. At that time, Scotland already had four universities and other countries had more. Even then, the United States of America had many more institutions of higher education than did England. About 150 years ago, we started on the path of higher education. It started partly with colleges like Birkbeck College here in London, which was begun as a Working men's college—with places where people who had no hope of getting into Oxford or Cambridge could go, because even if they had the resources and qualifications they still had to be members of the Church of England and they could not get in. Throughout England, we therefore had a growth of colleges which have now become universities. Among those colleges was one which the grandfather of the past Lord Chancellor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, founded—the Regent Polytechnic.

Now we have started in this country something new, this Open University which is as important and revolutionary as all those technical colleges which were set up in the last century. It is something which is attempting, as has been said two or three times this afternoon in your Lordships' House, to give people a second chance of entering a university. For many people it is also a first chance, a place where they can go and where they can begin to sample something of the ravishing experience of learning; that is what they get in the Open University. We in this country should be proud of having started something which has not been done anywhere else in the world.

About four years ago, I was in America and, as a result of certain personal circumstances, I had to remain there for a few months. I used my time to visit the whole educational system in New York State. I saw the Chancellor and others of the New York State University. I saw the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation. I spent much time investigating what they were doing. When I talked to them about the Open University—because I had just been asked to be a member of the Universities academic advisory committee—and was able to tell them about it, not from any very profound knowledge but from the little I had learned, they were amazed. They said they had nothing like it in America. They said, "Let us know more about it", and I told them to get in touch with Dr. Walter Perry at Milton Keynes and they would then learn all about it.

We must realise, my Lords, that we have done something in this country—not for the first time in our history—which is unique. We have created something of immense potential. We have a higher educational system. In the past this system depended upon universities. We then created the polytechnics, and now we have the Open University. I should like to suggest to your Lordships that in this country we have created a nicely-varied system of higher education, and that the variety in this system is all-important. I believe that it would be a mistake to try to convert them all into exactly the same institution. I think that would be utterly wrong. I believe that the universities have a part to play. I think—not all will agree with me—that this part is primarily concerned with the advancement of knowledge. I believe that the polytechnics have an immense part to play—probably, numerically, a far greater part than the universities—because they must be concerned with giving all the varieties of education which are required by a whole lot of different people in the country.

Of course, my Lords, higher education is something diverse, it is something complex. It should be general, diverse and complex. I do not like the word "comprehensive" when you talk about higher education. "Comprehensive" is all right when you are talking about school education, because that is what it ought to be; it is what traditionally it has been, although we have not always recognised it. Every public school in the country has been, for its own class, a comprehensive school. But when you come to higher education you are then talking about what the individual wants to do with his future life. You are talking about those things which he wants to understand and learn; and we must have a variety in it. I believe that the Open University, the university of the second choice, plays an extremely important part in providing this variety.

I am not one of those who thinks that education always has to come one way. I remember learning this when I was about 17 years old. I was then a student at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth. I was one of those people who went to the university at the age of 16, so I was already in my second year when this happened. Aberystwyth being not only a university town but also a seaside resort, we used to get miners coming up from South Wales, and they would happily enjoy themselves on the pleasant beaches there. I remember talking to one of the miners. I was, I thought, a pretty bright student; one does think that of oneself. I thought I was beginning to know something about science; and, although my subjects were chemistry, physics and mathematics, I assumed I also knew something about geology and other things, although all I had done was to pick it up in discussion with other people. I found, talking to this miner, that he knew a darned sight more about geology than I did. This man had spent his working life in the mines. He had left school at the age of 13 or 14, and had worked in the mines ever since, but he had thought seriously about geology; and I then began to realise (and, fortunately for me, I realised it early in my life) that you do not need to have gone through an elaborate form of education in order to become educated.

I suppose that in this country there would be very few people who would call themselves educated if they had had to go through a lengthy, elaborate system of education. But, my Lords, it is an advantage to be able to have access to it if you want it, if you need it. It does help you enormously to be able to do the studies—and the Open University affords this chance. And the cost, my Lords, compared with other educational costs, is extremely low. I think it is of the order of about £320 per student per annum. The figure for a normal university or polytechnic is, at the lowest, two and a half times larger, and often considerably more. Furthermore, the students going to the Open University do not receive a residential grant. There is no maintenance grant for them; they are doing this on their own. I would support what the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, said earlier in this debate, that surely the Government ought to give very careful attention to paying the fees of students at the Open University on a mandatory basis. It should be something accepted as a charge just as when you get acceptance to any other institution of higher education. Why should there be this discrimination against these students? Perhaps we can get away with it, but I do not see why we should continue to do so.

My Lords, while the cost is low, I think we have to remember that upon the people concerned in the Open University the cost can be high. I have been struck by the fact that the staff of the Open University have been putting an enormous amount of time and effort into composing the courses. I need not tell the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, about this, but I have with me one single booklet of the foundation course in mathematics. In one year 36 such booklets are issued and sent to the students. Each one of these is an original. They are not ones which have been made from taking a whole lot of other books and concocting something out of them. It took approximately two years to do this. The total staff in mathematics is ten and this is what they do. When they have composed these booklets they are then immediately faced with the fact that this is only a foundation course. They now have to start composing the second year course; and when they have done that they have to compose a third year course; but before that has happened they have to come back and revise the original course. In any institution of higher education anywhere in the world people get time for research, time off, sabbatical years to do this, that and the other. How much time can you give when you have only ten people altogether to compose these things? In my opinion —and I have been able to watch it carefully sitting on their academic advisory committee—the members of the staff of the Open University have been giving their time freely, giving their time with enthusiasm, but they are being burnt out in the process.


Hear, hear!


It is not right that people should be exploited in that way. Sooner or later the young men will leave because they will get jobs elsewhere, and one will find it more and more difficult to recruit staff. So I urge upon my noble friend that the Department should give very careful consideration to this matter and should realise that they must provide some latitude, that they have to provide sufficient resources to enable at least a percentage of the present staff to take some time off in order to refresh themselves. Unless you refill these wells there is nothing left for you to give out.

There are two other points that I should like to make. One point was partially raised by my noble friend Lady Summerskill; namely, the question of educating teachers. People say, "Yes, an enormous number of them are teachers". So they are. I have the figures here, and one looks through and finds something like 28 per cent. of students have taken teachers' certificates but no degrees before they registered. There are a large number of teachers involved; but that is inevitable because our whole system of training teachers has been so backward in this country, and most of them have been turned out without a university degree. Some of them are seizing this opportunity to take one.

There is another point, one I have mentioned before in your Lordships' House; namely, that on the whole, we in this country must be unique in turning out our teachers with no education at all in science. I think that only 10 per cent. of the teachers of this country are exposed to science in any way. I am not suggesting that everybody should be a science teacher, but it is deplorable that in a modern society our teachers should not have a background of science, and I should hope that we would use the Open University in this direction.

My final point is one which I have become conscious of over the last couple of years. We have a large number of people immured in prisons in this country. We keep them there for reasons which are perfectly understandable, but we should ask ourselves whether we do enough to ensure that these prisoners are getting the opportunity or the encouragement to change and to educate themselves. The Open University affords an opportunity for that. I admit that this is education at the higher level and one wants much more at levels below this. But it is a very grave matter if a prisoner who wishes to study while he is inside prison finds that he is denied the opportunity. I suggest to Her Majesty's Government therefore that the Home Office ought to pay particular attention to this matter to see how far they can go. I should like to see them go very far indeed in the way of making available educational facilities at all levels to those in prison, encouraging them in every way. Who are we to say that a man cannot be recovered? From what I have seen when a prisoner is given the opportunity I can only say that there is a high probability that he will take it.

So, my Lords, I urge Her Majesty's Government, first of all, to make available to the Open University sufficient resources to take in those students who are clamouring to get in; secondly, to give the Open University sufficient leeway to enable their staff to have time off to do their job more effectively; and, thirdly, to look at the possibility of extending the work of the Open University, especially towards prisoners.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, my first introduction to the idea of the Open University took place when I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, at the summer banquet of the Lord Mayor of London when she suggested, and not only to me as I know from evidence from others, that she had a vision which would elevate the quality of life of the whole of our society in this country. That would not justify my speaking, except to testify to the debt that I and so many others owe to the noble Baroness, not only for the beginnings but for the pertinacity and skill with which she steered this great enterprise.

I suppose partly as a consequence of that I was made a member of the Planning Committee, and at the last meeting which I attended before the Charter set up a new body under the chairmanship of Sir Peter Venables, I remember the remarks which were made by the Vice-Chancellor about the problem of attracting from universities which were well-endowed with facilities and opportunities for research those whom he hoped would become teachers in his University. He sought, and won, authority for giving them the promise that as soon as possible they would be provided with the opportunities, the time and the materials for conducting original inquiries into their subjects. I am afraid the fact is that the burdens of teaching and the shortfall in resources have not so far permitted that pledge to be honoured.

Your Lordships will know that universities can be in full health and vigour only when their twin responsibilities for teaching and research are in equilibrium, not to say harmony; and your Lordships will also be well aware of the many pressures which are bearing on universities in these times. Our modern society needs an increasing number of its members who will pursue their education through to university level, and this adds to teaching pressures. But they are needed because of the demands and the growing complications of our environment, whether one regards it as being of the model or the natural order. Not so long ago, in a simpler world which members of my generation well remember, it was perhaps easier to hold the balance between the claims of teaching and the discovery of new knowledge. We are now at greater risk, and I have listened to this debate with a great deal of interest, because I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, is right when she discounts exaggerated claims of what has already been accomplished and points to the great tasks that still lie ahead.

Education is a precarious affair, and some of our recent experiences have underlined the precariousness of what we have tried to do. I do not share the apologies of the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, for higher education in this country. It is true that it may have started late and may have had a restricted social compass. It is true that it may have had other faults, but the fact remains that teaching the young from 18 to 22 was better done in this country by a higher university system than it has ever been done before in the history of the world. It may be there is a claimant from Athens, but the fact remains that we have had pilgrims coming from all over the world to share this experience in our universities. It does not matter whether you are talking about the universities of the collegiate system of Oxbridge, or the Scottish mediaeval universities or the civic universities. They all rested on a basic understanding and knowledge on the part of the teachers, of the character, nature, possibilities, hopes, fears and ambitions of the young whom they were teaching.


My Lords, will the noble Lord forgive me for intervening on this point? What percentage of the young of this country received this excellent education?


My Lords, I conceded straight away that it was narrow. But I am not concerned with the numbers. That is why I welcome the debate that we are now having on this subject. I am saying it was true that the success of our system of higher education depended, as it must do, not only on the great men who knew their stuff, not only on their having a good idea of how to teach, but on the knowledge that those people had of characters and possibilities, and of the way to treat young people between the ages of 18 and 22, which was their main preoccupation.

I say that it is precarious, because we have had to widen the scope. It is not now enough to teach people at university between 18 and 22; it has had to be extended to between 18 and 25, because post-graduate education has now taken its important part in the higher educational system. It still remains true that if you are going to do it, and do it well, you must understand whom you are teaching and how to get them to respond. The noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, will know from her own experience in youth how the distinguished professors in Scotland lit the lamp in the first year of the young man's career at university, coming as he did from a home that was very poor, but rich in the possession of a respect for learning and the knowledge he gained from reading the Bible and Pilgrim's Progress. The teacher was able to say, "If I do this, by the time he is 30"—not 22, for there is no specific objective for this kind of teaching—"he will have realised his potential". The great teacher produces out of nothing, as it were, something which he has seized with the eye of faith, and which he can create and make real.

What is exciting to me about this project and this debate, what is breathtaking and, in some ways, sobering and staggering as a thought, is that by our own confession we are taking on a vastly wider task. But I do not believe it will achieve all that one hopes of it, unless it also rests, not upon statistical knowledge, not upon the knowledge in tables showing how many people are doing this or that job, but upon understanding the nature of their need, and the way in which it can be best satisfied. This is what is placed upon the shoulders of those people. No wonder people say that they have hard work to do; that is true. If they are going to remain fresh and ready for the task, I reinforce the plea made by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, that they ought to have the resources which they will need to replenish their energies and to give them a new life to face the tasks that they have undertaken to do.

Finally, it is not only a kind of social faith that one is professing in this way. If you look at the great extensions such as the one we are discussing, the coming of the Franciscans to Oxford in the Middle Ages, the birth of adult education in the first decade of this century, the educational dividends of these inventions, the new concepts of education, the new customers for education, the new methods of education—they were the beginnings of enormously rich new mines of discovery. From teaching miners, Tawney learned some of the things that made his books great. This was not only true of his generation. Richard Crossman, whose death we now mourn, was another who wrote what he wrote only because he had gone out and sought fresh experiences in new ways of educating people. I think we have a vast responsibility, a vast burden which must be alleviated by all the help we can get. But not only shall we have benefits in the quality of our people's lives; we shall also be confer- ring a great advantage upon the studies which these dedicated people in the Open University are undertaking.

4.47 p.m.


My Lords, I am very pleased indeed that, by Olympic prodigies of a neck-breaking character, I have arrived in time to pay what is, to my mind, a small tribute to the noble Baroness who has asked this Question. I should like to associate myself with noble Lords who have no doubt pressed on the Government their anxieties, and who want to know what the Government have in mind in relation to this most remarkable educational institution.

I regard the Open University as a second limb of the remarkable achievement of the noble Baroness while she was in office. In both of the two activities in which she was principally concerned she showed the same philosophical approach of immense social importance, which I hope will be closely copied by those who are following in her footsteps. There are slightly disquieting aspects in current utterances, but they may not be so closely followed as they ought to be. In both activities, in fostering the Arts and in relation to the Open University, she had a very important social precept in her mind, which was to render available to large numbers of people, to whom they were hitherto not available, important social benefits from which she believed they could gain advantage. She did it in a way that was of supreme importance, and which was not to injure the institutions in their existing form. She was not a popularist in artistic terms, in the sense she believed that you could drive great swarms of people into an opera house or a concert hall and that they would immediately respond. That was a philistine proposition of great absurdity that has been often aired by people who should know better.

She believed that if education and training were made available to the population at a sufficiently early age, a great many people who would otherwise have been written off would turn out to be fully responsive and with much enlarged and enriched lives, as a result of her exertions. Exactly the same principle prevailed in her views towards the Open University. It was believed 150 years ago that the population of this country which was capable of literacy was something like 10 per cent. It was believed by a great many people who should have known better that this was a percentage ordained by the Almighty. Because there were in those days people like the noble Baroness, it emerged that it was not in fact a truism; there were many more people who could benefit. The Open University is a furtherance of that belief.

Here I might perhaps take slight issue with the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, in whose speech I thought I sensed the belief that on the whole you had prescribed for you a university population of supreme excellence and it was of the greatest importance that they should receive an education of supreme excellence. May I say that I wholly accept that view, but the noble Baroness went beyond it. She believed it was possible to dig and to extract from the minds of the human population great numbers of people capable of benefiting from higher education if it was provided for them. The Open University is, in a word, her presentation of a machinery for furthering this splendid social concept. And what a pleasure it has been of recent years to have a university conception to consider that is not dolorous, that is not connected with revolt, that is not connected with criticism, but where the population who are anxious to avail themselves of the commodity do so with delight and rejoicing! If we had nothing else for which to thank the noble Baroness, it would be for that simple fact.

May I, as many noble Lords have, utter an autobiographical note. It gives me a certain satisfaction to say that I believe that the Open University may well have survived on its growth to fruition because of a massive arithmetical error on my own part, I say this without any special pride, but historians perhaps may one day in a small way wish to record the fact. I do not think it is generally known, and it is not a fact of great historical significance. But before the University started I was asked to do a one man report as to its feasibility, viability and cost. That document brings me little satisfaction except that it said this: I thought the University was viable, I thought it was feasible, I thought it could be contained within a modest cost. When I see the figure I mentioned and the figure it is now costing I ought to blush with shame. But I am happy to tell your Lordships that I do not, because the fact that it is costing several hundred times more than I envisaged leaves me completely unmoved, since it has been established and might not have been established except for my foolish miscalculation.

However, in connection with that report I should like to pay tribute to one or two others. The man who had most to do with it, next to the noble Baroness, and next to her colleagues, particularly the Prime Minister who gave her unstinted and unqualified support, was the then Director General of the B.B.C., Sir Hugh Greene. He was the first person I saw on my way to report. No one could have responded more enthusiastically and with a greater recognition of the social benefits of this conception than he did. He indicated at once that the time could be made available within the B.B.C. schedules, although this obviously was a matter of considerable difficulty. He indicated that the cost might be less than one had in mind; and, indeed, had the conception proceeded along the lines we were then thinking of, it would have been much less costly, but much less efficacious. No one was more forthcoming, no one was more practical in help, no one gave more practical advice and assistance to the scheme than he did at that time. I duly presented my report. What happened to it I have not the least idea. But I do know that if in future someone asks what was the basic reason why the Open University was decided upon with alacrity by the Government of the day, I might reasonably suggest that it was Goodman's error. This is one of the few errors for which I shall feel no compunction and no shame.

The Open University exists to-day as what one might call the "second chance" university—and it is on this note I should like to conclude. It is unique in having provided a social institution that allays the social misgivings and the social anxieties that are causing despair and trouble in our society to-day. What causes trouble in our society to-day is a sense that someone possesses something more than the person who is troubled and anxious. Maybe it will be said this is an approach of envy; that everyone should accept the station to which he is born and should not resent the fact that others are better provided for. Unfortunately, in the society ordered by the Almighty He did not arrange for that particular philosophical attitude of life.

The Open University, to a very real extent, rectifies the injustice that exists in our society in relation to the provision of education at all levels. More than anything else, it rectifies the notion that you are deprived of the advantage of university education because at a given moment of time you failed to pass a scholarship, or your parents had inadequate resources, or you yourself felt unable or unwilling, for medical reasons, for health reasons or for psychological reasons to embark on a course. It provides the knowledge that this can be rectified later, at your own choice and within your own time, and this is an enormously important advantage in assuaging social anxieties that exist at the moment.

Hence, I would again urge upon the Government that they should give the utmost assistance to the University. The noble Lord, Lord Fulton, and many people much better qualified than myself as educationalists have, I am sure, spoken of the detail of the matter, but I believe that as a social conception there can have been few novelties in this country to equal it in range and in importance. For that we owe an immense debt of gratitude to the noble Lady.

4.55 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise to the House for not being here to speak in the order in which my name appeared on the list of speakers, and I am particularly sorry that I missed my noble friend's speech because it would have been very dear to my heart to have heard her, particularly since I am sure that she urged that the Government should give more generous support to the Open University in its present state of development.

I feel that perhaps it is my duty to try to put this matter of the Open University into the perspective of the universities as a whole. Particularly in recent months I have noticed that in your Lordships' House we urge very often the expenditure of large sums of money but that we never suggest that there should be any reductions in any other field. I am sure that this is as it should be. We are here to try to urge the excellence of certain causes, and it is in another place where, presumably, the priorities have to be sorted out. However, I think that it is worth trying to give your Lordships just an outline of what, in fact, has been happening in higher education in the last six months. As is well known, in December and January massive cuts were made in higher education by the previous Government. One of the ways in which this was done was by saying that there would be no supplementary grants for the year 1974–75 to take account of inflation. It was probably expected that this would remove something like £14 million from the university budget. At any rate, that is what the Vice-Chancellors Committee believes. In fact, £21½ million have been taken out of the universities and they are in very great difficulties at the moment.

I talk about money because it is practically the only thing that I do talk about now. I am quite incapable any longer of talking about education; I am incapable of talking about priorities; I am incapable of talking about an intelligent and rational plan, because no rational plan can be made in any university in the country at the moment. It cannot be made because the whole basis upon which university finance works, which is a five-year basis, has now been turned topsy-turvy; and, as we do not know what will happen about supplementary grants to take account of inflation, for subsequent years in the quinquennium we cannot plan anything more than one year ahead.

The effect of these cuts has been massive. I would guess that the University of Edinburgh and the University of Manchester are probably facing a deficit of £1 million next year. Certainly every university in the country is facing a massive deficit in the year, and whether they will be able to pick this up in the last two years of the quinquennium is highly doubtful. It is bound to cut back the number of students coming to the universities. The picture is not unlike that at the universities and the polytechnics, and this is the picture which we are observing now in higher education as a whole.

I think that whatever Government had been in power there would have to have been cuts in the educational programme. The question was, where should those cuts come? I myself think that in this hard decision the previous Government were entirely right in their sense of priorities, and I believe that Her Majesty's Govenment to-day will certainly follow the same pattern of thinking, that school education and, indeed, the nursery programme are probably more important at this moment than the sustaining and expanding of the university programme. I do not mean that there is no expansion going on; there still is expansion. The universities will not go back on any promise that they have made to any student who has been given a place; whether or not they can find the money to teach him, he will be admitted without question. Nevertheless, the whole long-term expansion of the universities is now very much in question and the White Paper which the former Secretary of State, Mrs. Thatcher, put before Parliament contains figures which are bound to have substantial revision.

I say that this is right because I think there are signs that if we have to choose and make these harsh judgments in terms of priorities, it is right that probably the axe should fall on that age group of the people between the ages of 18 and 21. I say that because of the figures which are coming through on the U.C.C.A. computers; mainly that there is now the first signs of a falling off in the demand from that particular age group. Of course we expect the demand to increase in terms of numbers in the next few years because there will occur one of the periodic bulges in the birth rate and if we have to make a cut it may well be that it should be made there. At any rate, we cannot go on at the rate of expansion that we have planned.

It may be said: why, then, should any sector of higher education receive any additional sums of money? Why should not the whole of it be pruned? I think it is here that one has to consider again certain questions. First, the question of the good, in absolutely crude terms of technical efficiency, of the country; and secondly, one has to think in terms of the cultural good of the country. In that technical efficiency there is one particular area which I will single out in the universities system; namely, management studies. That is something which we desperately need to support; it is something which we ought to do our best to increase and sustain, but this is a very small part of the total in the higher educational system.

I then pass to the second part—the cultural side—and this is where I think the real case for the Open University should be made because, as no doubt has been said by previous speakers, we have here motivated people; we have the "second chance" route; we have an area which is deeply concerned with people who are wanting to find out about certain fields of learning. This is adult education at its very best.

There is another thing I should like to say which is very important in regard to the Open University. Highly structured courses are given in the Open University and much written work is demanded, and indeed such written work leads eventually to the examinations in which the degree is given. That written work used to be one of the great essential props of the adult education system. When I used to lecture for the W.E.A., it was always made perfectly plain to me that I could obtain a position as a W.E.A. lecturer only if I got the classes to do the written work. I think there has been some back sliding in the W.E.A. on that particular principle in recent years, but the business of actually compelling your pupils to commit themselves to paper is the essence of higher education. Higher education is not simply a business of sitting and talking things out; it is indeed a business of talking things out and thinking things out, but ultimately it is concerned with committing yourself to a view, a judgment and an assessment of evidence. It is precisely because the Open University is not trying to cut corners; it is precisely because it has in fact insisted on standards, that it is of such importance. So that is again a reason why I think it deserves support.

There is one further reason why I think the Open University deserves support over and above the rest of the university system at this moment, and that is for one simple reason; namely, that it is an innovation. An innovation of any kind always requires pump-priming in the early stages. One cannot expect people to have ideas, to have a vision, and then expect them suddenly to see the thing fading overnight because of lack of funds. Anything which is started with such an imaginative vision must be sustained to a certain point. We all know that beyond that point every institution has to settle for a certain level. The new universities undoubtedly have not expanded as much, or are not going to expand as much, as no doubt the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, hoped they would when he was the founding Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex. Nevertheless, they have all got off the ground. They have not been nipped in the very first years of their development, although I think our new universities are suffering from the cuts more than any of the others in the university system.

The Open University is still in its initial stages—and it is precisely because it is still in its initial stages that we need support to take it beyond that. When we have got an equilibrium in the staff, when we have got the courses running—some of which are still germinating in the minds of those giving them—no doubt then is the time to begin to assess where we have got to and how far we can go. But just at this moment I think it does require financial support of a quite extraordinary kind.

My Lords, in saying these things, no doubt I shall get into terrible trouble with my colleagues on the Committee of Vice-Chancellors. We are all desperately pressed; we are all spending our time, as we were in the war, recounting bomb stories. But when I think of it, I do not know that they would really be very critical of me. We asked Dr. Perry to join our number. We well recognise that the Open University is one of the most remarkable experiments in the whole of the educational system of this country. Go, as I do, to Germany and to France to discuss these matters with the French presidents and the German rectors; go as I do to America, a land where one would think there was no room left for further experiment in higher education, and one finds they are entranced and fascinated by the way in which it is done in the Open University in this country. For here is something unique, here is something which has been invented, of which we can be justly proud.

When I say it is something of which we can be justly proud, I should like to finish by adding my tribute to all those which the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, has received. Hers has been, a very formidable achievement. When I think of the achievements of a certain married couple, that one of them has the National Health Service as his memorial and the other the Open University, I venture to doubt whether any other husband and wife have a record which could equal that.

5.5 p.m.


My Lords, I think nobody could have more adequately expressed our congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, than the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, has done. In all the great work of the noble Baroness, in two cultural fields—that of the Arts and the Open University—she has had no more ardent, more able and active supporter than the noble Lord, Lord Goodman.

I speak, after so many eminent orators, with diffidence and very briefly. I said earlier that the Open University is no new conception. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, has referred to the W.E.A. and its great work. There are the extra-mural courses provided by almost every university in the country. Nearly 60 years ago, when I was 15 or 16 and when any idea of going to university seemed an impossible dream, I heard of what were then called the university extension lectures. In various provincial towns eminent scholars in all walks of life gave talks on literature, on science, on philosophy; and I still remember after all these long years a speech by Lord Haldane on the fixation of nitrogen, something which had just happened then and something which eventually, many years later, was to produce the great I.C.I. complex. Visiting these university extension lectures gave a new dimension to my life, helped to shape it, helped me eventually to have the good fortune to go to a university.

It is with that deep experience in my mind and my life that I want to pay an understanding tribute to the Open University, to the Prime Minister, who played a great part in its inception, to Lady Lee, who has devoted not only ability but also passion to the furtherance of all the causes she supports, to its steady development, to its two great Chancellors. Lord Crowther and now Lord Gardiner, to all the faculty who serve it in what is a new medium, who had to master quite a new medium, quite a new process of teaching, to the B.B.C. for its spendid help; without the B.B.C. and without its positive support as well as ordinary support the Open University would not have got off the ground. Above all, I would congratulate the students, those adults who having done a day's work go in for a university education, earning their living and then study hard and achieve a university degree.

The great secret, I think, of the Open University, as distinct from the W.E.A. and all the other things I have mentioned, is that there is a degree at the end of the course, that the standards are proper university standards, and that all the resources of modern technology are bringing this new form of university education into places and to people for whom university education would never otherwise have existed. I am one of those who believe, with Lord Goodman, that we still have a lot of untapped talent. To create the economically prosperous Britain that we want, to create the good Britain we want, will depend on our finding ability wherever it exists, in whatever walk of society, in whatever age of society, and on training and educating it to the full. As an old schoolmaster, I knew what the late developer was, the boy who did not emerge at 11-plus. As an old man now, I know the late developers who emerge at 50 and 60 in life, those to whom the spark comes very late in life. The Open University is one of the keys to unlock that untapped talent, and I am very proud to be able to pay tribute to it this afternoon.

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, we are all deeply in the debt of the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, for this opportunity to debate the Open University. I want to start by expressing the admiration of all of us for her sustained advocacy of this fine institution. She could have safely assumed general support for what is now an undoubted success. For my part, I would have been ready to hear from her rather more specific details and guidelines as to how she would now like to see the Open University advancing. We were all fascinated by the first-hand account of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, the Chancellor, of what an open university course is like, and to get a feel from him of what is involved. I certainly was grateful for that. I perceive that the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, is under some pressure from his noble friends. I sympathise with him for that but I am glad to join in applying it and to further the cause of the Open University.

We have heard of the many and varied advantages of the Open University, and they have rightly been warmly acclaimed and thoroughly rehearsed. The fact that I do not add my version of them does not mean that I do not share them. As other noble Lords have said more fully, it is a practical second chance to get a degree. Offering degrees to all corners, but concentrating the teaching upon those students who really want to learn, is a major social advance. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, has said, it is quite clear that no one who does not really want to learn would ever stay the course. It also provides a course on which the student can embark with certainty that his studies will not be interrupted and messed about by rows on the campus, which is more than you can say for any other institute of higher education in this country at the present time.

I was heartened by hearing from noble Lords opposite their approach to education. I should like to congratulate them on their encouragement of an institution which widens opportunities, as it does, extends choice and adds variety, a point about which the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, was so eloquent. My hope is that that admirable attitude will percolate down through their Party, and begin to influence the quite antediluvian attitude among their colleagues on secondary education, where they are all hell-bent on reducing variety and eliminating choice.

I should like to endorse my support and that of my Party for the Open University, and to illustrate that it is not just verbal encouragement by referring to the Tory record of support of the Open University over the past few years in terms of the grant in aid for current expenditure. In 1970 it was about £2.2 million; in 1971, £6.1 million; in 1972, £7.9 million; 1973, £9.6 million—that is from £2.2 million three years before; now for 1974 it is £12.7 million. Although that last figure of £12.7 million belongs to the Government of the noble Lord opposite, having been inherited by him from his predecessor, it is stretching language rather far for the Chancellor of the University to describe as a cut what is in fact an increase of over £3 million—although I dare say that £3½ million, or £4 million, might at one time have been hoped for and expected.


My Lords, will the noble Lord tell me where he gets the figure of £12 million? I agree with his figure of £9.5 million, but I do not follow that there was the substantial increase that he mentioned.


It would delay the debate somewhat if I rippled through these papers behind me, but I will certainly give it to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy. I should like to stress, with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, and the noble Lord, Lord Hill, and others, that there are enormous economic advantages in the Open University. I know there are many others but I want to concentrate on these because they are of such immense value in days of financial stringency, such as those we are in now. The cost per place with the Open University compared with the campus university is, according to my figures—and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, will correct me if I am wrong—£300 per student on average compared with £1,300, something between a four and five to one advantage.

As the noble Lady, Baroness Lee of Asheridge, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, said, the staff/student ratio is excellent and ought to shame some of our other higher education institutions and courses. Another advantage which I do not think any other noble Lord has mentioned is that a much higher proportion of the costs involved are recovered from the students, I think higher probably than any other higher education establishment, £100 in fees roughly on a cost per student head of £300. It seems to me to be important, particularly at this moment, to hold on to these advantages and to exploit them. To do this we have to remember that in the Open University there is a high cost, higher than in an ordinary university, in course development, often running into six figures per course; and we have also to remember that some subjects are far more suitable for Open University courses than for others.

Therefore, I would say two things to the Open University and two things to Her Majesty's Government. I would hope that the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, would be able to comment on the latter. I would hope too that before the Open University thinks in terms of expanding further it is quite clear about the lines on which to advance, and that it will not advance on all fronts. I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Samuel, that after take-off—and that is the phase we are in now—it is not just a question of opening the throttle. It is now time for a cool look at the Open University, after this rapid and splendid expansion, in order to decide on how best to set the whole system of the Open University within the whole system of higher education. It is time to do two things: first, to develop courses where the demand is strongest and where the potential number of students for this particular type of course is largest; secondly, to concentrate on courses when the Open University has decisive advantages over the campus university.

My Lords, there has been an analysis made—it would be tedious to go into it now—which shows on which courses the break-even figure, when the campus and the Open University are compared, is fairly quickly reached in terms of numbers of students, and other courses where, because of the high cost of development and the difficulty of studying a particular subject like physics or biology at home, the numbers actually studying at the Open University are still a long way below the figure at which they would have to be if the cost were comparable with the campus university. So I would say expand by all means, but on those lines where the Open University has decisive advantages over the campus university. That is the broad and general way forward, but I would be the first to agree that economic factors are not the only factors, that they ought not always to be decisive, and that there are other considerations which would justify exceptions from that view.

I now come to the two points which I should like to put to Her Majesty's Government. I believe that the success of the Open University and the stage which it has now reached means that the time has come for other higher education institutions to adjust to the existence of the Open University. There was one brief moment in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, when I thought he was going to offer a donation from University College to the Open University, but he shied away from that and went on to other points. But I think that the moment has come when the rest of higher education has to adjust to the existence of the Open University; and, particularly, to offer, or to think about offering, part-time courses to adult students, and to provide such courses for them as will supplement those which they have done or are doing in the Open University.

This is a point to which my noble friend Lord Boyle has been giving some attention and on which he has been urging some action. I hope that we shall hear from the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, what the Government think about that, though I appreciate that it is not for them to dictate to the other universities what action they are to take. It seems to me that the part-time courses in other institutions of higher education should cover those areas which are not particularly suited to study at home, and therefore not particularly suited to Open University work, and where the other institutions at present have under-used capacity—and there are plenty of those.

The second point which I should like to put to the noble Lord, Lord Garnsworthy, has to do with grants. I think the time has come to have another look at the various financial support systems for students in higher education, not in relation to the general grants for students, but in relation to what can be done with grants or loans for those studying at the Open University. I do not agree with the noble Lords, Lord Wynne-Jones and Lord Beaumont of Whitley, who think that the solution lies in applying mandatory grants to the Open University. Mandatory grants are for people on full-time courses and, whatever else Open University courses are, they are not full-time. But we need to recognise and correct the present situation, which is very strongly biased—too strongly biased, in my view—in favour of support of the traditional way, which is also the most expensive way, of getting a degree; and I hope it will be possible to make some progress in that way.

But I should not like to end on these technical points. I think that the most important things that the Open University should do, and can do, in charting their course forward is to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the kind of things which the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, has been saying to them in this debate. Finally, I should like to conclude by once more expressing my gratitude, and that of those behind me, to the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, for giving us this opportunity to debate the Open University and for having the vision to create it and bring it to birth.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, we have been debating since 2.55, I think we have already had some thirteen speakers, and I am the fourteenth. This debate is on an Unstarred Question and this is the last day before we rise for the Spring Holiday Recess. I have a feeling that it must set something of a record for a debate on an Unstarred Question at such a time. Indeed, the number of speakers who have taken part would indicate that the subject could quite well have been suitable for one of our general Wednesday debates. But it also shows how keen is the interest in the subject of the Question. I doubt whether any good cause has ever been better represented in this House than has the subject of this Question this afternoon.

We have had notable speeches throughout the debate, and as I listened to the noble Lords, Lord Goodman and Lord Annan, and my noble friend Lord Maybray-King, I felt that they were as good in the closing stages as others were in the early stages of the debate. I wonder whether I shall be forgiven for what may seem a little ungallant. Speaking this afternoon, the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, took me back to a rally in the Albert Hall many years ago, when I think the Labour Party had won five by-elections in a row, on the first occasion that I had seen or heard her. She spoke today with the same passion, the same depth of feeling, which is quite remarkable having regard to all the service that she has given in so many fields, particularly that of education.

The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, began by offering me his sympathy, and then went on to qualify it. I was hoping that he was going to offer it without any limit, because I feel that before I have finished I may need all the sympathy without any kind of restraint that he or anybody else has to offer. I should just like to say to him that I noted he tried to get in a couple of points about my Party's attitude to the reorganisation of secondary education. Without taking too long about it, I want to say quite clearly that, as I understood him, he does not begin to conceive what it is we are seeking in a secondary system which is known as a comprehensive one.

Far from wanting to limit, we want reorganisation on a comprehensive basis in order to widen opportunities for all children. That has been our concern throughout, and it remains our concern to-day. So long as we have privileged sections, so long as we have privileged schools, there can be no question of equality of opportunity or equal provision of resources for children according to their needs. I thought I ought to reply to that point, lest the noble Lord feels that he can easily get away with that kind of intervention on a subject such as that we are discussing.

My Lords, I think it has been said by everybody who has spoken that we are all grateful to the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity this afternoon of discussing the Open University. She has every claim to be called the leading architect of this great institution. She, more than anyone, has helped to plan and shape it, and it is very fitting that the new library of the University is to bear her name. Her anxiety, that the Open University is not prevented by lack of resources from playing a full part in the future development of higher education, is one that is widely shared outside this House as well as inside it, as has been clearly demonstrated. What the noble Baroness has had to say has been supported by the present Chancellor of the Open University, by my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones and by the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, who themselves have played or are playing such a valuable role in its support.

At the outset I would stress that the work and progress of the Open University, to which the Question refers, are, and very properly so, as determined by the institution itself. Her Majesty's Government, as is well known, through the Department of Education and Science, pay grant-in-aid to the Open University and the level of grant is settled after consideration has been given to the University's own assessment of its needs for future development. So indeed many of the questions that have been asked this afternoon come down to the issue of finance.

As I think the House is now aware, the grant for the years 1974–1976 was settled by the previous Government in July, 1973. While I agree with the figure given by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, of £9.5 million for 1973, I ought to put on record the figures, as I understand them, and I should like to say that since he mentioned his figures I have taken the precaution of having mine checked. The figure that was agreed for 1974 was £10.6 million. For 1975 it was £11.2 million and for 1976 it was £11.8 million. That is to say, for the three years 1974, 1975 and 1976 it is a total of £33.6 million.


My Lords, will the noble Lord allow me to interrupt him? I do not know exactly where the discrepancies come, but the figure I was using was that from the Supply Estimates for 1974–75 issued on March 14 and the Open University grant for current expenditure is £12.716 million. I expect that can be reconciled.


My Lords, as I say, I agree with Lord Sandford's figure of £9.5 million. I think there is an explanation for the figure he is using, but for purposes of comparison the one I have given the House I think is the correct one. As my noble friend is aware, the Open University has recently asked my right honourable friend to raise the grant for 1975 and 1976 to allow more students to be admitted and to provide for the expansion of post-experience courses. He has undertaken to consider this request, but he has had to make it clear that he will do so, as he feels he is compelled to do, in the light of other educational priorities and in the context of Government expenditure generally, having regard to the present financial situation.

I appreciate that at the heart of the Open University's case is the high rate of applications for undergraduate courses. Applications for 1975, as has already been stated, have now surpassed the previous record of 43,000 in the University's first year of operation that is to say, 1971. And the period for applications does not close until July 3. The University could not hope, whatever we may wish, to admit all these potential students, even with a massive infusion of extra resources. I am advised that the system could not be adapted in time, and I ought to say that nobody this afternoon has asked for that. The University wishes to admit 20,000 new students in 1975. I make that point to emphasise that whatever is done a significant number of applicants will inevitably be turned away.

It was natural for many to regard the high number of applicants for the Open University in 1971, its first year of teaching, as to some extent an expression of pent-up demand. And applications certainly fell slightly in the second and third years. But now they are climbing back and the problem is that this is occurring when students show—I am delighted to say—a high success rate, and are staying on to take the next stages of their degree course. As I think will be appreciated in this sort of situation, an overall limit to student places has to be set, or the long-term development of the institution cannot be properly planned. The limit set by the last Government was 42,000 student places by 1976. The university has asked my right honourable friend to reconsider this figure. That he will do, but I have to add that it must be done in relation to other calls on education expenditure.

The proposals which the Open University has put to my right honourable friend include an increase in the number of post-experience courses. Here the university could make a great contribution in this field by providing refresher and vocational courses for a variety of professions. But every new course of this kind makes heavy demands on the teaching and the financial resources of the university. New programmes mean extra cost for research and development.

My right honourable friend fully recognises that the university is worried about the supplementation of its recurrent grant to compensate for increases in cost. With the exception of academic salaries and local authority rates, no compensation at all is to be given to other universities in the academic year 1974–75 on account of cost increases during 1973. But my right honourable friend recognises that the break-down of the Open University's expenditure is significantly different from that of other universities. He has therefore undertaken to consider the Open University's representations on this paint, although no decision has yet been reached.

Her Majesty's Government share the noble Baroness's high regard for the Open University—both its achievements and potential. But my right honourable friend has a responsibility for education as a whole. The university is asking for additional resources at a time of economic difficulty and when other institutions of higher education are facing cuts. The noble Baroness will understand that my right honourable friend has to examine the university's case not just on its merits but in the wider context of educational spending. Nevertheless, granted not least the presence in the Department of the Minister of State (himself until recently a professor in the Open University), it is most unlikely that its case will go by default. The Labour Party's dedication to the principles of the Open University remains unshaken. And if I may say this to the noble Lord, Lord Sandford: let us never forget that the Open University was intended to provide, as has been stressed again and again this afternoon, a second chance. That must colour very significantly the suggestion that the noble Lord made with regard to how it fitted in. I will come back to that point presently, but one or two other points were raised and here perhaps it is appropriate that we should be reminded of the achievements of the Open University, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for providing the occasion for doing so.

In a comparatively short period of time the Open University has won acclaim at home and abroad, and my noble and learned friend Lord Gardiner referred to this fact, as did the noble Lords, Lord Annan and Lord Goodman; and my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones also referred to the interest abroad. When I was in Toronto some time ago I found this deep interest. At the time I was sorry that I was unable to answer many of the questions put to me. I did not think of the simple answer that the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, did, which was, "Get in touch with the principal and he will tell you all about it".

We have good reason to be proud as a nation that the Open University has made such a mark and created so much interest, and we can feel that we are leading the world in this matter. The first courses were only offered in 1971, and already the high quality of its teaching has meant that people in other lands are seeking to be provided with the material that the University is using. We have to-day already over 4,000 graduates, and we are resolved to build on the experience and the success of the Open University, and keep faith with the ideal of providing an institution which offers that second chance to which I have referred, particularly for the disadvantaged. Our hope is that as our policy develops in the years ahead we can build upon its achievements, extending provision for those who have left full-time education without fully developing their educational potential.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, asked one or two questions, and the points he made have also been raised by other speakers. He raised the question about the kind of awards received by students at the Open University. The present position is that local education authorities have the power to make awards to Open University students at the rate, the terms and the conditions they consider appropriate. The attention of the authorities was drawn to their powers in this respect in a circular issued in 1971. I am aware of the criticism that the noble Lord voiced regarding the attitude of some of the less progressive authorities. The local authority associations themselves have recommended their members to make an award of £25 to students for each one week residential summer school attended, together with the necessary travelling expenses, and without the application of a means test. I ought to say that, if they wish, local education authorities can cover the whole cost; it is discretionary. Assistance can also be given with post-foundation courses where students' means were held to justify it. Sympathetic consideration might also be given to applications for assistance towards the cost incurred on set books and travel to attend tutorial classes, in order to prevent financial hardship to individual students.

Open University students are of course part-time, not full-time, students. I have to say that there is at present no pos- sibility of bringing part-time students within the scope of mandatory awards. Nevertheless, there is, as I have indicated, provision for discretionary awards, and we look to local authorities to exercise it wisely. I think the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, were pertinent ones, and they have been underlined, as I have said, by one or two other speakers.

I would not for one moment wish to mislead the House on this question of mandatory grants because the question was raised in another place on May 14, when my right honourable friend the Minister, in reply to a Question as to whether the Secretary of State would consider the extension of mandatory grants to approved students in the Open University, replied: No. Open University students are part-time not full-time students and I see no present possibility of bringing part-time students within the scope of mandatory awards. I am sure your Lordships are all aware of the restrictions under which I speak; the degree of latitude which I enjoy will be well known in its limitation. I have thought it proper to be frank to the point almost of being brutal in indicating the possibilities of the grants being made mandatory.

I have been asked a number of other questions. If I possibly can I will deal with most of them, because I think your Lordships are very keenly interested in this subject indeed. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, raised the question of the eighteen to twenty-one year-old students, and reference has been made by other people to these. I think the noble Lord suggested that they were being financed by money from the Open University that would have been otherwise available. As I understand the position, the University is running a pilot experiment to admit a number of eighteen to twenty-one year-old students. I think the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred to this. It was planned in the first place for 500. I think it is regrettable that only 343 have been enrolled for 1974. But it was an experiment.

I wonder whether your Lordships who have criticised it would like to reflect on the fact that this is possibly the only chance that a married, 19-year-old woman with a couple of children at home could have of taking the kind of course the Open University offers. There is no long-term commitment, as I understand it, on this one. It is a pilot scheme. I think I am correct in saying there has been a special grant of £40,000 a year to finance this. It has been monitored again, and I think the cost of monitoring is being met by the Department of Education and Science. It seems to me that it is worth seeing whether it will do something worthwhile for these young people, many of them with no opportunity of going out at all. I want to emphasise that there is no long-term commitment. One appreciates the criticisms that have been voiced not only here this afternoon but that were voiced when it began.

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Summerskill has gone. In the circumstances, I think perhaps I had better write to her. If I have missed anything of significance, then I will write to your Lordships who have raised points. My Lords, the Open University is undoubtedly one of the education success stories of our time, one with which the noble Baroness, and all who worked with her, will always be proud to be associated. In its achievements to-day I think it is something of which the Party on this side of the House will always be proud.

I would inform the House that the Secretary of State is extremely interested in the project, and has undertaken to visit the University in the very near future. I am quite sure he will read with the closest interest all that has been said, and all that has been so powerfully stated here this afternoon. I should like to take a little time to think over what the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, had to say about grants, and to have another look at support grants, and will write to him.

The House has been very kind and I have taken longer to reply than I had intended.

My Lords, the Government are resolved that we shall do whatever is possible to continue the success of a development where we have led the world. It seems to me that the very success of the Open University fully justifies the concern that has been expressed here this afternoon. The concern that has been shown for its future is indeed a challenge to all of us and we must do whatever we can to meet it. It seems to me that the debate has succeeded at least in some measure, and I hope that the noble Baroness will so feel. It has put on record the structure of the University, the methods it uses, and the striking support for it in terms of students and applicants; and not least the speeches of noble Lords in this debate this afternoon. Its needs for the future have been demonstrated. They will be studied and decisions will be made as soon as they may be. Long may the University flourish!