HL Deb 31 March 1976 vol 369 cc1074-243

2.53 p.m.

Lord FULTON rose to draw attention to the condition of, and outlook for, the universities of the United Kingdom; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to draw the attention of your Lordships' House to the universities of the United Kingdom. I am grateful also to the Members of the House who have put down their names to speak. A number of names of noble Lords who had wished to speak are missing. This is because of absence abroad, illness or commitments undertaken a long time ago which make them unable to be here today. Those who have expressed their regret include the noble Lords, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, Lord Franks, Lord Wolfenden and Lord Ashby.

The reason which prompted me to ask for this debate, apart from the obvious one that it would be hard to think of an audience which was more likely to be sympathetic to the difficulties of the universities than your Lordships' House, is the manifest uneasiness observable in the universities 13 years after the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, submitted its historic Report on Higher Education. I thought then, as I think now, that that report provided an enlightened philosophy of higher education and a civilised formula for a civilised country to govern the growth of our universities. It will surely have a stable place in the history of our times and an abiding influence on higher education in many lands.

The winds of popularity which so agreeably helped to propel the universities through the 1960s have proved more fickle recently and a change of climate towards frigidity is usually less readily adjusted to. It is clear that the growth of the 1960s has come to an end, and the end of growth of such rapidity is always uncomfortable for any profession. The promotion of young members of the profession is interfered with and the age distortions between the groups which comprise any learned profession are exaggerated. However, these are problems which affect other professions and they will have to be tackled by the universities. In my judgment, they would not provide any special reason for consulting the wisdom of your Lordships' House.

What deepens the uneasiness to which I have referred is the feeling in the universities that they have lost public support. The universities are now, to all intents and purposes, wholly dependent-upon public funds. Their recent annual allocations from that source have been insufficient to keep pace with inflation. They believe themselves to have been treated more harshly in respect of salaries than those in comparable public employment. Both the personal fortunes of their members and—and this matters even more to many of them—the quality of their services have been threatened. They claim to have made reductions in their real costs, but they also claim that such a squeeze, if continued, can have only one end—a serious, perhaps irreversible, deterioration in the quality of their work as teachers and researchers. Finally, all this has happened without public protest from quarters from which, in the past, their support has come.

Still more baffling to the universities is the fact that this has happened despite the knowledge that the degree courses of British universities are still the shortest anywhere in the world, that the drop-out or wastage rate remains much lower than that in other countries—sometimes it is only a fraction of what it is in other countries—that the degrees of our universities stand very high in the estimation of a worldwide jury and in in research achievement measured by another international yardstick—the number of Nobel prizes won in proportion to the number of professional scientists—our only rivals are the vastly larger and more opulent United States of America. Also, if, as is fashionable in these days of overmanning and undermanning, an appeal is made to productivity, it must be said that output of graduates per full-time member of academic staff in the universities is higher than in any Western country whose statistics are known.

In the current—as it seems to them—frigid attitude towards the universities, many charges have been levelled or implied. A number of these criticisms are faced in a document circulated to many members of this House by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals during the past ten days. Many data relevant to the discussion of those matters are also to be found in the annual report of the University Grants Committee, published as a Government Paper on Tuesday of last week.

I believe that it will be best to leave those of you who wish to pursue these criticisms and arguments in the hands of the university representatives who have responsibility for such matters and of the University Grants Committee, that unique institution which stands guard over the public interest in its dealing with the universities and which interprets to the Government of the day the needs and aspirations of the universities. However, it may help to provide an important background element in the argument if I quote one or two figures—the only ones I shall use—dealing with the output from the universities of men and women trained in professional skills of direct social utility. This is a contribution to our national wellbeing which dates back to mediaeval times and which is often overlooked. These professional schools provide a substantial annual reinforcement of the country's professions—3,500 doctors and dentists, nearly 8,000 engineers and technologists, 2,500 lawyers and 500 architects. One should add that virtually all university disciplines are relevant to the profession of teaching and that each year 15 per cent. of all graduates, currently 7,000 young men and women, enter into training for the profession of teaching.

I should like to move away from the area of current criticism and to use the remainder of my time in discussing less the universities' popularity or the loss of it than what we should be asking of our universities on the basis of their past achievements and the new challenges which face them now and in the coming decades. I expect that we would all recognise in them as a permanent feature a dual responsibility for research and teaching. So many distinguished scholars have their names on the list of speakers that I should not dare to stand between them and your Lordships on the subject of research, except perhaps to remind ourselves that it has been a firmly held conviction in universities, which shows no signs of weakening, that research and teaching should co-exist. The late Lord Blackett for one would have asserted that the research benefited from the teaching, as well as the other way round. Certainly we would all be likely to agree that a very important part of a university undergraduate's education has been, and is, that it should take its special character and flavour from the atmosphere of discovery surrounding it.

So far as teaching goes, what ought we to expect? First and foremost, I think that the universities should strive, as they have done in the past, to teach without indoctrinating. We expect them to place a high priority on helping the undergraduate to cultivate his personal judgment and independence of mind. For on their continuing capacity and will to do this must rest our claim to be an open society; I mean a society in which, in contrast to the theory and the practice of other systems (illuminated for us recently in the Solzhenitzyn interview) the new generation is set free to create anew, and not to be merely the slave of a rigid doctrine imposed upon it from the past. I am sure that we would agree that such a quality of mind also offers the best assurance of the power to adapt in a fast-changing world.

Secondly, the universities in this country have persisted in thinking of themselves as the teachers not only of those who are to be the scholars of the next generation—those who would spend their lives in the universities or research institutes—but also of the men and women whose abilities were in no way inferior to their more academic contemporaries, though their motivation and incentives were to take them out into the world of affairs and action, to be the "doers" of their generation.

From the shared years at the university two kinds of students—the scholars-to-be, and the future men and women of affairs, whether in politics, public administration, the professions, commerce or industry—learned from one another important lessons, and from this association our national life derived a quality which it could have gained in no other way. This variety in the composition of the undergraduate body, and the success of the universities in handling it in the past, could both be put at risk and imperil the productive social alliances built upon shared intellectual experiences in student days between important groups within our national life. The result could only sharpen the tensions and the roughnesses of society.

It is impossible to discuss teaching in universities without reminding ourselves that as teachers of undergraduates our universities have universally been acknowledged to have pre-eminence. To keep this lead, despite the growth in size of universities, was bound to be difficult, especially since the expansion of postgraduate education has imposed additional teaching burdens on the staffs of universities. It would be an irreparable loss if the pressures on teaching resources were to frustrate the experiments in many universities in new methods of small-group teaching. Success with these is needed to complement the enrichment of teaching experience and expertise, which is one of the illuminating gifts of the Open University to higher education in this and other countries. Its success must be a great satisfaction to the Prime Minister, whose brain child it was, as he goes into retirement from his high Office, and to the noble Baroness who is to speak later in the debate, who championed its cause and nursed it through its start and its early years. I would only add the further plea that we should continue to ask the universities to be one of the main bridges between the generations. Society at large might justly complain if, with all the advantages they enjoy, the universities could not accommodate the older and the younger without impairment of the dignity of either.

At the heart of the present anxiety in the universities I see the loss of the initiatives which they were formerly expected to take. Some people might wish to speak about the more legal concept of autonomy. I believe it much more fruitful to pursue the theme of initiatives. We expect our universities to take the initiative in research for truth and to battle against irrationality, prejudice and ignorance, wherever they are to be found. If this sounds theoretical, the opportunity to turn that initiative of the universities into practical effect was embodied in a piece of social machinery of remarkable ingenuity and wisdom. The University Grants Committee was the creation of men who saw the relationship of the Government and the universities as a partnership. Together with the device of the quinquennial grant the invention, in its modern form now more than half a century old, conferred great advantages on both parties.

For the Government the chief advantage was that they found an intermediary through which to elicit the priorities of the universities. The universities were required to show their hand. A forward projection, looking ahead for five years, could not fail to reveal a university's response, in terms of the balance of disciplines and the proposed relative development of arts, science, applied and social sciences, to the challenge of the Government's need for highly educated manpower and the research needs of the times. A single year's projection would be too small in scale to illuminate the difference between, on the one hand, a programme which merely reflected the haphazard results of an academic tug-of-war and, on the other, a programme which was a genuine response in a university's scholarly terms, to national needs, problems and aspirations. Only a programme of four to five years' duration could provide the magnifying glass through which the true shape of a university's future policy would become discernible.

For the university the advantages were substantial and lay deep in its nature as a place of scholarship. It was offered the opportunity and, indeed, was encouraged, to take a real initiative to diagnose from its own vantage point the condition of the society's health, to measure its needs of a university's scale of time and of depth, and to offer a programme of teaching and research adapted to the ends in view. Successfully to use such a system is the nearest that a university can hope to come to genuine freedom, and such a system was not imposed against the interests of the universities by Governments. It was the handiwork of those who are true friends of the universities, and it further gave the university a special procedure, apart from its ordinary administrative machinery, for planning its future consistently with ensuring the relevance of that future to the needs of society at large. Thus there was a recurring opportunity for a university willing to make use of it, to redefine its long-range strategic priority.

This delicately poised mechanism, so well adapted to give the maximum freedom to the university within the context of a democratic progressive society, has been of recent years a casualty of inflation. I hope that before this debate ends assurances may be forthcoming that the present hand-to-mouth, year by year, system of finance, so destructive to forward thinking and planning, and therefore against the interests of both Government and universities, will be brought to an end and replaced, as nearly as possible, by the system that has served so well for so long, to preserve the initiatives natural to a university, together with an acceptable and salutary social audit of its work.

But it is not only in the domestic sphere that the universities' initiatives are being compressed or destroyed. The history of the quarter of a century since the last war will certainly have a chapter on the part played by the United Kingdom universities in the ending of colonial rule and the transition of former dependent countries into independence. When the war ended there were only two universities in the whole colonial Empire—in Hong Kong and Malta, both very much the casualties of war. Twenty-five years after there were 31. In this creative activity the United Kingdom universities played a leading part. Most of them started with an academic staff largely drawn from the United Kingdom. The capital costs were in large part provided by the Governments of the United Kingdom, who took the view, whatever their political complexion, that by and large the best present from a former metropolitan Power that could be made to a country looking forward to independence was the gift of a university; and successive Governments called for the help of the universities to plan and build the gift.

Now the overseas universities in the former dependent countries in Africa, South-East Asia and the Caribbean are, in their co-operation with the home universities of the United Kngdom, bridge-builders between the developing world and ourselves. But a heavy cloud overhangs the continuance of this special relationship, for it has been built and nourished by the United Kingdom programme of aid to developing countries. Recently, some of these countries, notably Nigeria and Malaysia, have been graduating out of the need for the kind of aid from which the finance for the inter-university relationship was provided. It would be a tragic sequel to a remarkable piece of creative initiative if the relationship itself should now be allowed to wither.

To the resources provided by the Government, the universities have added as generously as they could and their staffs have given their services extensively without financial reward. The gain has been in the enrichment of the academic life in the universities here in our own country as well as in those of the Third World. It would be a defeat of the spirit if the relationship were now fractured, for universities are at their best when they are extrovert; and it is important that ours in particular should have every encouragement to look outwards at a time when, on the world stage, our national involvement is on the decline.

I regret very much that it has not been possible for Lord Ashby to take part in this debate. His unrivalled experience of universities in this country, in the United States, in Australia, in the developing world, in every continent and in the subcontinent, on both sides of the Iron Curtain, would have been of great value in our discussion of the issues which must arise today. But I hope that he would allow me to quote a few lines from his recent Fawley Lecture given at the University of Southampton, entitled "A Second Look at Doom". After discussing the complicated interplay between the factors of population, food and energy as they affect the prospects of the human race, he concluded by reminding us that long before the raw materials needed for the survival of the industrial Powers are exhausted, other Powers who own these raw materials will, if recent experience is a guide, find themselves in an immensely powerful bargaining position. The consequent international tensions will be difficult to contain, so that we must be ready for a political problem of the first order of importance. Lord Ashby has a prescription. He said: I believe that the formula for survival is not power: it is symbiosis". We should all of us read and brood over his lecture as a whole. I call it in aid now to remind us that universities, particularly those of our own country, have already demonstrated their disinterested concern over 30 years, as well as their creative touch as partners in the symbiosis Lord Ashby prescribes. In the Republic of Science and Letters its members are united in an equality of effort.

My Lords, I have spoken long enough and there are many speakers to follow, but I wish to close on a contemporary note. I have spoken of initiatives lost or suspended. Let us encourage our universities to seek new ones. Last century the universities took up the challenges of great political reforms, such as the introduction of competitive entry to the Civil Service. In this century, among many other examples one could cite, they took fruitful initiatives in the field of adult education; and over 70 years ago the University of Oxford became a partner in a most imaginative educational experiment with the establishment of the Rhodes Scholarship Trust. Every year some 100 young men from the United States of America, far from exclusively composed of only those intending to enter academic life, came to Oxford to study for two years as undergraduates; and through their studies, undertaken in common with contemporaries from this country and other Commonwealth member countries, they hammered out the assumptions and ideas they shared and those which divided them. It is no exaggeration to say that, as a result, the history of the world was changed and that the width of the Atlantic was reduced to bridgeable dimensions. It was no part of the object to produce a uniformity of minds or opinions: on each side understanding was built accepting differences equally with likenesses—and if one wants testimony it is to be found in the words of Dean Acheson, former Secretary of State, and Senator Fulbright, whose role in international relations and in bridging the Atlantic is well known to every Member of this House.

My Lords, a final word on the future. The work of the Select Committee of your Lordships' House on European Instruments has brought home to at least one member of that body the magnitude of the task which lies in front of us if the Channel (in some respects perhaps wider than the Atlantic was in 1910) is to be similarly bridged, for a new basis of cultural give-and-take will certainly be necessary. A European Civil Service has to be created. The Civil Services of individual Member States will have to learn how to co-operate as partners with those of the other sovereign Member States. International European companies will have to be found appropriate managers. It may be said that no professional bodies or trade unions will be left unaffected by the demands of the new relationship. Thus, something as original and imaginative as the Oxford Rhodes Experiment was in the first decade of this century will surely be necessary, though we cannot of course expect that a similar one-way pilgrimage will any longer be found acceptable.

As I have thought about it, the way forward must involve a radical departure. Can we hope that, as a beginning, two universities from different Member States might work out a joint degree course with an eye to the future of Europe (I know of no record of such co-operation in the past between two universities anywhere in the world), to be pursued by a limited number of undergraduates who would study for part of the course at each of the participating universities? The obstacles would be formidable, as the slow progress of the past 20 years has shown: for our own universities have taken shape and acquired perspectives from our past as a world Power and as a great maritime, trading nation; they have looked outwards over the oceans towards university corporations created in a similar image. The continental universities of Europe have been, on the other hand, oases of scholarship where the wandering scholar found a temporary home and fresh pastures; or they have been federations of professional schools.

We must expect that these divergent patterns will take time to reach a satisfactory accommodation. I feel sure that sooner or later they will shake down together. To assist that process there is all the more reason for an initiative on the lines I have suggested. The numbers of young men and women need not, certainly at first, be large—certainly not large enough to alarm the traditionalists: but, as the example of the Rhodes scholarships showed, quite small numbers of students passing in and out year by year can come, even after a decade, to wield a significant influence. And let the fearful take comfort from the fact that 70 years have come and gone without creating a uniform Atlantic man related to neither John Bull nor Uncle Sam. The prospect of a bogey European man without roots in any of the diverse national cultures comprised within the European Community are unlikely to be better. I beg to move for Papers.

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, for opening this important debate with a speech which was so wide ranging, so stimulating and so eminently fair. I found particularly exciting the final phase of his speech where he suggested that the Channel may be a wider barrier, with the language problem added, than the Atlantic, where both sides speak English. The suggestion that a new approach, a new initiative, in this direction should come from the universities is something that I hope we may hear more of during the course of the debate. The noble Lord boasted, and we all boast, of the productivity of our universities. He demanded a continuation of their initiative, and remarked on the universal acceptance of their eminence. I think that these will be subjects which other speakers will develop.

My Lords, in replying to the noble Lord, I must confess to carrying a greater load of diffidence than I am accustomed to. The eminence, particularly the academic eminence, of those on the list of speakers is enough to daunt the most extroverted. The only asset I have to put against this weight of authority is the good luck that I happened to be educated at the best college of the best university in the Kingdom at a time—and I speak of 1926–29—when the older universities certainly were at their very best in relation to their students. Great men and great teachers abounded. J. J. Thompson was my Master, Rutherford and G. E. Moore were Fellows of my College, Keynes was next door; and those and other giants one was able to see walking in the town and occasionally even to meet. I shall always be thankful for the richness of experience provided during those three years. I think it is the object of all of us of all political opinions to try to see that these great cultural benefits which were then experienced by a lucky few can be spread much more widely without losing too much of their virtue.

My Lords, my business tonight is to listen, not to expound; and I assure your Lordships that Government policy is flexible and that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is open minded so that the advice I look forward to hearing from your Lordships will certainly not be wasted. I will try to deal with one or two of the many points raised by the noble Lord; and my noble friend Lord Crowther-Hunt will deal with others in his summing-up. But, first, I think, we should pause for a minute or two to look at the whole picture in its economic perspective. I do not think any Members in this House and few people in the country doubt that the battle against inflation is by far the most important problem of today, and the future of the universities, like the future of everything else in our country, is subject to the very severe constraints demanded by this battle. In the breakdown of national expenditure for 1976–77 projected in the recent expenditure White Paper, education comes second with a figure, at 1975 prices, of £6,234 million, amounting to 13.6 per cent. of the total programme. Recurrent grants for the universities for the academic year 1976–77 have been settled at £581 million, an increase over the initial £465 million for the previous academic year, which was then brought up to £520 million, with supplementary grants for academic salaries. These figures show that the share of the national expenditure devoted to education in general and to the universities in particular is not stingy.

My Lords, we cannot expect to escape some slowing up in development. I am very conscious that the universities have had to bear, and are still facing, severe economies, but I think the latest figure has been acknowledged as a fair settlement in hard times. Education and its related programmes for libraries, science and the arts, will continue to be second in our public expenditure league table; and even in 1979–80, which looks like the tightest of the years covered by the expenditure White Paper, resources for education will be up on 1970–71by nearly 20 per cent. in real terms.

In making provision for higher education generally within this total setting, the Government have made two basic assumptions. The first is that the student population is higher and further education in 1981 is likely to be about 600,000. This is a lower figure than was assumed even as recently as 1974, but it is derived from projections of demand for higher education and reflects the fact that the proportion of the age group who want to go on to higher education and are qualified to do so—the familiar principle associated with the noble Lord, Lord Robbins and his famous report—has levelled off over the past years at 14 per cent. Because the number of 18-year-olds is rising, however, higher education will still expand. And this expansion will embrace the universities as well as the polytechnics and the colleges, although the universities' share of the 600,000 place has still to be settled.

The second assumption is that the universities, and indeed the rest of higher education, will meet at any rate part of this expansion by making effective use of their existing resources. There will, for example, be little money for new buildings over the next few years, although the medical programme will be protected. And staff/student ratios are likely to worsen, given that there will be little scope for increasing staff numbers after 1976–77, while numbers of students rise. Let me say that my right honourable friend and I do understand the difficulties caused by the freezing of posts. As the UGC point out in their survey for the year 1974–75, some 500 academic posts have been frozen: that is, recruitments or promotion to these posts has stopped. This is bound to be a haphazard process with the result that the distribution of staff may get out of step with the needs of the students or of the universities, and the resulting problems are difficult.

However, I do not think that the universities will cavil at these economies. I think there is a wide acceptance that some cuts must be endured, and that the settlement is a fair one. There was a feeling in the early years of this Parliament—and the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, referred to this—that the Government were out of sympathy with the universities and tended to discriminate against them. I do not think this was ever true, but at any rate I do not think the suspicion has survived the last two settlements. In fact, Sir Arthur Armitage, Chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, described the latest settlement as one made in the light of the country's economic situation, but one which we hope will permit us to sustain our essential commitments and maintain the core of the country's degree system". My Lords, I have no doubt that this country is proud of its universities, and determined that they shall prosper. Mind you, universities can be either good or bad—they do not have to be good, nor have they always been. The university which produced Isaac Newton was described 100 years later by Gunning in his famous Reminiscences of Cambridge as a really terrible place, where the students were sots and toadies and the dons snobs and drunkards, with little sign of the redeeming accompaniment of serious scholarship. Yet, 80 years later still, when he was discussing the best sort of university for Catholic Ireland, Newman took the English model as his ideal, with certain religious reservations. In his Idea of a University he asked himself whether or no a Catholic University should put before it, as its great object, to make its students 'gentlemen'". He supposed that to make them "something or other", though not necessarily that, was its great object, and not simply to protect the interests and advance the dominion of science.

My Lords, the word "gentleman" has a very different flavour today compared to Newman's day, and I doubt whether any vice-chancellors are trying to turn out any such commodity. But Newman's point, which is valid today, is that a good university fulfils more than its primary functions of teaching and research, and should turn its pupils out at least as "something or other". I think the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, was referring to this when he said he thought universities ought to teach their pupils to cultivate individuality and independence of mind.

If I may now turn back to the settlement, the current grant settlement is unusual in two respects. For the first time, the grant is in the form of a cash limit; and 1976–77 is the last year of the present quinquennium, raising a question as to what will follow. I must, obviously, say a word on both points. Cash limits are being generally introduced as an essential part of the Government's strategy for controlling public expenditure and checking inflation. Like all effective cures, cash limits may be seen as a disagreeable innovation; the title means exactly what it says. A cash limit is a pre-determined ceiling on expenditure expressed in cash terms, which includes an allowance for increases in prices and incomes. The universities will thus have to manage their expenditure for 1976–77 in such a way that they meet rises in pay and prices in the year without exceeding the grant of £581 million. In particular, they will finance from within this limit of cash the pay settlements that will arise out of Phase 2 of the Government's incomes policy; that is to say, settlements falling after August 1976. The University Grants Committee in its distribution of grant, and the universities in the planned expenditure of their allocations, will be responsible for meeting the pay and salary increases that are negotiated and will have to make the necessary provision when the Phase 2 policy is known.

If I may turn to the future of the quinquennial system, I did not differ from anything the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, said about the inconvenience of not having it and the importance of restoring it as soon as possible. The Government acknowledge here an element of uncertainty. The grants for the past two years of the present quinquennium, those for 1975–76 and 1976–77, were both revised when student numbers fell below what had been expected, so that for these two years the universities have what amounts to annual grants. The Government have concluded that this must continue until the general economic situation improves, but I assure your Lordships—and the noble Lord asked for this assurance—that it is the Government's intention then to return to a form of longer-term planning for university expenditure. What form should this take? It need not necessarily be the same as it was. I urge all in the universities who are concerned with this question to re-examine the quinquennial system, and consider how it might be improved upon for the future.

I turn now to two aspects of university life which are particularly under debate at the present time. The first is the relationship between research and teaching. The noble Lord, Lord Fulton, said all there is to be said about this. It is generally agreed by all of us that the intention that there should always be the combination of research with teaching in the universities is part of our heritage, and is something we intend to continue. But there are some who question some of the consequences. There are those who fear that in an integrated system of this kind the resources available to research are liable to be squeezed when university funds are under strain. There is no doubt that the need for economy remains, and universities have a duty to review very carefully their own research priorities.

There is some criticism of subjects selected for research. Whether this is justified or not I do not know, but I do know that the identification of proper subjects is not the duty of Government but very much the duty of the institutions concerned, as I was pleased to confirm at Question Time the other day. The Robbins Report uses a phrase which describes some research as a solitary voyage to discover something that will be intelligible to a mere handful of persons". It is not surprising that laymen may sometimes underestimate such efforts. It is all the more important that the institutions should examine them carefully. Then, is research activity sometimes geared too much to the career of the student rather than the value of his subject? Such questons are asked, but can be answered only by the universities themselves.

Lastly, the balance of expenditure and time between teaching and research is not in any sense an absolute. Have we got it about right, or not? I look forward to hearing the academic views on all these difficult questions. Just to stimulate argument may I quote Newman again, if only to refute him? He said: To observe and to teach are distinct functions; they are also distinct gifts, and are not commonly found united in the same person. He, too, who spends his day in dispensing his existing knowledge to all-comers is unlikely to have either leisure or energy to find new". I do not think many speakers will agree with him, but that is no reason for not quoting him.

Secondly, I should like to look for a moment at the relationship of the universities with industry. They have developed increasingly close relations by providing new courses at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and through meeting the industry's research needs on what has come to be called the Rothschild basis. But here we come up against the disappointing take-up of places in science and technology. No one has yet explained this satisfactorily, and I shall be most interested to hear what later speakers have to say. It is not a problem peculiar to this country, however, and I hope that the survey which my noble friend Lord Crowther-Hunt initiated a short time ago may help to explain this unexpected development.

However, we must not over-stress the significance of this trend. The supply of new graduates with university and Council for National Academic Awards degrees in science, engineering and technology has increased fairly continuously since 1958, and is projected to increase further between 1975 and 1977, It has not increased as much as expected, or as much as the arts intake, partly due no doubt to the increase in women arts students. But though it is a significant slowing up, it is a relative one and surely not irreversible. There has been some criticism from both sides: on the one hand, that preparation of scientists and technologists is inadequate; on the other, that industry does not make proper use of its scientists and technologists and rewards them poorly. As regards the first, I am not clear what more the universities can do. They provide a wide range of sandwich courses for over 13,000 students, in about 200 courses, and they have developed a variety of vocational training courses and post-experience courses. These, with the active encouragement of the UGC, include courses sponsored jointly by industry and university departments in which students spend part of their time returning to university after a period of employment. On the second point, I shall be interested to hear whether any speakers think the rewards from industry are not good enough.

The noble Lord, Lord Fulton, was very eloquent and convincing on his discussion of the relationship between the universities and the developing world. I think the increase from two universities at the end of the last war to 35 now is a very remarkable one. There is no doubt that our own universities have played a major part and have been the inspiration of it, very often channelled through the Inter-University Council for Higher Education Overseas. The noble Lord developed the point of how valuable it is to universities to have people coming here and how valuable it is to have universities elsewhere to which our people can go. I shall not labour that point because it is obvious to all of us. However, it is important for us to consider the final point that was made by the noble Lord; that is, that things are changing. He quoted Nigeria and Malaysia, and expressed the hope that we should not lose the value of the relationships we already have because of changes in the future. I heartily agree with that. Tutelage and dependence must give way to co-operation between equals, and this is not the easiest of transitions to make.

I mentioned at the beginning the interest taken in the suggestion made that we should break out from the EEC. I shall not say any more about that, because other speakers will doubtless develop the idea thrown out by the noble Lord. However, I must say a word on the sensitive issue of students' fees. This will be only a word in passing, as my right honourable friend has the whole question under review and has not yet come to final conclusions. What must be said, though, is that the problem presented is a real one and, like all real problems, cannot be solved by passion. We do a great deal to help foreign students to study here and we benefit enormously from their presence. Their numbers in the universities have doubled in the last 10 years, but a number of questions might be raised. For example, should there be an upper limit lest they deprive our students of opportunity? As costs rise, should they be asked to pay more? Should there be a differential between their fees and those of home students? Is it possible to differentiate between rich and poor countries or between rich or poor students? There seem to be no self-evident facts in this package. Whatever decisions are made, we must try to preserve the most and destroy the least that is good. That will be the intention of the Government and of my right honourable friend.

The noble Lord referred to the Open University and I should like to agree with every word he said, particularly with his tribute to my noble friend Lady Lee of Asheridge. I shall add only two points. The University has already 260 study centres, to one or other of which its students are attached and where they can meet their tutors and counsellors. In addition, many undergraduate courses require attendance at one-week summer school. In 1975 this was a requirement for some 60 per cent. of the student population. I take special pleasure in its success because of the attention it has paid to those unfortunates who are in prison and whose problems are particularly near to my heart. Fourteen prisons are taking part this year; 142 prisoners are registered and are studying 197 subjects. Last year 94 prisoners sat examinations on 126 subjects, and got 92 passes. Last year, too, we achieved our second BA from behind bars. The numbers are not very large but they are very important.

I hope I have said enough to convince your Lordships that not only is the nation proud of its universities but so are the Government. We surely have hard times ahead but, hard or not, our universities have a tremendous future and we in the Government are determined to preserve their pre-eminence. I should like to repeat my assurance that what is said during this debate will be most carefully studied by my right honourable friend and his Department. He has an open mind and is open to any suggestions. I look forward very much to the rest of this debate.

3.45 p.m.


My Lords, it is full 12 years since we last debated the universities, and that was at the opening of the Robbins era of expansion. Now the end of that era is in sight, if it is not upon us: it will certainly occur within the next quinquennial. I believe the noble Lord. Lord Fulton, has done us a great service in bringing forward his Motion today. It is extremely timely and enables us to look back at the universities' achievements in meeting the demands put upon them in that expansion era, and to look again at their aims in the very changing context of the coming decade. I should like to say, also by way of prelude, how much we welcome the noble Lord, Lord Bullock, to this debate, during which he is to make his maiden speech. I must say I feel that we owe him an apology for having had a debate on illiteracy only a week or two before we had the benefit of his great work on that topic.

I began my "prep" for this debate by re-reading the Report of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and our debates upon it. I must say any of the prophets would be envious of the accuracy of his predictions now that we look back over those 13 years that have elapsed. Certainly, I find that verses 22 to 29 of the second chapter of the Book of the Prophet Robbins still contain just about all that is necessary for the salvation of the universities and of higher education in general. For that reason, I base most of what I shall say today on the aims of higher education as he set them out there.

I also found it worth while to approach the vice-chancellors, or at least those of them without a voice in this Chamber, if only because one does not often have the opportunity to examine 40 vice-chancellors. I am most grateful for their help and for their answers. But, if I may say so, they did not all really answer the second part of the question; that is, the second part of the Motion put down by the noble Lord, Lord Fulton. The explanation is easy enough, I think. As the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, said, they do now feel beleaguered—too beleaguered to look steadily any distance ahead. There is the feeling that quinquennial funding has now been abandoned, and there the assurance given by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, is helpful. There is a sharp sense of injustice—he did not mention this—over the way the Houghton pay award has been applied, and it would be very helpful if the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, could give some assurances on that count. There is certainly acute frustration over the distortion inflation has brought to university planning but also, I think, an understanding that it could hardly be otherwise. There is the feeling of being undervalued and misunderstood, and there are the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, which he may be able to say something about.

It lies within the power of Ministers today to put right all that suspicion, misgiving and uncertainty. Nobody in the universities expects money to flow tomorrow or pay to be put right overnight; but if Ministers can give, as they have begun to give, a commitment to re-establish quinquennial funding and to eliminate pay anomalies as soon as inflation permits, this will help a great deal. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, will be able to go further in those commitments and reassurances at the end of the debate.

The achievements of the past 12 years have been largely measured against the Robbins axiom in verse 31: Courses of higher education should be available for all these who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, assumed that we could afford this if the gross national product increased by 4 per cent. annually. It never has done so, but I think it is true to say that the demand has nevertheless been fulfilled and the axiom is still intact, for in every year since the Robbins Report there have been in full-time higher education more students than he allowed for, and spectacularly so between 1967 and 1973; and I believe that by 1980 we shall be very close to the Robbins' target and will have achieved that within the constraints on public expenditure which have just been published.


My Lords, may I just put a gloss on the reference which the noble Lord has made? I think it is not strictly accurate to say that members of that Committee assumed a 4 per cent. rate of growth. The chairman, at any rate, never believed it, but he was told to assume it by the Government in power.


My Lords, that is a very useful gloss to put upon it and the noble Lord is entirely entitled to do that. I think that the demand in terms of those qualified by two A-levels has been higher than the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, predicted in the early 'sixties, the proportion of all school-leavers getting two A-levels or more rising from 6 per cent. in 1962, to 11 or nearly 12 per cent. in 1966 and now steadying off. It is gratifying to know that in the latest UCCA returns something like 81 to 92 per cent. of what they call the real field has been admitted into the universities. So that is a major achievement, and it looks as if the targets finally set in the Robbins Report will be reached.

But, lest the axiom on which we have concentrated so much attention over those last 12 years continues to be overemphasised, I should like to spend time now, as we approach 1982, in looking back at the aims of higher education, in the belief that it is still hard to beat the formulation in the Robbins Report. There were four main aims identified. I think it is as well, in all the argument that there has been about the importance of relevant courses that will produce useful people, to recall that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, put instruction in skills first, while stressing that he did not regard that as the most important activity of higher education. It is, nevertheless, what most people go into higher education for, and what most people expect from the universities and the polytechnics.

The complaint in this area, that the system does not produce enough people well enough qualified for manufacturing industry and thus to contribute to our imports and our economic wellbeing, does not seem to me to have quite the force that is sometimes acknowledged for it. First, it is from this sector of school work that the highest proportion of the best qualified school-leavers go on to degree work, and it is from this material that the United Kingdom universities produce a higher proportion of successful graduates in science and technology than any other universities in other developed countries in the world. If those facts are true, then I think there is a very considerable achievement to be acknowledged on behalf of the universities.

That is not to say—and many of the vice-chancellors with whom I have been in touch are the first to want to stress this—that the time has not come, after 12 years of fairly rapid expansion to meet student demand for instruction in skills, that universities should not reconsider this first aim of Robbins and put it in perspective, and ensure that their teaching resources are applied effectively, as much for the economic wellbeing of the nation as for the wellbeing of their potential students. My belief is not that we lack trained talent in these fields, but that too much of it is sucked down from productive industry into non-productive public service, and that cannot be laid at the door of the universities.

The second aim of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, was and is, I think, the most important and fundamental of all his four objectives from the point of view of the students; namely, that the whole teaching activity of hither education—and this goes particularly for the universities—should be done in such a way as to promote the general powers of the mind, as to put students on the way to becoming cultivated men and women; not merely good producers—I am quoting the noble Lord—but better men and women. And why not be more specific than Cardinal Newman or even the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and talk about their capacity to become faithful and understanding parents, to become caring neighbours, to become responsible stewards of our heritage, to become vigilant and participant democrats and citizens.

Of course, these attributes cannot be taught and acquired in a first degree course, but an understanding of their importance and the capacity to acquire them as life goes on and to cultivate them later in life can be acquired during the university experience and implanted then, and I suggest that the time has come to give this fundamental and civilising aim more emphasis. The vice-chancellor of Stirling University, and several others, have stressed to me the value and the growing possibility now of continuing education on a part-time basis after gaining some experience of life. Certainly, my Lords, but should it not apply at least as much in these fields of the general development of the personality, of the mind, of the virtues and of these personal gifts as citizens, as it should apply in the field of the development of professional and practical skills? So, in that sense, that valuable aim deserves to be looked at again.

The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, stressed another essential characteristic of an institution of higher education; that is, of course, that it should conduct research. Professor Linnett, when he was vice-chancellor of Cambridge, circulated a paper in which he gave a comprehensive account of research at that university, and gave as the main reason for that research the need to produce fresh knowledge to impart to the universities' most able students. That is understandable enough, but I would question it in this sense, because elsewhere in his paper Professor Linnett complained—we all have to agree that it is true—that the United Kingdom is slow to translate academic discoveries into practical and profitable undertakings. As the producers of so much new knowledge, I suggest that universities might now devote some research into overcoming that persistent problem and consider how best to get their fresh knowledge, not just to their own postgraduates but to professionals and people at work in the world at large—to act as the generation bridge, as the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, put it. The Open University has pioneered one way of doing this, which should perhaps now be adapted and extended by other universities for this purpose.

It seemed to me that the gist of Professor Linnett's paper on the state of research at Cambridge was that it was extensive, useful and best left to the free questing of curious minds. I agree that we do not want research workers fettered and hamstrung by civil servants and messed about by politicians. But I think that his own catalogue of what was going on at Cambridge bears witness to the fact that in research in fields covered by a research council, in which a customer Department of State or a major industry is placing contracts as well, and where there is a healthy interchange of staff between those three elements, there is a discernible and desirable coherence in the work being done that is missing elsewhere. I should have thought, too, that the UGC were right in their recently published annual survey to identify the need for a research council to cover the humanities. As Professor Linnett himself said, without this kind of research we lose our capacity to advance civilisation, to assess social priorities, to raise the quality of life. I should have thought that it was a mistake for any university to believe that the good management of research is an impossibility and that the main beneficiaries, or even the only beneficiaries, are their own students.

I turn to the fourth and last of the four aims set by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, in his original report: participation by universities in the life of the surrounding community. I touched on this aim in endorsing what Lord Robbins had said about the value of students acquiring on first entry to higher education not just a first degree but a capacity for personal development—a capacity they can then use to good effect in later life as their civic responsibilities as parents, neighbours, democrats become heavier in step with their growing professional and managerial responsibilities. But, as Lord Robbins rightly pointed out, institutions of higher education should not be content to apply these broad and beneficial influences merely to their own student body but should also, in my view, and in Lord Robbins' view, too, endeavour to influence for the good the whole quality of life of the whole community in which they are set. When you consider how much how many of the universities owe to their founding city fathers, that is not an unreasonable suggestion. I imagine that there would be broad agreement that Lord Robbins and his colleagues were right to put this civic responsibility on all fours with the other three objectives in a balanced pattern of higher education; namely, a duty to teach skills, a duty to promote the general powers of the mind and a duty to advance learning.

I have been in touch with a number of universities on this particular theme. Certainly they all recognise these civic responsibilities and cite much to support the belief that they are busy in their discharge of them. If you ask any university for a catalogue of its extra-mural work, you get a substantial and impressive à la carte menu. Many are the instances of useful pieces of research done for cities—for instance, to help to clear up derelict land and solve various urban problems. However, I question whether the sum of all this disparate activity is what Lord Robbins and his colleagues meant in describing the duty and the power of a university to contribute to the life of a great city. I venture to suggest that it is not and that institutions, particularly the universities, have more to offer and more to give than this.

Could not some of this style and flair, directed to scanning the stars, probing the depths of the ocean and peering into the insides of molecules, be applied, with similar systematic and sustained attention, to learning how citizens might live and work better together in our great cities, in the new, emerging European communities and in huge industrial combines? And might not some people in at least some of our universities take it upon themselves to look more searchingly into these matters, many of which are right under their noses? Faced with bankruptcy in New York, the squalor of Calcutta and the state of our own cities—dereliction in the London docks, for instance—can we say that we already know all that needs to be known about life together in cities?

So much for the four aims. I should like to conclude by reverting to the first question which the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, was asked to consider; namely, the pattern of higher education. He found at once that there was no such pattern or system, consciously co-ordinated, and he recommended that there should be. He made it clear that he was not advocating central control of higher education—he acknowledged that the absence of a system did not necessarily spell chaos—and he did not need to remind us that the production of a national plan often spells disaster. The manpower planning for teachers and doctors both testify to that. He stressed, and we would all want to go on stressing, that one of the prime objects of any United Kingdom system of education should be to safeguard the autonomy of all the institutions which compose it. I believe that the future outlook of the universities—and, indeed, all the other institutions of higher education—now involves looking again at the Robbins proposals for the pattern, in contrast to the scale, of higher education in the United Kingdom and considering how those proposals can best be implemented in the different context of today. I have the feeling that this may involve the setting up of a further Mark II Committee, as there is a great deal of intricate, not to say delicate work to be done; but some of it, at least, is straightforward.

May I outline briefly the agenda as I see it. The best way is to look at some of the unfulfilled Robbins proposals. One was that there should be a comprehensive information service available to schools, parents and school-leavers on all the opportunities open to them in the whole field of higher education in the Kingdom. So far as I know, this is still not available in any convenient form. We have the compendium of courses at the universities, but this does not cover the polytechnics; and because of the lack of such a compendium the schools are unaware of the diversified courses now available in the colleges of education. I believe that it would be particularly helpful at least to have all first degree courses in particular subjects shown together in one compendium.

The Robbins Report also recommended the extension of the machinery for handling applications for courses. Since then, Oxford, Cambridge and the Scottish universities have entered the UCCA system. I should have thought it was greatly for the convenience of applicants for first degree courses if a comprehensive clearing house to cover all institutions providing first degree courses could be built on the UCCA foundations. Thirdly, the Robbins Report recommended bringing together all institutions of higher education—at that time it was the universities, the colleges of advanced technology and the colleges of education and their Scottish counterparts—under one Grants Commission. This was only partially fulfilled and now falls to be looked at again in a rather different context. The need for it was recognised in Circular 7/73 from the Department of Education when they said: What is called for is a major reconsideration of the future rôle… of universities, polytechnics, colleges of education and other institutions offering advanced courses. Many further factors now conspire to make this consideration necessary.

There is the position of higher education under devolution and the wish of the Welsh and Scottish universities to avoid it; there is the temporary breakdown of quinquennial financing; there is the temporary injustice of and anomalies in pay scales among the different sectors of higher education; there is the suggestion of a regional organisation for polytechnics. The balance of the argument now is more in favour of further bodies similar to the UGC for other parts of higher education which could talk to the UGC and act in concert with it rather than the creation of what the noble Lord envisaged originally; namely, a single body covering the whole of the higher education sector. The proposition of a comprehensive, co-ordinating mechanism for higher education involves much more than mere administration, but for all its difficulties I do not believe that it can be burked for very much longer and I hope that there will be comment upon it during this debate, agreement that it should be considered, and some suggestions as to how it might be tackled.

In conclusion, the past achievements of the universities have been greatly underrated and I welcome this opportunity from this side of the House to pay my tribute to what they have done in the last 12 years in meeting student demands. I think that the fears, anxieties, uncertainties and suspicions which the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, mentioned in opening the debate are very real. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, will follow the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kings-bridge, and go further than him in giving the reassurances and commitments which can do a great deal to set these anxieties to one side. I hope very much that the noble Lord will unequivocally take this opportunity.

4.10 p.m.

Baroness SEEAR

My Lords, faced with a list of 30 speakers, and a list studded with luminaries of greatest eminence from the universities, it certainly behoves me to be very brief, and such I intend to be. Speaking from these Benches, and speaking also and perhaps primarily this afternoon from the point of view of a rank and file university teacher of some 30 years' standing, I am bound to see this issue from a particular professional angle rather than perhaps from the point of view of the universities as a whole and in relation to society as a whole.

The first point I want to make is to emphasise that in our society and our conception of democracy, pluralism is an absolutely basic concept, and pluralism applies with greater relevance to the situation of the universities than to any other institutions in our society. For not only is pluralism necessary as a part of our democracy but without independence to run their own affairs the universities, perhaps more than any other institutions, are unable to do the job which it is essentially theirs to do. I am not suggesting for one moment that there is a danger of a political takeover or of a deliberate organising of the universities and their activities by bureaucrats from outside. This will not happen. There is no danger of it happening in one single act, but there is a danger of continuous encroachment on the independence of the universities—encroachment often undertaken with the very best of intentions but which, little by little, erodes the ability of the universities to do the task that they have to do.

That task is essentially to explore the causes of things, to pursue excellence and to develop people who are capable, by the skills and the knowledge and the attitudes that they have acquired in the course of their university training, of creative cirticism of the society in which we live and of its institutions, of bucking the trend towards irrationality which at times seems to be overwhelming our present-day society. If the universities are to do this, they must stand apart from the day-to-day political activities and anxieties, apart from Governments and apart from the administration of the country as a whole.

In asking for this degree of independence to be maintained I realise that we are up against a considerable number of powerful critics, for despite what has been said about the universities by the three previous speakers—and in this I think I am following the noble Lord, Lord Fulton—I feel strongly that universities are not very popular institutions in society today. They are misunderstood by a great many people. It is not the fault of the universities but of the people who have presented university education to the young and to some of their parents, who then feel that they have not got from the universities what they expected to get—in some cases simply a passport to a comfortable, well-paid job for the rest of their lives. They are known to be costing a great deal of taxpayers' money, because in this country (for better in my view, but for worse in the eyes of many people) we are extremely generous in the way in which we are prepared to finance undergraduates—not by loans, and long may that stay; and without requiring contributions towards fees or maintenance. This is a very unusual system and one undoubtedly seen by the taxpayers, who are hard pressed in many directions, as being, an expensive way of doing things. We are seen to be very expensive and are considered to be luxurious in our staffing ratios, and there are great doubts as to whether in fact we are delivering the goods which the country as a whole considers—and from its point of view, with justice—that it is paying for.

I will now take up the two points: are we really a very expensive luxury and luxurious in the way in which we conduct our affairs, and are we failing to meet the manpower needs that many people in the country think we ought to be providing? On the question of whether our staffing ratios are luxurious and therefore very expensive, if we compare the staffing figures of universities in this country with those in many other countries of course, on the face of it, it looks as if we in the universities have an easy time having regard to the number of students per stall member that we have to take care of in comparison with European or American universities. But as the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, has pointed out, our university courses are concentrated. No other country in the world expects to turn out a competent, well-trained, well-developed graduate in a matter of three years, and our drop-out rates are very low indeed. One might perhaps do a cost benefit of what is going on in universities with our kind of ratio and make a calculation—and of course no one has done this—of the loss to the community that comes from having a large number of drop-outs, not merely from the fact that they have not continued their university education and a great deal of time and expense on them has been wasted, but also from the fact that a great many people who drop out become disillusioned, dissatisfied, hard to fit into society and to turn into people who can have a useful and satisfactory life in other directions.

I remember some years ago a bright young German girl saying to me: "You will be told that young women in Germany drop out of the university in order to get married; on the contrary, they get married in order to drop out". She went on to explain that their attempts to get a university education in Germany were frustrated because of the huge number of students relative to staff, their inability to get any kind of personal help or direction, the feelings of frustration that followed and the feeling that years were being spent, and in their view very often wasted, in pursuing a university education that they did not succeed in getting; and that was the reason why they abandoned the whole exercise.

I think we in this country should be extremely grateful for what is so incorrectly called the Oxbridge tradition. I say "incorrectly" because how anyone can assume that there is any great resemblance between Cambridge and Oxford, I cannot understand. But the position of close relationship between staff and students is only possible if there is a very small number of students to start with. But any of us who have actually taught in universities know that handling students on a mass basis is not a good use of time; that it is not productive in relation to what the students get; that what really matters are the opportunities for tutorials, for discussion, for personal contact, for being available when students want to talk about an academic, or even a non-academic, issue. Unlike, I think I am right in saying, universities anywhere else in the world, this is what our universities are pre-eminently good at doing and when that contact breaks down—and alas! I say this also from personal experience—then trouble sets in. So I would defend this seemingly expensive staff-student ratio on the grounds that in fact at the end of the day this is the most efficient use of university manpower resources and the way in which you can give the best possible service to the students who come to the universities.

May I take the point that universities do not turn out the people who are needed to meet the manpower requirements of the country. This, of course, goes to the heart of what the universities are supposed to be about. At the end of the day, are you there to produce manpower for the economic needs of the country, or are you there to develop people, as the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, has been saying, whom society needs as citizens, as parents, for all the other roles that men and women are called upon to fill? One of the most important of these roles is the role as economic producer, the role in the field of industry, commerce, universities or schools or wherever people find their way. People who are going into universities recognise fully that one of the things they want to get, perhaps for most of them the first and foremost thing, is a qualification which will enable them to get a good job.

We cannot allow the direction as to proportions of different kinds of courses to be studied to be left in the hands of politicians and administrators. There are many reasons why not, and a very important one is that they do not know how to do it. With the lead times necessary for planning university programmes, it is pretty well impossible to forecast the different proportions of varying kinds of knowledge, different kinds of courses therefore, which will be required. Again and again the attempts to do this have proved to be unsuccessful. Many of your Lordships will remember the over-production of chemical engineers that we experience a few years ago, having been told a little while before that there was a great shortage of technologists. This example can be repeated again and again.

Moreover, there has to be a link between the requirements of the labour market and the work of the universities. The role of Government, of the Department of Employment and the Department of Education and Science, is, surely, to try to do a very much better job than they have been able to do so far in saying what are going to be the needs of the labour market. I admit this is a very difficult task indeed. Then, having done that, they must get the information over far better than is the case at the present time. The noble Lord, Lord Sandford, referred to the need to get over to the schools and to parents information about courses; but that, important though it is, needs to be matched by information about what the labour market is likely to look like in four or five years from the time when the young person is making up his mind as to what he wants to do. If this information was available and was more reliable, then I believe you would get adjustments inside the universities—not, of course, accurate and detailed adjustments, but movements in the right direction, the expansion of one faculty, the contraction of another, the development of new kinds of courses as the demand arises. After all, parents want their children to be able to obtain decent jobs. Headmasters and careers masters want their pupils to be able to have successful employment after university. If careers advisers had the kind of information to give more accurate guidance than they are able to give at the present time, then the demand would grow up from the schools, from the parents, and from the youngsters themselves coming forward for university places, and the universities would begin to adjust their programmes in response to that demand.

But, my Lords, the information is not there. Year after year I have asked my own students what sort of advice they have had at school level about the kind of career they could follow, and never more than 10 per cent. say that they have had any worthwhile advice at all. If at that level they do not get information as to career prospects based on really informed well-worked out forecasts—after all, we have now the Manpower Services Commission which could devote some time, surely, to doing this—they will not be making for the kind of courses which lead to the jobs that need to be filled. It is here that the manpower side of Government Departments' work in relation to universities needs to be done, getting the forecasts better and then getting the information over. It is not beginning to be got over at the present time. Parents (particularly, may I say, the parents of girls) headmasters and careers teachers, and the Careers Advisory Service, simply cannot give the information needed. So we get students coming forward without an idea as to what, at the end of the process, the jobs are going to be.

My Lords, finally I should like to make two more points about the relationship between Government, the politicians, the administrators and the universities, about which I feel there is room for improvement and development. The first is the opportunity to develop more post-experience courses inside the universities, to make it easier for people to follow higher education, not just when they leave school but when they have had experience of doing a job and then wish to take up opportunities for higher education at a later date. Some of them will never have had higher education at all. But it may well also be that we could move towards a situation in which it is possible for people to drop out, and then to come back after a break of some time to continue the courses which they have started. This is particularly important, of course, where women are concerned; in many cases, they may well not either undertake a course of higher education or complete the course that they have started, but may want to take up that opportunity later.

What is needed is the spreading of higher education opportunities throughout the whole of life, certainly up to middle life, rather than the assumption that for the great mass of people higher education must take place immediately after or very shortly after the termination of school. That is a change which I think we ought to try to bring about. Here, there are ways in which public policy could influence the universities. It has already done so to a certain extent. What is required is more post-experience opportunities, more funds available at the post-experience stage, so that people do not have to make the choice immediately on leaving school but can feel that the door that higher education opens to people continues to remain ajar for many years after they have left school.

Finally, reference has been made to the overseas students. The question is not just whether it is a good thing to encourage people from overseas to come to this country or not. Some of us have worked, and it has been my privilege to work, in a university community in which it is of the very essence of the nature of that community that it is international. There was once a time—it may still be true, for all I know—when at the School of Economics we had forty-two different nationalities. The fact that people come from all over the globe gives that particular institution—and it is true of many other institutions, though perhaps not to the same extent—a colour, a characteristic, a nature that would be quite different if we were not able to have that intake from all over the globe. This is of benefit not only to the overseas students, but it is pre-eminently of benefit to the students of this country to find themselves part of an international community. How difficult it would be to create an international community of that kind starting from scratch.

This is something which has now grown up over nearly 100 years. It has led to links all over the globe. It is a deeply precious possession, not only for this particular college but for the country which has institutions of this kind in it. You cannot put any price on this. Those of us who have taught in this kind of environment know that all over the globe there are people who respond to the name of their college, who are prepared to respond to the demands, the needs, of this country because they have had this kind of contact. This is something which at our peril we destroy. There are rumours, there are whispers (loud whispers, alas!) in the corners of public buildings that the fees of students coming from overseas are going up by something like three or four times what they have been paying of recent years. This is not just a matter of an arithmetical calculation. If you destroy these international communities within our midst in our universities, deep-rooted as they are and spreading throughout the globe, you will be destroying something of irreplaceable value; and you do not know how dangerous that will be.

4.31 p.m.


My Lords, in addressing this House for the first time, I hope that I may be pardoned if I inadvertently, through unfamiliarity, should offend against any of the established conventions of its procedure.

If one looks back at the public debate about universities over the past 15 years or so, it has been preoccupied very much with two things: the number of first degree students who can be accommodated in universities and the rising demand for that, and with the capacity of the universities to meet it. I shall be surprised if this is not the main theme of the debate in this House today. When pressure has been on Governments to provide more places, it is easy to understand this double preoccupation. I think it would be unfortunate if university needs were to be measured solely by this yardstick of first degree places and their unit cost, for it is based upon an incomplete view of the function of universities.

I should like, in an effort to correct that balance, to look at universities from a quite different point of view—to start, so to say, from the other end. I hardly need to say that our society, like all modern industrialised societies, is based upon knowledge. Knowledge is the essential element on which any modern society depends for its survival, for its prosperity, and for any hope of improving not only its economic but its social conditions.

If we ask where knowledge is germinated, where it is added to, where it is stored and made available, of course there is a whole range of institutions besides universities. There are research institutes, libraries and museums to be taken into account. The universities are by no means the only institutions in the economy of knowledge. None the less, I think they occupy a central position which cannot be filled by any other type of institution in our society as it is at present organised. They alone—this is the first point—attempt to cover the whole field of human knowledge. Of course there will always be some gaps, but if you take the major universities, they are the only institutions in our society which come near to making such provision and do not deliberately limit themselves to one field or form of knowledge.

There are other institutions—the British Museum, for example—which may contain a greater concentration of resources and expertise in particular areas, but still only in a relatively restricted field. Even the creation of the British Library, whenever that long-awaited event may finally take place, will not change this position, since it will not, for example, include the experimental approach to knowledge which universities provide for in their laboratories. So as a result of their comprehensive character, which is unique, universities become the fall-back for the other institutions in our society when they find they need to draw on knowledge and experience outside their own particular field of interest. In that situation it is natural to turn to one or other of the universities, as Government, commerce, and industry regularly and increasingly do, to an extent which I believe is still not generally recognised.

The other unique characteristic of universities looked at from this point of view, apart from their comprehensive range, is that they are the institutions which select and train the next generation of apprentice scientists and scholars, on whom all the other institutions interested in the development or addition of knowledge must draw for the continuing supply of the skills and the expertise that they need. I do not suggest that those who decide the level of support for universities are unaware of these other functions, but I think they are perhaps inclined to treat them as something which can be taken for granted or put on one side, and to say, as I am sure some speakers may be tempted to say in this House today: "We know all about research, but now let's get down to the real issue: how are you going to reduce your unit costs and expand the number of undergraduate places?" Every Vice-Chancellor in this House will know the experience he has had of that being pushed at him as the real question in which administrators are interested. These, after all, are the questions on which, up to now, the political pressures have been felt.

Part of the trouble is that miserable word "research". It is a word which fails to convey the importance of the functions I have been trying to describe. In most people's minds it is linked with research students, with those bearded Ph.D candidates who are indeed an important and, I think, undervalued part of the process, but only a part. What I am talking about is the full range of expertise and continuing research in a major university department which is represented by the permanent staff, by visiting scientists and scholars, as well as by the graduate students. The work of organising and making accessible existing knowledge, as well as discovering and incoporating new, is certainly not confined to universities, but the great majority of the men and women on whom it depends are to be found in academic posts and are dependent in their turn on the support and facilities which universities are able to provide for them.

It is easy to dismiss this as the academic staff's "own work", as if it were no more than a private hobby pursued in the firm's time when they ought to be getting on with their proper job of teaching. In individual cases, of course, it is quite true that the results may be unimpressive. But taken in the aggregate this represents a major part of society's working capital of knowledge. The point I wish to make is that the salaries and the facilities to support this laboratories, scientific equipment, computers and the indispensable technicians; libraries and museums of every sort, specialised and general, and the staff needed to run them—have to be provided out of the university's budget and building programme. It cannot, therefore, be assessed in terms of teaching needs only, or of first degree course places and student unit costs.

Of course the UGC knows this and does its best, and I would speak with others who have already spoken in praise of what the UGC does for universities and its understanding of their problems. But I am not sure that the extent to which universities today are something more than teaching institutions has been fully grasped by those outside universities on whom the universities depend for good will and honesty. I will quote only one figure, but it is not one of those supplied by the dossiers provided by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. It refers to only one university, my own, Oxford. In the year 1974–75 the amount of money which the university had in income from research grants and contracts from outside bodies, including the research councils to the university, was no less than £5 million. No capital expenditure in that, simply recurrent income. Compare that with the UGC's full grant for Oxford, which is the largest university in the country outside of London, of £15 million. A large part of what the UGC provides is, in any case, to be credited to the support of laboratories, libraries and so on, in which the knowledge function of the university as distinct from the teaching function is carried on. As much as one-third of the full grant is specifically for the purpose of carrying out research there, either on contract or on encouragement to other people there through grants. This gives one some idea, a surprising idea I think, of the scale of this function in a modern university.

It is easiest, of course, to make a case for providing properly for this function of universities in the case of applied knowledge. Most people would accept that it is desirable, if an aircraft develops metal fatigue, or if there are problems about virus control in crops, to have experts to whom one can turn in university departments of metallurgy or agriculture. But I think that it is impossible to draw a line round an area of scientific knowledge and label it, "Applied: certified fit for Government support". Both the examples I have mentioned, and I think most developments in the application of science, have had their origins in fundamental scientific work in which, no one doubts, British universities are among the leading centres in the world.

However, I do not think that the argument should be limited to the natural sciences. When Keynes General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money was published it was regarded as academic, yet no book has since had a greater impact on Government practice throughout the world. Take another example outside the natural sciences, namely linguistics, in origin one of the most abstruse branches of knowledge confined almost entirely to universities, but one which—after more than two years wrestling as chairman of a committee with the problems of literacy, language and rad reading—I am sure is going to have a deep and continuing effect on education and the way in which we look at social and human development.

I hope I have said enough to suggest, however sketchily, a view of the functions and value of the university in our society which I believe has been constantly underrated in the public debate about universities in the last few years. I should be completely misunderstood, however, if it were thought that I do not attach equal importance to their better understood educational and teaching function. Far from being inconsistent with each other, there is, as Lord Fulton said, an essential link between the two, for the distinctive character of a university education—and it has gladened my heart to hear this said many times this afternoon—is the education of young people in the context I have described, and by men and women with an equal commitment to science, scholarship and the advancement of knowledge on the one hand and to teaching on the other.

What I am critical of is the attitude which one sometimes encounters which concentrates on the teaching function of universities to the neglect of the others and argues that, in present circumstances, the nation cannot afford luxuries and frills—that the most we can hope to provide is so many places for first degree students and, with luck, there may be a little left over for those other purposes, but they will have to wait for anything more until the present emergency is past.

Obviously, it is the duty of Government, in a time of emergency, to insist on the need for economy, but it is not the only duty. Perhaps the more difficult but no less essential task of Government at a time like this is to see that, even when funds are short, activities of permanent and long-term value to our society are not left without some adequate support. Nobody supposes that universities can have all they want or need; they will have to put up with less like everyone else. But I believe it to be important that within the limited sum available, account should be taken of the universities' function as centres of knowledge and research, as well as teaching institutions, and that this function should be recognised as indispensable to the sort of economy and society in which we live and not something to be treated as a luxury or marginal purpose.

4.44 p.m.


My Lords, we have just listened to a distinguished disquisi-tion on an academic theme by a distinguished academic and it is my peculiar privilege to be the first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bullock, on his speech and to express the desire that it will not be long before we hear him again. I also wish to express a feeling of gratitude, which I am sure must be felt by most noble Lords, to the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, for raising this important subject at this particular time. It is certainly some time since we had a full-dress debate on universities in general, although from time to time, with Un-starred Questions and so on, we have debated, with rather greater bitterness than usual, certain policies which have called in question.

Today we have an opportunity of surveying a wider horizon. We are at the end of a period in which there has been great expansion and we are at the beginning of a period in which there will be great and justified anxieties. I will comment first about the fact and the problems of expansions, but before doing so perhaps it is desirable that we should remind ourselves of the prime reason for the expansion which has taken place. The recommendation of the Committee on Higher Education, to which gratifying allusion has been made in earlier speeches, particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, was not a recommendation of expansion for expansion's sake; that Committee thought, as I still think, that it is considerably in the national interest to have a higher proportion of systematically trained persons. But that was not the main reason for the recommendation. The main reason for it was that as a result of the 1944 Act of the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and as a result of changing aspirations which flowed considerably from that Act, a higher proportion of suitably qualified people were likely to seek admission, so that if there had been no expansion there would have had to be a progressive increase of admission requirements—greater severity, more people kept out who in the past would have been qualified—and that was thought to be both undesirable and unjust, and I still hold to that opinion.

Expansion has taken place, on a larger scale than even that Committee expected in its more relaxed moments, and I think it can be said that in spite of the antics of a small handful of rebels, 50 per cent. of whom doubtless will grow up to be quite respectable and useful citizens, there can be no hesitation in saying that general quality has been sustained. There may be a smaller proportion of the larger number of fellowship firsts; the old scholarship system, I fancy, was taking care of a considerable number, though not all of them. I do not doubt—I shall be dwelling on this later—that there exists, too, what I call a bewildered fringe of the student population, persons with qualifications but with no sense of what the Americans call motivation. But, on average, I have no hesitation in saying that the contemporary student and member of the enlarged university population is as intelligent, industrious and responsive to intellectual stimulus, when he gets it, as ever before.

Let me say a word or two about the problems which have emerged and let me allude first to what I have just called the "bewildered fringe". I do not believe that there can be any doubt that the expansion which there has been swept in a certain number of persons who were appropriately qualified but without much idea of what a university is about or of the sort of atmosphere they were likely to encounter there. That is no criticism of the individuals in question. They have been swept along either by fashion or by parental pressure but, when they come in, they have a sense of frustration and discouragement. I would not put a percentage on the size of this fringe, but I do not believe that any person who is continually in touch with students would deny its existence, and that on a considerably higher proportionate scale than existed in the past.

What is to be done about this? Certainly, some of the bewildered fringe can be saved by suitably sympathetic teaching, hut, candidly. I believe that it must be faced that there is a residue who are unlikely to be saved and for whom, therefore, the university years may be largely wasted. I have no doubt that the increase in the bewildered fringe, at any rate as regards male students, can be pretty precisely dated—that is, it begins at the time of the cessation of compulsory military service. For teachers who observe these matters, I am sure that that date constitutes a watershed. A young man who came to academic life after such a period in the real world had usually found out what he was likely to encounter and what he wanted to do. That frame of mind is less frequent now. Please do not misunderstand me. This is not a plea for the reintroduction of military service, but it suggests to me the heretical thought that a certain interval between leaving school and going to the university may, in many cases, be desirable. This is one of the few instances where I feel that there is something to be learnt from the Russians, although I am convinced that the Russians overdo this sort of thing. I would not recommend for a moment an interval in the training of mathematical aces at one end of the scale or musicians at the other, for these are both cases where continuity from school days onwards is eminently desirable. But, for the vast range of intermediate subjects, some experience of how ordinary people work and live and of what the world they are to live in looks like is not necessarily a disadvantage for students. In many cases, I would say that it is a positive advantage.

Apart from that. I am sure that the sense of being lost in a community whose raison d'être one does not properly understand is much less likely in a university which is split up on something like a collegiate basis than it is in the gigantic aggregations which, for one reason or another, many universities have now achieved, not only in the United States of America but also here in this country, where the member of the bewildered fringe is apt to feel himself an atom in a chaos which he does not understand However, this is a matter on which many university institutions have already burnt their boats. It is not a prescription for the present. The physical apparatus is there and is not likely to be enlarged for the next few years. Nor is it adaptable. However, where the collegiate system or a quasi-collegiate system has been tried, I feel that it has proved its worth.

Let me leave the bewildered fringe and ask what we are to do for the rest, at any rate for first degrees. Here, I remind your Lordships that, in recommending expansion, the Committee on Higher Education did so explicitly on a specific condition; namely, that there should be proportionately less specialisation in first degrees. I quote: We should not recommend so large an expansion as we do unless we were confident that it would be accompanied by a big increase in the number of students taking broader first degrees. In my judgment, in this respect at any rate, the universities have not done as much as was expected. I exempt completely the Scottish system, which was not subject to the strictures passed on the English system by the Committee on Higher Education. In my judgment, it is no accident that it is the Scottish system which has been influential in other parts of the English speaking world rather than the peculiar product South of the Border, but I know that it is claimed—no doubt with some justice—that there are proportionately more joint or combined courses in the universities in England than there were 12 years ago. The impression that I still receive—and I must say this in candour and at the risk of outlawing myself in the estimation of many of my academic colleagues present in your Lordships' House—is of an undue preponderance of honours specialisation. This is splendid for producing dons to produce dons to produce dons, or high experts in a particularly narrow line, but, in my judgment, it is not necessarily so splendid for those who are to do the main work of the world, a world which demands as much versatility as it does high expertise.

This is clearly no argument against specialisation as such. That would be quite ridiculous. Of course some degree of specialisation is inevitable, even in courses which are deliberately broad but, in my opinion—and I have no doubt that I am in a minority—the place for high specialisation is the graduate school rather than the first degree. Speaking as one who spent a considerable proportion of almost 50 years academic life looking after graduates, I should much rather recruit for the graduate part of the economics department of the London School of Economics, an American who comes with good recommendations from a good American university, where he has had a broad education, than someone with higher honours from our own, more specialised courses. The American may quite well be six months behind the first-class honours chap who has been trained in a university South of the Border, but it is quite astonishing how soon he will catch up.

Needless to say this is very controversial, and many of my best friends would take exactly the opposite view. But I hope that fewer of them would disagree with me when I say that perhaps the worst evil of the degree of specialisation in first degrees in not all universities, but most, South of the Border, is the effect on the teaching in the schools. I know that there are some, whom I greatly respect, who would take the opposite view. But I confess that to me it is shocking that at the tender age of 14 or 15 a boy or girl should have to decide whether he or she is to be a scientist or a Humanist, and thereafter be debarred from contact with the area he has not chosen, save in the so-called free time, when chaps can come along and give popular lectures on literature or astronomy, as the case may be.

I do not know any part of the world where this type of thing happens so early, except in this country, and I am quite clear that if we want the horrors of the two cultures of the noble Lord, Lord Snow, this is exactly the way to manufacture them. I am sorry to say that it is the universities which are mainly responsible. I know that attempts have been made—faithful attempts—to remove the evil, and such attempts are still going on. But I am clear that we still have a very long way to go.

Finally, in connection with present habits, I hope that those responsible for will do something to curb the excessive the internal administration of universities weight given to publication, in comparison with teaching, when selecting candidates for promotion. In saying this I am not in conflict with the noble Lord who has just spoken. I have no desire at all to disparage—rather the reverse—research which is done in universities. It is one of the most essential ingredients, as the noble Lord rightly said. But I believe that the demand for extensive publication as a condition of advancement, which has crept on us in recent years, and which was not so in my young days, is bad. It is bad in that it may lead to premature publication. It is bad, in that it may easily lead to neglect of the equally important function of teaching and looking after the young people.

I should not say that things were as bad over here as they are, in this respect, in the United States, where almost continuous appearance in print tends to be as essential as a trade union ticket in a closed shop. But things are still bad enough to make many junior teachers despair of promotion, save by this route. Surely this is wrong, vital and essential as is the function of advancing knowledge. It would be reassuring nowadays if more chairs and senior posts were awarded to those who have achieved especial distinction in the equally important function of communicating knowledge to the young men and women for whose education they are responsible. It takes all kinds of thing to make a world, and I think that in some quarters this is being forgotten.

My Lords, I wish to take one brief glance into the future. I have no doubt at all that, despite the comforting noises made by the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, the present prospects of the universities in this country are of anxiety and difficulty. Indeed, their present position is already very difficult. The account by the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, of the erosion of the powers and the functions of the University Grants Committee is true, and is deeply disquieting. I certainly welcome the qualified assurances which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, gave in that respect, though without attaching any precise date to his promises.

As for the future, even if one takes the White Paper on expenditure as an authoritative document, surely it is clear that the prospects are fairly bleak. If, as I believe, the assumptions of the White Paper are too optimistic, and there is worse to come before things get better, then the difficulties of the universities are likely to be even greater. Let no one underestimate their incidence. The cessation of the opportunity of initiative of development, to which the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, has drawn attention, is serious enough, but the revenue prospect creates even more difficulties. It is all very well to point to the general percentage of reduction in real terms, which has begun to come about, and is likely to come about in the future, and to argue that this is not very great. I agree. But the process of reorganisation has difficulties which should not be underestimated by the outside world.

Assume for a moment, my Lords, that the gaps can be closed by a further freezing of posts, which is perhaps an optimistic assumption. It must be remembered that the incidence of death and retirement does not necessarily coincide with the needs of teaching and research, and the difficulties, in such circumstances, of internal reorganisation in institutions, most of whose teaching members have life tenure, are not to be estimated lightly. They are already felt very acutely, and are likely to increase. I sympathise with those responsible for the adminstration of our great universities.

Nevertheless, having said that, I hope, with sufficient emphasis, I should like to say that any talk of catastrophe and disaster, any talk as if what is likely to happen must sweep away all standards in learning and research is, I think, an unwise exaggeration. I do not think that we in the universities do ourselves any good by using such language frequently. After all, the main incidence of the cuts in revenue will be on the staff-student ratio, and the staff-student ratio in this country is about one to ten. I certainly agree with what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, on the peculiar obligations which rest upon teachers in regard to students in this country as compared with conditions which prevail in a good many countries elsewhere. I am clear that a worsening of the staff-student ratio will make the position more difficult in the long period as well as in the short. But there are many parts of the Western World where staff-student ratios are far worse than they are likely to become here and teaching and the advancement of learning still goes on.

I have had the honour to be associated with institutions where high excellence has been achieved with ratios considerably higher than the average prevailing in this country. I agree that if the ratios have to worsen—as I am sure they have—the position of staff and students will be more difficult. The students will have to do with somewhat less supervision—not a total abolition—and the staff will have to reorganise their teaching so as to reduce the disadvantages of the students to the minimum. All this is very much to be deplored, but it will not be the end of the academic world in this country.

To conclude, while not forgetting or forgiving the areas of policies of successive Governments, Right and Left, which have got us into this deplorable position of inflation, and while not ceasing to protest against continuing wasteful expenditure elsewhere—unrequited exports for instance—I believe that the universities will do well not to be excessively narcissistic in present circumstances. The community as a whole is involved in a serious and common crisis. Even with the best government conceivable—it would be an exaggeration to say that we enjoy or have enjoyed it since the war—in the present circumstances we should all have to make economies. I am sure that, while not ceasing to make protests at the manifold follies or injustices in connection with the universities we shall do best for ourselves, and in the eyes of a not very sympathetic world, by doing our best to put our own houses in order and, despite straitened circumstances, to maintain our standards. When I think of all the idealism and the effort which went to engineer the expansion I do not doubt that we are capable of this even more difficult effort.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can I ask him why in his fascinating speech he gave us no indication of the fact that the expansion was not followed by greater productivity in the country?


My Lords, I have never believed that there is an exact correlation between the expansion of higher education and the rate of growth of GNP. I do not know any historical examples which show a startling correlation of any statistical respectability. However, I believe in something which R. H. Tawney once said to me when he had served a period of duty as Labour Attache in the United States, a community which for various reasons I should not have expected Tawney much to have approved of. He said: "My dear Robbins, I do not think you can exaggerate the advantage which this country enjoys by so many of its inhabitants having had at least a smell of the university."

5.16 p.m.


My Lords, we are all most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, for giving old sparring partners an opportunity to come into the ring and at the same time to hear for the first time in your Lordships' House the noble Lord, Lord Bullock, who comes with a fresh voice and a lifetime of distinguished experience. As the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, said, in a fast changing world we have to keep flexibility. I felt that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, was not so much addressing us as thinking aloud—which is a very good thing—and sharing with us some of his doubts and fears about early specialisation, teaching methods, whether dons should have the same security of tenure as Members of your Lordships' House and be allowed to go on until they are blind, deaf and dumb, or whether some other system should prevail. This is all very enriching.

I speak with a good deal of optimism this afternoon, because on looking round this House I see not just one distinguished academic but at least half a dozen—beginning with the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, the noble Lord. Lord Wynne-Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder—and I have probably missed one or two. These are all men of great academic distinction who helped to build the bridge between our older universities and the newer Open University. It is very pleasing to know that we have now reached a point where the academic status of the Open University is not in doubt. That is a tribute to all our universities, because it is non-sense to think that a university can be created by a political Minister any more than a Concorde, a battleship or a tank can he created. You can have a Government who are sufficiently enlightened to say, "We believe certain developments should take place whether in aviation, industry or education". You can have a Government who can say, "We think we could take advantage, for instance, of the mass media and see whether we can construct new teaching techniques, whether we can give the advantages of higher education to much larger numbers of people".

That is exactly what has happened and I hope it will always be remembered that we had in this country a group of men and women of immense vision who made it a practical reality. I was taught the important lesson in the early days of the Open University that it is a mistake to waste time on the second rate. Go for the best. Of course, there would have been no Open University without, first, the Prime Minister.

I am not giving away any State secrets, because he himself has said publicly often enough that he had very little support from his colleagues. The only senior colleague I can remember giving me a kind word in this respect, apart from the Prime Minister, was Mr. Edward Short. That was not unreasonable, because he had been a secondary schoolmaster in the North of England and his wife had been an infant school teacher, so they knew the problems of poor children and they knew of the utter loss to this country of the many who had not any opportunity. It may be that it is also not an accident that I had the most invaluable help from Sir William Armstrong, as he was then, now Lord Armstrong, because he, too, did not belong to that gilded circle of Oxbridge that just looked down its superior nose. He was brought up in a decent Salvation Army home—a home with good books and good standards.

It is extraordinary how far we are all the prisoners of our younger years. You can be conditioned to think that unless you have gone to a certain type of school, to a certain type of university, it is no good trying to attain the more important positions in the community. Of course, I am as much a prisoner of my upbringing as anyone else. I say that because I was brought up in an atmosphere of worker scholars. My father was a worker scholar; and my first idea of scholarship was our back parlour, where young miners, some of whom had left school at fourteen, were being tutored. Some of them wanted to be deputies, some wanted to be under-managers and managers. Among them there was the son of Carlo Read, who was our local coal-owner, and who, as Dr. Read, is now one of the leading members, doing a splendid job, in the National Coal Board. Here was the excitement of people with good minds and of people who were willing to accept the disciplines of study; and I believe that we are only beginning to tap this invaluable resource in our country. We have neglected so many for so long; and I agree with Lord Robbins that, very often, in a restless adolescent year it might be better for young ones to go out and work in the world and to come back later.

There is so much cross-communication now among the Open University and the other universities that we are adapting one another's methods, and there is no reason why residential universities should not have more part-time courses. There is no reason why we should not help one another to an even greater extent with joint projects. But what troubles me, my Lords, is this—and, having said those optimistic things, I now ask your Lordships to consider this most serious fact. The Oven University has not only won its spurs in the academic world, with a warm welcome and co-operation in joint projects, often with other universities; it has some special problems of its own. For instance, in the field of remuneration there is no difference between the salaries of professors, teachers, staff, of the Open University and other universities; and there is no difference—and this is very important—in the facilities which are available to them for research. There is a problem at the moment in that they have not quite as good buildings, and about capital costs, but I am not going to enlarge on that. That is not a major grievance today because all universities are being handicapped at the moment in relation to capital developments with which they are eager to go ahead. But having won this battle of equality of esteem, of remuneration and of research oportunities for our full-time staff, we have fallen down most dangerously and most seriously in our treatment of part-time tutors and counsellors.

Now the very nature of the Open University means that we have 5,268 part-time tutors and counsellors. Other speakers have spoken about the loneliness and the bewilderment, sometimes, in a mass university of a young student who feels he has not enough contact with an older, more mature mind, and with a counsellor. But by its very nature the Open University has to throw out the lifelines after its tutorial courses, its summer schools, its residential schools, its local study centres; and the most important lifeline of all to many students studying on their own in difficult circumstances is their contact with their tutors and with their counsellors. But the extraordinary situation is that those part-time teachers ought to have been given an increase of 28 per cent. in their remuneration in October 1975, instead of which they were given an increase of only 8.5 per cent. And, believe it or not, I was told, "You know, there are a great many of them". I just ask your Lordships whether the number involved has any relevance. Of course, because there is a higher number it costs more than it would for the smaller number of part-time tutors in the older universities; but if you take the total cost of the Open University it works out at less than half what is required in order to finance a graduate in a residential university. Indeed, the figure is nearer one-third. How can we accept this kind of situation? The last thing in the world I would want to advocate at this moment, when we are all so anxious to fight inflation, when we must above all get our priorities right, is that the Open University should be put in a privileged position. But why should a unversity which last year had 52,551 applicants—14 more than the year before, and the highest on record—a university which is meeting the needs and the aspirations of so many, be put in an under-privileged position?

I have talked about what I think very much needs to be put right in dealing with part-time tutors—and please do not say it is because it is only part-time education, because Open University students who are taking sometimes two and sometimes three courses are working as hard as many students in residential universities, who are not doing another job. All Open University students are not full-time workers; some are half-time, some do not work at all, and the circumstances of the rest vary. So I beg the Minister who is to reply to consider this: and if, now and on other occasions, I sound sharp, I am not being personally sharp with the poor Minister who has to reply to me, because I believe that if we could get him into a confessional he would say that he was just as discontented as I am with this set-up, and I hope he does not mind being pushed in the direction which I am sure he wants to go. But there is this manifest injustice—and it is not the idle rich from the Opposition Benches oppressing the poor, my Lords. This is a Labour Government, many of the members of which could not understand what the university was about and many of my comrades in which wanted something they called "a Working Man's University". They said that this was only going to be for the better off. Or they wanted a Party university. Who wants a Party university? Who wants a university for one group in the community—one colour, one income group, or the rest? That was all such sheer nonsense. But we are now in a situation where exactly the reverse is taking place. We have established a university which ought to be open to all. It is open to the better off, but it is not open to the poor.

I hope the Minister will not say to me that an increase from £25 to £40 for the standard one-subject-for-one-year is merely to meet increases in industrial wages, because I am sure the Minister understands very well that if you are at serious student one of the things that you must sacrifice is that spare-time job where you earn a Precious pound or two extra on which you pay no income tax or you give up overtime work. Therefore, I see no justification at all for this even when you are dealing with the better-paid industrial workers.

Many of our students are not in that category at all. Over 40 per cent. of them are women and a great many of the women students are housewives. They may have a well-to-do husband who can pay their fees with no trouble; they might have a devoted husband who finds it difficult but who makes a sacrifice, the family make a sacrifice. But when you are dealing with the woman who is housebound because she may have young children, or she is a daughter who is looking after invalid parents, she is the one who is out in the cold.

Again, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, referred with pride, and properly so, to what we are doing to help people in gaols; because the people who land up in gaols seem either above or below the normal level of intelligence. All we normal types manage somehow to keep out of gaol. The figures that he gave are interesting; but, surely, it is more interesting still that in 1975 we had 1,200 disabled students confined to wheelchair or house and their results were remarkable. This year we have 1,400. How many of them are going to be able to pay £40 a subject? Professor Ferguson, one of our leading dons, has warned us that just at this moment when more industrial workers were applying for membership, this discouragement is making some of them shrug their shoulders and walk away saying that it is not for the likes of them. Another disturbing factor is that they say, "We cannot pay two lots of £40"; so instead of taking two subjects in one year they take one subject. That is not always in the best interests of students if they are capable of taking two subjects, and it is not in the best interests of the University.

When we come to the question of fees, I have worked it out that assuming a round figure, and you have 54,000 registered students, the difference between a fee of £40 and £25 is £810,000—less than £1 million. I read in the Press that we pay from the public purse anything from £50 million to £100 million on fees for private schools. They cannot make up their minds about the exact figure. Surely, in any terms of priority, this is so important and can affect so many people that we ought to have been able to budget at least to ensure that there would be no increase above £25; because, as every student of the Open University knows, it ought not to have been £25 in the first place, but £10 per course, if you are going to, ask the Open University student to pay the same percentage of university expenses as do students in other universities. Our students were paying 8 per cent. of the cost while other students were paying 2 per cent. because there were mandatory grants from local authorities.

Once again, when you go to the local authorities, some of them, about 30 per cent., have been very good. Others have been bad and have given nothing in terms of fees. It is understandable if you were a teacher and already earning you had more chance to get a grant from the local authority than if you were in a wheelchair, or disabled, a housewife or someone who had reached retirement age and wanted the refreshment of study—for this, too, is an important part of the service that the university provides. I am not raising these issues in order to denigrate the work of other universities. It is a matter of a difference in function. The nature of the Open University means that it can cope with all kinds of disabled people, people in full-time or part-time employment, in a way that the others cannot.

But there is another thing—and I am conscious of the time but I hope your Lordships will forgive me—that I should like to mention before resuming my seat. Our first Chancellor was Lord Crowther. The present Chancellor is the noble and learned Lord, Lord Gardiner, who is elsewhere but who, with unfailing courtesy, has let us know how much he would have liked to be here today. It was a deep sorrow to many of us that Lord Crowther died after making only one inaugural address—and, remember, he was speaking in the very early days when he had to meet with a great deal of criticism from friends in the City and from academic friends. I should like to quote part of this brave and enlightened man's statement in his inauguration address. Among other things he said: …it is already clear that the University will rapidly become one of the most potent and persuasive and profitable of our invisible exports. Wherever the English language is spoken or understood or used as a medium of study, and whenever there are men and women seeking to develop their individual potentialities beyond the limits of the local provision, and I have defined a large part of the world, there we can offer our help. This may well prove to be the most potent form of external aid that this country can offer in the years to come. The interest of those all over the world who are wrestling with the problem of making educational bricks without straw has already been aroused and before long the Open University and its courses, electronically recorded and reproduced will be, for many people, their introduction to the riches of the English language and of Britain's heritage of culture. I add that to what the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, and others have said about the importance of the old universities in helping other parts of the world. I would plead with your Lordships, irrespective of Party, irrespective of whether you are an old friend or a more recent convert, that now, when the whole wide world is appreciating this fresh wind blowing through English academic circles, we should not make the one group in our community who are excluded be the poor of this country.

5.38 p.m.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, has done education a great service and I am sure this debate will be long remembered. I am going to come to one or two of his points in a moment. I should first like to offer from these Benches our congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Bullock. His maiden speech was admirable. I agree with all that he said about the importance of the research side of the universities. I would, however, wonder whether the subjects chosen for research are always the most important and I am going to come back to that in a moment or two. The noble Lord, Lord Fulton, was the only speaker so far who drew attention to the fact that the universities have declined in popularity over the last few years. This is very serious because, obviously, unless the reasons for the public misgivings are removed it is going to be very difficult to get the additional resources which are needed if the universities are to be fully restored to health, wealth and glory. Therefore, I propose to spend some time examining the public misgivings.

First of all, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, that opinion has not gone sour because of the occasional bad behaviour of students, not to mention a few dons. The noise they make gets into the news and does the institution concerned much harm. However, those demonstrations against authority are part of the age in which we live and it would be wrong to reckon them as more than a minor cause of the problem we are now discussing.

The trouble lies in an unresolved paradox which hurts us all. I was most interested in Lady Gaitskell's intervention because she alone realised what this paradox is. It is this: how comes it that the universities turn out more graduates every year, yet every year it is harder to find men and women with the character, the attitude to life, and the skills to fill effectively many posts of responsibility? That is a question the public are asking. After all, it makes no difference whether you are rich or poor, a wage-earner or a company director, a housewife or a husband commuter, what sickens you is the creeping inefficiency of the public services, the nationalised industries, and many forms of manufacture, commerce and personal service. We can all give daily instances of this deterioration in quality. As I hope to show, the education system is no exception, and, because that is so, it bears a special responsibility for the general decline.

I find it hard to realise that today one out of seven of all school-leavers follows some kind of full-time course. This is a large top slice of our population. The question that the public ask is whether this 15 per cent. is doing all its education should fit it to do, especially in those areas where wealth is created and unemployment can be reduced. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, said he saw no real correlation between what you might call the university system—I enlarge that and say the whole education system—and, as it were, the state of the economy. One must look at that assertion and see how far it could be justified.

I take first the nationalised industries. They are vital to the strength of our society. But in the railways, the London Underground, the Steel Corporation, the Post Office, British Leyland and so on, how many graduates are employed and what part are they playing in those great industries? We all know the nationalised industries are in poor shape, partly because the unions have insisted on over-manning. Equally calamitous is the difficulty of recruiting staff of the right calibre, and not least for the good jobs. Has the education system no responsibility for that? From the universities' point of view the picture should look better in the Civil Service. Far from it. I left the Government in 1962 and, after eight years out to grass, I returned in 1970. Nothing struck me more than the decline in the efficiency of the junior levels of the administrative Civil Service. Their standards of speaking, drafting and thinking had fallen too much for anyone to overlook what had happened. Has the education system no responsibility there?

I turn to private industry. It is lamentable that there should be so few high technology firms in this country. Why is our design so seldom first-rate? I mean design as the expression of the function of the product and of the material from which it is made. Over and over again we know our firms have to buy foreign designs. Has our higher education nothing to do with this comparative failure? Let me give your Lordships one more example. Who is responsible for the scarcity of managers and salesmen fluent in foreign languages and knowledgeable about the conditions in foreign countries? The University Grants Committee recognised this weakness in their recent report and pointed a finger at the schools. The Committee noted that ever since we joined the Common Market applications for foreign language courses have fallen off. But they say they are unable to give us any reason. We must find out the reason for this. I feel sure it cannot be a revulsion among pupils against foreign languages. There has probably been a diminution in the courses offered, especially in the rarer languages, and here and there there has certainly been a deterioration in the teaching.

I believe the main explanation may lie in the fact that foreign languages are a hard discipline and all too often the pupils are now guided away from hard disciplines. In the documents which they kindly sent us, the vice-chancellors and the principals offer some observations about the employment of graduates. They are on the defensive. It cannot be true, they say, that many graduates are now unemployable because all but a tiny fraction get a job within six months of leaving the universities. This does not tell us very much unless we know what jobs in industry the graduates take, what they refuse and those for which they are found to be unsuitable. In the last category industry is far from flattering. The UGC, in this report, comments on the fact—and I draw it to your Lordships' attention—that in 1965–66 industries' share of graduates' employment was 24 per cent. It has now fallen to 15 or 16 per cent. We may perhaps ask the Government whether they have any views on that.

Secondly, the vice-chancellors invite us to remember a university's duty is to educate the mind to be flexible rather than to train for a specific job. I imagine all your Lordships would agree with that statement. They say that their aim is to send graduates out into the world capable—and I am quoting the words of the Committee— of training or re-training in an industrialised society where demands for particular knowledge and skills can often change radically within the course of a few years". That is all right so far as it goes. But it also matters in a great society like ours, whether it is our graduates who are bringing about changes in knowledge and skill or whether for innovation we must depend on the graduates of other countries and be content with the ability to adapt ourselves to someone else's applied science and technology. What, for example, have the universities to say about our dependence on foreign technology for winning oil from the North Sea? We knew years ago that oil was likely to be discovered under the sea.

To return to the problem as a whole, one might be tempted to put the largest part of the blame on the maintained schools. It is very interesting that this in fact is what the universities are beginning to do. Here is an extract from the same report of the UGC: Some students are now arriving at universities well equipped with the ability and willingness to learn but without some of the basic skills and information they need to pursue the courses for which they have entered. I was Minister 20 years ago, and we used to make that comment about students coming from Asia and Africa. Now it has to be made about students coming from our own schools. To put it in plain language, the UGC is saying that the teaching of the boys and girls who are going to enter for university places has significantly deteriorated. That should come as no surprise to your Lordships. We knew it would happen when the grammar schools were compelled to go comprehensive with inadequate investment to give them a chance to maintain their standards. Further, I am told on good authority—and no doubt some of your Lordships will be well aware of this—that O-levels and A-levels are now definitely easier to get than they once were. Yet only last week there was a proposal to substitute a new examination which, in the opinion of headmasters, will lower still further the standards of attainment for able boys and girls. I do not know why that is, but I suppose we have to thank those soft-hearted educationists who believe that no child should ever fail at anything.

In that UGC report from which I have just quoted, they praised the willingness of the ill-informed students to learn. I wonder whether, if they looked into the schools, they might conclude that the methods of child-centred education are somtimes carried to the point of teaching the child to dislike any lesson that requires hard work. As a result of this, one hears children say, "I do what I like and I don't like to do anything else." That is a rum doctrine, my Lords, considering the difficulties that we are now in.

When I was Minister I was disappointed at the lack of interest taken by the universities in what went on in the schools. I saluted them as the great centres of research. Surely, I thought, they would be concerned with how their raw material is produced, how children's minds develop, how and what they should be taught, how the schools should be organised and how teachers should be trained. I went to them for help, and I failed almost completely to get any. There was an exception—Professor Bryan Thwaites, who was then, I think, at Southampton. Long ago, he saw that mathematics must be much better taught if British science and technology were not to be out-classed. Professor Thwaites helped me to get a little assistance from the universities by means of certain subterfuges which had to be employed because it was said—and it turned out to be true—that if the Ministry of Education asked directly for help they would not get any. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Bullock, is a person who in these later days has helped the schools a great deal; and I only hope that his report will not become a dead letter.

My Lords, what do we do in the present situation, where the country is starved of the trained manpower it needs and much of the responsibility for this rests somewhere between the schools and higher education? I think we have to prepare in the immediate future for educational standards to decline still further, as the damage to sixth forms resulting from going comprehensive, whether or not conditions are suitable, works its way through schools. At least the universities admit to knowing what is happening—but what a disaster if the remedy is that suggested by the UGC in this report! They warn us that degree courses may have to be lengthened, presumably by a whole year from three years to four, to make good the lower standards of teaching in the schools. Just think of the expense to the taxpayer, in money, and to the student, in time. It would mean a drastic cut in the number of students—and all because we have allowed the education of potential undergraduates to deteriorate.

All this leads me to one very definite conclusion which I recommend to your Lordships. We must have a new Education Act. The 1944 Act was entirely the product of experience gathered before the war. How could my noble friend Lord Butler of Saffron Walden or Mr. Chuter Ede have had any conception of the social and economic changes that were coming after the war? Their central aim was to give every child the education that suited his or her abilities and aptitudes. But in 1976 we have to join that abiding aim with two further objectives: first, the provision of the trained manpower that the nation requires if we are to remain in the front rank and, secondly, a new interpretation of freedom and social responsibility. Consistent with those three objectives, which will be hard to reconcile, the organisation of the schools and higher education has to be replanned as a whole. It must be based on the resources available; and those resources, whether in teachers, buildings or money, do not and will not exist to give every child the best possible education in the best possible surroundings. That is a dream, my Lords; it is never to be laid aside, but it will never come true. By one means or another the pupils have to be selected—those who are to be taught by the best teachers for the longest periods in the best circumstances—and society's interest is to do that selection fairly and not make a muddle of it as is now happening throughout our secondary education.

There are also other matters of great importance to be thought about. Some of them were mentioned in a letter in today's The Times, written by my honourable friend Mr. St. John-Stevas. I should like to list just three of them. Your Lordships will recall that under the 1944 Act religion is the only subject which must be taught by Statute. We should now consider adding two or three other basic subjects to the statutory core of the curriculum. Secondly, given the rapidity of change in the present age, it is obvious that adult education should have a firmer place than it had in the 1944 Act, and that radio and television can help us a great deal here. Thirdly, I agree with one or two other speakers who have said more or less the same thing: that experience shows there should be fewer full-time courses taken directly after leaving school and there should be more courses deferred until the student has spent some time in a job. Those are just a few of the problems which the new Act would have to take care of.

The universities could not stay out of a reform of such range and depth. The severely limited resources to be deployed over the whole field would inevitably bring them in. But there is a stronger reason, which is that both political Parties need the universities to take a lead in eliminating too much politics from education and in bringing us back to the good of the child and society as a whole. Parents want their children to be educated, not only to get a job but also to hold society together and to prevent its breaking up into selfish groups. Something of that kind would have to be found in the new Act.

In conclusion, I must warn your Lordships that if the universities were unwilling today, as they were 20 years ago, to take a leading part in replanning our system of education over the whole field, the almost certain consequence would be a further decline in our standards of teaching. And who would suffer more from that than the universities themselves? Therefore, let us think boldly and demand a new Act. It will take time, it will take the best brains and it will take a deep faith in the character of the English people if we are to draft that legislation. But if we start now, there is real hope that before the end of the century—education reforms take a very long time to work through—we shall have conquered unemployment and be earning enough to finance many great reforms, including much larger grants for the universities.

6 p.m.


My Lords, like various speakers, I should first like to echo the gratitude of all of us to my noble friend Lord Fulton for giving us the opportunity today to discuss the condition of the universities and their outlook for the future—an outlook which I fear is rather a bleak one in certain respects, unless their problems are given most urgent and sympathetic consideration. In my opinion, a healthy university system is essential to any civilised country, and I think most people would agree with that statement. However, many of them, while accepting it, appear to be unaware of the fact that the peculiar nature of the universities which compels them to undertake long-term planning means that in times of financial stress one cannot make arbitrary cuts in current expenditure without causing serious, and possibly irreparable damage to their future and, incidentally, to that of the country.

My purpose in speaking today is to draw attention to some of the problems relating to science and technology in the universities and, I hope, to correct some current misapprehensions. In doing so, I might even cross swords with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I shall speak about science and technology in the universities, not just because I am a university scientist who happens to have had a certain amount of contact both with industry and with Government, but also because of the vital importance of this aspect of our universities to the wellbeing of our country, especially at this time. Here may I say how very much I enjoyed the fascinating speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bullock, this afternoon. If that is, as I believe it to be, a sample of his thinking, I hope that we shall hear a great deal more from him in your Lordships' House.

First, contrary to what one could almost call common belief, more than 50 per cent. of students in our universities are taking science-based courses, and of the 50,000 or so students who are taking postgraduate courses about half are taking them in science and technology. Of these, nearly two-thirds are taking research courses, and the rest are taking "taught" courses, usually of a vocational type. The people in these science and technology courses are the people on whom the industrial future of this country ultimately must depend. And although it is to the credit of the universities that they have in the last 15 years greatly increased their output of such people, the number we shall need is likely to increase still further because, in addition to a still unmet demand for science-trained people in education, they will be needed for modern industry which, although already highly sophisticated, will certainly continue to undergo rapid change based on the application of the results of basic scientific research, and a very large proportion of that is carried out in our universities.

This country has an enviable reputation for scientific research. I can give your Lordships many evidences of that. The esteem in which it is held internationally in this respect gives this country an influence in the field of science which, shall I say, is markedly higher than we enjoy in a number of our other national activities. I do not believe we can afford to lose that esteem or the benefits that flow from it. It is the height of folly for any country facing the economic problems we have, to cut back on the scientific effort in universities, because to do so is to discard one of our major assets. For make no mistake, my Lords. If we cut back further on research in the universities, we shall have a decline in the quality of teaching, a lowering of morale among staff and students and, in the end, emigration of the very people who are needed to ensure our own future. And, alas!, if you look around the universities today, you find that the sapping of morale is already becoming evident.

But how well are the universities doing their job, and what use is the research they carry out? Over the years, a curious kind of belief has developed in this country, which is usually expressed something like: Britain is good at academic research and bad at research which has any practical value. That simply is not true. What is true is that there have been too many occasions in the past when scientific discoveries made here through academic research have been exploited by industries in other countries to our disadvantage. The reasons for this are complex and involve a variety of factors, not all of which are very well understood. Some people simply blame the universities. They claim that they are antiquated in their courses and do not turn out men and women who can immediately play a full part in running a factory or a research and development programme. Why should they?

In the last 15 years, the universities have greatly increased their output of scientists and technologists, and have shown themselves flexible and ready to adapt and adjust their courses to meet the changing needs of industry. I do not think any of us in the universities are complacent about this. Nor would we claim that we have done everything that can be done, or have gone far enough. We have to go further in our experiments and develop new types of courses to suit the changing needs which constantly arise. But the training that we give in the universities is not just training; it is also education. It is not a matter of teaching a specialised skill to do one job. It is rather giving the basic skills which can be applicable to a variety of jobs, some of which have not even been thought of at the time one is doing the teaching. And the need for the education of university students, who are, after all, the intellectual cream of our youth (or should be) to be conducted in an atmosphere of scholarship is just as true for chemistry as it is for classics, for physics as it is for philosophy. That is why universities insist that their staff should do research as well as teach. If they did not, university education as we know it would simply wither away. The advancement of knowledge—one of the functions of a university—is inseparable from the education of young people.

So there is a limit to what can be done within the confines of the undergraduate courses, which make up the bulk of our higher education for training people in science and technology. It is not just that there is not time in three or four years to turn the school-leaver into a fully trained professional. There are good reasons why universities should concentrate first on general education in some particular field of scholarship, and thereby provide the foundation on which vocational training can later be built. That is nothing new for the universities. That is precisely what is done in the training of professionals like doctors and dentists. There you have basic education followed by vocational training. In this matter of vocational training there are still untapped opportunities for the universities and I think we shall have to see quite a development of vocational training in the universities; but we shall get that development only if we have the means to take advantage of the opportunities. Some people bemoan what they call the "ivory tower" aspect of graduate research training and are loud in their criticism of the Ph.D degree.

Before accepting completely these complaints, it might be well to consult some of our progressive industries like chemicals, pharmaceuticals and electronics. They do not seem to take quite the same view. The same people will say that the universities ought to cut back on basic research and devote themselves to research of direct practical value. In doing so, they reveal, to my mind, a total misunderstanding of the nature and function of research in universities.

University research has two main functions: to extend the boundaries of knowledge and to train young men and women of ability and promise in the strategy and methods of research so that in due course they may apply them to the more specifically orientated problems that they will encounter in their professional life. The function of research in industry is quite different. There the aim is to provide an economically viable answer to a specific and usually fairly well-defined question. In general, it is rather short-term in nature, with frequently changing objectives. In solving its problems, industry must look in general to the basic knowledge which is provided by university research, and then look to people trained in the methods of research in the universities to apply that knowledge.

Neither industry nor the university can do the job of the other; the two are complementary. That is why contract research in universities has, save in special circumstances, not been of very great value and why efforts to involve research students in universities in joint projects with industry have often been quite unsuccessful. If we want to deal with our relative failure to innovate rapidly in industry, what is needed, in my view, is first and foremost not contract research but genuine contact between those directing research in industry and their counterparts in the universities so that they can understand one another, appreciate their different viewpoints and dispel the regrettable view of some academics that the industrial scientist is only a potboiler and the corresponding industrial scientist view of the academic as a dweller in an ivory tower. Once they achieve that contact, I believe that the best methods for co-operation will emerge quite naturally; and my experience of situations like that is that they do emerge and that you do get co-operation. But that does not solve all the problems of the universities and industry.

By and large, these problems are not too serious in the modern, science-based industries like chemicals and electronics, except in cases where progress is obstructed, as it can be, by bad management. It is in the older-established industries—industries like textiles all the way down to and including the motor industry—where the trouble really lies. In any established industry like that, you will find that there is a kind of hierarchy of skills. Based on that hierarchy of skills there is a kind of social hierarchy which inevitably will be disturbed by any innovation. As a result, innovation will be, and is, resisted, consciously or unconsciously, by both workers and management, because both of them want to cling to the status quo.

About a fortnight ago I watched the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, being put through his paces in a television interview. He was complaining about the number of people who were coming forward for advanced courses in UMIST which are being widely developed. He pointed out the magnificent equipment that they had and showed us one piece of equipment which was being operated—I do not know whether it was by a Pakistani or by a Middle Eastern student—just to demonstrate that these machines were being used more by foreign students than by our own. I thought that it was quite significant that he showed us a piece of textile machinery. Before one criticises the universities for the lack of people going into these graduate courses, one should remember that it is not very encouraging to go into the research and development side of an industry which is determined to keep everything exactly as it is at present. They used to say that brewing was the only industry where that was worth while because you did not want to change the taste of the beer. Otherwise, I would say it is not very encouraging to find that people are going to resist any novel action that you take.

Incidentally, may I refer here to the consideration of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that that kind of attitude is part of the creeping paralysis which he said has slowly become visible in industry over a long period.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the textile industry. The noble Lord may know that for many years I was a director of Courtaulds. It is absolutely untrue that Courtaulds do not go in for innovation. I cannot quite understand why the noble Lord thinks that the textile industry is so backward.


My Lords, I will take up the detail of that point in a moment, but I would point out to the noble Viscount with the greatest respect that Courtaulds is not the textile industry.

Viscount ECCLES

Oh, it is!


My Lords, no doubt it is part of it but it is not the textile industry.

Viscount ECCLES

My Lords, it represents 25 per cent. of the whole industry.


My Lords, the noble Viscount should know as well as I do that there are the good and the bad in all industries. To overcome this kind of problem, however much we may agree or disagree on that point, a very considerable change of heart is needed. That change of heart will probably come about only slowly through the introduction of new men in management who are aware of the potential of scientific discoveries and have the vision and courage to break new ground.

I believe that our industrial future depends on solving problems such as those to which I have referred and that the universities have a vital part to play not just in supplying highly trained people who are going to man research and development projects, but also in providing managers who will have the skill and the vision to take advantage of the opportunities offered by scientific research. I believe, too, that there is only one source for these leaders whom we need so badly and that that source is the university. For that reason, I think that we should look very carefully at science and technology in our universities and support it to the limit of our capacity.

6.19 p.m.


My Lords, when one is discussing what is to happen to universities, naturally one discusses their function. This afternoon your Lordships will have heard a great deal about the function of universities. I remember that nearly 40 years ago when I was living in Dundee Sir George Adam Smith, then Principal of the University of Aberdeen, came to Dundee to deliver a lecture. In this lecture he spoke about education and about how you educate people. He said, "You know, when you are training a puppy you get some old shoes and leave them lying about the place for the puppy to worry. In the universities we get a few old professors and leave them lying about the place for the students to worry". In those remarks I think he showed a shrewd understanding of what university education is all about. People talk about it as though one could bring in the raw material at one end and produce a certain finished product at the other. That is really not how the university runs.

Although we have been talking about universities, I feel that the real scope of our debate is wider than is implied simply by the word "university", important as the university is. We are really discussing all higher education and we should remember that today higher education in this country includes the polytechnics as well as the universities, and as my noble friend Lady Lee of Asheridge has pointed out, it certainly includes the Open University, one of the most imaginative and original ideas that has been produced.

We have to think of going further than that. I believe that in this country our trouble has been that we have taken too narrow a view of higher education. At the beginning of his speech my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge—in a speech which was to a certain extent encouraging, although, if I may say so, only to a limited extent—said that he had been a member of the finest college in the best university in the country. I, too, have been a member of the finest college in the best university, but in two countries successively. I was first at Aberystwyth in the University of Wales and secondly I was at Balliol. Perhaps I made a mistake. But it is important to realise that this has been the ambit of universities in this country, of higher education. It has been restricted in this way; it has been kept down to certain institutions and we like to think that there is a certain privilege, a certain advantage, in going to these places. The future, not only of this country but of the whole world, depends upon a far wider scope of higher education.

Unfortunately, we have begun it in this country later than in others, but we have begun it with the polytechnics. I am proud to be chairman of a polytechnic in Newcastle and I find it a most fascinating and interesting institution. It is doing things which the universities have not done in the past. There have been things like sandwich courses, which were not used by the universities. Of course, it may be said that here and there a university did it, but it was done in a very restricted way. The whole thing has been changed and we must realise that, whatever we like to say about the economic situation, whatever we like to say about it being too expensive to do this, that or the other, there is no future at all for our country, or for any other country, without enormously expanding higher education. That is essential. One has only to look at the employment of people; to put it on simply the level of training people. If we look back a couple of hundred years, there was none of our modern type of industry. We depended upon agriculture, we depended upon certain primitive manufacture, we depended upon primitive extraction methods of coal and ores and for the rest we had no need at all for training, except in the traditional training where a person was trained to do what his father had done.

This situation has, however, been changing rapidly and in fact if we look at the figures since the last war we shall find that there has been an enormous drop in the number employed in the extractive industries. Look at coal mining. We can produce as much coal today with a quarter of the number of people who were required 30 or 40 years ago. I believe I am right in saying that back in the 1920s we had a million and a quarter miners. The number has dropped but the production of coal has not dropped correspondingly. If one looks at every form of industry, including manufacturing industry, one sees that we do not need as many people in manufacturing industry today. It is quite unnecessary. If productivity increases as it has been increasing we need fewer people in manufacturing industry and it is no good thinking that we improve the community by unnecessarily bolstering up employment in meaningless tasks.

What happens? We need more and more people using their brains. This is inevitable, and therefore we have to train more and more people. It is no good saying that we cannot afford to do it; in that case we cannot afford to live. We can only say that if we choose to go back to the land, if we choose to live a primitive life—all right, we can do without education. Even then, from my experience in Wales, they learnt the Bible so well that they knew it inside out, but they did not have to go much beyond that. It was unnecessary to have any form of technical education. We can not run a modern society without technical education. We need more and more of it and it is utter nonsense to think that there is any way at all out of this problem.

Today we are faced with the serious problem that we have inadequate money—if we insist upon doing all the other things we like doing—to pursue higher education properly. There are two ways round this. I reject entirely the idea that we should give up higher education, because to me suicide is nonsense. I would say that you either find a more economical way of doing what you are trying to do in higher education or you do without other things in order to have the higher education. That, after all, is the old classical method that was used in Scotland and in Wales. I do not see anything wrong in doing without in order to have higher education. It seems to me this is essential.

In my view, the appalling problem with which we are faced is a problem of our own imagination. We are looking at the situation in the wrong way. We are not realising that it is vital that we should continue and expand cur higher education. We have in the past made a mistake—I think we have been rectifying it, and if I may give credit to a single individual (although it is always wrong to do such a thing) I would say that Mr. Anthony Crosland deserves a great deal of credit for having made clear in his famous Woolwich speech that the polytechnics ought to be taking up a lot of the strain of the universities and that there ought to be expansion of the polytechnics. From what I have seen I believe most strongly that we should expand the polytechnics enormously—and if it is done properly it can be done more cheaply, for a very simple reason: not because the universities are extravagant but because they have a different job to do. We should expand the polytechnics and on top of that we should create what they have in America—two-year colleges, which the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, has been suggesting in his well-known report.

In my view this is quite vital. We should have two-year colleges where young people can try themselves out, start something, get a preliminary qualification, and if they want to go further they can do so. There should be complete flexibility of movement between polytechnics, universities and two-year colleges. If we do that we shall begin to do something in this country better and more economically than we are doing it now. But, my Lords, do not let us imagine that we can save on higher education, and do not let us try and cheesepare on the universities in this sense. Their proper job, as Lord Bullock in his admirable maiden speech pointed out, is the advancement of knowledge. I know that is sometimes regarded as heresy in England; one thinks their proper job is simply training children. It is not. Their proper job is the advancement of knowledge, and they must be given the facilities to advance knowledge properly. Where there is a need for having a mass education of young people, then we have got to do it through polytechnics and two-year colleges.

6.31 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to try to take the debate on a little further from where Lord Eccles left it, because the noble Lord, in that speech of assured trenchancy which is so characteristic of him, raised some very crucial problems. He asked two question which I should like to try to answer in part this evening. The first is: why is it that Government are so disillusioned with higher education; why is it that Whitehall and the top civil servants believe that the expansion of higher education during the last 10 years is almost irrelevant to the nation's economic recovery? The second question which Lord Eccles posed was this: are those of us in higher education, in the universities in particular, doing all we can to help in that recovery?

That second question is crucial, and no one, neither the Department of Education and Science, nor the UGC, or the Committee of Vice-Chancellors has been answering it. We have not had a higher education policy in any real sense in the past ten years. The Department has not had a single thought other than expansion of student numbers. The University Grants Committee has been almost solely concerned with cost control. If you read the Vice-Chancellor's documents on post graduate education, or on tuition fees, or even their memorandum to the Secretary of State about the universities in economic crisis, you will see that these are essentially defensive anodyne documents, justifying the status quo and calling attention to the very real achievements of the universities. But Government and the public do not want a justification of the status quo; they want to know in concrete terms what universities can do to help this country find its way out of economic decline; and if they cannot come up with initiatives, then the universities are going to have a very low priority for public funds in the future.

All this bewilders the universities. They are bewildered because they think that they did what they were asked to do by the Robbins Committee That Committee said that it was intolerable that only 4 per cent. of our adolescents went on to full-time higher education, and called on the universities to expand. They did so; they multiplied and exceeded the targets for student numbers that they were set. The Committee called for them to broaden the curriculum and meet the demands of modern technology. They did so, broadly speaking. The universities transformed their curriculum to cater for the new style sixth formers, and they set up hundreds of post-graduate MSc courses which were designed to teach skills useful to those entering business and industry. But this university expansion irritated the top civil servants in the Department of Education and Science During the 'fifties the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, to his lasting credit, realised that technical education in this country was a disgrace, and against the opposition of the officials in the Ministry got going the system of widespread day-release for school-leavers in industry. He converted his officials. My Lords, when a civil servant has been converted to a principle, no religious convert has anything on him for single-mindedness of purpose. It was a bitter blow to the civil servants in the DES when the Robbins Report recommended that colleges of advanced technology should be removed from their care and put in the university sector.

At that time the most influential civil servant in the Department was Sir Toby Weaver. Sir Toby was a formidable and redoubtable servant of the State. I can pay him no greater compliment than to say that Sir Kenneth Berrill, when he was chairman of the UGC, used to say that it was an intellectual pleasure to do battle with Sir Toby. I say "battle" advisedly, for civil servants may lose a battle but they never lose the war. For Sir Toby Weaver the universities were, he believed, ivory towers preoccupied with fundamental research and totally out of touch with technological realities and as such he portrayed them. Within three years of the Robbins Report, Sir Toby had persuaded Mr. Crosland to make his famous Woolwich speech, only—as Mr. Crosland, I remember, ruefully reflected in a dialogue with the noble Lord, Lord Boyle—two or three months after he became Secretary of State. Mr. Crosland made the speech in which he announced that not only the binary system was to take place, which, of course, was already in existence, but there was a massive scheme to build, equip and man 32 polytechnics in addition to the enormous expansion of the universities.

Back in 1963, my friend, Professor Vaizey, prophesied that we would have 80 universities by 1980. He was regarded as mildy "touched". But today we have 44 universities, we have 32 polytechnics, and if you count the colleges of the federal universities of London and Wales there are today not 80 but 90 university type institutions for full-time students. On top of that there is the Open University. The result is that all institutions are strained for funds.

My Lords, is that a wonder? There was neither the money nor the underlying direction of purpose needed to finance and control this expansion. Although it appears nowhere in the Robbins Report, I have been assured by those who were of the secretariat of that Committee that the assumption behind that report was that the expansion would be financed by a 4 per cent. growth rate in the GNP. The nation never achieved it. Nor did the DES exercise proper control. The development of the so-called non-autonomous sector of higher education, the polytechnics, has been the concern neither of the DES nor the local authorities nor the CNAA. And what has happened? My Lords, I wish I could agree totally with what the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, said, when he spoke of the polytechnics. I go all the way with him in his admiration for the superb work which is being done in technological training in those institutions. But they are not solely polytechnics; they are much more "arty-technics". I do not know whether the Minister will share my surprise when I learned that the largest philosophy department in the country after that of Oxford is in the Middlesex polytechnic.

The polytechnics are to all intents and purposes university type institutions. The Houghton award means that their staff are paid roughly the same salaries, they teach the same hours, their curriculum is not all that different nowadays from that of many of the newer universities, particularly, of course, the old CATs. So far from being cheaper and specifically orientated towards technological subjects only, there are far more students in the Humanities in the polytechnics than scientists and engineers. And their creation, coming on top of the university expansion—and this is one of the answers to Lord Eccles when he talks about decline in standards of literacy and numeracy in the schools—denuded secondary schools of teachers; it denuded the schools of teachers to such an extent that that is why the Chairman of the UGC has now issued a warning to universities to undertake remedial teaching.

Where, if not in polytechnics, should our leading technicians in the future be taught? It is precisely, I believe, because the polytechnics have been orientating themselves more and more towards the universities that they are straying away from that high purpose which, I cordially agree with Lord Wynne-Jones, they were set up to fulfil. I am not, most emphatically not, denigrating the achievements of polytechnics. It would be mean-spirited to do so—and in any case they are here, and here to stay.

Meanwhile, what has happened in the university sector? The University Grants Committee has ceased to be the world famous buffer between Government and the universities. It is now, in my view, a sub-department of the Department of Education and Science. Would the Minister confirm that the Permanent Secretary of the DES or the deputy secretary for higher education is now always present at UGC meetings? Will he also confirm that the staff of the UGC is drawn exclusively from the DES? Who, from that Department, is likely to take an independent line when he knows that after his term of service in the UGC he will return to the DES? Lord Ashby once said that universities are independent because members of the UGC were academics. Well, it is one of his few public utterances with which I have disagreed. It is not the professors who sit on the committee who form university policy; it is the civil servants under the chairman. I am not criticising the present chairman, nor the past chairmen, of UGC because this has come to pass. Again, it is a fact of life which was bound to come. I remember writing an article immediately after the Robbins Report was published predicting that this would happen.

This transformation of the UDC into a sub-department of the Department of Education and Science left a vacuum. Who fills that vacuum? It is filled today by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and their considerable secretariat. I am a member of that body and, indeed, for two years I was its deputy chairman, so the criticisms I make of it are criticisms of myself as much as of anyone else. I hope I shall not offend my colleagues on that body too much if I describe the Committee of Vice-Chancellors as a graceful caterpillar. A short time ago some of us tried to persuade our colleagues that we needed a director general to take part in the day-to-day negotiations with Government and who could act on his own initiative, knowing, of course, as he would naturally know owing to the ceaseless consultation which takes place between the Committee's secretariat and the universities, the general mind of the universities on most topics. We hoped by this means to accelerate the progress of the caterpillar.

We were defeated. So the old system goes on whereby the chairman and secrectary general, however able they are, cautiously make widespread consultations which take three months in duration, and therefore the whole committee appear to be unable to know how to respond to political initiatives. Of course, that may not be surprising since the Department of Education and Science deliberately conceals its statistics and figures which the vice-chancellors would need in order to give answers on questions on policy. So we get a situation where the vice-chancellors give as little as they possibly can in any negotiation in which they are taking part for fear that if they put their head on the block, it will be chopped off, and the Department does everything it can to hobble the universities when they try to discover what policy, if any, the Department has. Now we have no policy because the Department of Education and Science became hypnotised by student numbers. Four years ago they set a target of, I think, 700,000 full-time students by 1980. Then the target became 640,000. Today it is 600,000, of which half are to be in universities and half in polytechnics. What is the rationale of these figures? Are they calculated on the capacity of buildings, or on staff/student ratios, or on demand?

My Lords, these figures have no rationale. They are based on what the Department estimates demand to be. But demand for higher education is what one chooses to make it. It is affected by the level of student grants. It would be affected by a change to a policy on loans; it would be affected if a differential grant were to be paid to those studying engineering and certain scientific subjects. Mere numbers will not convince Government or the public that they are getting value for money today. When I say that universities should ask themselves whether they cannot do more to promote the nation's economic recovery, I am not making a plea for more of that dreary word "relevance". We abound in relevance. I am reminded of that famous Irish advocate Sergeant Sullivan who was defending a prisoner of moronic, indeed Neanderthal, appearance in the dock. He was asked by the judge, "Sergeant Sullivan, are you resting your case on the fact that when your client committed this act he considered the principle volenti non fit injuria?" Sergeant Sullivan replied, "My Lord, the words were never out of his mind". The word "relevance" is never out of our minds in the universities. We want higher education to make human beings more responsive, more enlightened, with minds better equipped to analyse problems and come to dispassionate conclusions. Any subject if taught well will strengthen the minds of adolescents, especially useless subjects, and especially hard subjects. But there is a limit to how fast undergraduates' minds can develop in three years. I venture to suggest, therefore, that we ought to take a new look at our priorities.

The first need is simple and can be met; and here I endorse every word of the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, about extending our idea of what we mean by higher education. We need a very great many more young people between 16 and 18 in industry and business to be trained by day release in technical schools. Eighty per cent. of this age group in Germany are doing that kind of thing. May I ask the Minister what is the percentage in this country receiving such training? It is, I believe, startlingly less. How can we compete in the markets of the world if our work force is so untrained? Is this not a problem in which, at a later stage in their lives, the Open University especially can help?

But how are we to get the higher technical and managerial skills which we so desperately need? They cannot all be learned between the ages of 16 and 18, or indeed between 18 and 21. We badly need more places in universities for a fourth year, not for people to take a PhD but to take the numerous technical and professional courses which universities, at the very request of Government and industry, have created. The very courses which, for lack of funds for our own students and lack of interest in them by industry, are now filled with overseas students. Again, if I may reply to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, when he asks why there are not more in industry, we do not think in the universities that industry always quite understands how to use to the best advantage the graduates we have trained, and particularly those who have taken postgraduate courses. Moreover, it is not surprising that people do not enter industry when nowadays you can earn more in your first years by entering the town hall and local government than by entering industry. We in Europe cannot afford the kind of higher education structure which is prevalent in North America. Only countries as rich as those in North America can have a university system in which the most ordinary students spend four years getting their first degree, and a sizeable proportion of those go on to take a further three or four years getting a PhD.

So, my Lords, what are we to do? Let us observe the French. The French have solved this problem because they have never had any doubts as to what their higher education system was about. They write about it as their generals of a century ago wrote about the creation of the great conscript army of France. Les jeunes gens sont encadrés. So many cadres come forward each year; so many go into this field, and so many into that field, and all these fields lead towards certain professions, or feed estimated manpower requirements.

In my opinion, many of these pretensions are rubbish, especially the manpower projections, but the system has a clear and definite purpose. What is more, the French finance their system accordingly. They deliberately run their universities on the cheap—unfavourable staff-student ratios, heavy drop-out. I am not quite sure whether it is the survival of the fittest of the survival of the middle-classes that the French bureaucrats have in mind. There is, however, one part of their system which is not run on the cheap. At the very top of their higher educational structure there are the Grandes Ecoles and, above all, the Ecole Nationale d'Administration. It is there that the French train the corps d'elite of their educational army, and note that the army in the Grandes Ecoles is not a tiny élite; it is 40,000 strong. It is there, in the ENA, where the managers of France are trained, not merely the managers among their civil servants who will run their nationalised industries, not merely the men who will be the chef de cabinet of Ministers—indeed, sometimes Ministers themselves. The ENA is also the place which trains the men who will manage the banks and the great industrial companies of France.

We cannot afford to build further institutions in higher education; we cannot follow the Americans; we cannot cut our three-year first degree course, which is the shortest in the world and which is likely to be too short, and we cannot do what Sir Toby Weaver wanted and go over in all our higher education to a two-year diploma of higher education. Incidentally, the French have tried to do that with their diplôme, the DEUG, and it is a failure because employers will not accept it as an alternative qualification. Nevertheless, what we can take from France is their conception of a concours, a competition for entry into the Grandes Ecoles. Thus, let there be some special schools or departments within our existing universities and polytechnics designated to give professional training in certain fields and to resemble the Grandes Ecoles. Let students who want to enter these places sit for their examination at the end of their second year of study. If they gain a place, let them have two further years of study in their new place of study. If they fail, let them go on and complete their three-year course in the same institution in which they are studying. In this way we avoid making the UGC do what the UGC has always refused to do and which would cause deep resentment in universities; we avoid dividing universities into first and second-class places and we avoid arguments about centres of excellence. What is more, we ask certain departments and schools not simply to go on doing what they are doing now, but to respond positively to the demand for professional training in management and technology.

Nor should this occur solely in universities and polytechnics. Is it too late to realise Lord Fulton's vision of the Civil Service College? Is it too late to translate it into the ENA of Britain? We had the chance when it was set up. But no; Sir William Armstrong, as he then was, as Head of the Civil Service, emasculated the proposals in the Fulton Report, and the conception of a school of management, in which civil servants and industrialists learnt side by side, died the death. I could have spent a long time today drawing attention to all the benefits that universities confer on society. I wish once again to draw attention to the very gratifying, generous and much-welcomed statement by the Secretary of State when he said that he did not know of any area in the world where higher education was organised so effectively and so efficiently in cost-benefit terms as in the United Kingdom. But I have not come here as the apologist of the institutions to which I belong because I believe that, unless they can regain the initiative they won in the 'sixties, the Government and the public will become less and less willing adequately to support them.

My Lords, my plea today is this: Preserve the wide base of higher education as it now is—there is virtually no other choice—but continue to amalgamate institutions where possible; step up day release for 16-plus; establish an examination system which will enable certain first degree students to have four years of training in departments which will organise special two-year courses to equip them for management, technical and professional qualifications; recognise that the UGC is an appendage of the DES, though still a useful political buffer, and put the polytechnics as well as the universities under it; above all, now that there is a new Permanent Secretary at the DES, let there be a reappraisal of what higher education is for; let the DES assemble a Working Party to consider these matters; and let them modify the notion set out in UGC's document to the Expenditure Committee in another place. That document said: Central decision-taking in education is largely about resources. So it is. But it should also be about the ends for which those resources should be used. The expansion of the 'sixties is over. The programme for the 'eighties is to use that expansion and the facilities to train the new generation of leaders in our country.

6.56 p.m.


My Lords, we have just listened to a very impassioned speech and I think that I shall lower the temperature. I wish, first, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bullock, on his maiden speech. The noble Lord is not in his place at the moment, but he has heard me so often in so many places and has disapproved of me so often that perhaps it is just as well that he is not here. I wish also to thank the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, an old colleague from Balliol—though he has lately been removed to a more rarefied atmosphere, arranging and managing the fate of the lesser breeds—for initiating this debate.

Your Lordships' House is proud of being able to boast the possession of great experts and profound expertise of almost every aspect of public and private concern, the national attitudes to animals and sex not excluded. This excellence is, however, obviously one-sided because it is heavily weighted towards the Establishment. We have more field marshals and admirals than lieutenants, seamen and privates, though I think we can boast of having a brigade, if not a regimental, sergeant-major on the Front Benches. We have more permanent secretaries, foreign and domestic, than lesser breeds; more tycoons than labourers; and, perhaps more relevant to this debate, more vice-chancellors and heads of houses than lecturers and tutors. This has been much less so since my right honourable friend the Prime Minister took over the cornucopia of patronage and let such oddities as myself emerge in this unexpected place.

Be that as it may, it is obvious that we are still dominated by the Establishment and the speeches made today give proof of this contention. I do not wish, therefore, to follow the line which many noble Lords have taken; in particular, I do not share the complacency about the role of universities at home and especially in the Commonwealth, universities which have been shaped on the example of "New College in the Bush"—gowns, high tables and all—which in my opinion was a catastrophe from the viewpoint of the establishment of a balanced society and economy in the ex-Colonies. It has perpetuated apartheid between the students and the rest of the population and extreme inequality in the distribution of income, with very slight exceptions such as Tanzania.

This inequality has contributed to the extreme instability in the ex-Colonies.

A great number of points which have been touched on by noble Lords merit critical assessment, but I shall not attempt it. I shall not discuss the philosophy of universities, nor the importance of research nor, for once, attack the civil servants. I wish to concentrate on two most important but largely neglected factors which, in my humble opinion, have contributed to the relative decline of the standards, especially technical standards, in Britain. Let there be no false complacency about this. As Minister for Energy in a new field of endeavour which is at the limits of technical knowledge, I have seen that we have proved to be totally insufficient in knowledge, aptitude and initiative. Even where the actual performance was good—and this was by no means the rule—the innovative designs came from countries which, a score of years ago, would have ben regarded as far inferior to us.

The first of the problems which I should like to discuss concerns admissions. Selection is the lifeblood of the universities. In the 19th century this country conspicuously lagged behind Prussia and France, not to say the United States, in compulsory general education. In my opinion, that largely accounts for the consistent relative decline of the country since about 1875 or so. It should be said, however, that what education was offered then to the rich and the talented—classics and some mathematics—was, from the viewpoint of Imperial exigencies, more than adequate. As its competitors grew stronger, that sort of education became utterly unsatisfactory as regards both our moral and political requirements and our technical economic needs. Admission to universities on the basis of a narrow specialisation at high school level had become totally anachronistic. Yet it survives. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, share these views and I hope that, if my feeble noises go unheard, his stentorian voice will carry.

The class system which emerged from this nationally shaming state of education has aroused strong revulsion—a revulsion which, I fear, recently led a large segment of public opinion to swing hard to the other extreme. Equality of opportunity is one thing; artificial equality imposed by fiat is quite another. When I read that teachers recommend that the already unsatisfactory O- and A-level exams, instead of being reinforced and broadened, should be amalgamated with the CSE, which is of a much lower standard—I understand that cookery is one of the subjects and, though I value cookery very highly, I do not think it is suited to inclusion in this respect—I shudder. Do the authorities not realise that standards which are already unsatisfactory will be further lowered, and that university education will be made either more inefficacious or longer, at a time when we can ill afford either? I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, when he says that we can afford it. I was also surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, strayed from his high principles in this respect.

Do people who propose these things not realise that class distinction will be increased rather than decreased as parents ruin themselves to buy better education and wider examinations? We need to pay the utmost attention to innovating capacity and to help the intelligent if we are not to be sucked into a vortex of decline. France and Germany both have such wide-ranging examinations, and France, in addition, has competitive admissions to specialised institutions, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. They have done exceptionally well. I hope we shall see an early re-examination of this whole problem of admissions to the universities.

I now turn to an even more delicate subject—the problem of the selection of academics. In my opinion, this, rather than the favourite Aunt Sally or whipping boy of the State, is the factor which menaces the true freedom of universities and the freedom of the young innovators in the universities. I do not believe that the State has interfered in anything. In fact, I should have liked the State to interfere when, for instance, Soviet studies at Oxford were turned into an examination of Byzantine Russia.

In post-war years, the influence and authority of the academic oligarchs and administrators have tended to increase. They are still increasing and should be diminished. This was even the case in Oxford, which used to be an anarchic place, with self-governing colleges and which was, therefore, an intellectually universal place, as a university should be. Then the so-called Franks reforms—the noble Lord played an inverse Mephistophelian role, wanting good and achieving evil—strengthened the oligarchy in the name of efficiency. In the name of efficiency in the university! It would perhaps have been rather more apposite to the neighbouring motor car factory.

The political bias of the secret conclaves electing to Chairs is only too obvious when we reflect that Namier, Taylor and Carr failed in their applications, as did Harrod, who was among the most important and innovating geniuses of Keynes' school. Now this has been extended to the lower echelons. Elsewhere, too, the professorial influence on appointments and, thus, the Gleichschal-tung—the standardisation of faculties—increased. In many of the new plate-glass universities, it became dominant. The numerous newly-founded universities involved not merely a fearful waste of money as services had to be multiplied, but were also isolated from the day-to-day life of the community in attractive places—I once called them "Baedeker universities"—huddled in the countryside and making mischief. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, shares my disquiet in this respect. The number of professors in any one field in these universities was small, often one alone. It was therefore difficult to build up a balanced team for each subject. A number of universities have still not recovered from their unfortunate initial handicap and they represent preachers' colleges rather than places of balanced learning and research. It is not all research which should be supported.

If, in the reform of the intake we should learn from Germany and France, Sweden would give us the best solution for appointments. There, the members of the electoral boards which are, quite rightly, far larger than ours, have to give their reasons for preference, backed by a critical discussion of the contribution of the applicants. Personal or political prejudice has to be put in writing, and in a form which precludes really shocking excesses. Nothing is more abrasive of jobbery than openness. This applies particularly to universities where high ability and extreme competitiveness are combined into a small scope for day-to-day action. As a result of growing luxuriousness, we have perhaps fewer freaks than Jowett and Pattison had to contend with; but the greatest care and courage is needed and we must examine ourselves and not merely the University Grants Committee and the Ministry of Education. Universities and their staffing and admission policy have become a vital problem for the country and we must all thank my noble friend for having given us this very timely opportunity to discuss those problems.

7.10 p.m.


My Lords, the debate has reached a stage at which a speaker should confine himself fairly strictly regarding what he wants to say, and therefore I ask myself what I want to say in the next two or three minutes. The field has been extremely well covered by the most distinguished and devoted speech with which the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, opened the debate, and by other speakers. The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, and the noble Lord, Lord Annan, have spoken as working people in the university world. I should speak for a few moments as an old man who, after 40 years working in the universities, has now been outside the battle for almost 13 years.

A point I wish to make has been touched upon or implied by other speakers, but I do not think that others have put it in the way that I wish to do, although I want to be careful not to repeat what others have said. I was brought up to believe that the universities were quite something in the world, and quite something in this country. I was a boy in a Kentish village. My father and mother were school teachers and there were no university people in the family, or, for that matter, in the village. As I say, I was brought up to believe that the universities were quite something, and when, a little later, I went to one of the ancient universities, after being a soldier in the First World War, it opened to me a completely new world. It changed for me a whole style and way of life, a whole ambition, and an entire sense of what needed to be aimed at.

I said that the universities were quite something, and at about that time everybody was realising that the universities of Germany, in their great days, had left a mark upon the world, upon Germany, upon the other universities and upon history. The universities of America had left a mark upon the world, upon Germany, traditional universities which came to such greatness, and the great land grant universities, all associated with the movement, "Go West, young man", the exploitation of a new continent, and so on. We have been taught by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that today the Grandes Ecoles are leaving their mark, and that may be the greatest of all marks; slightly different, but quite true.

The noble Lord, Lord Fulton, is clearly quite right in saying that if we seek to restore the attitude to universities to something right and something which would satisfy we must be clear about what we mean by universities. What are they? I said that the German universities left their mark on the world. They left another mark, under Hitler. The world asked, "What are these universities worth?" People were shocked by the German universities.

In the McCarthy period, and even earlier in the so-called "Red Scare" period, the universities of America felt fairly uncomfortable. When I was in the United States, during the McCarthy period, one could be fairly sure that in public meetings—whether in the South or anywhere else, touching upon anything which McCarthy or his young men might take up—the person in the chair was a professor of Havard University, and that the university was able to protect its professors, as were a small number of other American universities.

We saw a great deal in our universities here of the presidents of the American universities in those years, and naturally they were very uncomfortable men. The notion that universities are quite something but that one does not always get what one should for them is very widespread. The public can be shocked; so can civil servants, professional people, and politicians, without necessarily knowing very much about what universities are, or what they ought to be doing, because they can see, as well as a blind man, when the universities fail to do what they should be doing.

Let us take an instance. As I have always said—and my experience in universities has certainly been to this effect—it was very difficult for people outside the universities to understand universities or understand even what they were all about. We went through a period after the war, leading up to the time of the Robbins' Report, and for a time after that report, when everybody thought well of universities. They did not know what it was all about, but they were very keen to try to talk about it, to understand it, to support it, and to pour out money for it. There was immense generosity towards the universities. They were like the young men and the young women from the Middle West of America who appeared at the universities and had not the "gummiest" idea what they were going to get or what they wanted, but they were determined to have it. They wanted, as John Locke would have said, something, they knew not what. But they were fairly sure that it was there, and that they would be able to get it.

It is very difficult for people to understand what the universities are about. No doubt it is very difficult for universities to understand the world. It is very difficult for the universities to understand industry, the Civil Service and Parliament. But it is very difficult for any of those people to understand the universities. This will show itself more. Let us take the example of politics in the universities. The young in the universities—the student generation—are going to have their politics, and must have their politics. In countries of other type they have been for ages one of the most important university factors in the country. In our own country, for one reason or another, they played little part in politics until they left the university, though they were interested in politics and had political concerns. Nowadays they have to have their political concerns.

In the first place, it is part of the whole business; it has always been part of the business. If the student generation was to do as everybody assumed it would—run its own affairs, run its own life, and to a large extent call upon the dons to adjust their way of life where that was right—it was obvious that they had to learn something about politics. They had to learn how to control one another. They had to learn that if one fights for something and gets it, one must go around one's constituency and fight a hell of a fight to bring one's constituency round to accepting and understanding the position. One must consider all the things about politics which students need to know. There may be a university with 9,000 or 10,000 students, and if there is a very good president of the union he must know what the situation is. When he fixes something with one he must stalk around his constituency and do his stuff.

Where would the universities be without politics, political understanding, political experience, political know-how from the students? One of the troubles is that they have so much more political know-how than the dons. They must have their politics; nowadays they are even voters. The public will find the situation very difficult to understand. Some things cannot be done without consent, which means without understanding; no taxation without representation, and so on, right through the whole gamut of politics. There are some things with students which one cannot do, except through the students. There are some things one cannot fix with students, unless they do it with one round the table. It must be borne in mind that the students have a very great deal to contribute from their end of the table. I must do them justice and say that this applies in many universities, although in many others it does not.

It is not just eyewash, not just patronage; that is the truth. They meet a wider variety of people; they get about the world a good deal more than many dons; they come from a wider variety of backgrounds; they mix with a far greater variety of people than a great number of dons, or than they ever will again in their lives. Some things have got to be done that way. Universities recognise this. They have to adjust themselves to the changing attitude of the public, to participation in anything—in politics. But the public are impatient with it. They think that students used to be in pupillaris, and they ought to be able to be smacked on the bottom, sent down for five years or whatever it is, and no nonsense like trying to get anybody to understand everything. They will understand later on when they become Parliamentary Secretaries or Prime Minister, or whatever. Then again the universities are in for more misunderstanding. The universities are getting better and better at this, but the public are going to misunderstand it more and more.

That brings me to the other matter on which they are going to be misunderstood, but which matters—the gap between the generations. Where is politics without bridging the gap between the generations? University people, mathematicians and chemists tell us that the world doubles its amount of knowledge in ten years. Whatever they mean by that, that means an enormous advance. Mathematicians tell us that by the age of 26 a professor can still understand what his good young men are talking about. By the age of 29 or 30 he can understand it sufficiently to give them a tip here and there. After that he does not know what they are talking about and can give all the sorts of advice that experienced men can give about the way to use the resources of the world and the resources of human nature to produce any particular result.

But the young and the old are there in the university together. There has got to be continuity. There is a danger that the young will think that the old are better dead, and that the old will go on thinking that the young are always wrong and absolutely dreadful. But they meet in the universities, they have got to get on, they have to provide a continuity of knowledge and to provide the co-operation. There are many places where co-operation exists between the old and the young. These are things for the universities. It is their business to protect knowledge, as I said at the beginning about the professor at Harvard at the end of the McCarthy period; to make the people who have got knowledge and want to have it spoken about, talked about, including in teaching to make them not afraid; to defend one another, to stand up for one another and be able to do so successfully, which, on the whole, English universities as well as most foreign and new countries' universities have done extremely well. Great importance is attached to that feature in the universities.

I want to stress that there are these other features: the universities have to protect the knowledge and protect the scholars and protect one another. They have to see that knowledge comes out and is discussed. Most times they will tell you that it is not as easy as all that in the circumstances of modern industry and the modern state and so on. Knowledge has to come out and people who bring it out have to be protected. People who think they are on to something which will be most unacceptable to a large number of people must feel strong enough to pursue it and get on with it. They have to apply the knowledge to the teaching and education in universities. I have mentioned these things to try to raise the profile of universities even above what has been done in this debate.

I will say a word about the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. He aimed some shrewd blows about universities and I will not rise to them. I agree with him that the universities' influence is so pervasive and so multifold that they must accept a certain amount of responsibility for almost everything. At least he was not lowering the profile of universities too much, or underestimating their importance and influence; but if they are going to have in mind the future, they have to get the future right. Everybody who has talked about manpower has got the future wrong; everybody who talks about manpower takes it for granted that the people who are talking about it now will get it wrong. On the face of it, we are having great problems of over-manning. Many people have gone into services instead of into manufacturing. Speaking with long experience of teaching in universities, I would say that the effect of universities is to make people keener on services than on manufacturing. Of course there is enormous influence through the fair sex and, with the greater influence of women, the services are nearer to dealing with people and further from dealing with objects, and all their influence is that way. That situation will go further yet. In any case, it is doubtful whether you are going to increase anybody's GNP by further over-manning; but it is doubtful, if you avoid further over-manning and cut-back, whether you will know what to do with the vast majority of people.

The pattern of the future is that people have got to go into the service industries; to follow professional services they have to work for the Welfare State—everything of that kind; and, by and large, a higher proportion will need to have a degree more of higher education than will the corresponding proportion in the production and manufacturing industries. So, if you want the universities to think about the future (which they are doing, and are playing a bigger part than anybody knows in helping to turn people's minds towards the real problems) and if you are going to get the future right, then it surely must be right in the slightly longer term that they have to go into the services and out of production. In looking back over the years I have made the main points which have come to my mind—many of which have been touched on by other noble Lords, though not put in quite the same way.

7.28 p.m.


My Lords, I must begin by apologising to your Lordships and particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, for the fact that I was unable to be here at the beginning of this debate to hear his speech. I was taking the chair in a Select Committee upstairs. During the course of this debate there have been a number of speeches of very great interest, eloquence and some length, from what I might describe as the higher echelons of the university world—the episcopacy of higher education. I must explain to your Lordships that I am a layman and I am not at all sure that I understand the universities as the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Grasmere, has just said. I have only come into contact with them and I must declare an interest as the Pro-Chancellor of the City University. This year we are ten years old and, therefore, are one of the newest of the new universities, one of those institutions to which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, referred in his speech. We also include the Northampton College of Advanced Technology which dates from the 'eighties of the last century which saw a remarkable advance in technical education. This year, with the support of the Corporation of the City and one of the great companies, we are in the process of refounding Gresham College, which will entitle us to claim to include in our university the third oldest institution of higher education in the country. We shall therefore, perhaps uniquely, be able to combine the three major periods of educational advance in post-medieval history.

My Lords, in some ways the City University is maintaining what I conceive to be the traditional role of a university which is to serve the professions: professional engineering in all its forms; professional administration in business and the arts; the professions of the City of London, banking, actuarial science and insurance, and to this we add the leading department of opthalmic optics in Britain and others well equipped to provide highly qualified graduates in chemistry, physics, mathematics, economics and the social sciences. My Lords, we are a specialist university. Because we live in the middle of workaday London and many of our students on sandwich courses spend half their university years in the factories of our great industrial companies we are a university which has no ivory towers and which cannot boast of dreaming spires or the luxury of lawns and pleasances or ancient buildings. We believe that our main commitment is to provide men and women equipped to shoulder responsibility and to make an intellectual contribution to the industrial, professional and administrative guidance of the fortunes of our country in the future.

Speaking personally, my Lords, let me say that I find no culpability in any accusation of élitism. I remember so many years ago when I myself was a student listening to a young Welsh miner in my lodging at another university telling me that his greatest ambition was to be the man who cut from the coal face more coal in one day than his father or any of his contemporaries or predecessors had cut. His aim was to be one of the élite in the world in which he and his family had, until unemployment had overtaken him, sought the fulfilment of their working lives. I believe that the role of a university is to give to those who have the intellectual ability to take advantage of the special training and opportunities which it provides the fulfilment in their subsequent careers which enables them to make a personal and individual contribution to the progress and prosperity of their fellow men. They may choose to make it in this country or overseas or in the Third World as opportunity arises, but we in the universities are concerned with the training and moulding of leaders in the field of thought and action, without whom Britain will simply stagnate.

At the City University we have no blown-up conceit of our achievements. We realise the splendid record of London University; we recognise the progress of our contemporaries at Brunel, Warwick, York and East Anglia. But, frankly, we have no hesitation in believing that we are earning and deserve the financial support that we are receiving from the Government through the UGC and from the many private benefactors of the City of London and elsewhere.

Of recent years, the period of political and economic turmoil through which we are passing has had a profound effect upon British universities as a whole, as so many of the previous speakers have said. Student troubles have cast doubts upon the practical value of the education they provide. The moral malaise from which we are suffering has undermined confidence in the contribution which they can make to the quality of our national life. They have shared in the white-anting of all our established institutions by forces which are by nature negative, anti-social and destructive. Further, economic and financial stringency has now begun to erode their resources. For the first time for centuries the meaning and purpose of our universities is challenged.

My Lords, I can give only my personal testimony. I believe profoundly that the support of our universities today is the best investment, moral and financial, which our nation can make. In training men and women who will be the intellectual and industrial leaders of the future; in research which cannot be measured by cost effectiveness (indeed, I remember the story of Mr. Harold Macmillan lunching at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge immediately before Lord Rutherford carried out his experiment of splitting the atom and being assured that although this had great scientific interest it had no practical significance, whatever); in, as Lord Fulton has said, the world influence which our universities can carry throughout all the continents and which can give to this country immense political and economic advantage—all these things demand that the universities should receive the continuing encouragement and support which their vital role demands.

This means that entry to the universities should continue to be selective and that quality, not numbers, should be the criterion which governs the provision which they receive from public funds. The students who should go to our universities should have a sufficient level of grant, on a means test basis no doubt, to enable them to make the fullest possible use of their time, in residence and in vacation, upon the opportunities which the university offers. Secondly, I am quite clear in my own mind that, even if it means a reduction in the numbers of those going to a university, the three years' span of a normal degree course is not a sufficient qualification for a professional career, even though they were regarded merely as a foundation for subsequent professional training. In my view, owing to the immense development and complication of modern technology and administration, four years is a minimum and that additional year could be either taken before the main first degree course starts or subsequent to it, in the form of a second degree course.

Thirdly, that support from public and private resources for research should not depend on what businessmen or civil servants may calculate to be its short-term returns. No doubt there should be—and indeed there is—some financial restraints on the objects and purpose of research, but it should not be regarded simply as a sort of easy option for those academically inclined to opt out of the rough and tumble of the industrial world. My own observation is that the ultimate fulfilment of the academic researcher is the application of his ideas to the solution of some practical or economic or social problem, and this, in the vast majority of cases, without any consideration of the material rewards to which he may be entitled.

It is the role of this House to stage Parliamentary debates on subjects which have no Party political content, but which are of immense national significance. This, my Lords, is one of those debates. I hope that one of the consequences of this long debate will be to fortify the confidence of the able and devoted men and women who staff our universities in the value and importance of the work to which they have given their lives. I hope that it will enable the public at large to appreciate more clearly the inestimable importance of the universities which form a vital investment in our national future. I hope, my Lords, that it will give to the young men and women who are our students an enhanced sense of their responsibilities and a feeling that, if there are times when an older generation does not condone the ill-disciplined behaviour of a small minority, we give to the vast majority the credit for the ability, hard work and good humour which we, in our own generation, would have wished for ourselves.

7.40 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that not only those of us who have worked in universities but also the very large number of your Lordships who owe a debt to the universities at which they were educated will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, for initiating this debate. It is an important debate because at no time has the contribution which universities can make, and must make, be more vital to our national well-being. Yet, at the same time, a quite remarkable change (which some speakers have referred to) has taken place in the public attitude towards them. Fifteen years ago or so, the creation of seven new universities in England was hailed with acclamation. Then the great report associated with the name of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and which justified that expansion was, in large part, immediately accepted by the Government. Then it was possible for universities to launch large and successful appeals for private money, as my own university did. I should not like to try it now.

Now, all that has changed. The most obvious signs are financial. It is comprehensible enough that at a time of financial difficulties such as that through which we are passing, there should be a squeeze on university resources. In itself, I am not one of those who would think that absolutely disastrous. It can be claimed even, although I am not sure that I should claim it, that it may be healthy insofar as it forces them to think more vigorously about their priorities and their true functions. But if that squeeze becomes much more severe then, I believe, it may become very serious indeed, not only for the universities but for the nation in the sense that they will be prevented from fulfilling their unique obligations, some of which are undoubtedly and inevitably expensive.

More significant than the actual economies is the attitude that sometimes accompanies them. There is a fairly widespread belief that it is right that economies should press more hardly on the universities than on other parts of the educational system; that there is more "fat" there—whatever "fat" may mean. The universities, it is often implied, are extravagant homes of élitism and privilege; further, that much of what goes on in them is irrelevant to the nation's needs. I will say something about the second point in a moment. Let me now say something, one word, about extravagance. It was with that sort of criticism in mind that some years ago I went against the judgment of most of my colleagues among the vice-chancellors and urged that our books should be opened to the Public Accounts Committee. They were opened to examination by the Comptroller and Auditor-General—and what extravagance, what abuses, did that watchdog of the public purse discover? None; none at all. The enlightened, but none the less tough, control of the UGC—and I was on it for ten years myself—the existence of joint O & M teams within the universities themselves and, above all, the fierceness of those internal battles for limited resources which anyone who knows anything about universities will know only too well—the fierceness of all those things imposes economy and discourages extravagance.

Universities are fairly expensive places, of course, but that expense arises from necessity. In my own subject, chemistry, the greater part of the apparatus necessary for university work today was not even in existence when I took my degree—and I am not as geriatric as all that: it was not as long ago as all that. It did not exist. Much of it is extremely costly and still more costly, of course, are the technicians to service it. But if we want teaching and research in chemistry to go on, this is not a luxury which can be discounted; it is a necessity that has to be paid for.

Informed criticism of any institution can he valuable; but it must be informed. There arc, undoubtedly, all kinds of things that are wrong with the universities, all kinds of ways in which they could be improved and all kinds of attitudes and practices which should be changed. But there is a great difference between recognising this and creating an atmosphere of suspicion and denigration. It is particularly ironic that such an attitude should be growing when they are now one of the very few, alas! of our national institutions which are envied and copied throughout the world. We do not have deputations of people coming from America to learn how to run the car industry, but we do have them coming to look at our universities—and that is true of Europe. In his trenchant and, on the whole, admirable, Philippic against the universities the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, might well have thought of that.

Why has this change occurred? I think that the over-publicised student troubles did more damage to what it is now fashionable to call the image of the university than is sometimes realised; although, in fact, they were far less disruptive than was the case in almost any other country in the world. It is sometimes said that it is the expansion of the universities which led to a lowering of standards and, hence, to a lowering of esteem. I do not believe that this is true. I supported the Robbins Report and I should still support it. But do not let us forget that it was the expansion of higher education, higher education not only in the universities, that was the concern of that report. It may be true that we have admitted some students who would have been more successful elsewhere in other sectors of the expanding higher educational process. They were unsuitable for universities, not through lack of intelligence but through lack of academic inclination. But a more likely explanation of the decline in esteem is a vaguer and much more serious one: the decline in regard to excellence in the realm of the intellect.

My Lords, before saying something about that, let me specify some of the directions in which the universities might reform themselves to meet the present difficulties through which they are passing. First, they must avoid diffusion of effort and resolutely admit that not every university should teach everything. I think that here I join issue with the splendid maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bullock. This is accepted as regards some subjects like medicine; nevertheless, there are too many small and uneconomic departments, and both in the interests of economy and of staff morale, and in the interests of not letting our universities grow too large, greater self-discipline, I believe, must be shown by the universities in allowing this proliferation.

Secondly—and here I know I am treading dangerous ground—they must examine more critically their attitude to research. That research, one of the central functions of a university, must at all costs be maintained. But the doctrine that every university teacher may be expected to spend one-third of his time on research has, in my view, been interpreted too mechanically and unrealistically. The discovery of what is new in some fields and for some people is less repaying than a reflection and interpretation on what is already known. The weight given in making appointments and promotions to the volume of published works has had unfortunate results. I almost burst into unseemly applause when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, say that. In my more frivolous moments I have been known to say that the introduction of the PhD was the greatest blow to learning since the burning of the Library at Alexandria.

We have to face the fact in truth that not every department in every university can or should be expected to produce valuable, still less fundamental new knowledge; and the triviality of much that has been published has tended to devalue the whole concept of research as an activity valuable in itself, valuable for its effect on society, and one which the universities are uniquely qualified to undertake. Related to this has been a tendency to underemphasise the teaching function of the universities. I was surprised to hear one noble Lord say that there had been a tendency to do the opposite, to overemphasise the teaching function. I have not noticed it. When I say that, it has to be recognised that we have to reinstate the teaching function, that university teaching is a special kind of teaching, and I do not believe it to be true that every university teacher must also be a research worker. That is often said, but I do not believe it.

What is true is that he must have a continuous awareness and understanding of new knowledge as it comes out. University teaching must also be personal in character if it is to realise the values so well stated in the Robbins Report of broadening the powers of the mind. If those values and other truly educative values of a university education are to be realised, then the teaching must be on a personal level. Such teaching is only possible with generous staffing ratios. Those, as we know, are expensive, and that is why, on these grounds alone—the grounds of the true education of the young men and women—I say that excessive economies will frustrate the purposes of universities.

The third way in which universities might well examine their practices is regarding administration. I suppose in no field is that fashionable concept "worker participation" more extensively—and I nearly said "drastically"—practised than in universities. It is clearly right and necessary that university teachers should have a great part in determining the broad nature of the community of which they are members, as well as also in the detailed practices of their own departments. But it has been said that in every academic there is a tiny administrator trying to get out, and the results are sometimes curious and, very often, unfortunate.

One wonders whether an expert in medieval French is best employed spending hours on the catering committee, or a committee set up to design a new physics building, or ten others. Such an interpretation of the sacred phrase, "a self-governing academic community" is a waste of rare talents, and it may well easily prevent the evolution and pursuit of a consistent and developing academic policy and, in any case, it wastes a lot of time and a great deal more paper.

I have mentioned some of the ways in which I think universities should be moving, for I would not for a moment want to give the impression that I simply want things to stay as they are. I am not a defender of things as they exist. Having done that, I want to mention one or two serious dangers which threaten, which are not of the universities' making, and which contribute to the unfavourable climate in which they find themselves. It is increasingly stated that what is studied is often irrelevant. That has been dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and others. It is often said that universities do not produce enough scientists and engineers. And when we look at the facts we find this charge is largely unfounded.

In one sphere, that of science teachers, there is a shortage which is alarming—some of us have been mentioning this for many years now—and this arises from causes not altogether or largely within the control of the universities. In fact, when you look at what is happening, as has been said, although perhaps not in these words, our production of graduate scientists and engineers compares favourably with that of any country in Europe. This kind of criticism arises from a more general and dangerous demand for immediate relevance. I was delighted when I heard the noble Lord, Lord Annan, say—and I repeat it in somewhat different words because it bears any amount of repetition—that any study which engages the full capacity of the best minds, which encourages the powers of clear thought and expression in those minds, is relevant to the real needs of society. I go further and remind your Lordships that for some individuals the study of Thucydides, medieval history or the 19th century novel, is at least as relevant as the study of computer science or sociology to understanding the nature of man or becoming a successful civil servant or statesman.

The second great danger that faces universities is one on which I will not dwell, though it is particularly close to my own preoccupations. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, dealt with it very well. It is that changes imposed on the schools may affect the standards of those entering higher education. It cannot be too often stated that we can offer as a country the shortest and hence the cheapest degree courses in the world with the smallest wastage. University speakers have all taken pride, rightly, in those facts because of the quality of our present pre-university education. Too many university teachers have been too indifferent to what is happening in the schools. It is all the more important that they should heed the warning of the Chairman of the UGC that the universities will inevitably suffer—and are already suffering—from our self-imposed inadequacies in some university entrants.

These dangers are but aspects of a more general threat. It is the equalitarianism that is rapidly dominating so much of our thought and practice. In some spheres it is appropriate and admirable that we should proclaim the equality of all men. In matters affecting learning and the intellect it may well be disastrous and is at best disingenuous. In a society where words like "elite", "academic" or "intellectual" are terms of abuse, where the word "leadership" is applied rather more to Parties and armies rather than to things of the mind and spirit, it is not surprising that the universities should be having a thin time. For, by their nature, their concern is with a minority. At their best, they are places where teachers and taught discuss and evaluate very difficult and sometimes original ideas, and the majority of people cannot deal with such ideas, much though we may wish it were otherwise.

Yet the minority with which they are concerned in the universities has an influence out of all proportion to its numbers, not only on our economic and material prospects, but on the whole cultural life of our country. We are entitled to demand that universities practise every kind of economy, to ask that where necessary they shall introduce reforms, to ask even that university teachers shall work a little harder than they do.

But in return we have to recognise the unique contribution which they are making and give practical expression to that recognition by seeing that they have the financial means to do the job. By that I do not necessarily mean salaries, but in staff, apparatus and books. A great American scientist, Lee du Bridge, who was president of one of the finest universities in the world, Cal. Tech., once wrote: It is important to the national interest to have many good universities, and it is desirable for every college and every university to get a little better. But it is equally important that there be some institutions of really superb quality. We must, for the sake of future generations, have a few outstanding leaders, a few institutions that are blazing the trail of the future. That is the lesson we are forgetting, for in this country it is the universities he would be talking about, the leaders. We can welcome for many reasons the growth in variety of institutions of higher education and we must encourage them to develop their own kind of excellence, not least because their existence should prevent the universities from developing in inappropriate ways. But the encouragement we give must not and need not be at the expense of the universities, for the university contribution underpins so much else—the professions, the Administration, the education of those who themselves teach at polytechnics. It underpins the advancement of knowledge and, most important of all—something that cannot be measured by cost benefit analysis—the cultural and intellectual life of the community. If that contribution is weakened, diluted or degraded, then, my Lords, I think the future is dark indeed.

8.2 p.m.


My Lords, it is a great privilege to take part in this debate, which has been introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, and marked by what I regard as a very fine maiden speech from the noble Lord, Lord Bullock. I am glad to be taking part because when my noble and very long-time friend Lady Lee stumbled over my name, I realised that that was because she found it very difficult to connect me with the academics. The fact is that I am not an academic. My first introduction to university life was as a professor, so I went in at the deep end where all the snakes and adders were.

It is healthy that we should have this debate. It is cathartic. I never thought I would listen to so many eminent university figures being so frank about the inadequacies of universities and the failures of their colleagues—they say these things in private but rarely in public.

However, I want to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Lee, in referring to the Open University, not, however, in terms of its difficulties. I should like to emphasise one point. When we are looking at the Open University, this is not a new kind of mechanism or another variant of the new universities. In setting up the Open University we had the example of the new universities. Everybody engaged, following the Robbins Report, in changing the structure of the universities or adding to them were contributing their thinking to the Open University. It was not just the development of a new mechanism and it was not just the use of radio, television or the correspondence courses. It was a radical change, which I do not think has been adequately reflected in our discussions, because while we are looking, painfully and with some dismay, at the disarray of higher learning, in fact we have a very fine example of success—because people throughout the world agree that the Open University is something of a great success story. But we are not just talking about success; we are talking about a university which is different in kind and nature. It is a great compliment to the older universities and to the newer universities that they have given the Open University their support. They forgot the criticisms and reservations they had had when they began to see what was the new structure of a new university system—not just the "gimmicks", if I may put it like that, of the radio and television, but new thinking.

Several noble Lords were present with me at the planning stage; for example, the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, and the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, were on the planning committee. We stripped the university system to the chassis and had a look at it. We put the upholstery on one side in case we needed it, and we did. We had to have our chancellors, our degrees, our robes, and so on. But we were really looking at the nature of education and at the prime essentials. In the remit we got from the noble Baroness we were told that one thing we should consider was "national need". We were rather truculent about "national need" because that was just, again, a pressure to produce more technology and other things to meet self-evident demands. With all respect to the other institutions, we did not think that that was quite our job, though we have taken it on now. The fact is that we were thinking in terms of the "national need" for true education and not the need for training.

That is one of the great mistakes we have made in much of our thinking concerning higher education. We have forgotten the "education", and gone for the "training". We have considered how we can train people and how we can produce human cassettes—people imprinted with expertise and programmed to carry out certain jobs. What was manifestly plain, not just in terms of lack of opportunity for the people who were deprived of the education they wanted, was the need for the next 25 years, and certainly to the end of this century, to produce versatile minds—minds, as has been pointed out, which could adapt themselves to the fresh "imprinting" they would have to have to meet changing circumstances. This is true of every professional man, every professional person everywhere, simply because of the change of circumstances: they must all realise that they will have not only to change their titular job but their actual job three or four times in a lifetime. So we realised at that time when we were told in terms of the national need that we had to produce mechanics—that we had to think not of radio mechanics or electronic engineers, but of solid state physics—so that people would have enough breadth and expert knowledge so that when they were faced with changes they would understand the bases of the changes. Therefore we produced something which was a completely new breakthrough in thinking about universities, and not just about their methods. We have demonstrated that we can do it.

One of the other things given to us in that remit was that our methods should be made available to developing countries in the world at large. I think we have done that with conspicuous success. The noble Lord, Lord James, said that Americans do not come to look at the way we make motorcars but at how we run universities. What is more, we are metaphorically exporting motorcars in the shape of the materials from the Open University.

This must be strongly borne in mind. It is not a crisis but a climacteric situation that we have in education. It has been heading this way for quite a while: the period of the '50s and '60s during the great expansion period following the Robbins Report has been overtaken now. I take some exception to what has been said by some noble Lords. This is not disenchantment with education. It is a recognition of the fact that things which we had been hoping would go on expansively have been contracting, not just economically, but in the kind of circumstances which the noble Lord, Lord James, said would have made this happen anyway. But I agree with him that we have not been extravagant; we have been imaginative and progressive.

The function of universities is to produce versatile minds in the students and to progress from them to all the other levels of learning. But we have to recognise that we are in a changing world, which has not just impacted upon us from outside, but is something to which we have very largely contributed—changes like the end of the British Empire, the emergence of the new States and so on. But I insist, above all—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord James, and the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, will bear me out—that a great many of the things which produced the material changes were born of British science. Lord Rutherford, with 15 Nobel prizewinners at the Cavendish Laboratory, the cradle of the nuclear age; the development of DNA at Oxford and so on, could not have happened without academic research at universities—not research which is asked to explain every year what it has cost, and for which a balance sheet is wanted, because it cannot be done that way. So we have to have academic research, in the best sense of the term, which eventually transfers itself through the stimulation of the teaching at the universities.

The Open University has 52,000 students, and, according to the BBC 1 million regular viewers. That is very interesting, because those 1 million people have not registered for courses; they are watching because they are interested. But one thing it is doing, which will cause more trouble in the universities, is that students of the conventional universities can see what good teaching really is.

8.13 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, for having initiated this debate, and to say also what particular pleasure it gives me to be speaking after the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Grasmere, my predecessor but one at the University of Leeds, who made such an enormous contribution to the civic universities during his 15 years in that office. I know that time is getting on, and I shall do my very best to be brief, but may I first return for a moment to the subject of university research which was dealt with so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Bullock, in his maiden speech.

Those of us who try to keep in touch with Reports from Select Committees in another place have welcomed the recent change of heart in this matter—if you like, the recent change in the weather—down the passage. Research has suddenly become quite popular, and it is more generally recognised in another place that universities are institutions where men and women are taught in the atmosphere of research and original work. But it is surely equally essential to remember that research must have a basis in some valid academic discipline. Behind every worthwhile achievement in research, there must be rules of procedure, techniques that become second nature, the power of perception, imagination and disciplined analysis. That is a layman's definition, but it is garnered as a result of many hours of conversation with colleagues at Leeds who are infinitely more able than I am.

This leads me to say how much I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord James, in his splendid speech, when he said that research is not something you can just measure in quantitative terms. He is so right about that. I think of one senior member of the University of Leeds, a member of the governing body of the noble Lord's own former University of York, who, when presented by a candidate for a university post with three or four pages of papers, is inclined to ask: "Which of these would you say were the two or three really important papers?"—a question I have known to have a devastating effect. I would fully endorse what the noble Lord said, and also his point that we must not take oversimplified views concerning relevance. Perhaps I may give your Lordships one example of the truth of what the noble Lord said on that subject.

Last autumn, perhaps foolishly, when announcing the prize winners at the Fifth Leeds International Piano Competition, I ventured to say that even the finest performers on any instrument need accurate editions from which to perform, and that you cannot have such editions without university departments of music where standards of scholarship are fostered. The BBC found those words so alarming that I was at once taken off the air at that point, so I am glad to have a chance of repeating them this evening because I still believe they are true.

May I add that I do not think there is any inconsistency between a strong belief in the validity of an academic discipline, and a recognition of the need to think harder about the educational requirements of those who are going to enter industry or the professions. Universities do not train only doctors and lawyers and engineers. They train the minds of top-layer professionals over a much wider field; and here I should like to endorse very much what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder. The real test of a student who enters industry with, say, an honours degree in economics does not necessarily come all at once. What matters is the long-term effect of his education, so that his experience of the discipline of economics still enables him to interpret what is happening 10 or 20 years afterwards.

I listened with great interest to the dazzling speech of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who has just returned, and I should like to take up two points he made about professional education. As a member of the committee under the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, I personally regret the fact that the Civil Service College does not seem to have set its sights higher in a strictly academic sense, and I am quite sure that that, is in no way the fault of the present Principal, who was formerly a professor at Leeds. I hope that there will be some rethinking of this within the Civil Service, because in terms of professional training I am sure that the Civil Service College could make a more significant contribution than it does today. I also agreed very much with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, when he spoke about the importance of training at all levels for those in the 16 to 18 age group. Perhaps it is worth recalling that the proportion of university entry which arrives by the further education route is going up all the time, and this is very important not only for boys but also for girls.

I should like in addition to endorse what the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said about mathematics. Surely mathematics is an absolutely core discipline, linked to progress in the physical sciences, to progress in applied science, and to progress in the general standards of teaching in our schools. Of course, you cannot have a lively department of mathematics that makes its full contribution to a university without original work going on. I have a feeling that mathematics is still one of the most neglected subjects in this country considered as an integral aspect of our cultural heritage. This year, quite rightly, we are celebrating the bicentenary of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, the American Declaration of Independence, and I hope also the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. But I hope equally that, next year, we shall not forget the bicentenary of the birth of that astounding figure, Karl Friedrich Gauss, who made a quite outstanding contribution to the theory of numbers at the age of 19, and many years later, incidentally, became a Copley medallist and a Fellow of the Royal Society. It would seem to me that he was nearly in the Newton-Einstein class. I hope that he will not be forgotten as a shining luminary in the history of what is surely one of the core disciplines in any university.

The Earl of HALSBURY

My Lords, could I persuade the noble Lord to withdraw the word "nearly"?


My Lords, I am very willing to accept that correction from the noble Earl. Lastly on this point, I am very glad that at the University of Leeds the science faculty has decided to give especially high priority to an increase in the number of its admissions to the school of mathematics.

Secondly, let me say one word about money. We all understand the concern, not just of the Government but of the whole governmental system at the moment, about the level of public expenditure. I have never believed that universities could he completely exempted from the need for economy measures. But let us recall that in one important respect university education must cost not less but a great deal more in the coming years, because the university system as a whole, not least my own university, is in the middle of a very large and costly medical expansion. This has hardly been mentioned today, yet it is a major factor in the present cost of university education. We have not only the rising cost of staffing as medical numbers go up. I am thinking of the target of 4,100 students in 1979. The University of Leeds is going up from 130, via 160, to 216 students a year. It is not only the staffing costs but also the running costs—the cost of heating and lighting large new medical school buildings—which go up year by year. There is, indeed, one further reason why medicine always costs more than one expects. I hope that I shall not offend anyone in your Lordships' House if I mention this point. It is that border disputes over costs with the world of the Department of Health and Social Security and with the medical profession do not always, to put it mildly, end in the universities' favour. The medical profession is by no means the weakest outside organisation, politically, with which a university has regularly to deal.

I am not complaining of this. I am glad that we have a medical school at Leeds. I believe that it is a great advantage for a university to embrace all aspects of man. However, one must think about the consequences of medical expansion for a university as a whole, and the point I want to make to the Government as strongly as I can is this. In terms of real resources, it is one thing to hold the rest of the university stationary in order to accommodate medical expansion; it is quite another thing to have to inflict a sizable cut on the rest of the university in order to accommodate medical expansion.

A university desperately needs some freedom of manoeuvre. There is all the difference in the world between freezing or lapsing a post in order to transfer resources to another more hard-pressed department, and lapsing simply in order to plug a widening gap between recurrent income and annual expenditure. As many noble Lords have said, there is always the danger of real and irreversible losses through cuts affecting academic standards—for instance, if one has to cut too many posts in a department like, say, economics, so that too many people have to become generalists. I have heard an economist at the Univerity of Leeds whom I greatly respect, and I know would not mind being quoted, Professor Arthur Brown, saying that if this has to be done too drastically, this is a sure recipe for getting a much poorer department.

I am also very concerned about libraries. Let us never forget that the library is the tool of trade, not least for the Arts man. Earlier this week I had the pleasure of spending two hours in the Morell Library at York University. I noticed what a fine musical collection there is in that library. I thought to myself, "This is fine, but no better than it needs to be for a department of real standing". You simply cannot have departments of note without the library resources to back them.

Thirdly, I want to say one word about relations between universities and the Department of Education and Science. There is a danger—it would be silly to deny it—as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, of continuous encroachment: the feeling also that, as another noble Lord said, there is an attitude of suspicion and denigration. I do not think it helped when, at the end of 1973, under the previous Government the Economy White Paper said in connection with the cut of £7 million: We believe universities can do this without detriment to standards". Those words appeared, I think I am right in saying, without any consultation with the University Grants Committee.

I should like to emphasis that there is a great need for accurate information within the Department of Education and Science about matters affecting universities. For example, it is impossible to have a coherent and realistic policy for student grants without knowledge of the details of the scale of vacation work that students are required to undertake. I mentioned this to a Select Committee in another place. At the University of Leeds we have 140 schemes of study out of 250 which require some form of vacation work, excluding directed reading. There are 15,000 student days on required field courses, and even that does not take fully into account the number of dissertations which have also to be written during the vacations. One just cannot reach rational conclusions about the availability of students for vacation employment without knowledge of these facts. I do not want to sound too critical about this because I know very well that when he was at the Department of Education and Science the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, did his very best for students over maintenance grants. However, we do need to remind ourselves that in the case of ordinary first degree courses, there are only two long vacations. Indeed, I wish we could get out of the habit of calling it a three-year course; it is a two and two-thirds year course. Once one gets to the third term of the third year there is very little time available for further teaching before the degree examination takes place.

May I say one word on the subject of promotions, a subject which the noble Lord. Lord Balogh, touched upon. Frankly, I think he was a little too harsh in one respect. It would be quite wrong to suggest that in all universities heads of departments invariably have their own way as to who should be appointed or promoted. I believe that a number of universities have promotion procedures that make every effort to be fair. I say this as someone who spent a good deal of time in January as an ordinary member (not as the chairman) of the committee at Leeds University concerned with this matter. I believe that the system of promotion for quota posts in some universities is about as fair as one could hope to make it. However, the issue of promotion is very critical indeed and I greatly hope that some easement over and above the present maximum of 40 per cent. of senior posts can be provided.

I agreed entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, on another point. I was glad to hear his astringent remarks about the proposal for a single examination system at 16-plus. There is a very real danger that the resultant examination system could be too difficult for some of the least academic pupils yet that it would not sufficiently stretch the others.

My last point is a personal one. As your Lordships know, I left the Front Bench in another place in October, 1969, entirely of my own free-will, in order to accept an invitation to go to Leeds in the following year as vice-chancellor. To leave the Front Bench of one's own free will is a shade more fashionable today than it was then, but I want to say that I have never regretted this decision because I believe so strongly in what Leeds and the British university system are trying to do. Sometimes there is a danger that we underrate the enormous contribution of the civic, or "red-brick", universities to our university system. If one looks at the last published figures, for December 1973, in England there were then just over 150,000 undergraduates and 39,500 postgraduates. Between them, the 14 civic universities were training nearly 67,000 undergraduates and just over 16,000 postgraduates. That has to be compared with the figures for the new universities—what the noble Lord, Lord Wolfenden, would call the "Shakespeare Universities"—of York, Lancaster, Warwick, Sussex and so on, plus the CATS, where the corresponding figures were 38,200 undergraduates and 7,300 postgraduates.

I believe the strength of the civic universities lies, as I said at the start, in the academic disciplines carried on within their departments. A weakening of academic departments within a university must mean an irreparable loss, and let us always remember, as Lord Keynes once said of economists, that universities, too, are trustees for the possibility of civilisation. We need to remember that there are men and women of exceptional ability who ought to be able to find jobs in the academic profession. Therefore, as I sit down now, I feel that the contribution of the civic universities and the significance of the academic profession to this country must never be undervalued; and to judge from today's debate it is nice to think that they evoke a very strong echo within your Lordships' House.

8.31 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, for introducing this debate and giving it such a good start. I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Boyle of Handsworth, will forgive me if I do not follow his most interesting line of argument but I wish to raise two points relating to the Scottish universities, and time is short. At the present time of financial stringency I have a Scottish academic extravagance to report to your Lordships. It is contained in the words, "twin site working". Many managers in the business world know and dread getting themselves into this position and they do all they can to get out of it as quickly as possible. Few, very few, academics have experienced this and they have striven to get out of it under circumstances of finance very much more favourable than the present.

However, one university—Heriot-Watt—is in that position. Roughly half the university is on its new site at Riccarton, while the other half is still in its old and scattered buildings in the City of Edinburgh. It is at this point that construction on the new site is coming to a grinding halt this summer. More buildings are not authorised and the prospects of resuming construction are very dim indeed. This is where the academic extravagance comes in. It costs quite a lot of money to provide for the consequences of twin site working. This includes a certain duplication of staff and of laboratory and social facilities. It demands the provision of free transport for students. The university shuttle service is one of the busiest departments of the university. But what is even more serious is the disruption in the academic field, the difficulties standing in the way of free and easy discussion between staffs of different departments and the many social complications for both staff and students.

It is impossible for the Heriot-Watt University to express its potential when having to work under these conditions. It cannot provide its students with the full academic atmosphere which they deserve. The conditions at Heriot-Watt are exactly those described by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, as being conducive to the creation of a "bewildered fringe". That the fringe has not been bigger and noisier is largely due to the skill and understanding of the administration and certain members of the staff. As I have said, no business would tolerate for a moment longer than is necessary the expense and mental wear and tear that result from twin site working. But at an optimistic estimate, twin site working will continue at this university for another 10 years. Pessimistically, I put it at continuing for the rest of this century.

There is a way to cut this Gordian knot and it is the method that any sensible business man would adopt. The buildings and sites occupied by the university in the City of Edinburgh are of considerable value. True, the principal ones are in an area designated for cultural development, but even so their value is considerable, and quite sufficient to provide most of the buildings immediately required on the new site. To any ordinary and reasonably intelligent citizen the answer is obvious. But then we cannot be expected to know about the wiles of the United Kingdom Treasury. The Treasury insists that the greater part of the proceeds of any sale be returned into its great maw. And so it is impossible to get what I think the commercial world calls "bridging finance".

I will take your Lordships one step further in this sorry tale. It has been decided that the science library for Scotland is to be established as part of the National Library of Scotland and that it will be housed in the central building of Heriot-Watt University. An efficient science library serving all the universities and research institutes of Scotland is essential for their work and it can also effect considerable economies. One instance must suffice. Scientific journals are increasing in numbers and spiralling in cost. Some of them are costing as much as £600 per annum. A common service for the whole of Scotland is bound to be a major economy. So the sooner this library can be got into place the sooner will those economies be effected, as well as those of the whole library working on one site and not, as at present, on a three site basis. To straighten this out all that is required is a stroke of the pen from the Treasury. Then the pig will be over the stile and a multitude of benefits and economies will follow.

The other point, really my principal point, is that there is a major and continuing headache for the Scottish universities as to their future if and when a Scottish Assembly comes into existence. There is, not only among the Scottish nationalists, a strong desire that the universities should come under the Assembly. This is largely an emotional matter, particularly with the Scottish nationalists, but it is not altogether irrational. Under the Government White Paper all education except the universities is devolved to the Assembly. Scotland has a long and honourable tradition of education at all levels. Indeed, for centuries we in Scotland had three or four universities when England had but two. We managed reasonably well and our links were mainly with the universities of Europe—Padua, Paris and Utrecht—and comparatively little with Oxford and Cambridge. Our universities produced scholars, divines, doctors and lawyers of world renown. That they did so cannot be attributed solely to native genius. Walter Scott acknowledged willingly the debt he owed to the Royal High School and University of Edinburgh. It is very easy to work up this rational approach into giving substance to the emotional. At the moment the universities of Scotland are virtually unanimous in their abhorrence of the proposal that they be devolved and they wish the responsibility for university affairs to remain with a university grants committee organised on a United Kingdom basis. This, they say, secures a more efficient allocation of resources throughout the United Kingdom for subjects like medicine, science, engineering and the social sciences, particularly in terms of research. It also ensures freedom to the universities to determine and introduce the kind of teaching courses most relevant to the needs of the communities they serve.

The campaign for the devolution of the universities gains impetus from the fact that the University Grants Committee is administered and receives its money from the very English Department of Education and Science. There is a good deal of substance in this objection. I would therefore most strongly urge the Government that, if they adhere to their proposals in paragraph 127 of the White Paper, they transfer the University Grants Committee to the aegis (shall we say?) of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom. This must be done without undue delay. It is, I think, an administrative matter and would require no Act of Parliament. It must be done, I think, before any Act of devolution reaches the Statute Book, and it should be done swiftly and gracefully, and if possible enshrined in the Act of devolution.

8.41 p.m.


My Lords, just over five years ago, on 4th March 1971, I initiated a debate on the question of whether university education was fulfilling the long-term needs of the nation as a whole. Today I had wanted to make a very moderate and sympathetic speech, but in spite of the changes which have been made by universities in the meantime I still think a more critical speech is justified and called for. Many of the things I am going to say today have already been said, but there have been speeches on the other side, and what I am really calling for is a change to meet the circumstances we have today.

The very large expansion of universities, I believe, came about for three main reasons—and these do not in fact conflict with what the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has said: first, because of his report, which to some extent overemphasised the need for people to be trained in scientific and engineering disciplines; secondly, the memory that in the past the population was divided sharply into those who were educated and those who were not; it followed that this unfair division should not be allowed to continue and that the benefit of university education ought to be available to a wider field; thirdly, the general hope, dating from our colonial days, that education would make people more reasonable and better citizens.

In the previous debate I said that universities should carefully consider their objectives and that university education had to be justified on one of the following criteria—and here again I do not differ from what the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has said, except that I am taking a rather narrower field of the students as opposed to a justification of the university as a whole: first, to educate future academics and research workers; secondly, to make people happier and better potential citizens in the very broadest sense of the word; thirdly, to give education which is likely to be of use in their lives afterwards on a practical basis. I had little doubt then that the universities carried out the first objective reasonably well, but it applied only to the people getting a first-class degree or top second. It seemed doubtful whether either of the other two objectives was being met by a large number of students, particularly those studying some of the arts courses. I gave it as my view that either universities should change their approach or the student intake should be limited to those who would really benefit from the existing type of education. For many others greater fulfilment and a better education would be achieved at the polytechnics or by sandwich course or by day release.

There seemed to be a feeling, which to some extent I am afraid still exists today, that whatever was taught at a university, and however badly it was taught, it was self-justifying. This is an incredible proposition, and is matched only, probably, by the thought, which has gone on for a very long time, not so today, that Britain made the best engineering goods in the world and it was the misfortune of the consumers if they did not buy them.

I am afraid that time has shown that many of these misgivings were justified. Although useful changes have been made in the last few years, if my analysis is correct, the purely logical action would be to reduce the number or size of the universities and correspondingly lessen the grant. This is, of course, simply not a practical, reasonable or humane course of action. Moreover, great damage would be done to the remaining university structure, which we all admire. I suggest that, in spite of what has been said today, some of what the Government are doing is justified, but in general the answer must be for the newer or much expanded universities to change their outlook and approach so as far as the majority of students are concerned, and to approach nearer to the original polytechnic philosophy. Perhaps the difference between the two should only be that the students at university who show themselves after the first year as being suitable for more purely academic studies should be able to pursue them. In my view, although a three-year economics course is justified for really able students, it is not for others. A mixed course, such as economics and business studies, would be far more appropriate for most students, and, on a cost-effective basis, for the nation. I know that in fact a good deal is being done in this direction; but I still have the impression from today's debate that this is not completely accepted—and it must be.

Although one might suppose that academic studies would teach people to think clearly and logically, judged by the more down to earth requirements of the outside world they do not seem to do so. I was at Cambridge, but the best education I received in my life was during my Army staff college course. I believe that soft options in the arts field must be restricted, and that students with good A-levels should not be over-persuaded to go to university. It should be a balanced choice, not simply a course of least resistance. When I say this, I am saying it as the universities exist today. If the changes which I and some others speaking in this debate have envisaged come about, then the position might be very different. An informed source estimates that more than 20 per cent. of students now at universities are not benefiting by their courses; and we are paying for them.

There would seem to be a great deal to be said for increasing the number of sandwich courses. Among other merits, it makes students face up to the realities of life, and could well have an effect on some of their teachers. It is a strange thing that one should appoint these teachers, or many of them, without a break, direct, having finished their academic course. How can they be presumed to help students with some advice on after life, which they have never seen?

Finally, with less able students, emphasis must be laid on the quality of lecturing, methods of imparting information, and not simply on the lecturers' academic and research abilities. This is something which until recently universities almost wholly ignored. Today this is an almost unique point of view, no doubt mediaeval in origin. Unfortunately, universities are perhaps the most conservative and democratic—in the sense that everyone's view has to be taken into account—institutions in this country. Heaven knows this country is slow in making obvious and necessary changes, the universities, in their ivory towers, more than most. Therefore, although on the long-term I would deplore too much interference by the State, on the short-term I really do not think that universities can complain if such interference is limited to securing a necessary increase in the speed of change. Inevitably Government, companies and others who fail to change where change is due should not complain when pressure is applied.

8.52 p.m.


My Lords, I pay my tribute, as I must, to the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, for initiating this debate, which has allowed opportunities for a wide-ranging and extremely instructive discussion of some of the problems of our universities. I should like in my turn too to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bullock, who comes here as the first Vice-Chancellor in the history of the University of Oxford to have served it for four years, and after his impressive speech on the importance of research I can perhaps send to him the message through Hansard of the report which was issued by Lord Curzon, in 1906, when he was Chancellor of Oxford: It is only too true to say that the amount of original work which is coming from this university is quite inconsiderable. It cannot possibly hope to emulate a university like Harvard. There is no doubt that Oxford has moved a long way since then. So much has been said today that I feel I must limit myself in the short time we have—for when we have finished discussing universities we are to discuss the control of mad dogs. I shall talk on one topic only.

The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, said that the community as a whole is involved in a common crisis, when the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, asked him how it had come about that in spite of university expansion the country is still poor. I should like to devote myself to this topic. There is a terrible problem here. Nearly a hundred years ago it was said that the great American West was conquered in the laboratories of the American universities, and that it was their graduates who tamed the Continent. It was their graduates, furthermore, who created most of American industry and who have ensured its prosperity.

We began our own expansion with the hope in the minds of most people, spoken or unspoken, that if we too expanded our universities this country's industry would, in turn, become prosperous. In the very first 1946 Report of the Barlow Committee it was expressly recommended that the universities must be expanded in order to make it possible for our industry to compete in foreign markets with the help of the graduates who would be produced. So now how is it that these great hopes have not been fulfilled? I go further and say that if present trends continue—and by this I mean the trends of the last five years—the whole of our enormous complex of industry, of education, and of Government may collapse totally as its foundations are eroded, as they are being eroded at the moment. This may seem an extreme statement to make, but I say it with all seriousness, and for this reason; it is true to say that Englishmen no longer want to study those subjects which would fit them for a career in productive industry.

Mr. Mulley, speaking the other day in another place, said that he had been talking to schoolmasters who said. "Of course, our brighter boys don't want to go into industry." A few months ago I myself lectured to 200 headmasters and asked them why they did not send their students to college or to university, to study engineering. They all said the same thing, "But of course if one of our brighter boys ends up at the age of 30 in a factory everyone—including himself, his family, his friends, and his schoolmates—will account him a failure who could do nothing better." But it is upon the activities of these failures that we have to depend for the very food which we eat.

This poses a terrible series of problems. Perhaps I may be allowed to speak briefly about my own institution, which is the only one I know well, and which happens to be devoted to the education of graduates in such subjects as engineering, textiles, management, science and mathematics. I have to tell your Lordships that the expansion which was initiated with such enthusiasm and such success 20 years ago came to a stop in 1970, and went abruptly into decline and reverse. Departments which were full of Englishmen in 1970 have hardly an Englishman left in them today. This is a terrible thing. I could quote figures, but I should simply bore your Lordships. May I simply say that the department of chemistry, which had 140 student freshmen every year for years, now gets 60 students. This is typical of most departments of chemistry in most universities in this country today.

Engineering departments are much worse. The subject of chemical engineering has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. It is a subject which was in fact created in Manchester by a man named George Edward Davies in 1886. It was taken up in America, particularly at MIT, and became enormously important. It is concerned with the design and operation of ore refineries, chemical plants of all kinds, the enormous installations in which we make all the modern polymers, textiles and so on. We built up in Manchester in the last ten years a department of chemical engineering which was by far the largest in Europe. We used to admit year after year about 100 Englishmen and half-a-dozen foreigners as freshmen in the undergraduate course. This we were proud to do, and the men went into industry and were very valuable when they arrived there. This year we recruited 20 Englishmen and 24 foreigners. I do not lament the presence of the foreigners. They come in to help to fill places otherwise vacant. But that has been a decline in the British students by 90 or 100 to 20, which is a factor of five, and it has taken place in five years.

I give another example. Again I hope that I speak impartially. I believe that we had the finest department of machine tool engineering in England. We began in 1956 with the help of the noble Earl, Lord Halsbury, who has just left the House, who gave us a grant to start our research programme. The work began in the '90s of the last century, when two English professors in my institute began to work on the machine tools being made by Joseph Whitworth. The work they did was very successful and it was so academic and scientifically based that it inspired the Germans to believe that they, too, should have a department of machine tool design, and in 1902 the Kaiser instructed the University of Charlotten-burg, to set up a department of machine tool engineering. Its graduates made the machine tool trade of Germany and dominated the entire metal working profession of Germany and, ultimately, the whole Continent of Europe.

Meanwhile, the work was abandoned in Manchester, but I was able to revive it in 1956 and by a very remarkable historic coincidence I was able to appoint as its first head the son-in-law of the German, Professor Schlesinger, who in 1902 had built on work done in the very same building all those years before. Our department was extremely successful and it recruited men not only from schools but also from industry, men who had served their time on the shop floor, had worked in the factory or in the drawing office and who came to us with Higher National Certificates and so on. They were among the ablest students we have ever had; 40 or 50 of them came every year, and perhaps half-a-dozen foreigners. I was at the opening of the Machine Tool Exhibition at Olympia—I opened it—and as we went round the exhibition we found that many of the most ingenious machine tools on show were English made. Nobody could remember this ever happening before, and many of the designers were our students. We were very proud of this, but two years later the entire trade collapsed and an industry in Manchester which had had 15,000 men in it now has 500.

Are noble Lords surprised that no one comes any more to study machine tools in Manchester? Last year we had 18 students, of whom four were British. Ten, even five years ago we had 40 students from England and half-a-dozen from abroad. The same story is true of chemical engineering, of other branches of mechanical engineering, of civil engineering and most particularly it is true of textiles. For many years we have had what is probably the finest textile department in the whole world. It so happens that some of the big Lancashire mills are suffering very much at the moment from competition, particularly from Turkey. Are noble Lords surprised to hear that half of the students in the textile department are Turks and that in some classes none are English?

Here is a devastating problem and no discussion of the growth of universities and their significance will have any relevance unless we grasp firmly the fact that Englishmen are no longer learning engineering and are no longer fitting themselves for careers in productive industry. One may well ask why this catastrophic decline has come about so rapidly since 1970 or 1972. The reason is, of course, that at that time there was the most appalling slump, which seems to have been much more noticeable in the North than it ever has been in London. For many years ICI recruited 600 to 700 graduates every year, and every department of chemistry expected to send its students to ICI in large numbers. In one year they cut their recruitment programme from 600 to 70, so that 9 out of 10 of the graduates who might have expected to go into ICI had to go somewhere else. Other firms were simultaneously cutting their recruitment, so that many men who had studied hard for years had no jobs for quite a long time.

I have spoken of the catastrophic decline of the machine tool trade. Take another example, that of ICL, the computer people. In one year then recruited 52 Manchester graduates and the next year they recruited one. Are noble Lords surprised to hear that students no longer want to study computer science and computer design, when the expectation is that they will not be able to find jobs when they have graduated? Even if they do get jobs, the salaries are totally inadequate. A man who has studied, say, chemical or mechanical engineering or any of the other disciplines with which we are concerned, earns about £2,350 a year when he leaves and goes into industry. This is about equal Ito the wage of an ordinary unskilled labourer. If he goes into the Post Office he will get £500 to £600 a year more, and if he goes into the town hall he will get £1,000 a year more, perhaps more than that. Is it therefore surprising that the fastest growing industry in England is local and central Government? Is it surprising that Englishmen are no longer prepared to submit themselves to the difficulties and disciplines of studying a very hard subject—engineering, technology or science—if the prospects they have in industry are so poor and if, furthermore, should they be lucky enough to get a job, it is likely to be so much underpaid?


My Lords, I am following the noble Lord's remarks with fascination, but I feel that there is a link missing. He has told us of the collapse and how, if a young man goes into industry, he does not get properly paid. Why is that the position? Is there not a further factor involved?


I was just coming to that, my Lords. To answer that question properly one must discuss the nature of the crisis afflicting British industry, and I have hardly time to do that tonight. I would say in all honesty that my university is as well equipped, as well staffed and as able to educate engineers as any institution of its type in the Western world; it is not as big or as famous as MIT but it is a splendid place and we are extremely proud of it. We are full of foreign students and we are glad to have them. But we want more Englishmen; we could do with at least twice as many Englishmen as we have.

I ask myself why any responsible parent should allow his son to study engineering if the prospects thereafter are so poor. This is not a debate about economics, but I must try to answer the question which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, asked: why are prospects in industry so bad? The reason is that most industrial plants are so appallingly under-capitalised and that their equipment is poor and old. I went round that enormous complex which used to be called Metropolitan Vickers and which has been at Trafford Park since the beginning of this century. I know it well and have done nearly all my life. I went round a few months ago and saw the enormous machining aisle in which some of the greatest artifacts ever made in this country were fabricated. The first 12 machine tools I passed were at least 15 or 20 years old. I said to the manager, "You must have had a very good accountant, because it takes a good accountant to prove that you never can afford to buy machine tools." I also noted that every machine tool I passed was built by a local firm which has since gone bankrupt. They were made by, for example, Cravens. I hate to mention names, but I must. Cravens of Stockport made very large lathes; they went out of business six years ago, and it is now impossible to get a big lathe made anywhere in England. No industrial country can hope to survive if it has no machine tool trade and the plant in its factories is wearing out.

I lectured last week in Cumberland and I talked to all the businessmen there and asked if any one of them was able to maintain his productive plant in proper order and make sure that it was not gradually wearing out. The answer was, no. In every factory which I visit these days—and I visit many—the story is the same. The factory and its plant are slowly deteriorating from year to year, or often from day to day. One of the factories which I saw in Cumberland was totally dependent upon a machine tool bought in 1937. It will not last for ever, but it is carried on the books of the company at its historic cost. When it finally breaks down, as is bound to happen before long, the company will have to go out of business.

We now face a situation in which industry is under-capitalised and cannot attract engineers. Unless and until we are able to solve this problem, I do not see that there is any future for higher education, for hospitals, for the Health Service or for central or local government, because all those things depend on the product of the men making things in factories. I should like to spend longer on this theme because I think it desperately important, but I will simply say that I believe the ultimate crime committed by successive Governments for the last 40 or 50 years has been to allow the Treasury to insist on systems and conventions of accounting which have denuded industry of its resources. In 1920, Maynard Keynes wrote a book called The Economic Consequences of the Peace. He said that in times of inflation all the forces of law, custom, tradition and authority were united in taking from the citizen and from industry the resources they need and that they flowed from there into the maw of the Treasury. I am paraphrasing that rather freely, and I see that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, is looking rather sceptical. I shall give him the quotation afterwards.


Not a bit sceptical, my Lords.


I make the point that we have been suffering from an accounting process which has taken industry's capital away from it and has put it at the disposal of the Government to use as if it were current income. This has destroyed the capacity to manufacture and has made it impossible for industry to pay reasonable salaries to engineers. As a result, it has made our entire investment in universities suspect and possibly useless.

I believe the situation could be remedied, and I urge noble Lords who take a particular interest in the subject to read the Clayton Lecture delivered by Dr. Frank Jones to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers about a week ago. He compares the investment per worker in Japanese factories with that in England. He finds that the output per pound invested is much greater in England, but that the output per worker engaged is three times as great in Japan. One of the reasons is greater capital and the other is more graduates in industry. In the shipyards, for example, the Japanese have 10 times as many graduates as we have as a fraction of the total workforce, and it costs three times as much, to put a ton of steel onto a British ship in a British shipyard as it does to put a ton of steel onto a Japanese ship in a Japanese shipyard.

I believe the situation to be desperate. I believe there is no point at all in persuading ourselves that our universities can thrive and prosper unless the community as a whole does so. Since I have devoted the last 25 years to creating and developing a school of engineering, I find it infinitely depressing that there should be this revulsion from engineering on the part of students who have grasped the fact that they have no chance of a worthwhile and productive career if they go into industry.

9.14 p.m.


My Lords, after listening to the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, and bearing in mind the way he alluded to two classes of people—Englishmen and foreigners—I wonder whether I should support the earlier comments of the noble Lord, Lord Balerno, after all—


My Lords, I should like to say that most of my chaps happen to be English as distinct from Scottish, and it was a mistake for which I will apologise.


My Lords, it is very late and I will certainly try to do the reverse of emulate my academic colleagues. I must thank the noble Lord. Lord Fulton, for bringing forward this Motion and giving us a chance to debate what I feel is an extremely important and urgent matter in the nation's affairs. Your Lordships' House has a number of vice-chancellors and former vice-chancellors among its Members. However, there are only a few full-time teachers and research workers in the House. Though your Lordships have heard much of the problems which beset the corps commanders at headquarters, you have heard less of the problems facing the subalterns in the front line. As a professor of chemistry at St. Andrews, I am lucky enough to be in the front line for both teaching and research. At present I have the additional privilege of being the chairman of the Committee of Heads of University Chemistry Departments. This is an informal body, consisting of all the heads or chairmen of university chemistry departments in the United Kingdom, which meets at the Royal Institute of Chemistry.

What I have to report to your Lordships is that, despite forbidding clouds, at the front line all is well. Not only are our standards of teaching remaining high; they are, as other noble Lords have commented, at present second to none. It is embarrassing to have to say that anything in Britain is good nowadays, but the facts are that since the war—again, as the noble Lord, Lord. Fulton, commented; but I restrict myself to chemistry now—Britain has produced more Nobel Laureates in Chemistry than has any other country. In fact the total for the whole of the rest of the world in chemistry only just exceeds these awarded to Britain. Contrary, again, to repeated assertions, British university chemistry departments do not absorb the best of their own progeny, and it is noticeable that those areas of British industry which depend on chemical science—the chemical industry, the petro-chemical industry, and the pharmaceutical industry—have continued to prosper during the recent recession. Though all is well at the front line, there is no doubt that the present excellence of chemistry at universities—and, judging by St. Andrews, the excellence of universities as a whole—could very easily be destroyed in a comparatively short time.

There are three danger zones: demoralisation of students; demoralisation of university administration; and demoralisation of university staff. I shall take the students first. There are two major problems: their academic preparation at school, to which noble Lords have referred, and their financial support. Other noble Lords have commented on Sir Frederick Dainton's remarks, and on the UGC report, about the attainment of basic skills at school. I have always found it hard to understand why it is considered right for a boy who is good at football to be given extra and special coaching, but bad to select a boy who is good at mathematics for special coaching. It cannot be on egalitarian grounds, since a football player in the first division of the English League will earn far more money than a professor of mathematics. One can only hope that the present disparagement of intellectual ability will pass.

The second problem affecting students is one that the Government could remedy. This is the means test on student grants. The grant is made to the student, not to his or her parents. I appreciate that this is not a good time to make the change, but I think that few noble Lords realise how much unhappiness and injustice the means test causes, and how many parents fail to provide their contribution. I return to my three danger zones, the second of which was university administration. With so many vice-chancellors about, I must emphasise that I am not concerned with any discomforts they may suffer, but with the effect which uncertainties have on the whole fabric of a university. I would plead strongly for a return, if not to the quinquennium then to a rolling triennium. The difficulties of distributing dwindling resources when the financial situation for next year is unknown are enormous.

The area of greatest danger at the present time is the loss of confidence by the university teaching staff. Here, again, there are three problems. First, there is the infamous treatment of university teachers in respect of salary. Other noble Lords have commented on this, and all I can say is that the injustice so often meted out as a result of Government wages and incomes policy in the past, dwindle to nothing when compared with that endured by university teachers. I should like to give your Lordships a single example. In October 1970, the average professorial salary was £5,600, which was exactly the same as that of an assistant secretary in the administrative Civil Service at the top of the scale. Today, the average professorial salary is £8,500, while the assistant secretary's salary has risen to £11,000.

The second problem, which again has been mentioned by numerous noble Lords, is that of promotion, which is almost as pressing as the problems of salaries. When universities were expanding a fixed proportion of senior staff was justifiable. In a period of retrenchment, when no new appointments are being made, it becomes intolerable. It occurs to me that Government and industry might well consider recruiting university teachers of several years' eperience. This is a possible source of highly trained minds of proven ability, many of whom, when universities were expanding, would have reached the highest academic posts but who are held back by colleagues only a year or so older who arrived at the university first.

The final problem affecting university staff, particularly in the sciences, is the depreciation of the value of university research. There has been a great deal of talk about making university research more relevant; and I can only echo the comment of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, about the use of that word. Many critics seem to forget that one can have good applied research only if a strong body of fundamental research is going on. Again to give a single example: the Science Research Council has recently proposed a programme which would increase the number of CASE awards—these, my Lords, are research studentships for projects carried out in collaboration with industry. At the same time, because of reduced funds, it has had to cut the number of Quota awards—that is the number of studentships available for fundamental research. It may be that such a policy is practical in other sciences, but in chemistry it would be disastrous in a very short time. Without the fundamental research neither the experimental techniques nor the theoretical expertise will be available to carry out worthwhile research.

Heads of university chemistry departments, without exception, are delighted to collaborate with industry, but this must be true collaboration. Furthermore, the universities must be in a position to provide something which ICI and Shell cannot provide that is, vigorous and active research into the basic and underlying science. Do not be fooled into believing that our present knowledge of chemistry is a broad enough base on which to develop applied research. Anyone believing this has no appreciation of the rate at which fundamental science is changing.

My Lords, there is so much more that I should like to say about the success and importance of British chemical research, but it is now late and I must therefore close. We all accept that there will have to be a slowing down in the growth of the science budget. All we ask is that those of you who sit on the Front Bench will remember that good applied research requires strong and active fundamental research to support it. Speaking from the front line I ask for the following: first, for the students, less egalitarian pressure on schools who should give help to the bright boy as well as to the athletic one secondly, for the students, the abolition of the parental means test. For the university administration: a return to a financial system which will enable us to budget at least three years ahead. For the university teachers: fair treatment over wages, reasonable chances of promotion and, in my view most important, adequate facilities and opportunities for research.

In the last 15 years the country has done the universities proud. We have excellent buildings and well equipped laboratories. In return I believe that the universities have done the country proud. We have provided teaching and research without peer in the rest of the world. We now face years when finance will be less readily available. But do remember this—in the past young British men and women went out to explore the globe and found an empire. Today, there is nowhere left to explore and no Empire. There are, however, vast and unexplored areas of science every bit as exciting to explore and often far more rewarding to the discoverer and this country. My Lords, our fathers explored every corner of the globe to the benefit of this country and I believe to the benefit of all mankind. Let us not, in our turn, fail to see that the young men and women of Britain continue to play their part in exploring the unknown. The university laboratories of today can provide the instrument if Parliament provides the means.

9.25 p.m.


My Lords, I would not have ventured at all to speak in this debate had it not been for the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, suggested to me that I might possibly be one of those who would speak for the role of the universities in education for the professions, and if any justification for this was needed I would offer my favourite quotation from Robbins—written, I believe, by himself in his own hand. I have not been able, in this long debate, to listen to all the speeches, but I do not think anyone has quoted this before: We deceive ourselves if we claim that more than a small fraction of students in institutions of higher education would be where they are if there were no significance for their future careers in what they hear and read; and it is a mistake to suppose that there is anything discreditable in this. Certainly this was not the attitude of the past: the ancient universities of Europe were founded to promote the training of the clergy, doctors and lawyers… The quotation ends with the words: A good general education, valuable though it may be, is frequently less than we need to solve many of our most pressing problems. So let it be for medicine.

My Lords, I am bound, of course, to take my examples from my own profession, but I have tried to select those which may have a meaning for training in other professions, such as engineering and the law, and, I would say, even music. The impression with which I am left from some of the very notable speeches which we have heard this evening is how isolated from the major concerns of the universities we medicals really are. We are there, believe it or not, to teach Medicine—that is, medicine with a capital "M"—embracing all aspects of medical and surgical science, knowledge and practice. A professor of medicine is in control of a considerable number of hospital beds, and must successfully run a consultative outpatients' service. This is in addition to teaching and research, and to postgraduate education, and leaves him with little time for taking an active interest in university affairs. Yet if he did not run a successful medical unit in a teaching hospital he would not be discharging his first duty, which is to my mind to his patients, not only because they are patients under his care but because he would not otherwise capture the interest of his students in what they have really come for; namely, to be taught the art and science of doctoring—the relief of suffering.

In my view, the greatest advance in medical education in my time was the introduction of the compulsory postgraduate year in 1953. Before that, a doctor straight out of university, having done little or nothing except attend lectures and look at demonstrations at the bedside, could go straight into general practice as a fully-fledged doctor; but the compulsory postgraduate year ensured that he had to spend this year before he was finally registered, during which he was on a provisional register—he still is—under supervision in selected hospital posts, house physician and house surgeon posts, the selection being made either by the universities, in the Provinces, or, in London, I think by the Royal Colleges.

This, plus the development of postgraduate education beyond that year, which has been so notable in recent years, has had two very important effects. Not only has it protected the public from raw young men and women who have just passed and graduated at university, but it has lifted the responsibility for undergraduate education taken by the universities in regard to having to turn out somebody who was to be a complete doctor. They could then pay more attention to the principles of medicine and the education of the mind, knowing that the graduate would have at least this compulsory year of apprenticeship and, in most cases, far more than a year.

The Report of the Royal Commission on Medical Education, the Todd Report—and I was a member of that Commission—says: …we start from the premise that every doctor who wishes to execise a substantial measure of independent clinical judgment will be required to have a substantial postgraduate professional training, and that the aim of the undergraduate course should be to produce not a finished doctor but a broadly educated man who can become a doctor by further training. We are convinced that undergraduate medical education should be firmly in the hands of a university and that a university degree course should be a requirement for the entry of British students to the medical profession. These are lofty sentiments and, as usual with lofty sentiments, they are not too closely defined. It is not very obvious what exactly we meant by—and I was a signatory to this—a "broadly educated man". If it means that behind him he has a university education, in the true sense of the phrase, I would say that almost no medical student achieves it.

Students may in the first two years mix, by accident at meal times, with undergraduates in other faculties and a little general culture may occasionally brush off on to them. If they are fortunate enough to live in a hall of residence there is more mixing with undergraduates in other faculties. If they are fortunate enough to have done their first year or two in Oxford or Cambridge and have then gone up to a London medical school for clinical work, they have had much more of a general education; but the man who, for instance, goes through the London medical course from beginning to end doing his early work in anatomy, physiology and biochemistry at the medical school—and the London medical schools, as your Lordships know, are very famous—and graduates from that medical school, has had almost no contact with the university at all.

The Royal Commission suggested that each London medical schoool—and they graduate about 40 per cent. of the total medical graduates of this country—or group of medical schools should be in contact with some multi-faculty college of the University of London; but I am inclined to agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Brock, said, when we debated the Report of the Royal Commission on 22nd April 1970: Many doubt the advantages that would follow such a multi-faculty association in the absence of a residential system. All that would be achieved would be lip service to an idea. I rather think that is true.

As to the second part of the statement quoted, that undergraduate medical education should be "firmly in the hands of the university", this had really already been achieved to a large extent by the establishment of the medical and surgical professorial units in teaching hospitals. This has largely been a post-war phenomenon, although there were one or two before the war. This encourages research in the teaching hospitals, and of course it is very important; and though by no means confined to the professorial unit, it acts as a stimulus and also allows the professor to have some control over the clinical teaching in the non-professorial units. A further advantage is that it leads to some mobility. Whereas the man who has become established in the practice of medicine—whether it be in general practice or in specialist practice in hospital—tends to stay where he is for the rest of his clinical life, in the professorial units the young men tend, as they get more senior, to go to other universities and medical schools and to take up professorial posts or other senior positions in professorial units. They may also go into the specialist practice of medicine.

But there are dangers in too much university influence in medical schools. If the first two years are spent in the basic learning of physiology, anatomy and biochemistry, and are taught by people who have never practised medicine, a student may fail to see the relevance and, even worse, may lose the enthusiasm which originally tempted him into medicine. Even in the clinical academic units there is the danger of the unit seeming interested more in research than the daily care of patients. I am firmly of the opinion that whatever may be the advances in medicine or surgery now and in the future, they cannot be taught as if they were wholly scientific subjects. Students should be introduced, if only as onlookers, at the earliest possible stage to the kind of clinical problems they will have to face.

In sum, I am not greatly worried about the way medical education is developing at the present time. But I wonder how much relevance some of the splendid speeches we have heard tonight have to the teaching of the art or even the science of medicine.

9.38 p.m.


My Lords, thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, today's copy of Hansard will be a historic document. It will also be a document which will provide those interested in further education with expressions of thought freely given and resembling the kind of thought that one was accustomed to hearing in the common rooms of universities. Unfortunately, I feel, too, that Hansard will contain the ingredients of an epitaph to the pre-war university. In pre-war times, universities contained communities of undergraduates and graduates. They mingled freely. Today, as a consequence of expansion, the word "student" has replaced the word "undergraduate", and the two words are significantly different. You train a student, my Lords, but you do not train an undergraduate. An undergraduate went to these centres of scholastic excellence, attracted to scholastic freedom, a period of life he would never again enjoy—complete freedom. In this atmosphere he was awarded a degree which made him a graduate. This degree was awarded, significantly, in these terms: "In character and in learning". The whole emphasis that we must now place upon higher education is the pragmatic one of training. If one wanted any proof, listening to the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, there it lies.

Listening also to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, I was terrified by the picture he produced. Those of us who have survived in the old, characteristic core of British universities—for instance, the noble Lord, Lord Tedder, like myself, is still a practising professor—find that it is now difficult to mountaineer in the Himalayan ranges of knowledge. These have been peneplained, and the only hope of escape for the scholar with an independent mind is down those valleys of despair and frustration. I know I strike a sombre note, but I think it is important to do so in order to clarify our minds as to what we are trying to do, because there seems to be no logical process by which we can halt this diffuse form of expansion, with its directive at the outset so ill-defined, when it was thought that universities could produce the technologists. They were never designed for that purpose and had to be modified to do it.

As a consequence of this, we find that the polytechnics, as has been mentioned several times in your Lordships' House today, are eating the universities. University dons look with envy at the financial perquisites they see in the polytechnics. The universities are pressurised to take more students, to improve their standards of tuition, to increase output and to do all kinds of things which were never within the concept of a community of graduates and undergraduates.

It seems to me that the choice before the country is whether they can, as the noble Baroness pointed out, afford the luxury of these centres of scholastic excellence where young men and women from all walks of life can go and indulge in freedom of thought and the evolution of new knowledge. This, it seems to me, is clear from everything that has been said today, and therefore we should face reality and say that if we wish to sustain these centres of scholastic excellence, which have been the envy of the world, we should not expound them but keep them as nuclei, crystalline, and consequently should not exaggerate their activities. But at the same time, as the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, pointed out, we should expand the more pragmatic areas of advanced education and train the sort of men the nation needs to expand its productivity in all directions.

As the noble Lord, Lord Tedder, has pointed out, as a consequence of this confusion, we have considerable sadness and unrest in the British universities. We have Vice-Chancellors who are forced to spend their time in committee rooms, unable to expand and extend their interest in the academic life of their university. This is the fate from which they suffer. At the same time, we have the students who are forced to belong to the Students' Union, which has grown in scale far beyond the prewar concept of a Students' Union to look after the domestic welfare of the undergraduates. It has now grown into big business, so much so that officials like the president have to be given sabbatical leave to run it. The Students' Union handles vast sums of money—and I am not exaggerating—and is really in business in a university, although it has no right to be, because this is substantially ratepayers' money.

So in the universities we now have, on the one hand, the administration, and, on the other hand, the Students' Union, and in between the dons, vainly trying to sustain the old academic interests of the universities. I say "vainly", because they, too, are human and suffering like everyone else from the rising cost of living. Is it therefore surprising that they look at the superior salaries of counterparts in polytechnics and elsewhere, who are discharging institutional duties far less exacting than a university don and getting more money? It is, therefore, no surprise that they are now supplicating for protection under the umbrella of the Trades Union Congress to gain just financial rewards. I deplore this, but I can see no way out of the dilemma. From here on, the country must decide whether these are to be centres of scholastic excellence full stop, and whether to expand technological education in institutions designed for this purpose.

The independence of the universities is not unimportant. I venture to suggest that it is still an important element in this country. Their independence is secured through the Royal Charters which are protected on behalf of the Crown by the Privy Council. I also wish to make the point that other barricades against intrusion have been erected by high-minded men and women from all walks of life who believe in the sanctity of freedom of thought and, with personal and financial support, have striven to preserve scholarship and intellectual freedom in these pre-war universities.

Jesse Boot, the son of a humble herbalist, with his own money lifted the University College of Nottingham from their somewhat squalid confines into a magnificent building standing in over 200 acres of parkland. It was as though Jesse Boot was trying to restore the monastery which had been swept from that land during the Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1947, the college received its Royal Charter and Bertrand Halward became the first vice-chancellor of the first of the post-war universities. No vice-chancellor will ever again have the opportunity that was presented to him. He grasped it and dedicated himself to the creation of a modern version of the collegiate system of Cambridge. Patrons from all quarters were inspired by his vision.

From the same humble background as Jesse Boot came Cyril Cripps and his son, Humphrey. Without a single penny of Government money they created two Chairs, a magnificent replica of a Cambridge college and a health centre, fully staffed by doctors and nurses, for the undergraduates. Their sole desire was to create and preserve the scholastic excellence of the university, for young people, from all walks of life, to have the advantages which they themselves had not received.

For over half a century this college had combined these essential characteristics against all odds. It became outstanding in the field of education. An intellectual like Hugh Gaitskell was allowed to develop his ideas and convictions in this modest college. It gave Ambrose Flemming his chance in life. It was there that he had his first thoughts about the invention of the diode, the first step in the construction of the amplifier tube which revolutionised radio communication. It was there that Kipping, free from control, decided that there were too many chemists interested in hydrocarbons. He believed that what they could do with carbon and hydrogen he could do with silicon and hydrogen. There, without a single industrial thought in his mind, he discovered the silicones; without them, many of the technological advances that we see today, such as jet propulsion, would be sheer pipedreams.

In my humble opinion we are on the threshold of the silicon age. The man who discovers the way to make silicon as cheap as carbon will open up a whole new range of materials, many of which will replace metals. Huge industrial laboratories have tried to solve this problem but have failed. I forecast that the way will be discovered in one of those centres of learning which are considered to be a luxury by the politicians and the technocrats.

As I said earlier, in so many ways the traditional concept of the old university rather resembles your Lordships' House, which contains men of character from all walks of life. We have been subjected to vocal threats of abolition, but so long as those threats remain vocal we can still exercise influence on the Privy Council to protect, on behalf of the universities, the freedom bestowed upon them by the Crown through their Royal Charters. My Lords, I make no apology for being emotional, not factual, about this subject. I go further and say that I can really express my emotional thoughts only by reverting to my native tongue. In Wales we say: Nid byd, byd heb wybodaeth"— the world is not a world without knowledge.

9.53 p.m.


My Lords, like many speakers before me, I am indeed grateful and honoured to take part in this debate today. However, as one of the few non-academics who are speaking this evening, I feel rather like the lone swimmer in the epic film now showing in the West End called "Jaws" who swims out from the shore unsuspecting of the menace that lies in the still waters below him. I wish that I could keep one foot on the bottom, but I will do my best to stay afloat—anyway, longer than the hero in the film. My intervention in this debate is to attempt to put the role of an independent university outside the State system in the context of this debate. I must declare my interest as a member of the council of management of the University College of Buckingham. For those noble Lords who have not heard of it, this is a non-political, non-profit making institution of higher education, supported from private funds, and which derives its income from student fees and endowments. I think it is safe to say that it is outside the encroachment of bureaucracy, to use a phrase mentioned by my noble friend Lady Seear.

At this stage it may be worth putting right one of the friendly parties towards the Independent University who wrote in The Times today and was also mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, in his speech. The honourable Member for Chelmsford, Mr. St. John-Stevas, wrote a letter to The Times which is printed today. He said: Perhaps we might even see a change of attitude by the CNAA to the degree of the Independent University"— I think he is referring to Buckingham in this context— which would contribute to university life without costing the taxpayer a penny. I believe what Mr. St. John-Stevas said is well-intentioned, but for the record I should like to correct it in that Buckingham University does not have a degree; it has a licence, and it no longer seeks the blessing of the CNAA for recognition of its licence because it has been recognised with the co-operation of all other universities in Britain. So I feel that the Independent University is not going back to the CNAA to ask for a degree because we believe that the licence the graduates will be given will give enough recognition for them to enter into postgraduate work.

The Independent University also has friends in all parts of your Lordships' Chamber. It is a matter for regret that the noble Lord, Lord Peddie, the noble Viscount, Lord Monckton of Brenchley, and the noble Lord, Lord Blake, who I believe intended to speak on the Independent University in this debate, have been unable to take part. I am attempting briefly to mention that the role of an Independent University of the State is not to cock a snook at bureaucracy, not to prove a political point or way of life, or else I should not be involved in it personally. I believe its role is that of an innovator and already it is carrying out innovations in its educational programme which could be of considerable interest to some noble Lords who have spoken today. For a start, it is possible to obtain a licence within two years instead of three. There is no long vacation; it is a 40-week term. In terms of economics to the taxpayers of this country it would make an enormous difference if degrees could be attained in two years.

This may sound as though it is very intense, but, believe me, the days of the long vacation when one went out to study one's subject in depth or to "read around the subject", as I believe my tutor insisted that I did, are surely long gone. No longer do we go to Greece if we study classics, to walk the road to Marathon, or visit Rome again in order to get the atmosphere for some classical thesis that we are writing. Students today drive a bus, deliver papers, take jobs or enjoy themselves—and quite rightly so—during the period of the long vacation. But for overseas students—and there are some at Buckingham as there are at many other universities—the long vacation is a very difficult time. Quite often the overseas students have insufficient funds to return home. Often they have no homes to go to during this period and accommodation is difficult if facilities at the university are shut down. Therefore I see no reason why a longer and closer look should not be given to a 40-week term. This could be done without any cost to the taxpayer by watching what goes on at Buckingham. As I have already said, I am not an academic but I believe it would be worth while for all those parties who are interested in the future of higher education in this country to see the innovations that are taking place at Buckingham, and consider whether in the sphere of higher education they have any general application to the country as a whole.

Another point was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, who mentioned the need for a broader first degree. This again is taking place at Buckingham. Until the graduates come out of Buckingham it is difficult to judge the success or failure of producing a broad degree on the lines Lord Robbins has mentioned; from that platform one goes on to specialisation, research or postgraduate research.

I wish to say a word in terms of economy. When Buckingham was opened, one national newspaper mentioned the total cost involved in building the university, with which I, as chairman of the building committee, was directly connected. We converted old barracks, knocked down a pigsty, and converted some derelict cottages to lecture rooms and student accommodation and to a library. The total cost of creating the university college amounted perhaps to £1½ million. This national newspaper said that that would pay for the car park in one of our big universities being built today, I suspect that that is true, although I have no costs of these new universities. What I do suspect is that in this enthusiasm to burst ahead with the building of these new universities in the 'sixties, far too much scope was given to the architects to create great buildings which won great prizes but had no relevance, in my view, to higher education, and are often, I understand, quite impractical to live and work in. I am thinking particularly of one university which I will not mention, but it is North of the Border.

There are many economies which can be made if you are having to find the funds, having to go out and beg for money, and if the students who are paying good fees want their money's worth from their academic professors. Every penny counts in an independent university such as Buckingham. I am not suggesting that the way and method of administration has perhaps wider applications to a very large university, but I do believe that achievement of higher education can be made with far greater economies without in any way affecting the academic excellence which has been talked about today.

My Lords, I want to make no other point except to say, and end on this note, that Buckingham is the first university created in this century that has not had a Government Department to finance it, to set it up and in the long term direct and influence its future teaching. There are many enemies to the concept of Buckingham; let us be quite clear about this. I ask them to give the university a chance, to recognise that it is not trying to prove a point against the world: that it is not trying to press forward on its own; that it is trying to carry out innovations which, if successful, I believe will have a great implication on higher education in this country as a whole. I would hope that some people who have the power and the money will recognise it.

10.3 p.m.


My Lords, I should like at the outset to thank the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, for initiating and precipitating this most illuminating and I think exciting and important debate. May I also congratulate those of your Lordships who have stayed the course so long to see it to a conclusion. I would also at an early stage congratulate my ex-tutor, the noble Lord, Lord Bullock, on an admirable, concise and brief maiden speech. Perhaps I shall do so in terms more warm than those which he accorded to my less admirable, less concise and less lucid first essay on European history, which I submitted to him some time about 1952. I am sorry that he cannot be with us at the end of the debate, but I would not say anything unkind in that connection, if only because I had the misfortune to miss his first tutorial. I commend his brevity, and your Lordships will sympathise with me in any attempt I make to curtail what I, at such a late stage, intend to say, particularly as many of your Lordships at an earlier stage found it necessary to speak for 25 minutes and longer. I hope that those noble Lords are with us now. Therefore I will not cover the whole ground; but while I will try to touch on what I believe to be important, that does not mean that I believe unimportant those things I exclude.

This has been a debate of tremendous range. We have gone from the detailed investigation of the relevance of machine tools (and they are relevant) given by the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, and his picture of the way successive Governments (and we will not here cease to place emphasis on one side of the House or the other) have pillaged industry in order to support the recurrent costs of running the nation at the expense, in the end, of the whole of our economy and in the long run of the universities as well. As he says, the base must be there if we are to have a sound education, for expenditure on current account, on capital account, and for pay. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, will seek an early opportunity in his speech to give reassuring undertakings in this direction for the staffs of universities. He may also take the opportunity of welcoming, as I believe he will from the vigour with which he was writing notes during Lord Tanlaw's excellent speech, Buckingham on the educational scene.

The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, in a powerful discursus, referred to the disoriented student. He adduced a number of factors as contributing to this condition of disorientation. Among them was the factor of size of universities, and I believe it is a feature of our society today that we are only just realising that size in any human organisation militates against personality, and therefore efficiency also. While being careful to say that he would not wish to see it reintroduced, none the less he regretted the passing of National Service. As he said so, I paused to wonder why it is that we always assume that National Service must always be military service and therefore in all circumstances unthinkable.

He also touched on a matter which has given me great concern in my teaching experience in the past; that is, the, I believe, entirely damaging and unfortunate necessity of early specialisation, which in fact comes earlier in the school career of children than even he suggested. Decisions have to be taken before and not at the beginning of an O-level course, and where you have a child who is in a fast stream, where streaming exists, this can mean a final decision about the general shape of that child's life when he is barely in his teens. I think that that is not a good thing for the children concerned. I was interested indeed in the ways in which he suggested that that might be overcome, and these deserve very close examination indeed. However, I suspect that this is not the Government's job, and I suppose in this Chamber we are addressing ourselves over one shoulder to the interested academic public (or the academic public that we suppose, and hope, to be interested) and over the other the Government, which we hope also to be concerned and interested.

Throughout this debate we need to keep at the back of our minds a consciousness that it is not a function of the Government to tell everybody exactly what they should do at every stage in every sphere of life in which they indulge. The volume of legislation coming from Parliament, and which seems continually to grow, can only mean that this is what we are doing. Let us therefore be careful before we trespass too much on the precincts of the academic. I think that the person in Whitehall should hesitate before swopping his bowler hat for a mortar board.

If I may pick up this point from Lord Fulton's opening remarks, he referred to the Rhodes Trust, and I am sure that he did not intend to suggest that it was no longer a vigorous, active and effective organisation. He referred to it as an experiment at the beginning of the 20th century. My father was for many years secretary of the Rhodes Trust. Since 1959, when there was a considerable increase in the number of students here, there have been about 70 Rhodes scholars a year. The noble Lord may care to recall that Germany left the scheme as a result of the First World War, but that West Germany has been readmitted to the activities of the Trust; otherwise it is a Commonwealth institution, apart from the participation of South Africa and the United States, and I believe I am right in saying that women as well as men will soon be admitted to it.

We would do well to remember what a number of noble Lords have reminded us of, perhaps in not sufficiently glowing terms, and that is the extraordinary degree to which universities have drawn in their belts; they have saved costs and they have not perceptibly reduced the quality of the graduates they have produced. Noble Lords have dilated on the danger of imbalance in staffing produced by the method of freezing posts. I will not go into that, although I hope it has been taken on board by noble Lords opposite, because this is a stopgap, a slightly dangerous stopgap, and it is not one which the Government can expect to be repeated or, indeed, continued indefinitely.

On the matter of standards rather than quality, I was relieved that a number of noble Lords referred to the standard of students making application to and being admitted into the universities. I do not wish to belabour the point, but I want to expand it into a further perspective because I am very concerned about the implications behind it. I think we are right in assuming that there has been a decline in some of the preparation of students before they go into universities. Paragraph 20 of the University Grants Committee's annual survey sums it up. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, read it in extenso and I will simply refer to it. It says: This includes some students with good A level grades and applies particularly in science and technology but is also found in languages and other art subjects. It says that the students have the ability and the willingness to learn but that they are not equipped to profit to the full extent from their courses. Those students can, if they are not sufficiently equipped—if they are irremedially ill-equipped—be kept out of the universities by the universities simply applying their admission procedures and keeping them out, but this is to do them perhaps a disservice which can at present be remedied.

But how do they come through the A level net with these deficiencies? When I was teaching in one of the larger maintained secondary schools, I very soon discovered that quite a large percentage of the children coming from primary school were coming not sufficiently prepared to read and write; not given the tools with which to take in their secondary education. Time spent on putting this right in the first year or two of their secondary education is never made up. Equally, if it is not spent, the progress is never made up. One wonders whether examiners in the General Certificates are not tempted in these circumstances to mark ability rather than achievement in the paper presented. When one recalls that it is, I believe, the accepted practice to arrive at the standards of grades by saying that such and such a percentage of the candidates presented shall get a pass at such and such a grade, if the intake is increased and if, as one imagines is natural, this is increased in a direction downwards on the ability scale, it follows that the level of the A level itself is being reduced.

I was both alarmed and relieved by the conclusion in paragraph 20—I have the reference wrong but this is the implication—that the universities will be forced to extend the three-year course to four years if this ground is not made up in future, if the standard continues to slip. The money is not there to do it and therefore it will mean that they will not be able to extend the course, that they will have to raise their standards of admission, and that in turn will restore what I believe to be a vital standard to our educational system.

I shall now—no doubt to your Lordships great relief—leave aside much that has been said already and merely say in conclusion that I believe that a tremendous responsibility rests not only upon the examiners in these certificates but also upon the teachers at primary level. I do not feel it is a digression to talk about primary school education in a debate on the universities, any more than it is to talk about machine tools, because the children now in primary school will go to the universities of the future, first as undergraduates and then as teachers. Many of us doubt whether the projected reorganisation of the examinations—abolishing the A levels and O levels and, as it were, running them together—will do anything but make the situation more difficult.

I share the pecuniary alarm of my noble friend Lord Eccles about declining standards and the cost of putting them right, but I believe that we should take academic comfort from the fact that the universities recognise that this wrong must be righted. It seems to me that we have perhaps not sufficiently put the polytechnics and the universities side by side this evening, though it has been done. In reflecting on the differences, I believe that it is necessary to recall that research is one of the original and principal functions of a university and that the tradition, organisation and equipment to discharge it exists there. I believe that the responsibility for it should continue to rest with the teaching members of the universities and should occupy a considerable and organised proportion of their time.

Some noble Lords have said that they do not agree that there is a difference or a separation of the ways between the mind which is brilliant in research and the mind which is brilliant in teaching. I do not altogether agree with that, because I found, when being taught by people who were brilliant in their own sphere of historical research, that their very brilliance was sometimes dazzling and that it was necessary to sit at the back and ask oneself, "What on earth is he talking about?". One had to go and look at all the books that had been referred to and any that one could see stacked beside his desk in order to find out. That meant one was doing one's own research.

I believe there is a fundamental difference in the qualities required not only in the teaching but also in the students at universities and polytechnics. The undergraduate must, because the university staff is recruited in part because of distinction in research, be equipped to dig out his own information and educational resources. If that is so, it is right and proper that greater attention should be paid to the teaching abilities of the staff in the polytechnics than is the case in the universities. While I share the alarm at the mounting tide of publications, and while I believe that time for reflection is just as valuable as time for research at universities, I suppose that, in this regimented age, if one does not publish something at the end of one's reflections it may be open to doubt what one has been reflecting upon.

If this distinction is right, I believe that it also means that the tendency of colleges of education to gravitate towards polytechnics more frequently than towards universities is right because their skills and needs are analogous. If, as I very much fear, the feeling abroad in the polytechnics is that to make this distinction between them and the universities is to compare them unfavourably with the latter, I should like them to pause before raising the cry of élitism and rushing to the barricades. It is in their power either to use their teaching specialism to enable the student in their hands to fulfill and exploit his abilities to a far greater degree than could be the case had that student gone to a university, or to set themselves up as an alternative type of university. That must, I believe, by the nature and history of events, be seen as only second best. This point has been touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and the noble Lord, Lord Energlyn. It is not the function of polytechnics to compete with universities, but to complement them. The polytechnics have an excellence of their own to contribute, and any attempt to take over the function of a university can only operate in the long run, I believe, to their disadvantage. They have a number of advantages in organisation over the universities as well when it comes to dealing with day release and sandwich course students.

I now revert briefly to research. It seems from this debate that the successful pursuit of research is a considerable factor in the maintenance of morale in the universities. It is an area in which morale is sinking because of lack of confidence in the continuation of grant support. The basic research "floor" of facilities and staffing is financed not by the research councils but by the UGC, and grant awards are made to university faculties suitably equipped by this means to carry out the research indicated. As the Advisory Board for the Research Councils indicates in paragraph 38 of its second report, allocations of grants and awards to individual universities are, to some extent, controlled by the adequacy of this "floor". The effect of a cut in a UGC allocation to a university may thus well be multiplied many times over by the refusal of a grant by a research council on the grounds that this "floor" of facilities and staffing is no longer adequate.

The noble Lord, Lord Bullock, gave very powerful mathematical evidence to this effect—that the proportion of finance coming from funding of research, the on-going expenditure on research, is very high indeed. The quality of research done depends on the quality of the researchers doing it. If we want to have the best brains, we must provide them with adequate and secure programmes to work on. This means adequate facilities and adequate finance. If we do not provide them, the standards of work done will decline, the results will decline and, eventually, but inevitably, our national economy will decline also.

We cannot remind ourselves too often that our principal natural resources in this country are our oil, our coal, and our brains; and of these three the latter are incomparably the most valuable. Her Majesty's Government would do well to consider keeping a protective ring about a section of their finance when all else is threatened, with this end in view. I do not think that the education budget as a whole can be throughout a sacred cow, but it has (to produce a horrible mixed metaphor) to carry a sacred burden with it. The decline of morale, to which I have alluded, is related directly to a decline in confidence that research work can be maintained on the present budget.

In some cases, of course, it is ill-founded, and anything that can be done to eliminate this uncertainty at no extra cost ought to be done. So where there is certainty, let it be published. In this context I am very struck by the similarity of the message carried in Sir Frederick Stewart's covering letter accompanying the second report of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils to a passage, on a similar subject, in the UGC survey. In the former I read: the planning of long-term research of the type carried out by the Research Councils and universities is made especially difficult by the uncertainty about the level of support beyond the short time ahead. In the UGC survey I read, in paragraph 12, an extremely damaging consequence of the events which loomed in 1973–74, and dominated the year under review, was the loss of an adequate planning horizon for the universities, both individually and as a system. An enterprise as large and as complex as the provision of finance for the universities of the United Kingdom simply cannot be run on an ad hoc basis. Many universities—and there is a degree, but only a degree, of inevitability in this—have learned only this week what their resources are to be in the academic year which starts next September. The end of the quinquennium is in sight. I realise that we have gone through an economic holocaust, the severity of which I believe many people do not yet appreciate; but now let us take the opportunity to do away with five-year plans, and have instead some type of rolling grant or plan which will enable adjustments to be made year by year, and give a greater degree of security to those who have to plan the future.

The need for close liaison with industry exists in both the polytechnics and the universities. In the latter, this is because of the great many research grants to which I have already alluded. On this point, there is one matter I should like to raise. My noble friend Lord Sandford referred in his eloquent opening speech to the number of graduates with what I think are rather unfortunately termed "relevant qualifications" who are "sucked down into non-productive work". With the greatest possible diffidence, and open to immediate correction, I should like to say this. The University Industry Collaboration Sub-Committee of the UGC consists of six professors. They are all people of very great academic stature, and I would not wish it to be thought that I am in any way seeking to belittle either that or their insight into the requirements of industry, or indeed the very real services they render to the Committee. But what is a little surprising is that I can find only one of their names in the current edition of the Directory of Directors.

My Lords, I repeat that I make this observation with diffidence. It is intended as no discourtesy to the members of the Sub-Committee if I wonder whether they are able to co-opt, or have co-opted, anyone else, other than the one who is already on a board of directors, who is principally engaged in the day-to-day running of an industrial enterprise. The noble Lord will sympathise with my suspicion of academics in face of the stark realities of the real world because he referred to his own shock on emerging from the ivory towers and the dreaming towers of the spires of Oxford when we were grilling him rather hotly on devolution a month or two ago. My Lords, I offer that in jest and not with any rancour. But it would seem to me that this co-option or enlargement of the Committee would be an admirable way of drawing two disparate disciplines together, and at a point where it would be beneficial to both.

My Lords, not a great deal of mention has been made in this debate—and I must draw my remarks to a conclusion—about the student body. We have wished it well. We have to provide conditions in which it can flourish. The noble Lord, Lord Alport, said that this must be done by an adequate grant. I wonder whether, in times of acute stringency, it would be worth considering having an adequate but minimal grant—and there is no prospect at the moment of having more—and offering, voluntarily and at preferential rates, a repayable loan in addition to that. That is something which I think would bear examination. It could be taken up where needed; it would not be taken up where not required, and the terms of repayment would have to be a matter for consideration. I think the idea of a total of loan finance for students is unacceptable, but I think we should look at this as an addition.

So, remembering that it is not the function of Government to control and direct us in strictly limited fields, let us remember that the universities of this country stand at the springheads of our national life. They protect its continuous origins, its powers of invention, its sense of continuity, its ability to formulate and sustain its own distinctive philosophy and its power to generate and expand its own industrial, administrative and commercial systems. Within these universities are developed the abilities and, in some cases, the wisdom of those who lead in the sciences, in the arts, in politics and in more constructive areas of our life. The fact that they are not, and cannot be, open to all without distinction does not mean that all without distinction do not, in the long term, benefit from them. They are a crucial factor in the development of the Britain that will belong to generations of our fellow countrymen long after we are all dead and gone. It is up to us to preserve the liberties, and the economy, in which they can flourish: it is up to them to protect the liberties, and especially liberties of thought and speech, which will enable us and our successors so to do.

10.30 p.m.


My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to reply to this debate even though I no longer have any Departmental responsibility for higher and further education—nor, indeed, am I the education spokesman in this House. But, of course, I did have responsibility for higher and further education between October 1974 and January of this year and, as noble Lords will know, I have spent well over 20 years lecturing and teaching in one or other of our ancient universities.

I am particularly glad that the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, put down this Motion for debate today and supported it with his characteristic vigour; because, as is evident from so much of what has been said in this debate, morale in the universities is today at a low level—a point which was noted by many noble Lords. There is unease in the universities because, as Lord Fulton put it, they feel they have lost public support. There is a great deal of frustration and bitterness in the universities about some of the Government's decisions, and all this has led to the view that the Government, or the Department of Education and Science, is anti-university. Now, my Lords, this simply is not true and I would certainly not have remained a member of this Government, or continued to serve them, if it had been true. But I fully understand how that bitterness and frustration has arisen. It is the product of decisions which the Government have taken, in the face of the economic and financial crises, about three things: university pay, quinquennial grant—and Lord Fulton called this a casualty of inflation—and decisions about the University Building Programmes. Let me take each in turn. I will start with the quinquennial grant issues.

I fully realise that the universities have had to bear severe economies over the past year or two, in capital as well as recurrent expenditure, and that the need for economy will continue. But the point I want to stress is that there is, and has been, no question of discrimination against the universities in this. All sectors of education have been affected by the current economic situation. Nor is it just this Government who looked to the universities for savings. The economies affecting the supplementation of recurrent grant and equipment grant in 1974–75 and later years, and the cut in equipment grant in 1974–75, were all imposed by the previous Administration. I say this in no Party political sense, but simply for the Record. We found it necessary to confirm these cuts on taking Office; but when their consequences could be seen more clearly we put back £19 million in recurrent grant in 1974–75. Given the economic situation, I believe our treatment of the universities was even-handed and fair.

It is sometimes assumed that the revision of grant for the last two years of the quinquennium is part of the Government economy campaign, but this is not so. Grants for the present quinquennium, for the period 1972–77, were based on an expectation of 306,000 students in the universities in 1976–77 compared with 235,000 in 1971–72. By 1974 it was clear that the increase in student numbers at the universities would not be nearly so great. In 1974–75, for example, the number of students in the universities was 13,000 less than the figure on which the original quinquennial grant settlement for that year had been based; and in 1975–76, even though student numbers rose by 12,000 compared with the year before, with 1974–75, there are 20,000 fewer students than the number envisaged in the original quinquennial grant settlement.

In these circumstances—and given this shortfall in expected student recruitment—and given, too, the country's serious economic and financial difficulties, it was inevitable that for these last two years of the quinquennium the grant should be revised downwards. So the grant for 1975–76 was £465 million, with subsequent supplementation of some £55 million for the academic salary increase dating from 1st October 1975. And in this general context I think it is worth quoting from the All-Party Report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology which was published in July 1975, and which said: In our view it would be unreasonable to accuse the Government of ungenerosity in the treatment of the universities' recurrent expenditure". And for 1976–77 the grant of £581 million has been announced, as my noble friend Lord Donaldson emphasised, when the number of students for that year could be of the order of 274,000, compared with the 306,000 which was assumed at the beginning of the quinquennium—and I think, as my noble friend Lord Donaldson said, this grant for broadly this number of students, has generally been regarded as a fair settlement in the light of all the circumstances". But fair and just and, indeed, inevitable as all this was, I recognise that it was a shock to the university system when, for the first time ever, the quinquennial settlement had to be revised downwards. But I ask you to remember, my Lords, the exceptional circumstances which prompted this action and to accept that we wish, as a Government, just as much as the universities do, to resume the settlement of the grant on a longer-term basis as soon as possible. The Department of Education and Science and the UGC are in consultation about this, though it remains to be decided just what this longer-term basis should be. Your Lordships may remember that the Report of the Expenditure Committee 1972–73 on Further and Higher Education recommended that the basic financial and planning mechanism for higher education institutions should be a rolling five-year plan. This was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Elton.

There is no doubt that the quinquennial system has served the Government and the universities well in the past. It has given the universities a firm basis for budgeting and planning over a given period of time, and it has enabled them to get on with their job of teaching and research in a mood of confidence, certainty and economy without Government interference—this is what both Government and universities want.

Unfortunately, as we all know, this attitude of confidence and certainty has been severely shaken over the past year or two under the pressure of inflation and national economic difficulty. We had to review the grant for the past two years of the quinquennium because of the shortfall in expected student numbers. So we have to recognise that considerations of prudent management of public expenditure suggest that whatever system is used for the financing of universities, it should be capable of adjustment both to internal circumstances, such as diver-gencies between planned and actual student numbers, and to external constraints, among them the necessities of the prevailing economic situation. We need to produce a situation in which universities independently can get on with their long range planning while being capable of meeting short-term adjustments which may be necessary. This is the direction in which we are hoping to move. I hope this will give the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, the assurance he was asking for at the beginning of this debate.

Let me say something now, my Lords, about the feeling in the universities that there has been discrimination against them on building programmes. This goes back to 1975–76 when the building programme announced for the universities in February of last year provided £15 million for universities and £20 million for polytechnics out of a total of £56 million in the further and higher education sector as a whole. The amount for universities was criticised at the time both absolutely and in relation to the polytechnics' share in view of the fact that the polytechnics received more than the universities. What we tried to do in making this allocation was to look forward to the 1981 targets of student numbers and their likely spread between different parts of the higher and further education system. Then, taking into account the existing stock of academic and residential places in universities and polytechnics, we made an allocation that represented a first step towards meeting those targets.

It was wrong to see in this allocation any favouring of the polytechnics at the expense of the universities; instead, it was a judgment of the extent to which each needed a lift towards a distant target. In any event, the starting point of the polytechnics is in nearly all respects, on average, much worse than that of the universities. Residential provision is an obvious case in point.

Overall, only about 10 per cent. of full-time and sandwich students in polytechnics are in institution-provided accommodation, against about 45 per cent. in universities. Other comparisons are less straightforward, but there is only one polytechnic on a fully purpose-built campus site: their teaching accommodation is in most cases quite widely scattered in buildings of very varied quality. So the decisions on the building programme have had to take into account that the polytechnics start from way behind the universities. This was not discrimination against universities but the Government's attempt to be fair over the distribution of limited resources.


My Lords, may I point out to the noble Lord that when the new universities were founded the UGC were unable to find any money whatever for residential accommodation, and therefore we had to build up very substantial funds to provide the initial residences for our students. So the impression that the universities started from a higher base omits the fact that that base was very largely provided by their own intense efforts. I think that ought to be recorded.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that point. I would certainly pay tribute to the universities in that and in many other things; but in, starting from a situation in which the polytechnics were so far behind, it was absolutely necessary for the Government to do as they did in the allocation of the very scarce resources concerned in those building programmes.


My Lords, I must apologise for the intervention, but I should like to put one question. I am sure the noble Lord realises that medicine has been exempted from the year-by-year navigation in university expansion as a whole. This applies particularly to building progammes. Can the noble Lord say a word or two about this point which I raised in my speech; that is to say, is it the aim of the Government—as I hope it is—that medical expansion should not, as it were, exercise a deflationary effect on the whole of the university system, and that it is the aim of the Government, even with stringency of resources, to see that the end resources available to the rest of the university system remain unscathed?


My Lords, I could not give the assurance in quite so categorical terms, but certainly the Government intend that the medical expansion should not have an unduly deflationary effect on the rest of the universities and the rest of the students for whom they are catering.

May I now come to the question of academic salaries. This is one of the factors which has caused perhaps the greatest bitterness in relationships that I have ever known. The starting point is simply that after the ending of the statutory controls on 26th July 1974 the universities, including the AUT, finalised a settlement for an 8 per cent. increase in salary dating from October 1974. This was finalised by the universities after the end of the compulsory incomes policy period. In the meantime, in May 1974 the Government had set up a Committee of Inquiry into the pay of non-university teachers—the Houghton Committee. When the Houghton Committee reported just before Christmas 1974, it enunciated the principle of equal level pay for equal level work between the advanced further education and the university sectors—in other words, that those who taught at equivalent levels should have equivalent salaries. When it came to settling the actual further education salary levels, it went to higher figures than the universities then had, no doubt reflecting the relativities that it thought appropriate with outside salaries generally. Therefore, the Government's acceptance of the Houghton recommendation left a very serious and virtually intractable problem so far as the university sector was concerned.

On the one hand, it was clearly unjust that for an equivalent level of work university teachers should receive less pay than those in the further education sector. On the other hand, the university teachers and universities had accepted the 8 per cent. pay settlement from October 1974. Since the Government had urged all employers and employees to abide by the Social Contract, which emphasised that there should be 12 months' interval between major increases, the Government decided that the rule must be maintained and therefore the settlement which the university teachers had accepted could not be reopened.

But since the Secretary of State had accepted the principle—as it is put in paragraph 181 of the Houghton Report—that, teachers engaged to do work similar to that done in a university should enjoy broadly similar career prospects"— he offered to negotiate a settlement with the universities, to give effect to that principle so far as the universities were concerned from October 1975, at the end of the 12 months period. This negotiation was conceived as a two-stage affair. First, there was to be negotiation to establish what increase university teachers would have been entitled to as from 1st October 1974 to implement the Houghton principle of equal level pay for equal level work. Then there was to be a separate round of negotiations to establish the cost of living increase in the period from 1st October 1974 to 1st October 1975 to be added to the figure reached in the first phase of the negotiations. But all that was, of course, subject to the relevant pay policy at the time.

The first stage of that operation was implemented so that university teachers got, with effect from 1st October 1975, the first phase of that settlement—that is, an increase of some 24 to 25 per cent.—which was the amount required to implement the principle of the Houghton Report. But instead of it being possible to add a cost of living figure to this in respect of the period October 1974 to October 1975, a figure which might have been of the order of another 26 per cent. over and above the figure of 24 to 25 per cent. which I have just mentioned, the second phase of the increase had to be limited to the £6 a week maximum in the Government's White Paper The Attack on Inflation. Even so, university teachers received in October 1975 an increase of some 30 per cent. I rehearse all this to show that once the universities and university teachers had agreed an 8 per cent. pay increase from 1st October 1974—and I stress that they did not need to enter into an agreement at that time—the Government could not in all the circumstances do any more than they did.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State recognises that university teachers have not yet achieved what they would regard as a just pay settlement in relation to the principles enunciated in the Houghton Report, and he said in another place that the general level of university salaries is a matter to which all Parties will have to return when there is a different pay situation facing the nation. When that will be, I cannot say tonight. It will depend on the form and scope for pay policy in the next round. I can certainly give no assurance of any kind that university teachers will be given exceptional treatment in October 1976, when their salaries will next be reviewed. I can give no further assurance on that front, beyond reminding the House that my right honourable friend has said that this will have to be looked at again as soon as circumstances permit. I hope that that is an assurance which the noble Lord, Lord Sandford, will accept. In his vigorous speech, the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, referred to the need for close collaboration in joint courses with other European universities. This was one of the very imaginative points—


My Lords, will my noble friend permit me to intervene? Before leaving this question of salaries, may I hear his comment on the situation of the part-time tutors?


My Lords, I have not forgotten the noble Baroness's point. I intended to come to that in a moment or two, when I have commented on a number of other points about the Open University. I want to deal now with the imaginative point put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, about the universities' pioneering links with Europe, as he put it. It is important to stress in this context that a great deal is already happening in this direction. Many of the universities in this country are already sending students abroad to European universities for one or more years of their study. Indeed, I know, for example, that the University of Bradford is sending people to European firms as part of its sandwich course placement in business courses and other courses that it is doing. Therefore a great deal is already happening. There is in existence already a vast network of exchanges, both of staff and students, between universities in this country and elsewhere in Europe.

Moreover, the education Ministers within the EEC have recently agreed on a programme to promote the greater mobility of staff and students between institutions of higher education within the Community. However, the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, raised the more specific question of the provision of joint courses between institutions in this country and in the rest of the Community. I am glad to say that here, too, a start has already been made and that arrangements are now being worked out between King's College, London, and one of the Paris universities for a joint degree course in law and also between one of our polytechnics and a similar institution in France for a joint course in business management. The Department of Education and Science propose to consult the universities and other interests concerned on the best way of promoting just the kind of development for which the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, was calling.

May I come next to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who stressed at the beginning of her speech her belief in pluralism and in the autonomy of the universities. May I endorse fundamentally that concept of the autonomy of the universities which seems to me to be absolutely crucial for the kind of society in which we live. Here I will take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who doubted whether the UGC today is an adequate buffer between the Government and the universities as a body preserving the autonomy of the universities. The noble Lord asked me a number of specific questions on this point. First, he asked me whether it is true that the Permanent Secretary and other officials of the Department of Education and Science are always present at meetings of the UGC. It is true that the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education and Science attends UGC meetings as an assessor, as do the secretaries of the Research Councils. Also it is true that officials from the Scottish and Welsh Offices attend meetings of the UGC. However, the point I wish to make is that they can be excluded from the consideration of any item of business and this depends entirely on the choice of the UGC. For example, these officials did not see any papers dealing with the planning of, or proposals for, the 1972 to 1977 quinquennium. In fact, they did not see anything about that question until the UGC's formal proposals were submitted to the Department.

The second point in this connection about which the noble Lord asked me was whether it is true that the officials of the UGC are employees of the Department of Education and Science. They are employees of the Department and they are transferred between the Department and the UGC, just as they would be transferred between any of the branches within the Department. They are transferred to and fro, in accordance with the normal requirements of the Department of Education and Science and their career considerations. There is, however, the well established convention that while officials are at the UGC they are not thought of as part of the Department of Education and Science; they are serving a different group of masters. Whether this gives the noble Lord, Lord Annan, the assurance of the total independence of the UGC that he seeks, I am not quite sure.

I should like to take up another point that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made—a point made also by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins. Both of them suggested that in many cases there would be considerable merit if there were an interval between people leaving school and going to university so that they could gain experience of life before going to university. From certain points of view that is an attractive concept, but I think we have to remember that if this became a general pattern not only would university education become more expensive but we should almost certainly be educating far fewer people at university level.

The fact of the matter is that once people have started out on a particular career and have started at age 18 on a particular job they are likely to be more reluctant to return to university because it may jeopardise their promotion prospects within their firm, and certainly the financial support arrangements will be more expensive for someone in his mid-twenties or late-twenties to come back to university than for 18-year-olds. I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Bullock, on his distinguished maiden speech. If I may presume to say so, I thought it was right for him to emphasise the important role in the universities, not just of educating young men and young women but also of pursuing knowledge.

I next come to a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Lee, when she asked about the position of the part-time tutors at the Open University. The point here is that the increases which they have received in fees for the work which they do and which is part-time is in step with increases in part-time fees which people in other institutions have been given. Therefore, there was no discrimination in that respect. With regard to the point made by the noble Baroness about the increase in course tuition fees from £25 to £40, this, as the noble Baroness pointed out, produces an additional income for the Open University of £0.9 million. At the time I regarded that as a pity, but it was necessary in all the circumstances. I think it is a pity that subsequently the Open University have not accepted what I thought was a rather imaginative proposal that I made to them at the time, that the tuition fee should be stabilised at £25 for those coming to the university with low educational qualifications, because those are the people that we want to get in, and that the fee should only be increased for those with higher educational qualifications. But the Open University thought fit to reject that particular proposal, as it is within their competence so to do.

With regard to the increase in fees reducing the number of people coming from working-class homes, again the fact of the matter is that the Open University actually exercises a quota system in this area and it limits the proportion of people it admits coming from working-class homes. There are many more people who apply to get into the Open University from working-class homes than are actually admitted. The Open University tries to get a balance of all classes and itself restricts the proportion coming from working-class homes.


My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, but did I understand him to say that the part-time tutors at all the other universities received the same remuneration as part-time tutors at the Open University?


My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, many of the part-time tutors at the Open University are full-time tutors at other universities, and they receive the same increase in fees for their part-time activities there as people have been paid for part-time activities in other universities.

I come now to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, when he stressed that it was cheaper to expand the polytechnics than the universities and that expansion should go in that direction. Given the present salary levels, I do not believe that that is necessarily true. Also I might point out that if it is true, as has been argued in this debate, that all good teachers at degree level have to do research as well, then the polytechnics have just as much right to go into the research field as have the universities. We cannot deny to the one what we see as necessary to the other. Therefore, there is an elusive myth about the cheapness of the education which the polytechnics would offer.


My Lords, is it not true to say that the staff/student ratio in polytechnics is now often much more favourable—more like six to one as compared with 10 to one in most courses in the universities?


That is certainly true, my Lords. The staff/student ratio at universities is something just over nine to one whereas in the polytechnics it is something over seven to one. I cannot quote the precise figure. But of course the staff/student ratio at the polytechnics will change over the next few years.

I come next to deal with the day release point that Lord Annan asked about specifically. He was asking what were our figures for 16-year-olds leaving school and going out into the world of work; what proportion have day release and how this compares with other countries. I think I am right in remembering that something like 20 per cent. of our 16-year-olds going out to work get day release. This compares with Western Germany, where something like 85 per cent. of those leaving school at 16 get subsequent training when they go into their occupational activities. The figure in Sweden is similar, 80 to 85 per cent., compared with our 20 per cent. I am not suggesting that this is why West German and Swedish industry is much more efficient than ours, but I cannot help feeling, being sufficiently old-fashioned, that the better the training a person has in industry, the higher his rate of productivity is likely to be. It seems to me that this could be a significant factor. This is why the Government, recognising the importance of this question, have given priority in future plans to what can be done for the 16- to 19-year-olds.

I next come to the fundamental numbers question. The noble Baroness asked whether the universities turn out the people to meet our manpower needs. Lord Annan asked where the numbers come from. He said we are told 750,000 is the target at one moment for full-time students; then we are told 640,000 by 1981, and now the target for 1981 is down to 600,000. Where do we conjure these figures from? The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, gave the clue when he pointed out that the purpose of the expansion which he recommended in his report was to be based on the principle of providing enough places for those qualified and willing to take them up—the famous Robbins principle as indeed now widely quoted. Providing enough places for those qualified and willing is the basic principle on which the planning has been done, and I agree with the noble Lord that the general quality in this great expansion has been maintained.

It seems to me that there is a fundamental fallacy in seeking to plan expansion of education on the basis of this so-called "natural demand." As Lord Annan said, there is no such thing as natural demand. We influence demand for student places by what we do with grants and what happens in a whole series of other ways. This is well recognised by the fact that some people are now recommending that there should be differential grants—for example, so far as scientists and engineers are concerned—to encourage more scientists and engineers to come forward and fill places in the universities and the polytechnics. In other words, there is no such thing as natural demand. We can influence that demand, as Lord Annan pointed out. Demand for higher education, as he said, is what you make it. I agree very broadly with that point, and what we should be asking is how and in what direction we should be seeking to influence that demand. As Lord Bowden emphasised, we must take into account the country's needs for highly trained manpower.

If we can set out in broad brush terms what the needs of the country are likely to be in the future for scientists, engineers and so on, young people in this country will be delighted, and the education system will respond accordingly. I am fortified in saying this by one of the findings of the attitude survey, which I set in motion while I was in the Department of Education and Science, to find out how people of 16 to 18 made their career choices; what it was that influenced them to decide to go on to polytechnics or universities or go into a job. If I may quote from the first draft of that report: The picture that seems to emerge so far is of serious-minded students, having an idea of the reputation of different institutions, poring over prospectuses and selecting courses largely on the basis of their reputation and their relevance to particular types of career. Universities and other institutions wanting to attract more applicants would do well to ensure that they have a high proportion of courses that are perceived as having a fairly explicit career orientation, and ensure that their prospectuses are as interesting and informative as possible. This is the sort of higher educational planning which the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, was talking about. It is the sort of broad-brush planning indicating to our young people where the national need is, and they will want to move in that direction. There is no question here of bureaucrats telling people, "You can only run this sort of course. This is what you have to go to." If we could hold out more intelligent information to young people on what are the needs, then not only will the young people respond but so too will the universities and the polytechnics.


My Lords is the noble Lord able to reveal the fact that a satisfactory formula for this sort of forecasting has been discovered by the Department?


My Lords, there is no satisfactory formula at the moment. One of the things that is happening is that a special study is under way (I hope to say more about this on a future occasion) which shows what is happening in other countries, the proportions of different sorts of manpower that they are producing alongside the proportion we are producing. Then we can ask ourselves some fundamental questions as to whether they have got it right or whether we have got it right. A great deal of work is being done on that front at the moment. The hope is that this will reflect itself into the sort of advice that can be given in the future to young people. These are early days, but I hope that something will come of that.

I want to take up a point that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, was making, when he drew attention to the "bleak way ahead", as he put it. It is important to look at the way ahead, and he put it in terms of the White Paper on Public Expenditure. This envisages an increase to something like 600,000 pupils in full-time higher education by 1981 compared with 511,000 now; in other words, we are hoping by 1981 to cater for 15 per cent. of the age group compared with 14 per cent. now. So far as the universities are concerned, the expansion here will be to about 300,000, or rather more. In this expansion there will be little, if any, scope for any increase of staff. Perhaps with 9 per cent. of the age group getting degree level education in future compared with 8 per cent. now, this will have to take place, if it takes place at all, without any noticeable increase in staff. As Lord Robbins put it, this tightening of the staff/student ratio will hardly be the end of the world. In this sense I felt it a pity that universities have not publicly come to grips with some of the issues and priorities I was putting to them in my time at the Department of Education.

There are the questions which the noble Lord, Lord James, raised when he called on the universities to examine more critically their attitude to research, the proportion of time devoted to research, the proportion of post-graduate to undergraduate work, the universities' priorities in these difficult times, the staff/student ratio, and the present balance. The universities came back in answer to this, as Lord Annan pointed out, by saying that research was fundamental, there could be no cuts there; the staff/student ratio was fundamental, and there could be no changes there. They said that everything was absolutely fundamental, and there could be no changes at all, but that there must actually be expansion. They did not at all deal with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, made about a more effective use of existing resources.

For the future, I should like to make three final points. First, I am sure that my right honourable friend and the Department will carefully consider all the points raised in this debate. Secondly, the Government are determined that the autonomy of the universities should be maintained. This is the only way in which their academic excellence, and their international reputation and repute can be maintained and still further enhanced. That must be dependent on an autonomous university sector. Thirdly, while maintaining the autonomy of our universities, we have to see how our system of further and higher education as a whole, and not just the universities, can best meet the country's needs for highly trained manpower to help solve our industrial, economic and social problems; and also to ensure that all our people have the opportunity to develop their talents to the full, so to provide a richer life not only for themselves but for the country as a whole.

11.10 p.m.


My Lords, before seeking leave to withdraw the Motion, I wish to do what I am sure all noble Lords would like me to do, and that is to mention in particular the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bullock. I do this as the mover of the Motion. He has been mentioned by many of those who have spoken, and we are greatly honoured that he should have made his maiden speech in the House on this debate. This has been a balanced debate and I do not suppose that one needs very sensitive antennae to think that it will go on. I only felt a slight dismay when the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, in giving his account of the negotiations about university salaries, stressed the point, as he put it, that the AUT was not required to make its decision in October 1974. I am just a little afraid that that might have reawakened some of the animosities he said he was anxious to assuage. But I take it that the noble Lord was in a great hurry, trying his best—and we are grateful to him—to meet the many points that have been made.

As I said, it has been a very well balanced debate. There is a kind of automatic pilot which takes this House through these difficult subjects, and one marvels at the way in which it gets its equilibrium on them. There were those who wanted to stress one mood in the universities and some another; there were those who were looking at the long-term and others at the short-term; there were balances between the teachers and those who have responsibilities within universities; there were balances between those who wanted to say things to the Government, like the noble Lord, Lord Boyle of Handsworth, and those who wanted to say things to the universities, like the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. All this has been to the good. I want to mention specially one name, in a sense the pivot of this debate, as he was bound to be—that of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins. He has had a part to play in this whole story and it has been a very remarkable one indeed. In a sense he could have pleaded that he was functus officio and that this was now somebody else's business, but he came here tonight and laid bare a great deal. Although he will not himself have to accept responsibility for them, he talked about the problems that are coming with a sensitiveness and an insight that we all greatly admired. That is all I have to say, except to ask the leave of the House to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.