HL Deb 24 June 1981 vol 421 cc1068-146

3.16 p.m.

Lord Crowther-Hunt rose to call attention to the Government's policies towards higher and further education and to the increasing difficulties in meeting our national needs; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion which stands in my name on the Order Paper, which calls attention to the Government's policies towards higher and further education and to the increasing difficulties in meeting our national needs. My main purpose today is to ask your Lordships to consider a simple and straightforward proposition. It is, quite simply, that our system of higher and further education has over the years failed to meet our national needs. In particular, it has not produced the highly-qualified manpower and womanpower we need if we as a country are to achieve the level of national prosperity that we have every right to expect as we move from the 20th to the 21st century.

In presenting this simple proposition I intend to be as politically impartial as possible, so I shall be criticising the present Government's plans for further and higher education—that is, so far as we know them—but I shall also be criticising the failure of previous Labour Governments in this field. For good measure, I shall be criticising the universities; and I shall also be criticising the polytechnics and other institutions of higher and further education in the public sector. If I have time, I shall be criticising the University Grants Committee as well: indeed, all the bodies which have been contributing over the years to our national educational malaise. So in this bout of even-handed and all-round criticism, I think it will be clear that I am not seeking to make any narrow party political points. The subject is far too important for that. At the same time, I do not intend to be entirely negative. I want to suggest a positive way ahead which I hope will commend itself to all parts of your Lordships' House.

In my even-handed criticism, the obvious starting point is the present Government's plans for higher education. Here, my concern is the reduction in the number of places in our universities and polytechnics which the Government have now embarked upon. We do not yet know the extent to which the Government intend to cut back the number of places in higher education. We shall know more by the end of this week or early next week, when the University Grants Committee will announce its student target numbers for 1983–84 for each of our universities. But that there will be a cut in numbers is certain. The Government have already announced that the universities should plan for 1983–84 on the basis of an 8½ per cent. volume cut in grant; and, when the loss of income from overseas students is taken into account as well, the University Grants Committee has calculated that for 1983–84 the total loss of income to our universities will be at least 11 per cent. compared with 1979–80, and it could be significantly more than that, perhaps even of the order of 15 per cent. Certainly, that is what many universities believe.

We shall know the full impact of all this on university student numbers in the next few days, unless the noble Baroness is kind enough, perhaps, to enlighten us a bit more this afternoon. But there is no doubt at all that the Government are expecting a cut-back in student numbers in both universities and polytechnics. When the Government unveiled these cuts in the public expenditure White Paper last April they said: It is likely"— and they are talking about the financial cut-back— to lead to some reduction in the number of students admitted to higher education with increased competition for places". That is a perfectly clear statement of policy. We shall have some clear indication of the extent of that reduction in student places when, in the next few days, we have the university figures for 1983–84; but, clearly, you cannot cut expenditure by between 11 per cent. and 15 per cent. on the universities without some cutbacks in student places—and, clearly, the Government envisage just that.

The serious nature of any cut-back in the number of places in higher education is best illustrated by reference to the size of the age groups which will be affected by the cuts, and also by reference to where we stand as far as places in higher education are concerned compared with what is happening in other countries, in our commercial rivals, in those with whom we are in economic competition. First, the size of the age group affected by the cuts. This is well known. The size of our 18-year-old age group reaches a peak in 1982–83 of 941,000. That peak will mainly hit our higher education system in 1983–84, the first year of the Government's main cut-back; so that the peak is reached at 941,000 in 1982–83, to reach our universities in 1983–84, the first year of the Government's main substantial cut-back. Throughout the rest of the 1980s, it is important to stress—because the Government often make the point that demographically there will be a substantial decrease in the size of the 18-year-old age groups in the years ahead; and there is some truth in that—the size of each 18-year-old age group will be significantly larger than all but one of the 18-year-old age groups in the 1970s. In the 1980s as a whole, there will be about 1 million more young people in the 18-year-old age groups than there were in the 1970s, which will call for a significant expansion in the provision of places in higher education and not a cut-back.

It is the more serious when we compare this state of affairs with what has been happening and what is happening in those countries which might be thought of as our main competitors in the markets of the world and in our own domestic markets as well. Here, quite simply, the fact is—and we must face it—that for years we have languished behind most of the advanced countries in the world in the provision we make for places in higher education, by which I mean degree level or the equivalent. My initial illustration of this point is with reference to a calculation which Professor Gareth Williams of Lancaster University made in the early 1970s, when our number of places in higher education was still expanding. He then pointed out that if that rate of growth (which we were achieving in the early 1970s) of those entering higher education continued, it would then take us until the early 1990s to reach the rate of enrolment in terms of percentage of age groups in higher education already achieved by the United States in 1970. In other words, if we continued our pace of expansion in the later 1970s it would have taken us until the 1990s to reach the position that the USA had already achieved in 1970. He pointed out also that it would take us until the late 1980s to reach the position that Japan, Sweden and Canada had already achieved in 1970. And all that was if our educational provision continued to expand—and that expansion did not continue in the 1970s.

In 1975, which is the latest figure for international comparisons that I have—and I hope that the noble Baroness may be able to bring it nearer up to date—the position was that in 1975 in the USA, over 42 per cent. of the relevant age group was entering some form of higher education, while our figure was about half that at 21.4 per cent.; and that 21.4 per cent. includes allowance for Open University and other adult students. In Japan in 1975, the figure was 37.1 per cent. and in Sweden 37.8 per cent.—all compared with our figure of 21.4 per cent., which includes some allowance for adult and Open University students, If we exclude the adults and Open University students, our entry more or less straight from school into courses of higher education throughout the 1970s has been fairly constant at 15 per cent. of the age group—which is very considerably lower than the United States, Japan and many other advanced countries in the world.

I am not suggesting that an expansion of places in higher education will necessarily, of itself, contribute to our national economic wellbeing. Indeed, to increase the number of places for those reading sociology, theology or classics might be thought to be a luxury that we cannot afford. It might even be considered counter-productive unless we are to rely on prayer for the solution of our economic problems. Everyone in this House will have their own views on the contribution that sociologists, theologians or classicists can make to the nation's affairs. In my own view this is where the vast expansion in higher education that followed the report of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins—whom we are delighted to see will take part in this debate, whose report was breathtaking in its scope and was produced in 1963 and which set the pattern for our expansion—was disappointing. That expansion that followed that report has not produced the dividends that we as a nation have a right to expect.

The report of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, recognised the need for an enormous expansion in the provision of places in higher education. Thanks to the enormous amount of research which his Commission undertook, both of international comparisons and about the reservoirs of talent and so on, he presented a powerful case, which subsequent Governments up till now have been unable to resist, for a large expansion in higher education based on the so-called Robbins principle (which I quote from the report) that: Courses in higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so".

It was at that point that this admirable and much-needed expansionist principle got out of hand. For the most part this principle was interpreted as meaning that not only should the Government provide places in higher education for all those qualified and willing to take them up, but that the places provided should, for the most part, be in the subjects of the students' choice; so that instead of the great expansion being concentrated on areas of science and engineering which we ought to have been aiming at, given the increasing technological age in which we live and given that the greatest national dividends are likely to be found from those pioneering at the frontiers of advanced technology, the biggest increase in this great and necessary provision has been in the area of the arts and social sciences and social studies.

For example, in 1962–63, before the Robbins expansion got under way in our universities, the output of graduates was about 50 per cent. on the arts side and about 50 per cent. on the science side. By 1978–79, when the total output from our universities had increased threefold, from 46,000 a year to 122,000 a year, the proportion of those having science and engineering degrees had fallen to 44 per cent. from the previous figure of 50 per cent., whereas those with degrees in arts and social studies had increased to 56 per cent. In any sensible expansion designed with national needs in mind those proportions should have been at the very least reversed.

The situation is even worse if one looks at the postgraduate output of our universities. In 1962–63, of those leaving our universities with higher education degrees—before the big expansion got under way—70 per cent. had further degrees in pure and applied science compared to just under 30 per cent. with higher degrees in the arts and social studies, but by 1978–79 the pure and applied science postgraduate output had fallen to 51 per cent. (from 70 per cent.) whereas the figure for arts and postgraduate PhDs and so on had risen to 47 per cent. What a scandal, and what a perversion of resources at postgraduate level when the swing has been away from the sciences and engineering to social studies and the arts—particularly when one considers some of the subjects of the research being undertaken at postgraduate level in our universities.

I pluck one, not from Oxford, but noble Lords will find something similar if they look at any university's postgraduate list. Someone in a university somewhere has been beavering away for the past three or four years on a study called "Concepts of Civility in England between 1570 and 1670". Fundamental, my Lords, to our pioneering economic and technological future!

If we were hoping that the public sector of higher education, including the polytechnics, would redress this move to the arts and social sciences, then I have to say with great regret that the overall picture there is even worse than it is in universities. In 1978–79 the polytechnics and public sector of higher education were producing twice as many graduates in the arts and social studies than in science and engineering technology. What an extraordinary state of affairs, when this sector—particularly polytechnics—was set up to redress the imbalance between the arts and sciences created by our universities! Polytechnics were set up to redress this balance—yet they are producing twice as many graduates in the arts and social studies as they are graduates in engineering, science and technology.

A short while ago I was criticising universities, but at least the balance in universities between arts and the sciences is around fifty-fifty, whereas the polytechnics, set up to pioneer public sector education in the frontiers of technology, are producing twice as many graduates in the arts and social studies as they are graduates in science, technology and engineering. I believe that is a total scandal and a misdirection of effort. It goes a long way to explaining what is wrong with British industry today, when in so many fields we are falling far behind our European and other foreign competitors. No single factor explains the problems facing British industry today in competing successfully with our partners in the Common Market. There are many views about the special problems concerning the unions, and it is also a fact that over the years the British economy has been badly run by both Labour and Conservative Governments, with their stop-go policies and their failed income policies; the whole path from the 1950s onwards is littered with failures. But one obvious difference between British and European industry is in the sort of people who are recruited as managers.

Various surveys suggest that British industrial managers are less well-educated than managers in West Germany, France and Sweden. They also indicate—which to my mind is much more important—that continental managers are much more likely than their British counterparts to have been educated in some respect which is directly applicable and relevant to their jobs—notably, in engineering and economics. In West Germany, for example, more than three- quarters of all chief executives in large companies (and I am now quoting figures from the mid-1970s) were graduates of various kinds; and among them engineers were the biggest and most important single group of managers. More than one-third of managers in medium and large companies in West Germany were graduate engineers. Germany is also remarkable for the large number of graduate managers who hold a postgraduate degree. By contrast, arts graduates play an insignificant role in German management. Their numbers are negligible, particularly in the younger age group.

There is a similar situation in France, where we see the cult of the high level technical generalist, where men trained as engineers and managers constitute the most heavily represented group at the top of French industry. They come predominantly from the grande écoles which often attract an intellectually more capable type of man than do the universities. In another survey undertaken in the mid-1970s, nine out of 10 of the sample chief executives working for the largest French firms had a grande école or university level education, with six out of 10 being engineers by training, and three out of 10 having qualified in economics or law. Here it is just worth remembering that in Europe an education in law involves a very much broader training in the problems of the modern world than is the case with the much narrower law degree taught at British universities.

All that is in sharp contrast to the situation here in Britain. In the early 1960s only one in three managers in our larger firms was actually a graduate. The most powerful educational asset for aspiring managers in Britain tended to be an arts degree, preferably from Oxbridge, topped up perhaps by some management training. Clearly a large part of the fault is in industry itself, which has tended to regard engineers and scientists as people to be employed in specialist and subordinate roles rather than as managers.

The fact is that Britain's higher educational institutions, unlike those in France, have failed to provide industry with ambitious and able generalists with qualifications which are predominantly scientific and technical. Our generalists par excellence are the Oxford classicists, eminently qualified to run ancient Greece and ancient Rome but not, with respect, for meeting the technological challenges of the 20th and 21st centuries. Our higher education system must bear a large part of the blame for the people it has produced.

It is not just the higher education system which has over the years failed to meet our national need for highly qualified, professional manpower. Our system of further education is hardly a success story either compared with those of our European competitors. I should just limit myself to one comparison. In the mid-1970s, of those of our young people who left school at the age of 16 and went straight into trade or industry only about 20 per cent. received any vocational training through day release. In West Germany, France and Sweden at the same time the comparable figures were between 80 and 90 per cent. The priority the Labour Government gave at that time to redressing this imbalance was a crash programme designed to increase our day release figure to 50 per cent. in 10 years. That is some idea of a crash programme. The most recent figures do not seem to show any improvement. The number of day release in 1979 was fewer than it had been 10 years earlier in 1969. So much for Labour's crash programme; it appears to have crashed all right.

All this against the widespread belief that up to the age of 16 in our schools the basic standards of education in core subjects crucial to successful work at any level simply do not match the quality of education received in these core subjects in French, German and Swedish schools. There we are: a higher level management force not anything like as well trained or equipped as their West German and Scandinavian counterparts; a factory floor workforce not as well qualified or trained and equipped as counterparts in France and West Germany.

So it is a generally sorry tale in which our general expenditure on further and higher education has not produced the dividends which we as a people had a right to expect. It is not that we have not spent enough on higher and further education; indeed, as a percentage of our gross national product we were in 1975 spending more on higher education at 1.2 per cent. than any other European country except the Netherlands. We were spending over twice as much as France; and the proportion of our gross national product was higher than West Germany's. It is not that we have not spent enough; it has been the failure to direct that expenditure in the most efficient ways that would best serve our national needs.

In a sense there is nothing new in what I have been saying so far. I have only been updating, broadening and supplementing the arguments of a Select Committee in another place which in 1972 drew attention to what it called the mismatch between the output of the higher education system and the needs of the Labour market. The fact that we have been falling behind other countries in recognising the extent to which we should expand our output of scientists has been a factor noted in official reports going back to the last part of the 19th century. But, my Lords, we tend to do nothing about it.

So, what should we do now? There are no simple answers. In some respects the Government's present tough—even hostile—action in regard to higher education could be a most useful stimulus to the basic re-think that is so necessary in the universities and the polytechnics. I doubt whether in the criticisms that I have been making this afternoon I am very far away from the views that the noble Baroness's ministerial colleague in the Department of Education with special responsibility for higher and further education would broadly express. Certainly some of his speeches are very similar to some of the ones that I made when I was in that department with ministerial responsibility for higher and further education.

However, I think that the pity is that in the very rapid adjustments that the Government are forcing in our higher educational system there is a danger that the longer-term developments and basic rethinking that are so necessary might be jeopardised by the short-term expedients being forced on our universities and other institutions of higher education to meet the sudden and unexpected financial crisis which has been forced upon the universities by the Government.

In my view—and I shall end on this—two crucial steps are now necessary. First, the Government should examine with the universities and the polytechnics what our longer-term higher educational needs really are. Here I trust that they will consider a fundamentally different approach from the one that has been adopted by both Governments so far. It is, in my view, bearing in mind comparisons with what is happening in other countries, for the Government to decide what proportion of our 18 year-old age groups should, in the national interest, be provided with places in higher education.

They should decide also in this context whether the national interest will best be served by setting a different balance between the arts and sciences rather than leaving that balance to be determined, as it has been so far, by student choice. Having decided those proportions and that balance—decisions which should be subject to regular review; it is not a once-and-for-all-time balance or target that they are setting—the Government should set about implementing those decisions by adjusting student grants and finance to provide the necessary inducements for people to come forward in the right areas which are going to serve the national interest.

Secondly, it seems to me high time that we had another Robbins Commission. As your Lordships may know, the Leverhulme Trust, in the absence of action by the Government, has sponsored a major inquiry into all these problems. This is an admirable thing to do but it is no substitute for a Royal Commission. I had hoped in the short time that I was in the Department of Education and Science to set up a new Robbins Commission in 1975 but it was a hope that was not attended by success.

If the Government will consider setting up a Royal Commission now it could provide a useful and invaluable guide to all those concerned with higher education in the years ahead, and those particularly concerned to ensure that the system produces the highly qualified men and women that this country needs if we are to recover from the economic malaise which has now afflicted us as a nation for so long.

My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.46 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Baroness Young)

My Lords, my speech starts by saying that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, for giving your Lordships' House an opportunity to debate this subject. Now that I have heard particularly the first three sentences of his speech, I put even more warmth into my opening sentence as it stands. We have listened to a most interesting exposition on this subject of education and national needs.

The fact that this is the second debate on educational matters in such a relatively short period is, I am sure, an indication of the importance of the subject and the expertise of many Members of your Lordships' House. Before turning to what I wish to say, may I say how much we look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, who has had so much experience in the field of education. Today I shall try and set out the Government's proposals on higher education generally, speaking particularly about the relationship between higher education and national needs. But before doing so, I should like to make some general remarks. I am very conscious of the concern and anxiety that has been expressed by many in universities and in higher education about the effects of the Government's expenditure plans, and equally about the timescale in which they are to be carried out. I hope we may use today as an opportunity to think constructively about these matters. We all accept the importance of higher education nationally, and recognise the very high standing of many of our institutions internationally. But it is necessary to look at a number of facts which include the fact that the 30 per cent. drop in the school population will very shortly begin to affect higher education and that some rationalisation of courses is inevitable if the standards of excellence are to be maintained—which we all want—and money is to be available for developments and courses.

In preparation for this debate, I re-read the debate of 18th March. It was clear from many of the speeches of some noble Lords that the prospect of reduction in expenditure in higher education had come not just as a surprise but as a shock. Yet many of the problems that higher education is facing have been identified for a long period of time and indeed were well trailed by Mrs. Williams as long ago as 1969 in her 13 points put out at a seminar to vice-chancellors.

It is as well to look at her suggestions. I quote just three. One was a more restrictive policy regarding the admission of overseas students. One was more sharing of facilities between adjacent institutions; and one was some further increase in student/staff ratios. I quote these because they are problems that have been with us for some time and need to be looked at. They are problems which become urgent in the context of falling numbers in the school population and the economic problems with which the country is confronted. It has, in fact, fallen to this Government to have the difficult task of implementing some of the policies which have been talked about for a long time.

That said, I would emphasise that, despite the Government's public expenditure policies, we are spending £11 billion on education this year (1981–82) at current prices—and that nearly one-third of this sum is for higher and further education. In the present economic climate it has been necessary to restrict the aggregate level of public expenditure to what the country can afford, and it would be neither possible nor desirable to exempt higher and further education from contributing to the planned expenditure reductions. This does not mean that higher and further education are rendered incapable of meeting national needs. And it is no bad thing if closer scrutiny helps to ensure that lower resources are used to best advantage in the national interest—that is a point which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, made well.

Traditionally, the United Kingdom has been suspicious of manpower planning, and only in certain clearly defined areas (where the public sector is very much the major employer) such as medicine, dentistry and teaching, is there any central regulation of total student numbers. In all other areas we have sought broadly to allow student demand to be the principal determinant of provision, and in an expanding system it was less necessary for any overall view to be formed of subject priorities. The forthcoming period raises the question whether a view of national priorities has to be found. The prior question may still, however, be whether or not such a national view is achievable.

Turning first to higher education, the Government welcomed the early decision of the Education, Science and Arts Select Committee in another place to turn its attention to higher education. In the evidence submitted to the committee, strong reservations were expressed about seeking to influence the higher education system through a central steerage of broad subject areas; on the other hand, there were suggestions of actions that might be appropriate in specific areas. Similarly, work by the Government's Unit of Manpower Studies has indicated the difficulty of making accurate forecasts of employer demand for types of graduate far enough ahead (that is, 5 to 7 years) for such forecasts to influence the supply. Many employers, in any case, do not have finely-tuned pre-entry requirements and are looking principally for intellectual quality.

Clearly, the relationship between higher education and employment is complex and needs further study. The Unit of Manpower Studies is continuing its work in this area and the Government have commissioned a research project from Brunel University to analyse society's different expectations of higher education. The aim is not to devise a blueprint for a manpower plan but, more modestly, to improve our understanding of how the market for graduates operates and to learn the lessons this holds for us in the allocation of the resources which will be available for higher education in the 1980s and beyond.

Before turning to specific Government initiatives in a number of fields, I should like to emphasise one further general point: the two basic functions of higher education, teaching and research, themselves enable it to contribute importantly to industrial progress and economic prosperity. Inventions and breakthroughs are what catch the eye but of equal, if not greater, impact are improved products and production methods, providing the competitive edge which wins and holds markets for our industry. Our commitment to basic research means we are ready with people at the forefront in fields which suddenly take off technologically, such as micro-electronics, biotechnology or robotics. As these new developments are taken into students' courses, industry is provided with recruits able to see and adapt the latest ideas in their fields. For example, research supported directly by the science budget has given us an acknowledged lead in some fields, such as the production of antibodies through genetic engineering and the development of the software for small systems based on microprocessors. In undergraduate teaching most, if not all, engineering courses now include some elements of microprocessor applications. In the universities this work has received specific support over the last two years from the UGC, who have earmarked money both from the recurrent and equipment grants. In addition, the Computer Board has allocated over £1.5 million to allow universities to develop distributed networks of microprocessors linked to central computers.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister announced last February that we are launching an award scheme for successful collaboration between higher education institutions and firms. By rewarding co-operative initiative, we aim to highlight what can be the mutual benefits derived from such joint efforts: for the institutions—improvements in the curriculum or in staff development; for industry—higher quality new products and lower unit costs.

The Science Research Council, which—and this is significant—has now become the Science and Engineering Council, has also been extremely active in promoting this sort of collaboration. Two years ago it introduced the Co-operative Grants Scheme, in order to encourage direct industrial involvement in academic research at an early stage. Under the scheme a firm contributes more than half of the resources required by a research project, and in return receives rights in the development work. More than 50 such projects are in progress.

A well-known innovation is the teaching company financed jointly by the Department of Industry and the SERC. Currently there are 30 of these companies, which bring academics and industrialists together to tackle problems firms are facing. Another inititative of the Science Research Council is their national co-ordinators, who work in specialist fields such as polymer engineering, robotics, and biomedical material. They are generally experienced industrialists whose task is to define, publicise and monitor a programme agreed by research groups and companies in that field. Alongside these is the SERC's experiment with regional brokers, whose function is to introduce local industries, especially again smaller firms, to the help that can be obtained in the region from research departments. So far as individual students are con cerned, I should mention the Co-operation Awards in Science and Engineering Scheme, in which the research project is proposed by industry and part of the research student's time is spent working in the company concerned. A third of all SERC-supported research students are now working on projects with industry and there are over 2,000 such awards.

The Government have undertaken major policy initiatives in the field of higher education, and an important element in the objectives of all of them is to develop a means whereby higher education can be viewed as far as possible as a whole, so that society's investment in it is deployed in the most cost-effective manner, while seeking to safeguard and develop the specific strengths of each sector, and paying particular regard to responsiveness to the needs of employers.

All concerned acknowledge the need for a new central management competence in non-university higher education. It is the Government's intention soon to issue a consultative document which will discuss the complex issues involved. This is in the course of preparation and I cannot anticipate its contents, but the Government attach major importance to combining a due degree of institutional autonomy—so that institutions are free to identify needs for themselves and to respond to them within the available resources—with a national perspective on the system so that its activity may be informed by perceptions of need from that level.

Noble Lords will also know that the department has established a number of working groups with representatives of the UGC and the local authority associations to study the complex problems involved in obtaining comparable measures of cost, student loads, staffing standards, et cetera, to allow us to obtain a more accurate view of the distribution and use of resources between the two sectors of higher education. Working groups have been asked to report on progress by the end of this academic year, and this seems to me a very important task at this present time.

As many of your Lordships will know, within the next week or so the UGC will be informing individual universities of their recurrent grant allocations for the academic year 1981–82, with provisional indications for the following two years. These allocations will, of course, be based on the reduced sums available for the universities, and in order to ensure that they are used to best effect from the point of view of national needs and the wellbeing of the universities the UGC propose making these allocations on a more selective basis than in the past and have forewarned universities of this. This will, of course, involve reductions in the range of subjects taught at some universities and recommendations for the closure or radical reductions of some departments, with the likelihood of consequent reductions in staff, academic and non-academic. At the same time they are seeking to guard against contraction of the range of subjects available in the university system as a whole. They have decided that, in order to maintain the vitality and responsiveness of the universities, resources must continue to be made available for necessary new developments, as well as new appointments in fields of special importance.

The UGC have also—and this is particularly important from the point of view of national needs—decided that particular attention must be paid to retaining capacity for research and have had consultations with the research councils to this end. Publicly funded scientific research is not, of course, confined to the universities, but they play a very important part. The committee and the Government recognise that the universities' recurrent grant and equipment grant are vital elements in our "dual support" arrangements for the financing of scientific research.

Under the "dual support" arrangements, grants are given by the research councils for specific, selected projects, while it is for the universities to provide the basic facilities or floor for research out of the current and capital grants they receive through the UGC. Another way in which research councils help university research is by providing central facilities for use by university scientists or, in some cases, through the payment of subscriptions to international research organisations which provide similar facilities. Finally, research councils provide support for postgraduate students in the sciences, at universities and polytechnics.

University research also receives support from other bodies including industry, Government departments, overseas Governments, trusts and foundations. But the research councils are a particularly important source. Thus the amount of money that the Government can give to the science budget of the Department of Education and Science, from which the research councils receive their annual grants in aid, is a very significant factor for university research.

Here I should like to remind noble Lords of what the Government's expenditure White Paper of March 1981 had to say about that channel of support. It declared that it was the Government's wish, to give protection to the support of basic science, an activity which under-pins further development and is a particular strength of the United Kingdom". It said that within the declining level of the total programme for education and science, the plans allowed for provision for science to be held broadly at the current level throughout the period up to 1983–84.

It is fully recognised that the selective support from the research councils is only part of what is needed. There has been a good deal of concern expressed of late about the working of the "dual support" arrangements for university research, particularly in view of the latest prospects for the universities; and, as is well known, these arrangements for the support of university research in the natural and social sciences are currently under review by a joint working party of the Advisory Board for the Research Councils and the University Grants Committee. This was set up last year with the remit to consider how far the arrangements make for the most effective use of existing and likely future resources. The review is continuing and a report is expected later this year.

Despite the anxieties about pressures on the universities' side of dual support, it is important to attach due weight to the plans for the science budget to which I have referred. All expenditure plans will, of course, be subject to the Government's annual review. But we have acknowledged the importance of basic research in the context of the research councils' contribution, and wish to see fundamental research of the highest quality maintained.

Having a little earlier mentioned the emotive word "redundancies", I think I ought to say a few words on that subject. Reductions in staff are, indeed, likely as a consequence of the implementation of the expenditure plans for higher education. I am only too aware that certain figures have already been given currency in the press and elsewhere. But it really is too early to say what effect these plans will have on staffing levels and to what extent reductions in staffing can be achieved by early retirement or redeployment, as opposed to compulsory redundancies. Discussions on the subject are continuing with both the UGC and the local authority associations. Until it is possible to arrive at a firm assessment of the position, it is premature to speak with any precision of requiring a specific reduction in staffing.

Your Lordships may wish to know that, as part of the universities' recurrent grant for 1981–82, the UGC will be allocating £20 million specifically for the purpose of adapting the university system to the reduced level of funding which will be available in 1982–83. Before concluding, I should like to say something about non-advanced further education. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, that this sector is vital in the contribution it can, and does, make to meeting national needs. Total student numbers are not far short of 2 million nationally and a very high proportion of these will be pursuing courses relevant to their present or future jobs.

In recognition of the contribution that this sector can make to improve the supply of trained manpower for industry and commerce, we have paid particular attention, even at a time of expenditure constraint, to the retention and indeed expansion of provision. In England, we expect overall full-time equivalent numbers to rise by something approaching 5 per cent. between 1979–80 and 1983–84, and within this the total number of full-time students and those on sandwich courses is expected to rise by nearly 15 per cent. at a time when numbers are starting to decline.

We believe, however, that these increases in student numbers should permit staff to be more efficiently deployed, and our present expenditure plans assume, as did those of the last Government, a progressive tightening of staff-student ratios, from about 9 to 1 at present to about 10 to 1 at the end of the period. This implies a need for some rationalisation of provision, and a reduction in the number of lecturers employed. With sensible planning, we are convinced that this should be consistent with a continuation of effort to extend the range and quality of opportunities offered to students.

The expenditure plans in Cmnd. 8175 are a downward revision of those in the previous public expenditure White Paper. This is because in 1979, after a long period of expansion, student numbers in non-advanced further education unexpectedly levelled out, and the expansion now planned is thus on a slightly smaller base than had hitherto been anticipated. We do not yet have full information about all the details of enrolments for 1980, but such information as we have suggests that expansion has been resumed and broadly at the level and on the pattern expected.

The increase in full-time and sandwich enrolments, which faltered in 1979, has been resumed, though not dramatically; there has been a noticeable rise in enrolments in the 16–19 age group, but the trend for older age groups is downwards. Unfortunately, there has been a sharp fall-back in part-time day release numbers, reflecting, no doubt, the effects of the recession on industry. The trend here over the years has been very mixed, but we hope and anticipate that when the recession is ended employers will once again release their employees in substantial numbers. There has been some rise in other part-time day enrolments, and last year's drop in evening-only enrolments has also been partially reversed.

These figures suggest a picture of modest but steady expansion at a difficult time. This is confirmed by all the other information we have. The report by HM inspectors on the effects of local authority expenditure policies in the financial year 1980–81 suggested that the great majority of LEAs were maintaining, if not increasing, provision in non-advanced further education, particularly for full-time vocational courses. Certainly, there have been reports of unsatisfied demand in one or two popular areas of study, mainly in those related to the service industries. But the information we have suggests that, where entry to these courses has been constrained, this has usually reflected local education authorities' best judgment about employment opportunities in the area for young people undertaking such courses. The picture in some of the more technical subject areas, particularly mechanical engineering, is admittedly less healthy. But this reflects a weakness in employer demand, rather than a lack of provision; some technical sectors, such as electrical and electronic engineering, appear to be rather healthier.

The Manpower Services Commission recently published a consultative document entitled, A New Training Initiative, which was commended by both Education and Employment Ministers as an important element in their strategy to improve the provision of vocational education and training. It calls for a greater common effort between employers, central Government and the education service to improve the opportunities of vocational preparation for young people, to provide more flexible forms of skill training, and to increase the opportunities open to adults to retrain in mid-career. The document raises many crucial issues; not least, about who should do what and who should pay for what.

Even within the very limited resources at present available both to Government and to industry, we believe it will be possible to find new ways forward. Colleges of further education have always shown themselves flexible in responding to new challenges. The needs of young people, particularly at a time of high youth unemployment, constitute a very high priority indeed for the Government, and we look forward to the development of increasing involvement of the FE system, often in partnership with the Manpower Services Commission, in meeting their needs. The lack of jobs available for young people is a challenge. Both the colleges and the MSC have proved that a great deal more can be done to educate and train less academically able school-leavers than had previously been thought possible.

The opportunities are there for young people to continue their education and training after 16 instead of going on to the dole queue. Increased staying-on rates in full-time education, and the very high take-up of opportunities under the Youth Opportunities Programme are indications that young people recognise that more education and training is a good thing to have at the present time. The resources are there within our education system to be used in a creative way, and I am sure that they will be so used, both by young people and by older people who increasingly recognise the value of further training.

I think therefore that we have much to be optimistic about in non-advanced further education. No doubt, with more resources, more could be done. But the non-advanced further education system is making a really important contribution to the meeting of national needs, and I have every confidence that it will continue to do so.

4.11 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, first may I apologise to the House, in that, because of an engagement I entered into long before I knew about this debate, it is now highly improbable that I shall be able to be here at the end of it. I should like in particular to apologise to the Minister who will be replying to the debate. I should also like to declare an interest. I notice that in this I am in good company, in that about two-thirds of the speakers this afternoon also have spent at least two-thirds of their working lives in higher and further education and have a considerable interest, if not a stake, in what happens in the higher education field. Along with the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, I share all the weaknesses of his education in that both he and I, it seems, are Oxbridge graduates out of the most pure arts of all arts subjects. Whether or not it is a rush of guilt to the head which has brought forward his speech this afternoon, I do not know.

In the light of the debate we had in March, I had expected a good deal of today's debate to be taken up with protestations against the attack on university education and the dangers that flow from the Government's curtailment of funds. Listening to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, I began to wonder whether in fact the whole theme was going to be markedly different from the discussion we had earlier this year. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, and perhaps because of or in spite of my own experience of working in a university, I am acutely aware that there are many changes which it would be beneficial to bring about inside the universities, irrespective of the economic situation. It may well be that if this is handled aright—and it is a big "if"—the need for economies at the present time could be a very useful catalyst for bringing about the kind of change which is long overdue in the universities and places of further education. It is this possibility of combining economy with genuine advance upon which I should like to concentrate this afternoon.

If this is to be done, it is vital that we should recognise what are the essential elements which make for good higher education and that we should make certain that these are preserved in the process of changes brought about as a result of economies. If we can be clear about what must not be sacrificed, then we are in a much better position to see what can be sacrificed and to devise ways in which we can make progress rather than go backwards while we are undertaking essential economies.

The first thing, surely, which has not to be sacrificed is genuine high quality research. I underline "genuine high quality". We can all join the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, in producing the most astonishing subjects which have been researched, and researched for prolonged periods. I am not going to produce my list of comic offerings, but what always irritated me most, and seemed to me to be even worse than researching into civility in the 16th century, was the young man or woman who came along and said, "I want to research; can you suggest a subject?"

Unless you are really boiled up with enthusiasm to study a subject as a research worker, you should not be doing it. I would far rather that they were researching into something which at first sight looks quite ridiculous but which they passionately believe to be important, than that they should be diverted into something which somebody else thinks is useful but about which they are fundamentally bored and to which they will make no contribution that is worth while because they are bored. The essence of research is excitement, an excitement which wears off in the pedestrian work which research always involves. But still it is the excitement which pushes you into research and gives you the hope of producing something which is really worth while. It is that kind of research, above all, which should not be cut out. I believe that academics are in a very good position, if they have the guts and the courage, to tell students, "Research is really not for you". Perhaps a more restricted supply of research grants will heighten the courage of the academics to turn down people who really ought not to be doing research.

The same thing applies to one-year postgraduate degrees. I personally, regret the fact that the three-year undergraduate course of this country, unusual in any other country, has tended to be displaced by three years followed by a further year for people who are regarded by their teachers as having promise. In the old days when this was not the custom, the teaching on the undergraduate course which led to a good degree at the end of that undergraduate course was the great challege for the academic staff.

There is undoubtedly a tendency today to treat the undergraduate course as something which is done by everybody, and to focus the attention of the academics on people who are going on to do a fourth year. I am very doubtful as to whether this has been a wise development. I wonder whether or not we should be better spending more time upon making these undergraduate courses good and being far more selective about the people whom we allow to do one-year postgraduate courses. If you restricted those courses and if you restricted the bogus research, you would already be beginning to cut down on a good deal of unnecessary expenditure. So real research comes first.

Then, of course, there has to be—I was about to say, a revival of the idea that teaching is important. When I was an undergraduate at Cambridge, we in our first years were taught by the great. And when I went to the London School of Economics we were taught by the great. One of them is in your Lordships' House today. You are lucky nowadays if you are taught by a barely articulate graduate student in your first year at university. This is all part of the decay that has gone on in dealing with undergraduate work. Instead of thinking that teaching is what matters so that you get very good results, research has become what matters because your promotion as an academic depends upon the yardage of your publications. This is a slight exaggeration. It is not true everywhere. But there is far too much truth in it. That being so, undergraduate teaching gets neglected.

If we have to make economies, let us reinstate teaching as something which is really important so that the mass of students who are turned out are well taught, of good quality and able to hold their own with their competitors. Let us not concentrate just on research work for the relatively few and upon the advancement of the academics by publications. This is what has taken over in the universities. Sadly, in too many places, not only in the academic field but in other occupations, too, the pursuit of the career of the careerist rather than the job that has to be done—the career-oriented rather than the task-oriented person—is one of the great weaknesses of our society today. But that is another story. We must look, then, for the reinstatement of genuine teaching. That, of course, means rewards for success in genuine teaching. The noble Baroness looks surprised; I mean that we should devise ways in which promotion should go to people who are good teachers and not only to people who have filled the journals with print.

Then there is the question of who should go to the universities and, related to that, what subjects they should read when they get there. Of course, we want to be selective. The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, said that we do not send sufficient people there in relation to other countries. In your Lordships' House I am sure we all know the extreme difficulty of comparing numbers in different countries because of the different standards, and so forth, of university education in different countries. There are courses in the United States of America which rank as college and university courses which would be no more than sixth-form courses in this country. That makes this kind of comparison in numbers very difficult to do. So I think it would be a great pity to cut down on people of real ability and with a real desire to study, as distinct from people who want to go to university because they do not quite know what to do when they leave school.

However, I think that in the present reorganisation we should think very much about the extent to which we want universities still to be primarily inhabited by the 18 year-old school-leaver and whether it would not be wise to find a variety of ways in which we can open up university education to people of a much older age, who are coming in at a later stage in their careers to study new subjects, perhaps take different kinds of degrees, different kinds of advanced study, or indeed of not so advanced study but study which is appropriate to them at that stage in their careers.

There will be so much change in what people do as they go through their careers. The knowledge that they will need to have will change so much and it might well be beneficial if the balance of ages inside universities were different over the next two decades from what it has been in the past. There has been some movement in that direction, but I doubt whether it has been great enough. It is tied up with all sorts of matters, such as entry requirements, grants, the ability to maintain a family once a person has reached a certain age and therefore the difficulty of breaking off to study at a later age—it is a huge area and we cannot go into it today. But surely, while we are thinking about changes in the university, change in the age structure of the students is something to which we should give a great deal of attention.

What should people be studying? The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, has gone overboard for engineering and science. No doubt we need more good engineers and scientists, and the noble Baroness the Minister spoke about plans related to the numbers required to study subjects according to the needs of the market. As I think I have said in your Lordships' House before, I come from an engineering family. I have the greatest regard for engineers and I believe that engineering has been underrated in this country. But I am totally unconvinced by the argument that British industry is in the poor position it is solely because it has not had more engineers in management.

To start with the term "engineer", the great mass of wealth-producing activity in this country is not in engineering at all and it will be less in engineering in the future. It depends how widely one interprets the term "engineer". Is it that the polytechnicien who rules in French industry is so good in industry because he has done engineering, or is it because the high standing of engineers and the polytechniciens attracts people of the greatest ability in the country and they get the status in the jobs? I am not sure that if you attracted those people and taught them something completely different and then put them into industry they would not be just as good. That may sound a rather old-fashioned point of view, but I think it is something much more complicated, much more to do with whom you attract to the jobs of industrial management rather than whether or not they have studied engineering.

There was a great deal in the Finniston Report with which I agreed, but the idea that it is engineers as such that we are needing I greatly doubt. To be personal again, a brother of mine was an engineer and became a managing director. He said that he had not used his engineering for years. What you need in a job of that kind is the ability to ask the really penetrating question, to challenge what is going on, to be able to see new opportunities and to take advantage of them; to be able to think in terms of finance, to be able to get other people to work for you, to put your ideas through them and to see that they produce results. I very much doubt whether it is training in engineering which really provides the equipment to do that kind of thing. That is the nature of a top management job.

I agree that it would be a very good thing if people knew more science and had a bigger understanding of basic engineering, but in our desire to match market needs do not let us be too simple-minded about what the requirements are going to be and fall over backwards in thinking that engineering is the answer. After all, there is one extremely famous example in this country of a very well-known company which had to be rescued from disaster, whose board comprised engineers, and the trouble was that they knew that their engineering was so good—as indeed it was—that they could not believe that with engineering of that calibre they could possibly go down the drain. But they did go down the drain.

So let us be very careful about this question of what subjects they ought to study. I am still sceptical—and it is not because I am an arts graduate, and, goodness knows! I have suffered enough from bad sociology and mad sociologists. Nobody who lived through the 'sixties at the London School of Economics can be unaware of the dangers of going overboard on the social sciences. But I still believe that there is a great deal to be said for lettingpeople study the subject that they believe is the subject for them. I believe in a world which needs, above all else, to have people who can challenge the conventions, can ask questions, can swim against the tide. That is what we need so much today. We need the arts people, we need the theology people, we need the classics people, because if they are good enough they will ask the right questions and they will not accept the easy answers. That is what we need above all else.

So the idea that somewhere in the Ministry of Education on some committee that is being set up they will carve up the student population and say, "We want to have x per cent. of students studying this subject and y per cent. studying that subject" is wrong. I believe in letting students choose, and let us make it easy for adults to come back and to do other studies later on. That is fine and I think you can build on a good foundation. I am convinced that you can learn new things when the need is there. You can adapt yourself to new challenges if you are properly trained in the first place. I should be very sorry if we were to waste a great deal of time on deciding the exact size of the labour market in the future, because one thing I am certain of is that we should get it wrong. Flexibility is far more important than trying to do sums in this way.

Then there is the question of the relations between universities and bodies outside, in particular, in industry. I believe that one of the tragedies of the post-war period has been what happened to the colleges of advanced technology. Do your Lordships remember the CATS? The colleges of advanced technology were given the opportunity to be something quite new in British education; to take the developing technology and to study it and to teach it and to develop it in close relationship to industry and the world of work. And what did they do? They strained every nerve to turn themselves into second-rate universities, third-rate universities in many cases—and, of course, in one or two distinguished cases, first-rate universities.

They should have pioneered a new way. Is it too late to say that some of these institutions should forget about being like universities, inventing university traditions, as I found some of them doing? They should try to be more like some of the institutions of higher technological education on the Continent of Europe, working very closely with industry, forgetting the links with universities, and being something new and different. And we cannot tell what they would contribute in the end if they explored the possibilities which were there. They should have close links with industry, not be dominated by industry, using industry's money but using it only in ways that they thought were appropriate academic ways. Very often nowadays industry is ahead of the teaching institutions. In many of the polytechnics the methods and machines are behind what is going on in the best industry. So they should be working very closely together indeed, and the greater the push we can give in that direction the better.

Turning to the question of money and cuts, if we are going to make these changes and to make them be both beneficial in economic terms and to the advantages of the universities, may I implore the Government not to rush the universities by making big cuts in certain places and expecting them to implement those cuts too soon? Some people will say that a regular 2½ per cent. cut over the next three or four years could be accommodated very easily, and might be cheaper than trying to make a 10 or 15 per cent. cut at the present time, by the time you pay out all the redundancy money. If you could do it gradually, you could plan the change having regard to the new kinds of institutions you want to bring about, and it would not, I suspect, be any more expensive in the end.

If I may mention one further point, we have taken it for granted that the overseas students are a battle lost. May I beg the Government once again to reconsider this? It is a nonsense to cut out the overseas students. The money they bring with them, if not at once, over the years after they go back—in terms of being customers, of sending other people over here, of the interest that is aroused in what we in this country do, of their loyalty to this country because they have been students here—it is madness to throw all this away. It is not only madness economically; it is impoverishing academically. At the London School of Economics the thing which made the school different from other institutions, which gave it its quality and its worth-whileness, above all else, was the presence of students of something like 40 different nationalities. British students deprived of that opportunity are deprived indeed.

4.34 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Lincoln

My Lords, I should like to pay my tribute to the gist, at least, of much that the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, said in his speech, and also to the things the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said in balancing that up. I should like to assure Lord Crowther-Hunt that I think my right reverend brethren on these slightly sanctified Benches do not really think that the economy is to be revived by prayer alone.

I should like to say something in this debate on a narrower front, and that has to do with the voluntary colleges, which formerly were known as the Church Colleges of Education. We have an association called the Association of Voluntary Colleges, of which I am chairman, and these represent the denominational colleges in higher education, nowadays not only involved in teacher training but also diversified in various forms of degree courses; they are Roman Catholic and Anglican and Free Church and one or two others. Nor when I speak on their behalf am I speaking on behalf of a negligible little bunch of organisations that are trying to grind some irrelevant denominational axe. The figures show that this is not so at all. The voluntary colleges provide 35 per cent. of all the teacher training public sector places. I know that the Minister would not be a friend of lame ducks but would be anxious to support success and enterprise, and I think I can say we are identified with that, in that, whereas local authority colleges have filled only some 65 per cent. of places available, the voluntary colleges have been able to fill 80 per cent. of their places. So I think I am speaking on behalf of a worthy cause.

We recognise clearly that cuts have to be made in the state of our economy at the present time, and even that cuts may need to be made in higher education along with everything else. There may be some excessive growth in higher education, though this cannot be said of the voluntary colleges, since for 35 years they have been directly funded by the Department of Education and Science and in our partnership we have seen that there was no fat to cut out. We feel that the cuts that are being made are being made unjustly as far as the voluntary colleges are concerned. There is a sad phrase that has cropped up in our current discussions with the Department of Education and Science, "the equality of misery", by which all sectors should suffer the same percentage of cutback. That would be fair if all sectors started from the same, baseline, but they do not.

This baseline is connected, of course, with staffing ratios. Dr. Rhodes Boyson in a recent reply said that the universities' staff/student ratios were 1:9.3; the polytechnics, I understand from the Times Educational Supplement, are something like 1:8.5 or 9; the Church colleges are 1:10. The cuts proposed are bound to fall on salaries and therefore this affects this proportion. There is nothing else to cut, because we have no fat. The staff/student ratios as a result of the cuts would rise to 1:12.5. That, set against those other figures, we do not believe is equality of misery. But that is not all there is to it, because to work on that level may be possible in an institution the size of a university or polytechnic. But the voluntary colleges are a very different size; they are very much smaller on the whole. It is impossible to maintain the quality of a course if you remove one fifth of the specialist expertise from the staff that is necessary to maintain the quality of the course it is teaching.

Then certain things follow, because voluntary colleges are not their own validating bodies; they are validated by the CNAA or by universities, and it therefore becomes justifiable for a validating body to insist that a course be discontinued when its academic support is so eroded. So the loss of two staff members in a voluntary college can quickly result in the closure of the whole department and threaten the survival of the entire degree provision of the college concerned. If we are talking of equality of misery, we have to recognise that no university is expecting to close because of cuts, but it is not certain that a significant proportion of the voluntary colleges may not find themselves under immediate threat of closure if the cuts are applied as is being proposed. That hardly looks like equality of misery.

But the level of misery is not just a matter of the relevant proportion of what is cut away but also a matter of the consequences of the cuts. Only quality of consequence can be accepted as a true measure of fairhandedness. We need to remember that if a college closed as a result of these cuts, unlike a public sector institution, which might have possibilities of being put into mothballs and turn to some other course for the time being, that is not possible for the voluntary colleges, for each is a separate legal and financial entity and either stands as a voluntary college or not. Such a college cannot be brought back into circulation at the end of a decade if the economy picks up and the need for teacher training places is increased, as we expect it to be. So in judging equality of consequence we need to look at the long-term as well as the short-term consequences, including the preservation of the potential for re-expansion when the time comes.

Even if actual closures are avoided, we must not ignore the impact of the current cuts on the developing character of the voluntary colleges. They have been responding to the recommendations of Mrs. Thatcher's 1972 White Paper entitled Education: a Framework for Expansion. The voluntary colleges as a result of that very willingly set about changing from being mono-technics in teacher training to diversified colleges of higher education with degree courses in a whole variety of disciplines and an even wider variety of other courses meeting different local needs, while still maintaining a significant proportion of teacher training places. Most colleges are entering the final stages of this diversification in 1980, 1981 and 1982, and are likely now as a result of the cuts proposed to find themselves prevented from completing their carefully planned strategies for change and will probably cancel some new courses only recently substituted for a certain amount of their teacher training provision. That will be a direct consequence of the proposed cuts.

There are further consequences likely from the proposed time-scale which is being laid down. The proposed time-scale of the cuts means that colleges are likely to be asked to decide which courses to cut back—that is to say which staff to make redundant—before they have had a chance to engage in the necessary period of consultation and planning which might save them from making hasty and damaging decisions with regard to the general shape of their future development.

Dr. Rhodes Boyson spoke to us at the annual conference of our association in November. He assured us, and he assured the nation at large in a press release as regards his speech, that: The Government set great store by the preservation of a flourishing voluntary college presence in higher education". One must therefore ask: are the Government aware of the damage being done by their policy of so-called "equality of misery" interpreted in the simplistic terms of "cuts of equal proportions" irrespective of the different base lines on which those proportions are calculated and irrespective of the widely different consequences which will flow from those cuts sector by sector? The period 1972 to 1981 has seen the voluntary colleges reduced by Government action from 27 to 11. Do the Government wish to see them reduced even further to a point where maybe they will, in effect, have been squeezed out of the system altogether? If so, how does that tie up with what Dr Rhodes Boyson said in his statement to us?

4.43 p.m.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, in thanking my noble friend, as I am sure many of your Lordships will, for introducing this subject in your Lordships' House this afternoon—a debate on higher and further education in a week which may well be crucial in many respects—I, too, like the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, must apologise to your Lordships as I shall be unable to stay for the whole debate because of obligations owed to my university. If I speak about universities it is not because I have failed to recognise the equal importance of further education—I know that others of my noble friends will be speaking on that subject—but because my experience lies in teaching and research throughout my life in the universities.

I agree with noble Lords who have suggested or said that this is not an occasion for attacking the Government's public expenditure cuts. However, there are three questions which one is entitled to put to the Government. The first two are short-term and long-term questions. The short-term question is: why is it that universities, and universities alone, have been singled out and subjected to a double cut in public expenditure and their income? The second question is: what is the Government's envisaged pattern for higher and further education in 1985 if the present policies are pursued? I choose that date because we are just beginning to enter the period when the undergraduates who will be the graduates of 1985 are coming through. What is the pattern of their policy, or is there none?—because there appears to be very little.

As far as the double cut is concerned, it is true that the universities have borne their share, some say a harsh share, but at least a share, of the public expenditure cuts. On top of that comes the doubling up because of the drastic fall in income which is now beginning to appear due to the new policy on overseas students' fees. The chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, Sir Alex Merrison, on 12th March this year said: We have been given not the slightest explanation of this quite extraordinary decision by the Government". He summed up the feeling of the vice-chancellors by saying the Government's decision to cut the universities by so much between now and 1983–84 was "profoundly misguided". I believe that that is a view shared not only in university circles but in many other circles as well.

Of course the figure is very hard to calculate partly because of the overseas student problem. The University Grants Committee puts it at something like 11 per cent., the vice-chancellors and principals calculate it at 12½ per cent. or possibly even towards 15 per cent. The Association of University Teachers calculate it as an 18 per cent. cut between now and 1983–84. Whichever of those is correct—and it is somewhere in that ball park—it is surely right, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, suggested, that no responsible commentator believes that you can run down the university system in the next two years by any rate of that kind and retain—and this is the point—the type of university system that we have at present. Something will be left, but it will be qualitatively changed. That is why I ask: what is the Government's pattern? All responsible commentators suggest 2 per cent. a year, and some 2½ per cent. a year. There is argument around the fringes. No one believes that you can reduce at that rate and retain the kind of universities that we have at present, perhaps outside Oxford and Cambridge, where private endowment might help.

It is not true, as the right honourable gentleman the Under-Secretary of State sometimes suggests, that universities wish to be immune from the society in which they live. He made that suggestion on television about a week ago. As one who has always argued for the social responsibility of universities and who has not always been very popular for arguing that in common rooms in universities, I believe that universities must be responsible to society, and I also believe that there is a balance to be retained between social responsibility and autonomous and free scholarship and teaching and research. That is a prize which, if lost, will make the social responsibility much less worth having.

This Government began their higher educational policy with the foreign student fees fiasco. The Government decided to withdraw a "subsidy". The majority of those who calculated the issue said that there was no "subsidy". The Government insisted that there was a "subsidy". I still believe that they were wrong. They then set about it by imposing a highly unfair cut by simply saying to universities, "The proportion of foreign students that you have is the proportion by which your grant will be cut". What kind of planning is that? They then said, "Go out into the world and find students, find someone, somehow, somewhere who can pay the fees". Which fees?—the fees which are set by University Grants Committee advice, of course emanating from the Government, a point to which I wish to return. That fee is now £2,500. We know something of the figures. The falling off in 1980–81 appears to have been something like 7 per cent. as regards foreign students. The applications for undergraduate places next year are falling off by 35 per cent. The overall fall-off appears to be likely to be 20 per cent.

I come now to my third question to the noble Baroness, Lady Young. When she spoke in the debate on 12th December 1979 on this subject, she said at col. 1346: The Government will keep a close watch on developments. The policy on full cost fees will be looked at when the position on enrolments is clear". A little later she said: We do not believe that we shall have a clear picture until we are well into the 1980–81 academic year". We are now well into the 1980–81 academic year. My third question for the Government is: What kind of review of this matter have they held, what kind of figures do they have, and what kind of solution are they coming up with?—because I hope that the noble Baroness will keep to the suggestion that the review should take place, and this is the right time for us to know the answers.

But of course it is not just a question of money. Even by this stage the financial policies of the Government have already begun to destroy something which is very precious in our universities, and that, of course, is contact with students and universities overseas and, above all, in the Commonwealth. How the right honourable Lady will be able to look the Prime Ministers of the Commonwealth in the face when she meets them in Melbourne—many of them being students and graduates of our universities and, indeed, in one or two cases, teachers—I do not know. The savage way in which our links with the Commonwealth in higher education are being severed is a disgrace to Government.

I should like to give a personal example. I came from Cambridge to the London School of Economics and found, I hasten to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, a one-year postgraduate course which happened to suit students from Canada and Nigeria in a particular way. Before and since then there was and has been a flow of students. They have enriched our university system and I like to think that we have helped in their education and done something for their university system. But this year they are almost absent. There is one student from Canada who tells me that no more will come because they cannot afford it. He said, "I happen to be rich and can afford £2,500 a year tuitition fees, but how do you think others can afford it?" There are fewer from Africa. Gradually the Commonwealth connection of our universities will be broken unless this Government relent in their absurd policy on overseas students' fees.

But now the Government have moved on to the next stage. Universities are not now to receive their share of whatever grant is going by way of broad guidelines through which they can plan their own retrenchment and within which they can plan whatever innovation they think to be right. There lies the difficulty of the balance between university autonomy and social responsibility: how broad should the guidelines be and how much should be left to each university? But that problem now appears to be being swept aside because over the last year the chairman of the University Grants Committee has made it clear that—and I quote what he said on 23rd January 1980– The University Grants Committee will have to be rather more dirigiste than it has been in the past". Then in October 1980 he said: there is going to be in the future a somewhat greater degree of direct intervention by the UGC in the affairs of individual universities than has been customary or necessary in the past". We noted these smoke signals, as it were; that more was going to be done by the UGC and, of course, as the noble Baroness suggested, the letter from them is still in the post. But, if, when the letter arrives, it does what everyone says it will do, and sets a target—indeed, it will set a target, and universities are to be penalised financially if they overshoot the target (that the chairman of the UGC has, of course, said)—and if that target is fixed by relation to exact subjects, departments or faculties, a border will have been crossed.

If you control university undergraduate admission by subject, by faculty and by department, you control everything; you control staff, you control research, you control the shape of the library, and you control development. My fear is that because of the speed at which the Government are going and are making the University Grants Committee go, the area of autonomy in the universities will be too small to save much from the wreckage. That may sound strange because the noble Baroness no doubt is saying to us today that the Government believe, as does my noble friend, in planning in higher education. I happen to believe in planning too, but we must plan so as to get a positive result. I wish to make it absolutely clear that I have no doubt that Dr. Parkes, the chairman of the UGC, and his 20 colleagues on the committee are what they say they are; namely, staunch defenders of university autonomy and research"; that is to say, that is their belief and that is their wish. But that is not the point. When you are pushed into cobbling up a plan as rapidly as this Government are pushing all the bodies involved in higher education, the question is, where do you turn? You turn to your secretariat. That is inevitable. Anyone who has ever served on a committee which has a deadline that is too close knows very well the importance of the secretariat.

Of course, that means the Department of Education and Science. It is quite clear that the department is playing a much more important role in determining university structures than ever before. It cannot be the University Grants Committee. It is not a statutory body; it is advisory and is appointed by the Secretary of State. It has 20 members, who are academics, and it certainly could not engage in the massive and complex exercise of manpower planning, and the wholesale restructuring of the national education system in universities which the present demands of the Government entail.

I ask the noble Baroness, as a fourth question—and even the department has those resources—will she tell us when we can see the material? When the Robbins Report came out, we could read all the material, make a judgment and discuss it. Here we are, on the Government's plans, about to change the nature of the university system; please may we see the material upon which this plan is based? I suspect that that means—although I may be wrong—hearing what the Department of Education and Science has to say about the matter rather more than we do at the moment. I put it this way without any wish to attack the officials of the Department of Education and Science, who have a very difficult job to perform. I simply say that, if one reads their evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on 16th January 1980, one sees that it was made abundantly clear by the officials—who spoke quite candidly about their relationship with the University Grants Committee and the way in which it works in universities—that, of course, they have day-to-day contact with the UGC, as they should have; and that, of course, they are the powerhouse—the only powerhouse—from which the UGC can derive material and policy options. It is the policy options produced for a committee which are all-important.

My noble friend has already spoken about our position compared with that of other countries. I move to my last two points. It is necessary to say that, after all, the Government are making this change and imposing this cut on a higher educational system which, in terms of the proportion of the age group, is very small compared with most other comparable countries. It is, of course, said, "Oh well, you must remember that the hundreds of thousands of students in other countries have a big drop-out rate in the first two years". That is true, although it is a point that the Government always conveniently forget when they are negotiating and calculating comparative staff/student ratios. If you take out the drop-out rate and look overall at some foreign universities, you do not get such a different staff/student ratio. But here it is all concentrated into the three-year period of the first degree. Even after that if you adjust, we are still very low in the league. I resist the suggestion of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that we should look ahead on the basis that there will be a 30 per cent. drop in school-leavers. That is what I wrote down that she had said; I hope it was something of that kind.

Baroness Young

My Lords, not in school-leavers, but in the total school population.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, surely neither leavers nor population is the statistic to seek. The important point is that, although the number of 18 year-olds has increased to a certain point, by 1990 the number of 18 year-olds will be the same as it was in 1978. It appears then not to be going down very much. It may be just over 830,000.

The participation rate of course among that group for university and higher and further education will also surely go up. The participation rate has gone up from 7.7 per cent. over the last 6 or 7 years, and surely it can be expected to go up again. More girls will go to universities, disadvantaged groups are at last breaking through in certain numbers, and surely they can be expected to increase in percentage terms. So that the demand for higher education is not going to fall.

To put it another way round, the Government really must understand that parents with children who will be 18 in the next few years up to 1985, on their policies now must understand that the policies will destroy for their children the chance of a university place, which on present qualifications they would be entitled to have. What is more, for many who do qualify the choice of subject will be increasingly restricted. There will be universities without courses in this or that; we do not quite know which they are yet. It may sound extravagant, but the Association of University Teachers has calculated—the noble Baroness has perhaps seen it—that the number of young people who on that basis will be deprived of a university education in the 1983–84 session will be something in the nature of 26,000. If the Government do not accept that figure, what figure do they have, because they must have one? There is a group of young people, who on present qualifications would go to universities in 1983–84, and who will not go there on Government plans. The AUT says that it is 26,000. If it is not 26,000, how many is it?

Then, of course, university students need university staff. Of course I re-declare my interest because I am a member of university staff. As I have said, I believe that they should have a certain freedom and autonomy in teaching and research. But the noble Baroness, in the same debate on 12th December 1979, said in response to the argument about costs at col. 1347: Our costs are high because our standards are high and because of the individual attention given to students". This was part of her argument that British universities for foreign students were "a very good buy", as she put it, in terms of the high fees to be charged.

But, when a university teacher, and especially a young university teacher, faces the possibility or even the likelihood of redundancy, a new situation arises. In other words, I am suggesting to the Government that there is a very difficult and carefully to be defined relationship between tenure and university freedom and university scholarship. Tenure was not just invented because they happened to think of it in Oxford or Cambridge. Tenure has been shown to be in some ways a necessary part of free universities. If you look at other countries where universities are not free you do not find a system of tenure as we know it.

That is why many people in the universities—and let us be quite candid about this—are extremely anxious about the attitude of the right honourable gentleman the Under-Secretary of State. Let me take two examples. On 16th June in the Rouse of Commons at col. 853, he said: The matter of tenure will have to be looked at". And he said: If one compares Britain with other countries, it appears that tenure is given more easily and at a lower level here than almost anywhere else in the world". I say to the noble Baroness—I am sorry that, as it were, she has to live with that sentence of her right honourable friend—that if that represents a considered statement of the Government can we please see the evidence? If you come and tell some of our young lecturers that tenure is given too easily and at too low a level, you will get a fairly short and curt response. It does not sit easily with the noble Baroness's belief that there are certain standards of excellence in most British universities.

It really is too convenient for Dr. Rhodes Boyson to discover that our high university standards have now always rested upon tenure which is too easily given. That is really a convenience for the Government too difficult to believe. It is worse than that because at col. 854 he said: People will not have vast sympathy, when they see the problems of unemployment elsewhere and find that these people have tenure of 40 years". If that kind of populist vulgarisation of the discussion about social responsibility and tenure is going to be part of the Government's approach to the Universities, then there is not much progress to be made.

If I may put in one sentence on what I wish to take upon my noble friend's suggestion, what is surely required is a body where the universities, the University Grants Committee and the Government, sit around the table, and I would add with the Association of University Teachers and, I would hope, the trade unions involved in the further education system. In this period of crisis if it is true that there is no overall plan (and it looks very much like that), then, rather than simply bulldoze ahead with a scheme which everyone in higher education at least is saying either cannot work or will smash the character of the system, surely the Government must go in for what they have not gone in for since 1979, and that is real consultation and joint planning in the higher educational system.

A threat to the tenure system of the kind which comes from the right honourable gentleman—who seems to think that unemployment is rather like money in Francis Bacon's phrase; like muck, it is not good except it be spread, and be spread into the university system as soon as possible—I cannot believe really represents the Government's approach. The problem of tenure in the days to come must of course be discussed. Nothing is sacrosanct. But the idea that it is something that you can just sweep aside as being too easily given in British universities is a point from which to begin the debate that cannot give us any kind of positive outcome.

The rate of contraction of the universities is perhaps the most important matter with which I conclude. What will come out of it? First, Oxford and Cambridge will suffer, but not too much. I do not complain about that, against Oxford and Cambridge, especially Cambridge because I come from there. I do not complain about it, but I say to the Government that it is yet another example of how the rich do well and the rest do not do so very well in Government policies, whether thought of or not as the conclusion. But for the rest of the university system, for the vast bulk of it, there is going to be a lopping off of branches of learning, there is going to be a rapid contraction, which is likely to change the very nature of it.

If I may say this, as the noble Lord is still with us, I am not one who thinks that we should reopen the Robbins debate. The Robbins debate was one that young people are entitled to higher or further education as of right when the schools—if the Government will allow them to—produce them at the sort of level where their talents can make use of anything that is offered.

The right of choice is inherent, too, within certain limits. Part of the problem at the moment is because some of those attacking the universities did not like the Robbins Report, and this is in effect by some people being fought as a rearguard action against the report of the noble Lord, and that element should be taken out. The Government should reaffirm their belief in universities, which are there as of right, so far as money is available, and then should take back their policy on foreign student fees, and then should engage in a dialogue which would allow the universities to meet, which I believe they can, more of the needs of the nation than they do now. But that they can only do with a Government which sees consensus and co-operation as the way ahead rather than the sort of attack which this policy appears to be, and in the words of some of Her Majesty's Ministers certainly is, which is a most unfortunate way to approach the next three years.

5.10 p.m.

Baroness Platt of Writtle

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, for having raised the question of higher and further education and for enabling me to make my maiden speech on a subject which is very close to my heart. A week ago, as I stood at the Table listening to my Writ of Summons being read out, it referred to "arduous and urgent affairs". I was struck that afternoon by the historic nature of the ceremony and how every generation regards its affairs as the most arduous and urgent, and we are no exception.

This Government are facing squarely the difficulties of the day, recognising that their first duty is to overcome inflation, the enemy of us all. One of the prongs of that policy is to reduce public expenditure, and naturally, as my noble friend Lady Young said—and I was grateful to her for her welcome to me—higher and further education will have to play their part in that economy, which is helped by the fact that the number of 18-year-olds will fall over the next few years. No one pretends that it will be an easy matter; the Government will have to take a lead. But I am encouraged to think that it will be a matter, as it always has been, of co-operation between central and local government. Education has been referred to as a national service locally administered, and I hope the Government will take advantage of all the experience in education that already exists in the various organisations.

As I get older, I put less and less faith in the idea of reorganisation and new structures. It seems that they solve some problems, create others and cost money. So I hope that, whatever happens in terms of higher and further education, we shall build on what we have and rely on evolution, which is after all a natural process and therefore one in which I think we can put faith. Talking of evolution, one looks back at the early years of further education, and one of my especial heroes is Churchward, a former chief engineer of the Great Western Railway. If one visits the railway museum in Swindon, one discovers that he was the first chairman of the further education committee in that town. He was very keen to see apprentices well educated and he gave his retirement presents to be used as prizes for their achievements.

His further education would have taken place to the hiss of gaslight in quite inadequate accommodation. Were he able to look at our modern and well-equipped technical colleges, I am sure his eyes would widen with appreciation and happiness. And of course, most important in our colleges is the staff, who often have industrial and commercial backgrounds, which means that the education they offer is very much more relevant to the vocations that the young people being taught will take up; and this for me is one of the great strengths of further education.

We in local authorities put local people in industry and commerce on the governing bodies of our colleges and on the advisory committees which help with the different subjects. We are deeply grateful to them for the time they give and their encouragement to further education, and that is vital for the students, especially those on day and block release, which seems to me to be a very good way of getting an education. Very often industrialists say to me that young people who come to them with little ambition, who were not very satisfied with their schooling and who looked forward without a great deal of hope, found when they got into the system that they related what they were learning in the college to what they were doing in their job and then set their sights very much higher; and often the craftsman could become a technician, which he thought would never happen. That is excellent for the students and for the industries they serve.

When the present Prime Minister was Secretary of State for Education and Science she set up the Technician Education Council, of which I was privileged to be a founder member. In any new organisation there are ups and downs, but this is now well on the road, with over 200,000 students on its courses. I was interested today to discover some figures about those courses. In round figures, about 1,000 of them are full-time; 250, sandwich; 1,000, block release; and 5,000, part-time, day and evening. It is clear, therefore, that the large majority of those courses are on a part-time basis and that the young people concerned are seeing the relevance of what they are learning to what they are doing at work.

The CNAA and the polys have developed the idea of sandwich courses and degrees. Noble Lords will understand that I, as an engineer, am particularly keen to see young people basing their early education and training on the twin columns of their academic knowledge and practical experience. Neither is sufficient on its own, and they need help to weld together those two important parts of their knowledge and practical experience. Mr. Norman St. John-Stevas, when Secretary of State for Education, on one occasion referred to the universities as the jewels in the crown of our education system, and that may be so. But if it is so, then for me further education is the industrial diamond at the cutting edge. We not only need technologists, but we need—and every technologist will admit to this—more technicians and craftsmen, and further education has a long-term reputation of being responsive to the needs of the local community.

I am proud of our further education system in this country. It normally consists of colleges with a wide variety of courses, subjects and students, and all are enriched by each other's presence. It has a history of innovation and entrepreneurial drive to respond to new needs, with its emphasis on the importance of those needs being local. A surprising statistic that came to my knowledge recently was that even in the polytechnics, the regional input of students was very high. If one takes the 1978–79 students—leaving out overseas students and considering just the home students—overall, 52 per cent. of sandwich and full-time students came from their home region to polytechnics. Even more surprisingly, in London that figure rises to about 70 per cent. That shows how important, even at the level of polytechnics, local involvement is.

There will need in this difficult time to be strong national guidance on where higher and further education needs to go, but I hope the tradition will continue of national and local government working together. There is a need for regional input and there is a well-established system of regional advisory councils; they, again, may need evolution, but they have experience and trust from the local education authorities and from industry, commerce and the universities in their regions. Together with governors of colleges and the staffs of colleges and polytechnics who have knowledge of the local situation, it seems to me that we can look for co-operation to see that the further and higher education system develops.

We need to rationalise and husband the very precious resources of equipment and accommodation and, above all, of well-qualified staff, and we need to co-operate to see that that is done. We need far more co-operation than there ever has been across the binary line to avoid duplication in maintained institutions and the universities. Industrialists I meet on our college governing bodies emphasise to me the need for well-qualified young people in our long-hoped-for industrial recovery. We shall have to keep their needs at the forefront of our minds, as well as the needs of our local industry and commerce.

During the war when I worked in an aircraft factory, every now and again in the workers' canteen we used to have some form of entertainment. The cheerleader would ask from the stage, "Are we downhearted?", and we would always reply, "No!". It seems to me that it is in that spirit that we should look ahead. Times are not as difficult now as they were then, and if we use our common sense and the information and experience that we have to rationalise and economise, then the institutions of higher and further education can still look forward with hope to a new stage in their evolution.

5.21 p.m.

Lord Flowers

My Lords, I follow the noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle, with very great pleasure, and I am delighted to be the first to congratulate her on her elegant, stimulating, and authoritative maiden speech. The experience that she brings to us as chairman of the Essex County Council Education Committee will, I am sure, be extremely valuable to us. I am sure, too, that I speak for the whole House when I say how much we look forward to hearing her again, and frequently, especially since she is I think the first woman engineer to sit in this House. May there be many more in future!

I welcome the opportunity that the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, has again given us to discuss higher education, and I think that we must all accept many of the strictures with which he flagellated most of us, including his own Government, and therefore presumably himself. However, I would ask him to bear in mind that in the 'sixties and early' seventies there was on the part of school-leavers a marked swing against science in most industrialised countries, and in this country at least it coincided with the view, quite mistaken in my opinion, that industry did not any longer want to employ postgraduates, or at any rate not in great numbers. I shall not now go into the reasons for that, but I believe that it accounts for some of the distortions of which the noble Lord complains.

School-leavers are very conscious of eventual job opportunities, especially in science and engineering, and I am glad to say that there is now a swing back to science, and so we can hope for a better balance in future. Of course, we hope that in our universities there will be many courses better adapted to employment needs in industry, especially for engineers.

I wish to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that though we are of course grateful that the science vote—that is to say, the combined budgets of the research councils—has been maintained, as the noble Baroness has said the financing of research in universities depends upon the principle of dual funding, whereby the University Grants Committee provides the essential base upon which the research councils can build. The UGC side of that arrangement is now under very serious strain following recent Government policies, and this means that it is increasingly difficult for the research councils to do their proper work, despite the level of the science vote.

In the debate that we had on 17th March I tried to convince your Lordships that the rate of contraction of the university sector of education apparently being sought by the Government was impracticable because its cost would simply be too great; it was too fast to achieve cheaply. Well, we shall see next week. Therefore, I shall today say no more about the financial aspects of the cuts, merely hoping that there will be an opportunity in the autumn to debate what will then be a fact rather than a supposition. Today I want to talk about more qualitative things.

It is a commonplace that universities are centres of teaching and research. Through research we attempt to discover new knowledge about the universe and about the beings who inhabit it, and with others we take part in trying to apply the results of research for the betterment of mankind. Through teaching we try to pass on our established knowledge to later generations. Both processes are inextricably linked, even though some of us might pay more attention to the one rather than to the other.

But, above all, universities are centres of scholarship. By that I mean that our prime job is to establish what it is that is the case, to assess and to resolve the inevitable conflicts that are the immediate results of research, and thereby continually to adjust the framework of knowledge that we and others teach. Scholarship is a slow, painstaking, and essentially conservative business, only very rarely lit by a flash of revolutionary insight, and even that is made possible only by careful illumination of all the more conservative possibilities. Of course, I mean conservative with a small "c"; and if from this Bench I comment that it is also very much a social phenomenon, and a highly democratic one at that, those words also must be rendered in the lower case.

Scholarship, whether in the sciences or in the humanities, is the process of trying better to understand one's own subject, how it impinges upon other subjects, how it may be used to benefit the society in which we live, and how sometimes it may endanger that society. It is, or it should be, a matter of dispassionate intellectual integrity. It depends upon confidence in oneself, in one's colleagues, whether teachers or students, in the institutions in which we work and upon which we depend, and on the regard in which we are held by Governments, Parliaments, and the societies which we seek to serve. It is all too easily undermined by rapid changes in any of those respects.

As we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, in the mid-'sixties, following the Robbins Report, we saw a rapid expansion of the university sector. It was not unique to this country; similar, or greater, expansions took place elsewhere. It was a response everywhere to the demands of young people that the universities should be open to everyone who wished to attend them. It was accompanied by the parallel expansion of the polytechnics and other institutions in the public sector, many of which began forthwith to ape the universities by concentrating on traditional degree courses rather than on the more vocational courses that they were intended to offer.

It was not that the objective of expansion was wrong. I, for one, believe that it is a highly desirable objective that everyone who can benefit from higher education should be able to do so, irrespective of his wealth. Rather it was that the rate of expansion was too fast. It was not consistent with the need everywhere to uphold the quality of scholarship. It could be met only by a certain lowering of standards. People who should never have been made professors were made professors. Subjects which had the most tenuous basis in scholarship were offered. Students who had little preparation or vocation for scholarly activity were admitted. Some of them, and some of their teachers, too, became disaffected; and although in this country they were a very small minority, by their behaviour they brought to the universities and to the polytechnics a bad image.

That image engendered a certain lack of confidence, which persists to this day among those who know little of what the universities have actually achieved. For let there he no doubt, we have achieved much. Between us we still contribute to research and to scholarship more than do the universities of most other countries. We have learnt how to teach students in larger numbers and from a more varied background. Our research contract income shows that we have grown much closer to industry than we once were. We continue to win Nobel Prizes on a scale out of proportion to our size. However it is measured, our productivity has increased greatly.

Nevertheless, the great expansion has left us with a two-fold legacy. There is, first, the legacy of mediocrity. It should not be exaggerated, but it is there. It will take years of careful management to overcome because, in keeping with the universities of most industrialised countries, our age structure has been distorted by the expansion. There is a great peak of tenured 40-year-olds among our academic staff. Normal retirements may therefore be insufficient; and it will be very difficult in a contracting régime to replace them with active young staff (upon whom we depend almost entirely for our research potential in the last analysis) although there would be many such people available and willing if there were places for them. We must not let them think that they are not wanted. That is the opposite side of the tenure coin.

Second, there is the confusion of purpose whereby, throughout the educational system, emphasis has been placed upon scholarly education almost to the exclusion of vocational training, in the schools as well as in tertiary education. In this we differ considerably from many other countries; from Germany, for instance, where much more emphasis is placed upon vocational training, especially for school-leavers.

So what is to be done? From what I have already said, your Lordships will be aware that, like the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, I am not entirely out of sympathy with a period of consolidation for the universities—one which enables us to improve our standards wherever they are weak and to eliminate those activities which do not rest upon a sound basis of scholarship. That is where the cuts should fall, not uniformly. Anything else would cause a serious loss of confidence. We must at all costs uphold excellence.

We are being asked to respond to new needs—for more applicable research, especially for the new industries, and for continuing education throughout life—and it is important that we do respond positively. These are activities, moreover, which, in the sciences at least, should be largely self-supporting, and I welcome them for that reason also. By responding directly to the needs of the customer we avoid to that extent the dead hand of centralisation. Unfettered scholarship does not sit easily under direct governmental control, of whatever political persuasion. It is one of the most desirable characteristics of a free and democratic society. The University Grants Committee was a magnificent British invention which avoided the pitfall of direct governmental rule while still providing most of our resources from the state. It worked well in the times of expansion, and I am sure it will adapt itself to the much more difficult conditions of the day, provided, as the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, has said, that the rate of contraction is not too fast. Would it were otherwise!

I am equally sure, however, that some greater degree of plural funding, from local authorities, from the foundations, from our alumni and from commerce and industry, as practised by so many of the great universities of the United States, is also something that we must encourage here. Some of us are already quite successful at that. But there are dangers here, too, because in the scramble for research contracts from independent sponsors, and in our desire to meet the demand for continuing education, especially at a time of diminishing state resources, there are strong temptations again to lower our standards and to undertake tasks which are inconsistent with true scholarship.

It would be fatal if, in order to obtain the quick result that sponsors might desire, we or they were to forget that our primary purpose is to understand. Scholarship, in other words, cannot be judged by normal commercial criteria, and the best is not always that which attracts the most money or the most public attention. I therefore hope that in imposing contraction upon the universities at such a rate the Government will come to realise that they are in danger of introducing serious instabilities and a serious lack of confidence which could be even more injurious to scholarship than the too rapid expansion of the past. The rate of change is paramount, whether it is positive or negative.

I hope, too, that the Government will at last grapple with the problem of the polytechnics. It is not just a question of how they are funded, important though that may be. It is a question of their purpose. It is high time it was understood by all that vocational training is no less important than scholarly education. Industry and commerce need better graduates, to be sure, but they need better technicians and skilled workers just as much, and in greater numbers. In my view it should be the clear role of the polytechnics to provide the best vocational training of which they are capable, and to influence the schools to do the same. It is entirely consistent with their more local character and funding.

It is not a lesser purpose than the purpose of the universities; it is merely a different one, equally desirable; and it needs institutions dedicated to that purpose to achieve it. It is the saddest legacy of the Robbins expansion, so well-intentioned, that academic snobbery should have led to such a weakness in our educational system. If contraction is upon us, let us, then, use it intelligently, not only by sharpening the universities but by providing more adequately for those useful skills without which our economy and our society cannot be expected to flourish.

5.36 p.m.

Lord Annan

My Lords, I do not wish to argue today whether the Government should or should not have cut higher education. What they have done is part of a nationwide plan to reduce public expenditure. I shall not do this because I am well aware that during the 1970s, the past decade, I listened to a number of speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, in which he argued that the institutions of higher education might have a slightly less favourable staff/student ratio. Indeed, that is what is of course being imposed now upon the universities, and at this time in our economic affairs I would not really wish to dissent from this.

But the noble Baroness, Lady Young, suggested that the universities themselves might be to blame for the cuts because they had totally ignored the 13 points which in 1969 Mrs. Williams spelt out as ways in which they could economise. I wonder whether I may say this. It may be, of course, a commentary on our national life that unfortunately today institutions do not respond to the Government's conception of what is the common good and adjust accordingly; but I ask myself as an historian whether they ever did. The salvoes fired by the admirals the other day reminded me of the pre-1914 days, when their predecessors, determined to resist Treasury plans to slow down the programme for building Dreadnoughts, got the crowds to chant in the streets, We want eight and we won't wait". The universities were really never going to lay their heads on the block willingly. They are no different from the Royal Navy. Naturally, they feared that the Treasury would argue that every sacrifice they made was proof that they were over-funded. Why create a prima facie case for exacting further sacrifices? I am not quite clear whether the noble Baroness was arguing that the universities had made no sacrifices, because for the past six years their real income has declined by 1 per cent. a year; and their salaries have declined in relation to their comparators far more sharply—and by this I mean the salaries of technicians and clerical staff, as well as those of the dons. Perhaps the House might agree that if one compares university staff to civil servants, it becomes fairly clear which group has made the larger sacrifice.

If Mrs. Williams thought that exhortation would induce the universities to economise, I am afraid she was living in a world of illusion. Here I want to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, on her maiden speech, because I thought she got it absolutely right when she said that in fact the only way you can get institutions to rationalise is to apply some kind of financial pressure upon them. I know this only too well from my own experience. I have been a member of the Vice-Chancellors' Committee for the past 15 years and for 14 of those years I have been trying to get the University of London and universities as a whole to rationalise resources. How do you do it?—by holding conferences, having informal talks, making formal proposals. And it has never worked. In the 1960s the then principal of Bedford College agreed with me that many of the departments there would amalgamate with those at University College and save money. Neither college would contemplate it. The then principal of Birkbeck agreed that the science departments of that college could with all advantage do their research in the comparable departments of University College. Despite all promptings, nothing happened. Hours of talk to rationalise geology or classics produced plans to spend even more money on them or produced schemes which were at once repudiated. In 1970 I told the then principal of the University of London that if he wanted to marry pairs of medical schools, it could not be done solely by discussion and that he must produce his shotgun to bring about the wedding. He did not like westerns and so only now, 10 years later, are the marriages being arranged.

May I turn to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, and say that I regret to note that he seems to become over the years more philistine rather than less philistine. In the days of the Fulton Report the noble Lord used to declare that certainly no one who had read Greats ought to be allowed to enter the Civil Service. Well, it is a point of view. Now, apparently, it is the whole of the social sciences, and sociology in particular, which debars one from management. If you study these you are incompetent to manage anything. I must tell the noble Lord that in my experience at the University of London I could name at least half a dozen admirable managers, one of whom is sitting in this House at the moment. But certainly one of the most notable and distinguished managers (to use such an industrial term) in the University of London is the director of the London School of Economics who is, by profession, a well-known and famous sociologist.

I know why the noble Lord took that line. Partly because he thinks we have made a mismatch, not merely of the resources which are now being cut at a time when the student population is rising to its peak, but partly because too great a priority was given, whether consciously or not, to students' choice: with the result that arts subjects increased and science and engineering subjects diminished in proportion. The expression "in proportion" is important. There has been a steady rise in the numbers studying these subjects as the years have passed and as the universities and polytechnics have expanded. So I agree totally with his basic criticism that there was not enough attention paid to what, in fact, was going on in institutions; and I will return to that later.

But I must point out that there is all the difference between cutting the universities steadily but remorselessly and cutting at such a rate that, so far from producing economies, this Government will find themselves saddled with a bill for redundancies which in the short term could be gigantic. The reason why this may occur is simple. That is, the system of tenure. Not all universities have the same practice in signing contracts with their academic staff; but in most of them, all professors, readers and senior lecturers would have a contract that they would be employed to the retiring age of 65 or 67 and in a great number the lecturers would be granted such a contract if, as is usual in the vast majority of cases, they had passed a probationary period of three years. Young men or women can be expected in normal times to be appointed to their lecturership at the age of 25. That means that at the age of 28, by the terms of the contract, he or she is guaranteed employment to the age of 65.

My Lords, this has long been a scandal and acknowledged to be a scandal by many members of the academic staff but not by their union, the AUT, or apparently, by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn. I must here break a lance with him. When he was satirical at the expense of Dr. Rhodes Boyson, I must tell him that Dr. Rhodes Boyson was entirely right when he said that such conditions of tenure would not be found in any American university of repute. It takes far longer to get tenure in the American universities than in our universities. The effect of this has been that we are now faced with the problem of redundancies of a particular kind. I said that this is a scandal because a few universities, notably Cambridge, do not give this grotesque guarantee. In Cambridge, the period of probation is five years as an assistant lecturer and three years as a full lecturer. That is a reasonable type of probation.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, without trying to bandy statistics with the noble Lord, would he not agree that there are other universities in which it is longer than the three which he referred to?

Lord Annan

My Lords, I am not clear what universities the noble Lord is referring to; or whether in this country or another.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton

My Lords, the noble Lord asks which country. It is this country. And which university?—the London School of Economics.

Lord Annan

My Lords, I am at a loss to reply to the noble Lord. I do not know the precise terms on which contracts are signed in the LSE but it is clear that in most universities the terms of contract and of probation are as I have said. I must say that when I call this a scandal, I am meaning a scandal only in the terms that Lord Keynes used to say that in every great academic institution there would always be found two or three gross abuses. I believe that he was thinking about what happened to the last one-third at the bottom of a bottle of claret at a college feast. But it is true that scandals are easy to detect and that there are sometimes good reasons why they continue.

The scandal of tenure has continued because the vice-chancellors had been debarred in their negotiations over pay for academic staff with, first, the unions and then the Department of Education and Science, from negotiating terms and conditions of service. It is as if Sir Derek Ezra were unable to introduce the subject of productivity deals or of pit closures when negotiating with the NUM. The vice-chancellors have been unable to offer the AUT some quid pro quo on the matter of tenure; and it is clear that the AUT, perfectly naturally, will fight this issue in the courts. I am glad to say that the committee of vice-chancellors and principals at last will produce plans on this matter this autumn.

But the point is this. To make academic staff redundant will cost the universities far more than the redundancy payments. It will cost them damages for breach of contract. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that it might be too early to estimate the costs of redundancy. I must say that I rather doubt this. Also I doubt her emphasis in talking about early retirements because, once you have an academic staff which believes that academic staff may be made redundant and that if they are made redundant they will be able to claim damages for breach of contract, where is the incentive to take early retirement? On the question of what will happen when the universities are sued for damages for breach of contract, I can only say that I have taken counsel's opinion on this, as has probably almost every university in the land. Indeed, one eminent QC seems to be engaged in doing little else and the universities and polytechnics are busily endowing his old age.

Without wishing to entangle your Lordships in the subtleties of the law it appears that the unanimous opinion of the legal profession is that if a member of academic staff has a contract of employment to the retiring age, and if the statutes of the university set out the express conditions on which academic staff can be dismissed and these do not include redundancy, then that person shall be entitled to sue for breach of contract and the damages may be enormous. The damages will vary. For example, the courts may hold that a qualified physician should be able to gain professional employment if dismissed and the damages would be thereby limited. But a reader or a lecturer in linguistics, classics or even physics might be held by the courts to be virtually unemployable outside the teaching profession—and, with the cut-back in schools and other institutes of higher education, where could he obtain employment? In that case, he could be awarded the equivalent of his annual salary for every year of his putative employment. That means that if he was made redundant at 50 years of age, he would get 15 years' salary.

I cannot believe that all this can be news to the noble Baroness because the UGC have told the Secretary of State that this is so—or so I believe. I know that the chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals told the Secretary of State that this is so because I heard him, and the AUT has tried to bring home this point as well. I well understand that the Secretary of State will argue that universities must dispose of their reserves before they come to him for money to pay redundancies. That is reasonable enough, provided one defines the word "reserves" sensibly. Would the noble Baroness agree that it would be reasonable to exempt the reserve that is kept for the maintenance of buildings, or the reserve of accumulated trust funds which can be spent only for a specified purpose, when calculating what reserves universities have at their disposal to meet redundancy and breach of contract payments? Does the noble Baroness really favour using the equipment grant for redundancies as has been mooted? Are the Government really saying that all normal expenditure in the universities must now stop, and that universities must stop funding the service which finds jobs for graduates or accommodation for undergraduates, or for the provision of special research?

There is another matter which I should very much like to raise with the Government. Are the institutions in the public sector bearing their share of the cuts? I wonder whether your Lordships realise that the cuts are deliberately skewed by the Government against the universities? Dr. Boyson keeps on saying that he does not want institutions such as his alma mater, the LSE, to suffer. But the arithmetic of the withdrawal of grant from universities to compensate for the introduction of the full economic fee militates against any university that is a centre for research. The more an institution is renowned for research, the higher its unit costs usually are and therefore the higher the so-called full economic fee per student which the Government deducts from its grant will be. Universities which are centres for research will suffer savage cuts whereas polytechnics or colleges of further education which may admit more overseas students but whose unit costs are far lower, and whose full economic fee is therefore lower, will suffer cuts which are less severe. Do the Government intend to make any compensation to the University Grants Committee in order to protect those institutions which the Government's Ministers say they want to protect?

I should like to make another comparison. Recently a committee of inquiry in the University of London was trying to assess the effect of the Government's total cut. It hazarded a guess that the university would be unable to find sufficient funds to enable all its colleges and schools to flourish—particularly Chelsea College. I want to make it plain that this committee of inquiry produced a document which is solely intended to provoke discussion. It is not a planning paper, and still less does it contain proposals. The university may judge that the inquiry's arguments are misguided or topsy-turvy, or the university may judge that it prefers to adopt remedies other than those suggested in the report, even if it concludes that the committee's diagnosis of the future is cogent. Whatever conclusions the university may come to, it cannot be denied that some parts of the university are going to suffer upheaval as a result of the Government's policy.

Twenty years ago Chelsea College was a college of advanced technology. Unlike the other colleges of advanced technology which became universities, such as Brunel or City University, Chelsea College became a school of the University of London. Although I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is no longer in her place, I should like to say how much I admired her speech. However, when she said that colleges of advanced technology made a mistake when they did not remain as they were but attempted to become second-rate universities I do feel that the noble Baroness was off-beam. In fact, I believe that the old colleges of advanced technology became universities of a very special kind, with their sandwich courses. They introduced something very new and valuable into the university system, and this is also very true of Chelsea College.

No one at Chelsea College should argue that its student intake or its research record is of the kind that has made Imperial College so famous—so famous that it is separately funded by the UGC. Chelsea is one of a number of schools in the University of London, each of which has its own special areas of distinction. The university will now have to decide how it can best serve these areas of distinction, but it is bound to observe that in the case of Chelsea College, the students who enter that college and the teaching and research which go on there are at least the equal of, and possibly superior to, its sister colleges which, by the chance of fate, became separate universities in Clerkenwell and Uxbridge. Certainly those places are superior to the North London or South Bank polytechnics.

I find it hard to meet the argument continually being put to me—namely, why should institutions of this kind be threatened with decimation while others which have difficulty in attracting students are left comparatively unscathed? I am not trying to denigrate the institutions in the public sector. I believe they must be funded for their purposes as generously—or perhaps I should say, in no more niggardly a fashion—than the universities. However, one of the many follies committed in the days of expansion was to declare that the CNAA degree must be treated as the equivalent of a university degree. Can we never learn from other countries? How much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, when he speaks about the acceptance in other countries of a hierarchy in institutions, each suited for its purpose—and how often have I argued in your Lordships' House that we ought to try more to imitate although not reproduce the grande ecoles in France! Can we never accept that some institutions exist to teach students of different academic attainments for different qualifications and for different purposes from those in other institutions? They are just as valuable, but they must be different and must be funded differently. Until the Government will accept these premises we shall waste public money, and higher education will never give the returns to the nation that it should be giving.

5.59 p.m.

Lord Wynne-Jones

My Lords, I rise with the strange feeling of a "has-been" in addressing your Lordships after two distinguished heads of universities have made their remarks. I can only hope that your Lordships will be tolerant and will remember that I have not been actively working in a university for many years. This debate has been one of very great fascination and significance. I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that what has been said this afternoon and evening must be taken into very serious account by her department in looking at the whole picture of higher education.

In observing what is going on today with regard to universities, I can go back—as no more than one other Member of your Lordships' House can—to the days when I was a member of a university's staff in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It was in 1931 that we had the drastic cut in university budgets.

It is important to realise that, whereas one can talk about cutting back expenditure by 1 per cent., 2 per cent., or 5 per cent. per annum, and say that this is something that can be faced, for other people have to face it, if you have faced it, as I have, in a university institution you know that it can be quite devastating. I remember when I was at a university—a very small university in those days—the University of Reading, which had at that time only 500 students, we had a library which had been recently created. The university was given its charter in only 1926 so it was quite a new library. Within a very short time of the founding of that library, the cuts came. The result was that the library was forced to discontinue taking most of its periodicals. It was not able to make up the gaps in those periodicals until after the last war when the University Grants Committee gave special grants in order to allow university institutions to make up the deficiencies in their libraries.

Practically every university library in the country suffered; but the small ones, recently founded, suffered much more than the big ones. They had no reserves at all and they were left in a pitiful condition. It took a period of nearly 20 years before they were able to recover from that situation.

When an institution like a university suffers cuts of that type, they can be lasting cuts from which it may take 20 years or more to recover. It is important that the Government bear this in mind. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, and others, have referred to the speed at which the cuts are made and how heavy they are. This is also an important matter. I remember at the time when the report of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, came forward there was great talk in the universities of expansion. Together with a colleague in the University of Newcastle I wrote an article which was published in May 1962 in the Guardian on the cost of university expansion.

We pointed out at that time that the cost of expansion is far greater than people imagine. People talk as though you can expand a university or the university system as a whole by, let us say, 5 per cent. per annum. What they do not appreciate is that to expand at the rate of 5 per cent. per annum you have to be increasing your intake by roughly 15 per cent. per annum because there is a time lag in bringing the students being trained to the point at which they can teach the other students. So you have to expand your expenditure at about three times the rate at which you are trying to increase your intake. This is a very serious matter.

When you are faced with a reverse process of contraction, there is a similar factor which comes in. You cannot get rid of people at the rate at which you can cut down your intake. Therefore your supposed economies come three years hence, not now. It is important to bear this in mind. There is always a time lag in these matters. Unless you take these into account, you can arrive at completely false conclusions.

Practically all my active university life I have been working inside universities, but since I retired I have taken a great interest in polytechnics. I have been on the council and I am now what they call chancellor of the Newcastle Polytechnic. I should like to contest what one or two or your Lordships have said about polytechnics. I do not think that polytechnics in the main are being fairly represented in some of the remarks that are made. If I may take one to begin with, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said that the polytechnics are not being cut as severely as the universities. It is hard to be certain about this. But I can say that the so-called tapping of the pool of polytechnics has had a tremendous effect upon the financing of them.

The money comes not from the local authority but through the local authority. Because it comes through the local authority, when the local authority is told by the Secretary of State for the Environment that they are to work within certain financial constraints, they say at once that here is expenditure—and the educational expenditure of any local authority is its biggest item—and they can cut down £3 million off the polytechnics and nothing can be done about it. This is exactly what has been happening.

I can speak for the Polytechnic of Newcastle. Two years ago it had an initial cut of £1 million. Then the cut before the year was out was increased to £2 million. There has since been a cut of I think £3 million. The polytechnic has to bear all this and it has no source of income except that which comes through the local authority. In consequence, they have had to do without any repairs at all. They have had to stop painting and everything of that sort. They cannot buy new equipment.

Contrary to what is sometimes thought, they do not have any fund such as the fund which the universities quite rightly have for equipment. Consequently, they get no new equipment. It has to be borne in mind that the polytechnics have suffered quite a lot. The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, referred to the subjects that they teach and said that instead of teaching science and technology they had been teaching social science and arts subjects. Yes, my Lords, they have. I do not see anything wrong in that. But let us remember that so far as they are concerned, if they built laboratories all this has to come out of the grant through the local authority. If they simply take on people to whom to give lectures, they probably have the lecture rooms already. Consequently, it costs them a good deal less to expand on the arts side than on the science side: that is a fact of life. Actually, in the polytechnic with which I am associated, it probably would not be correct to say that they teach mainly the arts and social sciences. They teach science, they teach applied science excellently and they teach it in a way which is different from university teaching. They have been very careful to distinguish that.

I was very glad to hear the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, and her encomium on further and technical education. From my knowledge, it was a very well-deserved tribute and I would say that in a place like the Newcastle Polytechnic they have a school of design which is excellent. This is a very practical thing. They design fabrics, clothes and mechanical things; and they go through the whole realm of design. I would have thought that was exactly what a polytechnic was created to do; they can do that and they can do it well. They are doing it well, and I hope it will be realised that when we are talking about higher and further education we mean not just the universities, of which I am proud to have been a member, but also the polytechnics, of which I am equally proud and which I think ought to have as distinguished a place in our life as a polytechnic has in Germany or anywhere on the Continent. Unfortunately, in this country the word is treated almost as a term of abuse. It should not be.

Most scientists and technicians on the Continent have taken their degrees not in universities but in polytechnics, and some of the most distinguished people on the Continent are the product of polytechnics. I want to see the same thing happen in this country. We ought to be proud of the polytechnics, of the universities and of the colleges of further education also, which are serving another part of our whole educational system. Our future does surely depend on the expansion of further and higher education and not on its contraction. If our defence depends upon Trident, how much more does our whole survival depend upon higher and further education?

6.13 p.m.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, we are discussing today what a former Secretary of State, Mrs. Shirley Williams, has described as: massive and damagingly fast cuts in our education service". These have come about as the Government's answer to a state of affairs which the Bank of England bulletin summed up as far back as 1979, saying: the relevant industrial decline is now widely seen as a matter of grave concern. If allowed to continue it would seem only to lead to growing impoverishment in years to come". Two years later, the decline is so much greater than we could possibly have dreamt in 1979. Therefore, we are not denying tonight that radical measures are necessary but, as in many other fields, we are considering whether the Government's measures are the right ones, or, as we believe, wrong in direction and extent.

When we look at further and higher education, we cannot do it in isolation from the fate of all our young people between 16 and 24, as the future for many of them is desperately worrying. I hope that my reasons for saying that will emerge as I go along. By 1985, according to the Central Review Body Report, there will be a million more in the 16 to 24 range than in 1975—in 10 years, a million people more. In June 1974 unemployed school-leavers amounted to 5,400. By 1979 they had gone up to 137,000. This year there are 216,000 or more. The significant fact is that this is not just part of a recession. In my view, even if this is the worst recession since the war, this is a trend which will not just go away: it is going up in good times and in bad times and needs a long-term solution.

H. A. L. Fisher said in 1925: Youth unemployment is a moral and physical waste which is a blot on our civilisation". In a recession, young people suffer as a group more than any other. When recruitment stops, it affects them first; when redundancy comes, they are the first to go. The young unemployed between 16 and 25 number 876,200, and over 100,000 of those have already been out of work for over 12 months. Between 35 and 40 per cent. of all unemployed are under 25, although they constitute only about 20 per cent. of the total force available for work.

A clue in part as to why this could be so is in the figures for school-leavers for this year. The DES say there will be 600,000 school-leavers leaving school this year, 300,000 of them without any academic qualifications at all; and, more importantly, if they can find work, they will take jobs where no further education or planned training is available. Unemployment falls most heavily on the unskilled and the untrained, and largely on the young. With the increase of new technology, this trend will grow. It is true, I think, of every modern developed country, but to a greater extent in this country than in most others.

It is clear, therefore that there is a need for us to take a new, cool look at our education service, both in the interests of our young people and in the interests of our country, to make it more relevant to our needs, if we are to survive in the highly competitive world in which we have to exist. Every recent report emphasises this point. The report on the School Curriculum published as recently as March 1981 said on page 18: The curriculum needs to be related to what happens outside schools. It needs to include more applied and practical work". Education for 16 to 19 year-olds, published only last December, says in paragraph 46: The case for greater employment relevance seems to us to have particular force for young people of average academic achievement of the age of 16". Also, the report published last month by the Council for Applied Research and Development talks about the need for a new approach in our universities to business studies, and so on. Technological changes have been taking place over the last 20 years but the effects have been masked because, as certain industries shed their labour, there were other industries to absorb that labour. But these alternative employments will no longer be available and the fact that the Government are cutting back on the size of the public services, and with the microprocessor being a "heartland" technology, will ensure that an increasing volume of goods with an ever-reducing workforce will be available, but equally it will squeeze out the unskilled and the young first.

An industry which has absorbed many unskilled young people in the past, retail distribution, is also being affected, and therefore another avenue is being closed. I conclude, then, that our education service needs to be reshaped to provide our young people with more work-related training and skills if they are to survive unemployment. Indeed, I think it is true to say that we ought to be looking at the whole of our education service, to ensure that it is more work-orientated, more training-orientated and, in the wider sense, more business-orientated.

To help solve this problem of many young people and the problems of pressure on our services, whether of education or other, there has been a suggestion that we should have a year of community service. I am very much in favour of a year off, but I am, nevertheless, convinced that the problems are insuperable. Those advocating some form of community service need to answer some of the questions and to resolve some of the conflicts in their proposals. Any scheme must be compulsory, if it is to work. It must not pander to the "short, sharp shock" brigade who are anxious only to deal with the layabouts. If it is to be compulsory, what sanctions can be applied to those who will not co-operate? Equally, how do you deal with those who absolutely refuse to join at all? How do you organise activity without impinging on work for adults who cannot find a job, and may be in that position for some years to come? A great deal of thought will have to go into this project, if it is to materialise in any really proper and constructive form.

I prefer the Bradford scheme. From September, Bradford is sweeping away the barriers between schools and further education. They will share pupils and resources under a plan to integrate the whole of the city's provision for 16- to 19-year-olds. The scheme leapfrogs the continuous national controversy as to whether sixth forms should be handed over to tertiary colleges, and is the first step to a much wider goal. The city has decided to provide a comprehensive education and training system for all its young people, including school-leavers, without waiting for the rest of the country. The city's schools have been divided into six "commonwealths", each linked with one or other of the three colleges. Each "commonwealth" is required to provide, using both school and college facilities, for a series of O-levels in key subjects and a number of options in A-levels. It is required to provide Business Education Council and TEC courses. It will also be required to provide work-related studies, such as the City and Guilds foundation course and others which the Further Education Unit recommended in the Mansell Report. The idea is that the "commonwealth" should be able to cater not only for ordinary pupils staying on, but also for unemployed youngsters who are to be allowed to study up to 21 hours a week while drawing supplementary benefit; for youth opportunity programme services and for young workers on day-release and other study arrangements.

In my view, this accords very well with the sentence in paragraph 111 at the conclusion of the MacFarlane Report on the education of 16 to 19 year-olds. It says We believe that it is vital for authorities to review the pattern of 16–19 provision in their areas, and in so doing treat it as a whole. They must challenge where necessary the accepted wisdom about the respective roles and responsibilities of individual schools and colleges". Only with such boldness can there be hope for some young people, and escape from the dismal future that faces so many of them at the moment. The report urges this kind of boldness. It urges this kind of attempt to get rid of the fragmentation of further education and to make the best use of all the resources in each area.

I am sure that the Bradford pattern is not the only pattern, but, in my view, it points the way to ensuring that we are doing something which will fit our youngsters, even some who are already unemployed, as well as those who are coming out of the school system, in such a way that they will be able to manage in the world in which they have to live. I hope that these initiatives will not be stifled by Government economies or, indeed, by their proposal for a national body for polytechnics and colleges. There is a case for rationalisation nationally of further and higher education in some respects. But I do not believe that it needs a great new body which, for some long time, will be pre-occupied with its own affairs and its own organisation.

If I may come to the question of universities, until last December the Government's policy was that of no reduction in the universities' grant for British and EEC students until 1982–83. However, quite suddenly, they announced a cut of 3 per cent. in grant for the next academic year, 1981–82. This cut his faced the universities, according to the Committee of Vice-Chancellors, with a management problem which cannot be solved in any sensible way.

But last year, the Government told the universities that they were to stop "subsidising" in respect of overseas students. By 1982–83, some £125 million, or 11 per cent., would be deducted from the grant. They could, however, make good this loss by changing to so-called "full cost" fees, or the average cost per head per student, which this year amounts to £4,500. But the universities found that although the numbers of students went down by about 9 per cent., the rate has now accelerated and the fall is likely, of itself, to cut university incomes by about 4 per cent. in the year 1981–82, based on a predicted fall of 20 per cent., although the fall could be as high as 30 per cent.

While the cut announced in the White Paper was pretty swingeing anyway, the real effect of both these cuts is of the order of 7 to 8 per cent., if not more, in this year alone. Cuts of this size are to 'be deplored in the next two or three years, when the 18 year-old population will be reaching its peak. It is happening at a time when the number of female applicants is rising against that of males and it will mean, in many respects, a cut-back in the opportunity for young women to have a university education.

The AUT has pointed out that this appears to have arisen because of—in the words of the AUT—muddle and confusion among Ministers over the prediction about the likely fall in the number of overseas students. I hope that this is so and that the muddle will be cleared up, and that this additional burden will not be put on universities. However, unless something is done, it will mean, according to the vice-chancellors, that the actual reduction in expenditure on universities by 1983–84 could be of the order of 16 to 18 per cent. This is because of the double cut from the loss of grant supposedly attributable to overseas students, together with the volume cut. While the universities cannot escape from the cuts which are being imposed on other sections of the economy, the vice-chancellors and principals believe that these cuts are grossly unfair and far in excess of what is being imposed elsewhere.

The consequences of the cuts are, first, that there will be about 12,000 fewer British school-leavers getting places in universities over the next three years. Some universities will probably have to renege on promises they have already made, which means that some of those youngsters will not only be disappointed but may end up on the dole. The Government have apparently abandoned, once and for all, the Robbins principle, that those suitably qualified by ability and attainment should have the right to higher education—a principle which has formed the basis of the policy of successive Governments on higher education for the past 20 years.

As has been said tonight, there is a case for not giving in to student choice in all cases and, as I have pointed out on other matters, for being concerned with national need. But we ought to be aware that this is a major change of policy and the Government themselves ought to come forward and explain. There will be a rundown of the university system by about one-eighth over the next two years, meaning a reduction in academic staff of 5 per cent. Major decisions have been taken almost overnight. There is a case for changing our priorities as many noble Lords have said. But far from being a planned reduction, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors says: We have not been given the slightest explanation for this quite extraordinary decision by the Government". It says that it believes this new policy of the Government to be profoundly misguided.

However heavy the pressures on public expenditure, it must be a mistake to sacrifice those things which Britain is really good at and to prejudice our future supply of highly skilled and educated people. There is a great need for a change in emphasis, as noble Lords have said tonight—the balance between faculties and so on. But many of us are convinced that there is a vital link between the universities and our future prosperity, and that cuts of this magnitude, carried out in such a short time, are shortsighted and not in our long-term interest, because there are a number of advanced countries with better economic records which give a higher proportion of their young people university places.

Comparisons are very difficult, as some noble Lords have indicated. It is still true that Britain spends less on post-school education per head of the population than any of its competitors and that it has one of the smallest proportions of young people entering post-school education of every kind. Dr. Boyson has talked lyrically of cutting out the dead wood in order to let new blooms of excellence grow. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors says that the Government should be preparing for an upturn by investing in human capital and research, both pure and applied. This year's report of the Advisory Council on Applied Research and Development said that there should be a radical change in attitude to business in United Kingdom society and recommended that the University Grants Committee should examine and change the conditions which affect the exploitation of ideas and the setting up of businesses by university staffs, that business administration instruction should be introduced into all engineering courses and that the Department of Education and Science should examine the existing links between business schools and engineering departments. This is the kind of change we need. By comparison with the United States, in the United Kingdom there is a lack of scientists and engineers with genuine entrepreneurial skills able to understand new technology, to see the possibility for new products and to arrange for their development, manufacture and marketing. With such cuts, little of this can be achieved.

The changes are supposed to arise because of the need for the universities to meet the demographic changes in 1983 and thereafter, but by no stretch of the imagination can these proposals be described as planned development on these or any other lines. The chairman of the University Grants Committee, Dr. Parkes, has promised a major reshaping of the university system. It is trying to take decisions which a number of people have criticised as being constitutionally not the business of the committee. If noble Lords cannot accept that proposition, the other is whether it has the practical capacity to make these decisions in sufficiently sophisticated form.

These proposals will mean that in future the universities will be subject to the direct control of the University Grants Committee. Whatever our view, we ought to recognise that this is a change in the role of the University Grants Committee, a change which is being made by administrative action. Perhaps the recommendation of the Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1979–80 that the University Grants Committee should be reorganised and made more independent needs to be examined. The University Grants Committee has been beavering away over the past four months on its reshaping exercise but, if there is to be a massive change, for goodness sake! let us have time to plan it properly so that we do not repeat the mistakes that have been made in local government and in the National Health Service over the past few years.

Cutting Government expenditure is the purpose of the exercise in order to secure £130 million. Dr. Boyson has said that £20 million is available for modifications—another name for redundancies. Indeed, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, repeated that figure tonight. However, on 17th March the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said that this was not new money but part of the recurrent grant. I should like to know which of those two statements is correct. Before the Public Accounts Committee last month the chairman of the University Grants Committee said that the cost of settling redundancies could be between £100 million and £200 million. So where is the saving, and why the haste? We could end up with some dramatic changes. The University Grants Committee intends to spread the cuts non-uniformly to cover the three-year period up to 1983.

In addition to other effects, one of the unhappy effects is that the decision on overseas grants is squeezing out from our universities students from some of the poorest territories throughout the world. In addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has pointed out, the universities and the Government will have to face a series of tests on tenure in the courts and will have to pay inordinate compensation. Surely time and efforts at voluntary redundancy are much better in the interests of everybody concerned.

The universities must respond to the needs of the time but surely with a change of direction so grave and so far-reaching we ought to take a little more time in planning it and in rethinking our priorities, or we shall do irretrievable damage to our institutions which will take years to put right.

6.35 p.m.

Lord Vaizey

My Lords, first may I thank the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, for putting down this Motion on the Order Paper and for the moderate, frank and helpful way in which he introduced it. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, called him a philistine. I think he is a bit of a philistine in this particular respect, though of course in every other respect he is a tremendous ornament to our joint university of Oxford and to this House. May I also offer my warm congratulations to my noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle on her maiden speech. She was vice-chairman of the Essex Education Committee when my cousin was chairman, so I have known of her great ability for a very long time. I know that she will bring to debate in this House on many subjects a great deal of knowledge which we shall enjoy as much as we have enjoyed what she has had to say this afternoon.

As the first Tory speaker in this debate who is not bound by the convention of your Lordships' House, as was my noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle, to be non-controversial, I thought that I should have to rise to the defence of my noble friend on the Front Bench. Far from it. She has actually been saved from the assaults on her honourable friend the Under-Secretary of State in the other place by the fact that everybody so far, with one exception, has done a large part of her job for her. Therefore, may I forgo the defensive part of my speech and turn to the more constructive bits.

I think that most of those who have spoken have agreed that the universities and the rest of higher education have been through a period of unprecedented expansion. This expansion has been done adequately—indeed, in some respects lavishly. The pupil-teacher ratio has been safeguarded. New buildings and technical equipment are more than adequate. We now have a fairly lavishly endowed higher education system. There are bits of it which are old-fashioned and which need refurbishment, in the immortal words of an Ambassador of the United States to the Court of St. James. Generally speaking, however, it is a pretty well-endowed system.

Most people have given the answer, Yes, to the question: Should we share in the general contraction which appears to be the fate of most institutions in the public sector? If there has to be a contraction in public expenditure, then it seems to me that there is no reason why higher education should be particularly exempt from it. Indeed, I am very far from following the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, in believing that we can use the argument that the expansion of the higher education system will lead to prosperity, because during this period of quite unprecedented expansion we have also had a period of almost unprecedented economic disaster after disaster.

If we are to use that kind of argument, we have to be frightfully careful. If it were used, the argument for a contraction of the higher education system—is there a simple cause and effect between investment in higher education and the behaviour of the economy?—would be indeed dramatic. However, there is no simple or close connection between what you spend on higher education and what happens in the economy. The connections are very complex, take a long time to work out and involve a great deal of difficulty in explaining. This is where I shall come to my slight differences with the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt.

Furthermore, I do not share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, about the facts on which the present likelihood of contraction will take place. He said that the participation rates are rising. As a matter of fact, the participation rate—that is to say, the proportion of the age group that goes on to higher education—dropped from 14 per cent. in 1972 to 12 per cent. in 1979. In other words, the participation rate is dropping. It would need an increase in the participation rate of a quite unprecedented proportion if we were to see any group of people being excluded in the present rounds of cuts because of this factor of the participation rate. He also used figures about the number of 18 year-olds. As I understand it, the number of 18 year-olds in the year 1982 will be at the record high level for recent years, of 941,000. That will drop to 777,000 in 1990 and it will be down to 610,000 in the mid-1990s. That is a fall of a third in the number of 18 year-olds over a period of about 12 years. That is a dramatic fall. So the general argument that there will be a lot of people turned away during the 1980s cannot be sustained by the facts.

Furthermore, let us turn to the question of the overseas students. I really cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, who argues that because a student comes from a poor country he comes here as a poor student needing special treatment. Most of the people who come from poor countries to this country for higher education are of course from the rich families in those poor countries. It does not necessarily follow that because you come from a poor country you are a poor person, just as the British people who are to be found, for example, at the Harvard Business School do not come from the unemployed sections of the community in the North of England or Scotland; they come from prosperous business firms in the South-East. What was the context? The noble Lord, Lord Annan, mentioned it, and he has mentioned it before in our debates. Mrs. Williams pointed out in 1969 that the number of overseas students was rising and this was being very heavily subsidised by the hard-pressed British taxpayer. The fact of the matter was that between 1971 and 1976 the number of overseas students admitted to our institutions of higher learning trebled, at a time when Governments of both political parties were asking the universities and the rest of higher education at least to keep the numbers stable. What do Governments do in such circumstances? I ask your Lordships to turn your minds to that point.

I turn now to the most interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, about the manpower needs of our country. I agree with him to this extent, that I rather staked my professional career. I, like him, was a fellow of a very pleasant Oxford college—indeed, in the same faculty as the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt—and I went to Brunel, an institution which has been mentioned a number of times, by the noble Baroness on the Liberal Front Bench, as a third-rate institution and by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who I believe knows more, as a first-rate institution. I believe most strongly that in this period of economic and social change in which we are living we need to take institutions like Brunel from the position that they are in, up to the front rank, and I stake my own career to some degree on that. So I speak with some conviction and with some experience.

I think the evidence is that this country is grotesquely under-skilled and I very much agree with my noble friend Lady Platt of Writtle that the real under-skilling is at the technician level. Every piece of evidence that you can get, whether it be statistical or impressionistic, or just looking at the goods and services which are provided by our Continental rivals, suggests that this country is grotesquely under-skilled. But I do not think it follows from that that we are short of highly qualified engineers and scientists. As a matter of fact, I think that young people have been very realistic in the choices they have made at A-level and in their university courses, because there really is not at the moment any great unfilled demand for engineers and scientists.

I draw from that a most important conclusion, which is that the kind of courses being offered in engineering and science are to a very great degree the wrong ones. I have been told—and I have not bothered to check the facts, so it may be incorrect—that 40 per cent. of the time of a student doing a technology degree course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is devoted to non-scientific and non-engineering subjects. I cannot help feeling that if that kind of option was open in this country we should have the hybrid people who are skilled both in the subjects which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was talking about and in the subjects which the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, spoke about. It is in that area of innovation that I believe we have failed.

I come back to the questions, why is this, and how can we tackle it? I am very much opposed to tinkering with the institutional structure of our country for change's sake. If we think of the activities of the Heath Government, setting up giant Ministries for this, that and the other, reforming the Health Service—it all ended in catastrophe. We have been through that sort of change, but I must repeat what I said yesterday—I am sorry; I seem to have been speaking a great deal this week but I do not speak often in your Lordships' House. In the debate on special education yesterday I regretted in the Bill before us a provision regarding handicapped people and the further education system—something which my noble friend answered perfectly adequately. But I pointed out then, that we now have three Ministers of Education for the post-16s: we have the Department of Education and Science, which my noble friend graces; we have the Manpower Services Commission and we have the Department of Employment.

I cannot help feeling that we need to break the Ministries at the age of 16 and have a Minister of Schools and then have someone whom I would call the Minister of Skills, because I think that only if we get a high-powered political lead from Westminster and Whitehall will people take seriously the fact that the technician gap, the problem of re-educating and re-structuring the education of our engineers, the integration of the universities and the polytechnics, the further education system with the whole context of education and commercial training, are all one thing. It ought to be seen as a whole, for young people and for those engaged in continuing education. Here I am broaching a principle which was told to me before I made my maiden speech in your Lordships' House by a very wise and old friend. He said to me, "Never put a new idea in a speech to the House of Lords if you can get paid for putting it in a newspaper". But here I am, offering it free in this particular instance.

I come now to the point which was made in the concluding part of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and it relates to the University of London, which I myself graced for two glorious years and Brunel and City University and the nine polytechnics in Greater London. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, knows my opinion full well, because he has been bored by my holding forth at the dinner table and elsewhere on this subject, possibly for over 20 years. It makes no sense to have side by side one federal university, two small universities and nine polytechnics, all offering much the same thing in competition. I am in favour of a diversity of institutions.

When I was a member of the Inner London Education Authority, the University of London had a student health service; we offered a student health service to our students. The University of London colleges were providing halls of residence for their students, so we provided halls of residence for ours. They had physics departments; so we had physics departments. They had libraries in each of their colleges; so we had libraries in each of our polytechnics. Common sense suggests that if you are seeking to offer a wide range of opportunities for the people who come to London as well as for the people who live in London, and you are seeking to do this as economically as you can with public funds, there must be here some element of possibility of co-operation.

I notice that the Swinnerton-Dyer Report suggests changes in Chelsea College and the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said quite frankly that if Chelsea College had chosen another direction 20 years ago it would be either the best polytechnic in London or it would be one of the three small universities, instead of choosing to be, as it was, a school of London University. That is within the Swinnerton-Dyer exercise and outside any other exercise which could be conducted and which could look at the system as a whole. This cannot be sensible. It is a consequence of the insane binary system which was pressed on to Tony Crosland when he became Secretary of State and was given a speech to read which he did not understand, I regret to say, and it has cursed this country with this divided system.

It was pushed on him because, they said, all the polytechnics want the snobbery of being universities. And why not? Why should we not have 80, 90, 100 universities, provided we accept that there are going to be second, third and fourth rate universities? What is wrong with that? Not every grocer's shop is a Harrods. Does it really matter if the reputations of universities differ? But it does matter if you are using public money wastefully and in so doing restricting the opportunities for students who, if the money was spent wisely, would have greater opportunities.

The noble Lord, Lord Flowers, spoke, as he always does, with wisdom and with great conviction, and I agreed strongly with much of what he said. He praised the University Grants Committee. I would praise that committee. I think its chairman is a most distinguished man doing a very difficult job. I am not convinced, however, that the University Grants Committee mechanism is the right one for our time. It may have been all right when you had an arm's length principle between the Treasury and a small group of universities taking a very small part of the education budget. I cannot believe that is right when so large a sum of money is being disbursed by the Department of Education and Science, not the Treasury, to so many institutions.

Moreover, I am dismayed by the exercise which is going on, and whose results we shall know at the beginning of next year, being conducted in such secrecy. I can see the danger of leaks; I can see all that sort of problem. But these are not the sort of secrets the Russians want to know, they are not going to affect the security and safety of the Kingdom. These are perfectly ordinary decisions being taken about the shape of the higher education system, where it might be assumed that people engaged in higher education—teachers, students, people who work in the universities and their unions, common citizens, Members of your Lordships' House and of another place—might well have greater wisdom than the 20-odd chaps gathered together with their staff at the UGC. I cannot understand, I never shall understand, the mania for secrecy which prevails in this country.

With that, I should like to conclude by thanking once more the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, for allowing this debate to take place. I have spoken for five minutes longer than I have ever spoken before in your Lordships' House, but I must point out that, apart from my noble friend's speech, my speech has been much the shortest.

6.54 p.m.

Baroness Stewart of Alvechurch

My Lords, may I say first how much I appreciated the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle, and hope we have many further opportunities to hear her—I am sure we shall. As a governor of an institute of adult education and of a large comprehensive school, I am convinced that we should give the highest possible priority to the educational needs of our community at every age and intelligence level. Our aim should be to ensure that all members of the community reach their full educational potential. When we achieve this end there will be, I am convinced, a transformation in our society. It would be, I am sure, in the interests of our population as a whole if more financial aid and encouragement were given to the institutes of adult education, as well as the universities. Their achievements are in many fields outstanding.

In the institute of which I am a governor we had an enrolment of 10,000 students this year; approxi- mately 3,000 of them are male and approximately 700 are under 21. So it is a truly mixed population. The classes include a number of university classes; there are also language classes, classes in music, first-aid, fencing and many other subjects. Not least important are the classes to help young people to select suitable employment. One of the most important contributions that evening institutes can make today is the help that they can give to our immigrant community in London and elsewhere. In some of our comprehensive schools there are as many as 40 per cent. of pupils whose parents or grandparents were born abroad.

Racism is, I think, on the decline, and we must all be very thankful for that. Many local authorities provide useful advice to young immigrants relating to the age at which they should leave school, examinations, and job selection and so one. Many of these young people at the age of 16 have to make one of the most important decisions of their lives. The proportion of West Indian pupils who go to a university or college of further education is, I think, significantly lower than that of secondary school pupils on the whole. There is no evidence that West Indian pupils are less intelligent than their white colleagues. I hope and think, therefore, that in a few years time we shall find the same proportion of West Indian students in our universities and institutes of education as others. May I say in conclusion, my Lords, that I hope that very soon indeed the cuts will be restored. We need more rather than less help in the education field and I hope very much that this Government can provide it.

6.58 p.m.

Lord Robbins

My Lords, in common with other speakers, I should like to express indebtedness to Lord Crowther-Hunt for having raised this question, which surely has given rise to a most distinguished debate and to a most distinguished maiden speech. He has raised a question which certainly causes perplexity and anxiety in the whole range of institutions concerned, and I suspect that it causes some perplexity, and I hope that it causes some anxiety, in the Department of Education and Science. In my necessarily brief remarks this evening I shall largely restrict myself to universities, the institutions which I know best, but towards the end I shall say a word or two on wider questions which have been raised by preceding speakers.

First, I wish to make some comment on the letter of 15th May sent by the chairman of the UGC to Vice-Chancellors. The centre of gravity of this letter, as has been mentioned already in the debate, is the imminence of a further letter laying down target numbers of home and European Economic Community undergraduates and graduates for each institution for 1983–84. I am obliged to confess that I do not understand all the "inwardness" of this letter. The letter is very carefully worded. The targets are set for 1983–84 and reference is made to the rights of universities to regulate their admissions in the intervening period. The implications of various, not very precise, qualifications of the letter is that other factors than purely demographic or mechanical factors will be taken into account.

However, I must agree with other contributors to the debate that the letter arouses in my mind the sus- picion that the device of target numbers involves ultimately the suspension of the fundamental principle that places should be found in higher education for all those willing and able to benefit by them. If that is so, I regret it very much. The principle in question was accepted by a Conservative Government and it has been supported by Governments since then. As a believer in this aspect of the equality proper to a democratic society, I should regard it—if my suspicion is correct—as very regrettable.

A great deal of ambiguous nonsense is talked about equality in different connections in our society, but the principle of equal opportunity for education, and higher education if you are willing and able to benefit by it, although difficult to carry out in practice, is pretty unequivocal I should hate to think that the present Government with whose policy in many respects I agree, should be the first Government to abandon it.

I now approach a subject which is in my opinion much more controversial; namely, the cuts. By "cuts" I mean general cuts rather than particular cuts as regards overseas students' fees which I shall deal with later. I am afraid that on this point I am not in agreement with many of my colleagues. The ratio of staff to students in most of our universities and still more in the polytechnics, in comparison with what often happens elsewhere where the universities are by no means beneath contempt, is no doubt a controversial matter. However, I cannot persuade myself that a few points added to the number of students per teacher would, in the long run—and I emphasise, in the long run—be catastrophic. It would certainly mean more attention being given to teaching rather than to research on the part of the younger teachers. Although I think very highly of research and regard it as an essential duty of the universities, as was well said by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, I am inclined to believe that more weight has been attached to it in recent times, especially as regards the conditions on promotion, than is actually desirable.

In my judgment very few of us academics are so clever that we can afford to give higher priority to our research than to our main duty of teaching the students.

The trouble about these cuts is the problem of the transition. In the long run changes in the staff/ student ratio can take place by natural wastage and by shifting jobs. But in the short run it is more difficult. The wrong people retire, go elsewhere or die and that creates intense headaches for vice-chancellors and other administrators. Given the necessity for cuts in this quarter, and after all we still have an alarming degree of inflation, I cannot help thinking that a more gradual reduction of the grants might have been appropriate.

I move to the question of fees. A great deal has already been said about this matter and, therefore, I shall be very brief. I personally adhered to the view which was expressed in the early Sixties by the committee of which I was chairman, that fee income had not kept pace with inflation—even the inflation which was apparent in 1963 and therefore that an increase of fees all round, making allowances, however, for necessities of native students, would be appropriate. But the policy which Her Majesty's Government have adopted is far different from that. It has created an unprecedented gap between the prices charged against certain groups of foreigners and in my judgment that is not the way to remedy the position.

I shall not waste words about the deprivation of our repute in the countries affected. I shall not waste words about the deprivation of the atmosphere of our universities by this arbitrary and crude discrimination. To deny it seems to me to be silly. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and others have emphasised, I must protest against the grave financial burden imposed on those more prestigious institutions which, in the past, have attracted students, especially graduates, from abroad.

I would not venture to say for a moment that the Secretary of State actually hates excellence; I do not believe that he is that type of man. But I will say that the policy which he has adopted gives the impression of someone wishing to bring the greatest burden to bear on the institutions, especially in London, which by common consent have the quality of excellence. Do not be mistaken, the students who are frightened away by this gigantic rise to full cost fees will not come back. They will develop other habits; they will go elsewhere, and we shall lose some very valuable friends.

I come now for a moment to the results hitherto of the expansion. I come to what was, after all, the main subject of the opening speech by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt. His percentage figures are undeniable and, as I shall explain in a moment, I think that they pose considerable problems. But I doubt whether he should focus exclusively on the declining percentage of natural scientists and engineers. In my judgment, the change in student choice—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, reminded your Lordships, was not peculiar to this country—is perhaps something of a mystery. Was it revulsion at the spectacle posed by the possibility of nuclear warfare? I suppose that some students were affected by that, ignoring all benefits which science and engineering have brought the modern world. I doubt whether the majority of students so choosing were thus affected.

For me it remains a little bit of a mystery, coupled with the thought that in many universities that I know the atmosphere as regards staff is not necessarily favourable to going into industry. I emphasise the word "industry" because, after all, a good many of the products of university have gone into finance, and finance has done pretty well and has again and again saved the balance of payments figures from being more dreadful than they have been.

However, continuing with the results of student choice, I cannot refrain from blaming the universities themselves in the courses which they have provided. Things are quite different in Scotland, but south of the border the majority of courses nowadays are aimed at potential firsts; they are aimed at producing dons, at producing dons, and at producing dons, or experts in particular specialisms; whereas, in my judgment, in the first degree the "firsts" who enjoy, so to speak, a gift of God, need only protecting from being pushed around. The target of the first degrees should be the "seconds", where teaching can turn a lower second into a higher second. After all, we muse remember that the greater part of the managerial work of the world is done by "seconds".

Our recommendation in the 1960s of the principle of expansion contained a condition; the condition that we should expect to see more broader courses in the first degree. That condition has not been fulfilled overall. There are honourable exceptions south of the border, but on the whole the first degrees in this country are crammed with all sorts of things which should be postponed until the graduate school, where you can be much fiercer as regards admission. Worse still, the requirements of the first degrees are beginning to affect the schools. It is quite terrible to think of children of the tender age approaching O-levels or just past 0-levels being asked whether they want to be humanists, natural scientists, or, save the word!—a group of subjects which in my ideal world would be a second degree—social scientists.

Lord Wynne-Jones

My Lords, if the noble Lord would forgive me for one moment, he has raised an extremely important and interesting point, but does he not think that in the field of natural science the rate of development of concepts has been so great that we are doing a disservice to a young man if we do not introduce him to the new concepts while he is still an undergraduate?

Lord Robbins

My Lords, I have heard that argument before and I treat it with respect. But if I look at other countries I find that up to the age of 18 the traditional core of school subjects is maintained. What is good enough for France and the United States of America is good enough for me in my present frame of mind. I would conclude with a wider consideration. It has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, and I completely agree with the reservations which he has expressed. I think that the invention of the binary system was one of the less happy inventions of that great socialist Minister, Tony Crosland. The intention of the binary system, which is surely a classic case of locking the stable door after the horse had bolted, the CATS having been elevated to the rank of technological universities, was to create another series of institutions which should rival the universities in prestige and in respect of degree giving.

In spite of what has been said in the maiden speech of the noble Baroness and by the noble Lord, Lord Wynne-Jones, I doubt whether there can be unanimous agreement of the success up to date of the majority of the polytechnics, dedicated teachers though some of them have succeeded in acquiring. But here they are—here I join forces with the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey—and they have come to stay, because there is no putting back the clock, and they are without effective means of co-ordination with other branches of higher education, especially with the universities. I blame the universities to some extent for not taking the initiative in this respect. But as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, hinted from time to time, universities are not necessarily in a hurry to take initiatives.

I am therefore forced to the conclusion that some sort of administrative overall arrangements must be made to co-ordinate what is going on over the whole field of higher education. I doubt very much whether Lord Crowther-Hunt's suggestion of a Royal Commission is appropriate. Royal Commissions argue among themselves, especially about contentious subjects of this sort, which members of Royal Commissions may or may not represent. It is much more desirable to have a continuous body used to working together on the various problems and gradually getting to know their respective ideas, interests, and the compromises which are possible. If such a body were to come speedily into existence, I think it would increase greatly the efficiency of higher education as a whole, and it might even save some money.

7.24 p.m.

Lord Bowden

My Lords, the hour is late and much of what I had hoped to say has already been said far more authoritatively and eloquently than I could myself hope to say it. I was particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, for introducing this debate to us, particularly because parts of his speech I recognised as almost exactly the same as the evidence which I gave to Lord Robbins' Committee when it met nearly 20 years ago. Many parts of this subject we are discussing have hardly changed in a very long time.

Some of the observations that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has just made have hardly changed. He makes the point that students choose their final discipline much too early in life. This is a point which has been discussed many times. I myself said in this House almost 15 years ago that we trust at the moment the destiny of the schools, the destiny of the universities, and the destiny of British industry to the unfettered choice of 14 or 15 year-old schoolboys who are at that time making up their minds on which side of the total spectrum of knowledge they would choose to spend their lives to specialise.

I also said—and this is true too—that it is almost inevitable that the less valuable a subject is the better it is going to be taught in schools. In other words, as soon as mathematics becomes important the mathematicians leave the schools and go into industry. But classics is taught by extremely able men who having got into school, can never get out again. They are apt, thereafter, to influence schoolboys to follow their example. So I suspect that the swing away from science and engineering is almost directly attributable to the increasing importance of science and engineering outside the world of the ordinary schools. That is my first point.

The second point I must try to make is this. I was peculiarly fortunate in that I went into the academic world just about the time when funds were first provided. The cornucopia was available to us. Just about the time I left, the Government stuck the bung right back in. So I was fortunate in that all the time I was in the academic world funds were available. I remember talking over the problem of what an institution such as mine, a technical university about 120 years old at the time I went to it, should be doing. I said that it should be emulating the achievements of the great technical universities of the continent: Charlotten-burg in Berlin was the first of them, then Delft in Holland, which is still there of course, and the ETH in Zurich where Einstein was, and the technical university at Stockholm, and so on.

I used to be told that I ought to try to emulate the great university MIT, in Boston, which I know very well. I used to point out that since they were spending more money at the time on research than all the English universities put together—nearly twice as much—it was hardly feasible that we in Manchester could do much to imitate them. But we did try nevertheless to develop some of the techniques and traditions which were current in Europe. I feel that it is only appropriate that I should tell your Lordships what happened when we did it.

The first department I tried to develop was a department connected with the design of machine tools. The reason for this was that we had been working on machine tools since the 'nineties, that the machine tool trade originated in Manchester with Joseph Whitworth, and that it is of course a very fundamental industry indeed.

In 1900 the Kaiser instructed the university of Charlottenburg to develop a department of machine tools, because he said that without such a department and without an appropriate industry based upon it, no industrialised country can hope to achieve independence and anything approaching prosperity. So we decided to develop machine tools in Manchester. The subject had been once studied and almost forgotten. By a most curious coincidence I was able to recruit as my first professor a man who was the son-in-law of Dr. Schlesinger who had been the first professor in Charlottenburg. His achievements made it possible for the German machine tool trade to flourish.

Our department was the first in England. It was much opposed by people who said, on perfectly general grounds, that no university has ever studied it before in England, it cannot be an appropriate subject for university study—this being the familiar academic tradition that nothing whatsoever can be done in an academic institution for the first time. However, we developed it. We had an extremely successful department of machine tool engineering, and we produced some of the best machine tool engineers the country had at the time, and they were offered jobs all over Europe.

Now what has happened to the machine tool trade? It has almost disappeared. Herberts is on the verge of catastrophe—I do not quite know its present state. I remember having a meeting of the machine tool trade in my office in Manchester in about 1960. There were then 15,000 men in the trade in the district in about five or six firms. I wanted to know what the men concerned, the designers and builders of machine tools, foresaw as a future for their industry. They said quite simply, "It is going to go bankrupt. We shall go bankrupt first, and we shall be followed into bankruptcy by the whole of the rest of the manufacturing industry in the North-West". I asked why, and they went on to explain that the system of accounting which the Government insisted they should use, that of historic costs, made it impossible for them to keep their factories up-to-date, and furthermore it made it impossible for other factories to buy the machine tools they were trying to sell. Thus, they lost simultaneously the ability to modernise their factories and the market they were hoping to supply.

They were quite right in what they foresaw, and in the last check I was able to make, out of the 15,000 people who were in the trade in 1960 (or whenever it was I had that meeting) only about 180 survived. All the firms represented round my table are now bankrupt. That is what comes of trying to develop a department connected with one of the most fundamental of all industries, one to which every other country has paid great respect and which is now about to be dominated by the Japanese, as other industries in this country have been.

So much for machine tools; you may say we were unlucky. Let me take the next department we wanted to develop, that of papermaking. We had the only department of papermaking in England; there are departments in half a dozen universities in America, Stockholm, Vienna and elsewhere, and I thought we should have one in England. We developed it and it received the enthusiastic support of the trade, who gave us a papermaking machine which cost them about £¼ million, and we produced some very valuable graduates who were enormously in demand. In fact, it is true to say that for some years they were the best paid of all our graduating classes, simply because the demand for them was so great. What has happened to the paper trade? It has gone, or very nearly, because the fiscal policy of the Government has made it impossible for ordinary manufacturing firms to pay for the fuel and energy which the paper trade needs. Thus, the great mill at Elsmere Port owned by Bowaters was closed three or four months ago.

"Twice unlucky", you may say. I next take the question of the textile trade. We had the best department of textile engineering and textile chemistry in the whole of this country and probably the whole of the Western world. For example, we studied and developed the nylons which were invented in America by Curruthers; and terylene, which was invented by Dr. Winfield in Manchester. I believe Winfield spent £5 inventing terylene and then ICI spent £10 million getting it into a fit state to use, that being a fair estimate of the difficulties of development compared sometimes with those of pure science; it is not merely that we are not as good at one than the other, just that sometimes we cannot afford it. Noble Lords know what has happened to the textile trade. What has happened to the fibres industry? We cannot make fibres any more, the reason being that Government policy has made it impossible to compete with the American fibre-makers, who get their oil at a discounted rate. Furthermore, the development of the major part of the textile trade has in effect led to a large part of it going to places like Hong Kong.

Three times unlucky? I pass to building and civil engineering. We had a very good department of civil engineering, and your Lordships will doubtless know that the trade is in terrible trouble at the moment. As I have said in this House before, in Manchester the main roads keep falling in. The standard unit of capacity for the size of a hole as it develops is what is called the DDB, which stands for one double-decker bus; a hole hardly rates if you cannot get a double decker bus in it, although it is hard to get one out afterwards. The first of them was not far from the central library and, when the hole finally fell in, it was on the very spot where the band marked time during the ceremony on Armistice Day. Indeed, lord mayors of Manchester woke up sweating at night wondering what would have happened if the hole had fallen in while the band was on the spot.

As things happened, the hole was held up by a curious mixture formed of cobblestones, tramlines (which somehow got left in the reinforcement) and tarmac. That provided a sort of link which enabled the whole thing to hold up until this vast hole was washed away as a result of the failure of the sewage system, although it was a failure also of the water supply. It is extremely remarkable to me that the Government should be refusing funds to enable such desperately important work of renovation to be done on the grounds that it would increase the public sector borrowing requirement.

If a city ceases to be workable and usable because one cannot get down the roads because they have fallen in, what is the point of trying to save on fundamentally essential preventative maintenance? Our civil engineers cannot get jobs. Nor can the builders get jobs, though there is a terrible shortage of houses. Both facts are due to the fact that the Government continuously mistake the shadow for the substance and insist on preserving the books in a form they can understand while ignoring the collapse of the various enterprises on which money urgently needs to be spent. When we emerge from the recession we are now in, if ever we do, we shall not have the appropriate infrastructure on which the cities can depend, nor an adequate supply of skilled men, be they technicians or engineers.

I have given several examples of the total failure of the work we did in Manchester to produce the kind of men whom society apparently values, and I will cite another case. In the remarkably difficult and most neglected problem in the transmission of electric power from what one might call the dam to the light switch, we had the only department in the country which was concerned with that, and it was very closely allied with work then being done by Metropolitan Vickers. About 15 years ago, before the trouble started in the Middle East, I remember that we did a survey and it turned out that in the whole of that great are in the world which extends from Algiers to Bangkok, there were 15 Government establishments connected and concerned with the design of transmission systems to supply power to those developing countries. Of the 15, we had staffed 13.

That is what happens when one recruits foreign students. Those chaps went home and were then buying British equipment. We shall not do it again. The argument, too, for civil engineers extends very much into the field of foreign students. A great many Malaysian students came to England, went home to run their civil services and then they tended to give contracts to English firms they knew, and so we had work building roads, airports and all sort of things. I remember once trying to persuade Sir Keith Joseph that that was the case, but he defied me to produce definite and specific evidence of a single case in which influence had been brought to bear by a civil servant in Malaysia in favour of an English firm for reasons other than the purely contractual nature of the bid. Of course, I had to tell him that if I could find such a man he would undoubtedly be gaoled by his own government.

We have in fact destroyed some of the very best salesmen the country will ever have in foreign parts. But I ask the Government: What is the point of developing schools of engineering, creating departments in machine tools, civil engineering, textiles and power transmission if the industries for which the men have been educated are subsequently found to have disappeared or been destroyed? It is very disheartening, to put it at its lowest.

I should like to make another observation. I do not believe that Government planning would do any better. I remember going to Moscow to talk to Mr. Rudnev, who at that time was in charge of the whole of the university system of Russia. He said to me, "We in Russia have an enormously elaborate, detailed, complicated system of manpower forecasting. We always get the answers wrong. You have no system at all. You always get the answers wrong. Which of us does better? "I told him the story of the attempt that the Government made to develop departments of town and country planning in the universities. That was about 10 or 15 years ago; I forget exactly when it was. There were not any such departments in England and the Government, through the various authorities, begged universities to establish appropriate departments. I remember that the Social Sciences Council gave large numbers of grants. Departments were established and staff and students were recruited. Four years later the first class graduated, but there were no jobs at all for town and country planners—because the Government had stopped building.

That is not a very good augury regarding the effect of Government planning. All I can say is that the system has been what one might best describe as in a state of chaos, only roughly organised. I think that this is about the best that one can do for universities because the world is changing so fast that one cannot hope to plan for it.

But I beg your Lordships to believe that the discovery by any university that the best work that it has done over a period of a decade or more has been to produce engineers for industries that have disappeared since the work began is very frightening. One wonders what kind of industry there will be left in order to bring us out of the recession when the time comes, if ever it does. We have never had enough skilled manpower of any kind. Other noble Lords have spoken of the desperate shortage of ordinary skilled men, centre lathe operators and people such as that. This is terribly true. There are not enough of them. There are not enough at any level to manage, run and organise British industry upon which in the end the whole country totally depends.

7.43 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, first, I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Crowther-Hunt for introducing the debate in so lively and interesting a way. I found myself disagreeing with him on a certain number of matters, and the word "philistine" came to my mind, too, in regard to deciding which subjects students should choose. There should be freedom of choice, provided that there is enthusiasm for the subject and the qualifications are adequate.

Next, I wish to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle, on her maiden speech. I have known her for some time and I know of her very great knowledge of the whole of this subject. I am sure that she will be a tremendous asset to us in this House.

I feel that at this stage I must comment on the bareness of the Benches opposite and indeed on the sparsity of speakers from the Government Benches on this very important subject; we have had only two, besides the Minister. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, rather cunningly got out of having to defend the Government. This lack of speakers I find rather surprising at a time when the subject is of such vital importance.

I now turn to what I had intended to say. Since our debate in March on the effect of Government policies on the education service there has been a further attack on local authorities as a result of Mr. Heseltine's threat to withdraw up to £450 million of grant if their revised budgets did not conform to the targets that he has set them. As no doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Platt of Writtle, is well aware, Essex stands to lose £17 million. Cambridgeshire stands to lose £14 million, and Kent £13 million—and these are all well-behaved, Tory-controlled councils that have been making real efforts to comply with Government requirements. Of these sums, the major part would have to come from education—£9.7 million of the £14 million in the case of Cambridgeshire.

The education service must realise that this argument is as much about educational expenditure as it is about local government expenditure in general. All English shire counties but two are said to be overspending, as are all metropolitan districts, with the exception of four. These are all education authorities. The record of shire districts—not education authorities—is claimed to be better.

We must realise that what is at stake is actual expenditure on education and that a real assault is being made on the service, which has already taken a huge battering. One can only hope that Mr. Heseltine will pay heed to the many representations that are being made to him by deeply concerned Conservative councillors from all over the country and will thus retreat from his position. If he does not, the public sector higher and further education budgets, which take a large share of LEA expenditure, will of course be hit yet again. Judging from what the White Paper said, advanced further education is due to lose 11 per cent. next year and non-advanced 8.7 per cent. I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was a little hard in what he said regarding what has been lost in advanced further education in the public sector, because as my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones said, they have suffered from the capping of the pool—some much more than others. I think that they have suffered from very severe cuts indeed. Often enough we have heard of worn out equipment in the colleges that cannot be replaced, and of inability to buy equipment needed for new courses in connection with developments in technology.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said that already industry is often far ahead when compared with what is available in the colleges, where technicians and others are probably being taught on day release. Staff and technicians will not be there to mount new courses, and students are already being turned away from colleges. There is ample evidence of this. This seems to me to be no way to prepare for the end of the recession. Already the country is short of the skilled workers that industry needs. This point has been made by a number of noble Lords during the debate. If the very colleges that provide the training are falling down on the job, through no fault of their own, where will our skilled workforce come from?

If the numbers of students at universities are to be reduced, which seems to be a certainty, if places cannot be found at local education authority institutions because of the capped pool and the local authority cuts, are we to assume that the Government have abandoned the Robbins' principle? It was very fascinating to hear the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, this evening stick up for the principle that he propounded in his report nearly 20 years ago, and I was delighted by what he said. How is the country to provide for those with qualifications and motivation who can find no place at either kind of institution? Is that how the Government choose to treat the country's resource of intelligent man and woman power?

It is the pace of the contraction that is causing so much worry. Every noble Lord who has spoken in the debate has mentioned this point. The White Paper and the Government call for contraction that is quite unrealistic. I need not enlarge on this point because it has been mentioned in detail by so many speakers. To shed staff quickly is not much easier for local authorities than it is for the universities. Now no one can be given notice until September, which makes Mr. Heseltine's requests even more impossible to meet. The difficulties in dismissing staff, planning early retirement, and arranging redundancies are enormous, and I very much doubt whether the rundown can be achieved in three years. But I ask the Minister if it is, will the cost of the redundancies and early retirement in the public sector not exceed the cost of the salaries saved, and therefore increase expenditure in the next two or three years? This must be being worked out by the local authorities, and I hope she can give us an answer.

How can the sort of cuts that the Government want made be best managed? I have complained about the pace of the reductions being asked for, but I am quite prepared to admit that some rationalisation of higher education, universities and polytechnics is necessary. This, again, has been mentioned by many noble Lords, and I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, that both must be looked at together. If a committee of the sort he suggested could be set up, that would seem to me to be an excellent idea. Both sides of the boundary line should be studied together. If you have polys and universities in the same town, it is obviously ridiculous to duplicate courses. It seems that the UGC, in spite of some recent remarks by vice-chancellors, is supported by the universities as providing a buffer between them and the DES, but it is not looked upon as Mr. Carlisle's poodle. I wonder how much influence, in fact, the DES can wield through the power that it has in providing information and material, as the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn, suggested in his speech.

But what about the public sector? Local authorities have said for years that they want a central body for that sector. It would seem that the DES is not going to push the plans that were divulged in the document that was leaked just before our March debate, whereby the polys and those colleges of higher education with more than a certain percentage of advanced work would have been hived off from local authority control. Can the Minister tell us whether her department is going to support proposals which CLEA is likely to put forward soon for an Oakes-type national body, responsible for financial and programme planning? I appreciate that no details can be given while the matter is under discussion, and I believe that the associations are having meetings fairly shortly, but I hope the Minister will give us some idea of the way thinking in her department is going. Uncertainty is not good for morale anywhere.

My Lords, a word on governing bodies of polys and technical colleges. There have been rumours that the local authorities are asking that the instruments and articles of government should be re-written to give local authority representatives majority representation. Having served as a member of a local authority and as chairman of a college governing body, I myself think that that would be a mistake. The strength of the governing body is in having on it adequate representatives of industry, commerce, unions and staff, and it is in this way, it seems to me, that the colleges can know what is going on in their area and respond quickly to the needs of the local area, which is what they have been particularly good at. I hope the Minister can give us some assurances on this.

I also want to ask the Minister about the powers which would be given to the Secretary of State if draft regulations published earlier this month are adopted. Under them, it would seem that he had powers like those used to shut down teacher-training establishments. He could close down whole colleges. He could direct the number and categories of students to be admitted to advanced-level courses. Now this power exists only in relation to teacher-training courses. By using this directive, more than 30 colleges of education have been closed. My guess is that, having had to give way to local authority pressure and not take over a large proportion of colleges in the public sector, the Secretary of State is trying to gain some central control in this way. Can we please have an answer from the Minister on this? And if those regulations go through, will anything like the Crombie code or any other form of compensation apply?

This would seem to be an appropriate moment to speak of teacher-training, which has been mentioned by only one other speaker, the right reverend Prelate. I am glad a DES proposal to cut by 30 per cent. post-graduate certificate of education courses is being resisted by its own advisory committee on the supply and education of teachers. The suggestion of an overall reduction of 10 per cent. in entry into the colleges by 1983 was thought by the same body to be too great. On demographic grounds, there may be a need for a further temporary cut in initial teaching provision, but it is very important that the basic training capacity of the universities and the public sector institutions be maintained because of longer-term needs. The right reverend Prelate referred to this.

Increased initial training in 1990 and later will be wanted when the numbers will start going up instead of down, and the need for in-service training. The numbers should not be run down to such an extent that institutions are weakened, because they will be required to respond to increasing needs in the future when, as we are told, the economic situation will start to improve. If training institutions temporarily have some spare staff time, that could be very well used for the large amount of in-service training that is needed. We were talking of the need in relation to teachers involved with children with special educational needs only yesterday, in our Warnock debate.

Another reason for not reducing the numbers going into teacher-training at the moment is that we want to avoid gross distortion of the age structure of the profession. With decreasing rolls, the profession is becoming more elderly and more static, and that again calls for more in-service training as more demands are made on them, in providing a broader curriculum for all and more adequate technological education for many if they are to be kept up-to-date. National needs will not be best served if an axe is wielded too hastily on teacher-training.

While fewer teachers are being taken on in the schools, would this not be the time to insist on the B.Ed. being a four-year honours degree, thus providing a more sustained and professional training than is possible in the one-year course, and the postgraduate certificate extended to two years? We should then be raising standards and improving the quality of the teaching force, which we understand are aims to which this Government are committed. The principal of Homerton College told me at the week-end that very able students are coming into teaching, quite capable of taking the honours course. I hope the rumours that Dr. Boyson is proposing to abolish the B.Ed. are not true. However attractive a one-year course might be from a planning and control point of view, it would be extremely foolish now that the value of the four-year course is being recognised. Could we please have a reassurance from the Minister?

I want now to turn to a quite different subject, except that it too has to do with training. The Manpower Services Commission's document, A New Training Initiative, which the Minister mentioned in her speech earlier, recognises all the problems and states them clearly. Training has not been given sufficient priority in Britain. We show up very badly in comparison with other European countries. The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, mentioned this in relation to the 18-year-olds, the students going on to higher education, but I should like to quote from the annex to the report, where 16-year-olds are being talked about, and how they are provided for in Europe. In France, for instance, provision for 16- to 18-year-old school-leavers who have not yet found work, and for all unemployed workers over 18, is the responsibility of the state in terms of both facilities and finance. All other vocational training is financed jointly by the state and employers.

In 1978, 67 per cent. of young people eligible to leave school continued in full-time education, 27 per cent. receiving general education and 40 per cent. obtaining vocational education. A further 14 per cent. entered apprenticeships. Dealing with Germany, it says: The normal route to employment in West Germany is provided through the extensive apprenticeship system which is controlled through the Vocational Training Act 1969. Official Government policy is to make apprenticeships, normally lasting around 3 years, available to all young people seeking them, and in 1980, 50 per cent. of school leavers entered apprenticeships on finishing compulsory schooling". Although our numbers for those staying on in full- time education after 16 are quite high—32 per cent. is quoted—the figures of 10 per cent. for vocational education and 14 per cent. for those going into apprenticeships are miserable. We have a lot to learn from Germany. Whereas in France 19 per cent. of 16-year-olds go straight into work or unemployment and in Germany 7 per cent., in Great Britain it is 44 per cent. We simply cannot afford to let that go on.

I would endorse the three objectives set out in paragraph 23 of the document, the whole of which I should have liked to read out, but in view of the lateness of the time I will not except for a very short extract from the second of them, which says: we must move towards a position where all young people under the age of 18 have the opportunity either of continuing in full time education or of entering training or a period of planned work experience combining work-related training and education". The document rightly grasps the nettle of costs. It says in paragraph 36: There will have to be a significant increase in the resources devoted—whether by Government or industry or both—to training". The question of whose responsibility training is has got to be faced up to and settled. It is industry's, say Governments and probably many trade unionists, too. I believe the investment in training must be Government-led, as it is in most EEC countries. The future of the industrial training hoards is under discussion now. The £50 million support costs that the Government contribute are to stop in December 1981. This seems particularly foolish at a time when industry is suffering from recession to a great extent as a result of Government policies. If Government wanted to help industry and the training of the young, it could remit National Insurance contributions made by or in respect of the 16 and 17 year-olds. I realise that this would be about £300 million per annum. This suggestion was apparently included in an earlier version of the paper and, unfortunately, I think, omitted from the final draft.

The general attitude on costs in this consultation document must be seen in stark contrast to the negative and unrealistic view expressed in the foreword by the four Secretaries of State which implies that the present Government will pursue the objectives which, however, they endorse only through a reshuffle of existing resources. The new training initiative merits careful study and calls for action. Legislative action would be needed. My regret is that the MSC calls for responses by 30th September. Decisions will then presumably take some time to be arrived at and one wonders when action will be taken. It is needed urgently now if the national needs and the needs of the young people are to be met. At the end of last week another document, The Legal Basis of Further Education, came out. The Secretary of State has invited the views of those interested by the end of October. I imagine that action on this and the new training initiative must be looked at together; so changes one sees receding and receding.

Closely linked to discussion on the new training initiative is the question of what provision in full-time education should be made for the 16 to 19 year-olds by the LEAs. I spoke in our March debate of the disappointment at the weakness and wetness of the Macfarlane Report resulting from its ignoring a large part of its remit, particularly the instruction to take into account geographically and socially disparate rates of participation in 16-plus eduaction; co-existent training and apprenticeship provision; the perceived requirements of employers and industrial training boards, and the relationship between education and training agencies. It virtually ignored part-time education and training and the neglected needs of those 44 per cent. of school-leavers who get no education or training on leaving school. The MSC document has filled some of those gaps. One cannot help wondering what the attitude of the DES is to all this. Responsibility for education and training for a very large proportion of young people seems to have been taken over by the Department of Employment. I suppose one ought to be grateful that Mr. Carlisle put his name to the MSC document.

I hope very much that the DES will give a lead in encouraging authorities to move to tertiary colleges where vocational and academic courses can run side by side. I feel absolutely certain that in this way the educational, financial and, most important, the social needs of that age group are best served. I was rather horrified to see in today's Guardian that Fred Naylor of the Conservative Research Centre for Policy Studies, a former examinations officer with the Schools Council, had produced a report, Sixth Form in Crisis, which came out against the abolition of sixth forms and said: introduction of sixth form colleges and tertiary colleges should be stopped". I hope that he has no influence. If this advice is followed, it means going a great many paces backward. The worship of the academic above all else I trusted was ebbing a bit.

Mr. Tomlinson, chief education officer of Cheshire, in an interesting and perceptive article on the 16- to 19-year-olds in Education, said that one of the interesting discoveries made when the Youth Opportunities Programme began to tackle the problem of how to make these less able young people employable was that what they lacked first and foremost was self-confidence and the basic skills of social competence for coping with the complexities of everyday life. If money for compensatory education had not been cut by the local authorities, more could perhaps have been done in the schools; but, he went on: We should stop the folly of creating a failure group and then spending money trying to put it right". Massive amounts of non-education money are being used to compensate for the failure of educational policy and practice. Between tertiary colleges and the traineeship schemes envisaged in the new training initiative, some real hope can emerge for a large section of our young people who have been badly served—and not only by this Government, I admit.

We must have a youth wage to act as a positive incentive. Even if a young person becomes enthused by an MSC course he has been on for three to six months he probably will not be able to transfer to a full-time course either because his local authority will not give him a discretionary grant or because he would lose his supplementary benefit. The intervention of the MSC as a grant-awarding body reveals the DES and the local authorities as poverty stricken and ineffectual. The present plight of local authorities and the decision on the part of the DHSS to withdraw social security from students on full-time courses deny those most in need of the opportunity to pursue education and training, and encourages idleness. Those most affected by the lack of a national policy covering all aspects of student finance are the poor, young women and members of ethnic minorities. A youth wage could solve a great many of these difficulties.

While on discouragement, I want to say one word on Easter leavers. Yesterday the latest unemployment figures were released. The number of unemployed school-leavers had gone up by 117,441 since May. Now schoolchildren leave at Easter because if they do not do so and stay on until July they will draw no benefit until September; whereas they can get it almost at once if they do not stay for the summer term and that may mean not taking their exams.

Another stupidity and unfairness is that, having left, O-level candidates can go back to the school and take their examinations, CSE candidates cannot. I do hope that the Minister will see that action is taken on this and, as she has so much to do with the DHSS, about the benefit problem, too. I had hoped to say a word about the open tech. But I have already spoken for too long. Others have spoken about overseas students. I still feel strongly about them. It seems to me that Government policies have been ill thought-out and improvised. They came in with no long-term plan for higher and further education which, more than any other area, needs it and it needs it now even more urgently, it seems to me. All they are doing is this sudden cutting and contraction which, I think, every noble Lord thinks is quite impossible to carry out. I hope very much that they will have second thoughts.

8.8 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, we have had an interesting and stimulating debate this afternoon. I think it was most useful that the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, introduced his debate in a very frank way and raised discussion about educational points and not (as so many educational debates seem to do) about points entirely devoted to various aspects of finance. For this I am personally grateful. I think that it added interest and purpose to the debate and it has been helpful for the whole tenor in which it has been conducted. I will draw the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary to everything that has been said today and I am sure that they will read the proceedings with great interest.

I should like to start by congratulating my noble friend Lady Platt on her maiden speech. She is very knowledgeable about education and we shall look forward to hearing from her on many occasions. I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Vaizey for his speech. It was helpful, as always. I might say in passing to the noble Baroness, Lady David, that if there were fewer speakers on the Government side, she might like to know that I have had a number of apologies from those who would have liked to take part in the debate but who, because of its timing, were quite unable to do so, and that there was no lack of interest.

Many noble Lords who have spoken today accepted that there are areas in the higher education system where economies not only can be made but should be made. The difficulty arises in achieving those economies while retaining the standards of excellence for which many of our institutions are justly renowned; the standards which have been referred to of teaching, research and the ability to produce so many Nobel prizewinners. The noble Lords, Lord Annan and Lord Crowther-Hunt, indicated that it was only because of the economies which are now being introduced and requested that institutions are addressing themselves to the problems of tackling situations which many of them recognise have existed for a very long time. Whether the time in which they have to do that is too short is, I can see, a matter of great anxiety to some, but I suspect that if matters were delayed, nothing would happen.

The uncomfortable truth is that so many of the decisions which perhaps should have been taken in the past, and which will have to be taken in the future, are going to be difficult decisions—and no one in the Government or outside the Government does anything but recognise the difficulties confronting higher education. But no one will take those decisions unless they have to take them, and that is a fact we must recognise in everything we say.

The noble Lord, Lord Annan, indicated to me a number of the points he wished to raise and as they were also raised by the noble Lords, Lord Robbins and Lord Wedderburn of Charlton, I will first turn to the apportionment of resources between universities and the maintained higher education system. I shall go on to say something about redundancies and the problems of overseas students.

As to the apportionment of resources, the reduction in Government support for recurrent expenditure for higher education in 1981–82 was broadly comparable for university and non-university sectors. The Government's expenditure plans up to 1983–84, as announced in March 1981, provide for a progressive reduction in expenditure for home students, but the exact apportionment of the resources as a whole in 1982–83 and 1983–84 still remains to be settled. However, both the UGC and the local authority associations have been asked by my department to assume for administrative purposes a reduction in institutional expenditure, net of tuition fee income, of rather more than 8 per cent. by 1983–84 below the levels announced in March 1980. The department has been discussing the implications of that reduction with each of the bodies concerned. These discussions are still continuing, and they are aimed at ensuring that the reduced resources available will be used to provide a well-structured and viable higher education system capable of responding to national needs.

If I understood the noble Lord, Lord Annan, correctly, I heard him say that more severe volume cuts would be inflicted or should be inflicted on the public sector of education than on the university sector. I am sure that the noble Lord will not be surprised to learn that the public sector can be just as eloquent in putting forward reasons why it should be protected as can the universities. One of the difficulties in considering the question of apportionment across the binary line stems from the need to produce a better basis for drawing comparisons.

First, there is the question of purpose. I listened, to the point that was strongly made by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, that polytechnics should perform a different role. To an extent they do, and I agree that we need to reinforce their initial vocational and technological role. One of our objectives will be to consider this matter in reforming the management of higher education in the public sector. Secondly, as I said at the beginning of the debate, we have taken steps to improve the base for making comparisons; this is important. The department has set up a number of working groups, which include representatives of the UGC and the local authority associations, to study the problems involved in obtaining comparable measures of such factors as costs, student levels and staffing standards. I hope that the results will enable us to obtain a more accurate view of the situation.

I should now like to turn to the whole question of overseas students. This point has been raised by many noble Lords, and in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Wedderburn of Charlton. The noble Lord asked whether the review to which I referred in December 1980 has been carried out. The department, with the help of the UGC, has mounted a continuing exercise to monitor the effects of the policy on overseas students. The first stage of this—to check on the enrolment of new overseas students in 1980–81—shows that new postgraduate entrants fell by 11 per cent., undergraduates by 9 per cent., entrants to the maintained higher education sector by 28 per cent., and entrants to non-advanced further education by 44 per cent. Despite this, the total number of overseas students in 1980–81 remained some 4 per cent. higher than the quota for the year set by the previous Administration.

I hope that those figures will give some comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, who spoke, if I may say so, as though there were no overseas students at all in our universities, when there are, of course, considerably more overseas students than there were 10 years ago, let alone 20 years ago. The number of overseas students is still higher than it would have been under the last Labour Government's quota system.

We recognise that we have a role to play in the education of students from third world countries. Funds have been and will continue to be made available to such students through the Overseas Development Administration. The various programmes and schemes supported add up to a substantial contribution to the training of people from overseas, at a cost in 1980 amounting to some £34 million. The Government have decided to increase that support in real terms by allocating sufficient aid funds, now amounting to some £42 million, to training programmes in 1981–82, in order to restore the number of new awards for students and trainees from developing countries under Government programmes and the Commonweath scholarship and fellowship plan, to approximately the levels of 1978–79. There will still remain the grant of £5 million over a three year period, beginning in 1981–82, for high level training of Zimbabwean students completing A level courses in the United Kingdom this year under the pre-independence programme financed by Britain.

Additionally, there is the fee support scheme under the overseas aid programme, which is being extended for 1981–82 with plans to make up to 300 awards available to selected privately financed postgraduate students from developing countries who are suffering hardship as a result of the increases. These are the facts, and I do not believe that it is helpful to overseas students, to universities or to the country as a whole to suggest that there are now no overseas students in our universities or indeed that the Government are not mindful of what is happening.

Lord Robbins

My Lords, the noble Baroness, is reassuring with regard to the third world, if that term has any meaning in the variety of countries that it covers, but I have yet to hear any apology for the Government's policy recognising the fact that not all the people who come as distinguished graduates from the United States, Canada or Australia have rich parents. Indeed, I have been acutely reminded of this fact by the recollection that the present president of the powerful American Economic Association, who took a degree at the LSE, certainly would not have been able to afford the fees which are being charged now.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I understand that point and I recognise that not everyone is going to be covered by these schemes and that some people will be affected. But we have to look at our own economies and, as the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, will know, we are not unique in having to look at the fees charged to overseas students. Indeed, the Australian Government have decided to charge overseas students, and New Zealand and Canada have also put up their fees. This is something which is happening because a great many countries are having to look at the costs of all these matters.

Perhaps now I may turn to the question of redundancies, about which I said something in my opening remarks.

Lord Irving of Dartford

My Lords, before leaving the question of overseas students, I do not think that many of us said that there were no overseas students; but the prediction about the fall in income is what we are really concerned with and its impact on university financing in 1981–82. I wonder whether the noble Baroness would comment on that.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I said I think what the background to the whole question about overseas students' fees is. One of the important things is that the universities should have overseas students because then they will have the fees. The important matter is that the total numbers have not fallen as dramatically as once was supposed. In fact, we have slightly more than the numbers which, had the noble Lord's Government been in office, they would have achieved. The important matter about the fee income is that the numbers should keep up.

If I may now try and get back to the other question of redundancies, I said something about this at the beginning of my speech. It is only right to add that it is early to estimate what effects the Government's expenditure plans will have on staffing levels and how the contraction will be achieved. This is one of the matters being considered in the discussions that I have mentioned that the Department are at present conducting with the UGC and local authority associations.

As the noble Lord, Lord Irving, asked a question about this I should say that once a clearer overall picture emerges, we will then be in a better position to assess the likely cost of the contraction. The Government will then want to take the UGC's advice about meeting that cost. Could I confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Irving, that the universities recurrent grant settlement for 1981–82 announced on 13th March included an earmarked sum of £20 million for a start to be made in restructuring the system. That was inclusive in the grant.

The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, asked whether or not his principle (which is known now in shorthand as the Robbins' principle) was being abandoned in connection with the numbers of students at our universities. Although it is true that there is likely to be some reduction in new entrants to universities, there is no necessary connection between the UGC target numbers and what has been called after the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, the Robbins' principle. The principle has to be considered in relation to higher education as a whole. There are now under-subscribed courses both in universities and polytechnics, and the total level of admissions will depend on the extent to which students are prepared to be flexible. It is not yet possible to say whether any suitably qualified students will fail to gain admission to places in higher education. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Vaizey said, the proportion and take-up of the age group entering universities, which was running at about 14 per cent. in the early 1970s, is now running at just over 12 per cent. So it is a little difficult to predict how these numbers will work out in the future.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln asked a specific question about voluntary colleges. I should like to explain that final decisions have yet to be taken on the apportionment of resources available for further and higher education; but of course the voluntary colleges on whose behalf the right reverend Prelate spoke so urgently will be expected to take their share of the reduction necessary over the next two years.

My officials have had a number of most useful discussions with representatives of the voluntary colleges to consider on the basis of illustrative economies ways in which permanent savings could be most satisfactorily achieved. These will continue. As the right reverend Prelate is aware, responsibility for managing their affairs within the overall limits of finance available rests with individual institutions rather than with the department. Institutions will no doubt wish to consider scope for achieving permanent savings necessary, not only by reductions of staff numbers but also by savings in non-teaching costs and by increased income.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked a question about teacher training. She will be aware that over the next 10 years the schools population will drop by 1–2 million and therefore it is right that we should reconsider the capacity of initial teacher training systems in the light of the contraction of that magnitude. The Advisory Committee on the Supply and Education of Teachers is working towards advice to the Secretaries of State by midsummer 1981 and this is intended to cover in respect of initial training the long term capacity of the system and whether action should be taken to curtail output in the short term when the demand for newly-trained teachers is expected to be extremely low.

The Government, in considering the committee's advice, will wish to be satisfied that the supply of teachers for priority subjects will be sustained at its present high level. The noble Baroness also asked about the cost of redundancies in the public higher education service. I should like to tell her that the department are discussing the implications of the Government's expenditure plans with the local authority associations and also with the UGC. This includes the question of starting levels. Until a clearer picture emerges about the likely levels, it is not possible to say what the cost will be or indeed exactly what proposals we will have over this matter.

I should like to reassure the House about the whole question of further education and school regulations which was raised by the noble Baroness. The 16 to 19 review referred to the desirability of common provisions in the regulations governing schools and further education institutions to facilitate full co-operation and rationalisation. We take this point and draft regulations are about to be laid before Parliament which carry this principle forward in areas such as accommodation standards. For the future, officials of the department and the local authority associations have reported on questions to do with the legal basis of further education. The Government's proposals will be brought forward in the light of reactions to that report. I should like to assure her on the point about governing bodies. This issue is being studied by an official group and should any changes be proposed, this will be a matter for wide consultation with all interests in the higher education service.

I should now like to turn to the important points that the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, raised to which I have not made a reference, not because we were not interested by what he had to say but because I felt it right to answer the rather specific points that had been raised. The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, referred to the fact that we are not producing enough technicians. The noble Baroness, Lady David, was saying the same thing. The noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, said that we did not have enough engineers. There was a general theme running through a great deal of the debate that with all the money that had been spent on education since the end of the war, we still could not produce enough of the skilled people that we need and we undoubtedly will need when we have the upturn in the economy, when industry will need all the skilled technicians and craftsmen that it can possibly get.

It might therefore be helpful if I start off by saying something about what we are doing in the schools. The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, referred to his concern about the curricula of schools and their relevance to today's needs. We have, of course, addressed ourselves to this position and a short while ago we published a document entitled the School Curriculum for consideration both by local education authorities and by schools. This does not seek to interfere with the statutory and traditional responsibilities of authorities in schools to shape the curriculum to the needs of individuals, but it commends certain principles.

One is that there should be a broad core curriculum available to all pupils up to the age of 16 and that no pupil should have to give up key subjects too early. We also urged the strengthening of links between schools and industry; and good practice in this area has been recorded and commended in a recently published report by the Inspectorate. What is important is that we recognise the need to keep up English, mathematics, sciences and a modern language as well as practical and aesthetic subjects throughout the compulsory school years. This ought to enable pupils leaving schools to have a much wider choice of subjects which they can study later on.

The noble Lord may like to know in fact that admissions to engineering courses are actually rising. In the early 1970s the number of entrants for home undergraduate courses was falling. The number of home undergraduate engineering new entrants decreased from 9,200 in 1971–72 to 7,700 in 1973–74. At the same time the numbers of overseas entrants to engineering courses were rising from 900 in 1971–72 to 1,500 in 1973–74. These trends have recently reversed, and the number of home engineering undergraduate entrants increased by 33 per cent. to 10,300 between 1973–74 and 1979–80, and the proportion of overseas engineering entrants started to fall after 1976–77 and was only 16 per cent. in 1979–80. Not only has the number of home engineering undergraduate entrants increased but there is evidence that their quality, as measured by the A-level results of candidates accepted through UCCA, has been increasing steadily since 1977–78.

The noble Lord also criticised the arts/science balance in the public sector, and it is interesting that if we look carefully at the classifications, using the 1978–79 figures, arts includes teacher-training, and if we take out teacher-training nearly 40 per cent. of the students are in the sciences. The social sciences, despite all the comments that have been made, actually embrace management, business, marketing and law; so that these subjects in themselves make a contribution to our industry.

The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who also made a most interesting speech, raised a different point about the age balance in higher education. What is interesting and what I think will please her is that it has changed. If one looks at the proportion in 1966–67 as between young and mature home students, there were 88,000 young students and 18,000 mature home students. By 1979–80 the young were up about 25 per cent. but the mature students had nearly doubled to 34.000. This I have no doubt will be a continuing trend.

The noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, and the noble Baroness, Lady Platt, referred to further education and compared this with other countries. It is very difficult, as I am sure the noble Lord will recognise, to make direct comparisons. They are not easy because systems differ and the data are not always comparable; but we accept that in general participation in this country compares unfavourably with that of France and West Germany. This point was made by the 16 to 19 review carried out by the Department of Education and the local authority associations under the chairmanship of my honourable friend Mr. Neil Macfarlane last year. It was one of the reasons why this review called for a major reappraisal of education and training provision for the 16 to 19 year-olds. That was very much in line with what my noble friend Lady Platt called for by way of rationalisation and efficiency and relevance of what is on offer. It is also, of course, the message of the new training initiative, the MSC consultative document to which I referred in my earlier speech. We look forward, with the MSC, to the response by employers, unions, training organisations and the education service, to the critical issues of future planning and provision which this document raises. The noble Lord, Lord Irving, referred to the Bradford scheme, which again arises from the 16 to 19 review.

I think that the background to all this discussion is our very great concern about the young, and particularly the young who cannot find jobs and the young who could benefit from more education and training. It is encouraging that the participation among the 16 to 19 year-olds in schools and full-time non-advanced further education has increased. The Youth Opportunities Programme has expanded rapidly since its inception in 1978 with 300,000 opportunities in 1980–81 and an expected 450,000 this year. Equally importantly, the MSC are committed to improving the quality of this scheme. Although the numbers staying on at 16-plus are increasing we estimate that there is spare capacity in colleges of further education of the order of 10 per cent. or about 40,000 to 50,000 equivalent places. These will often be in specialist and craft areas and may not always be in the right places geographically, but even so there does seem to be some scope for encouraging greater use of further education opportunities and of existing resources.

My Lords, this has been a very wide-ranging debate and I am conscious that I have not answered many of the points that have been raised. It is an area in which I think we all need to work together and think very hard on how to make the best use of the very considerable sums of money that are being spent in this area of education and to meet the justified criticisms that have been a theme from both sides of the House during this debate. Above all, we must try to meet and to help the young people of our country and the economy of our country, because unless we have a soundly based economy with added money we shall not have more money for education or for many of the desirable things we all want to see.

Baroness David

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask whether the questions which have not been answered—and I fully understand that they cannot be answered tonight—will be answered in a letter?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I shall be happy to write to the noble Baroness. I will read her speech tomorrow and if there are specific points on which I think it would be helpful to write to her I will certainly put them in a letter.

8.36 p.m.

Lord Crowther-Hunt

My Lords, this has really been a most interesting and valuable debate, marked of course by that distinguished maiden speech from the noble Baroness, Lady Platt. I should like to say particularly how grateful I am to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for the extreme care she has taken in answering so many of the points, not only those that I raised but those raised by other speakers as well.

Yet, at the end, I feel a certain sense of disappointment, because I cannot help feeling it has all been a bit parochial. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, listed various initiatives her department was taking—more emphasis on computers, more co-operation between education and industry; working parties here, working parties there and a new management structure for higher education institutions in the public sector—though nothing on the relationships between that sector and the universities. Yet I could not help getting the impression that this was all rather a smokescreen of trivia to mask the consequences of the very serious cuts that the higher and further education system as a whole is going to have to face.

What I missed was a vision of the Government's concept for the future for higher and further education. Where is higher and further education to go? How in the future is it to meet the needs of society and the economic and social needs of this country? I did not get such a vision. Equally, I think it is true to say that, in a lot of the other argument and discussion that took place as the debate went on, I again thought we were getting rather bogged down with trivia. We had a lot of argument about tenure and redundancies and whether the equipment grant to the universities could be used to pay for redundancies. All that is important; but then we had the merits of Chelsea College and whether or not it is going in the right direction. We also had talk about staff/student ratios; but again there was no vision of where the higher and further education system should be going if it really is going to meet the needs of the latter half of this century and the early years of next century. All round, every now and then we had people saying, "There is a need for a re-think" and then we had very reasonable and valid pleas for more time to plan ahead for the changes which are being forced on the universities and the public sector in higher education by the Government's immediate cuts.

However, still there was no vision of where we should be hoping to get to; because there is no point in pleading for more time, if we do not know where we want to go and how we want to use that time. All that rather reinforced my plea to the Government, which I hope the noble Baroness will draw to the attention of her right honourable and honourable colleagues, about the need for some commission, or Royal Commission, to look at where we should be going in this area to meet the needs not just of the rest of this century but of the early years of next century.

I accept the modification of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and I hope that the Government will look at that very seriously, because I thought it was an invaluable idea that the noble Lord put forward when he said that we should have not a Royal Commission, but some continuous body conducting a public discussion about where we should be going. I assumed that what the noble Lord meant by such a continuous body was a body that would be composed of representatives of the universities, representatives of the Government, representatives of the polytechnics and other institutions of higher education and some people not attached to any of them, who would commission a good deal of research, find out specifically what is happening in other countries and engage in a public debate about possible future solutions and directions.

This would, I hope, go on for a number of years, when we are looking not for a final set of recommendations from a Royal Commission that is operating in secret, but at a continuous debate conducted on the basis of research by distinguished people. I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to moving either in that direction, as the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has suggested, or in the direction of a public Royal Commission which might operate on similar lines. In the hope that the Government will give serious consideration to this, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.