HL Deb 17 February 1982 vol 427 cc564-626

3.3 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitleyrose to call attention to the urgent need for a better educated working population, the dangers posed by the present cuts in higher and further education and the necessity for increased aid for part-time and other adult education; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. On behalf of my noble friends on these Benches I should like to thank those noble Lords who have put down their names to speak. We have perhaps not quite so long a speakers' list as there have been for one or two Wednesday debates over the past few months, but it is a highly distinguished list and I feel sure that for that reason we shall have a particularly interesting and rewarding debate. We have two ex-Secretaries of State for Education, we have the immediate ex-vice chancellors of the Open University and the Independent University, and of at least one other university. We have speaking from these Benches at least two pro-chancellors, and in Viscount Combermere we have a noble Lord who at the moment is a working lecturer in higher education.

I am only sorry that, despite the serried rows of Bishops opposite, we do not have a right reverend Prelate due to speak. I say that in no tone of blame because I know that the Bishops have major problems in fitting themselves in to our debates. The rest of us will have to do the best we can, but it would have been nice to have heard from the Bishops' Bench, and perhaps, if a right reverend Prelate intends to stay, we shall have an extra speaker.

I open the debate against a background in which I think it is genuinely and generally acknowledged that the whole of the West, if not the whole of the world, is in economic recession, and I think it is also fairly w el established that the United Kingdom, if not actually leading the recession, is well in the van. So much is common agreement. Beyond that, no one knows quite how long the recession will last or how deep it will go, but no one now seems in any doubt that it is certainly the worst recession since the war. Prognoses vary: the minimum forecast regarding unemployment seems to be that it will go on at the present kind of rate for several years, and there are some forecasters who say that it will become considerably worse. What the future after that will be is also a matter of doubt. It may be that, as in other recessions, we are going through a phase into a better world of bright, new, shining technology. On the other hand, it may be that we are going into a spiralling recession similar to that of the 1930s. It may be that there will be a combination of the two—that there will be a bright, shining technology but that, for various reasons, we shall have to adapt to a less expensive, throw-away kind of life.

But, whatever the outlook, whatever one of those forecasts noble Lords happen to believe in, or for that matter any other kind of forecast that I have not mentioned, there seems to be no doubt whatsoever that, for us as a nation to be able to cope with what is happening, it will be essential to have enough training and enough education for the task. We can probably do without a lot that we have had over the last 50 or 60, on the whole fairly affluent, years. There is probably plenty that we can discard. God knows! much of the world has to do without it.

But what we surely cannot discard are our skills. If we are going to export, if that is the way forward, we need skills to make the goods to export, and the skills to do the actual exporting. If we are going to keep up our end with the new technology, we need the skills to cope with that. If we are going to adapt to a different kind of society altogether—and we probably are going to have to adapt to a different kind of society, whatever new kind it may be—we need the skills to make ourselves as citizens and workers adaptable in that new society.

We may no longer feel entirely confident, as perhaps we once did, that our education is the best in the world, but we can take considerable pride in our educational traditions and institutions at the level of higher education, with which today's debate is mainly concerned, and at lower levels, too. We already have a tradition on which to build in learning the skills to face this new world.

We can feel reasonably sure that until now our education, if not as good as we should like, nevertheless has been improving the whole time. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, in talking about the cuts, has recently said that this is a record year for ability, that the extra pupils who will be trying to get into the universities and polytechnics have higher ability than ever before. It is at this moment, with a world recession taking place, with the newly-industrialised countries of the Far East in full competitive cry, with the challenge of new technology and the possible crisis of a realisation of finite resources, that the Government choose to make the first serious cuts in education since the Geddes axe was swung before the war.

These cuts are not only heavy but, unfortunately, unselective, and they are falling in so many of the wrong places. They are falling on the technological universities of Aston and Salford; and they are falling in places where no one thought that they would or should fall. To a certain degree this is not entirely the fault of the Government, and I am quite certain that the noble Lord the Minister who is to answer will make the point that to a certain extent this is the price we have to pay for a free system in higher education. Nevertheless, this crisis has not been entirely unforeseen. The whole area of higher education is a Government responsibility to a very large extent, and, these days, no Government, whatever their philosophy, are able to shed that responsibility.

My Lords, the purpose of this debate is not just to make a vulgar attack on the Government, although by the time some of the speakers have finished I have no doubt it may occasionally have sounded like it. But I for one—and I am sure other noble Lords who are involved in this field—have a lot of sympathy for the Government and the dilemma in which they have found themselves. The economic situation is unprecedented; the economic panaceas of the past do not fit into the present situation, or certainly not exactly; it is a whole new situation, a whole new ball game. Economies in many fields have been essential, and the proponents in each field, as soon as the economies have been mentioned, have squealed like stuck pigs. There are economies to be made everywhere, and if there is any fat in the land there is no doubt that some of it is to be found in the field of higher education as well as elsewhere. So I am not going to argue this afternoon for the protection of tenure, for the value to students of going to study far from their homes. I am merely arguing that, rather than cut down on the production of skills, the only sensible thing to do is to increase them, and that there are ways of doing this without great extravagance.

My Lords, we must increase these skills because, as I have already said, we must be adaptable. We have got to increase them because in a democracy we cannot leave behind part of our society. I think that in some people's minds—and, maybe, it is even in the minds of the Ministers who are responsible—there is the idea that, somehow, in bad times we continue to educate an elite which will carry us through the economic blizzards, and that the rest of us may have to fall behind for a time; that we are expendable, not because they want us to be expendable but because it just has to be.

There are two things to be said about that. First, you cannot fall behind for a time. If you fall behind at all, it is a whole generation that falls behind; and the vice-chancellors have already pointed out the inevitability of this with, already, the present cuts. The second thing to be said is that there is a real danger to democracy, not only from unemployment but from too big a gap between whatever élite there may be and the rest of the population. Democracy is a seamless web. It may stretch a long way, but unless it holds together, unless every part of it feels that it belongs to every other part, you are in danger of the kind of rending that resulted in the Weimar Republic. We need more education, not only so that we may have able people to produce and to export, but so that the whole of society can keep in touch while dealing with the problems which the whole of society has to face.

My Lords, in introducing this debate I clearly cannot touch overmuch on individual points. There are many noble Lords with so much practical experience of higher education that it would be impertinent for me to trespass in their fields; but there is one topic on which I must touch. Your Lordships will be aware that for some time I had down on the Order Paper an Unstarred Question on part-time education, in which debate I intended to touch on the problems of the students of the Open University, of Birkbeck, of Goldsmith's College and similar institutions. That debate has been incorporated into this one, not only because it was obviously along the same lines and a sensible thing to do but because it is at the very heart of the debate. The plight of the Open University is a key point as to our attitudes to education, and if we are able to use the Open University and institutions like it we shall be able to continue the level of our education both in quantity and in quality.

In a recent debate on this subject in another place Mr. Van Straubenzee revealed that when the present Prime Minister was Secretary of State for Education she saved the Open University. It was a remark which sent shivers down my spine when I read it. It is of course very much to the lady's credit that she did so; but that anyone should need to save the Open University is particularly horrifying, especially in a Conservative Administration, which has always taken pride in respecting value for money. It may be that in the present academic climate we have too many universities. I am not going to say that we have or that we have not; but I would accept that one can have an argument about that. But what is clear is that we do not have too many students. We do not have enough students, and it is institutes like the Open University and Birkbeck which can solve that paradox: that maybe we have to cut back to a certain extent on institutions, but that we must never cut back on what is taught and what is learned.

My Lords, perhaps I may move to just a few details about the kind of things which are needed if the Open University and other institutions like it are to play their part, if we are to shift the burden of education to a certain extent from the more expensive and more traditional forms of institution to where education can be produced with the minimum of resources and the maximum of effect. I think that, for the Open University, one step that must be taken is to give discretionary grants to students. What is happening at the moment is that there are disincentives to students to study there: a disincentive against using this extremely cheap form of education, and a disincentive away from the technological courses. When students do not get their summer school fees paid they tend not to choose the courses which have compulsory summer schools, and often it is the technological courses which fall into that situation.

The Open University certainly needs help, because it has the resources to meet the demands which are going to fall on it in the forthcoming year. We are indeed grateful to the Government for the grant they have recently given for studies for the unemployed. This is very necessary and very welcome; but it is a pity that at the same time there appears to be a clamping down on the 21-hour rule for people who are out of work. Noble Lords may know that the unemployed can undertake study if they can keep the time for which they are studying below 21 hours. They can do that without losing the benefit they get for being unemployed. Surely, this is what we would want. But at the moment there appears to be a clamp down, which I think is not the responsibility of the noble Lord's department but is nevertheless the responsibility of Government. It is contended that those 21 hours include hours used for travel and hours used for meals, and it is really a clamp down on the work being done by the unemployed. That is something we want to reverse.

There are also the problems of places like Birkbeck and Goldsmith. Birkbeck, as your Lordships will know, has evening classes in degree courses. It is a college of the University of London and has brilliant teachers and brilliant courses. It finds itself cut back as much as the other universities, although I suppose that to a certain extent it is lucky because if it was in the public sector, if it was in the sector which embraces the polytechnics, it would be cut even more. The method of counting the number of teachers who are considered necessary, and therefore the number who have to be cut if economies are to be made, is bringing us to the stage where, according to Mr. Eric Robinson's computation, the part-time student-staff ratio in some places is 1 to 70. That also is a ridiculous waste of resources.

I will not go on itemising the number of points at which this preservation of part-time education needs the Government's immediate attention and where we can invest with the minimum of cost and the maximum of results. There are plenty of others. There are sandwich courses which will be very badly hit by the part-time scale that the Government allow for the universities to deal with their cuts. There is the question of the polytechnics re-planning their courses from a situation where the courses are undoubtedly very unequal in their costs and effectiveness to a position where all their courses will be the same. I do not think that that is necessarily the way in which it should be done. There must be more planning and more time for planning.

Then there is adult education. There is the problem of adult education which there is absolutely no statutory need for the local authorities to provide but which they always have provided but which many of them now will not be providing because of the cuts which are being imposed. All these aspects add up to a situation where part-time education, and education which is done at a level and on a basis which is rewarding and which is saving money, is being hit as much as full-time and more expensive education. That is the basis of what I am asking the Government to do something about and to which I hope they will reply this evening.

I started by admitting that the Government had serious problems. It may be that some major cuts in the educational field are inevitable. It may be that, having cut capital expenditure, having indirectly cut tenure, the next thing to suffer will be salaries. In a House full of academics I merely say maybe, for I am not brave enough to go further than that. But whatever is cut—and there cannot be anyone in this House who does not know that there is a real need for some kind of cuts—it must not be education itself. If we cut education itself then we cut not only our economic future—and we certainly cut that—but our democratic future as well. I should like to close with a quotation from the philosopher Alfred Whitehead: In the conditions of modern life the rule is absolute, the race which does not value trained intelligence is doomed. Not all your heroism, not all your social charm, not all your victories on land and sea can move back the finger of fate ".

I beg to move for Papers, my Lords.

3.25 p.m.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, I think we are much in the debt of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for having instituted this debate, It is a subject of very great importance and I think he has succeeded both in the wording of the Motion and in what he has said in directing our attention to what are at the moment some of the most pressing aspects of the problem of providing the country with an adequate educational system. The Motion speaks of calling, attention to the urgent need for a better educated working population". Some might argue that the Motion could have been amended by omitting the word "better" and omitting the word "working" and that what we require is an educated population. That is true, but at the present time we are especially concerned with ensuring that the part of the population who immediately and directly contributes to the production of wealth is provided with a better education than has been within the reach of many of them for some time.

The argument can go on for ever. How much ought one to regard education as a kind of economic investment improving the productive power of the individuals who receive it? How far ought one to regard it as something enhancing and glorifying the personality of those who receive it? Is it to be regarded as strictly utilitarian or partly for a better quality of life? One can argue that indefinitely. I am concerned at this moment in this debate with its relationship to the increased production of wealth; and that does not make it any less worthy than if one took a more exalted view of education, because to enable a man to contribute more skilfully and with a greater use of his faculties to the production of wealth not only benefits the society in which he lives; it extends, improves and enhances his own personality.

That there is a direct relationship between some aspects of education and economic advance has been overwhelmingly proved in regard to the past, the present and the future. It was notable in the last century that the great leap forward of imperial Germany to become the great industrial power that it did was linked to the fact that at the outset of that determination so to transform itself was a decision to have a competent system of technical education for as large a proportion of the population as could be managed. It was one of the most remarkable events of that century.

In our own time today we are finding that, although we are worried about low output and about unemployment, we continue to live in a more complex and more elaborate society in which the methods of producing wealth are ever becoming more complicated and, if we discover how to fit them into our society, more efficient. That means that we require people capable of grasping concepts and handling machinery at a greater level of skill than was true in past generations. It is not only that. Our society is made complex partly by the way in which different nations are brought into closer contact with one another.

At Question Time today there were arguments about the advantages and disadvantages of our membership of the European Economic Community. Nobody could dispute that if the number of people in this country who could discuss that problem in a reasonable, well informed manner was increased, that would be to the public advantage. If we all had a greater understanding of the facts of history and geography and of what has put our country into its position in the world, there might be greater willingness among people of different races and backgrounds in this country to understand and tolerate one another. What is certain is that we cannot go on constantly making our society more complicated, both in its industries and in its personal relations, and still behave as if no improvement of the educational system to take account of that were required.

I spoke also of the future. We were hoping—we were hoping a little more brightly until a recent report about industrial output—that we were at last approaching industrial recovery. One of the clouds on the horizon is that, if the process of industrial recovery does begin in this country, it will be in danger before long of being pulled up short by a lack of a sufficient number of skilled people in industry. It is always true at any point in history that one must have some more and some less skilled people in the industrial process, and that unless the proportion of skilled is sufficiently great, the labour of the rest cannot be effectively employed.

We ought therefore at the present time, when we are still hoping for recovery, to be taking steps to see that the number of people with skills is going to be sufficient so that when recovery does come we can proceed with it steadily and not be pulled up short. Out of the whole process of trying to provide ourselves with a better educated working population, I share the point of view with the noble Lord who started this debate in laying particular stress on part-time education. Here at least is one part of the educational system where nobody can say that there is a great deal of fat which one can cheerfully cut with no prospect of doing harm to the educational system.

The person who gets his education part-time, who is a worker in industry or commerce during the day or for some days of the week and devotes the rest of his waking time to learning, is one of the most economical practitioners of education one can find. He is exactly the kind of person who, in times when one is generally hard up, one ought to be anxious to assist and encourage. Part-time education in effect means adult education. Something else we ought to have learned long ago but have been learning all the more emphatically recently is the necessity for education to be a continuous process throughout life. I used to think it went on until one retired, but when I came here I found that my education was lacking in a great many respects and there was much more that I had to learn.

Noble Lords will be familiar with the story of the small girl who went to school on her first day, having attained the age of five. At the end of the day, when she was asked by her mother how she had got on, she replied that she did not think that she had got on very well. When the mother asked why not, she said, "Well, they tell me that I have to come again tomorrow"! All of us in the end learn this lesson. Whenever we think that we have completed the educational process, new things keep turning up in the world and we have, as it were, if not to go back to school, still to be in the learning frame of mind.

At the simplest level, it is that machinery becomes more complicated and you have to be ready to acquaint yourself with new ideas. To how many of us, I wonder, is the concept of the computer and the binary system of numeration second nature? Before long it has to be so for everybody. This is but one example of many. That is why our education system must contain not only the school and the university for the child and the adolescent, but also opportunities for adult education which, since people have to earn their living, have for most of them to be part-time.

We have a considerable tradition in this country of part-time education promoted partly by the extramural departments of universities, partly directly by local authorities and partly by—I was going to say such bodies as the Workers' Educational Association, but I am not sure that there is another body such as the Workers' Educational Association. Its contribution to the life of this country has been unique and considerable. Of course, it has drawn on local authorities and universities, and on the pockets of its diligent students, for its funds. All those agencies have helped to provide us with a vigorous tradition of part-time education, one which is free of any suspicion of being controlled or directed by the state or being any kind o propagandist institution. If we are concerned for our educational needs, we must give special thought to part-time adult education and these agencies through which it has been provided.

It is at this stage that it is almost impossible to avoid criticism of the Government. Mindful of Lord Beaumont's caution, I will endeavour to make it as little vulgar as the deficiencies of my own nature make possible. When one looks round one cannot dodge the fact that the cuts are there. Usually in almost every other field—social services, housing and so on—the Government's first reaction to any accusation that they are cutting anything is simply to maintain that they are not. It is rather like conducting diplomacy with the Russians, where their first reaction when you point out that they have done something unsatisfactory is to say flatly that no such thing has occurred. After that you can begin to get gradually on to the business.

In this case I am afraid that it cannot be denied that there have been cuts. We find London University proposing at one stage to cut expenditure on its extramural department by 50 per cent. After considerable protest and struggle, that was changed to a reduction by 50 per cent. spread over a period of three years. That is a reduction; there is no way of getting round that.

Local authorities are cutting everywhere. That will not be denied. Alas, the field of adult and part-time education is generally the field in which it is easiest to cut. Authorities are not obliged statutorily to make grants for part-time education. The part-time student has to rely on discretionary grants. This I hope is one of the things that the Government will look at: whether it ought not to be brought 5within the field of mandatory grants. The Government, I am sure, will hardly have the face to say that they would not want to do that because they believe so strongly in the liberty of local authorities and do not want too much mandating about it. In view of some of the legislation that they have been introducing, it is really not open to them to say that at this time.

Regarding the Open University, its fees in the past two or three years have risen by about 80 per cent. This of course is the result of decisions by Government regarding how much money it can have. Meanwhile, the number of local authorities who give any help to students using the Open University has been steadily declining. Now, I believe, rather fewer than one in 10 local authorities assist students going to the Open University.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, raised the question of the £500,000 that will be available for students who are unemployed. I should like to ask about that. That, I understand, is for the year 1982. If it is not all used up in 1982, will it carry on to 1983; or, if it is all used up in 1982, will there be another £500,000 in 1983 and in subsequent years?—that is, of course, unless unemployment has disappeared by that time. If that happens, we should naturally all be delighted. Also will this be available only to those at the Open University? Will it benefit, for example, those at Birkbeck or at Goldsmith's?

I mentioned that the part-time student is at a continuing disadvantage because he can get only a discretionary grant, and that the college supplying part-time education is under the handicap that, in determining what grant it may be entitled to, an underestimate is made of how expensive it is for it to provide part-time education. So there is discrimination against both the part-time student and the institution that ministers to his needs.

In general over the whole field of colleges providing further education, whether part-time or full-time, there has been the effect of the severe limiting of the advanced further education pool which began in 1979. To illustrate the kind of effect of this, I should like to quote a comment from one college of arts and technology: When we started the part-time B.Sc. Degree in Electronics in 1978 we applied the same part-time fee as for the Arts Degree but it was subsequently argued that as there was no full-time parallel these students have no opportunities whatsoever of assistance from public funds and we therefore reduced the fee in 1979–80 to £57. However, the local authority has insisted that this fee should be increased, with the effect that in 1980–81 it was £90 and in 1981–82 it is £137—an increase of 140 per cent". The income of potential students has not gone up by figures of that kind, and those increases in fees are due to the fact that the local authority requires them, and the local authority requires them because of the pressure on its own funds from the Government. You have a very sharp pressure, then, on the part-time students—on the one section of the whole education scheme which one would have thought least deserved and could least afford a cut of that kind.

What is it we are asking from the Government? We know it is no good asking for massive injections of public money for any purpose whatever, but I wonder whether the Government would consider something of a change of heart that would result in a modest increase in expenditure. The Government always seem to think that if money is spent through a public channel that is something of an extravagance or a luxury, whereas the whole private part of the economy is wealth producing. Yesterday we spent some time debating sex shops. It is not a part of our economy to which I have previously devoted much attention, but, as the debate proceeded, it occurred to me that it was an example of exactly that section of the economy which the Government are always asking us to admire. It is purely private; it makes no demands on public funds; the people who run the shops, if they have a proper regard for market forces, will make profits and pay taxes. That is what the Government call the wealth-producing part of the economy. By comparison with them, a miserable professor helping people to take degrees in electronics is a public parasite.

That is the trouble: so, before they are in a position to make a lot of money, could the Government have a change of heart and consider that money spent at any rate on certain types of education which in particular benefit the part-time student, does not detract from the public wealth and is not a luxury we could occasionally, but not now, afford, but is an actual contribution to the wealth-producing process? The Government's tendency to equate the private sector with wealth producing and the public sector with wealth devouring is a fundamental error. It would be true in some cases but it is not by any law of nature bound to be true, and in this case it is overwhelmingly not so. Therefore, we would ask the Government to grasp the nature of the education process and its connection with the production of wealth.

There is a long argument as to whether we are ultimately saved by works or by faith. I am not asking the Government for a lot of works as yet; I am merely asking them to express a little faith in the value of education and to show that by a reversal of policy and a gradual—because we know quite well it will be gradual—increase in the provision made. Will they try as soon as they can to get back to the position regarding part-time students that they were in two years ago? That would be a very modest start, but, if it were made, it would show that the Government had at last grasped the need for a better-educated working population.

3.46 p.m.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, on his Motion, which he introduced so well and which I expect to lead to a very good debate.

I do not think the first part of the Motion is quite right. It really does not make educational sense to talk about education for the working population and not the others. We all need education and we all need better education, whether or not we are in work, willingly or unwillingly.

The second part refers to the cuts in higher education. On that, I must say I am solidly behind the Secretary of State. I am sure that stricter financial discipline is required in our universities following the years of rapid expansion after the Robbins Report. I do not know that things are quite so bad here as they appear to be in America. I do not know whether any of your Lordships saw an article in The Times this morning by Mr. Henry Fairlie, in which he said: … many teachers who ought not to be teaching are able to live comfortably off the aid given to many students who do not deserve to be taught". Perhaps your Lordships would not think that is occurring in this country, but as a matter of fact there is a whiff of it in quite a number of universities, and I think the vice-chancellors will be grateful to have the chance to tighten up their admissions systems.

The third part of the Motion calls for more resources for adult education, and I found it very interesting that both noble Lords who have so far spoken have concentrated on that part of the Motion. I wish to do so too. It is very difficult to tackle this problem of adult education, because the structure of our system has not been designed to provide balanced opportunities for study throughout life. British education has always been unfair to some people and to some stages in life. I would say that the twin aims of modern society should be to teach the young and old how to raise the material standards, the wealth of the country, and to open their hearts and minds to the values which alone can hold a free society together. We are now a pluralist and multiracial democracy and so far we have failed to develop a culture adequate for such a society—I mean a culture for everybody, not one way of talking and acting for the highly educated and another way for all the rest; not one way of behaving in the private sector and another way of behaving in the public sector.

The present system of education does not meet these two pressing modern needs. It is both uneven and unfair. The fashion is to say—and both noble Lords who have spoken have said it—that the area of greater deficiency is in training in subjects like mathematics, science or technology. I cannot agree. Far more serious and harmful is the absence of common moral standards; for instance, the lack of agreement on the extent of our obligations to each other.

Take the nationalised industries as an example—their internal troubles, the waste of money and manpower and the attitudes of managers and trade union officials to the public interest. Could any of those weaknesses be cured if the total number of their employees who now hold an O-level in maths, or a degree in engineering, were doubled? It would not touch the industrial troubles in British Rail. Of course, it might help—I think it would help-productivity. But far greater damage is being done to the industries concerned by the lack of what I call a common culture. We are not born with common standards of what is right and what is wrong. They have to be taught, and they are not being taught sufficiently today.

I do not know the exact sum, but we are spending something over £10 billion a year on three, more or less, separate blocks of teaching—full-time education in the schools, the universities at the other end and, in between, all post-school education outside the universities. Let us suppose that we could start afresh with a clean slate. How would we lay out the £10 billion to meet the changes and challenges of the rest of this century? Surely, we should want to set up a single continuous system available throughout life, from nursery schools to hobby courses for old age pensioners, and we would try to give what we are not giving now—fair treatment to each stage in life of every person. That would be a big change. We still treat education as a series of packages to be offered to different people in different amounts, and at different times in their lives. There is now no design for continuity in British education.

Some of your Lordships will recall that, at the time of the 1944 Education Act, it was taken for granted by most of those concerned that, for a majority of children, a primary school from 5 to 11 and a secondary school from 11 to 16 was all the education they required for the whole of their lives. The part of the Act calling for county colleges was never implemented. I never found anybody who thought it had the slightest relevance to the times we were living in. In fact, as recently as the mid-1950s, the highest priority at the Ministry of Education had to be to find a secondary school place for every child. Thousands were still in all-age schools. The second priority was to do something about our technical education which, as the noble Lord said, was far behind that of the German, the Russian and the American. In fact, I was able to persuade Sir Winston Churchill to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the money only by telling him that the Russians were in advance of us. He said "Oh! If that's so, you can have what you want."

At that time—I have to say this—the universities, whom God preserve!, took not the slightest interest in the maintained schools. I went to them for help on several occasions. All but a tiny minority turned me down flat. Financed by the Treasury, they were living in a world of their own and they thought it beneath their dignity to have any kind of dealings with the Ministry of Education. That is a very good example of what happens when you do not have a system of education which is designed for continuity through life. In the same period, adult education was starved of funds. I am largely to blame for that and I greatly regret it. No one was then interested in catering for all the stages of life in a fair and balanced way.

Very well, my Lords. If we could start again, which would be the areas calling for major change? I am not sure whether education for the under-fives would be among the highest priorities, but I am sure that a most serious gap exists in the age group between 16 and 19. It is in those years immediately following school that training in the skills which both noble Lords want so much, and, I would add, in the pursuit of a culture of worthwhile depth, is so conspicuously lacking. Secondly, as the noble Lord pointed out, adult education is neglected and much greater provision is needed there, both for the retraining for new jobs and for the development of a common culture. Both those operations should be under the DES. No part of them should be under the Department of Employment. It must be right to make all sides of education into one balanced whole, and that means one Minister responsible.

Such a restructuring of our education would require vastly increased resources and, so long as inflation remains unconquered, Sir Keith Joseph is right to insist that these resources cannot be made available. Therefore, a start in restructuring could begin only by a transfer of resources within the existing budget, and that we should do right away, without delay, aiming at a better balance between full-time schooling and the 16 to 19 year-olds, and a better balance between universities and adult education. Both these things would require hard political decisions, but I hope my right honourable friends will at least say that these are directions in which they wish to move as soon as it is possible.

In previous debates, my noble friend Lord Alexander of Potterhill told us how to provide for the 16 to 19 year-olds. I agree broadly with his proposal and will not enlarge upon it this afternoon. Adult education is a more difficult problem, one that we must tackle with courage and soon, because it is in this area, rather than in the schools or in the universities, that we shall succeed or fail in developing a culture which is adequate to our modern society. We have to persuade a growing proportion of the adult population to participate in activities that illustrate and sustain the values which, by long experience, men have found necessary to keep a free society together.

The most powerful educational instruments we have are television and radio. The standards which they set must have an immense influence all through life. Certainly the co-operation of the media is vital but alone cannot be sufficient, for the values I am talking about are not to be learned at second hand by spectators. They must be explained, discussed and practised at first hand. Do your Lordships think that England would have become a Christian country if there had not been a church or a chapel in every village or community? The people had to practise their religion. The same is true of adult education. It has to be diffused on a similar scale, through community centres, art workshops, public libraries and so on. I am confident that if the Government and local authorities were to make the premises available and pay towards the cost of administration, men and women would come forward who would manage successfully a widely distributed network of adult education. They would by supplementing, not supplanting, the good work done by the Churches and other voluntary bodies.

Finally, if we were a communist country, only the state would develop a common culture, and it would make use of censorship and compulsion. In our pluralist and multiracial democracy, developing a common culture is everybody's business, and we are rather good at that sort of mixed enterprise. I conclude my remarks, encouraged by what both of the previous speakers have said, by asking your Lordships to agree that adult education on a scale not yet envisaged is an area to which substantial resources should now be transferred without waiting for additional funds to become available.

4.2 p.m.

Lord Perry of Walton

My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for choosing this subject for debate. The Motion before the House draws attention to three different issues, all of them of the greatest importance. That there is an urgent need for a better educated working population, and indeed for an educated population as a whole, is, I imagine, a claim to which all of your Lordships would subscribe.

We are all aware that modern technology, as it is applied to industry, commerce and the social services, both decreases the number of people needed to do the job and increases the complexity of doing it and, consequently, increases the skills required of the workers. There can be little argument about that. Nor is there much room for argument that in the United Kingdom we have been less efficient than many other developed countries in providing the sort of education that is required to deal with this new situation. There is no need for me to labour this point. It has been made. We are going to be faced with a shortage of skilled workers if there is an industrial upturn. We have an immense task before us if we are to catch up. It will require not only changes in the initial education of the young and the 16 to 19 year-olds but also, as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has just said, a new level of concentration upon educating those already in work.

Adult education in this country has tended to concentrate on courses in leisure activities rather than on updating or refreshment in vocational subjects. What we now need has come to be called instead "continuing education", in order to differentiate it from the old established and very necessary adult education. One is very glad to welcome the efforts of the present Government, through the Manpower Services Commission, or the Department of Education and Science, to do something positive; and to hope that the Open Tech takes shape and fulfils the hopes that rest upon it. But there is a very, very long way to go and very little money. We know that initial education is no longer adequate to a lifetime career. We pay lip-service to the need for continuing education, but we do not pay for it—as, indeed, the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, has just said. We go on spending almost all we can afford on initial education. Our proportions are all wrong and the emphasis must change —and must change now.

Furthermore, a better educated working population does not just mean a working population with the skills necessary to cope with modern technology. If that were all that we were to aim at and to achieve, we would run serious risks of ending up with a bitterly frustrated population. People embark upon education for two main purposes: first, broadly vocational ones, to improve their chances of earning a living, or getting promotion, or a more interesting job; and, second, for self-fulfilment: to learn how to do or to understand things that they enjoy, or simply to prove something to themselves about their own abilities. Vocational education alone will not be enough when jobs remain scarce and leisure time increases. While vocationally orientated education and training must be our first priority, it must not exclude the non-vocational. People, to be efficient, must be content. Unemployment when it occurs must be made as tolerable as is humanly possible. Education for self-fulfilment can play a very large part in engendering contentment, and we must not neglect it.

The second part of the Motion calls attention to the dangers posed by the present cuts in higher and further education. The universities have been making cuts in the fat that undoubtedly existed for several years. The cuts now are putting the universities really in a mess. If there were a change of heart now and an immediate restoration of what has been cut, it is possible that they might be healed. But by the time this Government have run their full course they will be damaged beyond repair and several cohorts of our young people will have suffered considerable deprivation before any sort of order can be reimposed.

These cuts have already received a great deal of publicity and the damage that they are doing, and will do, has been very fully described. I will not expand upon it. Instead I will dwell a little on the third element of the Motion; namely, the necessity for increased aid for part-time and other adult education. Can I take, for instance, the problems of part-time students studying for degrees. They are, I believe, perhaps the most vital of all part-time students. They are a very serious, motivated group of students, and there are about 77,000 of them. Many are mature people in full employment. It is at least arguable, as many teachers who dealt with ex-service students after the war have testified, that mature students are keener, harder working and just as able as are school-leavers. But when these part-time students have embarked on quite the most difficult way of getting a degree yet devised by the wit of man, we do nothing to make it easy for them. What we do—to be fair to Governments of all descriptions, I think we do it often by accident rather than by design—is to make it as difficult as possible. We discriminate positively against them. They are not eligible for mandatory grants for fees or for maintenance, as are full-time students. They must therefore bear the full cost of fees and expenses for their education out of their own pockets, unless they can get help from other sources.

What is that full cost, and what are the sources of help? Of the 77,000 part-time degree students, no fewer than 60,000 are studying at the Open University: some 13,000 are seeking CNAA degrees (mostly in the polytechnics); and 4,500 arc studying in the conventional universities—many at Birkbeck College. The maximum fee for a part-time honours degree at a conventional university is £675. For a CNAA honours degree, fees range from £500 to £700.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, spell out what he means by the initials CNAA?

Lord Perry of Walton

Yes, my Lords: those initials stand for Council for National Academic Awards. At the Open University, the minimum cost of an honours degree is £1,114, and over the past two years this has been increased by Government forces by 79 per cent. The maximum fee for an honours degree in science and technology is no less than £1,800.

in addition to these fees, part-time students must buy their own books, must travel to meet tutors, and must meet postage costs, which are no longer negligible. On top of that, they may have to accept a reduction in income by forgoing overtime to make extra time for study, or they may have to pay for help in the home for the same reasons. Full-time students are currently charged fees of £2,700 for an honours degree but they get—if they are citizens—mandatory grants that cover all fees and, on a means-tested basis, they also get money to provide for travel costs, books and maintenance. The part-time student gets nothing at all as of right.

The part-time student can look for help, often vainly, to the local education authority, by requesting a discretionary grant. These have always been very difficult to get, but since the very serious financial plight of the local authorities has taken effect this source has dried up, although perhaps not so much as has been suggested. It is true that now 25 per cent. of local authorities give no discretionary grants whatsoever to Open University students. The part-time student might think in terms of his employers. Some employers are very generous, but most will pay only in respect of courses of obvious benefit to the work of the employee. Help is almost never available to manual workers, and things are getting progressively worse as industry itself comes under increasing financial pressure. Then, there are the very welcome special hardship funds, such as those provided by the Government to the Open University. However, the amount available is very limited and only about 5 per cent. of students have been helped, on a very severe means-test basis.

The additional £½ million Government grant for unemployed students, which I believe is restricted to students of the Open University, was of course very welcome, but it may yet turn out to be more apparent than real. It seems that unemployed students who are receiving supplementary benefit may find that a waiver of the fees is assessed as income; and the problems of studying more than 20 hours a week have already been mentioned. It is a fairly ludicrous situation in which students may work as many hours as they wish studying tiddly-winks but if they study something serious that will improve their employability they will lose their supplementary benefit. This is based on the argument that supplementary benefit was not intended to be an educational maintenance allowance. I am very glad to see that the Minister is to look at this anomaly.

There are no other sources of help for part-time degree students. Nowadays most of them pay their own way, and it is an expensive way. Is it not unjust that a man or woman who at the age of, say, 30 decides that more education is vital; who, despite the demands of work, home and family is sufficiently determined to embark on part-time study; and who, typically is in employment and is contributing to the gross national product should have no help from society while school-leavers in full-time education should be wholly supported? It is not only unjust; at the moment it is also very short-sighted. One result of the increases in fees and the reduction of discretionary grants is that access to part-time degree courses at the Open University or at Birkbeck College, and no doubt at the others, is more and more restricted to those who are better off and better able to pay. This is happening just when the efforts of the past few years to make access available to all have begun to reap reward, just when the number of entrants from the most disadvantaged groups in the community was beginning to go up.

I have said little about the problems of adult education apart from the difficulties facing part-time degree students, because I know much less about them. But in the past two days I have been assured by many who are deeply involved in adult education that they face precisely the same difficulties and problems as do those who are involved in part-time higher education. The situation is bad and it is getting worse. I hope, with others, that the Government will give us some indication of whether they propose to take any steps to deal with the situation, and, if so, what those steps will be.

4.16 p.m.

Lord Robbins

My Lords, like others, I should like to express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for propounding this Motion. We have already heard most stimulating speeches from both sides of your Lordships' House. In my remarks, I shall confine myself to a comparatively narrow subject of cuts in the universities; a subject with which I have a more intimate acquaintance than cuts elsewhere.

Let me say at once that it will not be my contention that in the present financial crisis the universities of this country should be immune from cuts. After all, the present excess of aggregate expenditure over the output of goods and services at constant prices is still landing us with inflation in double figures. Who is to say that there is no expenditure in the universities which can be cut without the danger of complete educational catastrophe? I believe that the talk of complete educational catastrophe has been somewhat overdone.

No doubt it is irksome and difficult to see the staff/ student ratio rising, but the staff/student ratio in the past in most universities in this country has been very considerably lower than the staff/student ratio in other civilised countries of the world. It is not true that other civilised countries of the world, whatever the defects of their educational systems—and I could expatiate for some time on those—fail to produce competent and cultivated graduates. The point I wish to make—and this will be my chief contribution—is some complaint about the way in which the cuts have been imposed by the Department of Education and Science and the UGC. This I find deeply disturbing. The minute prescription of numbers to each institution completely changes the relationship which has existed hitherto between the UGC and the universities, a relationship which has been the envy of universities in other countries, but which, alas, in my judgment, is no longer deserving of it. The minute prescription of limitations on numbers reminds me of no less than what I witnessed in the universities or Leningrad and Moscow.

My Lords, please do not misunderstand me in this connection. Obviously, the UGC must make estimates of probable global numbers coming forward. It must make them for its representations—let us hope it still makes representations—to the DES and the Treasury. But global estimates are one thing, detailed prescriptions to each individual institution, sometimes down to the last digit, are another thing. In the past it has been a conspicous feature of our education system that each university set its own standards and numbers of admissions, and, while there certainly was a substantial margin of error at the bottom of the admissions, and sometimes higher up, the removal of this freedom is a very serious thing indeed.

I do not wish to be wholly negative, but I suggest that it would have been much better for the UGC in these circumstances to have negotiated a global sum with the DES and the Treasury. Then the next thing for them to have done would have been to set aside a contingency fund for those prestigious institutions injured by other follies, by the folly of the tremendous discrimination regarding the fees of overseas students. Then, having set aside that contingency fund, the UGC should, in my judgment, have gone to the universities saying, "This is a most exceptional occasion caused by financial circumstances largely outside your control, and for this reason we propose an all-round cut on each of you of a uniform percentage, leaving it to the governing bodies and the academics to settle how it is to affect your arrangements".

I have heard it said, and I have talked about this a good deal, that that would be an abdication of the role of the UGC. But can there be any doubt that in the exceptional circumstances it would have caused less resentment, and probably produced much superior academic arrangements in the individual institutions concerned; that it would have been better than this crude prescription from outside? I doubt if it is within the power of the University Grants Committee as at present constituted, and as conceivably constituted, to discriminate between the varying circumstances, the varying problems of each university in the university system as a whole.

But, be that as it may—and I stand open to correction—it is clear that the principle that places shall be found for all those young people able and willing to benefit from higher education—I am quoting from a committee with which I had some association!—has been completely thrown overboard, and I think that is a pity. I think it is a pity for the people now excluded. I will not make an estimate of the people, at the bottom of the applications, so to speak, who will be excluded. I have seen some disquieting figures, but I do not very much trust the people who put them forward. I certainly do not believe that at the A-level stage it is possible to gauge without a wide margin of error who is going to do well hereafter and who is going to fizzle out. That is the deficiency of the system which is past. Now the prescription of numbers from outside has increased the deficiency.

I still believe in the principle which I have mentioned, the principle that young people able and willing to benefit should be found places in the institutions for which they are suited. In my view, this principle is part of a larger principle which I hope your Lordships on both sides of the House uniformly accept, the principle of equality of opportunity.

I shall now advance speculations which will be less universally accepted. It may be said that the numbers of university graduates who in the past have been thus privileged—leaving aside those who in some way or other have provided their own finance or had the aid of their parents—have some presumption of obtaining, in many cases, a higher income than those who have not been so previleged. After all, the argument for state assistance to undergraduates and graduates, if they are lucky enough to be admitted to a graduate school, is based upon the recognised inadequacy of capital resources on the part of all the people concerned. Is it not also arguable that, without some obligation eventually to repay, the principle involves a subsidy from the non-privileged to the privileged? I do not think that this argument can be dismissed lightly.

Probably in a great many cases those who have received a university education have the prospect of thereafter receiving a higher income than many of those who have not been so privileged. I ask myself: Is there not some way in which this defect can be removed? It may be said by some that greater facilities for ordinary loans is the answer; but it would not be said by me. I could repeat all the arguments against ordinary loans in my sleep, and most of the arguments are valid. Loans of this sort are difficult to repay. If the income gained after graduation is not proportionately higher than the capital and the interest involved, there is real hardship in the obligation to repay affecting, for instance, one sex much more than the other, and some people who have gone into estimable occupations not carrying with them a higher income in addition. 1 think that experience anywhere where ordinary loans have been involved vindicates this conclusion.

But such objections do not arise if the monies advanced are not repayable until an income is available which allows the monies advanced to be amortised without hardship. If this principle, which is not my idea but one advanced by Professor Alan Prest, who is one of the leading international authorities on public finance, were adopted, the collection of the amounts involved could reasonably be added to the duties of the Inland Revenue. The amounts advanced would be recorded, but they would not be claimed until the income concerned had exceeded a certain figure.

I hasten to say in conclusion that, if such a system were adopted, the easement of the burden involved would for very obvious reasons be a small one: it would not solve our present financial difficulties, but in the end, in 10 years' time, it might be very considerable. And, if it were adopted, the last valid objection to the important principle of making capital available to those willing and able to enjoy the benefits of higher education would be eliminated.

4.37 p.m.

Lord Mais

My Lords, I must begin by declaring an interest in that I have been a chancellor and am now pro-chancellor of a university, and thus I have been on the receiving end of the measures which the Government have imposed upon those universities. And so it is to the financial implications that I propose to direct most of my remarks. I would say at the outset that I accept entirely that, having regard to the present economic situation in this country, the Government are faced with having to make cuts, and in some cases drastic cuts. It is not unreasonable that universities should to some extent be involved in those cuts. Having said that, what I find thoroughly unreasonable is the manner in which they have been carried out: the magnitude of the cuts; the period over which those cuts were to be effected, and the lack of adequate notice. I shall deal with those points in greater detail in a moment, and the effect that they have on one university in particular.

If I confine my remarks probably more to one university than to universities as a whole, it is because I have personal knowledge of one and I am satisfied that the problems that we face are faced to a greater or lesser extent by all other universities in this country. As a result of Government policy, universities are faced with major reductions in Government grants in the financial year beginning August 1981 and continuing in subsequent years. But universities were not advised of the extent of the reduction in grants until July 1981—one month before the financial year of the universities was about to start. How could any organisation—not even the best organised commercial company—have completely redrafted its financial plan with one month's notice? Commitments had already been made; students had already been enrolled. To meet these cuts, drastic reductions in academic and non-academic staff were necessary. This could not be done in the short time that was available and at that time the University Grants Committee could not indicate to the universities whether the Government would or would not meet the cost of those redundancies.

It was not until six months later that the universities were informed that Her Majesty's Government would meet the redundancy costs for academic staff only. No indication was given at all as to what would be the result, or the case, for non-academic staff. Quite obviously, non-academic staff must be looked at even more closely than the academic staff in these reductions.

I imagine that all universities reacted in the same way as the university with which I am connected—namely, the City University. We immediately set up a working party to produce a plan based on the reduced grants, which would, we hoped, enable us to survive in one form or another. Very early the outcome was quite clear. The cost of the redundancies of staff could not possibly be met from university funds. As I have said, six months elapsed before we were told that, as regards academic staff, the Government would shoulder the cost. But we still await a decision regarding the non-academic staff, and we shall not be able to produce the savings which are essential and which have been forced upon us until we have that answer.

Another problem, which has already been referred to by one noble Lord—and I apologise that I did not make a note of his name at the time—is the increase in the charges to overseas students. Overseas students pay what is known as "a whole cost fee". If the charges to overseas students are increased, it follows that there will be a reduction in numbers; and, in turn, it follows that there will be fewer overseas students in universities. That also means a further reduction in the universities' income.

I cannot speak for other universities, but I shall give noble Lords an idea of the magnitude of the problem facing the City University. As I have said, because we did not know until 1st July the extent of the cuts which would become effective one month later, staff contracts could not be terminated nor other measures taken to deal with our reduced income. The result of this lack of advance warning is that by 31st July 1982 the university will have a £1 million overdraft. Senate and council have approved a plan for redundancies and for other savings, but by August 1983 our estimate is that that overdraft will have risen to £1.5 million. Because university buildings are, in the main, vested in the University Grants Committee, they cannot be used as collateral in support of those overdrafts. Nor can the buildings be sold, if that were possible, to reduce the overdraft. So financially the university's hands are tied. The options open to us are limited.

On perhaps a lighter note, having regard to some of the adverse comments that are made from time to time about bankers, we went to our bankers and explained the situation. We told them of our estimated required overdraft facilities. It is to their credit that we have those overdraft facilities completely unsecured, but it is not very comforting or the best of climates in which to try to run a university—knowing that you have that debt to be settled sooner or later.

I make no apologies for dwelling principally upon one university, because I know that my comments apply equally—or, if not equally, to a lesser or greater extent—to every other university in this country. Because I know only too well the expertise and knowledge which exists in your Lorsdhips' House, it is better to speak from experience than from hearsay or a brief.

In conclusion, I thought, "What could I ask of Her Majesty's Government or suggest to them might be done? "Having regard to the present economic situation, it is a difficult problem to which to find any solution. But basically what has done the damage is the time factor. If universities had been given a longer period in which to consider what cuts could be made, the situation might have been easier. I realise that to ask Her Majesty's Government to think again about doing away with the cuts altogether is an impossibility. To suggest that they be postponed until 1982–83 would be a little help—a temporary help—but it would be no lasting solution to the problem.

May I suggest that a more effective way would be to spread these cuts over a much longer period and for the first reductions not to become effective until the financial year 1982–83? That would give the universities time to do whatever is within their own power to do. Let us hope that a compromise can be found, because this does not affect one university only. It affects universities throughout the whole of the country. But it goes deeper still. It will affect the future of quite a number of graduates already at university and the future of thousands to come over the next few years. It is upon those graduates that the future of this country may largely depend, and, with our present measures, we are putting the future of young people and, in my view, the country in jeopardy. As the noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, so rightly said, the damage being done now to our universities will take a long time to heal. In my view, some may never recover.

4.50 p.m.

Lord Ardwick

My Lords, I was a little disappointed that the debate we were to have had a week or two ago has been extended and made more general. It could now cover the whole range of education and the problems imposed upon it by the Government's economies. What we need, surely, is a series of narrowly focused debates on particular aspects of the educational services. We had a broad-ranging debate a few months ago, and this followed a great debate last year in which all the participants but one were people of high academic position, and each speech in that famous debate had the high style and gravity of an inaugural lecture if not, or not quite, its length. This debate today has happily proved to be rather more closely focused than I feared. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, took part-time adult education right as the centre of his speech, and there have been a number of people following him, as I intend to do.

In this great debate about our educational system, expert seems to be divided from expert and there is not even agreement on the figures. But I see some kind of consensus dimly emerging; say that staff-student ratios are not sacred, and that the idea of tenure might be narrowed a little. Then there is, perhaps strongest of all, the feeling that the Government were right to rationalise expenditure in view of the diminishing population of school and university age. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Mais, has just said, they have done too much, too soon.

As one tries to follow this debate one realises that our educational system has become impossibly complex, laden with jargon, sprinkled with initials; in fact, beyond the comprehension of even the involved layman. When I turned to query the noble Lord, Lord Perry, about the meaning of the letters CNAA I noticed that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, gave me a look of indulgent scepticism at my ignorance which he must have used on thousands of undergraduates in his day. But may I assure him that just before this debate I asked one noble Lord who is expert on these matters and he had not a clue what they meant. He thought they might have something to do with the European Community.

My friends in universities have showered on me books, blue books, reports, and newspaper clippings, with merciless generosity. If I were to get to grips with them I should have to ask the Chief Whip to give me a sabbatical, and this would have to start with a refresher course in elementary statistics. All this on a subject which ought to be of universal concern; a subject on which, I think Disraeli said, the future of the nation depends.

What I am concerned about today is the subject upon which the noble Lord, Lord Perry, spoke out of his great wisdom and experience. That is, the problem of those people whose full-time education is over but who are adding to their vocational qualifications, or enriching their personal culture, in a systematic way. There are many such people. They comprise about 14 per cent. of the post-school generations, according to the National Institute of Adult Education. About half of these are receiving their education in the public sector. That is, they are undergoing part-time education at adult education centres, at further education colleges, or through university extra-mural departments or the WEA. The vast majority of these attend the adult education centres.

I wonder whether the Government can give us today some concrete information about how they have been affected by the cuts. Have the Government any national figures, or if these have not been collated, have they any information about particular regions or sectors? I am particularly concerned about those people who are trying to qualify for a degree while engaged on a full-time occupation. There was a time when I had such aspirations. I cannot pretend to have been educationally deprived. At the age of 18 I had a free choice, but Withy Grove, the heart of the Kemsley empire, called more seductively than the Grove of Academe, and I went straight into journalism.

Later on I began to realise what I was missing, and I had faint aspirations to take a degree in my spare time, but unlike my noble friend Lady Jeger I did not have the moral stamina, the energy, the commitment to spend almost every leisure hour for four years in pursuit of that high goal. But her college of Birkbeck did accept me as an occasional student to pursue two courses at degree level, which were of great value to me as a journalist, coming as they did after some enrichment provided by the Workers' Educational Association. To both Birkbeck and the WEA, I owe a great debt of gratitude.

Birkbeck, apart from the Open University, is the only college which specialises in graduate and postgraduate courses for part-time students, and it has a famous and splendid history. I am glad to hear that the new fees for undergraduates there of £180 a year are not proving a deterrent. Of course, people who have done a year or two's studying would hang on at almost any cost. Even so, these fees are paid out of taxed income by the student, and he has of course other costs: those of meals, books and travel. It is very difficult for anybody who lives in London, particularly, to estimate what travel costs arc going to be over the next three or four years. They could be a deterrent if the increase in travel costs is the one predicted. There are other discouragements arising out of our troubled times. There is now found to be a reluctance on the part of women to move about some parts of London in the late evening, and this is affecting their part-time education.

However, to come back to costs, I think it is true both of the Open University and of other places that many promising students are kept back because they cannot afford to pay the fees and the other expenses around them. Has not the time come when local authorities should be empowered, encouraged, perhaps told, to operate a simple earning-related scheme of rewards for part-time students? I am not suggesting that public authorities should pay the whole lot, but that they should make some contribution. Could they not be given help with the cost of fees, books and travel with perhaps a 90 per cent. remission, or certainly a very heavy remission, for registered unemployed, who should find no bar to continuing their studies while they are unemployed.

But even though undergraduate fees are not currently unreasonable to the point of discouragement, the figure for post-graduate work of £330 a year is rather high, perhaps even higher than the marginal costs, for those who have to be provided with only occasional supervisory guidance. I have just had a preview of a document shortly to be published which has been produced for a distinguished steering committee which bears some well-known names. The study was conceived in 1980 before the present cuts were ordained, and was concerned with both the current and the prospective provisions of part-time education for mature students.

The committee has found that the opportunities at degree level are both limited and patchy. The Open University of course provides its range of opportunities, but this style of education at a distance is not suited to every studious temperament, and sometimes there are difficulties, particularly for married women, to attend the compulsory summer schools. Then there are the extra mural departments which offer short part-time courses and some longer, award-bearing courses, and there are the polytechnics, which give a range of vocationally-oriented first-degree courses.

These patterns of provision are poorly co-ordinated. Few universities make significant part-time undergraduate provision, and Birkbeck is the only one to concentrate entirely on face to face tuition. In London, however, for both day and evening part-timers, the provision is not bad, particularly with the help of Goldsmith's College and the North London Polytechnic. But elsewhere in Britain the potential part-timer is poorly catered for—I am talking about the degree level—and the institutions of higher education have, of course, concentrated on full-time students who have just left school.

A number of questions arise. Should not the institutions of higher education be encouraged to make more of their full-time courses available for part-time students? Could some of them outside London develop a range of evening courses for part-time undergraduates? Could there be more links between face-to-face and distant tuition, as there are at Aberystwyth? Should there not always be room for the serious occasional student who for good reasons cannot take a full degree course? Should there not be more fresh start courses for mature students with poor educational backgrounds, such as are provided at the City Lit? The answers to some of those questions were given 18 months ago by the Education, Science and Arts Committee of another place. They said that too often the assumption existed in Britain that if by the age of 18 the desire and qualifications for higher education had not manifested themselves, they never would. They said: We believe that these habits of mind are not only responsible for Britain's low participation rate but also in part for its economic performance". The committee stressed the need to offer to students neighbourhood co-ordination of conveniently-timed courses.

The Advisory Council for Adult and Continuing Education has also urged that there should be a phased transition to a system which would provide continuing education that would cater for emerging needs throughout life. What is proposed is more likely to demand a stretching or a re-allocation of resources rather than their increase. I hope, therefore, that the Government are looking sympathetically towards such developments.

5.3 p.m.

Lord Noel-Baker

My Lords, with other noble Lords I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, for his Motion and his speech. I wish to deal primarily with the opening words of the Motion, the "need for a better educated working population", which will, I hope, justify me in speaking of what I regard as the major defects of our general educational system. Perhaps I should begin by declaring an interest, although it is in the past. I have spent a large part of my life in education, much of it in universities in Britain, the United States, France and Germany, with spasmodic expedi- tions to Canada and other countries, which have enabled me to observe and understand the university systems of those countries. I was a fellow of my college, Kings in Cambridge; I held a chair in the University of London; and I was vice-principal of Ruskin College, Oxford, where my pupils taught me a great deal more than I taught them, it being a trade union college.

I have such an interest in education that I cannot speak of it with detachment or proper objectivity. Yet I think I can say objectively that our British ambitions in education are abysmally low. We seem content to turn out a great number of our young people, a very large proportion in their middle 'teens, with a smattering of letters which enables them to read sex and crime in the gutter press, and with a smattering of mathematics which enables them to acid up their wages at the end of the week if they are lucky enough to have a job. But general education for very many of our young people is lamentably poor.

I believe that is partly because we have too few schools, and I will explain what I mean. I am strongly in favour of the principle of comprehensive education, and I have spoken largely for it inside and outside Parliament. But I lament the application of the principle which leads to the creation of schools of 1,000, 1,200 and even 2,000 pupils; I believe that 500 to 600 is the maximum size for a good school. Beyond that, not even the members of staff know each other, and the pupils, poor little brats, lose all identity and self-confidence in a most distressing way.

I believe we should have more schools and we should have more teachers, and I lament the recent diminution in the number of teachers owing to the dismissals which have happened and are still taking place. In one recent year, 15,000 teachers came out of the training colleges ready to take their jobs, but there was not a single job for any of them to take. An earlier Government had believed they would be needed, had planned to put them into work and had given them an expensive training; yet a later Government had just said, "No, you are not wanted; we do not want so many teachers now".

The result, the very sad and much discussed result, has been that classes are a great deal too big. In recent years the Government had a chance to reduce class sizes, but instead they chose to reduce the number of teachers, and today there are not 15,000 but more nearly 50,000, many tens of thousands, of teachers, including many married women admirably qualified for teaching, dedicated to the task if only they could do it, who do not even apply to get a job because they know it is hopeless before they start. We should bear in mind the urgent necessity that this Government, if they will, but the next Government at any cost, must aim at increasing the number of teachers, reducing the sizes of classes and improving the standard of work.

Of course the dismissal of teachers has gone with cutting out subjects from the curricula. I regret to say, music, German and physical education are being cut out of the programmes of many schools. I think that that is nothing less than tragic, because of all the means of education, of developing the mind, the spirit, the education of the pupil, I believe, as the ancient Greeks believed, that music and gymnastics come first, music and sport, music and physical education. I could talk for a long time about the educational advantages of both; I spare your Lordships. But I think it nothing less than tragic that German should be dropped, but still more that music and physical education should disappear from any schools.

I believe that the programme of our schools has in the past been rather gravely deficient in a matter on which I wish to speak at greater length. I mean education for citizenship, education in what is called civics, education in government. In every school there should be teaching of the elements of our political system, starting with the political parties, their machinery, the way they work, their philosophies. It can be done quite objectively, and with great advantage to the pupil. There should be education in the machinery of government from the parish council and the county borough up to the Houses of Parliament and, let me add, to the international organs of government that have been created: the General Assembly, the Security and other councils of the United Nations, the Secretariat, the specialised agencies, the ILO, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, UNESCO in Paris, and half a dozen more.

The United Nations has been a disappointment in its handling of the problem of war, because Governments do not fulfil the obligations which they have undertaken. No Government, including our own, have really fulfilled the obligation to take international disputes to either the Security Council or the International Court of Justice. The Governments have not fulfilled the law, but the law is there, the institutions are there, and with the specialised agencies they provide a very big contribution to the international life of the nations of the world.

The pupils in all our schools should, above all, understand government in our own country. I believe that the communists have an immense advantage over us in that they teach the communist system to every child who goes into their educational institutions. I believe that we should do at least as well as they do, and I should hope a great deal better. Our citizens are not educated to exercise their functions which are of decisive national and international importance; they are not educated to exercise their functions as citizens of this country and of the world.

In international affairs there are two aspects in particular which I believe should be the subject of systematic and perhaps elaborate courses in every school, and I add, in every university. The first is what is now perhaps the outstanding fact of international life—the interdependence of nations, the fact that they arc bound together by common interests and common relationships, of which they might be unaware, which they might not desire to have, but which none the less are vitally important.

You can start teaching a boy or girl about his or her interdependence with other nations by asking how he or she gets breakfast. His tea might come from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, or other countries. His coffee might come from Brazil, or Kenya, or if he is lucky, the Hejaz. His butter might come from Wiltshire, or from Denmark or East Germany. East Germany's dairy industry is a marvel. It exports many thousands of tonnes of butter to Denmark and also to us. The interdependence of every man, woman and child for their meals, food, clothes, education, culture, and nowadays their sport is a fact of prime importance which should be brought home in all its great significance to the pupils of every school and every university.

Even more important is the second principle, which I believe should be the theme of elaborate courses of instruction. We spend vast sums of money on what we call defence, and we get marvellously little defence as a result. There is no defence against most of the modern weapons, including the weapons which we call conventionals. But we spend these vast sums because we accept legends, shibboleths that come front a world that has long passed away. The philosophy of those who support the arms race is a shoddy, schoolboy affair, founded mainly on ancient Roman slogans which never had any validity, or which have been perverted: Si vis pacem, para bellum"— If you want peace, prepare for war; Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori"— Sweet and honourable is it to die for your country. Of course, war calls for the greatest and noblest sentiments of a man; but it wastes, it kills a man, and nothing comes of his life and work. What the Romans should have said was: Dulce et decorum est pro patria vivere". It is sweet and honourable to live for your country, to work for it, to have the same dedication that you would have for war, towards ensuring its social progress. What they should have said was: Si vis pacem, para pacem". if you want peace, prepare for peace, create the institutions, the laws, and the habits of co-operation from which peace will come.

But all that false philosophy is founded on the basic proposition that the vital interests of nations are in conflict, and that, in my profound submission, is utterly untrue. When people talk of vital interests they often think of an oil concession, of a naval base, of an airfield on some foreign soil, of a rubber plantation or of some other economic or military institution of some kind. But the true vital interests of the nation are not such things. Of course an oil concession may be a vital interest; but what is a truly vital interest of our nation and of every nation is that all should be able to get their oil supplies with absolute certainty at a fair and equal price, without discrimination, from those who have the oil in their native lands.

What is a vital interest is that everybody should be able to trade with every other nation on fair and equal terms. What is a vital interest is that there should be peace; that we should not be engaged in armed conflict, or near-armed conflict, or economic aggression. These are the vital interests that I believe should be taught in our schools, so that our working population come out with a true conception of their place in the world of men, of their part in the great society of states to which Britain can make so great a contribution of leadership, knowledge and experience.

My Lords, what I have said means a very great addition to our expenditure on education, and I live in the hope and the belief that a Government will be elected to power in the early future which will make that great increase. What is needed in education is not the addition of a few tens of thousands of pounds here, a few hundreds of thousands a year there to the educational bill. What is needed is a larger percentage of the gross national product for more schools, for more teachers, for much better salaries for teachers. Teachers do the most important work in the world. I do not denigrate what other professions do—lawyers, architects, engineers, doctors. Theirs are vital services; but nothing is equal in importance and in its lasting result to the profession of teaching.

We should make a larger percentage allocation of our GNP to improving our educational system in order that we may have a better educated working population, in order that we may be able to help our schools and our universities. As a university man, I, with deference, express my complete agreement with every word spoken by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and by the noble Lord who has just sat down, about the needs of students. I believe we should do more for our universities as we should do more for our schools. I believe a larger percentage allocation of our GNP would be a thousand times justified. It would mean that in 20 years from now our nation would hold a greater place in world affairs, because education is in fact the shaping of the future of our nation and of the nations of mankind.

5.25 p.m.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, in joining in the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for introducing this important subject before us, I should perhaps follow the example of my immediate predecessor in this debate by declaring an interest. My interest in that part of the subject which relates to cuts in higher education, which is the only part to which I wish to address myself, is the interest that Cassandra had in the fall of Troy, as it is many years since it was borne in upon me, as the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, will remember, that the system of finance which we had fallen into for higher education in this country was bound in a time of recession to have some highly undesirable consequences.

I believe that, even before the recession—and one must remember how recent is this total dependence of universities upon the central Exchequer—and while we were still undergoing a period of expansion, the system had very deleterious effects upon higher education, some of which are closely related to the cause that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and the noble Lord, Lord Perry, have at heart—part-time, continuing, and adult education.

There are two reasons why I make this claim. In the first place, I think that it put at the head of nearly all our universities (there are a few exceptions) people who were chosen as vice-chancellors not for originality or for strength of character but because of their ability to deal on friendly terms with the providers of state money. Therefore, inevitably, a system of bargaining grew up in which universities were vying for contributions from the central Exchequer and there was a corresponding neglect of what they were doing with the money when they got it.

It was said, I think by the noble Lord, Lord Perry—I believe it was he—that the cuts had now gone beyond cutting off the fat. This, as he well knows and as we all know, is not altogether true. There is still a good deal of expenditure which it is very hard to justify at any time, and particularly hard to justify when there are serious cuts in the provision of the primary academic purposes of universities. During Question Time a couple of weeks ago, I elicited from the noble Lord the Minister who is to reply the information that £1 million of public money goes to maintaining the central organisation and paying for the activities of the National Union of Students—a body which does not, to my knowledge, contribute to the central purposes of a university education.

But that is only the top of the pyramid. There is something like £20 million of public money which goes into student unions in individual universities and polytechnics. Some of that provides necessary facilities which one would not like to see young people without, although I think it provides them at an extraordinarily costly rate, because the universities could do the job far better themselves. But quite a lot of it goes on abuses which have grown up in recent years and which are quite without relation to the universities' primary responsibility.

There are in universities and polytechnics 250 so-called sabbatical officers; that is to say, students who are receiving a full grant and, subject to means test, full maintenance, not for studying but for carrying on so-called representational activities. I do not believe that the taxpayer or ratepayer believes that any student should be subsidised by the public purse unless the bulk of his time is going on the studies by which society is ultimately (as the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, reminded us) to benefit. This is an abuse that has grown up. It is more serious in some places than in others and perhaps more serious in some polytechnics than the universities, but it is an extravagance.

However, extravagance—and one could point in other directions perhaps—is a minor feature of the difficulties that we have undergone through this particular system of public financing. There is also the fact that the universities and their leaders have over this period sadly lacked originality in what they thought their role was to be. They have on the whole been content, and particularly so in the new universities, to model themselves as precisely as possible upon what was already being done elsewhere. Therefore, we have a great number of universities which are in many respects almost interchangeable, whereas we lack totally the great institutions devoted to technological education and to higher scientific education which are the glory of the United States and of many of our Continental neighbours.

Again, one would have liked to see—and I think that this is closely related to what the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, said about Birkbeck College—some universities in great cities (and it is in the great cities that further and adult education can most easily and economically be pursued) devoting a higher proportion of their resources to this particular aspect of education. But, since they are comparing themselves on the number of honours graduates or the number of PhDs, there has been no incentive in the inter-university honours race to concentrate on that particular aspect of our needs.

Furthermore, even in the provision of their actual courses, and, particularly undergraduate courses, there has been an extraordinary unwillingness to reconsider the traditional patterns of the universities, the traditional ways of proceeding to a degree, most of which date from the later Middle Ages and the remainder from the heyday of Victorianism. Let me take an undergraduate coming to a university to read for a degree in one of the natural sciences. I do this with deference to those who have a closer acquaintance with the process; but I am informed that, at any rate in some of the natural sciences, a quite high proportion of these young people are not going to proceed to scientific careers but intend to get a degree and possibly to go into another profession, or commerce or one of a variety of other occupations. Yet the three-year or four-year honours degree which is prescribed for them is designed primarily for the benefit of that minority among them who are likely to proceed to a scientific career, either in an academy or in the service of Government or industry.

No university has yet thought fit to break this up and to offer a two-year degree in science, after which students could have their BSc, with those—the smaller number—who wished to proceed going on to an MSc or a similar equivalent. Similarly, the experiment—and this is the only reference that I shall make to the University College at Buckingham—that we made, to see whether you could not use the year better by having 40 weeks of study, has not been followed in other universities, although our external examiners in the subjects that we teach assure us that it is perfectly possible for students and more economical for many of them to reach the same level in this particular form of organisation.

It seems to me that your Lordships may feel that this does not relate directly to the way in which our universities are financed; but I think it does and it does so in another way. We have heard a good deal in this debate and in the debates preceding it about the importance of the universities in providing manpower at various levels of specialisation for industry. In the United States, there has developed between universities and industry (and particularly between some of the privately-endowed universities and industry) a close symbiotic relationship by which industry endows the university with appropriate laboratories and other plant and, in return, gets back a flow of graduates.

A recently-appointed vice-chancellor in this country, coming back after a long period in the USA, was horrified to find how little progress had been made in the direction of interesting industry in the development of this kind of symbiotic relationship with universities, although one or two—the University of Manchester, through its research consultancy and the University of Aston, through its proposed Park of Science and Industry—are moving in that direction. But they are discouraged from so doing by the fact that public money, when available, is easily available, while private money is to some extent much more difficult to collect because of the difference in our tax laws. If Her Majesty's Government were to find themselves with more money to spend on higher education, I would rather that they did it by making gifts from industry to great industrial universities or great scientific and technological universities easier through a change in tax, than by simply putting up the level of grants.

There is yet a final reason: which is the one to which the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, devoted most of his attention. That is the way in which the UGC and the universities, in coping with the cuts and with the general question of finance, affect what I think he would be willing to allow me to call "the Robbins principle"—that is to say, how the maximum provision is to be made for young people who are able and willing to enter upon a course of university study. I have always felt that this is more of an ideal than a principle of action because there are two unknown variables. As the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has said, it is difficult by any means of selection to forecast whether someone is able and willing to follow a course of university study. The most that you can do through examinations is to find whether he has the basic information which would, if he wished, allow him to go to the next stage. Nevertheless—and I think that this explains many of the troubles in university—we clearly allow to slip through this net a number of students who, whatever their natural ability, are, at that age, wholly unsuited to a university environment. What we have done, particularly by the changes in the university statutes and regulations in recent years, has been to make it quite difficult to get in but extremely difficult to be removed if the university has made a mistake. Similarly, at the other end of the scale, it is clear, as the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, said, that there are always going to be a number of people who at some stage certainly should go to university and are liable to be excluded unless we open the gates wider than really would be appropriate for the maintenance of standards.

There are real difficulties here. My difference with the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, is that, while agreeing with him that the arbitrary imposition of numbers upon universities is a curtailment of their freedom and perhaps an unnecessary one, I am not as convinced as he is that there is not something to be said for public policy coming into deciding from time to time and in very broad categories those branches of university study, and consequently those universities, that demand greater encouragement. I should have thought that there was fairly general agreement that it would be a pity if this round of cuts left us with fewer technologists and more sociologists. There are other comparable examples that one can give.

Where I obviously agree with the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, is about the University Grants Committee, as at present constituted—he said, "as ever it could be constituted"—as a suitable body to make decisions of this kind. The Government were unfortunate in inheriting a machine which goes back almost unchanged to a period in which the public purse—that is to say, central Government—provided a relatively small part of the income of most universities, where there was greater income from fees, from the contributions from local authorities, local philanthropy, and so on. That body is composed almost exclusively of professors, and professors who go on public bodies are in part obviously men of great public spirit and in part those who prefer sitting on committees to facing the pain of original thought.

What is clearly needed is not exclusively professors of either category; what is needed in a committee which has so great a responsibility for deciding in what directions we teach the next generation is surely a much greater degree of lay representation. There is at present one industrialist on the UGC, who can hardly, however eminent, be able to survey the whole of industry. There is a vacancy I believe for one more.

If we are to continue with a system in which so much responsibility is placed on the UGC, it is necessary that we should give a great deal more thought to the people who are going to make these decisions. If one came up with more effective machinery then some of the objections of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, to any departure from equality of sacrifice with the exceptions that he made might be reduced. It is not to be believed—and I hardly believe that the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, believes it—that the exact distribution of income between our 46-odd universities is one to be maintained for all time; that none should grow; that none should diminish.

Yet, unless these decisions are made in the light of the national interest as a whole—and I come back and include in the national interest the proper provision for adult education, for further education and for continued education—then it seems to me that we shall not have what we need. There lies a possibility of reform which does not, unlike most of the other improvements urged by noble Lords, demand more public money.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Rochester

My Lords, I should like to speak briefly on that part of the Motion which calls attention to the need for a better educated working population. In doing so I shall cover ground which has not so far been covered in the debate. I hope what I have to say will not be thought irrelevant—at least it may have the merit of bringing a change of air, so to speak, into the House for a short time.

We require a better educated workforce, first because it is on industry, and particularly on the wealth-creating sector of manufacturing industry, that we all depend for the provision of social services, of hospitals and of the schools, colleges and universities which are the subject of this debate. Secondly, we need such a workforce, because we are a trading nation dependent for our standard of living on competing successfully with other industrialised countries.

It follows that our educational system should be such as will enable a significant proportion of our most able students to enter industry because they think it to be a worthwhile career to pursue. In the last analysis I think that the question comes down to a matter of how industry is regarded by the community at large. It is now almost exactly five years ago since I had the privilege of introducing in your Lordships' House a debate on the need for agreed action aimed at increasing the esteem in which industry is held in society, particularly among students. I believe that that problem is still with us. I shall not now go into the many and varied reasons why industry continues, in my view, to be held in relatively low esteem in society. All I shall say is that practically everybody—Government, employers, trade unions, educationists, parents and the media—bears a measure of responsibility for the predicament in which we still find ourselves, and there are measures that we all need to take to help get ourselves out of it.

We most need to avoid a situation in which particular groups of people who are involved simply go on the defensive and place the blame for our difficulties on anybody but themselves. It is surely much more profitable for all the elements in society having a stake in the problem to consider what they themselves can do to improve the situation.

As a former industrialist who in recent years has also had some involvement in higher education, believe that our basic aim should be to develop people at work whose education equips them to make an improved contribution to the efficient production of the goods and services that are needed by the community. This means that students generally need to have a much closer and clearer conception of what actually goes on in industry, the attractions it has to offer to talented young people and the great service that can be rendered in it to the community. Here I should like to pay tribute to what has been done in recent years in that direction by organisations such as the CBI, the Industrial Society, and by a number of large firms and local education authorities.

In a debate such as this it is not possible to do anything, but only to talk. However, perhaps the next best thing to action is to pass on relevant information about what others are doing. I should like, therefore, to spend just a few minutes in outlining what is going on in Cheshire, where I live, thanks to the far-sightedness of its local education authority and of certain enlightened employers in the county. The Cheshire Education Industry project was started nearly 18 months ago as a joint venture funded by local employers, by the Department of Industry and by the County Education Authority. It is controlled by an executive committee composed of representatives of the LEA, schools and industrial subscribers. Its activities are managed by a teacher, seconded to industry for a period of two years, who acts as a liaison officer between schools and employers. The project has sub-groups in various districts of the county and forms part of a wider national initiative sponsored by the Schools Council.

The key area of the project's operation is curriculum development. This has involved the publication of a book which is used as a resource by teachers of any subject and provides information as to why industry exists and how it works. The objective is that students should see industry as an integral part of their environment by encountering its influence in their everyday learning. As an example of how manufacture is organised, the resource book takes the case of a gas fire. It deals with the functions of research and development, of design, of the purchase of raw materials and the maintenance and selling of that product. But for me its main value lies in the way in which it brings the whole subject to life by obliging students to learn about manufacturing industry in practical problem-solving ways which evoke their interest.

In the same part of the country a further imaginative venture is being undertaken by a large company, which shall be nameless but whose identity your Lordships may guess. It consists of a mobile display of the chemical industry, which is contained in a caravan that goes from school to school. It shows what that industry does and how it meets the needs of consumers, not shirking the problems which have to be faced, for example, in transport, the treatment of effluent and so on.

If the objective of developing a better educated working population is to be achieved, I think we first have to recognise the interdependence of the various elements in society which have a stake in the problem —national and local government, education at a number of levels, and industry. I conclude that if the need is to be met the most relevant question to ask is: how can we help each other?

5.54 p.m.

Lord Bowden

My Lords, the hour is late and so much has been said that I must confine myself to one or two points only and not attempt to cover the subject as a whole. First, I should like, if I may, to follow up a point which was made about the City University; namely, the great and unknown cost of paying off those staff who are to be made redundant. I should like to ask a specific question of the Minister who is to reply. The cost has always been wrapped in mystery, and when the noble Baroness who was sitting on the Front Bench opposite a moment ago replied for the Government on a previous occasion she said it could not be disclosed until the courts had decided in more detail how much would be available and how much would be needed.

The question I would ask is this. At the end of this year and at the end of next year economies will have been made by closing down departments in universities and by making staff redundant. How much will the Government have actually saved by the end of the first year and by the end of the second year? I think that is an extremely important question to ask and I doubt whether the Government are in a position to give a firm answer. However, they must have a fairly shrewd idea and when we hear it we may feel dismayed at the enormous damage that is being done for so small a return. That is my first question.

However, I should like to change the whole tone of the debate and talk not about the tragedies of students, with which I am only too familiar, nor about the enormous harm being done to university departments, with which too I am appallingly familiar, but with two aspects of the subject which might appeal more directly perhaps to what I have come to regard as the flinty hearts of those who sit on the Front Bench opposite. I am going to speak of what for many years has been called "the knowledge industry". It is a phrase which has been very familiar in the United States for years but which never really became well known over here. I remember going to the United States and being told that in the early part of the 19th century it was the opening of the railways that was the most important event and the most important industry in the United States. Then the motor-car and the aeroplane succeeded the railways and became dominant. Now they say the most important of all the wealth creating and wealth consuming industries is the knowledge industry.

This is an aspect which I think really must make an impact on those opposite. We must have a knowledge industry, and that industry involves the creation and dissemination of knowledge at all levels and throughout the whole of our society. The Americans founded their great land grant colleges in 1861 and gave them three tasks to perform. Those tasks have always rated since as being of equal importance and are frequently described in commencement orations by university presidents as the three legs of a three-legged stool. First, there is the creation of knowledge, and, secondly, the imparting of knowledge to all outside the university system as well as inside it who are capable of appreciating it. The third is the teaching of undergraduates. We tend in this country to regard the teaching of undergraduates as all-important and to see the others as mere luxuries which may or may not be able to be afforded as the times indicate. But I would say to your Lordships that the knowledge industry is the biggest, the most important and the greatest creator of wealth in the world today.

When we consider the way in which other countries are preparing themselves for it and when we realise that, for example, in Germany a 16 or 18 year-old boy is certain to be receiving education somewhere, although he may be an apprentice in industry, whereas in this country the chances are about 10 to one that he will not be; when we realise similarly that in Japan everybody is being educated while at school, when they have left school, when they have gone into their firms and throughout their lives as members of those firms, we should understand that these are tasks which are undertaken not entirely out of altruism nor out of a belief that knowledge is of itself a desirable commodity for the individual and for the greater insight he gains into himself, but because of their importance as creators of wealth. I am going to talk about that because, as I said, it is one aspect of the subject which is more likely than most to appeal to Members opposite.

I should like to draw what your Lordships may think is a very crude analogy with the civil engineering industry. We are, at this moment, in the interests—so we are told—of the public sector borrowing requirement, allowing the infrastructure of this great nation of ours to fall into decay. I have many times bored your Lordships with stories of catastrophe in Manchester, as the roads fall in and the sewers wash away the subsoil. Your Lordships may even have heard that a new theatre has been opened in Manchester, where the Covent Garden Opera people are to sing. You may be interested to know that it would never have been finished in time had it not been for the fact that a sewer fell in outside it, the road was blocked and they were able to use the whole of the road as a builders' yard. That was an uncovenanted blessing, which I do not suppose we should count in favour of the general neglect of the infrastructure of the community, which is persisting to this day.

Our real problem is to get into perspective the relevant importance of the sums which we do at the end of the day, to count up how much things have cost us on a very curious and arbitrary system of accounting, as compared with the value of the work which is done. There may be records of nations surviving inflation. I do not believe there is any record in history of a nation which survived by keeping its workforce in idleness and its people illiterate.

There may, in fact, be a sort of insane logic in the policy which the Government are pursuing. After all, if industry is to disappear, if the infrastructure of the great cities is to collapse, what need is there for edu- cated men to run whatever is left? It is this side of the matter which must be studied in much more detail than it has been so far. The cost of neglecting the infrastructure of the community, allowing the roads, the railways, the hospitals, the schools, the sewers, the water supply and the electricity supply to fall into decay and to collapse on us, will, in the end, destroy this nation, whatever happens to the public sector borrowing requirement. I take that as a very much simpler version of what is likely to happen to us if we similarly neglect the cultivation of what is, after all, the most important single resource we have; namely, the young people upon whom, in the end, our futures will depend. I am myself—I make no secret of this—drawing a pension from the state. I am most anxious that the next generation should be properly educated; otherwise, who is going to pay it?

I believe that our national anxiety to balance books is leading us into the very gravest errors, if only because the books themselves are balanced in an essentially arbitrary way, without paying due regard to the work which might have been done had people not been put on the dole. Again, I take the simple case of a sewage plant which might be built but is not being built, and if not built the possible result will be closure of a factory which cannot dispose of its industrial effluent. This is a simple case where the public sector borrowing requirement may in some way benefit, at the ultimate cost and the ultimate collapse of a local community which can no longer accept new factories because it cannot dispose of their waste. I shall not mention the name, but I know that this case is true. In part of Lancashire, factories cannot be installed, simply because the infrastructure is not capable of accepting them.

This is not the sort of calculation which ever gets put into the national books. Nobody ever writes down, under the cost of reducing the public sector borrowing requirement, a very large item; namely, the cost of not installing a factory because we could not dispose of its industrial waste. It is this kind of thing which one can understand easily when applied to civil engineering. But one cannot, by any means, understand it so easily when it is applied to the neglect of those people upon whom, in the end, everything, and not merely the civil engineering, will depend.

It is worth reminding ourselves that Rome had an inflation of roughly 12 per cent. per annum for about 100 years—slightly less than we are having, but for much longer. As a result of that, the price of corn rose 300,000 times. It is a very remarkable compound interest sum. As a result of that, it became impossible to levy taxes. As a result of that, the main sewer, Glaucus Maximus, was neglected, its outfall was blocked, the Pontine Marshes were flooded, there was an enormous outburst of mosquitoes, the population was decimated by malaria, they could not pay the army, the Barbarians came in and that was the end of the empire of the West. But it may well have been that, by doing that, they kept the public sector borrowing requirement under control.

We must realise that there are some things which we cannot neglect. When I was a young man I was always brought up on the importance of what we used to call preventive maintenance—the sort of enter- prise which, had it been applied to this roof, would have made the work presently being done on it unnecessary. It is by neglecting preventive maintenance that a country decays and its buildings decay. I hate to use this analogy but I believe it is the only way that I can drive the point home. There is a very close analogy between the effect of preventive maintenance of buildings and the effect of the adequate cultivation of the minds of our young people, the point being that, in either case, if the work is neglected it cannot necessarily be done later on without much greater expense, and the effect on the community can be absolutely disastrous. Japan knows this, the Americans know it, the Canadians know it and the Germans know it, but we never seem to have learned it.

I have said before in this House that, when my own institution was founded, it was in an attempt to produce technical education of the highest quality for those whose efforts made Lancashire prosperous, and effectively made it possible for England to resist Napoleon. Your Lordships may not know that Napoleon's army marched to Moscow wearing cloth made in England, and woven in Yorkshire and Lancashire. This is not particularly relevant, but it is interesting. The point I make is that we provided the world with an enormously important number of goods, and we were able to do so by the native genius of our workforce.

In those days the workmen of Lancashire were to an extraordinary degree illiterate, and the men who signed the marriage register with a cross numbered nearly half the total working population. That gave the establishment, the inhabitants of Westminster, if I may so describe them, the impression that it is sufficient for a country to be illiterate to make sure that it is wealthy. That was not true then, and it is not true now. There are records of 1,000 men or more, even in those days, attending lectures on the chemistry of dyestuffs. Nevertheless, it was the Germans' efforts to introduce organic chemistry to their universities which made it possible for Germany to take away the whole of the dyestuffs industry from this country before the First World War.

It is the knowledge industry—which was important then—which is dominant today. We cannot neglect it. We cannot neglect to maintain our civil works. This is clear. But we cannot afford, either, to neglect the responsibility for making certain that our people at all ages, from the day they first go to school almost to the day they retire, have opportunities to study as they should have—and as they do have in almost every other civilised industrial country in the world today.

6.10 p.m.

Viscount Combermere

My Lords, first I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for initiating this very important debate. Secondly, I should like to explain, as is customary, my own interest in it. I am employed as a full-time staff lecturer at the Extra-Mural Department of London University. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has indicated in his Motion several areas of concern in connection with the recent Government cuts in education. I propose to comment on two of those areas: higher education and adult education.

First, there is the question of the damaging effects of the cuts on higher education. The nature of these cuts, administered by the University Grants Committee in terms of direct grant funding, is of course well known. Secondly, a limit has been placed by the UGC on overall student numbers, to be strictly enforced by the use of financial penalties against those institutions which exceed their quota. Thirdly, the number of overseas students, particularly from underdeveloped countries, has declined as a direct result of substantial increases in fees.

I believe that nobody would wish to see the universities totally immune from every adverse change in the economic climate, but this attack on the universities from these various directions must be seen to be gravely damaging and to result in a contraction not paralleled before. To quote the vice-chancellor of London University, Dr. Quirk, writing in a recent article in The Times: About one-sixth of the provision is to be lost in the next two years". In fact, the immediate effects of these cuts are already taking effect.

One could give innumerable examples, right across the academic spectrum, of the very real threat of closure of whole faculties and departments—from science to engineering, from medicine to the arts. These have been clearly and forcefully underlined to the Government by academic colleagues. I feel that I could add little to this flood of protest, except to say that graduates in medicine, science and engineering, and in all the disciplines which one associates with university life, are the seed-corn of this country's future. That seed-corn will not be forthcoming to the degree that must be necessary if we are to compete in a world which does not owe us a living.

Examples of closure and threats of closure have been, and no doubt will be, given by others, but my own interest being in the area of religious studies, I propose to single out this area just as an example of what could happen when a subject, for which there is little provision in this country, is threatened with the axe. My comments in this area are not in any way intended to diminish the seriousness of what is happening in other faculties but, rather, the reverse: to underline it and, indeed, to indicate that in what are traditionally arts faculties, the implications of drastic cuts can reach well beyond the curtailment of that cultural richness which our people are entitled to enjoy and benefit from and, in fact, extend into the area of politics and economics. However, religious studies, as opposed to traditional courses in theology and biblical studies, is concerned with the modern study of religion, and in particular with the meaning and social relevance of Christianity and other world religions in the world today.

There are very few faculties of religious studies in the universities of this country, yet two of these faculties—at Leicester and Sussex—are threatened with closure. Leicester is only a small department, yet it is the only department that I know of in this country which gives highest place to the study of modern world religions in their social and cultural context. This department's concern is of real social importance, yet it is faced with closure.

The study of world religions in their social and cultural context is [...]ot the exclusive concern of a tiny band of academics working in their ivory towers, if such an imaginary group has ever existed, but it is the concern of every thinking person. The biggest damage, however, to this and, indeed, to every subject and faculty on the receiving end of these cuts is to be seen more in the way in which posts are not filled, following early or normal retirement. The effect of this policy of freezing posts is of course quite arbitrary. I will give an example, again from the area of study with which I am most familiar—in other words, religious studies.

At Leeds University, for example, there are three lecturers in each of three major world religions: Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. If one of those lecturers retired early and was not replaced, one-third of the provision for religious studies in that faculty would have gone. To give one more example, there are only a handful of lecturers in Islam in faculties of religious study in this country. If, by an unusual combination of circumstances, all these posts became vacant, there would be no provision for the teaching of Islam in faculties of religious study in this country. One needs, for example, only to refer to Shi'a militancy in Iran or to the Moslem Brotherhood's particular brand of Sunni fundamentalism in Egypt and Syria, in order to underline the necessity for a proper understanding and appreciation of events taking place there. Indeed, one need not look further than our own country and note its increasingly multi-cultural complexion in order to draw attention to the necessity for understanding cultures and religions different from those which we traditionally associate with this country.

To look at this from another angle, the all-party Commons Select Committee on Education, Science and the Arts have recommended the approach adopted by Norfolk in its agreed syllabus, which places Christianity at the centre but which also introduces pupils to other religions. How can children be introduced to other religions if there are no teachers qualified in the subject to teach them? For the training of qualified teachers depends on flourishing faculties of theology and religious studies and on PGCE training. So far as the latter is concerned, I am told by the Assistant Principal of the West London Institute of Higher Education that there is a shortage of trainee teachers in religious education and that this shortage is worse in religious education than in mathematics. But instead of matching this shortage, there will be a reduction in both primary and secondary intakes, particularly in PGCE. This is about to happen, in spite of Recommendation 17 by the all-party Commons Select Committee, which has come out clearly in favour of more, not less, qualified teachers and inspectors in religious education being appointed.

Finally, turning to more general issues on the question of higher education, I should like to question the whole rationale behind these cuts. Following the great expansion of university education in the 1960s, in the light of the Robbins Report, I believe that the view has already taken hold that the university sector has been the subject of uncontrolled growth and that this luxuriant expansion must be severely cut back. But Professor Marris, in a recent article in The Times, has very forcefully argued that the real cost of producing a British graduate is well below the European average. In addition, the professor has indicated that of 13 European countries, together with Japan and the United States of America, the number of British first degree students, at seven per 1,000 of the population, is lower than in any of these countries, and less than half the average. To quote from his article: If this country is to recover her confidence and prosperity, she needs more graduates, not fewer". But, secondly, given the very serious economic situation, which appears to make some cuts unavoidable, I believe that it is unnecessarily damaging to introduce these over a three-year period instead of over a period of five years. Modest retrenchment could be planned over this longer period, as the noble Lord, Lord Mais, implied. It cannot make sense to prevent arbitrarily a significant proportion of able and qualified school-leavers from entering university and hence from making their contribution to the economic, social and cultural wellbeing of our country.

If I may now turn to adult education, I should like to refer to three areas of provision. I was delighted to hear if the unstinted support for this area by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. First, there are the extra mural departments of the universities of this country, where higher education reaches out to join hands with the WEA and local authorities. The University Grants Committee has come out clearly in their favour, stating that their work must be maintained at its present level. In spite of this very clear support we find that while central Government funding, via the DES, has not been cut, very substantial cuts have been made by way of university contributions to their own extramural departments. My own university has already cut its contribution by 18 per cent. this year, after initially proposing a 50 per cent. cut. Further cuts are now planned, roughly on a 50 per cent. level spread over a three-year period. This is happening in spite of a very clear statement by the University Grants Committee that this work must be maintained at its present level.

However, London is not an exception and there is evidence that one or two extramural departments at other universities are being hit even harder. This is particularly serious, as these cuts come at a time when public interest demands that university links with the outside world be strengthened and not diminished. Yet cuts of this nature seriously damage the partnerships between the universities, local authorities, and the WEA. In my view, and this is a view that commands a lot of support among my colleagues, the contribution made by universities to their extramural departments should come from a special fund received direct from the UGC and earmarked specifically for that purpose. It seems to me that only in this way can UGC policy vis-à-vis extramural departments be actually carried out. Secondly, there is the question of the WEA provisions. While their DES grant has been maintained, like everybody else they are affected by LEA cuts. The work of the WEA at a time of enforced leisure through unemployment is particularly important and must be reinforced.

Finally, I should like to turn to local authority adult education provisions, which in my view have been hit hardest of all. Cuts in this area have come, of course, by way of local authority finance in response to the Heseltine proposals regarding rates and local authority expenditure. This is a tangled question which I should not like to introduce into this debate, except to say that as a ratepayer I have no wish to experience again annual rate increases of the order of 50 per cent. plus. Secondly, in the light of this there seems to me to be a clear-cut case for local authority expenditure on adult education to be taken right outside the Government's block grant to local authorities and a provision made for central Government funding, earmarked specifically for adult education at, say, a minimum of 1 per cent. of local authority spending on education as a whole. I was very glad to hear the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, as I understood him, say that he supported this idea in principle.

I have in fact written to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who will be replying to this debate, giving him prior notice of this suggestion. I hope that he will be able to make a positive response, pending the strengthening of current legislation. At any rate, provision for adult education should be a statutory obligation, rather than, as at present, an encouragement to develop it.

I have suggested that at least 1 per cent. of the local authority education budget be earmarked for adult education. This is a tiny percentage of their budget and minuscule in overall terms. It is in fact the average figure that was spent on adult education at the time of the Russell Report, which I well remember was debated in your Lordships' House some eight years ago. Your Lordships will no doubt remember that the Russell Report suggested then that 2 per cent. of total local authority budgets be allocated to adult education. This has not happened. The reverse has happened. And rather than doubling their expenditure on adult education, local authorities have halved it—for the total now spent is approximately half of 1 per cent. I am not therefore making any radical proposals when I say that if local authorities cannot maintain the proportion of their budget for adult education at a level comparable with that of eight years ago, then that level must be maintained through statutory provision at least, if not through direct central Government funding.

To turn now to the actual evidence for this crisis, it is difficult in a short time to give even an impression of the overall picture. I propose to confine myself to three areas of concern, which are drawn from personal experience and from contact with principals of colleges of adult education. First, I should like to turn to Manchester, where a devastating situation has just arisen. As a direct result of current Government policy of reducing grant to authorities that overspend, and in order consequently to save up to £20 million, the director of education at Manchester has given advance information that Manchester College of Adult Education is to close and that all adult education centres throughout the City of Manchester are to close as well. This is particularly ironic as Manchester was the first authority to have had its scheme of adult education approved by the Ministry. But, irony aside, it is appalling that a great authority such as Manchester, with all its social problems, should find itself in the position of being unable to offer any courses to adults if this plan is carried through.

Manchester College of Adult Education has a student enrolment of 6,000, one-sixth of whom are unemployed. These enrolments represent a 30 to 40 per cent. increase over the average number of students last year. One need make no further comment other than to add that Manchester College of Adult Education is within a stone's throw of Moss Side, where unemployment is substantially above the national average.

This is merely an example, for centres in many parts of the country have been closed, merged or threatened with closure, loss of staff or premises. This case in particular and these general references merely serve to underline the necessity for making a radical revision of the whole philosophy that lies behind current practices of funding local authority finance. The Government may say that extra cash has been given to LEAs for adult education but in fact it has disappeared into a variety of other projects for which LEAs are responsible.

The second area of concern to which I wish to refer involves short-term residential colleges. I am told by the chairman of the Residential Colleges Committee that seven short-term residential colleges have closed, while one has changed its use. Eight of these colleges, therefore, have been taken right out of adult education; colleges that adult education can ill-afford to lose. Having myself taught periodically over a 10-year period at two such colleges, I know from first-hand personal experience that for many people a weekend course at a short-term residential college of adult education is the only adult education course which they are able to attend because of practical considerations. However, in addition to these closures, the costs in other colleges are now so high that in any case many people cannot afford to enrol.

The third area of concern involves the students themselves and the fees they pay. The overall increase this year is 25 per cent., although very unevenly distributed, more than double the current rate of inflation, and further increases are already being discussed. How can these increases possibly be justified when paragraph 83 of the Russell Report itself states: It is firmly believed by many closely associated with adult education that increased fees cause a further decline in the proportionate representation of the lower socio-economic groups"? That statement, made eight years ago, is just as true today.

These then are examples only of areas of very grave concern in adult education. Everybody pays lip-service in saying that adult education must be preserved; yet successive Governments and local authorities stand by and watch a remorseless decline. One per cent. of local authority funding for adult education in 1973 has declined to one-half of 1 per cent. in 1982. What level shall we see in 1992?

We are today faced with grave social and moral issues, issues that deserve to be aired by an informed and educated public. We are faced also with over 3 million unemployed. Unemployment need not be regarded as a total disaster, however, but rather it could be seen to be taken as an opportunity to develop talents and interests that might not otherwise have been possible. In this respect I suggest that sympathetic consideration to be given to extending the principle of no fees for the unemployed. It may well be that full employment is a thing of the past, and if current predictions are accurate about future trends of rising unemployment, this merely serves to underline the necessity for a fundamental rethinking of attitudes to adult education.

We have also an ever-increasing number of retired people. They deserve to be enriched and to enjoy the fruits that both education and leisure can bring. Perhaps one could end on this note, and by quoting from a letter just written to me by the Principal of Richmond Adult College: Leisure, like fire, is one of the great civilising forces of society, but like fire can be the most destructive, wrongly used". But leisure need not be wrongly used. We have one of the finest systems of adult education anywhere in the world. Let us not sit back complacently and watch its slow and progressive destruction. My Lords, it is time for those who really care about it to stand up and be counted.

6.33 p.m.

Lord Pitt of Hampstead

My Lords, may I say how pleased I am to be following the noble Viscount with whose speech I find myself in such great agreement? I must congratulate and thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, on introducing this debate, but I have to apologise to him for the fact that I was not here to hear his opening speech; I will, however, read it with great interest in Hansard.

Frankly, my Lords I enter this debate specifically to ask the Government to explain their strategy. I have tried to follow it. Admittedly, we were in a position where we could have reduced classes in primary and secondary schools. We have foregone that. There may well be an argument for that; we may say, "Well, we will postpone that; we cannot afford it today, and we will meet it tomorrow". There must, therefore, be a plan for tomorrow. This is where I find myself in difficulty in following the Government's policies.

I should have thought that at this time those who are able because of their educational attainments to go to the universities would be given an opportunity to do so. Therefore, I find the decision to cut university education difficult to understand. But, even if one accepts the need to cut, I find it more difficult to understand the manner in which the cuts are being made. I agree with those who have spoken and I accept the point they have made that in fact, from all the evidence, it would have been easier for everyone if a five-year period rather than a three-year period had been selected for the cuts. I hope it is not too late for the Government to think of doing that.

Then I look at the areas where cuts are made and the universities that have suffered the most cuts, and that is the part I find most difficult to understand. I find that Salford, Bradford and Aston—which are three universities with technological bias, with connections with business, with, certainly in the case of Bradford, which I know, courses that are sandwiched—are the universities selected for the biggest cuts. That I find difficult to understand. For example, Bradford has had as a consequence to close completely 10 courses and 15 sandwich courses. Since I would have thought that, policy-wise in terms of our present situation, the existence of such sandwich courses and the existence of those areas that are specialising in technological development would have been the thing most acceptable to the Government, I find the way in which these cuts have been made difficult to understand.

What I am asking the Government for is an explanation of their strategy; why, for example, in the first instance have they decided that we should not take advantage of the opportunity presented to us to cut the size of classes? I think perhaps I may find it not too difficult to accept their explanation of that. Then I want them to explain to me the reason for the university cuts and the reason why the cuts have been made as they have. For example, it may well be that the reason for these severe cuts in universities like Salford and Bradford and Aston is that, because of their business connections, the Government hope they will establish the sort of relationship that has been established elsewhere with business, and that business will provide the additional finance. It may well be that that is how the Government see it. If that is so, they ought to say so, and they ought to do what the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, suggested and make it easier for business to make these contributions. But in any case it is necessary for those who, like myself, merely read the results of the Government's decisions to understand what lies behind those decisions.

Again, I should have thought that, having decided to postpone the opportunity for improving primary and secondary education, there would be a plan for making it more possible for people to have a second chance. There is no evidence of that. It seems to me that the approach is a cut right across the board without any plan as to picking up the pieces after we have caused the injury. It is often true that people go through their school life without attaining their full objective, without achieving the maximum that they can achieve. But if they were given a second chance they would pick it up and they would make it. Therefore, one might have thought that one would see some evidence of the Government planning for that purpose. Frankly, I have not seen any evidence of that, but I hope that the Minister will be able to give me some information.

As things are at present, we have cuts in primary and secondary education and cuts in higher education. The local authorities are squeezed to such an extent that there is a cut in further education. Again, because of that squeeze, there is a cut in adult education. That is what is happening and it is happening at a time when, as has been mentioned, we have 3 million unemployed, but what is much more important is that a large percentage of all 16- to 19-year olds are among those unemployed.

Therefore, one would have thought that provisions would be made and the strategy would be such that the period when they are unemployed could be used to train, to equip and to educate them so that, when the recovery comes—and we are told that the Government's policy is to cut inflation with the hope that subsequently we shall have an export-led boom as a result of becoming more competitive—we shall have a better educated and a better equipped workforce. Therefore, I think that the period during which these people are forced to be out of work should be used to educate and equip them so that when the times comes for the "jump off" we shall be in a position, because we have a well-educated, well-equipped and well-trained work- force, to take full advantage of it. I have, in effect, indicated what would be my strategy, but I should like to hear from the Minister what the Government's strategy is, because I find that the Government's approach to this particular subject difficult to understand.

6.42 p.m.

Lord Winstanley

My Lords, as the first to speak below the line, as it were, in this fascinating debate, so admirably introduced by my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley, it is clearly my duty to attempt, so far as I can, to draw together the threads of the many arguments already advanced and, where necessary —and, frankly, it has not really proved to be necessary having listened to all the speeches—to try to rebut any arguments which have been put forward in a spirit contrary to those of the Motion.

Therefore, I acknowledge that speaking, below the line, as it were, is neither the time nor the place at which to introduce new themes. Nevertheless, I intend to begin by saying again things which I have said to noble Lords in your Lordships' House many times, and if noble Lords heard me say these things before, then all that I can say is, "hard luck". Noble Lords will hear me say them again and again until such time as I believe that they have been finally taken on board.

I am wholly convinced that we now live in a society in western Europe, and in Britain in particular, of permanently, vastly increased leisure. I am not merely referring to the compulsory leisure which arises from unemployment or to the, perhaps, voluntary leisure which arises from strikes, go-slows or whatever. I am referring to the whole change in the work pattern which I believe has come about permanently and irreversibly so that we shall have earlier retirement, perhaps a shorter working week, more holidays and shorter working hours. We have a population which from now, and for all time in my view, with certain very narrow individual exceptions, will have a vastly increased amount of leisure.

In addition to that trend of an increasing amount of leisure, I believe that we are also in our society facing two other related and paralled trends. The first is an increasing rate of depletion of the basic resources upon which we depend for our very existence. The second, which is related, is an increasing rate of contamination of the environment in which we live. I do not need to give examples of either of those matters to a highly-informed gathering such as your Lordships' House. So far as the depletion of resources is concerned, all I need quote is the whole question of our energy resources. I do not want to enter into specious arguments about how long our various forms of our energy will last. All I need say is that our resources are finite, and that means that sooner or later they will run out, which means that the longer we give ourselves to pioneer alternatives, the better.

In the face of that trend it does perhaps seem rather odd that all the political parties should appear to be wedded to growth as the solution to all our problems. It seems to me rather strange that we should seek salvation in our present difficulties by persuading people o consume more and more of things of which we have got less and less, while at the same time we have an advertising industry bent on persuading each and every one of us that we cannot do without today what we had never heard of yesterday.

I think that the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, referred to the question of growth. Let me make my position clear. I am not opposed to growth at all. I am wholly in favour of growth provided that growth is in areas which are socially and economically desirable, and provided that the fruits of growth are used for socially and economically desirable purposes. But I totally agree with the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, when he said that the growth in the number of sex shops or the growth in the number of bingo halls or whatever, does not in itself add to the nation's wealth. We must look for other forms of growth.

With regard to contamination, again I do not think that I need to quote examples, save to say that man has already proved beyond all possible contradiction that he excels all other animals in his ability to foul his own nest. Therefore, I have referred to the three trends: an increasing amount of leisure; an increasing rate of depletion of the basic resources upon which we depend for our very existence; and an increasing rate of contamination of the environment in which we live.

In the face of those three trends, I believe that one of the most compelling problems facing us at present is that of the provision of opportunities for the constructive and fulfilling use of leisure in ways which are not consumptive of resources or destructive of the environment. I believe that adult and part-time education does precisely that—it is a means of providing constructive and fulfilling opportunities for the use of leisure in ways which do not consume our scarce resources and do not, perhaps, contaminate our society.

I think perhaps that in a privileged gathering such as your Lordships' House, we must be a little careful when we give that kind of advice. We must recognise that what the young people in Moss Side, Toxteth and Brixton want is jobs. They do not necessarily want people like us to tell them how they should be spending their leisure. So let us not forget about the real need. But there is also this parallel need for the proper use of leisure. That leads me to say that in the face of the kind of constraints under which we are now acting, there is a tendency more and more for those engaged in the provision of education, particularly education in the leisure field, to concentrate more and more on the pursuit of excellence.

I am all for excellence. I am all for producing people of great ability of one kind or another. I tend to think that we do not actually produce an Einstein by special coaching or even intuition, and I do not think that we produce a Georgie Best by special coaching methods. I say that if we provide the widest possible range of opportunities to the largest possible number of people, excellence will take care of itself.

The noble Viscount, Lord Combermere, spoke about what has been happening in part-time education and other education in the Leicester area. I should like to refer to that for a moment. The education authority in Leicester has done some remarkable work in terms of its artistic effects, bringing music into all sorts of homes which knew nothing about music. I know that it is operating under great difficulties, and at one time there were bus loads of children being brought into Leicester from all points of the compass to have special tuition in playing musical instruments and in rehearsing with orchestras and so on. They would not all be geniuses, but they would all achieve an ability which would give them immense pleasure; and by achieving that kind of ability we were affecting the whole nature of the life from which those children came.

If a child from an underprivileged home learns to play the oboe or the violin, in the end that has an impact on the whole family; the family goes along to concerts, the family takes an interest in music in a way which it did not before. I believe that if activities of that kind, which frankly are not utilitarian, but which can do so much for the profitable use of leisure by our people, have, in the face of the present cuts, to be reduced, that would be an absolute disaster.

In the course of the debate much reference has been made to local authority evening classes, vocational classes, non-vocational classes, and so on. The noble Viscount, Lord Combermere, said that the provision of those classes should be made mandatory. Section 41 of the 1944 Act—to which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred earlier—says: … it shall be the duty of every local education authority to secure the provision for their area of adequate facilities for further education, that is to say: (b) leisure-time occupation, in such organized cultural training and recreative activities as are suited to their requirements, for any persons over compulsory school age who are able and willing to profit by the facilities provided for that purpose". That is not a mandatory provision, but it is a desperately important provision.

The interesting thing about evening classes and non-vocational classes run by local authorities, which I have studied very closely, is the change in the kind of recruitment and personnel—the change in the people from whom the classes are drawn. There was a time when, in the main, it was the professional classes who went along to learn a language or who went along to learn about ceramics, music, architecture or whatever. We now find that it is the professional classes who have no spare time at all and it is other classes that now go along to learn about music, history or any of these other activities. As a result I think that their lives are immeasurably enriched.

I would also say that many of the people who have benefited from evening classes of this kind have often been people who have had almost nothing out of our educational system in the past—elderly people who left school at the age of 14 and who went straight to work, who never had any further education or university education until they came to retirement and then, at long last, an avenue is open to them. I think that they have pursued that avenue with immense benefit to themselves and the society in which they live. If, in the face of the kind of cuts we now have, activities of that kind close down, it would be a tragedy.

The noble Viscount, Lord Combermere, referred to what has happened in Manchester—the disaster there. I remember the time when evening classes were dotted about all over the area, and when there was the possibility for people, quite happily, to cross education authority boundaries; to look through a shopping list to see what kind of courses were available in one area or another. Equalising payments were made as between one education authority area and another so that people could more or less choose from a wide area.

We now have a situation in which, under the present pressures of cuts, these things are closing more and more, until the opportunities almost do not exist. Earlier the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, said that provided the Government made absolutely certain that they provided the premises, he felt—and I think that he is right—that sooner or later agencies of one kind or another would arrive which would make effective use of those premises. I think it is right that tribute has been paid, not once but over and over again in this debate, to the work of organisations, such as the WEA. There are other agencies which have done, and are still doing, admirable work in providing classes of part-time education in one form or another. Cuts are, of course, nothing new. I well recollect that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred to his, not difficulties, but negotiations with Sir Winston Churchill in order to get funds. He may perhaps be interested to hear the contents of a letter which Sir Winston Churchill wrote many years ago to Sir Vincent Tewson when Sir Vincent was the General Secretary of the TUC. Sir Winston said this: There is, perhaps, no branch of our vast educational system which should more attract within its particular sphere the aid and encouragement of the state than adult education". How right he was! He said that that form of education: demands the highest measures which our hard-pressed finances can sustain". Finances are always hard pressed. I remember the cuts which took place in education away back in January 1968, when the noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, was a member of the Government. At that time it was said that the cut of £100 million was not really a cut but a planned reduction in the rate of growth. From time to time we are told that the present cuts are not really cuts; that they arc planned reductions in the rate of growth. To a person who is now denied an opportunity from which he would formerly have benefited, they are cuts, and they are cuts which could, indeed, have very serious consequences.

I do not want to say very much more. I have said little about the whole matter of university education; it has been dealt with so admirably by so many other speakers. But I should like to underline the almost electrifying words of the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, who spoke rather like the geese that woke up the capital, when he reminded us of Rome, and how right he was; that some day we shall emerge from the recession. Perhaps by the time we emerge from that recession we shall also have reached the time when our resources, in terms of North Sea oil, may have disappeared; in which time we shall have become doubly dependent on the skill, knowledge and ingenuity of our people. That being the case, any shortfall or any cuts in the investment in the education of our people at the moment would indeed be a disaster.

I know that it is not always possible to make sure that our education today provides the right people in the future. Indeed, I was much interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, said about methods of selecting students at a time when we have cuts, and that one cannot necessarily guarantee that the person who gets the best A-level results, ultimately makes the most useful graduate at the end of the day. But these are the kinds of problem which must be faced when, in point of fact, one is faced with cuts.

It was some time ago in another debate that the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, reminded your Lordships' House of a kind of inevitable rule within society, whereby somehow we never produce the kind of graduates we actually need. As the noble Lord said at that time, once mathematics becomes very important to society—as it now is very important to society—all the mathematicians leave the schools and the colleges and go into industry. So, in a sense, we then fail to turn out graduates of the precise kind actually needed. However, I do not think that it is necessary for me to underline any of the remarks which have been made by noble Lords, with such vast experience in this field, about the importance of preserving our investment in knowledge, so that that knowledge will be there at such time as the nation will become almost totally dependent upon it.

I want to say little more, save to say that during the six years that I have had the great privilege of being a Member of your Lordships' House, like so many other noble Lords who have also had the honour and pleasure of being Members of another place, I am often asked by people how I compare the two. I always say that your Lordships' House has the outstanding advantage over the other place that one does not actually have to turn up unless one wants to. It has the further advantage in that your Lordships do not have constituents; it has perhaps an even greater advantage in that we do not have elections. But what I have said over and over again is that it has been my view that the quality of debate, particularly on subjects like education —and I have quoted that often—is immeasurably higher.

I do not say this critically, but so often the speeches in another place are made for the benefit of the Rochdale Observer or the Oldham Chronicle, or whatever you like, whereas if a noble Lord in your Lordships' House chooses to speak the presumption is that he probably has something to say. As I have said in the past, if we have a debate about education we will find that most of the speeches made in that debate will be made by people who have spent a lifetime in education, who have carried great responsibility in education, who have had to take crucial decisions. So those debates have been of a high quality. But, when asked, I have said when I have come out of a debate such as this: "Well, that was splendid and immensely interesting. But so what? Who is listening?"

This has been a most important debate. In the course of it we have had speeches from noble Lords of immense experience and wisdom. Everything they have said is something which has to be listened to. The debate was admirably opened by my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley, and since then noble Lords, one after another, have followed the same theme and underlined the theme. I repeat what I have said to others: an excellent debate, but who is listening? I hope that on this occasion Her Majesty's Government have been listening and that a truly excellent debate, to which I have listened with immense interest and pleasure, has not merely been a waste of time. I hope that in the fullness of time it will perhaps bear and bring results.

7.3 p.m.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, I think this has been a splendid debate. I have also had the pleasure of listening to every one of the speeches. I have listened to every speech, and I found that every speech had something constructive to say. But I was particularly interested—I do not know about the order of my picking up points—in the noble Viscount's speech on the WEA. As an old warrior in the front trenches of the WEA in the 1930s, I worked in a village where 98 per cent. of the people were out of work. I have seen slump after slump in Wales in my day. In that village we saved—I am using the word "souls" —the souls of those people by running numbers of WEA classes. Sometimes we scored aces. I can think of three students we got to Balliol. The Master, Lindsay, at one time had the oil painting of one of these great old unemployed workers in that area in his room.

The WEA was not trying to make a person ooze with intellectuality. One can easily ooze with intellectuality and lack all wisdom. As I have said many times in this House, Solomon did not ask for cleverness or intellectuality. He asked the good God to give him wisdom. Fortunately we have heard a lot of it tonight in the speeches that have been made from both sides of the House, because all the speeches were built on a lifetime of experience.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont. He has gone, has he?

A noble Lord

He is coming back.

Lord Davies of Leek

He is coming back, my Lords. I am grateful to him for having raised this issue. It will be of value, and I am quite sure, that the answer to the question asked by the last speaker, "who is listening?" is that the Government are listening. But the world is listening, too, because something is happening to this lovely little old country of ours.

Tawney asked a wonderful question. I knew Tawney, and had the joy of sitting at his feet. I will not pass any remarks about the SDP. Do not let me get involved in that, but they have elected to call their society, the Tawney Society. This was the 64,000 dollar question, and Tawney, in his wisdom, said: "They talk as though man existed for industry, instead of industry existing for man". That was in his famous booklet and series of lectures known as The Sickness of an Acquisitive Society.

I know that every speaker today on both sides of this House believes that industry exists for man, and we all want to find a formula by means of which man can live a full life. We do not want to see what Tawney had to reply to in 1936, bless him, when they were going to raise the school-leaving age to 15. There was talk about exemptions in the other place. Her Grace the Duchess of Atholl spoke on 26th May 1936. The dear lady said: There are many cases where small hands are necessary for industry. In the Yorkshire textile industry many machines are at present standing idle for the want of these small fingers to work them". I do not blame the Duchess. It was the environment in which she lived. It was the environment in which they were brought up. The drabness of the underprivileged was something you could excuse them, because they knew nothing about it. That point of view is the exact one that Tawney was protesting about when he said that some people like that thought that man existed for industry.

A sad sight to me this week which has seen a call for a better educated population—and you are looking at somebody who got eight draws up on a football coupon, by the way, and who got £53, though I do not bet and I did not know I had done it; my wife filled the form up years ago—was to see thousands standing outside the Daily Mail office and even the wife of a Member of another place waking him up at seven in the morning to say, "We are rich. You need not fight another general election". It makes me wonder how daft Britain is going. Everybody was running with a No. 26 to the Daily Mail and saying, "I have won, and we are going to be rich for life!".

This is pathetic. It is a pathetic indictment of the system of society in which we are living. I have learnt the tough way that you are lucky to have a new suit unless you work hard for it. I had to learn the rough way about that as the son of Welsh miners and Welsh farmers years and years ago. There was nothing wrong in learning that lesson. We are now destroying the instrument which will teach that lesson to people.

When Milton wrote his famous pamphlet Areopagitica in defence of journalism, he never thought in asking for the freedom of the press that one day they would try to increase their circulation by running bingo. When he wrote his famous pamphlet on education—that is another one of Milton's—he never thought we would have a system of society that was limiting students, because in his day some of them were getting to Oxford at 12 years of age. Those old universities were open to the children of the poor. I want to see that again. But they will never get there, and they are really the seed corn—that expression has been used—of the society in which we live.

I find it particularly sad that 13,000 teaching jobs are ultimately to go. Along with that, there is a bit of teacher bashing going on now. The Minister of Education has said that we must root out those who are hopeless. Certainly, and a good headmaster can do that; that can be left to the man who knows how to run a school or the local authority which knows the locality, and so on. We do not need the peak of the pyramid in Whitehall coming down with a big stick. Many people have gone into medicine, one of whom messed me about to the point where, if I had not been strong, I would not now be living, but we do not go doctor bashing simply because they mix their drugs occasionally. I see a few doctors sitting nearby, so I had better not take that path too far. The members of the teaching profession are an easy target for attack. Bad teachers are a menace to children and we must find the answer, but we must go carefully and not go berserk over the problem.

The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee looked at the problem in 1954 and at that time they deplored: the maintenance of the outworn tradition in so many of our grammar and public schools that the proper goal for all bright boys"— they did not mention girls, by the way— is a classical education; an Arts course at the university and the avoidance of anything to do with industry and factories. It is extremely difficult to get scholarship boys to go into applied science". Many noble Lords from both sides of the House, some with illustrious Peerages, have had the wonderful opportunity—nobody objects to it and many of us might have wished for it ourselves—of a private education, even if it has given them an education fit for a schoolman of the 12th century, learned in Greek and Latin but possibly unable to solve a simple quadratic equation. I recall meeting a man who went to Gordonstoun in Scotland, a marvellous individual, who told me they did not bother with that type of training there, either.

In my view, a publication out this week on mathematics is serving a purpose. I promise not to speak for more than about 15 minutes, so I will not go into it in depth. I do not believe mathematics is all that difficult, if it can be inculcated into the child properly at the beginning. As I say, I will not quote from the Cockcroft Report on maths because the hour is late and we want to give the Minister plenty of time to reply to the points made in the debate. I urge noble Lords to obtain a copy of that report. I say that because in the sort of world which is developing, that of the microelectronic processor, it is absolutely necessary for us not to be afraid of mathematics any more. It is a subject which the nation must take in its stride.

There are many Stephensons and Brindleys. Brindley could hardly read and write, yet he became one of the greatest canal builders, as well as doing work on roads, of those days. In other words, he was a typical example of common man over-vaulting his limitations through the miracle of application, thus enabling him to find the answers he needed, for example how to construct a lock in a canal so as to bring water uphill. That is the type of person we need. By the way, we found hundreds of them in the WEA movement. A farmer wrote me an essay on society and said, "I do not know much about society but I breed bees", and then he wrote 30 pages of foolscap on the community of bees. It was an example of work that brought joy to the lecturer, the farmer in question and to those attending that educational movement. In our modern society, our universities and polytechnics need more than ever to get their grants so that they may move into the modern scientific and electronic world.

Lloyds Bank Review asked the question, "What is education for?" and Angus Maddison, a member of the Secretariat of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, wrote in that publication about five major goals of education, and I think it right that I should mention them. The first goal was education as a means of personal fulfilment, and that we can all agree. The second was as an instrument for social continuity and cohesion. That is absolutely vital; if we can get that across we shall break any silly class consciousness. The third was as a mechanism for social mobility. That really means that every Tom, Dick and Harry should be able to talk without having to put his hands in his pockets, trembling all the time for fear that you have a little higher status than he has; education knows no class barriers if it is proper education. The fourth was as a means to promote social equality. And the fifth—it brings us to the purpose which the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has in mind—was as an economic investment for the individual and society. In other words, spending money on our universities, polytechnics, WEAs and adult schools is not money thrown away but money giving substance and a good standard to the nation.

There is so much more I could have said; indeed, I have cut my speech in half to please the noble Lord, Lord Elton.—

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Elton)

To please me?

Lord Davies of Leek

—but mostly to please myself because I am hoping for some good answers from the Minister.

I must mention the Open University. I wish my noble friend Lady Lee were here tonight, and I also wish to pay tribute to former Prime Minister Wilson, because, as a result of their efforts, the Open University was started and it has done a good job; 50,000 graduates in 10 years, 5,000 of them having taken engineering degrees. In other words, it has enabled people who can use a slide rule and can do calculus and trigonometry to expand their outlook. As I say, 5,000 engineers took their degrees there. We want more to have that opportunity. We must get rid of the snobbish intellectualism which suggests that there are big differences between the engineer, lawyer, administrator and doctor. Let us rub that away. Noble Lords can see me discarding pages of notes; it is such a pity, but we must give the Minister plenty of time to reply and I must not delay the House.

Noble Lords

Go on!

Lord Davies of Leek

It is nice of noble Lords to tell me to go on, but perhaps they do not know what they are asking for. I must, however, mention something I cannot understand. I am a regular reader of The Times Educational Supplement. The other day I was looking at it in the Library. I read something and thought, "I shall have to read that again". It said: Shelve new courses, orders Sir Keith". At the very moment when Sir Keith Joseph is making that sort of statement, we are told that he is saying he is cutting all subjects except engineering. The article continued: This was imposed this week by Sir Keith Joseph, Secretary of State for Education, in a circular to local authorities". It was left there, although here comes the 64,000-dollar question: how can one teach engineering in polytechnics or anywhere else if other, adjacent courses are cut? It is impossible to do engineering without a knowledge of technical drawing. You cannot make sections of, for example, a motor-car cylinder and understand it without being able to read the technical drawings that go with it. People who make statements of that kind should be advised by the universities, by the professors of the subjects concerned, before rushing into print; they should listen not just to their advisers in Whitehall but to the men doing the job, so they may find out exactly what it is that should be done.

The Minister will be aware that I sent him two questions about part-time study, and at least one of them was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, in his speech. I also sent relevant copies of The Times Educational Supplement to the noble Lord, and he will have been interested in a cutting from the Guardian which read: Until now unemployed teenagers were entitled to attend part-time courses while claiming supplementary benefit, provided these courses didn't exceed 21 hours per week and provided they were prepared to take a job as soon as one became available. Henceforth, by including lunch breaks and private study in the 21 hours, the DHSS will effectively exclude the vast majority…". Both articles referred to that point, and I hope that the Minister will reply to it.

My little, old study is loaded with books, including, for instance, the Russell Report. We have turned them out in their hundreds during my 40-odd years of knocking around Parliament. What are we going to do about them? How can I finish my speech in a better way than by quoting the poor old Shropshire Lad: When first my way to fair I took, Few pence in purse had I, And long I used to stand and look At things I could not buy. Now times are altered, If I care to buy a thing, I can. The pence are here, and there's the fair, But where's the lost young man? To think that two and two are four, And neither five nor three. The heart of man has long been sore …". Of those of us who have given our lives to education, our hearts are very sore that any British Government should make such swingeing cuts to the seed-corn of Britain's destiny as this Government have done today.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, is he not going to remind the House that Housman wrote the whole of his poem in monosyllables, which was a shining example to anyone who ever has to write anything in the English language?

Lord Davies of Leek

Lovely, my Lords; I am grateful.

7.22 p.m.

Lord Elton

My Lords, I can hardly think of a more difficult introduction to the reply to a debate than the magnificent recollections of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. I am sure that all your Lordships will agree that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has done a service to the House in introducing this subject and calling forth such an impressive array of speakers.

We have been discussing a subject which, if anything, is rather like a ship, and we all have different connections with it. Some of us work in it, some of us have contributed to building it. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, was certainly busy in the drawing office at various times. The noble Lord, Lord Stewart of Fulham, has commanded it. My noble friend Lord Eccles has commanded it, too, and has then, I think, gone on to naval architecture and suggested adjustments to the superstructure and upper decks. I was a humble steward, and, judging from what he says, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, was an extremely vocal (I do not doubt) junior officer.

I am in the classic difficulty of replying to a debate in which a mass of questions have been asked—to a number of which I have answers—which I think should not be brushed aside. If I do not answer all of them, I shall write to noble Lords. I am trying, and I have tried throughout the debate, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies, did with heroic self-denial, to discard pages of prepared text, but not all of it can be omitted, and I regret therefore that your Lordships may have to bear with me a little longer than you would wish.

In looking at this great vessel we must—if I may continue the analogy—realise that it is sailing upon a sea. Very often we tend to ignore the parameters within which the problem that we are studying exists, and I have to take as the basis of this discussion the fact that the nation is very short of funds and, if it does not recognise the fact, regardless of what happened to ancient Rome, we shall be in very deep trouble indeed. So, when the noble Lord, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, asks why did we not take the opportunity to cut the size of classes, I would say that the opportunity did not exist.

If we are to survive, we cannot ignore our economic circumstances. We have to cut our coat according to the cloth (if I may vary the imagery) and the opportunity to do something because the number of children being enrolled in schools declines does not, unfortunately, depend only on the number of children; it depends also on the amount of finance available in the nation as a whole for everything, not just education, but also defence, health and social security, roads and electricity—I could go on for ever. It has to be part of a priority, it is not an absolute priority in itself. I would say at this stage that noble Lords were good enough to recognise that, and I think will recognise also that if we do not solve that problem, then we shall indeed be teaching children for jobs which do not exist. It would be a pity to resign ourselves at this stage simply to educating the entire nation for leisure.

There emerged at various stages during the debate a sort of divide, I would almost call it the Stewart/Robbins divide, in the philosophic position from which one looks at what Government ought to be doing. A number of noble Lords—and the noble Viscount, Lord Combermere, was kind enough to warn me of this—have suggested (I think that this is in sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Stewart) that the Government ought to say more precisely on what local authorities ought to spend their money, indeed should say very precisely on what the money should be spent, and how much should be spent, in an increasing area of responsibility.

On the other hand, the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, applying himself to a different area of expenditure, though also of education, chided us on giving the responsibility to the University Grants Committee and allowing it to be steered in that direction. I shall return to that point in a few moments.

With regard to the local authorities and the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, that there was a weakness in the system because of a lack of a statutory basis for further education, I would say that this question was considered by a group of officials of the education departments and the local authority associations, and their report, The Legal Basis of Further Education, was published last year, and comments were then invited. The group was itself divided on the question of whether there should be a statutory duty on local education authorities to provide education for those over 19 years old, or whether there should merely be the power to do it. Responses to the report have been received, and from the adult education sector they appear to favour the view that there should be a statutory duty to provide education for the over 19s. However, there are of course other opinions to be taken into consideration, and I would not be able to comment before that process has been completed.

With regard to the University Grants Committee, I think I ought to say that, while I much admire the innovatory skill and reputation of my noble friend Lord Beloff, I do not think that we were unfortunate to have the UGC at this juncture of history. After all, the committee consists of a distinguished body of members with no interest other than the future of the university system, and who have courageously grasped the nettle of making a rational distribution of reduced resources. Only the chairman is full time. There are 20 members of the main committee, including 14 academics and two industrialists, with a further industrialist to be appointed soon. The main committee is supported by 15 sub-committees, with a total membership of 140. This involves many more academics than some sections of the popular press would lead us to believe in a unique system of peer review. The Government are very fortunate indeed to have the UGC to advise them on university matters.

I should now like to say—and I am trying to return to the main drift of your Lordships' debate—that the Government are not complacent about the provision of vocational education. We need to do more to fit our young people, in particular our school-leavers, for their working lives. The view that educated youth is an investment for the future of the country is one which the Government wholeheartedly share and to which they are already giving positive response. We are already taking steps to make the school curriculum for those aged 14 and upwards—boys and girls—both more practical and more relevant to the working environment. The additional provision being made in the Government's plans for higher and further education is a logical extension of that initiative.

Schools and colleges of further education are experiencing a significant increase in demand for full-time education for 16- to 19-year-olds. Although the unemployment situation will of course have contributed to this—and the 16 to 19 population has still to reach its peak in numbers—nevertheless it is gratifying that more and more young people are recognising the benefits of staying on in education after the compulsory school age. Adding to their education in this way and achieving qualifications will be to their advantage and to the advantage of the community at large, as many noble Lords have pointed out.

I do not deny that in this area authorities have had difficulty in coping with their financial constraints. We shall have to take account of the economies of scale and opportunities for rationalisation which this expansion permits, and we must show the flexibility of approach which is such a valuable tradition of education in this country. Given these, we believe that proper provision can continue to be made for the educational needs of the 16- to 19-year-olds in schools and colleges. I do not doubt that my right honourable friend will read this debate—and I shall ensure that he does—and pay particular attention to the fascinating critique of this proposition set out by my noble friend Lord Eccles.

I would reassure my noble friend in one respect, although he was speaking as an architect and I am speaking (as it were) as an engineer. The two Secretaries of State were co-signatories of the recent White Paper, A New Training Initiative—a Programme for Action. My noble friend was looking for one department of state with responsibility in this field. There is a very close level of co-operation there already. I will not elaborate, although I might write to my noble friend at a later stage.

The Government are also aware that a lot of talent may be slipping away because we tend to provide education only to traditional categories of people and in traditional ways. This, again, echoes the sentiments of many noble Lords. That is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is actively engaged in the encouragement of new courses for those who, at 16-plus, are not seeking either traditional/academic or specific craft or technician qualifications. He expects to make an announcement shortly about the proposed certificate of pre-vocational education which can be taken at 17-plus in both schools and colleges of further education.

Before I leave schools, may I take the opportunity to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Noel-Baker, on the question of the proportion of teachers to pupils? It is in fact this year, as it was last, at the very best level we ever have had. I will not follow the noble Lord further except to observe that I recognise the Aristotelian origins of his philosophy of education. I cannot say that I believe that music and gymnastics are any longer the most important subjects to be taught, and I am not aware of a great flight from either subject at present.

On the subject of social history, these days the name of the great social historian Tawney seems to be on everybody's lips, including those of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. All I know about him is that he taught when poor students and a vestigial public transport system meant that researchers had to get about on foot if their money was to last out. When an eager pupil asked him at the end of a tutorial, "Tell me, sir, what is the greatest requisite for a good historical researcher?", he was told, "Thicker boots". How interesting, my Lords, that the noble Lord, Lord Davies, sat, as he told us, at his feet, and was able to observe them.

Perhaps I may turn to higher education. My right honourable friend proposes, subject to parliamentary approval, that the total of the universities' grant for the 1981–82 academic year should be increased from the £979 million previously announced to £995 million. The universities' recurrent grant for the academic year 1982–83 will be £1,137 million. That will include over £100 million to compensate them for reduced tuition fee income.

Your Lordships have shown considerable anxieties about the cost implications of university reorganisation following the UGC announcement of allocations, and some of your Lordships, both this evening and formerly, have drawn attention to the degree of difficulty being to some extent proportionate to the period of time over which the change was required. The Government have taken that point on board. A sum of £50 million is being allocated over and above the recurrent grant in the financial year 1982–83 to be used by the University Grants Committee specifically for restructuring and the cost of redundancies. A case for a wider relaxation of the timetable has not, in our view, been adequately made.

Noble Lords have accepted the need for some reduction. I was glad, in particular, for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, in this, and of that of the noble Lord, Lord Mais, and even of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, and the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. In fact, everybody, I think, is aware that we have to do something. The question is: What and how?

I have already addressed myself to the question whether or not it was right to entrust the disposal of the global sum to the UGC, and I stand upon that. As to student number targets, the primary concern of the UGC in deciding their distribution was with the national rather than the local provision of places. I think that that is in tune with what noble Lords were saying. In each subject or subject area the UGC tried to use the resources available in the whole country to the best advantage, taking due note of the desirability of variety of approach to individual disciplines. This process necessarily involved some universities being asked to make greater reductions than others. In order to protect academic standards within their pattern of distribution and to give a guide to universities in making their reductions, the UGC gave each university, as part of its advice to them, target total student numbers in science, arts and medicine to be achieved by 1983–84.

My Lords, the UGC set these targets because they decided that in general terms there should be no further diminution of the unit of resource in the university system, in order, in particular, to protect the research capacity. The noble Lord, Lord Bowden, referred in terms to the effects of a lack of scientific research, if I take him rightly, in dealing with the dyestuffs industry in the latter part of the last century. It was dependent on research as well as on education.

If I may return to what I was saying about the UGC, the possibility of small adjustments in student number targets where the circumstances of individual universities justify this is within the scope of the UGC's current bilateral discussions with the universities about their proposals for adjusting to new levels of funding. I doubt if they are doing as much in Leningrad and Moscow, as was suggested earlier on, but I can tell my noble friend Lord Beloff that the aim is a 2 per cent. shift towards the sciences.

As for non-academic staff redundancy, it is of course hoped that as much as possible of the total non-academic staff reduction that proves necessary can be achieved by early retirement or redeployment. Many staff already belong to pension schemes and premature retirement compensation arrangements akin to those of the universities' superannuation scheme. The University Grants Committee have indicated to universities that they are willing to reimburse them for payments under any such arrangements that were in operation before 1st August 1981. My right honourable friend is currently considering, in the light of the views of the vice-chancellors and the UGC, whether any further arrangements for compensation beyond the statutory minimum terms would be appropriate.

Since we are on the area of funding, the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, made a point about student loans. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has said that he is looking again at his predecessor's assessment of the question of student loans. I will make certain that, in doing so, he is made aware of the very interesting suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins.

The noble Lord, Lord Bowden, in a wittily apocalyptic speech, which was mainly about municipal and industrial policy in two civilisations—and which would have been of equal interest to Chadwick and Macaulay —asked me to quantify the savings made from the Government's university policy. Your Lordships will realise that I cannot get the answer right. If it is so huge, I shall be told that it is criminal to take it from education and, if derisory, I shall be told that the damage is out of all proportion. It is in nobody's interest but my own to see that the figures equate with the results. I can say that the Government estimate that by the end of the financial year 1983–84 cumulative savings in expenditure on universities will be over £200 million and the savings thereafter will be of the order of £150 million a year. I think I have dealt with the dyestuffs question already.

May I turn to a point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Combermere, about religious education disappearing and other subjects disappearing. I must not follow him into too much detail. I am concerned by what he says, but I should say that the UGC has made it clear that it will be concerned if unplanned and undersirable losses of subject specialties appear likely to occur because of the accumulation of individual decisions taken by universities throughout the country. The noble Lord may be a little comforted by my earlier mention of the bilateral discussions.

I think I should say a good deal of what I planned to say about post-experience vocational education, because it is central to the theme of the debate. The Motion of noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, refers to the urgent need for a better educated working population. It does so in terms which emphasise the role of further and adult education. In most trades, in most crafts and in most professions, the days are gone in which you could simply close the classroom door at 14, 15, 16 or 18 years of age or leave your college or university at 17, 18, 19 or 21 and say goodbye to education for the rest of your life. It was always a risky thing to do at the best of times, but the world has changed even since those days and since most of your Lordships and myself were young.

My noble friend Lord Eccles drew this picture of the need for a continuing concept of education if not from the cradle to the grave at least from the nursery to the front parlour. The rate at which mankind is acquiring knowledge, the rate at which man is reordering knowledge, the rate at which man is applying knowledge, has now increased to the point that skills acquired at the outset of a career can simply not any longer be expected to suffice to the end of a lifetime. Education used to precede work and before many more years it will have to alternate with work. I think the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, put this to your Lordships as well.

Institutions that are able to provide education in mid-career—post-experience vocational education is, I think, the jargon term—will, with little doubt, become steadily more important to the wellbeing of our society. It was a recognition of this important principle that lay behind the issue in October 1980 of the Government's discussion paper, Continuing Education Post-Experience Vocational Providios for those in Employment. That paper drew attention to the importance of mid-career courses of vocational education for those at work and suggested ways in which educational institutions could be helped and encouraged to meet employers' needs for such provision. It elicited a widespread and largely favourable response and the Government have been pursuing action along the lines suggested. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State will be making an announcement in the Spring about what we have been doing and (which is of greater interest to your Lordships) what we intend to do in the future. For the present, therefore, I must simply stress that we recognise the need for education and industry to work closely together in provisions. It is a pet subject of mine and I am doing an act of self-negation much like that of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, in turning over two pages in front of me.

Vocational education at any level requires a corresponding level of general education. We are not only concerned with universities and the higher learning. Certain skills, notably literacy and numeracy, are basic to all training and retraining. Indeed, they are essential to survival in a modern industrial society that is becoming increasingly complex.

I am sure that noble Lords are well aware of the initiatives taken by successive Governments in the field of adult literacy. They started in 1975 when the Adult Literacy Resource Agency was established as a short-term, pump-priming exercise to get local provision firmly established. I think they coincided with revelations by the United Nations about the level of adult functional literacy in this country. The Adult Literacy Unit was established in 1978 with a two-year remit and a grant of about £333,000 to act as a continuing focus and stimulus to adult literacy.

The Advisory Council for Adult and Continuing Education was given the specific task of advising on the best way of building on the adult literacy campaign. The aim was to implement a coherent strategy for the basic education of adults, including continuing provision for adult literacy. The council's report, A Strategy for the Basic Education of Adults, identified a need for basic education for different groups, for different stages of life and for different purposes—chiming in again with my noble friend's theme.

Government support was concentrated on the priority areas of literacy and numeracy and on those communication and coping skills without which it is difficult even to seek employment. The Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit was set up in 1980, as a third initiative, for an initial period of three years—longer than that of any of its predecessors—with funds of over half a million pounds for the first year. The unit acts as a national focus and stimulator, sponsors development projects, both in the maintained and voluntary sectors, and provides an advisory and training service. In its second year the level of funding was more than doubled and it is currently over a million pounds.

The Government fully recognise the valuable role that adult education has played in the past and appreciate the increasingly significant contribution it can make in the future to increasing the general level of education among adults. It can do this by helping individuals to develop their own potential, whether in personal or in vocational terms. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education has underlined this in recent debates in another place on several occasions. I would draw your attention to the fact that the Government's expenditure plans for 1982–83 provide for a cash figure of £52.3 million for adult education. That is less than the net expenditure of authorities for 1980–81, but it represents a considerable easing over the Government's previous targets—and this is what noble Lords round the House have been asking us to do.

Part-time education, whether for young apprentices or for the older worker seeking to retrain or improve himself, undoubtedly provides particular opportunities to relate theory to practice whether the student is a motor mechanic or a senior manager. It takes a lot of determination to obtain qualifications from part-time study. Those who embark on it should not be impeded by unnecessary obstacles and that is why we give our support at the level we do to the Open University—dear to many of your Lordships' hearts.

The Open University has an essential role. It provides opportunities for those who wish to study part-time. It is a key second-chance institution for those who missed the opportunity of higher education earlier in life. Most of its undergraduates are, in fact, in this category. One-third of them had finished their full-time education by the time they reached the age of 16. Some of them finished even earlier in the pre-Rosla days whe it was legal to leave school younger.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, referred in one of his less restrained passages—and it was a restrained speech—to a whole generation falling behind as a result of economic decisions. I do not think that that really does bear examiation. Later he put in a moving plea that the Open University and other unconventional institutions should be protected, even at the cost of the traditional. He will, therefore, acknowledge gladly that the Government grant to the Open University for 1982 will total almost £55 million. I should point out to the House that the figures that somebody quoted as to the cost of degree courses were, I should emphasise, not the annual but the total cost. This puts them in a very different perspective when one makes a comparison. The annual cost would, I understand, typically be between one-fifth and one-sixth of the totals he mentioned.

This grant of £55 million will enable more than 60,000 students to begin or continue their undergraduate courses. They are drawn from all ages and all occupational groups. A further 44,000 or so are expected to study with the university on courses outside its undergraduate programme; on courses of community interest and, most important, on an expanding pro- gramme of continuing education particularly in the field of professional, scientific and technical updating. I should like to say more about the Open University, but I feel I shall trespass on your Lordships' patience if I do not get through rather faster in my speech and also on your forbearance if I do not answer the questions that have been asked.

There was a striking figure which was given about the staff/student ratios at Birkbeck and Goldsmith's Colleges. I am not sure which of your Lordships gave it but there was mention of something like one to 70 at Goldsmith's and Birkbeck. I should make it clear that the number of students to be admitted annually to these places in the case of Goldsmith's is agreed between Goldsmith's and the DES and that the staff/student ratios there on the usual basis of full-time equivalents were 9.6 to one and not 70 to one, on 1st October last year. They were 10.6 to one and not 70 to one in October 1981 at Birkbeck College.

I feel disinclined to read the whole of my speech—though I may be in trouble for not delivering what I planned. But I should like to reply to a particular point of the noble Lords, Lord Davies and Lord Beaumont, about the 21-hour rule. This is the provision in the supplementary benefit regulations under which unemployed young people may in certain circumstances study for up to 21 hours per week without losing benefit. This is a useful arrangement. It encourages young people with time on their hands to put it to worthwhile use and perhaps to improve their employability. The concession is not however intended to provide support for normal education. The young person has to be prepared to leave the course if work becomes available. A recent ruling by the chief supplementary benefits officer whose function it is to interpret the regulations as they stand has attracted publicity in the press and representations to the DHSS. It is argued that this ruling will restrict the opportunities for study under this arrangement because time spent on private study, lunch breaks and the like will count towards the weekly limit of 21 hours—those were the noble Lord's words.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Services made it clear in another place the other day that the provisions of these regulations arc being kept under review. Representations which have been received on the ruling are being considered by the department in consultation with the DES and those concerned will receive an answer as soon as possible. In those circumstances, I do not think that I can usefully say more on this point today but I do reassure both noble Lords that what they have said will be taken fully into account.

There is much more I could say; much of it will come to your Lordships through your letterboxes. In summary, it is very easy at this type of juncture to cry woe; to cry havoc; to say that all is lost, because we are doing less of what is good. I tried to explain to your Lordships that we cannot look at education outside the economic context in this nation. I tried to demonstrate to your Lordships that we are flexible in our approach; that we are developing policies that match our changing societies, and I have defended to your Lordships with conviction our present stance, on the level both of autonomy of local authorities and of the great wisdom of entrusting the future of university provision to the University Grants Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has done a service to the House in bringing this matter to your Lordships' attention. The debate will be read widely, not only outside this House but in the department and perhaps outside the country. I am grateful to your Lordships for your great forbearance. I did warn that I would be long; I had hoped not to be so long.

7.55 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I should like to thank everyone who has taken part in this debate. There is no doubt at all that it has been an extremely good debate and that the record of it in Hansard will help us and a lot of other people to wrestle with these problems. This is not the moment to pick out any individual speaker's contribution, except to say that the gremlin in the Whips' Office who put together the two extremes of the noble Lords, Lord Noel-Baker and Lord Beloff, in quick juxtaposition most have had fun!

We are extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for the very full reply by the Government. It is always a pleasure for this House—and certainly to its benefit—that the noble Lord has practical experience in the educational field. We feel that talking to us is someone who knows and cares about the subject. When we come to look at what he actually had to say, one may have to dredge his reply to try and gain any hope. But we shall examine the figures—we have not really had time to take them in—and we look forward to receiving his letter. I hope that he will scatter copies of them fairly widely to the people interested in the subjects. There are times when I wish that we had the Senate's habit of being able to write into the record the parts that the noble Lord was not able to deliver. If we receive them by post that will he something.

I am slightly sad, for I do not think that the Government have yet really taken on board the fact that by devoting a little more time and a little more trouble—and not thinking they have to get everything through immediately or else the vice-chancellors will get away with murder—on thinking how the money can be spent, they can keep the quality of education and the amount of education without spending any more money than it is intended to spend at the moment.

There is a deep fallacy at the base of the Government's ideas about economy. The Government want to save money—and we understand their want. But, to paraphrase one noble Lord, no country ever fought its way to solvency by laying off its workforce or failing to educate its people. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.