HL Deb 26 October 1982 vol 435 cc393-6

2.44 p.m.

Lord Beloff

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what views they have formed on the proposals for action set out in the Report The future of technological higher education in Britain (the Chilver Report) sponsored by the Royal Society of Arts.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Elton)

My Lords, the Government are at present considering this report, which contains a great number of wide-ranging recommendations. In general, the Government welcome the report as being very much in keeping with their own views, and have taken a number of initiatives along the lines it proposes.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that heartening reply. In particular, I should like to ask whether the Government are attracted by the idea of using some public money as seed-corn to enable institutions to get extra money out of industry, which would help in the collaboration of industry in this training?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the Government have made it quite clear that they wish to see universities attract increasing income from outside sources and that income so raised will not lead to any consequential reduction in UGC grant. We believe that it is right to encourage institutions to become progressively less dependent on the public purse, but that does not mean of course that we propose to limit Government funds according to their ability to obtain other support. We do, however, want to see some greater diversity in the way in which institutions are financed.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn

My Lords, is the Minister aware that universities such as Salford University attracted a tremendous amount of public money and yet were cut by the UGC?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the priority of allocation of money in university grants is, of course, determined by the University Grants Committee. That said, it is not the case that universities such as Salford and some others are the only ones which have a special expertise in technology, and nor is it the case that that is the only expertise that they have. Therefore, it is necessary, is it not? for universities such as Salford to improve or maintain their usefulness and merit by seeking the savings that are required to keep the whole system effective, from those subjects where the savings can best be made.

The Earl of Bessborough

My Lords, am I not right in saying that the Cranfield Institute of Technology, of which Sir Henry Chilver is the head, is one of the only institutions of higher education that does not receive support from the UGC but receives more support from industry than perhaps any other institution of higher education of that kind?

Lord Elton

My Lords, Cranfield certainly does attract a very large proportion of funding other than from Government sources, and that makes Sir Henry Chilver a very appropriate person to have chaired the body which produced this excellent report.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, is not the usefulness of the University of Aston absolutely imperative for employment in the West Midlands? Is the Minister aware that the University of Aston attracts to its research a tremendous amount of money from industry in the West Midlands which is of paramount importance to not only the West Midlands but the economy of the whole country? Is he not aware of the grave disquiet that is arising at the University of Aston?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I could well have coupled the University of Aston with my remarks about the University of Salford. I am of course aware of the importance of its role and I am very glad that the noble Baroness confirms that it is receiving increasing sums of private and industrial money which will offset the difficulty of the grants reduction to which she referred.

Baroness David

My Lords, are the Government paying particular attention to Recommendation 6 which says that the school examination system should be reformed to establish education for capability in society as a key component, which is based on a paragraph in the report which says that the prevalent emphasis of the examination system on academic achievement even at junior levels, tends to inhibit desirable movement towards a more technologically literate society? Does he not think that this must start very early on in the schools? Is he aware that Mrs. Warnock, a highly respected figure in the educational world, wrote an article last week in, I think, The Times, suggesting that the whole examination system should be switched so that there were practical subjects and theoretical subjects? Can the Minister say that the Government will be paying attention to that?

Lord Elton

My Lords, we do indeed recognise the need to ensure that the examination and the education systems are kept in touch with the real world of work for which they prepare people. The Government are taking initiatives to secure this. In particular, through the examination system, we propose to introduce in 1984 a national prevocational qualification at 17-plus. Associated courses will give a vocational bias to a balanced programme of general education aimed at the better preparation of young people for adult and working life. The Government have also acknowledged the need for reform in the examinations at 16-plus. They are playing their part in the national criteria exercise. When we have the result of that, a decision will be taken whether or not to replace the CSE and GCE 0-level examinations with a single system. A statement of policy which will be of interest to the noble Baroness will be published early next month. I regret that I have not read the article to which she referred, but I shall see that that error is made good.

Baroness Wootton of Abinger

My Lords, may I ask whether the Minister would bear in mind another feature of academic education? I do not know whether it can be procured by the examination system or not—probably not. All education in universities and other forms of higher education and further education concentrates on the acquisition of the knowledge, skill and ability of the individual. They do not do anything whatever to prepare for the fact of life that when he leaves the university, or whatever institution he is educated at, he goes out into a world where he has to work in the company of other people. This seems to me to be entirely overlooked in our whole educational system. You try to get a first-class degree for yourself.

Several noble Lords


Baroness Wootton of Abinger

Does not the Minister feel that there is something in this? He tries to get a first-class degree for himself, and then goes out and has to mix with people who are perhaps of greatly inferior intelligence. Could not something be done to give a bigger sense of the communal nature of all kinds of occupation at all levels after leaving the educational system?

Lord Elton

My Lords, I have a great sympathy with the general tendency of what the noble Baroness said, but I doubt whether reform of the university system would answer it, largely because universities themselves are social communities in which a great deal of work is done together—for instance, in seminars and tutorials—as communal intellectual exercises. Of course, the amount of argumentation with which students convince themselves that they are members of a community with which they do not necessarily agree but with which they have to cooperate is at no level higher than that at the age at which a person is at the university. I do not think that I can answer the noble Baroness's wide philosophical question in more precise terms than that.

Lord Alexander of Potterhill

My Lords, do I understand

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Young)

My Lords, might I suggest to the House that we take the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, and after that move on to the next Question?

Lord Alexander of Potterhill

My Lords, do I understand from the Minister's reply that Her Majesty's Government no longer fully accept the quotation from Disraeli that precedes the Education Act 1944?

Lord Elton

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, has been bombarding me with powerful and unexpected questions since long before I came to sit on this side of the House. I would never, therefore, retreat from any long-established Conservative position in the light of such an attack without considering it for much longer than your Lordships will now permit me.