§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ Lord Flowers
My Lords, I am not in the least irritated. I would propose that we now return to our debate. In doing so, I should like to say that we on these Benches are extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for proposing this debate and for setting the stage so comprehensively. We also look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, and I hope he will not feel too constrained by the customs of this House, because it is obviously going to be one of those occasions when there will be no holds barred.
As chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, which was referred to with such generosity by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, there is a 759 great deal I could, and no doubt should, say about the grand objectives of higher education: its participation rate, its impact on the schools and on the professions, and the need for it to continue throughout life. All of these are matters under close examination at the present moment, stimulated by the UGC's 28 questions and otherwise.
But since I believe that many other noble Lords will wish to address these important topics and time is short, may I simply say about them that the demographic trends described by the noble Baroness, Lady David, make it possible for the universities. collectively, with the other institutions of higher education, and in a great variety of ways, to offer education that is the equal of anything in the world to a higher proportion of the population than has ever been the case before. In spite of the recent deprivations wrought upon us over the last five years, it is still not too late for the Government to affirm their belief in the importance of having highly educated and well prepared citizens, and to help us to reach our full potential. As it is, Government policies have reduced the chance of university entry over the last few years by about one in seven, which is a strange way to affirm that belief.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, has asked your Lordships to consider the need for change, and I am grateful to him for the kind references he made to myself. I propose to say a few words about the changes that are already taking place, for it is a sad fact that until this week, at any rate—and I, too, was very glad to see the leader in The Times on Monday—the media have regaled their readers with every bit of regrettable student behaviour, to the neglect of our more significant achievements. They have not reported, for example, that students have formed over 50 industrial societies, the larger ones having more than 700 student members each.
Of course, academics do not take very readily to change. Our most important duty is scholarship, by which I mean the protection, in a rapidly changing world, of the integrity of knowledge. Every new discovery creates conflict for the body of received wisdom, and that conflict has to be resolved by patient reflection and fearless argument. It is in order to protect scholarship that most academics believe in some form of tenure. I can do no better than to quote from an article published in 1972 by Kingman Brewster, at the time President of Yale and later United States Ambassador to London, now happily back with us living in this city:If teaching is to be more than the retailing of the known, and if research is to seek real breakthroughs in the explanation of man and the cosmos, then teachers must he scholars, and scholarship must be more than the refinement of the inherited store of knowledge. If scholarship is to question assumptions and to take the risk of testing new hypotheses, then it cannot be held to be a timetable which demands proof of pay-out to satisfy some review committee.".Scholarship is a long and painful business, and that is why we sometimes react less rapidly than some would like. Retired vice-chancellors, I have noticed, can be particularly impatient. Perhaps they feel they are planning for a better past, with not much time left.
In spite of that, the pace of change is growing. We are getting closer to industry and to commerce, and I 760 am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, acknowledges this. Every month or so there is announced the formation of a new science park, almost invariably in collaboration with a university, or of an industrial liaison company. The latest announced are at Nottingham and Birmingham. The venture capital business is booming, much of it associated with university research. Many small companies are being formed. Two recent ones are QMC Anchor Technology, which is producing a pile-driven anchor for oil rigs, and Vuman, which is to exploit the results of research in the Victoria University of Manchester.
A still small but growing proportion of our income is coming from the private sector in the form of research contracts and services. University scientists and engineers are thereby learning to adopt to commercial criteria of tight cost control and strict time limits, and these new attitudes also permeate the teaching. Much of this work is highly innovative; some of it requires the sort of interdisciplinary collaboration one simply could not expect to find outside a university. An example is the speech-driven typewriter being developed by Plessey, jointly with academics from Edinburgh, Loughborough and Imperial College. Still more fascinating to some will be the contract between the University of Birmingham, with its department of English language and literature and its centre for computing and computing science, and Collins, the publishers, to produce a new dictionary for advanced learners of English as a foreign language—an example of high technology being harnessed to spread the influence of our native culture.
Some of the work is highly competitive. Surrey is the only university in the world to have designed, built, had launched and now to be controlling its own satellite. The general aim is education for space engineering, but the concept of cheap communication in near earth orbit has meant that schoolchildren can now receive transmissions from space, with very little equipment beyond a television set and a competent science master. Its cost was minimal—a few hundred thousand pounds—and it was completed on time.
It is tempting to go on trying to interest your Lordships in achievements of this kind. I have enough material to carry on for several hours, most of it quite outside my competence, in the humanities, for instance, in economic and social studies and in medical research. I merely wanted to illustrate the fact that there are many things taking place in our universities today that would not have been taking place a few years ago, and that some of it is extremely relevant to the needs of the society we see developing before our eyes, and of which we are all a part. Many of us believe we can do even more, and it is for this reason that the vice-chancellors have recently set up an advisory committee on industry, with several very distinguished industrialists taking part, to see what barriers to effective collaboration remain, and how best to cause them to be removed, by ourselves or by the Government, as the case may be.
There are organisational changes, too. The binary line was not of our invention, and many of us wish it were not there, distorting the whole fabric of higher education and contributing to the relative neglect of non-degree work. We are beginning to collaborate across the line in continuing education, and to share 761 facilities between contiguous institutions. In an effort to live within reduced resources we are combining small departments. Manchester gave a lead long ago, pooling with UMIST its efforts in computing and metallurgy.
But London has done by far the most, committees and all, and I am proud of it. It was the painful duty of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, assisted a little by me in the vexed matter of the medical schools, to bring home to our university a few years ago that we had far too many small components that were dangerously vulnerable to the threatened cuts. Of course, it was not easy, and your Lordships' two noble friends became extremely unpopular, not least in this House. It is now all coming to pass under the inspired leadership of Professor Randolph Quirk, our present vice-chancellor. Guys and Tommy's have become one medical school under one charter and with one governing body. Westminster and Charing Cross are following suit; their act of union will shortly be before your Lordships. University College and the Middlesex, with some of the postgraduate institutes thrown in, are set fair to become the strongest centre of medical teaching and research in Europe.
As for the rest of the university, it has been decided to reduce from 10 to five, and in some subjects four, the number of independent schools in which scientific subjects are taught and researched. Bedford College is joining up with Royal Holloway at Egham; Queen Elizabeth College and Chelsea are joining Kings; Birkbeck is collaborating closely and sharing facilities with University College. It is a very remarkable achievement, much as though the universities of Lancashire and Yorkshire, or of Scotland, had agreed—God forbid!—to halve their number. Let no one speak of the need for change in ignorance of these facts.
Under the auspices of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors we are also preparing to conduct a Rayner-type examination into the efficiency of university administration and the use of material resources. We announced yesterday that it is to be led by Sir Alex Jarratt, the distinguished industrialist and former civil servant who has now become Chancellor of the University of Birmingham, and its report will be ready early next year. We enter the examination without fear, for we have for a long time been conscious of the need to conserve resources.
Let me end by quoting a short passage from the minutes of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors:The Chairman referred to the issue of Ministerial attitudes … and in particular, to recent statements relating to the efficiency of universities. There was agreement on the need for universities to take every opportunity of demonstrating their cost-effectiveness, their responsiveness to national needs and the fundamental importance of their contribution to society".Those are not my words, my Lords. They are the words of the much revered Vice-Chancellor of Manchester, Sir Arthur Armitage, uttered just nine years ago. Today, sadly, there is taking place in Manchester Cathedral a service in memory of the life and work of Sir Arthur. He wrought great changes in Manchester, and if he were with us today, he would be astonished by anyone who does not understand that change has long since become the order of the day throughout our universities.
§ 4.52 p.m.
§ Lord Wilson of Rievaulx
My Lords, in hoping for the indulgence of the House for my maiden speech, I should perhaps confess that this is not in fact the first time that I have spoken from these red Benches. My first parliamentary speech in 1945, in the role of the then lowest form of ministerial life—Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Public Building and Works—was made from the Front Bench in here because, owing to the bombing of another part of the Palace of Westminster, their then Lordships graciously made this Chamber available. I was assigned to the task of directing the progress of the other building.
I should just like to mention that that was after Walter Elliot (remembered by the older ones of us here), seeing from Whitehall that the Palace of Westminster was on fire, ordered—simply ordered, without any authority—the fire brigade to let the other place burn, pointing out that it was only 100 years old, having been built after the Treasury, as usual, had tried to save money the wrong way and had burnt all those tally sticks. So the fire brigade managed to save at any rate this part of the building.
I do not know whether in a debate such as today's I have to declare an interest as Chancellor of the University of Bradford—unpaid. But at any rate this debate on education gives a number of us—including myself—the opportunity to express our anxieties over present and forecast future difficulties that the Open University (OU) is required currently to face.
I had conceived the idea of the Open University well before anyone ever thought of making me Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition. I think that I called it the University of the Air, and I kept it under wraps right through the summer of 1964 before announcing it. I announced it finally, with the usual hand-outs, in September. So far as I recall, not a single newspaper reported the plan, except the Economist, then edited by Geoffrey Crowther, who was rapturous about the idea, and later he became the first Chancellor of the University.
In making that proposal, which, as I say, did not receive a lot of early support, I had particularly in mind the fighting men of World War II, many of who perhaps would have gone to university but for the war, and who had married and had family commitments: the Open University gave some of them a chance to earn wages or salaries and at the same time to study. I do not need to tell this House that the Treasury was implacably opposed. Well, of course—what would your Lordships expect? But so, I am sorry to say, was the Department of Education, which I understand has improved a little from those days. But the resources of civilisation were not to be discounted. I appointed my noble friend Lady Lee of Asheridge Minister of State in the Department of Education. It was no idle threat, I assure your Lordships, and she had to take charge of the whole operation, and the outcome was a triumph on her part.
At the same time broadcasting involvement was essential. Fortunately, at about that time the heads of the BBC wanted something from me. They came to see me, for a second channel. Well, we negotiated—if you can call it that. The condition that they accepted was an adequate provision of time for the new broadcasting university; and in fact their co-operation was invaluable in those years when it was an entirely 763 new operation, as it has been in all those years since. I think that the university has also been quite useful to the BBC in providing a new area of training for its people.
I am not quite sure of the rules, but perhaps at this point I ought to record, or declare, a family interest. My elder son, who has been a maths don at four Oxford colleges, is an OU lecturer, and over the years he has given me a good deal of evidence that the course there is at least as tough and as difficult as they required for an Oxford degree; and our other son has graduated through the Open University.
The interesting fact is that today there are over 50 such universities all over the world, all modelled on ours, and for many years our balance of payments was fortified by sales of teaching material and, at least for a time, of equipment. Some of the engineering students needed to have engineering equipment and others needed equipment for similar studies. But it is, sadly, on the record that two or three years ago, when they cut back on university finances in our new universities, Her Majesty's Government at the same time put the brake on so far as the OU was concerned.
I should like to refer to what happened to the British universities. There were big debates in both Houses. In Bradford, for example, all our students in, say, engineering (our main subject), are required to work about a third of their four-year course in British factories or firms. In a few years' time—and here I am thinking in particular of those who come from the Commonwealth, or further afield—whether as civil servants who have to authorise the import of this or that particular piece of machinery, or whether as industrialists themselves, those former students, as a result of their presence here in this country, working in one British factory or another, may well dictate what equipment they should import.
Now I should like to turn to the Open University. I believe that the recent cuts forced on OU programmes will prove at least as serious as this short-sighted anti-Commonwealth attitude which we have seen developing in other ways and in other parts in recent years. The 1982 financial provision for the OU of £58.7 million has been cut to £58.2 million in 1983. You may say that this is not very much, £58.7 million to £58.2 million. But it is, of course, a much sharper cut than it appears to be because the figures make no allowance for inflation. Again, if we look at student grants, they amounted to £924 in 1980 and, at constant prices, to £814 in 1981. In real terms, they were 13½ per cent. lower. Over four years from 1980 to 1984, the university's grant from Whitehall has increased by 24 per cent.—yes, thank you very much, certainly—while the retail price index has risen by 42 per cent., or two-four reversed.
The £50-odd million that I have mentioned may seem a large sum, but not if' one realises that the university teaches three-quarters of the whole nation's part-time university students. It is not sufficiently appreciated that there are these part-time courses and that three-quarters of them are taken in charge by the university. It is also worth knowing, and the Treasury, which perhaps has some responsibility in this area, ought to be pleased to hear—I hope that it will hear—that the Open University graduate costs the 764 country only a little over half as much as a graduate from a conventional university.
I shall not weary the House with the whole catalogue of cut and cut again. I shall just instance computers. There are two novel and highly successful courses for managers and engineers in industry all over the country, not simply for those who can travel locally to a university. These same managers and engineers in industry have courses dealing with micro-processors and product design and development. It is a fact that already 30,000 engineers and managers have taken these courses through the OU. This year there are 1,100 undergraduates studying the digital computer. There are 2,300 studying the course "Computing and Computers" at a very low cost to the nation. This is a good investment.
Jointly with the Science and Engineering Research Council, itself of high repute, the university is now planning postgraduate courses which will bring working engineers, working scientists and managers up to date in the latest developments in both manufacturing and the industrial application of computers. Current plans are now at risk at the hands of the rather less than imaginative Treasury, which seems to resent the kind of world in which we all live; these threatened plans would provide for 60,000 citizens of this country operating in this field.
To cut these research facilities is, to use an old cliché, selling the seed corn, and this at a time when the university's own industrial company—yes, it is a limited company—the Open University Educational Enterprise Limited, has handed over nearly £440,000 from interest and profits on its activities. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Perry, who has much more experience of this subject than any of us and who was really the creator of the Open University as we know it today, could confirm and verify with far more authority than I can command the alarming figures I have quoted, these current trends and the threat of more to come. He could estimate, I think, their significance for higher education in the widest sense. The facts show that over the next three years, to 1986, on the plans laid down by the authorities, the university will have to cut expenditure by £13.5 million.
What the statistics will not show are the disappointments and the broken prospects of a generation of students whose potential contributions to British industry and to British inventiveness and competitiveness in a growingly competitive world are being snatched away, from what industry and the education process could provide, by the Treasury, which could not, in my view, in terms of the problems I am describing—I may be a little biased but I have known the Treasury for 40-odd years, and I was First Lord of it once—with any marked success, run a fish and chip shop.
Noble Lords, at least those of my generation—I remind them of this before I sit down—will know the story of the man during the war who, having climbed the Duke of York's steps and walked along to Whitehall, was asked by a passer-by "Which side is the War Office on?", eliciting the reply "Ours, I hope". After what I have described, based on firm and irrefutable facts and figures—there are lots more of them if anyone wants to have them—the need is for 765 more work, more jobs and, if I may say so, more proof that Her Majesty's Treasury is really fully committed in this war, this most desperate war, that we have in this country today, the war against unemployment.
I wish to conclude by referring briefly to this. During the war, I was involved at the head of a series of Government statistical departments. I have to emphasise—and I would be ready to give reasons for this estimate, perhaps when we debate economic affairs in a different way—that the real unemployment figure for Britain is not 3⅓ million. Not at all; that is a completely phoney figure. The real figure is at least 4⅓ million, if one allows for the fact that school-leavers, for example, have been given great help in the creation of training courses by leading firms. In every speech I make in America or when touring abroad, I always pay tribute to one or two in the constituency that I represented for what they do to create jobs that do not really exist for some of these kids. I am thinking of Messrs. Pilkington, British Insulated Callender's Cables and our Ford factory. But, of course, if our industry is to flourish, and if we are to keep among the top nations in this new technological revolution, then it is essential that the Government stimulate education for industry.
I had the privilege, as I have said, of working for a time on Winston Churchill's staff, before he sent me round to other departments to try to get their statistics as he would like to see them—not "cooking" them, but making them credible, understandable and comprehensible. Winston Churchill—there are many here who knew him better than I did—was undoubtedly a humanist. He did a great deal for people who were unattached to him. If he or Clement Attlee were alive today, if either was in charge, I can just imagine that a battery of brief and pungent directives would be flying around Whitehall headed "Action this day". Many in this House have seen or received and shuddered when they got those documents, as I did. However, on youth unemployment, on stagnation in industry and on training for industry, I am certain that their message would have been "Action now" to stir our people and, above all, the younger generation to genuinely satisfying work and to training facilities that anticipate economic needs and opportunities of the remaining years of this century.
Is it too much to ask that the same power and sense of direction be now applied in our training and education systems, and in a relevant attack upon the factors that are producing youth unemployment, through the provision of adequate, however varied, educational opportunities on which not only the future of those children, the future citizens, depend, but on which the future of Britain herself in the next half century will most certainly depend?
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ The Earl of Perth
My Lords, it is my very pleasant duty to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, for his excellent maiden speech in this House. I stress "in this House" because so many of us remember him speaking when he had another guise in another place. I am also very happy that he chose this subject to break the ice, because it shows the importance that he attaches—as, indeed, do the 40 other noble Lords who are speaking today—to this 766 particular subject; and it is the better because of the great responsibility that he has had for the Open University.
I was particularly happy that the noble Lord mentioned the name of Geoffrey Crowther. Geoffrey Crowther happened to be not only a great friend of mine but also my exact twin, and many were the birthdays we enjoyed together. The noble Lord's speech was the model of what a maiden speech should be. It was not too controversial except, perhaps, on the subject of the Open University—and, if I may say so, it was very proper that the noble Lord should press the case of the Open University. The speech was full of meat, and I would only express the hope that, having started, the noble Lord will give us the benefit of his great experience and great wisdom very often in this House.
What are my qualifications for speaking? I have only one. I have been on the court of the University of St. Andrew's for 15 years. I point out to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that I think our court has a majority of lay members—but if not, it is very close to having that, particularly if we include the students who are members of the court. Looking back over those 15 years, what do I find? I find that for the first 10 years we were faced with a problem which was, perhaps, unusual; namely that, having been divorced—if that is the right word—from the University of Dundee, our numbers were under 3,000, and we felt that it was very important that we should increase our numbers. At this moment, we are near to the 4,000 mark.
When we were "divorced", we naturally had serious gaps in our curriculum. At present, we have more or less succeeded in filling those gaps. But again I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that we are very conscious of the need to make the best use of resources in the coming years. We are working very closely with the University of Dundee in trying, if not to marry again, anyhow to interrelate the subjects which one or the other of us may choose to teach.
The first point I want to make is that, in increasing the number of students, clearly we had to increase the places where they could live—the residences for the students. In that respect, we were enormously helped by Government grants. But the other source was, of course, appeals which were very generously answered by the alumni. But there was a curious situation: namely, that certain standards were laid down by the University Grants Committee with the Treasury behind it saying, "This is the amount that you can spend per student". When we asked occasionally, "Can we also use some money from our appeals to make the amenities slightly better or to improve the standard of the building?", we were told, "No, if you put any money in in that way, then we will deduct the same amount from the central grant".
Therefore, we had an extraordinary situation and, believe me, it was a great pity from many angles, because it meant that not only were the buildings not quite as distinguished as they might have been, but some of the standards were lacking and we had to put them right later. I am referring to such matters as the thinness of the walls, the insulation and so on. So my first point is that if and when there is to be new building—and there certainly will be in some of the universities in the future—the Government should not 767 insist on a standard which is low and which does not allow private money to go alongside. After all, universities are not at this time very rich and they certainly will not be profligate in their spending. That is my first point.
Having achieved in those 10 years the type of thing that we wanted, what came next? We faced the problem of cuts like every other university and, in a sense, I say, "Quite right too", because there are certain features of university life—and I have particularly in mind tenure—which were out of date and not of the present time. When we debated or corresponded with the University Grants Committee about the type of cuts that we had to make, they finally insisted that there were three subjects which we had to cut out of our curriculum altogether. Those subjects were linguistics, maritime archaeology (although we are located by the sea and we had the greatest expert in this country on maritime archaeology) and the third subject was music. I well understand their anxiety to ensure that we kept our scope within reason, but it is very dangerous for the University Grants Committee to get down to quite that detail: what a university should or should not teach. Let them lean on the university by all means; let them indicate the direction in which they want the universities to go; let them set a standard as regards what should be the budget for the particular university, but then they should leave it to the university to act within those disciplines. It is opening a very dangerous vista if they insist on this, that or the other being altogether cut. That is my second point from my experience as a member of our court.
Now we face further cuts. We have been warned and asked to consider the position in the 1990s when the number of students of 18 years of age will be on the decline. It is quite right that we should be warned, but it does not necessarily mean that the proportion of monies that we receive should be based on the fall in the number of 18 year-olds who are to come. It should be a chance for us—if we are doing the right thing—to improve the excellence of the students and their proportionate number.
Finally, we must not forget that universities are for students. Students should have a very real role to play in the future of the universities. I can well recall the struggle we had to get students on to our court. But we, and many other universities, in the end got them on to the other governing bodies. Our experience has been a very good one. They really have helped. I know that there are some "louts"—and I use the word advisedly—who, for one reason or another, prevent free speech and they do the cause of the universities grievous harm. I say that because inevitably the public say, "Why should we pay for this sort of behaviour?"and what is done in one or two universities is, quite wrongly, attributed to all.
Therefore, my last message would be: remember that, on the whole, students want to do what will benefit them most in their future careers. They have a very good idea of what that will be. On the whole, they want to do what the country needs because that gives them the opportunity for their future livelihoods. So I conclude by saying: do not forget to bring the students, who cannot be here today, very much into this debate.
§ 5.21 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Coventry
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for introducing this debate on a subject of importance and growing concern. As, with education in the schools of our country, we look back to the 1944 Act for the inauguration of significant change, so in the sphere of higher education we look back to 1963 and the publication of the Robbins Report.
Throughout that report it is regarded as an axiom that higher education should be available for all those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue it and who wish to do so. Robbins thought that there would be little distpute over that general principle. Of course, in an era of expansion it is a simple affirmation, but in an era of contraction it is very much more difficult. However, the present Government have re-affirmed that principle and, in re-affirming it, have also drawn attention to the constraints of the present time. In the 1984 public expenditure White Paper it is said:The Government's main objectives for higher education are to maintain access for all those who want it and are suitably qualified, to improve efficiency and economy in all sectors whilst maintaining standards, to secure a further shift in provision towards science, engineering and technology, where the output of graduates is set to increase, and to maintain the quantity and quality of research".Constant adaptation to new needs is a common feature of any change, and an important quality of institutions is not their permanence but their capacity for change. Innovation is therefore necessary for survival, and in that sense there is nothing new about the experience of change. In the sector of higher education in which I have worked for many years and with which, therefore, I am most familiar—namely, the colleges of education and the voluntary sector—change has not been gradual and very often it has been positively catastrophic.
Change can and, I think, should keep an institution on its toes, alive, and alert. But when change is accompanied by the fear of possible closure—and the issue is about current understandings of viability necessary, not for change, but for survival—then it is not creative. It kills initiative and it makes innovation too fearful a risk.
At the moment, there are not a few institutions of higher education which are in need of the assurance of stability to continue, rather than more change. I, personally, am sceptical about the ability of structural change to effect institutional change. On the contrary, I think that, given the space for institutions to innovate and adapt, structural change is more likely to be effected.
My reading of the Robbins Report does not lead me to the view that what was envisaged was the imposition of mass higher education, and that it should all be funnelled through our universities. We should dispel the notion that we have a mass higher education system, for our percentage of the relevant age group in higher education is much smaller than that in many other countries. I speak as one who was, initially at least, one of the educationally disadvantaged, and I had to break into the higher education system. I felt out of place; an interloper.
That experience makes one realise how uniform the system is, how lacking in flexibility, how slow it is so 769 often to grasp opportunity, and how little innovation there has been. Because of that experience, I may, therefore, be more sensitive to claims of social justice in education than many others. I do, in fact, beiieve that the deteriorating social class inequality in our universities, and the lack of real contact with schools and with local communities, are evidence of a failure of educational institutions to adapt and to innovate.
It seems to me that the failure since Robbins has been our inability to diversify. Perhaps another Robbins Report is now required with that particular need as its focus. William Temple used to tell us to take note when people are affirming, but to be very wary when they are denying. I agree when people say, as we have heard it said this afternoon, that we must preserve our universities as centres of excellence—but I do not believe that it should be at the cost of different kinds of excellence in other institutions. After the James Report we heard much of the dictum, which I think was attributed to Kingsley Amis, that "more means worse". I do not believe that that is necessarily so, though I do believe that "more" should mean "different".
I am nervous at the implication that there is only one kind of excellence, and in our system we suffer from the kind of academic snobbery which sees the ancient universities as the only models of excellence and which reduces all other institutions to pale reflections of them; it runs right through our education system.
When they were instituted, secondary modern schools felt it was necessary to justify their existence by the number of O levels that they could achieve. Initially, the polytechnics could only find credibility in the student market by the kind of achievements thought necessary for universities. We lost opportunities for innovation with the raising of the school-leaving age, with the so-called upgrading of the colleges of advanced technology, and with the creation of the new universities which we might have expected to find new ways of doing old things in new subject combinations, and so on. I do not want a British Ivy League which suffocates initiative elsewhere. I do want a bigger choice of higher education institutions with clearly defined objectives, establishing their own kinds of excellence, and meeting a wider variety of individual and social needs.
A favourite word among planners and administrators, especially in the DES at the moment, is "concentration", which I understand to mean a larger number of students in fewer compartments. That of course will have positive advantages—the advantages of more stability, of economy of scale, and the sort of internal balance which could ensure quality. My fear again is of being forced into a single mould and an absence of that kind of flexibility which allows growth and innovation.
Ought we then to be working for a smaller number of comprehensive institutions strategically placed in our country geographically? I think not. I think we need a greater diversity of institutions with clearly defined objectives achieving their own excellences, with easier transfer between them and with a greater willingness to share resources. The polytechnics, I believe, are now established as a distinctive sector of 770 higher education complementary to our universities but with their own strengths in access, in links with the community, and links with commerce, industry and the schools.
Let me illustrate from my own diocese. The University of Warwick and the Coventry Polytechnic jointly validate three open access courses which are taught at local colleges of further education. The specially designed courses provide an alternative route to GCE A levels for adult students in order to gain places in higher education. Almost every student who has successfully completed the programme is now studying at a university or polytechnic.
Or again, as part of the Government's PICKUP initiative, the further and higher education institutions in Coventry have joined together to form a unique collaborative venture. By pooling staff and physical resources the Coventry institutions are able to offer local firms a variety of services across a wide range of subjects at all levels. In this way the Coventry consortium provides a single professional and accessible force to education in this area.
These initiatives, together with the University of Warwick's science park, are illustrations of co-operation between diverse institutions which permits each of them to concentrate on its own particular area and level of expertise, thereby providing a whole which is greater than the sum of its parts, and also for the benefit of a complex of institutions and people.
The present constraints must not have a negative, inhibiting effect, but rather provide a stimulus for new kinds of exploration. Talk of efficient and economic viability is threatening, and of course it is desperately important that economic pressures do not lower the quality of our current provision. I am anxious that a definition of "economically viable" does not automatically rule out smaller institutions. There is a danger that definitions become self-fulfilling because resources are given to some institutions at the expense of others. As a recent submission from the Church of England Board of Education said:The death of a deliberately under-nourished child is easy to justify on the grounds that his small body just could not stand the strain".Similarly, quality is a very elusive concept for which it is notoriously difficult to lay down criteria, and it is so elusive that it becomes a matter of faith rather than of exact science. The danger is that in the absence of clear criteria we then resort to statistics. Surely it must be ascertained on grounds which are educationally justifiable. There is increasing use of the phrase "quality control" in the Department of Education and Science; it is a phrase that comes from industry and not from education, and while we must welcome all attempts to enhance quality we must also ensure that it is a matter for professional judgment and not for quantitative measurement.
Again it is right that society should expect value for money. There is financially a very large investment in higher education, but there is also a danger of interpreting the phrase solely in terms of that kind of educational activity which offers quantifiable financial returns, and that must be resisted. What is invested in our higher education system is in the end to do with values and direction of society, and that is why it should always be under scrutiny, but it must he given 771 resources and room to breathe, room to develop, if it is faithfully to serve society.
§ 5.36 p.m.
§ Lord Alport
My Lords, I very much regret that I found it difficult to follow the speech of my noble friend Lord Swinton. I had the totally unworthy suspicion that his mind was more on the winner of the Queen Mother's Championship Chase at Cheltenham than it was on higher education. Certainly if the horse he backed there went as fast as he went during his speech, he will be a richer man tonight.
I should like, if I may, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, on his maiden speech. Many of your Lordships have heard him in another place and indeed here previously in this very Chamber. We have admired his technique and his wisdom, and we look forward to hearing him on many future occasions. I should like to add my thanks, if I may, to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for giving us an opportunity of discussing the future of higher education at this particular time. I put down a Motion for a short debate on the subject some months ago, but I was glad to withdraw it in favour of Lord Annan's Motion, for the wealth of knowledge of your Lordships' House would not have had the full opportunity for expression in two-and-a-half hours, as the long and distinguished list of speakers in this debate amply proves.
My special interest, which I should declare, is as chairman designate of the Academic Advisory Committee of Gresham College. To me the reemergence of this ancient experiment in higher education, started in the heyday of the Tudor age, after centuries of decline and neglect, is an event of significance and romance. It is due to the wisdom of the corporation of the City of London, the Mercers' Company, and the City University. We shall, I believe, have an opportunity of planning the development of Gresham College in accordance with the educational needs and expectations of the next half-century and beyond.
It is to assess these needs and expectations that the Secretary of State has asked for a wide-ranging debate and that is the reason why, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has mentioned, the chairman of the UGC circulated his questionnaire on 1st November to all vice-chancellors and principals. He asked for replies to reach him by 31st March, so your Lordships' debate is aptly timed.
There are, I think, three central issues. The first is how to ensure the continuous recruitment of young and lively minds to the staffs of universities so as to maintain vigour and enterprise in both teaching and research. Without this, the universities will not be able to respond flexibly to changing patterns of student demand and national priorities. As one vice-chancellor writing to me recently said:Unless some special measures are taken by Government, most universities will have unchanging staff growing old ungracefully together, and this is bad for innovation and had for morale".Again I refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. I agree with him in that I do not think that the present security of tenure from graduation to the grave is right. Nor do I think that early retirement 772 is the answer. When I was Pro Chancellor of the City University and long before there was any general scheme I introduced a system of early retirement—of a rather primitive character, I am afraid—since we had too many elderly members of staff left over from the CAT days. The result was that we lost a number of good men who knew that they could get jobs elsewhere, while those that we hoped would go stayed on. I think that appointments to universities should be for a term of years, renewable, but perhaps with a grant of a tax-free capital sum given at the end of service dependent upon length of time on the staff. I think that professors and senior lecturers should be encouraged to accept part-time appointments, professorial appointments, perhaps, and to take on consultative work in civil life, thereby making their very special abilities available to business and industry.
The second issue is how far higher education, particularly at universities, should be available to all who would benefit from it. These fall into three categories. First, young people of the 18-to-21 age group in the United Kingdom. The Government cuts were estimated in 1981 to produce a loss of some 10,000 places over two or three years—just at a time when demand was nearly reaching its peak. I believe the actual number was some 12,000. There is no reason to assume (as the Ministry appears to assume) that demand will decrease, since a disproportionate number of applications for university places come from social Classes Ito XI in which the numbers of 18 year-olds will rise until 1990 and then fall, only slightly, until 1995 before rising again.
In addition there will be a greatly increased demand from women for higher education, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, mentioned in her speech. As it is, or own age participation is far below what the 1972 White Paper envisaged and, in so far as comparisons can be made, far below that of other industrialised countries. The second category is mature students, particularly those seeking to refresh and bring up to date their professional qualifications. The demand from mature students will certainly rise. Those who wish to advance their careers realise nowadays the importance of qualifications and an increasing number will wish to make good opportunities lost earlier in their lives. Moreover, with increased leisure, as the experience of the Open University has shown, many people wish to equip themselves with knowledge to add to the quality of their lives and to widen their intellectual horizons by study at university level.
According to a report in the Daily Telegraph of 1st February, the Minister for Higher Education gave the Open University an ominous warning while disclaiming any intentions to close it down. I am glad to hear in the maiden speech this afternoon the account of the founding of the Open University from the noble Lord, Lord Wilson. I believe that between now and the year 2000 the demand for higher education from what we call mature students, for whom the Open University has produced, in its 13 years of existence, a unique record of success, will greatly increase; and that demand must be met.
The third category is overseas students. If we were to project ourselves into the year 2,000, which, after all, is only 16 years away, and were to try to assess the 773 reasons for the progressive loss of Britain's influence in the world, I think that we might quite easily come to the conclusion that one of the most important causes was that for purely financial reasons the Government shut the doors of the universities of Great Britain to a large number of men and women from countries overseas who otherwise would have come here for higher education and who, in so doing, would have absorbed the educational, social and democratic values which have made our country great.
Five or six years ago I went to call on the vice-chancellor of the great technical university in Peking. I intended to encourage him to send students to the United Kingdom. Almost the first question that he asked was, "How much would it cost?" I told him. He replied that, although it would be difficult, it was not impossible. I asked him if he knew this country. "Oh, yes," he said "I know it very well and admire it. I did all my training many years ago at the City and Guilds. I should like my students to have the same opportunities as I had". Now, with the increased cost of higher education here for overseas students, he will not be sending anyone to Britain and, as in so many other cases, this country will be immeasurably poorer as a result.
This brings me to the third and central issue which the Government and the universities have to consider and to which reference has already been made on several occasions during this debate. I refer to the availability of resources. One cannot avoid the impression, at least I cannot, that over the last four or five years the attitude of the Government has been influenced by the outrage created by student troubles in the 1960s and early 1970s and by the treatment received by Ministers at the hands of students as recently as last month. I recollect asking the vice-chancellor before a meeting, during the period of unrest, whether he thought that everything would be all right. "I think so," he said. "But my secretary has in her handbag 'phone numbers of all the local police stations".
That reflects an intolerable situation. No one condones hooliganism or the abuse of the privileged position which membership of an institution of higher education provides. The taxpayer and the ratepayer object to subsidising young men and women who behave in such a way. But it would be disastrous if the Government and the Conservative Party in general were to allow this sort of thing to influence their attitude to providing resources which are needed to enable the universities of this country to make the contribution which they alone can make to our future progress and prosperity.
If I hear Ministers talk about "cost-effectiveness" or the "discipline of the market place" (to which in some degree, the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, referred) when referring to university education, I reach, metaphorically, for my gun. I believe that my father was the first of his fellow researchers at St. Mary's Hospital to whom Sir Alexander Fleming showed the blood-plasma slides which he had left on the windowsill and which had developed a growth. Who can assess the cost-effectiveness of Sir Alexander's researches? Who can assess the cost-effectiveness of a British contribution to higher education for someone from, say, a third world country who later in life achieves 774 prominence and ensures that that country remains close and friendly to Britain, politically and economically? Who can assess the cost-effectiveness of the money spent on the education of the rising generation of the early years of the 21st century, who will man our new technological industries, give vitality to our national administration and provide the inspiration for our cultural and artistic life?
Unless this country is prepared to invest in higher education to provide the resources which the universities require, to allow the able and dedicated men and women who preside over them to have freedom of judgment and initiative which is an essential part of our whole academic tradition, then the decline of our country's fortunes to which the Prime Minister has so frequently referred will be a reality at an accelerated pace. This will certainly be true if the attitude of the Government to the universities continues to be characterised by interference, discouragement and parsimony.
My only regret about this debate is that my late noble friend Lord Butler is no longer with us and therefore is unable to give us the benefit of his wisdom. The last time I saw him, very shortly before he died, he made clear his anxieties about the damage which he believed the current policy of the Government was doing to higher education in general and the universities in particular. I can only hope that this debate will do something to influence the Government's policy before that damage becomes irreparable.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Lord Grimond
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alport. I particularly agree with what he said about the importance of overseas students. I am glad to say that the University of Kent, with which I am most acquainted, still succeeds in spite of difficulties in attracting a remarkable number of overseas students. I should like to join the congratulations offered to the noble Lord, Lord Wilson Rievaulx, and also to join those who have thanked the noble Lord, Lord Annan, not only for giving us a very long day on education but for his most refereshing speech about universities—especially coming from a paid-up supporter of the universities.
My interest and excuse, I suppose, for joining in this galaxy of people who know far more about education and universities than I, is that I am at the moment the chancellor of the University of Kent. I have been rector of two Scottish universities and I am presiding over an inquiry (believe it or not!) into the University of Birmingham. I am eternally grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hunter of Newington, for appointing me to that position; I have had a most enjoyable and interesting time.
So far, it seems to me, not only in this debate but in the general debate on the UGC's letter and so forth, that the stress has been upon the part that universities can play in collaboration with industry, the need for some specialisation (and the noble Lord, Lord Annan, implied I think that some universities should give up teaching certain subjects altogether), and for practical education in all its forms. I do not dissent from that. I am proud to say that the University of Kent is in the forefront of supplying industry with the collaboration 775 it looks for, and we have a very high reputation for practical research.
I want to stress what I believe the fundamental purpose of a university is: it is, to be a centre of universal study and knowledge. Therefore, I would not like to see specialisations carried too far. Of course, a university is a community of scholars. It used to call itself a "centre of excellence". I am glad that that has been given up. It is for other people to say that universities are centres of excellence, and not for the universities themselves to do so. One of their most important functions is to teach judgment, to teach people to use their minds better, and to use them in the service not only of themselves but of the country.
That seems to me to be what has been behind the great university disciplines, the great and moral tripos at Cambridge, and the humanities taught in the Scottish universities. It is absolutely central to the whole notion of a central universal knowledge—the reason being that you can only use your mind well and improve it if you have some knowledge of the history of the country, of the civilisation of your country, of the rest of the world, and of mankind in general, if you understand something of the great philosophies of the world; and, above all, if you understand something at least of the scientific method and the advance of science, the use of science, and the possible developments of science.
As the vice-chancellor of Kent University puts it, universities try to teach a better understanding of how problems, both academic and in real life, can be approached and analysed. If you really want scientific research, you can have that in specialist institutions. Indeed, you can import it. Research is international. You can get the results of research from all over the world.
What you cannot import or teach in specialist institutions is judgment, the better use of the mind, the creation of a better society, and the better handling of the problems which our country faces.
If you take the advance of technology, it is important that universities should be in the forefront of pushing forward the frontiers of science. It is also important that they should give their mind to what you are going to do with the development of technology. It seems to me there is a danger that the result will be that you will get a few highly qualified people; that you will have a limited number of people who do very interesting work and who make a lot of money, and that you will have a large element of the population left.
Are you content with that? What are you going to do about it? This is the sort of problem that is pre-eminently for universities. Again, as our vice-chancellor has pointed out, this is not perhaps a good moment to stress the need for too much Specialization—there may be a need for some—because much of the most interesting research going on is, as I understand it, on the borderline of the different disciplines.
For instance, molecular biology is on the margins of physics, chemistry and biology. It should also be borne in mind that the whole point of the university, in one way, is the cross-fertilisation between people who approach problems in different ways. You have the scientist who is impersonal and objective in his 776 examination of problems before him. Then you have the student of humanities who is given to making value judgments and will bring to bear a more personal attitude to the solution of problems.
In the University of Kent, we have developed a collegiate system. The great asset of a collegiate system is that it forces people of different outlooks to live together and to consider problems from different angles. Also, this is the moment, I understand, when vice-chancellors are pressing upon the schools the view that they should broaden the sixth-form curriculum. I think that is right. But they should not at the same time be too keen to narrow what goes on in the universities themselves.
I must say that on reading the 28th question sent round by the UGC, I found this aspect of universities rather left out. Of course, there is one question left out and maybe it was covered in that question. There is a lot in the 28th question about how they think they will compete with cuts, how they will train vets and all that. But what I regard as the fundamental purpose of the universities—to turn out more people with better judgment—is not so much stressed.
If I am right about the fundamental nature of a university it must be said that the more people who go to a university, the better. I must point out that it has never been a belief of the rich in this country that only the clever should go to university. That is something the rich have never believed. I think they were right. A great many people can benefit from university who may not be all that clever; some of them may even be sitting in this Chamber this evening. I, myself, would be sorry if entry to universities was confined only to scholars and to those who held particular skills which the country thinks may be of great advantage. I am a little alarmed at passages in the UGC letter from which it would transpire that the universities should really be forcing houses for turning out engineers, vets or whatever industry or the Government think we should need. I am sceptical about that. In my lifetime, government planning has always been wrong. If a government lay down that they want a lot of engineers, you can be quite certain that in 15 years' time that is exactly what they will not want. I am very glad to say that the children of this country refuse to be trained in the disciplines which may be appropriate to communist Russia but wholly inappropriate to this country. If they do not want to be engineers, they will not be engineers. For my part, I say good luck to them. If we have to import engineers from somewhere else, we can do it. Of course it is very important that universities should know what is in demand and should be in touch with industry, but I do not think that the process should go too far.
I should like to see the growth of higher education in all its forms, and I wholly agree with the right reverend Prelate that university education should by no means be the only form of higher education. I think universities have done a remarkably good job in trying to compete with the cuts of Government. I am not convinced that further economies might not be made. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, referred to the 13 points. I am constantly drawing the attention of various universities to these. I was on the University Court when they were first put round and I remember the bravado with which they were swept aside, but 777 they are worth looking at again: there are some quite good suggestions. There are various other points which are rather sore points but which I think might be worth looking at again.
There is the question of the university year. The university year had really nothing to do with the academic life but it was fixed to suit the harvest. The boys had to get back for the hay harvest in June and they were not to leave home until they had got the oats in or possibly the potatoes; so the universities did not start again until the middle of October. It had nothing whatever to do with research or with examinations, but with the harvest.
In the southern universities—I hasten to say not the University of Kent—the summer term hardly exists. By the time you have got through rag week you are into examinations and the senior staff are already booking their summer holidays. I believe that there is a great deal to be said for a longer university year and also for learning from the independent university. It is possible to run two-year courses, and certainly you can deal with a lot of subjects in a three-year course.
As regards the use of buildings, there is a lot to be said for siting universities on the outskirts of the whole country. If they were in the Shetlands or the Scilly Isles they would be much more fully used; but all those which are near London are largely vacated by students from Friday night until Monday morning; so there is a great waste of building space. Nevertheless, perhaps that has to be accepted.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, referred to committees. To my mind, a great many academics are deeply addicted to committees. There is nothing they like better than a good go in commitee, so that many universities have become very much over-administered. What ought to be left to the excellent registrars and secretaries, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, takes up the time of the academics.
But when one has said all that, I think that the universities have done a remarkable job in cutting their costs, and they could be in greater difficulties if they are cut further. If £200 million is necessary for engineering, I hope that is not going to have to come out of other university budgets. I must say that I wholly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alport, on the difficulty of talking about what is cost-effective in universities. We sometimes forget what an enormous store of devotion they rely upon. Referring to Pro-Chancellors—the Governor of the Bank of England and now the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester—they are incomparable men, and all for nothing. You will not get this situation except in institutions which can inspire extraordinary loyalty. You get staff who work all hours and take immense trouble with students. It is impossible to say what the cost is and what the effect is. All we know is that universities today are one of the most successful parts of this country. Not only are they well served by people who get some recognition, but nearly all universities rely on people who toil away at their finances. Our treasurer at Kent, Mr. Alexander, is one example, and there are many others. You cannot put a value on them: it is impossible.
So I hope that the Government, having made these cuts, will give the universities some assurance that the process of cutting is not going on indefinitely, and that 778 they will have something to plan on for the next three or four years at least. I hope they will realise that these are some of the most successful British institutions. They are comparatively cheap and they depend very largely on the great goodwill that they themselves have engendered. They should not be threatened too much by external influences which try to distort them from their true purposes.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Lord Glenamara
My Lords, first of all I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for giving us this opportunity of debating this very important subject. I fully support the broad general objective of wanting to see at least 15 per cent. of our sixth form students going in for some form of higher education, which is broadly the Robbins principle. But I do not think he would expect me to support some of the elitist paths by which he hopes to achieve that objective. The noble Lord, if I may so say, appeared to be using interchangeably the words "élitism" and "excellence". They have nothing to do with each other. I am all for excellence but all against élitism.
Secondly, although it may sound a little presumptuous of me, I must congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, on his maiden speech. I worked under him as Secretary of State for Education when the Open University was set up. I shall always be grateful for the magnificent support he gave me against a particular Chancellor of the Exchequer to get money for the Open University. I may say that the gentleman in question, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer, is now an ornament of the SDP in another place.
I wish to speak briefly on one point only, and that is on the educational apartheid which is developing in higher education in this country: the universities on the one hand and the polytechnics on the other. The polytechnics, many of which I had the honour to designate, came into existence as a result of the Labour Government's White Paper in 1966. They were to be, in the words of the White Paper, "separate from but equal to" the universities.
The idea of the polytechnics was thrown up by a very able but very tough Under-Secretary in the Department of Education and Science. He sold it to my late colleague, Mr. Crosland, who with some difficulty sold it to the Cabinet. I supported it but, with the benefit of hindsight, if I could put the clock back to 1966 I do not think I would support it today.
Having said that, one must recognise that the existence of these 30 vigorous institutions—many of them bigger than most of our universities— concentrating in the main on applied and vocational studies, with progression from sub-degree work through first-degree work to post-graduate work, must be a considerable asset to this country, particularly as we enter an age in which we as a nation must concentrate on much more sophisticated products from our manufacturing industry and much more sophisticated expertise to export overseas if we are to maintain, let alone improve, our living standards.
Although most of the universities have directly vocational degree courses, they do not on the whole have the applied and vocational "skew", if I may use 779 that horrible "in" word, to their work that the polytechnics have. No Government since 1966 has changed the essentials of the binary system. There have been two peripheral but quite significant changes. First, in the mid-1970s, teacher training was cut and a number of colleges of education became redundant. They have emerged as small colleges which in the range of their work look like polytechnics but are not. Indeed, the public sector today contains no fewer than 370 institutions of one kind or another but only 30 polytechnics.
The second change was—again using this dreadful jargon—that by "capping the pool" and establishing a national advisory body, the Government have switched the burden of financing these institutions from mainly local authority sources to mainly national sources, but they still maintain the pretence that the pool is the first charge on the block grant to local education authorities. Despite this change in the funding, the funding per student per year in the local authority sector in the polytechnics is from £1,300 to £2,400 a year less than in the university sector, as I will show in a moment.
To justify this, it is argued that the universities are the research sector. It is true that much more fundamental research takes place in the universities, but there is a substantial amount of research in the polytechnics. I have here the research report, containing 238 pages, of the Newcastle Polytechnic for the years 1981 to 1983, each page being stocked with items which are directly relevant to this country's economic performance. But the universities are funded for their research and the polytechnics are not. Nobody knows how much of the money which the universities get for research in fact goes to research. Nobody knows where it goes and nobody knows how much of it does not find its way into research at all, because, unlike the research councils, the universities are not accountable for money which they receive for research.
It has been estimated recently by Mr. Christopher Ball, who is warden of Keble College Oxford—so, presumably, he knows what he is talking about in the universities—and is chairman of the National Advisory Body, that the universities are receiving £400 million a year towards research from the money that they get from the UGC. I believe that that is an overgenerous estimate, because it is based on the postulate that all university teachers do research and that no polytechnic teachers do research, and both bits of that assumption are obviously wrong. However, for my argument, I will use this figure of £400 million.
This year, higher education in Britain is costing £3,300 million. I apologise for all these figures, but they are necessary. That £3,300 million is made up in this way: £1,300 million goes to the universities and, as I have said, it is estimated that £400 million of that is for research; £700 million goes to the local authority sector and the voluntary colleges; £500 million goes to the research councils and £800 million is used for student support. That is a total of £3,300 million.
If we take this assumed figure for research of £400 million from the £1,300 million which the universities get, we have a figure of £900 million for the 780 universities' teaching purposes. So it is —900 million to the universities for teaching purposes and £700 million to the polytechnics for teaching purposes, and the number of students in the local authority sector is rather bigger than in the university sector, although they receive so much less money.
If we take the two lots of teaching costs together, the universities and the polytechnics, we get a total of £1,600 million for teaching costs right across the binary field. How do the teaching costs in the two sides of the binary system compare with this across the board average? The across the board average is something like £4,800 per student per year. Again taking this year, teaching costs of students are these: in the polytechnics for an arts student, £2,400; in the universities for an arts student, £3,700, and that is with the research element taken out. If that is put in, there is a greater disparity. So arts students cost 50 per cent. more per year in the universities.
For science students in the polytechnics the cost is £3,400 a year and in the universities it is £5,800 a year, so the cost is 70 per cent. higher in the universities. Again, I remind your Lordships that that is without the research element. So there is this enormous disparity between the money which is allowed for teaching in the two sides.
So what of the future? The Chancellor recently brought out the White Paper on public expenditure. That shows that this gross disparity of treatment between the two sectors will not only continue but will, in fact, increase over the next three years. The figures are these, taking this year and the next three years: in the universities £1,305 million, which I rounded off to £1,300 million; the next year £1,338 million; the next year £1,380 million and the next year £1,410 million, which is an increase of 8 per cent. over three years in the universities. For the polytechnics, the figures are £600 million this year, £585 million the next year, £600 million the next year and £620 million the following year, which is an increase of 3.3 per cent.
I am not saying for one moment—I do not want to be misunderstood—that the universities are over-generously treated. I do not believe they are. I am not even arguing for equal funding for equal work. What I am saying is that the funding of the polytechnics has reached the point this year where it is barely adequate, and next year and for the following few years, if these figures are maintained, it will be inadequate. So what I am pleading for—it has nothing to do with the universities—is adequate funding of the polytechnics, funding which is commensurate with the contribution that the polytechnics, are making to our national well-being. The very least that the Government should do is to fund their research function. I gave your Lordships the example of one polytechnic and no funding of that from the Government.
If the polytechnics are to engage in research—and I think all noble Lords will agree that at this level of teaching they must do so—then all the research in the whole binary system on both sides should be recognised and funded. If this were done, more money would still go to the universities because of their more fundamental research, but the balance would be shifted and it would help. Given the applied basis of the research in the polytechnics, this change would be wholly advantageous to the economy. This matter is of 781 such great importance to the polytechnics that I ask the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to reply to it when he winds up.
In conclusion, may I say this? The funding which has developed in higher education in this country over the past few years is very similar to what happened in secondary education after the second world war. There is a group of students who are easier to teach—indeed, who can teach themselves much more easily—who get better facilities and who are adequately funded. But there is also a slightly bigger group of students who, in the main, require more skilful teaching and more careful teaching, who enjoy the barest minimum of facilities and who are inadequately funded. It is very similar to the treatment of grammar schools and secondary modern schools after the second world war. I was a headmaster in one of those after the war, so I know about the disparity of treatment there. That disparity led to the pressure to end the binary system in secondary education—usually called the tripartite system, but of course it was no such thing; it had only two wings.
The most important question in higher education now is: should we now plan to get rid of the binary system in higher education? I have come to the conclusion that our medium to long term goal should be to erase the division between the polytechnics and the universities; gradually to rub it out. I have always believed, and have often said, that educational institutions should never be static; they should evolve all the time. I believe that we should now begin a gradual movement towards ending this divided system and we should do so on a number of fronts.
First, one or two outright mergers between polytechnics and universities could, and should, take place at once. Indeed, one is taking place at this moment in Northern Ireland, quite satisfactorily. Secondly, where a polytechnic and a university are contiguous—and I support the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, on this—there should be the closest co-operation in the sharing of facilities and resources, including staff There is not always that co-operation at the moment. The DES could, I am sure, do a great deal more to encourage this. There should be cross-representation on governing bodies. If a university argues that it is unable to do that because of its charter, may I say, as a previous Lord President of the Council, that there is no problem about getting a charter altered. I cannot speak for the Government, but I am quite certain they would not object to this kind of change.
Fourthly, there should be an extension of the idea of cross-binary subject committees of the National Advisory Body and the University Grants Committee. Indeed, there should be, I believe, a gradual merger of the UGC, the NAB and the CNAA.
Finally, and immediately, as the least the Government can do there should be some funding for the research which is done now in polytechnics. Whether or not your Lordships agree with this long-term goal, everybody who is concerned about the education of our students must agree that what we should not allow to continue is an educational apartheid of the kind which disfigured our secondary education for far too long.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Lord Fulton
My Lords, I, too, would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for bringing forward this Motion. May I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, on his maiden speech. It will surely have given great pleasure to the university in his native Yorkshire and to the Open University, of which he was the progenitor, that he has chosen the occasion of this debate for his maiden speech in your Lordships' house.
I have re-read the record of that other occasion when, in 1960, your Lordships debated the universities on the eve of the appointment of the Robbins Committee whose report was a milestone in the social history of our country. What is most striking is the change of atmosphere between then and now. Then the whole world—not only the West—was fully convinced that in education lay the main hope for the future. The noble Lord, Lord Adrian, Master of Trinity, in his speech entertained the idea that there should perhaps be an increase from 5 per cent. to 20 per cent. in the number of young people entering on courses for degrees. Certainly a policy of expansion was supported from every quarter of the House. There was less said than might have been expected about the substance of what was to be taught. Confidence was quite general that what the young got from their time at the university would be good for them and good for their country. The next time your Lordships debated the subject—in 1976—the warmth had somewhat gone out of the air. The reasons for this are various, but they need not be part of our discussion now.
The economic recession has intensified doubts and certainly tightened purse strings. For the past three years there have been cuts in public funds. In consequence, qualified applicants have been turned away. When I was privileged to start the University of Sussex, I remember that we started it two years early in order to catch a few of the young people who would otherwise have gone without a university education. For us at that time it was an obscenity that the young should be deprived of the cultivation of the talents that they brought to society. In a number of other countries there has been more than an end to expansion. The issue is now whether—and, if so, how—the system is to decline. Whereas in the post-Robbins expansion there was room for a generous measure of delegated authority to existing institutions (increased in number by seven new foundations) to plan their own development, when stability is reached, and, still more, when contraction is the order of the day, there has to be a tighter centralisation of decision-making. The contrast is sharp indeed between the policy of creating new universities in the 1970s—to increase, it was hoped, the inventiveness of the system as a whole—and that of the present time. Since 1981 we have seen cuts on universities of varying degrees of severity which left them in doubt about the intentions of their authors.
In the circumstances of today—that is, of falling resources in real terms—institutions cannot be expected to volunteer for their own decline or for the chopping block. In these circumstances, the role of the central government becomes increasingly important, and governments need to be clearer than ever before about what they are doing and what its effect will be.
783 In the past, the University Grants Committee—inadequately described as a "buffer"—was the envy of the world, as a medium through which the formulation of policy for higher education was shared between the universities themselves and the government of the day. Inflation destroyed its necessary instrument, the quinquennial grant, and there is little shelter left for governments exposed, as a result, to the risks of making up their minds. Attempts are now being made by the University Grants Committee to set up a series of consultations with the universities, but it has disclaimed responsibility for important policy decisions. And thus the initiative lies with the Government. Since this is so, may we hope that when the noble and learned Lord comes to reply to the debate he will take us into the Government's mind on wider issues than just the prospect of reduced revenues?
The Times, in a leader two days ago, called for a broad and less numerical assessment of the worth of this form of educational effort. I wish to offer such an assessment by referring to my own experience in the early post-war years. In 1947 I left a teaching career at my old college at Oxford to become head of the University College of Swansea. Like its much older sister colleges in the University of Wales, it owed its origin after the First World War to the passionate devotion of the Welsh people to education. But it had a hard early struggle for resources. There were then no capital grants for buildings, no mandatory grants for students.
However, in 1946 the Barlow Committee had recommended a doubling of the output of scientists and technologists from British universities within the next 10 years. The susceptibility to change was reflected in the fact that it was done in just five. Swansea was a natural centre for the advanced study of science and technology, the birthplace of metallurgy. Around it was the coalfield and a new oil industry. It rose to the opportunity of the Barlow Committee. It gained a due share of resources. Its student population grew rapidly—not only, of course, in the sciences—and so, in consequence, did its academic faculty.
I wish to speak for a moment only about a fragment of the whole. In 1946 there was only one professor of engineering and one of metallurgy. By 1956 there were four chairs of engineering and a second chair of Metallurgy endowed by the Steel Company of Wales. With these added resources young men from the most prestigious university centres of research were attracted to the college's chairs. So what had been accomplished? The young men and women entering the college from the local schools were brought into contact with young professors and their colleagues working on the problems of their subjects at the very periphery—and I mean by that what some people call frontiers—of existing knowledge. So for their students something of vital moment had indeed happened to them while they were undergraduates. I must say in passing that if the noble Lord, Lord Annan, had brought about a system such as he advocated in his speech earlier today, none of this would have happened. It could not have happened because the two elements in the process would have remained separated and inaccessible to one another.
784 As time passed, many of the newcomers went on to higher things. One, for example, went on to a famous chair in the Imperial College of Science and Technology and another became President of Cornell University, but they went not before they had left their own marks on the college and given their pupils an insight into, as Plato put it:The wheel of education once started has to move faster and faster.The most important lesson of all was one not lectured about or tested by examination: the need to accept the inevitability of change and development—high research is not for the reinvention of the wheel, you see—and to be prepared for periodical regeneration as frontiers yield to new intellectual assaults.
Nearly 100 years ago the hard-headed fathers of the North of England wanted for their children an experience which had been denied to themselves. Thus, they sought to found the civic universities of the great cities which are now great international institutions. They intended to prepare these children for a still unknown but knowable future; and who can say we are in less need of this today than they were at the time?
The question is: what should we ask from our universities today to arrange their institutional affairs so as to ensure that the multifarious intellectual talents entrusted to them are realised in the fullest possible degree, and that the young who pass through them are so taught that they accept the need for self-regeneration at regular intervals during their working lives? We expect it of our doctors in response to the accelerating pace of medical advance. What is it? Is the cycle of medical knowledge and practice 10 years? That is some four times in the course of a working life.
In the face of massive changes impending in the nature of work and in the balance of world forces, whole industries may well be casualties and even be destroyed. The response of the nation as a whole will he powerfully affected by the quality of outlook of the 15 per cent. of our youth at present in our system of higher education and those who will follow them. A modern state simply cannot do without strong universities.
The only other remark that I should like to make in this context is drawn from some authoritative research carried out by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. It suggests that unless 10 per cent. of young people in every generation are so educated as I have already defined, an advanced economic system will not work. Beyond 25 per cent. the benefits of further investment have to be sought in social, individual and non-economic terms—as America is now in fact doing. The figures that I have been given are these: we have achieved 15 per cent. from the 5 per cent. at the time of the Robbins appointment; Japan has achieved 25 per cent. calculated on the same basis. These are students in universities taking degree courses, in the Open University, or in polytechnics under the sponsorship of the CNAA. Our figure is 15 per cent.; America's is 25 per cent.; Japan's is 25 per cent.; Russia's is 25 per cent.; and Germany is on a par with us at the moment, but prepared to go to 25 per cent.
It seems to me, in the light of these figures, that although we seem to have done well since the days of 785 1960, we would be speaking very much against our own interests if we allowed it to be thought that it was time now to go back on the Robbins' report.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ Lord Crowther-Hunt
My Lords, I understand from the noble Lord, Lord Pennock, that he could not stay on long enough to make his speech, so he indicated that I should follow the noble Lord, Lord Fulton.
We are all indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for initiating this debate which looks like turning into something of a midnight feast or midnight wake.
§ Lord Crowther-Hunt
At the risk of taking it just beyond midnight, may I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Riveaulx, on his maiden speech. No doubt that is a rather presumptious thing to do for someone who gave me the privilege of a junior post in one of his Governments; but not to have referred to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, might have been misinterpreted in some way or other, and I prefer to he presumptious rather than to be misinterpreted.
Anyway, this debate comes just at the right time: it comes at the time when the UGC is about to consider the replies to its letter to the universities of 1st November 1983 about the development of a strategy for higher education into the 1990s, as it is called. Replies—as noble Lords have pointed out—were due in by the end of this week, so besides the replies from the universities I hope the UGC will consider many of the points which are being made in this debate today.
In this context, I should like to make three quick points. My first or starting point is the letter that the Secretary for Education, Sir Keith Joseph, sent to the UGC on 14th July 1982. In that famous or infamous, letter—depending on one's point of view—Sir Keith talked about what he called the restructuring of the universities following the Government's decision to make a lower level of resources available to them. That letter has been much maligned, but I should like to start by saying something good about it. In what the Secretary of State for Education was euphemistically calling restructuring he was in fact, although cutting back, putting forward and supporting some very important new principles at that time. First, he said he was supporting the idea that the reduction should, as it was put,be applied selectively in the context of subject provision across the country as a whole".He emphasised that this should,involve a change in the distribution of students towards natural science and technology".Secondly, he said that the universities should be able to respond positively to meet our national needs and he invited the UGC to give particular attention to demands for manpower and research which, as he put it,are likely to contribute to, and be generated by, our economic recovery".I was glad to hear the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, stress that it is still Government policy to push people more in the direction of science and technology.
786 Those seem to be admirable sentiments and are indeed a condemnation of the relatively unplanned expansion in our universities which followed the report of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins. That report enunciated, as has been mentioned this evening, the general principle that we should provide enough places in higher education, as it was put, "for those qualified and willing to take them up". That was admirable in itself but to that principle was added the phrase, "in the subjects of their choice". So the guiding principle of the great expansion that took place after the Robbins Report became providing enough places in higher education for those qualified and willing to take them up and, "in the subjects of their choice". This meant that this big expansion in student numbers which then took place was proportionately greater on the arts and humanities side than in science and technology.
In this context, when I became Minister of State for Higher and Further Education in 1974 I remember, as it were, metaphorically hitting the roof when one of the first decisions I had to make in the department was to approve an extra grant of, I believe, £1 million to the UGC so that the universities could convert empty science places for use by arts and humanity students. That is a concrete illustration that the great expansion which then took place did so without any proper sense of priorities, or indeed with a total lack of priorities, at that time. So I commend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and the UGC for their proper sense of priorities; that is, changing the distribution of students towards the natural sciences and technology. That is clearly where our future lies.
Here I criticise, or venture to criticise, the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, who seemed rather to imply that the judgment was to be found only among those who had read the arts and humanities, as though scientists and technologists are bereft of all sense of judgment. Our future—and this is where I support what the Government are doing—is pushing more people in the direction of science and technology. But it is at this point that I part company from both the UGC and the Government. While I applaud their priority of changing the emphasis in favour of science based subjects, in my view they are entirely wrong to be doing so within a policy of reducing student numbers in our universities and in higher education generally.
This is where we come to this vexed question of student demand. The Department of Education and Science estimates that student demand for places will drop by between 20 per cent. and 25 per cent. between 1989–90 and 1995. But that is absolute nonsense and a nonsensical way of planning higher education. It is based on some sort of concept of natural demand. But there is no such thing as natural demand. This was a point I remember making very forcefully to my civil servants in the Department of Education in 1974–75 when I was asked to approve their reduced estimate of demand for places in higher education in the early 1980s; their reduced estimate of demand to give effect to the Robbins principle of providing enough places in higher education for those qualified and willing to take them up. I was asked, in the maintenance of this principle, to approve and announce a reduced estimate of places needed in the 1980s; a reduction to 640,000 from the then planning figure of 700,000.
787 Noble Lords will recall that at one time, at an earlier stage, it was thought that to give effect to the Robbins principle we would need over 800,000 places in the early 1980s. That figure, to give effect to the Robbins principle, was dropped to 750,000 and then to 700,000. I was on the receiving end of having to make an announcement that the principle was still being maintained but that now 640,000 would be needed in the 1980s. The explanation that I was given by my civil servants for this was that they had over-estimated demand. It was not that the department had got the size of the relevant age group wrong; after all, we had 18 years' notice of the size of the relevant age group. What they had misunderstood or mis-estimated was the size of the demand from that age group. That was the explanation given to me on why I was having to make the announcement that we were now planning for 640,000 places.
I remember at that time asking my officials if they thought that student demand for places at our universities would increase if I were able to announce a doubling of the student grant in financial terms. What would that do to demand? They said that it was not a very fair question and that it was, in any case, hypothetical. I then asked, "What would happen to student demand if I abolished student grants tomorrow, if I could do that, and moved to a loan system?" They said, "That is a hypothetical question, too, because you are not going to do that". What this was saying was that there is some concept of God-given student demand; but there is no such thing as a God-given concept of student demand. Student demand is something that can be manipulated upwards or downwards depending on the financial and other inducements of the time. Therefore, to base the planning of our higher education system on the concept of student demand and estimates of it in the late 1980s and 1990s is, I suggest, a lot of nonsense.
In my view, what we should be doing is for the Department of Education and the UGC to follow a very different approach. They should decide what proportion of age group we, as a country, would find it is in our national interest to educate to university level. Having made that decision, they should use the techniques of demand management to get that number of students coming forward. Of course, that is no easy policy, either. But as some guide what we ought to do is find out first of all what proportion of an age group—the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, gave us some interesting figures a moment ago—are given university or equivalent level education in, say, France, West Germany, Scandinavian countries, the United States and Japan. I do not mean what proportion enters university and higher education; I mean what proportion of an age group comes out, because we all know that in the United States many people enter higher education but that there is an enormous wastage rate. What we want to know is what proportion is actually educated to university level and in higher education and comes out at the other end in these different countries.
I found that information enormously difficult to obtain from the Department of Education. It had not thought of this as something to be looked at. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord may have managed to 788 squeeze some figures on this aspect from the department and can give them tonight. What we want are figures showing what proportion of an age group comes out of higher education and universities in other countries.
Then, because I believe that in this country we have as high a proportion of talent in an age group as they have in the United States, Japan, Western Germany or anywhere else, we should seek to emulate and reach the proportions that they are producing. I think that nothing less than this will be good enough to give us the highly trained manpower and educated manpower that we need. When we know what proportion of an age group we are aiming at, we can then set about getting that proportion wanting to come into higher education and we can use differential grants to get them moving in the right direction.
My last and third point (and I will be quick about this) is an attack on the UGC. The UGC is today, in my view, badly composed for its original role as a buffer between the Government and the universities, preserving the independence of the universities from the Government which controls the purse strings. It used to share, as the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, was saying, in some sort of policy co-ordination or policy development with the Government. It is no longer fitted to do that. Its members are essentially nominees of the Department of Education and Science. That is how they are chosen; that is how you get on the University Grants Committee. Secondly, its staff is almost entirely drawn from civil servants seconded by the Department of Education and Science to serve the UGC for a short period of time. Thirdly, of course, just in case it gets slighty independent, the UGC hardly ever meets unless the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Education and Science is present at its meetings. It is a pure lap dog and is no longer the independent policy-making policy advisory body that it should be. We want a UGC which is not a poodle of the Department of Education. We want a UGC, perhaps merged with the NAB, which is capable of advising the Government on what this country really needs in higher education if it is to match the highly trained output of educated manpower which so many of our competitors seem to be producing. Above all, we want a UGC which will stand firm against any Government whose overall higher education policies are clearly misguided and do not match our national needs.
§ 6.52 p.m
§ Lord Perry of Walton
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, not only for initiating this debate but also for saying things that I believe badly needed saying, and I should like to reinforce his arguments. I listened with a great deal of interest to my noble friend Lord Flowers, who spoke with great fluency about the changes that have already taken place in the universities. Of course, he is absolutely right: they have moved a very long way, much further than I ever thought they would.
However, I do not think they have been radical enough. I am of course, like the noble Lord, Lord Annan, another of the impatient, retired vice-chancellors, of whom my noble friend Lord Flowers 789 spoke. He rightly stressed the importance of scholarship. The great glory of the English university system was that it deliberately set out to produce, and often succeeded in producing, the scholars of the next generation. It was geared to the needs of what my noble friend Lord Ashby has called "the thin clear stream of excellence" that is academic excellence. It was a system that made entry competitive and it catered for a system that made entry competitive and it catered for an intellectual élite. It was a system that served the nation well over many years. It was a system that was very efficient in terms of the proportion entrants who graduated. It had a success rate in terms of the proportion of entrants who graduated that was around 90 per cent.—higher than any other system of higher education. It was a system that achieved all this and still managed to award honours degrees in only three years, unlike other countries, which took four. It was a system in which most people took pride. But within it there were serious defects that became more and more apparent as the general level of school education rose and as comparisons began to be made with the emerging systems of higher education in other developed countries. Our system looked efficient because it made very few errors of commission; but it achieved this only by making a very large number of errors of omission. It did nothing at all for the 90 to 95 per cent. of the age group who were excluded from it.
In the United States of America, about 40 per cent. of the age group were entering some form of higher education when our proportion was 6 per cent. They had what looked like a very inefficient system—only about 50 per cent. came out at the other end with degrees, compared to our 90 per cent.—but 50 per cent. of 40 per cent. is 20 per cent., and 90 per cent. of 6 per cent. is only 5 per cent., so which was the more efficient system?
The increasing demand for higher education and the realisation that we were not educating a large enough proportion of our young people, led to the Robbins Report and to acceptance of the principle that all those qualified for university entry should be assured of it. This was very important and of course we tried to cling to it; but, in implementing the principle, we simply expanded the existing system, making it cater for more students.
I hold, as did the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that this was the major mistake. The country needed many more educated men and women; it did not need more scholars, and our system was geared to the production and the nurture of scholarship. But academic excellence is only one kind of excellence. Most young people, however intelligent, do not really want to become scholars: they want to go out into the world and do things, but they were not getting the sort of training they needed for that. The essence of academic scholarship is study in depth. How many times has that phrase been used to describe the purposes of honours degrees or of Ph.D programmes? But we can have study in depth only by neglecting study in breadth. Life in the extra-mural world demands an understanding of a very large number of different things, and a very detailed understanding of only one is not enough.
I come from an academic background and I, like my colleagues, used to sneer at the college curriculum 790 followed by many Americans, referring to it as "a rag-bag of miscellaneous credits". But I think I was wrong. I think that some of those rag-bags may well have been just the sort of education that those students needed for the jobs they went into and that many of our own students would find them much more useful than some of their current programmes. We now have 15 per cent. of the age group entering higher education and we have improved the programmes they study very considerably, but we do not yet have the 40 per cent. to 50 per cent. entry that they have in the United States and we are already finding that our current system costs too much. We must go on nurturing the "thin clear stream of academic excellence". Perhaps we ought to do it in the eight centres of excellence that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was advocating, but however we do it, the stream is thin. The rest need something different, something broader, something cheaper, and we must find the ways to pay the bills to provide for even more of our young people getting some exposure to higher education.
I wish I knew how we might change the system. I feel like I often did when I practised medicine: I am sure of the diagnosis but not very sure about the treatment. We have tried experiments with CAT, with polytechnics, with colleges of higher education, but none of them have really worked. I think the main obstacle to change lies in the deep-seated belief in the minds of most British parents that the most successful, most prestigious careers for their children lie in the learned professions. Their aim, and indeed the aim of most teachers, is to train the young to succeed academically to obtain first class degrees and to proceed to a career in the university as dons. It somehow seems a bit of a failure for someone to get a good degree and then have to take a job in industry. It is this attitude that we must change. If we could do so, radical changes in the patterns of education would become both acceptable and possible. It will need a lot of political ingenuity and will to achieve that change, but the gain to the nation would be immense.
My Lords, I now turn, if I may, to the particular problem of the Open University. I gave 13 years of my life to trying to build it and I claim a right to speak with some authority, if not with the fluency and the wit of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, in his excellent maiden speech. The political will of the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, established the Open University, and the imaginative dedication of the noble Baroness, Lady Lee of Asheridge, laid down its ground rules. I was the first member of staff and had the job—the most exciting job in the educational world at the time—of implementing their ideas. At that time I was a member of no political party, and one of my aims was, while recognising that the university owed its origin to the Labour Party, to take it, as a national institution, out of the arena of party politics. When the Conservatives won the 1970 election and our present Prime Minister became Minister of Education, I was of course delighted when she stood up for the new institution and kept it in being throughout that Administration. It is, I think, true that by the time I retired in 1981 the Open University had become a part of the educational establishment, accepted by all parties as a necessary part.
But, my Lords, things have recently begun to change for the worst. It is only to be expected that when it is 791 Government policy to cut deeply into public expenditure, the Open University should be asked to bear its share of the burden of cuts. But it is being asked to bear an unreasonable share; and it is in fact the kind of institution which requires exceptional treatment—and I am unashamedly indulging in special pleading.
I am not making out a special case on social grounds, though it is easy to do that, and indeed several noble Lords have alluded to it. I shall speak only of hard, economic facts. We built the Open University as an institution designed to cater for large numbers of students. In our first year (1971) we admitted 24,000 students. To achieve high standards in the courses that were offered demanded very high initial expenditure, but on the other hand there was a built-in economy of scale. At the moment one course in science and technology—a course equaivalent to half a full-time year's study—can cost about £1 million to produce. But it costs the same whether it is taken by one student or by a million students. The direct cost for every extra student is very low. The whole system was built on this concept
At the moment the university is being forced to consider ways of cutting its costs. Let me look at just three of them. Can it reduce its broadcasting costs? It currently pays the BBC £10 million a year for the services provided. If it cut the number of programmes by half, it would save £1 million out of the £10 million. Most costs are fixed in keeping the production studio running. It would make more economic sense to increase their utilisation.
Can the university reduce the number of undergraduates? Of course it can. But if it reduces the total number by 10 per cent.—that is, by 6,000—it saves nothing whatsoever. The fees paid by a student in the Open University—forced up and up by Government decisions—are now almost exactly equal to the direct cost of teaching that student. Thus to increase the number of students now costs nothing at all until the increase is such as to lead to a quantum jump in the fixed overhead costs. But, similarly, it is necessary to reduce student numbers by a big enough amount—probably between 20 to 25 per cent.—before significant savings are realised by a quantum drop in the fixed overheads. If such a reduction were made, what would happen? The cost per student or the cost per graduate—the unit cost—which is currently the lowest in the country, would simply go up. That would not be the way to increase efficiency.
Could the university then cut the number of courses that it offers? Yes, of course it could. But again there are problems. It saves nothing to cut existing courses. There they are, lying on the shelf. The choice to students of courses to make up a meaningful degree programme is already very small—much smaller than than in any other university—because of the high initiation costs. The only way to cut the number of courses on offer is to stop production; but now that we have reached at the Open University the level that we aimed for, most new courses being produced are replacing out-of-date courses, and so there would be an inevitable reduction in standards; and a reduction in standards is the one thing that will kill off an institution quicker than anything else.
792 I hope that I have said enough to show that the present policy of the Government in relation to the Open University makes just economic nonsense. In order to save between £5 million, on their own estimate of inflation, and about twice that amount in terms of what the Open University considers it has to save, they run the risk of destroying a quite unique institution, admired and copied across the world. The Government's policy has already had a profound effect in reducing morale in the institution.
I have been delighted to hear tributes to the Open University from so many noble Lords this afternoon. I agree so much with the noble Lord, Lord Alport, that demand from adults for education will go on increasing. Some of it could be met so easily by expanding, at very low cost, the Open University. But that will be impossible if it is damaged, as I believe it will be, by the present cuts.
Finally, let me try to link what I have been saying about the Open University to my earlier thesis about the overall shape of higher education. The Open University does, indeed, offer a much more broadly based degree than do most other universities. It does, indeed, offer a three-year pass degree and a four-year honours degree. It does not demand specialised entry qualifications. It has in fact made the very sort of changes that I have argued should be made within the conventional institutions. In making these changes it has not produced second-rate degrees; but it has produced a degree that is recognised to be of equal quality, if of different structure, to any other in the country. If that can he done in the special case of the Open University, then it can be done elsewhere. However, it requires an act of political will—just as did the formation of the Open University. The educational world would never have created the Open University; nor will it reform itself radically from within.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Lord Todd
My Lords, I must begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for two things: first, for introducing a very important subject for debate today; and, secondly, for giving us the opportunity of hearing a most excellent maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx. It was, if I may say so, a speech in which he revealed not merely an interest in, but a very considerable knowledge of, both the Open University and the technical universities at least, coming from his office as chancellor of Bradford.
I shall be brief this evening. First, I should say that I share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, about things that have gone wrong in our universities in recent years. I should perhaps add that I am not surprised to find myself in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, because on many issues we begin by being diametrically opposite, but after a few years we discover that we have come together again; and that I believe applies a little to this question of higher education.
I think that everybody would agree that changes are necessary. I must confess that I feel that many of the problems we have—problems of the relations between universities and industry, problems over our relative backwardness in matters of innovation—rest on social attitudes. In particular, they rest on the curious anti- 793 industrial bias which has marked our society since about the middle of the last century. No doubt there were many factors involved in shaping the kind of society that we inherited from the nineteenth century. But it seems clear that, for whatever reason, the successful entrepreneur-industrialists who put this country in the lead in the early days of the Industrial Revolution did not, as a rule, wish their offspring to follow in their footsteps. They sought, by education, to take them out of industry and put them into a non-industrial social élite. This tendency was reinforced last century by the phenomenal growth of our Empire, particularly during the latter part of the century. With it came a great demand for people who could administer and organise this huge Empire. To be an administrator or, if you like, a servant of Empire, was a job much more in keeping with the idea of the wholly mythical English gentleman. A position like that was very much more socially acceptable than operating in industry. Not only was that the case, but with it there came a gradual change in our educational patterns—because educational patterns rest on social attitudes—to accord with the production of the scholarly administrator, the servant of Empire.
At the same time there was a separation and downgrading of technical and industrial education in favour of what we now regard as the traditional type of university education which was, in fact, the pattern of our older universities. This separation and downgrading brought about a separation of the engineer and the technologist from the élite of British society, a separation that never occurred either on the Continent of Europe or in America. It was, I believe, the feather-bedding effect of wealth derived from our colonial Empire that for a long time concealed from us just what was happening to us. Indeed, it is only since the last war that we have really come to realise the plight that we are in. We are still a very long way from getting it put right. There is still a great change of heart necessary in many areas of our national life, and not only in higher education.
It would be impossible in a short contribution to a debate like this to do more than touch on one or two features of our higher educational scene. I shall speak in a general way. As I shall be speaking in a general way about broad problems, I do not intend to produce any statistics. A number of statistics have already been put to us. I believe that we missed a great opportunity in this country some 20 or so years ago when, as a consequence of the Robbins report on higher education, we approximately doubled the number of our universities and set out with success—let us be clear that it was with success—vastly to increase the number of students. This increase has had, as a few of us predicted at the time, rather unfortunate results because it did not involve any real attempt to change the pattern of our university education.
No one would seriously dispute the thesis that higher education should be available to all those who can profit from it. The trouble is that in creating these new universities and expanding existing ones we proceeded, in my view, to put into universities many students with no real motivation for the type of élitist, almost anti-industrial, education of our traditional universities whose pattern all of the new ones sought in varying degree to follow.
794 The reservoir of talent appropriate to that type of education was far smaller than many people at the time imagined. Many, and, in my view, a majority of the new entrants to the universities would have been very much better served, as would the nation, if they had undertaken a more vocational type of education such as, at least, could have been provided by the polytechnics. Expansion and development of these institutions, the polytechnics, was what we really needed at that time. With that expansion, we also needed a much greater degree of technical or, if you wish, industrial orientation in at least the scientific and technological courses in our existing universities.
But, of course, simply to point out where we went wrong is not of very much help, except perhaps as a warning for the future. Had funds for higher education remained as readily available today as they were 25 years ago, we would probably still have muddled through. It is a fact that almost any system will work provided money is unlimited and growth is the order of the day. But, alas, the financial winds now blow cold. We have been, and are, faced with cuts in university and polytechnic expenditure which, already severe, could become even worse. What then should be done? I shall mention only a few matters that seem to me to warrant urgent and serious attention.
I think that everyone agrees that in the world of today, industrial progress depends ultimately on research. Of course, there are many different kinds of research, from the so—called pure or basic research through strategic, applied, directed and all the rest of it. All of these forms of research are important. All that I will say here is that the pure or basic research is essentially a function of the universities, and that the applied and directed forms of research become increasingly prominent as one proceeds through polytechnics to industry itself. Broadly speaking, universities operate under a dual support system. According to it, speaking very roughly, they have a grant placed on the number of students that they have. It is assumed that a more or less fixed proportion of the grant is available to provide a base for research, additional grants for specific pieces of research being provided on top of that by the research councils.
We hear a lot, most of which I do not believe, about research being the absolute lifeblood of every university. We are told that it is essential to the maintenance of teaching that only those who are deeply involved in research can teach properly, in addition to the fact, as I would admit, that from pure research come the concepts on which ultimately technological progress depends. I do not think, however, that anyone who has been in charge of large scientific departments in universities over a long period of time would be inclined to agree with the statement that unless a man is deeply involved in research, he will be no good at teaching. That is simply not true.
However, as things stand, these appeals and cries from universities have meant that we find ourselves faced with heavy expenditure to maintain research schools more or less everywhere in all the popular subjects. The cost of these research schools rises every year with the forward march of instrumentation. I do not believe that we need 50 research schools of chemistry or physics in this country. Nor do I believe 795 that we have the people available in sufficient number to have 50 first-class schools.
Especially when money is short, why do we not concentrate and avoid trying to do everything in every university? The noble Lord, Lord Flowers, tonight drew attention to the fact that some kind of concentration was now—rather belatedly, if I may say so—being put into action in London. Why do we not have it on a very much wider basis? After all, why should not some of our universities become essentially teaching institutions? There are many great universities in America whose reputations rest upon teaching rather than upon research. I know that it will not be easy to make some sort of decision about which universities should do what. Indeed, it will be very difficult. But I still think that we must face up to this and stop pretending that all of our universities should be, or even could be, centres of excellence in research.
On the teaching side, I would like to see an increased practical bias in much of our teaching, especially in science and technology. I draw your Lordships' attention to the recent recommendations from the Engineering Council about practical bias in engineering courses in universities. That points the way ahead and it could apply in a good many other fields apart from engineering. There should also he an extension of polytechnic education. The polytechnics could, with profit, take into technologically-oriented studies some, at any rate, of those now in universities, and particularly those now pursuing social studies of rather dubious value.
In summary, what I am trying to say is this. Our continuing industrial decline stems largely from our archaic educational system which, in turn, rests on what I would almost call anti-industrial social attitudes in this country—attitudes which have developed over quite a long period of time. As long as we had the feather-bedding effect of a large colonial Empire, our decline was largely concealed from us. Now, however, only a radical reform will get us out of the trouble that we are in. That reform will, I believe, entail a restructuring of our entire educational system with a reduction in specialisation at all levels. The present concentration on scholarship and pure research should remain only—as, for example, in the United States—in a few elite university institutions; most of our other universities should become more practically oriented teaching institutions. The polytechnic sector ought to be stimulated and enlarged relative to the university sector. But the polytechnics must remember that they are vocational institutions. They must stick to their last and they must not seek to ape the older institutions.
The trouble at present is that we have a vastly expensive system of higher education designed for, and probably appropriate to, the few; but we are busy trying to push it on to the many, and we are doing that at a time when we are in sore financial straits and we really cannot afford the waste of talent that is inherent in the system that we have at present.
§ 7.24 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, were it not for the seriousness of the subject that we are debating this evening, I must admit that my first reaction to the 796 speech of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, to whom we are all so grateful, would be one of mild amusement. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, has been saying to a respectful and hushed House of Lords things about the difficulties of our system of higher education which a few radicals like myself were howled down for saying in the 1960s, when the first evidence of what was happening should have been plain. It is, of course, nice to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Annan, to our ranks, however belatedly.
What were the reasons for believing that the higher education—
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to clarify one point? Is he saying that in the 1960s he was in favour of large-scale expansion and easier access to higher education?
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, that was not the point in the noble Lord's speech to which I was referring. I was referring to his belief that we should have a more varied system of higher education with greater differentiation among institutions, and that there were in our management of higher education important obstacles to achieving that aim. My reason for taking that view at the time was that there was a major watershed in our affairs when the UGC was transferred from the Treasury—with which it had previously worked directly—to the Department of Education and Science (as it became). It seemed to me then, and it still seems to me, inappropriate that a department which has a massive responsibility for a quite different kind of activity—namely, education in the schools—should also take on this particular task. It seemed to me almost inevitable that, with a major Government department balancing one form of educational expenditure against another (and. of course, in the Robbins period it was the universities which profited at the expense of the schools—but later things became different) there would be an increasing degree of control from the centre, an increasing degree of uniformity, and all the matters which the noble Lord. Lord Annan, and the noble Lord. Lord Todd, with whom I totally agree, now proclaim.
By chance I was enabled to test the receptivity of our system of higher education to innovation, when I took part in founding the University College at Buckingham, which as the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, pointed out, actually tackled at least one of the major legacies of the past—the harvest year as the measure of academic activity. The discovery I made in the course of those years in the early 1970s was that the obstacles to innovation were enormous.
We were opposed—perhaps not surprisingly, given the political control at the time—by the Department of Education and Science and by its offshoot, the CNAA. We experienced great opposition in the form of almost everything except mass picketing from the AUT, which is a trade union of so reactionary a cast that it makes even the print unions appear very enlightened exponents of technological advance.
We were opposed by the educational press, which were always asking us the same question: "Will not the fact that you depend largely upon private endowment mean that there will be strings attached?". I wonder what the present vice-chancellors think of their 797 relations with the Government? Ropes or chains, perhaps, would be more appropriate than strings. We were opposed—and this is the most regretful thing of all—by the major part of the university establishment outside Oxford and Cambridge—that is to say, by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and by the people who spoke on behalf of the established universities.
I should like, particularly as we are to have the pleasure of listening to him later, to pay a personal tribute to the courage of the noble Lord, Lord Hunter of Newington, who was the only vice-chancellor who accepted an invitation to the opening ceremony of the University College at Buckingham. I should also like to thank him for the very considerable help we received from the University of Birmingham in those early years.
As is now well-known, we survived this phalanx of opposition—largely, I think, due to the confidence expressed from the beginning in our experiment by three individuals. They were the present Prime Minister, the present Secretary of State for Education and Science, and the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who now combines the august office of state that he holds with the relatively modest one of the first Chancellor of the University of Buckingham. I should also like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to him.
Many noble Lords who have spoken today have seen this important system operating, as it were, from the top down as Ministers, as vice-chancellors of great universities, or as members of the UGC or of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. Unlike them, I have seen this system from the underneath; I have the same view of the system as a worm might have of a system of agriculture.
What do I derive from this experience?—the view that our universities suffer from a controlling structure which is so top-heavy that even if they were filled, as they are perhaps not filled, by individuals with a genius for innovation, they would face a very severe task in carrying out their innovations. It is a tribute to them that they have gone as far as the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, reminded us that they have in very recent years. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, reminded us that we have the Treasury—the Treasury is always there.
I regret to say that under the Treasury (because this is the pecking order in all Cabinets) there is the Department of Education and Science. Under the Department of Education and Science there are the University Grants Committee and the research councils. Below them there is the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, which itself is now a major bureaucracy. Then there are the universities themselves. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that by comparison with some institutions in other countries our universities are rather modest in their administrative requirements and expenditure. But their administrative requirements are made very much greater than they otherwise would be by having to answer to and to deal with this immense pyramid of authorities which they confront.
At the bottom of the heap we are left with the people about whom we should primarily be concerned—the individual teacher and the individual student. The 798 individual student goes to his teacher for instruction, hut the teacher is probably occupied filling in a questionnaire from the University Grants Committee, and he tells the student to go away and return when he is less busy. This is not altogether a caricature. When I return to Oxford these days and compare the Oxford of today with the Oxford I first knew as a young fellow before the war, I am very much struck by the degree of de-personalisation—the degree to which teachers are absorbed and taken away from their work by the needs of administration, and by the needs of arguing about the resources for their respective subjects.
It is perhaps not surprising that major changes of the kind which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, would like to see—major differentiation—are very difficult to achieve because many of the teachers, who might otherwise be to the forefront—because, in a sense, many disciplines would gain if, for instance, there were some amalgamation of departments—are overwhelmed by a form of organisation which detracts from their ability to give academic leadership or to devote themselves to their pupils in a way which would have seemed normal a generation ago.
We would have to begin at the top. We would have to begin by making a major change which would put universities and their services to the state and to the nation in the forefront of the public and political mind. For this reason I regret that a suggestion made by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, when he was in Opposition was not carried out when he came to power in 1964—namely, that what this country ought to have had was a department of higher education and science linking together research and higher forms of education, and representing in Cabinet and to the nation the importance which all speakers here have attached to the contribution that can be made. It seems to me that, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, not only must we be radical about institutions, but in this respect we have to be radical about the machinery of government.
§ 7.37 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, speaking as he does entirely without any script. On this occasion it would be churlish not to join in extending to him the congratulations which he has bestowed so liberally on himself. The noble Lord presented himself on surviving in the face of possible odds. I do not want to hurt the noble Lord's feelings, but, after all, the noble Lord is not the only Member of this House who has seen matters from what he calls "the worm's eye view", although I do not think there is anybody else but the noble Lord who has actually started a small university. Most of us have been students at some time or other at a university, and a few of us have been college tutors. When I initiated the first debate ever held in this House on universities in 1957 I was the only college tutor: now there are quite a number. So I am afraid that I shall not allow the noble Lord to exercise a sort of monopoly in "life at the coal face".
A debate of this kind takes me back to the days which I have just mentioned. I initiated a debate in 1957 in which I pleaded for a great expansion of the universities and, incidentally, for less specialisation. I was followed by Lord Cherwell who took a similar line 799 to that which has just been adopted by the noble Lord, Lord Todd, demanding a great increase in engineering students. We were replied to by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, as he then was, who, on that occasion at least, expressed a good deal of sympathy.
In 1962 I was back again, this time dividing the House—and we got a very credible Division for those days—against the failure of the Government adequately to expand the universities. Lord Hailsham again replied, this time rather more sharply. But between those dates I proposed the idea, which then was so revolutionary, of transferring the responsibility from the Treasury to the Ministry of Education. If anyone looks up that Hansard he will see that there were quite a few shouts of "Oh", which I suppose is the nearest to a protest that is made in this House. Lord Hailsham said that I was clearly pulling a hornets' nest about my ears. However, not very much later that was duly carried into force and has been operated ever since, though I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, likes it very much.
Those were the old days. In the last 20-odd years there have been two big developments. The adoption of the Robbins Report—the ever memorable Robbins Report—which has been applauded by a number of speakers including the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, for example. That was a tremendous step forward. That committee was set up by a Conservative Government, and all credit to them. When they reported, their report was adopted by a Conservative Government; so all credit to them again. However, as time went on the virtue of the Conservatives declined, and by 1981 we had the new policy, and we had the chairman, as he then was, of the vice-chancellors saying that the new policy was profoundly misguided and that it represented a kind of madness. There was no doubt that there was a sharp departure on the part of the Conservative Government in 1981 when they repudiated the Robbins principle. There is no escaping that fact. It was adopted in 1963. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, regretted that, but it was adopted in 1963, and repudiated in 1981. That is the history of the struggle to expand our universities.
Now there are many people here in the Labour Party, like my eloquent noble friend the principal spokesman today, Lady David, who will state the main case against the Government policy. She stated it fully, and I naturally endorse all she said, so I shall not spend long repeating those damning arguments. I must confine myself to just two topics, and I shall try to deal with them briefly. On the one hand, I should like to say one more word about the Open University beyond what was said earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, who played the main part in creating it. Before doing that I should like to congratulate him most fervently on his delightful maiden speech. I felt sure that it would be good, but it was even better than I expected.
What I was going to add to what he said about the Open University is something that has been brought to me in view of my connection these days with the whole question of the disabled. The authorities at the Open University have brought home to me the fact, which I am bound to say I was not fully aware, that the Open University do a tremendous amount for the disabled.
800 They say:The Open University has often been referred to as the university of the second chance. There is, however, a very significant group of students for whom this institute and this university are the only chance. Of prime concern among this group are currently some 2,000 disabled students.With all these vast figures of money and student numbers being bandied about, I should like to ask the House for a moment to concentrate on the 2,000 disabled students who are very likely to suffer under the proposals of the Government. I gave notice of only an hour or so to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, and therefore I cannot expect a considered reply to this, but if he is unable to reply tonight perhaps he will be able to let me know whether the Government are fully aware of the peril to the disabled students at the Open University. That is a question that I should like to put to the Government for answer now or later.
The only other topic with which I am going to deal is a question that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, though I missed part of his speech. I am not quite sure how far it could be said to have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, but I think he was concerned with it too; it is this question of the UGC. It seems a fairly wide-held opinion in the university world, certainly it was the opinion expressed by the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford in his oration last November, that the cuts, in additon to the quantitative damage, may also do some further damage by way of by-product. In other words, they would tend to lessen the autonomy of the universities.
At this time of night I am not going to spell that out. If anybody would like to know what the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford has said about that, no doubt he will be able to obtain a copy of his speech. However, let us take that threat to be one which is at any rate feared by a good many of the leading people in the university world. What kind of protection does the UGC offer? I would say none at all. As I believe the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, said, it has become an agent of Government. This is a view widely held, certainly among my own political friends. It has become for all practical purposes a busted flush. We must ask ourselves, in other words, what good the UGC now does.
There was a time when something of that sort was inevitable. In the days when the Treasury were responsible for the universities it was inevitable that some educational organisation should come between them and the universities. There was some justification for it in those days. But today that particular necessity has been removed, and I would suggest that the University Grants Committee has ceased to assist the universities and has just become an agent, and a not very efficient agent, of central government, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said, excels itself in sending out tremendous questionnaires to justify its existence.
I therefore leave the question on the table tonight, supporting the view that I believe has been expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, that so far as the University Grants Committee is concerned its time is up. I shall only say, as Leo Amery said to Neville Chamberlain:You have sat here too long for any good you are doing. In the name of God, go!801 That is a message which I hope the University Grants Committee will be able to understand without the help of an elaborate questionnaire as to its actual meaning.
You may ask me what I intend to put in its place. Supposing that somebody is interested in that question—I see that I have been speaking for 10 minutes, which is quite enough at this time of night—the proposals of my party, which in general terms I am ready to endorse although not committed to every detail, have been spelled out at great length elsewhere. I therefore end on the thought that the universities' freedom is threatened by the cuts in addition to all the other damage done, and that the University Grants Committee is of no assistance. Indeed, the sooner it disappears, the better.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Lord Alexander of Potterhill
My Lords, as this debate has proceeded I have had serious doubts as to whether I should make any contibution to it at all, because I find myself unhappy. But I have been greatly encouraged by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Todd, who seemed to me to say some of the things that I would have wished to say. I entirely accept the importance of a complete review of the structure and administration of higher education, and in that term I include the polytechnics as well as the universities and other colleges.
However, I believe it is even more important to recognise the need for a complete review of the whole education service and not merely higher education. The Act of 1944 has now been on the statute book for 40 years, which is at least 10 years more than any previous Education Act survived: 1870; 1902; 1921; 1944. It is time we had a new Education Act altogether, because the present structure of the education service is designed not for the 21st century but very much for the earlier part of the 20th century. My worries have increased because of the continued, in my judgment, over-emphasis on academic values. Frankly, I believe that the over-emphasis on academic values has done more to prevent the development of an effective education service than almost any other single thing. We set up technical high schools; they became grammar schools. We set up colleges of advanced technology; they became universities. We have now set up polytechnics, and I wonder what road they will travel.
The plain fact is—and this is where I found Lord Todd's contribution so relevant—that the needs of the 21st century will depend very much more on the study of science and technology than on the study of the subjects which are held high in esteem in terms of academic value. I fear that the universities are not ready to recognise that fact. After all, it was the universities' resistance that prevented the colleges of advanced technology from being able to award degrees when they were first established.
The other thing that has worried me is the apparent assumption that there is a high correlation between the provision of higher education and the economic strength and social stability of a nation. Unless I am misinformed, the facts of history prove very much to the contrary. There is a limited correlation, but there is a very high correlation between the education that all of the people in a nation get and the economic 802 strength and social stability of the nation. If your Lordships doubt that, I remind you that in 1917 Russia probably had one of the best systems of higher education in the world, but in the absence of adequate provision of education for all the people revolution was inevitable. Therefore I think we should put very much more emphasis on the education that all the people receive. I plead for a new Education Act because I think the present Act is inadequate for future needs.
I worry about our provision for the 16 to 19-year-olds which lags so far behind and is being approached, in my opinion, so thoroughly badly at present. The concept of young people leaving school at 16 and getting a job, in my opinion is as dead as a dodo. Unemployment among that group of young people is not transient; it is permanent. Therefore we have to look to the future in which we provide a thorough system of education up to the age of 18-plus for all our people.
My other worry is even more deep-seated. I always believed that the education service, properly developed, would lead to people as a whole acting reasonably, showing a sense of responsibility, being able to make judgments on a reasonable basis. Judged in these terms, the education service in this country has failed signally. This is surely accepted by all of us and at all levels. It is not merely in the schools that we have disciplinary problems. We have them throughout the structure, including the universities, where, in some cases, the behaviour of students leaves a very great deal to be desired.
Therefore I plead with the Government not merely to examine higher education, but to consider carefully whether the stage has now been reached where we have to take a new look at the whole of the education service, looking to the needs of the 21st Century rather than to the present.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Baroness Cox
My Lords, like other Members of your Lordships' House, I wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Annan, most warmly for giving us the opportunity to discuss this important subject. I would especially like to thank him for referring explicitly to polytechnics. This is because I believe that the polytechnic sector of higher education has a particular contribution to make and because I myself owe a debt of gratitude to polytechnics.
When I left school many years ago, it was not possible to combine nursing with going to university. I chose nursing and I have never regretted it. But when in later years it became possible for me to combine family responsibilities with part-time studies, it was a polytechnic which gave me the opportunity to work for both my first and my higher degrees, albeit under the aegis of the University of London's external degree system.
I, like many thousands of others, have benefited from the polytechnics' tradition of providing higher education on a more flexible basis than the universities. Subsequently I taught in polytechnics for 10 years, enjoying teaching students who typically came from a broader range of social and educational backgrounds and a wider age range than their university counterparts. Therefore, in my brief 803 contribution to this debate, I will concentrate on the polytechnics, touching on their development, the extent to which they are fulfilling their original brief and some of the issues now confronting them.
As your Lordships will remember, it was in 1965 that Anthony Crosland laid the foundations of the binary system of higher education in his famous speech at Woolwich Polytechnic. Then, in 1966, the White Paper A Plan for Polytechnics and Other Colleges spelt out in more detail the characteristics of this separate,strong and distinctive sector of higher education".It was to be distinguished by its comprehensive range and character of work, and especially by its commitment to part-time students and to a wide range of courses with closer and more direct links with industry, business and the professions.
However, the ways in which the polytechnics developed did not always correspond to Crosland's original vision. For example, in 1972, Anthony Crosland himself, speaking at a conference on the future of the polytechnics, described three different ways in which they had developed since their original designation. Some had sought to emulate universities, concentrating on degree level and postgraduate work. Others had concentrated on meeting regional needs, but were not noted for developing courses at the level of higher education; and only a minority were seen by Crosland as meeting the polytechnic ideal: in other words, not trying to ape the universities but offering higher education which was distinctive in its technical and vocational orientation, retaining a commitment to part-time courses and catering for a greater diversity of types of students than was generally found in universities.
As we moved from the 1970s into the 1980s we saw new trends emerging. In the last academic year there were over 507,000 full-time home students in higher education; the highest recorded level and an increase of 3 per cent. over the previous year. However, this coincided with a 7 per cent. fall since 1981 in first-year home students going to university, but an increase of nearly 25 per cent. in the non-university sector where the polytechnics predominate.
Similarly last year, 53 per cent. of all first-year students in full-time higher education were on courses outside the universities, compared with 47 per cent. in the universities. Only two years previously, these percentages were reversed, the majority being in universities. Now, in the early 1980s, the picture is one of overall, modest expansion of higher education but of a reduction of entrants to universities.
I think that these trends are worthy of comment with particular reference to the non-university sector. I will limit my comments to two areas. First, I am concerned about the lack of rationalisation resulting from an absence of an overall policy for higher education; secondly, I wish to raise the question of comparability of academic standards. On the first issue, your Lordships may recall that I emphasised at the outset my gratitude to and appreciation of the polytechnics. I believe that their raison d'être as originally specified in the 1966 White Paper is highly commendable. We need institutions of higher 804 education committed to the provision of the highest possible standards of vocational and technical education.
A number of polytechnics and departments within polytechnics have risen to this challenge but, as Crosland himself noted, a number have been eschewing their distinctive contribution and opting instead for a quasi-university role. It appears that this trend is still continuing to some extent. For example, last year the proportion of full-time students in non-university colleges studying arts subjects was over 23 per cent. That is higher than the proportion in the universities, which was just over 21 per cent. This is despite the fact that arts subjects are inevitably and, indeed, appropriately among the least vocational of all subjects. I hope that I do not appear to be hostile to the arts subjects; I merely point out that they are diminishing in the universities and expanding in the non-university sector which was intended to specialise in vocational, professional and industrially-based courses.
I am aware that the National Advisory Body is now attempting to achieve some rationalisation of resources and courses in the non-university sector. It has identified some of the questions that it will be considering but I have seen no reference to the question which was indicted by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, himself earlier as to whether we really need to maintain eight polytechnics in the London area. I should like to see this question considered because these colleges often have relatively small numbers of students in some departments which are expensive to maintain. Moreover, they often enjoy lavish funding in diverse areas ranging from well-staffed and well-equipped media resources units to student unions, with as many as six full-time, highly-politicised sabbatical officers paid from public funds. Is this a good use of resources, especially at a time when other sectors of higher education have been making considerable savings?
My Lords, I turn briefly from rationalisation of resources to academic standards. I must emphasise that the issue I am now going to raise is not intended to cast a slur on the polytechnic sector as a whole. But I am so concerned about the reputation of polytechnics that I do not wish to see them devalued. I will cite one specific example of which I have direct knowledge because it raises wider issues which have implications beyond that particular situation. I refer to the polytechnic of North London, where I was head of the Department of Sociology until 1977. That college suffered as much as, or more than, many others in the times of disruption in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I would not refer to that now if those were things of the past. The tragedy is that they continue—although only rarely is the press made aware of them because the college authorities wish to improve the college's image.
Only last year there was a major occupation which closed a library and disrupted both teaching and examinations. Earlier this academic year, many students were prevented from attending an academic lecture by a noisy and most unpleasant demonstration. But, perhaps most worryingly, certain academic practices are condoned which many outside that college believe are unacceptable. I refer, for instance, to the practice of circulating information about 805 examination questions on all the final honours degree papers in sociology three months in advance of those exams. Although this information is ostensibly in the form of revision themes, in recent practice in almost every case there has been a direct correspondence between the 12 themes and the 12 examination questions on every paper; and the wording may be virtually identical. I will, if I may, give two examples which would perhaps be entertaining if the matter were not so serious. Revision theme: "Marx and Psychology". Examination question: "Does Marx have a psychological theory?" Revision theme: "Medicine and social control". Examination question: "In what ways can medicine be said to function as an instrument of social control?"
My Lords, I have gone into this detail because it raises points of principle and questions of policy. The principle is that of comparability of academic standards. How many students elsewhere, agonising over revision for genuinely unseen examination papers for honours degree, would love to have some such explicit guidance?—and to be able to reduce the amount of revision accordingly! I know Open University students who have to revise with no such guidelines, who have been furious when they have heard of the system operating at that polytechnic. They feel that they have to work much harder and do not see why the polytechnic students' degree should be seen to be of equal value to theirs.
Moreover, a particularly worrying development occurred very recently. The Council for National Academic Awards, which is the degree-awarding body charged by Royal Charter to award degrees comparable in standards to those of universities, recommended that this practice of pre-circulating themes for revision should stop. In response, a busload of students went to the offices of the CNAA and demonstrated noisily outside, insisting on an interview with the chief officer. At the end of that interveiw, he immediately issued a letter conceding the students' demands and promising to recommend that the circulation of themes should continue. This letter was carried back in triumph to the polytechnic's director and the students have since been boasting of the effectiveness of their so-called direct action. I cannot help being worried about academic standards when those charged with the responsibility for maintaining them appear to be swayed by student action of this kind. And I am not alone in my concern about the CNAA. Others such as Professor Julian Gould have expressed similar anxieties.
My Lords, in conclusion, I emphasise that I have given examples of the continuing problems at the Polytechnic of North London because they illustrate two points. First, that as a nation we must be sure that none of our institutions of higher education gives students academic short shrift or abuse the precious resources entrusted to their charge, and that while academic freedom is protected there is sufficient accountability to see that it is not abused. Secondly, precisely because I believe in the value of the contribution which the polytechnics can make to higher education, I should like to see them developing in ways which are true to their original remit. As a nation, we need the highest possible standards of education in vocational and technical subjects.
806 The tragedy of a situation such as that which I have described at the Polytechnic of North London (but which is not unique to that college) is that it may scar the reputation of the polytechnics and devalue the qualifications of the students who study there. The great majority of those students are conscientious and hard-working. Many of them have come into higher education later in life, sometimes at considerable personal cost. We owe it to them to make sure that they receive the best possible education.
I therefore hope sincerely that the polytechnics will develop and will flourish in ways which will fulfil their original brief in expanding educational opportunities for full-time and part-time students, particularly in vocational and technical subjects, for in so doing they can offer a service of inestimable value both to their students and to the nation.
§ 8.10 p.m.
§ Lord Rochester
My Lords, I speak as chairman of the council of a university, and for 10 years until recently I was chairman of the governors of a college of higher education. It is easy enough to agree that there is the need for change in higher education. The difficulty is that views as to what changes there should be differ sharply, depending on the interests of those who express them.
Your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology has recently done me the honour of inviting me to join the sub-committee set up on education and training, having regard to the emergence of new technologies. From the relatively little expert evidence we have so far been able to hear, it is already plain that, depending on the identity of the person or body giving the evidence, there are widely varying ideas as to the changes in educational structure and curriculum, and as to the other changes which should be made to deal with that aspect alone of the overall problem.
I once bore responsibility in a large industrial undertaking for training people in the management of change. There are two things I learned from that experience which I should like to mention now. First, if the aim is to see that change actually becomes effective rather than merely being talked about, it is desirable for objectives to be formulated that are clearly defined, understood and, so far as possible, accepted by those required to implement them. Secondly, if complex problems involving interfaces between two or more groups are to be solved, it is best to see that representatives of all the groups having a stake in the outcome confront it together wherever possible, or at least have parity of access to the decision-making body. I suggest that these two points have clear relevance to the subject of this debate.
The substantial and, in my view, largely irreversible restructuring of universities that is now taking place is not the result of a considered national discussion. Surely what is now needed is a thorough examination of higher education as a whole in which the interests of both the university and the local authority sectors are represented. It may be said that the introduction of such a review is a recipe for delay and that the pace at which the country must adapt to change is such that more immediate action is needed; but I do not believe 807 that those two desiderata are contradictory. For example, it may well be that the greater emphasis now being placed on science and technology should continue, although it has to be recognised that this necessitates a shift in a more expensive direction and to bring it about when resources overall are falling sharply is very difficult. That may indeed be an argument for some diversity of educational function, although it should be balanced by what is in my view a key criterion for short-term change: that such change should be capable of being integrated with the conclusions of the more considered review which I have advocated.
In a recent speech at the University of Warwick, the Prime Minister is reported to have said that part of the role of Government in trying to achieve progress in a society of which we are all a part was to provide leadership in attitudes to change, and that she constantly found herself trying to force the pace of change just a little bit faster. I understand and respect what she was then saying, but if we are to overcome the obstacles of fear and habit that stand in the way of acceptance of change, then, in my experience, we must also make sure that, by moving too hastily, we do not fall flat on our faces.
In this very limited contribution to the discussion, I have sought to avoid the temptation to engage in any special pleading; but there is one exception to that approach which I should like to make. Having once worked in the chemical industry, I have more cause than most to encourage the scientific disciplines but, as the proud standard-bearer, for the moment, of the institution of which Lord Lindsay was the first head, I fervently hope that the humanities will not suffer unduly in that process. On that point at least, I look for support from the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor when he comes to reply to the debate. An experience of higher education which leads to comprehension and communication between the scientist and the non-scientist should surely be one of our most relevant aims for the 1990s.
It is almost exactly seven years ago that I had the privilege of introducing a debate in this House, to which I remember the noble Lord, Lord Annan, making a distinguished contribution. It was on a motion calling attention to the urgent need for agreed action aimed at increasing the esteem in which industry was held in society, particularly among students. I suggest that such an aim has equal application to the subject of this debate. In other words, the fate of higher education, the various elements and even the individual institutions that comprise it depends in the last resort on the public support that they earn. And that, my Lords, is just as it should be.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, I start from the premise, as have a number of your Lordships today, that this is not the time to cut back the numbers in higher education. I hope that when the revised student projections are available around Easter time, they will more realistically reflect both the demand across the whole spectrum of the community and the need for higher education. As the noble Lord, Lord Alport, 808 said, the country cannot afford a reduction in the supply of highly educated people. Indeed, the future of industry will be seen in terms of the intellectual skills of our people rather than in the broad industrial complexes that we have had in the past.
There are already skill shortages showing. On the 21st February this year, the Financial Times published an article under the title of "The jobs they cannot fill". It quoted one company (Plessey) who said that they could use another 700 graduates in electronics. It went on to say that they are beginning to seek recruits in Australia, New Zealand. Belgium and the Netherlands, simply because we cannot supply their needs in this country. It is fairly clear that a number of people share this view. Indeed, it was recognised at a recent meeting of the National Economic Development Council, when a memorandum from the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry pointed out that Japan produces as many engineering graduates as we do graduates of all kinds. All right, my Lords, there may be differences in the definition of a graduate, but the contrast is too great for us to ignore.
At this same meeting, the Secretary of State for Education stated in his paper that the situation calls for judgments about the present and future needs of the market, and about the nature and level of student output to meet that demand. He went on to say that, while accepting the case against detailed or comprehensive planning of student supply, the situation appeared to require the Government to give a broad steer. I hope that that steer will not only be towards some change of emphasis in favour of science and technology, but also towards a broader base for higher education altogether and more realistic financial support for our educational institutions. The fall in numbers of the 18 to 20 year-olds gives us an opportunity to assess real demand and to broaden the access to higher education.
I want to refer to two areas of access to higher education and then, very briefly, to refer to organisation and finance. Whatever else may be said about the projections for the 1990s, I should have thought it fairly evident that the steady growth in the participation rate of girls and women will continue. My noble friend Lady David referred to this and pointed out that, in the 11 years from 1970–71 to 1982–83, there had been almost a 1 per cent. increase per annum in the proportion of women in our undergraduate population. The same rate of progress has been made among post-graduate students, too, where we now see that women represent 36.1 per cent. of all postgraduate students.
So, at this rate it is clear that we shall he reaching parity at some time in the early '90s and the only harrier to that parity. I suggest, is if the Government's steer is too far in the direction of science and technology, because it is here where girls will miss out. It is the subjects that they choose rather than the participation rate which is now the problem. For example, women still represent 68 per cent. of undergraduates in education and languages, but only 7 per cent. in engineering and technology. So unless we take positive steps to give girls a steer towards science and technology, we may find that there is some delay in reaching parity.
Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Annan, to whom we are deeply indebted for introducing this debate, I do 809 not take the view that courses should be strictly vocational. I would not want us to move the balance too heavily away from the arts and humanities, because they will still be a very essential attribute to our society. What I should like to see much more is some attempt to bridge the two sides of education. In this respect, I must say that I am very sorry that two years ago the UGC did not see fit to support the conversion courses, which the EOC and a number of universities were pressing on the committee at that time. But I am glad to note that a number of polytechnics are now proceeding with similar conversion courses; in other words, taking girls with A-levels in arts subjects and helping them through the first year in science and technology.
There is a very pressing need for a better balance in subjects and careers for girls, and, again, I hope that the joint campaign of the EOC and the Engineering Council, under the title "Wives or Women into Science and Engineering", during the current year will be a pointer to schools, universities, polytechnics and other institutions, as well as to girls and parents themselves, and will help them to see that it just does not make sense to concentrate 50 per cent. of our intellectual resources into a few subjects and a few career outlets.
But as well as the conversion path, there is also another route to bridge this split in our culture. In the recent report of the HMIs on 13 polytechnic engineering departments, I was very sorry to read that their experience had been that mixed discipline courses—that is, a combination of engineering and business studies—were less sought after by students and were liable to encounter serious problems in industrial placement. I must say that this has not been the experience of Bradford University with which I have some association.
There the university has what it calls an industrial technology course, which is a sandwich course. It combines a 60 per cent. engineering content with a 40 per cent. managerial content and it accepts students with A-levels in any subjects. The experience of Bradford has been that there is a demand for this course from both male and female, and the female participation in the course is encouraging. I visited one of the women students on placement only last Friday, so I know that it is attracting women. So there is no problem in getting the students, there is no problem in placing the students and the students have had a good record of finding jobs in a wide range of companies and industries. So there is more scope in this direction than perhaps the universities have seen in the past.
I suspect that one difference between the Bradford experience and the experience of the inspectorate in the polys is that the engineering departments of the polys are probably under-funded. The other important difference is that the Bradford course is a planned and integrated course carried out in one department, although, of course, it draws on the expertise of other departments. I feel that this is an important development, because, as well as our need to encourage more engineers to move into top managememt in industry, there is also the other need to help and encourage managers, who may have been trained in the arts and humanities, to understand just 810 what the new technologies can do for industry and, certainly, to understand about the computer sciences.
That is my first point. My second point relates to continuing education. I welcome wholeheartedly the report of the UGC working party on continuing education. Its recommendations are worthy of very serious study, in particular the recommendation that the universities should regard continuing education as a central part of their role. The recommendations take account of the need of the universities and the public sector institutions to develop a modular and a credit system. Another recommendation is that parity in funding between part-time and full-time courses should be ensured.
These recommendations, important in many ways, are of particular importance to women. As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, demonstrated, they would help women with family commitments to combine those commitments with study at a university or an institute of higher education. Part-time studies are easier to combine with domestic responsibilities. This point applies also to the modular system, for women sometimes have to take a break from education or work because of their role as the producers of the next generation.
My first regret about the report is that it has not completely grasped the nettle of educational support for part-time students. We need to look at this question very carefully indeed. My second regret (here I must declare another interest as President of Birkbeck College) is that the report makes no reference to Birkbeck College, which, apart from the Open University, is the major institution catering for part-time education at both first degree and postgraduate level. It successfully combines that provision with the important research function which is part of a university college. Birkbeck should be used as a prototype; three or four similar colleges ought to be based in major centres of population in this country. That would be another important contribution to the development of part-time and continuing education.
Finally, and very briefly, perhaps I may comment on the organisation and funding of our system. I say "very briefly" because I agree to a very large extent with the points which have been made by my noble friend Lord Glenamara. I agree with his analysis of the financial basis of the polytechnics. I agree also with my noble friend that there should be greater parity between the two sides of the binary system, particularly in the case of the technically based polytechnics and universities. The engineering departments of the polytechnics should be as well funded and supported as those of the universities. In geographically adjacent areas there is great scope for combining the services and facilities of the two sides of the system.
To my noble friend's six points I would add one other: that if there is to be the development, as we hope, of science parks and the development of Cad-Cam centres in our institutions of higher education, there needs to be the involvement of both the university and the polytechnic in a particular area so that they can both contribute to and use the system. If this is to come about, it may mean that there will have to be some change in the tight funding of the polytechnics. They do not enjoy the same freedom as the universities over, for example, selling their 811 expertise to industry and husbanding the profits from the sale of that expertise for investment in new equipment. That area needs to be looked at very carefully.
As my noble friend said, I, too, am not suggesting that parity should be brought about at the expense of the universities. In recent years both the universities and the polytechnics have suffered from the uncertainty which has been caused by the financial constraints. I believe that they need a few years in which to be able to follow a steady course, secure in the knowledge that their funding is assured.
§ 8.37 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Swynnerton
My Lords, in this long, far-reaching, interesting and often enjoyable debate, your Lordships have been addressed by many chancellors of universities, retired vice-chancellors, retired principals of great colleges and also by a retired Prime Minister. I speak from what is superficially a less important position; namely, as a retired admission tutor at a provincial university specialising in the humanities, a subject which has not gained universal support from your Lordships tonight as being of importance—a university which I cannot even be certain would have been selected by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, or the noble Lord, Lord Todd, as a centre of excellence whose future is entirely assured, although the university is of the greatest distinction. That is a matter to which I shall return in a moment.
Over the years, most of us have been convinced of the wisdom of the principles underlying the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins. Those of us who listened to the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, and the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, will, I am sure, have been convinced that there is a strong argument for a larger proportion of those of university age being able, if we are to compete with our neighbours and rivals, to attend places of higher education.
I am also sure that most of those who heard the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, will have been convinced by his suggestion that we are in some degree of trouble because of the way in which the changes were put into effect, following the Robbins Report—if only for financial reasons, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Todd, the noble Lord, Lord Parry, and other speakers. I find it more difficult to follow the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and the noble Lord, Lord Todd, in their statement that it is likely to be easy for us to make a distinction between, in the university context, a centre of excellence and, although neither of those speakers gave an alternative term, a centre of, let us say, modest expectation.
That would not be an easy subject to decide, of course, but anyone who has visited a university which has declined because of the withdrawal of Government support at some stage would know that a very musty flavour takes over. Anyone who has recently visited the once magnificent university of McGill in Montreal will know, for example, that the political prejudice which has now concentrated resources, in the province of Quebec, in the French-speaking Montreal Department of the University of Quebec, has led to the quite irreversible diminution of 812 drive, enterprise and quality in what was once a great university.
There is another question which immediately comes to mind, which is: how do you select the students who would go to the centres of excellence or centres of modest expectation? This brings me to a point which I believe is the weakest one in the whole educational sector; namely, the link between the university and the school. As your Lordships will be aware, the normal method of admission to the university is by filling in the now famous UCCA form; the form sent out by the Universities Central Council of Admissions. How melancholy it is to see in the autumn these forms fluttering over an admission tutor's desk. "Melancholy" is the right word because these are wholly inadequate documents. They are penned in painfully neat handwriting by the applicants, but as far as giving an impression of why he or she should go to university or wants to go to university, they are utterly inadequate. The only section of the form which has any life whatsoever is the report by the headmaster or headmistress, and this is often, naturally, a reflection on past achievement in the school concerned rather than any kind of indication that the would-be pupil would be able to grasp the qualities of judgment which the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, regarded as an important achievement at university; or indeed, the capacity for scholarship which the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, mentioned; or, perhaps, to use a word which I have heard the noble Lord, Lord Annan, use on another occasion (something for which the university should be) even contemplation. These documents are indeed a poor service to the pupil, to the university, to the school and, indeed, to the nation. This is one suggestion which I hope the Secretary of State for Education might look at in the future.
Noble Lords will be saying, of course, "There are the famous 'A' level exams". But your Lordships will know perfect1), well that these, too, are reflections on past achievements rather than any indication of any promise in the future. What we need. in truth, is some degree of examination devised by the university or by the centre of higher education; but, regrettably, even Oxford and Cambridge at the present time—the only survivors of the old system—are, I understand, having to withdraw from that tested way of satisfying the natural desires of universities concerned to rely on something a little more than using this odious form.
I think it would be difficult to imagine that we could go back to university entrance by examination, but I see no reason why we should not experiment with an obligation by a student to perform a special examination attached to his Advanced Level papers at his schools, the papers or paper concerned being available to the university's admission tutors.
It is not simply the fact that the method of entry is wrong. What is evident is—as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry suggested was being looked at in his diocese—that the whole link between school and university is one of lamentable ignorance. The best pupils in the best schools, of course, get to know where the best courses at the best universities are. But that is not the point. The vast majority of school children are in a state of great darkness as to what courses they should attend at which universities, 813 and this needs to be examined, I think, as a matter of great importance.
While I am speaking about this, I should mention a point to which reference was made by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, and perhaps by one other noble Lord whose name I do not remember: namely, that the excessive specialisation which characterises sixth forms in schools is beginning to be questioned by university vice-chancellors, and I think most of us would say, "Not an instant too soon." If you are in touch with pupils who are in their sixth forms, it often seems that they are preparing for their proposed university course with an intensity and specialisation which in any other country would characterise work for an advanced degree rather than an ordinary university degree. The level of specialisation which schools insist upon is quite preposterous.
I have, in conclusion, four other suggestions which I believe should be examined, each one of which might be the object of one of those inquiries which many noble Lords have presided over with such distinction in the past. The first is the question of residence. This has not been touched upon much, I think, during the course of this debate, but many of our neighbours on the Continent of Europe do not make such expensive provision for students to live in the circumstances which they do in this country. It may be that there are special reasons why English university students should wish to live away from home, but this does not seem to me necessarily the best use of income derived from revenue.
Secondly, I think certainly in art subjects there could be a much greater use of technology, and particularly of television. It always seems odd that there should be so many lecturers and professors throughout the nation each lecturing on the same subject with more or less the same level of competence, whereas it might well be possible for the most distinguished of our academic staff to lecture in such a way that their products would be available nationally as well as in the locality where they live.
Thirdly, I come to the question of overseas students. The moral case is very strong for encouraging overseas students to come to this country, but the economic cost is, of course, out of control. How many students is it suggested should be encouraged to come? If the doors were completely open it would not be just the sort of numbers who were here at the same time as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Peking—to whom the noble Lord, Lord Alport, spoke in the 1960s. In his day there were perhaps eight or ten thousand students from abroad. Now, if the doors were open, the numbers would be something like 100,000 at least. My suggestion to deal with this problem—which is obviously one of great importance and of interest to many noble Lords—is this: we should try to see whether some of the richer countries who are so keen to send their students here, could not contribute, perhaps with voluntary contributions, to the provision of a national scholarship fund in this country. It might at least try to ensure that something like the numbers of overseas students who were able to come here in the past—before 1939, say—are able to do so in the future, if only for the benefit of encouraging cultural diversity in this country.
My final point is one which was also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Alport. He pointed out that 814 because of the foundation of a large number of universities, more or less at the same time in the early 1960s, there was a great immobilisation of university staff places. The young and promising output of these universities which in the past always were able to find a university place within a year or two of having left university, now find it very difficult to do so. At the same time there are a great many people who found a place in the 1960s in, say, the University of Lancaster much to their surprise, but would have preferred to spend part of their lives, at least, in the South. It should be possible to devise some system, a kind of clearing house, whereby some of these problems could be satisfactorily resolved. This nation has a great record of creating offices in which officials of tact and understanding manage this sort of problem. I should not have thought it impossible for the UGC, even given the lessened prestige it may have, as indicated by the noble Lord, Lord Crowther-Hunt, to devise a plan of this sort.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Lord Bowden
My Lords, the debate so far has been extremely interesting to me, and I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for introducing it. If I may I should also like, without being thought impertinent, to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, on his maiden speech. I never thought in my wildest dreams that it would fall upon me to do such a thing as that.
When I decided to speak in this debate I thought that the best thing I could do, since I knew I would be called upon fairly late, would be to prepare a brief based on the peculiar problems of the universities and institutions in the district from which I come. There are several of them and I wrote to the directors, principals, heads or vice-chancellors of all of them and went to see most of them. I came away with an enormous amount of information which would form the basis of a very lengthy speech, which I am afraid time will not permit me to deliver. However, there are a few observations which I feel I must make. I should like to take first of all the problems which afflict the University of Salford because, as your Lordships will remember, its grant was more dramatically cut in the last round of UGC cuts than any other institution of higher learning and lost a very large part of its total funds. It so happened that the vice-chancellor who took office at about that time had been the chairman of the Think-Tank in the Cabinet Office. He therefore came to Salford thinking that he could either crawl into a corner and die, or do something very dramatic. He did something dramatic. An organisation was set up called CAMPUS—the Campaign for the Preservation of the University of Salford. They are now trying, very deliberately, to take technology into local industry and also to the local schools. For example, they have acquired a double-decker bus on which they have installed a large number of computers, and they go round to schools giving them a few days opportunity to study a modern computing system; thereby at the same time not only educating the children, but persuading them of the value of the University of Salford. That bus came down to London and was parked outside No. 10 Downing Street. It showed its wares to the Prime Minister herself and to many other officials, who were most impressed by the 815 initiative, enterprise and courage which the university was showing in extremely difficult circumstances. That was the first of these institutions.
The second is the local technical college close by. It has problems because it is short of funds. It says the problem is, "We do not know what local industries we should be educating our people for. We have always in the past tried to educate people for the basic industries which are now so savagely, dramatically and appallingly in decline in the North-West". So it has its particular problems.
I now come to the University of Manchester. It has a new and very vital vice-chancellor. We discussed his problems. Of course, he is short of funds. He is fearful that if the Greater Manchester Authority is abolished he will lose its support, which helps pay for the remarkable museum, which is much the best in the country and probably the best in the world—the Museum of Technology—which is being funded jointly by Manchester, by the university and also by the art gallery which is also being strongly subsidised. He is afraid that he may lose that particular source of funds.
He made one point of great importance. Over the past decade or so, every year, and particularly for the past four or five years, the necessary standard a student has to attain before being admitted has increased. There is a points system in which a student is allocated so many points for an A-level, a distinction, and so on, all the way down. The number of points required for a minimum standard has gone up consistently. This must mean, of course, that students who would have got in very easily a few years ago are now being deprived of an opportunity of a university education.
He also made the very real point that the standard of entry for the medical profession is now so extremely high that I, at least, am fearful that many of the students who enter that school will be of a type much better qualified to become medical research workers than to become general practitioners. The qualities which general practitioners need—kindness, understanding and humanity—are only coincidentally correlated with the abilities which are tested in the A-level examinations. So much for the University of Manchester. It is in very good heart. It has an extraordinarily good vice-chancellor, and I am sure that all will be well with it.
I now come to the Manchester Polytechnic. There is a very remarkable figure which I must give to your Lordships. In considering the universities of this country in order of size, obviously London is the biggest; Oxford and Cambridge come next. I shall not discuss the Open University, which may be the biggest of them all, but argue on the assumption of what I call the normal universities. Owens is the next biggest, and is the biggest of all the provincial universities. Then comes the biggest academic institution in terms of the number of degree students: Manchester Polytechnic. It is bigger than any other university in this country with the exception of Oxford, Cambridge, London and Manchester. That is very remarkable because it suffers from all the problems which have been described so lucidly by some of the speakers who have already addressed your Lordships this evening. It also suffers from the very real embarrassment that it is not master in its own house. It is subjected to detailed control in 816 all sort of unfortunate ways by the city council.
There once was a time when my own institution was directly under the City of Manchester and, about the year before I went there, the City council decided just to save money by stopping all research for a year. Fortunately there were the May elections. The particular party concerned lost and the newcomers restored the cuts, but it does give you some idea of the potential for harm that exists if an academic institution is subjected to direct, detailed and constant supervision, intervention and control by a not particularly well informed local government body and by members of committees not particularly well informed about the affairs of the institution concerned. For example, there are stories of an academic discussion with the council of a polytechnic at which the local government representatives were worsted but simply said, "We will put this right in the town hall". That is no way to run an academic institution.
I feel that one of the problems we have been discussing is this concept of what is really meant by research, and I think I must explain at least one point which may be a little obscure after the noble Lord, Lord Todd, described the details of the most advanced type of research which can be done in an academic institution. Research in science is in effect what is meant by doing science: you cannot learn science merely by sitting down and absorbing a body of facts; you have to experience the scientific method for yourself, and that is what all academic institutions have to provide for if they are to teach science in any meaningful sense.
This is even more true of the teaching of engineering. When I was myself engaged in the teaching of engineering, I used to say that no man can count himself a professional engineer unless he has been frightened out of his wits at least twice. That is true. You have to be prepared, if you are to be a professional engineer, to accept the obligations of responsible decisions that you have made yourself and stand by the consequences even if they kill you. That is what I mean by becoming a professional engineer. The noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack will understand very well what I mean when I say it is not unlike the experience that a man goes through after taking a law degree, when he is subjected to the immediate control of his pupil master and ultimately learns to become a member of the Bar. He has to have had the personal experience of something other than the facts of the case: he has to experience the nature of the profession and he can only do that by the kind of work which is traditioally done in academic institutions if they are engaged in teaching engineering and science in the only ways they can be taught.
Now I should like, if I may, to raise one awful point, which is this: that I read a newspaper article to the effect that the grant to be given to the Medical Research Council is to be dramatically cut, as a result of which three major groups of people working in the universities—I think Cambridge was one and I have forgotten which the others were—are to lose their grants and effectively stop work. Of course, this is serious enough because it deprives the community of the opportunity and the expectation of the results for which these people are looking. But it is at least as serious that it loses the opportunity of exposing young men, at the most creative period of their lives, to the 817 experience of doing pure research under the supervision of a very very competent pupil master. I do hope that I have been misinformed and that the noble Lord, the Lord Chancellor, can reassure us.
I should like to end by saying that these problems of ours are not by any means unique to this country. some long time ago, I went out to Moscow to discuss the problems of university education with Mr Rudnev, who was then the Minister concerned and responsible for it. We talked about, for example, the education of engineers and he explained to me that nearly all surveyors who go out and measure up the roads, the maps and things, are women—and there are a large number of women engineers too. but we got on to the subject of the organistion of higher education and he said this to me: "We have in Russia a most elaborate system for assessing the need for different types of scholar, for arranging courses to suit them and arranging appropriate jobs for them when they emerge six, seven or eight years later. We always get the answer wrong. You in England, on the other hand, have no system at all: you let people go to read what they want to do and when they come out you hope you will be able to find them a job. You get the answer wrong, too. What I should like to discuss with you is which of us is worse." We had a very interesting discussion on this and in the end we concluded it was probable that their system was the worst for the reason that it gets bogged down in a tremendously complicated bureaucratic machine and it is very, very slow indeed to make any changes in direction which may be necessary—and particularly necessary these days as technology changes so quickly. They were very slow indeed to develop electronics in Russia for the very good reason that they did not have it in the system with which they had started and they could not introduce it without an enormous bureaucratic upheaval. It was his view, in the end, that their system was worse than ours because it had an extra load of bureaucracy and it seemed to provide explicitly for the production of people whom they thought they were going to want but whom did not necessarily need when they got them.
We then got on to the question of what I regard is much the best way of introducing students to other communities, and I discussed with him the idea of the migratory scholar, who was of course a feature of mediaeval Europe. He is still a most important person, through whom cultures can be transferred. I told him that my institution in Manchester had got students from 65 countries in it at that moment and I said that we did nothing whatever to attract them: they just came of their own accord. Mr. Rudnev went on to say that they had an institution which contained representatives of 66 countries, but they got them by going all over the world and offering people grants and fellowships to come. He was greatly impressed by the fact that our people came of their own volition and were so anxious to experience our own society for themselves.
He then introduced me to a colleague who was sitting with him, who, he said, was the director of the University of Tiflis in Georgia. This gentleman said to me, "I do believe that you are right in saying that it is important that scholars should be encouraged to wander the earth." He said, "We have been sending scholars abroad to study ever since we sent them to 818 Athens to study in the academy with Plato and Aristotle". That is an academic record, if true, the like of which the world will never see.
But I beg your Lordships to believe that our problems are not unique; that all countries have them; that no country knows how to solve them; that we are doing not so badly; and that, if only we can cope with some of the problems which I have enunciated about the governance of some of the polytechnics, we shall, I think, be doing really quite well.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Lord Drumalbyn
My Lords, I venture to intervene in a debate in which so many have spoken so brilliantly of educational issues on a national scale. My purpose is a narrow one: to refer to a small section, to which I would apply the description, "vulnerable" used by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, in his wonderful speech. The University Grants Committee has the unenviable job of cutting out dead wood from time to time, and I would not dissent from the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, that the committee should tell an institution in question that its grant will be put at risk unless some cut specified by the committee is imposed. I hope that I have understood the noble Lord correctly.
But should not the University Grants Committee act in this way only where the branch (if I may change the metaphor) is indubitably rotten, or at least rotting, or where the establishment is clearly no longer needed? I am sure that in all cases the University Grants Committee will do all that it can to avoid the sheer misery of defeat that closure entails for those concerned.
I am speaking tonight because the issue that I wish to raise is imminent. Next week, I understand, the UGC will meet and on its agenda will be the fate of a relatively small department of a thriving university in Edinburgh: the Heriot-Watt. The department began over 200 years ago as the Royal Public Dispensary, and it is said to have been the first pharmacy school in the Kingdom. Ever since, it has moved steadily forward; providing diplomas in pharmacy, first on its own, and then, from 1935, under the wing of the Heriot-Watt. Its diploma course became a four-year honours degree course when the Heriot-Watt became a university in 1966. It serves an area in the East of Scotland from Tayside region in the North to the Lothians and the Borders in the South-East.
In Scotland, there are three major teaching hospital groups—Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen—and three pharmacy schools to match them. There are also three corresponding recruiting areas for pharmacy students. Though the Heriot-Watt pharmacy department has been the smallest, with an average intake, until recently, of 48 first degree students, its academic record has been as good as any. On average, 85 per cent. of students have achieved first-class or second-class degrees, and no student, the department claims, has failed to obtain employment on graduation. Indeed, most of the present fourth-year students already have jobs fixed up. Some nine out of 10 students take up retail or hospital pharmacy; the remaining 10 per cent. or so go into industry. More and more of the pharmacy staff, I am told, are becoming involved in research.
819 Not surprisingly, the pharmacy department in Edinburgh occupies somewhat antiquated accomodation, but the UGC has generously agreed that the whole university should move out to Riccarton, where it will have its own campus. The move should be complete by 1990—a splendid prospect for the future! The opportunity has been taken for an integrated new building at Riccarton, housing both pharmacy and the biological sciences. This is designed to promote collaboration between pharmacists, biochemists and biologists. It is a feature of the Riccarton plan that was very much welcomed by the UGC main committee when it visited the university in June 1982. Another advantage is that the plan will redress the balance between male and female students—in the current jargon, "to improve the social mix"—and I should perhaps explain that a high proportion of pharmacy students are female, whereas a similar proportion of biochemists are male.
This general plan is called into question by the sentence being imposed on the pharmacy department. Seven years ago, the then chairman of the UGC, Sir Frederick Dainton, wrote to all universities in the United Kingdom drawing attention to the view expressed by the Advisory Panel on Pharmacy that expansion in pharmacy teaching was no longer needed. Heriot-Watt heeded this advice and deliberately restrained its intake, although it seems that not all pharmacy schools did so. Consequently, the yearly intake at Heriot-Watt is now somewhat reduced.
Four years later, the University Grants Committee initiated a study of pharmacy schools to be carried out by its Panel on Studies Allied to Medicine. The panel recommended that the minimum annual intake of pharmacy schools should be 60, on the grounds that anything less would not suffice to ensure enough teaching staff to cover the range of chemical and biological disciplines required and to cope with new developments. It put the requisite number of teaching staff at 18. This figure, I am told, was not discussed with the university when the panel visited it. Had it been, no doubt the principal and the head of the pharmacy school would have explained that the department has access to other staff in the university in addition to the staff of the pharmacy department. If the UGC is minded to insist on a minimum of 18 departmental staff, surely, in all fairness, it should allow the university to increase its staff accordingly and to raise the annual intake of students to 60.
The Advisory Council of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, to the UGC, notes that while a minimum intake of 60 had some support in council,the Council does not rule out the possibility in special circumstances of a different intake level being appropriate in a particular institution".I would hope that all your Lordships would agree that exceptions have to be admitted to all rules if fairness and efficiency are to be maintained. I venture to commend this broad-minded view to the UGC in considering its decision on the Heriot-Watt case next week. Would it really be sensible to phase out the pharmacy school from the beginning of the 1984–85 session on the grounds that the university is making the most economical and effective use of its staff resources and sees no object in increasing them?
820 Would it, I wonder, be wise to ignore the strong support for the continuance of the Heriot-Watt pharmacy school from, for example, the office in Scotland of the British Medical Association, the Pharmaceutical Society and its Scottish branch, the health boards of the Lothians, Tayside, Forth Valley and Ayrshire and Arran Regions, the department of general practice of the University of Edinburgh, the University Teaching Hospital Department and the Western General Hospital of Edinburgh? That represents a substantial spread of support indicating the need that is felt for this institution.
I hope, too, that in reaching its decision, the UGC will refer to the letter that Mr. Robin Duthie, chairman of the Scottish Development Agency, wrote to the UGC chairman expressing acute concern at the proposed closure and enclosing a report on the pharmacy department from Mr. Chalres Fairley, director of the health care and biotechnology division. Mr. Duthie says that the agency believes that,The Department of Pharmacy plays a substantial role in underpinning the pharmaceutical industry and that, with appropriate encouragement from the UGC, this could be considerably increased".Certainly, the research activities of the pharmacy department have increased considerably in the last year or so. Indeed, the Heriot-Watt, as a whole, exercises a positive influence in bringing industry to, and keeping industry going, in the east of Scotland. These are grave considerations that have to be borne in mind.
Perhaps the most fitting tribute to the pharmacy department comes from Boots the Chemists. It says:The quality of students produced has always been second to none. They are invariably well motivated and trained to meet all their professional responsibilities".Lastly, will the UGC look carefully into the question of where the present intake of the pharmacy school will go if the UGC decides to require it to be closed down? I am told that the Strathclyde and Aberdeen schools may not be able to accommodate them. Perhaps the UGC will say, "Well, there are plenty of schools in England, aren't there"? But would English pharmacy schools take these students? I am told that they would insist upon applicants having A-levels. Where in Scotland would one get an A-level? The Scottish education and examination systems are not by any means the same as those in England. So unless the UGC can arrange for the English schools to accept Scottish leaving certificates in this case, that solution would he a complete non-starter.
Perhaps the UGC have not fully appreciated how closely the courses at Scottish universities are linked with the Scottish school system. A high proportion of university students live at home. It seems, therefore, that most of the students who would have gone to Heriot-Watt would be forced to choose another profession altogether. If so, would a shortage of graduate pharmacists develop in Scotland?
Those are the types of consideration that arise on the generalities that the House has been considering this afternoon. I thought that it would be some mitigation for me to bring them out of in a debate of this kind to show exactly how things work out on the ground. I hope that I have not judged the House incorrectly.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Lord Tedder
My Lords, I crave your Lordships' indulgence. My train returns to Scotland leaving King's Cross at 10.15 and the noble Lord, Lord Hunter, has very kindly offered to swap places with me on the speaking list.
I approach this debate with more than usual trepidation. Seldom have your Lordships seen such a gathering of academic colour. I speak not as a chancellor or vice-chancellor, but as a lecturer who was in the first-year teaching laboratory yesterday afternoon, and who will be in a research laboratory first thing tomorrow morning if I catch my train.
When times are bad we have to face financial stringency. But I think everyone would agree that financial cuts, if necessary, must be made selectively. North Sea oil will see the country through until the end of the century, but thereafter we have nothing but the wits of the British people to live by. As the son of a former chief of the defence staff, of course I appreciate the importance of maintaining defence. As the brother of a consultant virologist, of course I realise the importance of maintaining our medical services. As the father of a social worker, of course I am aware of the needs of deprived children. However, I believe that, no matter how important, indeed how vital, these services may be, their further development must take second place to the development of teaching and research in science and engineering. Because unless we can compete in those fields we shall have no means to pay for our defence, medical care or social work. If we do not produce the engineers and scientists of the very highest calibre, the outlook for the United Kingdom will be bleak indeed.
I have the impression that many noble Lords do not realise how very substantial the cuts have already been. In St. Andrew's it meant an 18 per cent. cut in income over a three-year period, and of course many universities were hit very much harder. We were promised thereafter "level funding", but even if pay awards were restricted to the proposed 3 per cent.—which is well below the rest of the public sector—the universities are only being allowed 2.63 per cent. Because of incremental scales, even a complete pay freeze would increase the universities, salary bill by 1 per cent. In other words, so-called level funding in fact means further considerable cuts in the universities income.
I am very concerned that we are in danger of killing the goose which lays the golden egg by attempts to improve our university system at the present time. We have already had considerable variety in our tertiary education—and times when finance is tight are not the most opportune for innovation. Nevertheless, it has been my impression and experience that not only are undergraduate courses in chemistry continually being revised because of new knowledge, but that there is also a continuous reappraisal of teaching methods and educational techniques.
An essential feature of university education is that the university teacher is active in research. Here, I do not agree with my noble mentor, the noble Lord, Lord Todd. I do not believe it is possible to overestimate the importance of the research activity for a university lecturer in a science department, and I was glad that 822 my noble friend Lord Bowden gave me support in this. A lecturer who is an active research worker can speak about his subject with an authority which someone who is not in research can never achieve.
There is much that I should like to say about the development of universities as centres of learning, but my main theme is so important that I do not wish to divert attention to detail. For the sake of the future of this country, I believe that it is essential that university activity in the fields of engineering and science is fully supported, even during the present financial stringency. Indeed, teaching and research in science and engineering must not only be maintained, but must be expanded if this country is ever to climb out of its present financial difficulties. Let us make sure that the future generations have a chance.
§ 9.27 p.m.
§ Lord Irving of Dartford
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this subject tonight. First, I want to say how sad it is that when we ought to be taking a dispassionate view of the future of higher and further education in this country, most of those concerned are convinced that this is a cost-cutting exercise in which it would be difficult to avoid taking a short-term view rather than a long-term view and where, instead of considering the nation's need or the students' need, we are more concerned with finance.
I am bound to say that the picture looks very different to those working in higher and further education, particularly to members of the Association of University Teachers and NALGO (and I am associated with both), than it does from the Government Front Bench. I want to convey a little of what the members of those organisations feel are saying about their position at the moment. The general secretary of the AUT writes:By the end of this year 11,500 jobs in the university system will have been lost. Over 4,000 highly qualified and expensively-trained teaching and academic support staff will have been forced to take early retirement.She then says:Let there be no mistake"—and these are very strong words, and strongly feltthis country's highly praised and respected university system is near to breaking point.The staff/student ratio has deteriorated sharply. Lecturers are demoralised, with no time to do research or to teach their students properly, and they have poor career prospects. Secretarial and technical support services have been reduced to skeletal level. Vital maintenance has been neglected; learned journals have been cancelled; and there is little money to buy new books. There are endless committees to cope with the cuts. As the AUT says:This is not a leaner and fitter system, it is one in which the quality of teaching and research has suffered grievously and where a national asset is being thoroughly squandered".As for student numbers, the union says:25,000 well-qualified youngsters have been denied places in the universities since the UGC imposed cuts in student numbers in July 1981. The competition for places has increased to the point where selectors are having great problems relying on fine shades of difference between excellent grades".823 I think they regard it as particularly galling that at this very moment, when the Government are using an expenditure-led education policy based on restrictive cash limits as a justification for what the union regards as a lack of policy, the Prime Minister should be praising this country's universities. As she said the other day:Throughout the world British universities are renowned for their research and for their original work, and our prestige stands very high in every academic centre the world over".It is clear that if the action of the Government over the last two years continues it could be a serious threat to the very standards which have been so characteristic of British universities. Despite the cost-cutting exercise the Government have not yet saved one penny, as I and others predicted in the last debate, because of provision for redundancies and compensation for staff which has equalled the savings they were hoping to make, and in this respect this policy has utterly failed.
We are invited to take part in a great debate. We certainly need a policy for higher education rather than the lurches we have had over the last two or three years. Can anything be more ludicrous than a university being fined for taking in too many students last year, and being urged to take in more this year?
On the one hand, the unit of resource is reduced by 15 per cent., and on the other the DES projection of a fall in student demand of 20 per cent. by 1995 means in essence what would be as much as a one-third cut in the recurrent grant. The projections are seriously challenged by the AUT in an excellent report that they produced recently. Taken together these amount to almost one-third reduction in the current grant. How can anyone seriously contemplate that as a sound planning basis? In an increasingly complex technological society are we seriously being asked to contemplate a 20 per cent. decrease in trained graduates? This is hardly the basis for industrial regeneration.
Any sensible look at the universities has been made more unrealistic by talk of private funding. This cannot be the answer, as the best teaching and research cannot take place in an atmosphere where teachers and staff have to run around looking for funds. Anyone who looks at that massive tome, Research in British Universities, Polytechnics and Colleges, in three volumes, published each year by the British Library, will know that a good deal of money comes into universities other than from Government sources. But this comes for the founding of chairs, for the establishment of projects and programmes, and is in no sense likely to be able to make a real contribution to the day-to-day running of our universities.
It is difficult under all these circumstances to enter into an exercise of looking at change in our universities without the feeling that one is merely contributing to the success of the cost-cutting operation for its own sake rather than improving the effectiveness of our higher education system. If it is to be a real debate we are entitled to point to the binary divide between local authority institutions and our universities. It would make much more sense to have a unified planning structure for all post-school education, so that the planning of our local authority further and higher education, and the universities could take account of 824 what was happening in each sector.
The next thing to say is that almost any kind of change would have resource implications. Since the university system has been cut to the bone it would be quite impossible to make any significant changes without providing the extra financial resources for this to be done. A straightforward example of this has just come to the fore, as the vice-chancellor of the University of Kent at Canterbury has pointed out to me. The Engineering Council has asked for £200 million for extra training for students of engineering subjects. There is no doubt that such extra training would be good for the country as a whole. But if it was to be instituted by taking a similar sum away from other subject areas it would produce far more damage than would be compensated for by the additional engineering students. Such changes as these would bring us into line with the large amount of vocational training being carried out by a good number of other countries in the West. It must, however, be financed as a new venture and not by a redistribution within the system which now has no fat left.
Another practical point is that care should be taken to understand the age profile of academic staff when seeking to make changes in any institution. Any change in any direction normally implies the appointment of new staff with a corresponding reduction in other areas. If a particular institution has a reasonable number of staff coming up to retirement age, such change can often be made by not replacing those who retire in less needed subjects and by transferring such posts to the new development areas.
It is quite impossible to do this in the present situation if institutions have very few staff approaching retiring age during the next few years. Such institutions will, therefore, find it extremely difficult to implement any changes, however important and advantageous they may be. It is therefore essential for the DES and the UGC to take careful account of the staff-age profile of all institutions when planning changes.
The local authorities' role should be strengthened and there should continue to be a regional input. The National Advisory Body is to hold a consultative exercise on this question of regional input. The NAB talks of the concentration on "centres of excellence". Both the CNAA and the HMIs have expressed grave doubts about the NAB plan, claiming that little or no consideration has been given to the standards of existing institutions.
I am suspicious of this concept. I have already raised in the House the case of the closure of the Dartford College of Education, formerly the Osterberg College, now part of the Thames Polytechnic—a centre of excellence of an outstanding kind for decades and an essential part of the history of physical education for women in this country. It was closed last year despite many protests and against the advice of HMIs. Towards the end of the year it received three teacher awards from the Royal Society of Arts. This was a degree course in primary education which abandoned the concept of a main academic subject and concentrated on solving problems that confront staff in a classroom. Dartford was the first to be recognised in this new education capability recognition scheme run by the Royal Society of Arts.
One would have thought that such projects, which 825 had shifted the emphasis of education towards helping people to be competent, to cope, to create and to cooperate, would appear to be more relevant than ever before. This year all enrolments closed at Dartford and with it the hopes of hundreds of mature students who had been encouraged to join the programme.
The National Advisory Body questionnaire raises the question of teaching methods and the size of classes, the use of distant learning techniques and computer-assisted learning. It ought to be said that changes of this kind would all be more expensive and should not be viewed as having cost-cutting implications.
It is clear that the Government have abandoned their undertaking, given before the election, of level funding and that they have now given up all pretence at maintaining the Robbins' principle. This is bad news for many parents and for many young people.
In conclusion, in making changes I should like to plead that the needs of certain groups be not neglected. We need more women students; we want more working class students. We need a more satisfactory provision for overseas students as an investment in goodwill, peace and understanding; to say nothing of foreign trade. We should have an effective provision for mature students and minority groups, ethnic and others, who will not initially have adequate qualifications for access to higher and further education. An élitist system will not do justice to the nation as a whole and it will deprive us of many who, properly trained, could make an effective contribution to the nation's wellbeing.
§ 9.39 p.m.
§ Lord Hunter of Newington
My Lords, I suppose my qualification to speak in this debate is that for five years I was a member of a grants committee and chairman of its medical sub-committee. I joined the UGC just at the time it was becoming the responsibility of the Department of Education and Science and no longer that of the Treasury. This was celebrated by a modest party in the basement of the Treasury at which the guest of honour was the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham. These were the days—although a cloud somewhat bigger than a man's hand had appeared on the horizon on the previous quinquennial round. On that occasion, the Government no longer accepted the UGC's estimate of university needs and had argued and cut the submissions. A few years later, the UGC sent the first list of guidelines to the universities and a whole range of sub-committees was formed to bring in expert knowledge in various disciplines.
The scene was changing, but in the exchanges between the Secretary of State and the chairman at that time there was the same flavour as in the recent exchanges between Sir Keith Joseph and the present chairman of the UGC. In his letter of 24th November 1982, Sir Edward Parkes states:It [the UGC] accepts that there are broad strategic requirements covering the expenditure of public money for which it is appropriate for Ministers to take explicit responsibility".But it is important, states the chairman, that there should continue to be consultation before the decisions are taken, and the UGC welcomes the Secretary of State's emphasis on the need for close 826 dialogue in his letter.
The chairman continued:At the same time, the UGC is responsible for considering the academic provision as a whole and the allocations to individual universities".The Secretary of State had upheld this principle also in his letter. But the principles and priorities laid down by the Secretary of State included the requirement that restructuring should involve a change in the distribution of students towards the natural sciences and technology and this reduction should be applied selectively.
The annual report on Government funded research in 1983 says more, however, on the Government's attitude to universities. It refers to the universities' block grants and their use for teaching and research because staff were concerned with both, a dual responsibility. May I quote:In the science field, the intention of the UGC input into research is that it should provide the basic 'floor' of research capability in university departments. But since university research activities and expenditure cannot he clearly distinguished and, therefore, the UGC's objective in funding the expenditure cannot be clearly distinguished from its wider objective in funding the university system, the assignment of resources to research is based on a notional attribution of university departments and central expenditure between research and teaching".But the Secretary of State, we have noted, had already markedly changed the policy about science and technology.
I also note that, in fact, in real terms, as far as one can determine, the base line of research support has been steadily falling and the equipment grant has certainly become very substantially less since 1971. The Merrison report of a joint committee on support for university scientific research (Cmnd. 8567) examined this difficult matter in some detail and concluded:that as a long-term objective and notwithstanding adverse effects elsewhere, universities should channel proportionately more of their funds into research; also that universities will have to concentrate research funds into selected areas because, wherever research is done, it should be of high quality and properly supported".They accepted, however, that there was no reliable means by which one could assess research support—the same view as the Cabinet Office paper—and they suggested earmarking for specific purposes by the UGC. In the UGC letter of 24th November the statement is made that the UGC believes that, in general, resources are likely to be used most effectively if they are in the form of block grants. This, I am afraid, is only true if there is a quinquennial indication of block grant, and it is not realistic to persist. I am surprised that the UGC, which now has a rolling triennial system, feels that this is a satisfactory matter.
As your Lordships have said tonight, a vital influence on this matter was the Robbins Report on university education. Though I have to confess my personal disappointment at the lack of initiatives and imagination surrounding the new universities, they were all desperate to conform, even the ex-technological institutions: and the Robbins proposals for "sister", specialist institutes for scientific and technological education and research were not implemented. The one "sister" of outstanding merit and success is Cranfield, which has flourished without 827 the help of the UGC and the sacred principles of unversity development.
Soon after these substantial additional commitments were entered into by the Government, the Secretary of State of the day, in the famous Woolwich speech, announced the formation of the polytechnics without any discussion or knowledge as regards the UGC; and within a matter of a few years it was stated that they would be eligible for research grants. Did that mean additional basic funding for polytechnics? Apparently not. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will tell us about this and about the whole question of the policy, as suggested by the NAB's discussion document on support of research. I feel that we would like to know the Government's reaction to it. Surely this major development in higher education, when the notional requirements of the new universities and their research base could not possibly have been estimated, was a very difficult thing to do and it is difficult to understand what was the Government's policy in this matter.
Having noted the concern in Sir Alex Merrison's report about the need for adequate funding of research—and research and development is even more expensive—one begins to wonder whether the resources are likely to be available which will match up to the legitimate demands of independent chartered institutions, whether the money comes from the UGC, the research councils, departments of state or private industry. Presumably the alternative to general cheeseparing has been considered. If not, it should be considered now, with the continuing austerity, talk of 828 rationalisation and priorities decided by committees at at least three different levels.
But what of the alternative? The alternative, my Lords, is surely to do what industry would do or what this Government would do in another context. The policy has changed. There are strict priorities laid down by the Government. The UGC has lost so much by losing the quinquennial block grant system as it existed. There is required to be concentration on natural science and engineering, which are far more expensive than traditional university activities. I suspect that if we were talking about industry there would be serious consideration given as to whether six or eight universities should be shut so that the remainder could be adequately funded.
The Government have been repeatedly told that the kind of research they want to be done cannot be done on the cheap. This interminable trimming of all institutions is, to say the least, ineffective. For the UGC, in these circumstances, to support the block grant principle seems very strange. Do the university freedoms mean so much? If we think of the success of government research institutions, for example, one wonders. Should all the universities really be doing basic frontier research or research and development, or should some of them become polytechnics? Should the UGC have its remit changed to something more in keeping with the reality of the situation? I believe that the House wants to know. But will the Government face up to these things? By its very nature and composition, the Vice-Chancellor's Committee will find it almost impossible to do so. The Prime Minister has referred to the new function of universities. Surely, she must be prepared to pay for it.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Baroness Masham of Ilton
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for this opportunity. My contribution to this debate will be very short, but there is concern from many people that the limited and hard striven-for facilities for severely disabled students in universities, polytechnics and colleges of higher and further education may be cut back. I hope that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will give some assurances that these valuable assets will be safeguarded and that when there is change the needs of disabled students will not be forgotten.
More than ever before, disabled people want to be part of normal society, being able to integrate into the university or college of their choice. Because of access and care difficulties, that is not always possible and they are restricted in their choice. For example, a few years ago a star pupil of her school went as an undergraduate to Exeter University. After three days of being at university, Joanna Owen was involved in a tragic car accident in which she sustained a broken neck. The car driven by another student was passing a lorry when the lorry swung out without warning. After months in hospital, Joanna remained paralysed but was able to return to university, for in no way had her brain been impaired.
Exeter would have had her back, but it had no special facilities so she was transferred to Sussex University, where there is a special unit which is part of the university campus. This was carefully planned to accommodate four civilian handicapped students. The money was donated and the unit is called Kulukundis House. This provides care as well as accommodation, which is vital. I heard a rumour that Kulukundis House might be turned into a university health centre, which would be tragic. Unless there are some special facilities, these bright but handicapped people will be even more handicapped, as university will be denied to them.
Some years ago, I had the honour officially to open Clarkson House, which is a hall of residence for handicapped students at Southampton University. The disabled students are assisted by able-bodied students who live above them in Clarkson House. Reading University also has made an effort in helping disabled students, as has Leeds. Several other universities, such as Birmingham, have professors and lecturers on their staff who are disabled. Teaching and research are excellent occupations for handicapped people, if their intellect is up to standard, and I hope that there will be more opportunities in the future. Many colleges of futher education do not have suitable facilities for disabled students and it is difficult for many of them to be offered admissions.
I much appreciated the fact that in 1981 I was awarded an honorary degree by the Open University. Many of your Lordships may know that the Open University has played a significant role in offering disabled people access to higher education. The university is currently facing severe cuts in its Government grant. At the moment there are 5,000 disabled students registered with the university, of whom 2,000 are actively studying on courses in the undergraduate and associate student programmes. These special support services are at risk of being 830 reduced, if Government cuts in the grant are fully implemented. The Open University has a reputation throughout the world in the provision of higher education to disabled people through distance education, and it accepts the responsibility to meet the educational needs of its disabled students. There are special procedures for examinations and assessment which can be put into operation to benefit those who need them: for example, the granting of extra time, the use of amanuenses, the use of braille, the use of typewriters, the sitting of examinations at home or at a special centre under strict invigilation. These facilities are not to give a disabled student any unfair advantage but to compensate for known handicaps which affect performance.
The variety of disabilities is wide, the encouragement given great. I hope that change in the future will not limit but will expand the opportunities for those people who, because of handicaps, have less choice in job opportunities and therefore need the chance to develop and nourish their intellectual abilities.
§ 9.56 p.m.
§ Viscount Caldecote
My Lords, this is a most timely debate on an important subject and I know how grateful we all are to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for introducing it. I believe that the role of the universities has never been more significant in this era of rapid change in the pattern of work and leisure. The basic purpose of universities, I think we all agree, is enrichment of life, not only for those who attend universities but for the whole community. Universities must both lead and reflect changes in society. In a free society like ours, effective leadership involves respect and confidence.
I am afraid that universities in general have lost a degree of the respect which they should have in a civilised society, because in so many cases they seem to have been excessively resistant to change, with a few honourable exceptions, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers. In preparation for the debate I looked at some of our debates in the 1960s in which I took part. There was a debate in 1960 on higher education in general, and in 1964 there was a debate on the Robbins Report. In the first debate I said that times were changing and that the universities must change with them. In our debate on the Robbins Report I said that we must avoid the risk that engineering and technology departments in universities do not become fully integrated into the industrial life of the nation. Plus ça change and, alas! plus c'est la mêrne chose in too many places.
Academic freedom is too often quoted as an argument against reacting to external change. It is an important concept but, like freedom in general, it can be and has been abused. But if full respect and support for universities is to be restored, they need to be more responsible to the changing scene in the exercise of this valued freedom.
About half a century ago I decided that I wanted to study engineering, preferably at Cambridge, for it was an excellent opportunity and it was one that I was lucky enough to be able to take. Nobody pushed me. Quite the reverse. To go from an independent school to university to read engineering was rather unusual 831 and not thought to be a very good idea. I did not do it to satisfy some desirable trend that had been identified by some remote body; that would have been a laughable concept. I made the choice as an individual. I took the opportunity which was available and which I had the luck to be able to take, and as a result I have had a satisfying, happy and varied career in engineering. Surely our aim must be to give everybody who can benefit from it a similar opportunity in the subject of his or her choice.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, suggested that some 15 per cent. of sixth form school-leavers would be a sensible objective. I do not disagree. However, we come here to the nub of the problem to which the noble Lord, Lord Annan, also referred. University education and research is a form of expensive investment, but it is a very important investment because it is an investment in people. The resources for that investment can come only from the creation of real wealth. The main source of our real wealth is manufacturing industry, in which engineering plays such a vital part. Only to the extent that we create that wealth and allocate from it adequate resources to universities can we achieve our objective: opportunities for all who can benefit from going to universities.
In the late 1940s I had another opportunity to return from industry to Cambridge to teach engineering. In due course I represented the Faculty of Engineering as a member of the main university committee responsible for administering and allocating resources to the various faculties. I learned much of university politics and the internal stresses between faculties and the cumbersome bureaucracy. I experienced the bigoted attitude of some academics to expansion and to the support of engineering, which was then so ably led at Cambridge by the noble Lord, Lord Baker, under whom I had the privilege to serve.
I have many memories of acrimonious arguments with those who were against such expansion, and some years later I remember a similar antagonism to change when I was serving as a member of the council of the old Cranfield College of Aeronautics under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Kings Norton, when he was trying to obtain the charter status of a university for that college as the Cranfield Institute of Technology, as it now is. There was a tremendous antagonism in those days from all the old-established universities to Cranfield becoming a post-graduate technological university but happily, under the leadership of Lord Kings Norton, those difficulties were overcome.
I had hoped that such attitudes were long-since dead and that the importance of engineering in education was now fully accepted. So it was a great disappointment to me to observe the events of the last few years, when the UGC had to allocate reduced funding to universities. As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, they rightly resisted across-the-board cuts. There may have been differing views as to how they allocated the funds between the different universities, but they did indicate quite clearly to universities that cuts should be minimised for engineering and science departments. Many universities responded by making across-the-board 832 cuts totally at variance with the UGC's recommendations and expressed wishes, and totally at variance with the example which the University Grants Committee itself had set.
This misguided policy was a further example of the universities' failure to meet the changing needs of society in the field of engineering. I hope we have learned those lessons now from our mistakes of the past, for it is urgent that we do so. Our share of world trade in manufactures is still falling. Last year we had a deficit of £2½ billion in export and imports of manufactured goods compared to a £2 billion credit a year before. We are still training far fewer engineering graduates than our major competitors in Japan, Germany and France. I very much hope that the Government, and the Secretary of State for Education and Science particularly, will take quick action on the recently-published proposals of the Engineering Council of which I am a member, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Todd, has referred.
There is no time to go into the details tonight, but I should like to make three important points of principle which are contained in the Engineering Council's recommendation. First, regarding resources, the council recommends that there should be a 10 per cent. swing from arts-based to science-based places in universities, with the majority of science-based places going to engineering students. I should add that, in my view, some emphasis ought to be placed on production engineering courses, including a big concentration on manufacturing systems, and the like, which are so vital to restoring our competitive position in industry.
I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford. He said that there should not be a switch of funds but that additional funds should be provided. It seems to me that in these days that is an unrealistic approach. We must recognise that to achieve that objective of a swing of 10 per cent. from arts to the science-based places will need a bigger than 10 per cent. swing in resources, because science and engineering are more expensive than arts. If that is to be done quickly and effectively the Engineering Council recommends that for five years funds for engineering education should be earmarked for accredited courses. I know that in some academic circles that will be very unpopular, but in my view it is the only possible way that we will achieve the changes at the speed that we must make them if this country is to survive in this competitive world.
Secondly, on quality, the council has recommended both enhanced and extended engineering courses. In my view, both are needed. However, to achieve the maximum effectiveness both in time and value for money I would give preference to enhanced three-year courses with perhaps a longer 40-week final year. Nor must we be carried away by the cult of specialisation in information technology or in anything else. Engineering and industrial problems increasingly require a broad understanding of engineering principles. Specialisation can easily be added later when it is required—perhaps with the help of the Open University, to which so many noble Lords have referred in such glowing terms, and rightly so.
Thirdly, the council recognises the need for much closer links between universities and industry in two 833 most important areas: a greater involvement of universities with industrial training, particularly in the first year of the so-called thick sandwich course; that is, a year in industry, three years in university and another year training in industry. It is no use sending off a school-leaver and shoving him into the deep end of industry without any contact with the university to which he is to go for his education. It is essential that that first year should be properly supervised by those who are to look after him in the university. We need much greater attention to that.
The other area is in technology transfer and the exploitation of new knowledge to bring more industrial relevance to engineering courses. We need more exchange of staff to give academics a better appreciation of the relevance of time, markets and money, and industrialists a clearer appreciation of the need to keep up to date in new knowledge. Action on all these points is urgent if in this technological age we are to keep up with our competitors and create the wealth—not least the wealth needed to sustain our university activities—to give young people the opportunity to develop and meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world.
I hope we shall take the long view and that we shall allocate the resources that we need, for by the 21st century—and it is only 16 years away—advancing technology will have created massive changes in the pattern of work and leisure. Because it is in universities that many of the new ideas must evolve, it is of the utmost importance not only that they should have adequate resources but also that they use their privileged freedom wisely and respond more readily to the changing needs of the community.
Before I sit down I should like to express my appreciation, which I am sure will be shared by all noble Lords today, to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor for sitting on the Woolsack and giving such close attention throughout this very long debate.
§ Viscount Caldecote
I see that he has taken copious notes and we look forward eagerly to his response.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Viscount Hanworth
My Lords, I must give my most humble apologies to the House for putting down my name to speak at the end. In fact, I had my name down on the list of speakers, but due to transport difficulties, when I thought the debate was going on until one o'clock or so I cancelled it.
My reason for speaking, and why I have taken this rather exceptional step of putting my name down again at the last moment, is that in March 1971, that is 13 years ago, I initiated a debate on this subject, and it was shortly after Lord Annan's Reith lecture. On looking back at the speeches I have made in the House, I think this was possibly one of the most important, one of the most provocative speeches I have made, but I think that in a way it was useful. Therefore, to follow on after 13 years is perhaps something I am entitled to do.
834 Much has changed since then, and in the direction which I hoped for. I believe it is worth recalling that at that time some people seemed to believe that, whatever was taught at a university, and however badly it was taught, it was self-justifying—just because it was taught at a university. It was also apparent that, to some extent, universities were ivory towers opposed to all change and conveniently insulated from outside pressures.
Today, with one or two exceptions, I do not wish to criticise our universities, but to raise some matters which I believe need consideration. I am sure that, as a first step, we must define and keep under review the objects of higher education. I suggest, as I did 13 years ago, that there are basically three: first, to train future academics and research workers; secondly, to provide education likely to be of direct use after students leave university; thirdly, to broaden the outlook of students and to make them more rounded persons and better citizens.
I do not feel qualified to comment on the first objective, which I believe the universities do well, but it does seem that the award of doctorates might be worth investigation as standards are rather uneven. In considering education of direct use in subsequent employment there is the overall problem of how many students the nation requires in any one discipline; for example, the number of medical students to fill the likely future requirements. Bearing in mind the fallibility of any forecast, I would only say it is a problem that must not be swept under the table.
I am sure that the methods and approach to teaching receive far too little consideration at universities, and that many are too proud to learn from outside knowledge and experience. It may be true that a potential first-class student can learn from any professor, however had he is at imparting his knowledge, but this is most certainly not true of the less gifted student. University lecturers should, on appointment, have to attend a teaching course and periodically discussion-type seminars thereafter.
Turning now to the third objective, briefly, the making of more rounded persons and better citizens, I have considerable doubts, for example, as to whether arts courses—or some arts courses—simply provide a soft option for the harsher world outside. Without doubt the sudden expansion of the universities spawned some very C3 arts courses run by inadequate lecturers. To what extent this may be true today I simply do not know, but it remains an area which should come under examination, particularly with the cutback in university funds. In general in the arts field, I am sure that lecturers should not move directly into their posts without first having some experience of the outside world. Equally well, I believe that most of the courses should have a substantial element of other disciplines included in the syllabus.
It is sometimes worth while looking back to see the viewpoint of a previous generation. Before the last war, it was accepted by many that the only really good training of the mind was the classical discipline. That is in stark contrast to the more recent view I mentioned earlier, which could be summed up—I 835 wonder whether the noble Lord is listening; or must he continue his conversation over quite a long period? As I was saying, that is in stark contrast to the more recent view I mentioned earlier, which could be summed up by saying that anything taught at a university is equally useful. There are fashions in viewpoints, and the truth usually lies between the two extremes.
However that may be, there would seem to be three matters of importance. The first is, to train people in making a logical assessment of any problem presented to them. The very simple, Army approach of the disciplined appreciation is far and away superior to anything usually taught in higher education. Secondly, in industry and elsewhere, what is of paramount importance is judgment. In some university work there is too much emphasis on simply repeating eminent persons' views for and against some proposition, without the student personally considering the practical and common-sense validity of the arguments.
The third, and last, point I want to make is difficult to put across, but I regard it as very important. We used to think that education would make people more reasonable because they would be better able to assess and to balance arguments put forward in support of any cause or proposed action. It was hoped that, by their knowledge of history and the realisation that there are always two sides to any argument, such educated people would avoid making judgments on a purely emotional basis; reason and common sense, one hoped, would prevail.
That has not been the case. We have only to look at situations where the arguments for and against are fairly evenly balanced, to find that in such cases most people become increasingly hot under the collar. One cannot eliminate the emotional aspect of judgment. In most cases it is a necessary part of any decision process, but it should be employed only on weighting all the relevant arguments on both sides.
I should like to take an extreme example. Having considered all the social merits of freer abortion, the Catholics, on religious grounds (and in this context that is emotional) considered that there was only one paramount factor: that of taking human life. One can disagree, but one knows how the conclusion is reached and to some extent one may be able to sympathise with the viewpoint.
The all-important point in making any decision or adopting any viewpoint is to hear both sides of the argument. I submit that, to some extent, this can be taught in universities by means of what I would call case studies. There are plenty of historical cases devoid of immediate emotional connotations. Free trade and the corn laws might be such subjects. It is then possible to move on to emotional subjects. I think that at that stage it would he possible to train people to work or to think in the sort of way that I have tried briefly to outline.
The business schools provide this kind of mental discipline. What I have in mind could be dignified by some suitable academic title and included in the students' curricula. I am afraid that I have argued the 836 case on this third point very inadequately. I hope, however, that I have said enough to awaken some interest.
Lastly, I emphasise the importance of having two streams of higher education. The academic approach of some universities suits a limited number of students. For others, the more down to earth approach of the old technical colleges is what is needed. I apologise once more to your Lordships for exceeding my normal time limit of 10 minutes and for having broken almost every unwritten law in making this speech.
§ 10.22 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, anyone who, like myself, has spent a number of years working in a university must, I think, accept that there is plenty of need for change and room for reform and a good deal that can be criticised as well as much that can be praised and admired in the way that universities have been running and are running at present.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, referred to the problem of tenure. The claim for tenure is based in large part on the principle of academic freedom. But that argument of academic freedom, as the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, said, can be extended far beyond what is its real justification. That justification is a basic and essential one. It is the right of the academic to speak the truth as he sees it without any fear of reprisals. That is as far as it should go. It should not be used to justify the continued employment of people who are less than competent and who are just plain lazy. I believe that I should not be exaggerating in saying that there have been occasions on which it has been used for just that purpose. It is that kind of thing that leads to a great deal of criticism of the academic world from people outside and which academics are unwise to defend.
I was heavily involved in the student riots as an academic at the end of the 1960s. I am bound to say that all the faults were not on the side of the students. Two students said to me during that time that they had been introduced to their tutor in October and did not see him again until June. I think that the student who did not riot under those circumstances would be sadly lacking in appreciation of what was due to him and what he was expecting to get from the university world. Behind that lay a number of things but, in particular, over-emphasis on the wrong kind of research.
Much has been said in the debate about the importance of research. Of course, real research and real scholarship are of the greatest importance. But. in the universities as they exist today, there are a large number of people who are not, in the old sense, scholars and great seekers after truth. They are competent at academic work. They can contribute from time to time to research but they are not profound research workers. I doubt whether it is wise to devote so much resource to research or to attach so much importance to it in estimating people's suitability for promotion.
A great deal of trouble has arisen from the fact that, 837 as everybody knows, promotion is given not for good teaching, but for publication, and publication requires research. We might do a great deal better if we remember that the purpose of universities is not only research—although that must be a very important aim—but also the transmission of knowledge to the next generation and the exciting of interest in knowledge in that generation which can only come from good teaching.
One of the things which has gone wrong is that there has been too little emphasis on teaching and too much encouragement of research, often of rather dubious value. When a would-be Ph.D comes to us—and I have had it happen to me—and says. "I want to do research, can you suggest a subject?" I suggest that that is ample evidence that that person should, under no circumstances, be engaged in research. Unless one is so excited by one's subject that one is prepared to research into it come what may, one should get out and do something else.
However, having said that, there is no doubt at all that the universities at their best—and as we hope to see them in the future in all their various forms—are central to the life and advance of this country. We need more and better higher education. We need it because frankly we are a badly educated people and we are rather proud of it. If we reflect, I believe that we are the only society in which there is no social stigma attached to being ignorant. It is no discredit to anybody either not to know what words mean or to be able to speak no language but his own. People boast of their ignorance in all classes of society in this country. I do not believe that we should find that in any other country in the Western world or, indeed, elsewhere for all I know. We have been able to get away with it in the past, but we shall not be able to get away with it in the future. It will not be a comfortable world for the ignorant and the uneducated. The sooner we get out of the idea that it does not matter that we do not know and understand, the more chance we shall have of progress.
There are large categories of people capable of various forms of higher education who have been denied them and for whom those opportunities must be made available. Others in this debate have referred to those categories, and I shall say little about them now. But there are cohorts of potential mature students capable of taking advantage of the Open University of the Open Tech.—which, I think, has not been mentioned very much during this debate—and, indeed, of opportunities in universities and other colleges of higher education.
If we look back at the percentage of women in universities in the past, we find that that percentage is now improving. But in the past women have been grossly under-represented. After all, in this country we live on our wits and half the wits are in female heads. We have done very little to make the most of those female wits. There are a large number of women who, in middle life, are perfectly capable of, and would like the opportunity to have, higher education of one sort or another. We should make those opportunities available to them. Also, even though it is perhaps not so obviously directly relevant to this debate—although others have also mentioned it—let us bring back the 838 overseas students, not only because of the training opportunities (although they are very important), not only because of the view that is taken of us elsewhere in the world as a result of the way we have denied those opportunities, but for the benefit of our own students. At the London School of Economics, where I work, it was with great pride, and it was a great educating factor for British students, that we could boast that we had 42 different nationalities in that one college at one particular time. There is an educative effect in having that mixture of students so that differences between races and people are taken in their stride and nobody stops to ask: where did he come from, what colour is he, what is his nationality? They are just other students. This education is of the greatest possible value.
Of course, I know that the extension that we need will cost money and this debate is, in part, about that. Of course, it is investment. This Government tend to win their battles, but they are in grave danger of losing the war. They may win the battle for immediate economy, but they will lose the war if they economise in this direction. They will lose the war for a continuing, sound economy and a nation which is able to hold its own in the 21st century. That is the longer view which we must beg the Government to take.
I am not saying that there should not be economies; I believe that there can be many economies, and I could have suggested a great many in my own institution. Individual organisations left to themselves, or when they feel that the going is rough, have shown that they can be extremely ingenious in finding resources themselves. Salford is a case in point. In the view of many of us, Salford was extremely badly treated by the University Grants Committee, but it went out and found resources—and good luck to it! The London School of Economics did the same. After all, a school of economics ought to be able to go and find money. One doubted that is would be as practical as that, but it was. It went round the globe and raised a considerable amount of money to keep itself going when the allocations from central Government became extremely difficult to rely on.
I am not saying that the problem of finding money is not a real one; it is. I believe, however, that with effort and encouragement it can be overcome, especially if the Government take a rather longer view of the value of university education. But what sort of higher education? What sort should it be? I hope that we can get rid of talk about "élitist" and "anti-élitist". Personally, I detest the terms. There are, of course, people who are better at things than other people are; there are people who are extremely gifted and people who are less gifted. That does not mean that they are less good people, and we want to encourage excellent performance in all areas. But there are different forms of excellence, so let us forget that argument and get on with the much bigger job of saying what sort of higher education and what variety and diversity of higher education we want to have.
For a great many people coming into the universities at the present time—and I have seen the results of this—I do not believe that the English type of honours degree is suitable. I believe that more practical and applied courses, perhaps spread over different periods of time and not necessarily all done in 839 one three-year block, are more appropriate for people with different interests—not less good or less worthy interests, but different interests and different abilities. We should be working on diversity and a great opportunity for choice to match the interests and abilities of different kinds of people who do not fit the old kind of degree course that we have at the present time. To push people into honours degree courses who are not of that kind does not do them any good; I believe that it does them positive harm, and some people who have taken a third in sociology have been permanently damaged for life! They are awfully difficult to teach after they have had that searing experience.
We have to find what is appropriate for the other type. The polytechnics began to do this, but some of them (not all of them) were deflected. Some of them are still doing an excellent job, but there has been a tendency for them to ape the universities and this is a sad reflection of the weaknesses of our society. It is not the other way round. As the noble Lord, Lord Todd, said, it is because society has this deeply entrenched anti-industry bias that the polytechnics have been affected, and they believe that it would be better to look more like universities, If they had had a good, long look at some of the universities, they might have said that the best thing was not to look like them.
The colleges of advanced technology, the "CATs", had the opportunity to turn themselves into institutions of the type of Cranfield, but the great majority had not the courage to do it, or could not resist the lure of trying to he like universities. Instead of going out for the Cranfield model, which could have gained them very high prestige had they pursued that line, they took the other path and became universities of a sort, some of them no doubt very good, some of them a pretty inferior model of what they were trying to imitate. We want to start again and try to build up institutions with real prestige which are different but equally valuable for the people who work in them and the students who attend them.
What really matters when you are teaching is that you teach something that the students are excited by; that when you have finished teaching them they have caught it so that they want to go on by themselves; that they are stretched, and stimulated and excited. If you do not do that, you have failed, and if you do do it you have succeeded, whatever it is you started by teaching them. That is the secret of dealing with these bright people who are not academic. They have to see that it is relevant; thay have to think that it is interesting; and they have to feel that it is exciting. Then they will go on, and that is the test of successful teaching. It can be done, but only if we have the courage to find these new ways.
This is not a question of narrow specialisation. I believe we can all agree that narrow specialisation is out. It is out not only because it is educationally bad but because it is totally impractical and it does not apply to the needs of the world today. What we need today is people who can collaborate across different disciplines, and you cannot collaborate across different disciplines unless you have a reasonably good grasp of some discipline other than your own, and that is the key to the kind of teaching that we need.
840 I am horrified to see that at this time of night I have talked for 16 minutes. I crave your Lordships' pardon. The most exciting thing that has come out of this debate is the realisation that a great deal of change of the right sort is going on. If we have learnt nothing else from this debate, it has been worthwhile.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
My Lords, I cannot refrain from thanking the noble Baroness for her delightful speech. It is obvious that the Liberal Party has a formidable leader in your Lordships' House. I begin by declaring my own interest as President of the University College of Wales at Cardiff, and by congratulating my noble friend Lord Wilson of—
§ Lord Elwyn-Jones
Rievaulx, I have got it right. Bravo Rievaulx, I shall remember it hereafter! I congratulate my noble friend on his fascinating speech. The old master has obviously lost neither his skill nor his wit, and it was great to hear him.
The one aspect of university life that has received universal approval during this debate has been the Open University. Not a word has been said against it. The noble Lord, Lord Perry of Walton, and the noble Lord, Lord Wilson, have, as founders and inspirers, received full approval of the House. But I have been very disturbed today to receive a letter from Y Brifysgol Agored Yng Nghymru— which, being translated, none of you knowing the language of heaven, means "The Open University in Wales"—which expresses the great concern of the Welsh director for the fact thatThe demand for Open University courses in Wales has never been healthier, and I fear that serious cuts of the kind proposed by the DES may have their greatest impact in the Principality and similar regions".There is hardly an aspect of our higher education scene that has not suffered grievously from the Government cuts and that includes even the Open University.
The noble Lord, Lord Annan, has rendered a service to the House by drawing attention to the university and the higher education scene at this point in time. It is, sadly, a time when there is a mood of suspicion and fear and uncertainty among a large proportion of those who are concerned in higher education, arising from what I submit have been the arbitrariness and severity of the current use of financial attrition. The letter which my noble friend Lord Irving of Dartford read from the AUT perhaps has highlighted that fact. In the university scene, thousands and thousands of well-qualified young men and women are being denied places in the universities since the UGC imposed cuts in student numbers in July 1981. The Robbins principle, which has run like a golden thread throughout this debate, that places shall be found for all those young people able and willing to benefit from higher education, has been thrown overboard. Yet, as the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, said in the House in February 1982, that principle is part of the very principle of equality of opportunity.
I confess myself to be an unrepentant egalitarian, and I reject totally the élitist commendations of the 841 noble Lord, Lord Annan. I do not know whether the University of Wales and its colleges come within his chosen eight. He was perhaps wise and discreet not to identify them to us. It may have caused the gravest affront to numbers of vice-chancellors and presidents of those not worthy of inclusion in his Nirvana of suitable and qualified universities. While it is significant that, for instance, in the field of science, British science has had a great reputation for the generation of new ideas and concepts for a very long time, it is not the prerogative of the larger institutions. Indeed, if the academic roots of eminent British scientists are examined, their origins are often in the smaller and less fashionable institutions. The eminent scientists turned out by the University of Wales over the last two decades are a very good example. If you kill off the smaller universities, as has been suggested in one or two of the speeches as a desirable development, you are likely to cut off the lifeline of the larger establishments.
It is worrying to note from the statistics of UNESCO and the OECD how badly, in terms of the percentage of our population entering higher education, we compare with the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada and many other countries. I regard this as a serious indictment of our arrangements, and the situation is now becoming worse through the current cuts. Universities are now operating on a severely depleted financial base as a result of the 1981 cuts, the introduction of Full-cost fees for overseas students and the resulting drop in their numbers. This has reduced the finance to the system by over 10 per cent. in the years 1979–80 to 1983–84. Any further cuts in the units of resource would, I submit, he gravely damaging to university education and research.
The comment of the The Times leader, in a powerful editorial of last Monday, I think rightly stated:The Government's policy for higher education has been the product of its general offensive against public expenditure embroidered with expedience to limit the damage".Admirably expressed!
My Lords, I fear that yesterday's Budget speech gave no indication of an anticipated betterment. Indeed, the thought that I have had after hearing the anxious, authoritative speeches in the course of the long and notable debate today is that, perhaps, it is time for a full and new assessment of the financial needs of our great academic institutions. The Times article ended with the writer asking: What are the universities for? How much do they matter? Indeed, my Lord Chancellor, a good question!
As I suspect the noble and learned Lord would agree, they matter a great deal; and I hope that, at least, that message will emanate from this debate—and, not least, I submit, as a centre of initiative and resource for the regions where they are located, and as an intellectual focus for the people of that area. I believe that the university college with which I have the honour to be associated fulfils those functions.
My Lords, one valuable university trend in recent years has been that they have increasingly regarded continuing education as a central part of their role. I have been interested to read the comments of Dr Richard Hoggart, the chairman of the National 842 Institute of Adult Continuing Education, when he wrote:I am not convinced that this Government takes the case for continuing education seriously.I know that the noble and learned Lord has been asked to answer a multitude of questions but, if he can come round to that one, I think it may be quite important because:Formal continuing education is a necessity if the national economy is to avoid being handicapped by critical skill shortages and if we are to have the knowledgeable, adaptable and skilled workforce which is essential for the prosperity, economic health and progress of the country.Those words are from the working party report of the UGC on continuing education. My Lords, one of the matters that we have considered a good deal in the debate today is whether universities are still tending either to be ivory towers or, even worse, to have a positive attitude of disapproval towards, of alienation from, industry and direct involvement in industrial matters. I do not think that that is any longer the case, if once upon a time it was. There is no anti-industrial approach, I believe, in our universities today. Indeed, we live at a time when there is considerable publicity for industry and academic co-operation. There is a tremendous example of it—if I may say so without doing too much of a commercial—in the University College of Wales, Cardiff.
Science parks, industrial liaison centres and a host of other initiatives are being seen sometimes as the universities merely reacting to hard financial times. But in truth I think it is fair to say that academics have been clamouring for that kind of activity for a very long time, and what has spurred it on perhaps is the realisation by industry and by City investors that in the United States a great deal of high technology industry has grown up around their universities and that the more successful centres, like MIT in Boston, have built up a profitable marriage between higher education and industry. This has been aided in America for decades by the availability of venture capital. Unfortunately, we in this country have of late had very little industrial investment and very little venture capital. Indeed, I believe there has never been a better time for industries, cities and universities to sit down together and plan their contribution for our future. That must he equitable to all parties, because only then will a long-term contract be possible.
The universities, of course, contribute greatly to industry in the form of contract work which is related to its commercial requirements. It is right and proper that that should be so; but I believe it to be wishful thinking to imagine that industry can contribute adequately to finance basic research. Such research often has no direct commercial application and has to be conducted against a long time-horizon. It is also, sadly, the case that outside defence work, British industry's own expenditure on research and development compares unfavourably with our main industrial competitors, particularly in such key industries as mechanical and electrical engineering. And what is deeply disturbing is the decline in the number of our young people receiving training, for instance, in the field of engineering. In the key sector of the engineering industry, the engineering training board has recently reported a drop in the number of 843 apprentices from 20,000 in 1979 to 7,000 in 1983—and this at a time of massive unemployment among young people.
What I believe to be necessary are not policies designed to substitute business support for Government support for university research: what are required are policies aimed at increasing research and training both in universities and in industry. Government finance of university research should be increased and they should be seeking ways of encouraging industry to increase its own efforts in research and development and in the training of skilled labour.
I have taken a little time on an aspect of the matters we have discussed which I think is of great importance for the future of our country, and I should like to end by reiterating the anxiety expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, about the continuing decline in the number of overseas students coming to this country to complete their education. They pay for themselves. Every extra student, indeed, in pure cash terms helps to reduce the overall bill. They spend their money here; and when one asks why they come from all over the world to our places of learning and training, the answer is, because of the enormous reputation that this country still has in science and the arts.
That has not come out very clearly in the debate today. There has been what one might call a mood of general denigration and a running down of our academic institutions, which I do not like very much. But that reputation in science and the arts had not been built overnight, and is the product of generations who understood that a civilised world depended on harnessing human reason and not force to solve the problems of the human condition. Knowledge knows no boundaries, and the benefits which accrue to this country from sponsoring knowledge in our own citizens, and among those from foreign countries, are enormous, if incalculable, in the short run. Those are the visions which we should be acclaiming, and we should not be looking at these problems merely through the eyes of the Treasury accountant.
§ 10.56 p.m.
§ The Lord Chancellor
My Lords, when I was a very young Fellow of All Souls, I knew a very much older Fellow of All Souls and he knew, so he claimed, a man who had known Napoleon. So I asked him the obvious question (as he had intended) and, imitating the voice of a very old man, he replied "He said to me, 'It was easy to see that Napoleon was not a university man". Next Saturday or thereabouts is St. Patrick's Day; he was not a university man either, and nor was my father, who became Lord Chancellor.
I am going to talk about higher education, because it is a subject which interests me profoundly. But I begin with the observation that one can perfectly well succeed in the field of ideas, and in national life, without actually being a university man. If St. Patrick could do it my father could do it and Napoleon could do it, then so can a great number of other people.
When I undertook to answer this debate, I realised that I was undertaking an unmanageable assignment. 844 There have been somewhere between 30 and 40 speakers, each more eminent than the last, each with an important contribution to make to the subject, and each making that contribution extremely well. But if I were to give two minutes, say, to every one of them my speech would last more than an hour, and I have a feeling that the House would gradually begin to dwindle if I were to undertake the task—although I am quite certain that, if I were to do justice to any one of those speeches, it would take me a great deal more than two minutes.
There is a separate reason why the assignment was unmanageable from the start; it is, that this is part of a great debate which is currently taking place outside this Chamber and in the world of higher education. To some extent it was initiated by the famous questionnaire of 28 questions by the UGC; to some extent, by the strategic document of the National Advisory Board. May I say in passing—because I am afraid that this has to be, to some extent, a ragbag of ideas—that I rather shared 20 years ago the dislike of the binary system, which has attracted a certain amount of criticism even tonight. I can see the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, who was one—not the only one—of its critics. I was defeated.
I advocated, as did my noble friend Lord Beloff at an earlier stage in the debate, a department of higher education and science but I was beaten, as usual. I believe we are stuck with the binary system so it is no good complaining. The truth is that higher education ought to be a continuum and it is to some extent, artificially divided down the chine by the binary system. I am afraid we cannot help that and we must go on planning as it continues.
Both the NAB document and the UGC document have given rise to national debate. I can assure your Lordships that this debate in your Lordships' House will play an important part in the national debate as it continues. However, it is obvious that it would be presumptuous for a Minister of the Crown to give positive answers to many of the questions which have been raised, as though he anticipated the answers which will be given as a result of the debate. Public discussion of the issues involved is still in its early stages and it would be inappropriate if I were to anticipate the result. Nonetheless, I shall make one or two exceptions.
Apart from anything else, I should like to join those who welcomed our one maiden speaker, the noble Lord. Lord Wilson of Rievaulx—a member of that distinguished little club of ex-Prime Ministers whom we are gradually accumulating in this House—who, in addition to his already vast public experience, has professional experience of the university world. I hope that on numerous occasions he will draw on his other experience in wider fields and so lead us to enjoy many more speeches from him.
It would he invidious of me to pick out for particular praise or even for particular mention any of the speeches which have been made. However, if he will allow me to say so, I was particularly struck by the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who chose this as an extremely appropriate subject for today's debate. It seemed to me to be very original, provocative and well delivered and it raised a number of issues, some of which I may be able to answer but most of which will go into the general pool of ideas 845 which will emerge from the national discussion. I do not know whether he is still here, but I was also particularly struck by the speech from the Cross-Benches of the noble Lord, Lord Todd, which happened to coincide very closely with some of my own ideas and with those of my noble friend Lord Beloff, who I see has endured to the end—like the rest of us.
The noble Lord's Motion speaks of the necessity for change In reply I would say that, on the experience of the past, change in tertiary education is absolutely inevitable. Throughout my life such change has been taking place and it continues to take place. In fact, there has been a revolution. The point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, and I believe also by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry, that change has never proceeded at a faster rate than in the years following the Robbins Report. And the very public discussion to which I have already referred indicates a new epoch, based in part upon the development of the needs of society but partly also on demographic change. And the constraint of economic and fiscal pressure is already under way.
However, I agree with those who said—and the last to say it was the noble and learned Lord, Lord ElwynJones—that we ought to begin by asking ourselves seriously what it is that we expect from these various institutions whose future we have been discussing: the universities, the polytechnics and the colleges of further and higher education. The noble and learned Lord and the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, asked: what is a university for? What do we look for in a polytechnic? Certainly a polytechnic is today a totally different institution from that which was initiated by my grandfather, in conjunction with Sidney Webb, about 100 years ago. What should be the relationship of these institutions to one another? This question was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady David, I believe. And what should be the relationship between the schools, the adult education movement, the learned professions, the Churches, the research institutes and the population at large? What should be their internal governance? Our educational establishment has been built up somewhat higgledy-piggledy: like Topsy it has grown. It may not he the worse for that, but it makes generalisation more difficult and it makes dogmatism, perhaps, a little more dangerous.
There are propositions about which I do feel inclined to dogmatise somewhat. The first is that, however much tertiary education is to an overwhelming extent likely to remain dependent on funds from central government sources, tertiary education must remain independent of the state. It should, therefore, look to a multiplicity of' sources of finance wherever it can, whether from the public purse or from the private purse. The reason is basic: the independent structure of higher education is, in its way, as important as an independent judiciary or independent professions. Even though, therefore, the government remain the principal source of income for almost all these institutions, multiplicity of funding sources—even from government funds—is essential. Other sources of finance are even more valuable where they can be found.
May I say to the noble Lord, Lord Irving of Dartford, that Robinson and Wolfson and Nuffield 846 colleges at Oxford and Cambridge proved the validity into the 20th century of independent benefactions. Oxford and Cambridge, of course, retained both their prestige and their great reputations. I expect that they were among the institutions of excellence in the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Annan. But let not all these benefactions go to Oxford or Cambridge.
My noble friend Lord Beloff deserves, if he will allow me to say so, immense praise for his work in connection with the independent Buckingham University. May I say—since he mentioned my own modest connection with it—that when the degree ceremony takes place there a very high proportion indeed of the graduates are precisely those overseas students who have figured so largely and so eloquently in the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Elwyn-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.
In any event, the American systems of funding through alumni associations and the special appeals referred to by the noble Earl. Lord Perth (about St. Andrew's University and others) are not, in my opinion, widely enough practised here, and in the case of the polytechnics have hardly been practised at all since the days of my grandfather.
Quite apart from funding by donors, organisations such as the Beit Foundation in the field of research fellowships or the Medical Research Council, which in addition to government funds has private funds of its own, the various agricultural research institutes, the research foundations associated with particular diseases like arthritis and multiple sclerosis, organisations for industrial research and the connections between industry and universities which take place as a result either of scholarships or of research contracts, vary very much, but they do keep teaching and research closely allied and independent of one another inside the universities and provide that multiplicity of fundings of which I have been speaking.
May I say that I fully accept what has been very largely a matter of discussion; namely, a connection between research, or pure scholarship, and the teaching function. This is not to say that one necessarily adopts a snobbish attitude towards research. The young—and universities are very largely about the education of the young—need association with the frontiersmen of knowledge, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, said. The frontiersmen of knowledge, in my opinion at least, need constant contact with those who teach the young, and with the young themselves, so that their fresh minds can maintain the impetus and vitality of thought and research. I am not by any means saying that there is not a place in the structure for pure teachers, pure researchers or for institutions devoted to teaching, as some speakers have suggested.
I began my speech about money. Money is indeed necessary. Nothing can be done without it, and it is, however, somewhat ironical that nuclear physics which began in such a small way with Heath Robinson equipment, should now have some of the largest and most expensive research and teaching machines in the world, some of them even funded internationally, like CERN in Geneva. We are now spending £3.5 billion on higher education. Although it is obvious that the university and higher education world is going through constraints of an economic and financial kind, I do not 847 think that all the anxiety which was alleged to exist by the noble and learned Lord is quite justified in the face of a figure of that kind.
I would, in passing, say that one must, when one is dealing with a single area of public endeavour, remember that it is not enough to identify an area of human need to say that the human need will be entirely met if we lavish a great number of megalitres of public money upon it. "What no money?" said the great Rutherford to his students, "Why then, we must use our brains." There I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said about diversifications, and what the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, said about mergers and concentration of effort. I find that the demand of constant refunding with new money is not enough in the face of all the other demands—all of them openended—which are quite rightly made upon the public purse. We postponed the Unstarred Question of the noble Lord. Lord Hatch of Lusby, who was recently demanding much more money for starving countries in Africa. We know that the noble Lord, Lord WellsPestell, is constantly urging the needs of the sick. My noble friend Lady Masham of Ilton quite rightly urges in this context, but not always in this context, the needs and requirements in terms of money of the handicapped and the disabled. That is all right, but one must realise that each and all is a drain upon the other. State after state which has experimented with the heresy that money is a cornucopia filled from some supernatural widow's cruse has found its progress coming to a grinding halt followed by a humiliating journey to Canossa in the shape of the International Monetary Fund.
May I say, in passing, that student behaviour does not enter into this equation at all. According to my way of thinking, it is lamentable, it is a mark of defiance of authority and sometimes of the violence which we all deplore; but it should not lead to a restriction of finance. That was the point made by my noble friend Lord Alport who is sitting there ready to take my place on the Woolsack.
There is another point about which I should like to offer a few thoughts. Again I refer to what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. Tertiary education is about quality and not simply about quantity. I am glad both those contributors stressed the point. You may anathematise élitism as much as you will; you may concede, as you must, that in the republic of learning there is no place for privilege of wealth or privilege of birth, and that the Robbins principle of access for all willing and qualified participants is the right approach. In that connection, I do not accept for a moment the strictures of the noble and learned Lord that that principle has been thrown overboard. Quite the contrary. But I stress that it is access to higher education and not simply to selected university institutions that is referred to.
Tertiary education is, I would say, amongst other things, about the pursuit of excellence or it is nothing. Although applied knowledge may be of a great utility to the nation—and I fully support what has been said this evening and what is cerainly in the thinking of my right honourable friend, about the necessity of a shift towards vocational and practical training and 848 education in the higher education field—if we ever idolise utility as an end in itself, higher education will lose at once its inspiration and its moral authority. Scholarship for its own sake is an ideal never wholly to be abandoned, either in the field of science or in the field of the arts.
"The integrity of knowledge" was phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, and it is one which I particularly liked. Never make fun of the absentminded professor. His mind may be absent from his bootlaces because it is far away, seeking higher things.
Not all professors are so admirable. You can overdo absent-mindedness about material things. In the nature of things, whether we live under a dictatorship or whether we espouse communist or capitalist ideals, a nation is going to be administered to a very large extent by its graduates. But graduates—this has been said, though I forget exactly by whom—are not necessarily scholars. In the Middle Ages, when most of your Lordships could write no more than the sign of the cross wherewith to authenticate your letters, Oxford and Cambridge were busy producing graduates in the learning of the day to do their writing for them and even to administer the country. After the Reformation, learning at our two English universities—Scotland already, I think, boasted four at that time—first moved into a concentration on the secular classics of Latin and Greek and finally to a kind of Sargasso Sea in which real scholarship was hardly at a premium and genuine men of learning like Dr. Johnson, although he was an Oxford man, were hardly amongst the most successful.
It is odd that, despite that, despite Blackstone's professorship, law was never studied as a university degree subject throughout the 18th century. What legal learning there was was imparted to people like young Shallow at the Inns of Court, between the chimes of midnight and other occupations. Again, as a bencher of one of the Inns of Court, may I say that noble Lords would be quite pleased—and so would the noble Baroness—to see what a number of overseas students we do call to the Bar. The same, of course, is true of the other part of the profession, but it is particularly true of the Bar.
The point I am making is that in the midst of this preoccupation with the classics and similar learned subjects, science, technology and even mathematics were for a very long time almost ignored until the need of them was suddenly rediscovered somewhere in the beginning or in the middle of the 19th century.
This takes me on to another point I want to make. It is the need for a multiplicity of disciplines in the greater part of our institutes of higher education—and I am glad that that point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers—even going as far as the need for a multiplicity of scientific disciplines. Polytechnics must never be monotechnics, and universities, though each may have its especial glory (such as the Cavendish at Cambridge. or the Clarendon at Oxford), must be multidisciplinary in character, or nothing. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, made that point, too.
Both England and Scotland were madly short of scientific chairs and lectureships until the 1920s. Generally speaking, the more vocational aspects of higher education were, until very recently purveyed in 849 my grandfather's Regent Street Polytechnic, or the predecessor in Strathclyde, called Anderson's Institute, which were indeed pioneers in their day. But they had not the funds to keep up the pace.
Moreover, long after the classics had ceased to enjoy their primacy in prestige and professional chairs, there was (as the noble Lord, Lord Todd, quite rightly said) a kind of social snobbery in what might be called—even in the scientific disciplines—pure science, as against, for instance, engineering. That is a point which was stressed by my noble friend Lord Caldecote. The older universities, in particular Oxford, I think, were long kept out of some of the most exciting fields of scientific learning.
I do not think that the world has fully appreciated the extent to which this nation is in debt to my noble friend Lord Eccles for his White Paper in the late 'fifties, I think it was. The same remarks apply in regard to the noble Lord, Lord Bowden (who is still here with us, and who took a notable part in the debate) for his work in Manchester, and to many other pioneers. Their work led first to colleges of advanced technology, and then to institutions modelled on the Technische Hochschulen, on the continent. Finally in this connection, I would mention the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, for his epoch-making report in the time of the Macmillan Government.
The modern university and the modern polytechnic are essentially multidisciplinary to an extent never appreciated before this present age. If evidence were required of the need for change (which is the theme of this debate) let those concerned consider this. The academic world has been transformed during my own lifetime and is no doubt undergoing change even as I speak.
I have not mentioned—though I do so now—the Open University, that gate of opportunity to the latecomer, which was referred to several times in the debate, as, for instance, by the noble Lords, Lord Annan, Lord Perry of Walton and Lord Wilson of Rievaulx. I was, I confess, originally extremely suspicious when the Open University was launched, but I now publicly recant, and in doing so draw attention to the work of my noble and learned predecessor. Lord Gardiner. So far as I know, he was the only human being in history who has been both chancellor and an undergraduate in statu pupillari at the same university at one and the same time. I am glad to know that the university is currently enjoying something like £60 million of public funds.
I am glad that the Motion includes colleges of higher education. I cannot exaggerate the importance of these in the total picture. I am convinced that in this country we have consistently under-estimated the importance of tertiary education at all levels. If we are to make comparisons with the output of graduates in other countries, I think we should remember that some of our colleges of higher education are providing courses which, though technically would not lead to degrees, are producing results which would certainly lead to degrees if they took place anywhere else but here.
I think that perhaps we have concentrated too much on school education, too little on vocational courses; and within vocational courses perhaps to little on their academic component, which, after all, is what distinguishes them from apprenticeships. We have 850 also paid too little attention to business and industrial management studies, and I am afraid that we have allowed Harvard to steal a march on us here.
I would applaud the existence of research departments in polytechnics, universities and colleges of higher education, especially when they carry on contract work for government, industry and business generally. For too long, our tertiary education has been too narrow. Pure learning has always been at the heart of university life, but multiplicity of discipline is essential to the spread of a generalised culture.
Here, may I come back—because I am now reaching my conclusion—to my original questions? What are these institutions for? I have never accepted the formula of the two cultures put forward by the late C. P. Snow. Culture is a continuum. It moves imperceptibly from the classics to nuclear physics, from religion to biochemistry, from philosophy to engineering, from languages to mathematics. At the outset of this speech, I was asking among other questions what should be the relationship between these tertiary bodies and the people as a whole. The noble Lord, Lord Rochester, I thought, provided a partial answer. A section of the answer at least must be the spread of a generalised culture throughout the community. The point was echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, and by my noble friend Lord Caldecote. I have said that again and again, and I now repeat it in this particular context.
A free society needs cement as well as freedom to differ. However much we may spend our time airing our differences in detail, we need to develop as a society the means of expression and institutions which bind us together in common loyalty. Our possession of our Royal Family is, of course, one of these institutions. I would add that our Christian inheritance is another, our common law and an impartial juciciary, a third. But let us not neglect our seats of learning, old and new, academic and vocational, as another. Let the universities, the polytechnics and the colleges of higher education play their full part in bringing a generalised culture to the nation and they will earn the gratitute of their fellow countrymen. They are among the leaders and unifiers of society. I trust that, under any foreseeable government of any political colour, so they will long remain.
§ 11.27 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, it was Lord Macaulay, I think, who, speaking of the difficulty that readers of Spenser's Faerie Queene came up against, said:Very few and very weary are those who are in at the death of the Blatant Beast".I congratulate your Lordships that quite a number are here at the end of this debate. I should like to thank all those who took part in it. I have listened to all the speeches and I have been enormously impressed by the expertise and the devotion to the values of higher education that have been shown here this afternoon and tonight.
I must naturally thank the ex-Prime Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, for choosing to make his maiden speech in this debate. I want particularly to thank the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble and learned former 851 Lord Chancellor for winding up the debate and showing how much they value those things that I remember having to declare that I would promote to the best of my ability when, some years ago, I was appointed a Fellow of King's College, Cambridge. They are education, religion, learning and research. That is what higher education is about.
§ I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned at twenty-nine minutes past eleven o'clock.