HL Deb 22 October 1986 vol 481 cc271-4

2.54 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what action the Secretary of State for Education and Science proposes to take to enable universities to recruit and retain high quality staff who can produce graduates of the calibre that this country will need in the 1990s.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, constructive proposals for reforming the salary structure of university academic staff have been drawn up by the employers and the Association of University Teachers. Those will be further considered in the light of decisions to be arrived at in the near future on university funding for 1987–88.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness for that reply. May I take it that the proposals put forward by the two sides will be favourably considered by the Government? Is the noble Baroness aware that the competitive position of university teachers and lecturers has deteriorated over the past three years in relation to the position in industry and even in other spheres of the public sector because the university pay settlements have been at a much lower level than those in the private sector and in the public sector? Is this a situation which the Government believe the country can afford to tolerate, with its consequent brain-drain of people from the universities to industry and even to other countries?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Government certainly recognise the importance of the universities for the future of the country. I cannot give the noble Baroness an assurance that the Government will consider the proposals favourably, but, as I have said, they are very important and constructive proposals. However, if inflation is to be curbed, pay negotiations must be constrained by what employers can afford, together with salary levels that are adequate to recruit, retain and motivate staff of appropriate quality. Any discussion about comparability cannot be the main criteria. If it were, all groups would press for a return to best-point relativities, leading to spiralling inflation and repeated erosion of relativities.

Lord Grimond

My Lords, perhaps I should declare an interest in that I am Chancellor of a university. Unfortunately, the pay of chancellors is what today is called "zero rated". However, will the Government agree that the standard of teaching in the universities is extremely high and that they are getting excellent staff extremely cheaply, particularly when compared with salaries paid in the City and in advertising? Will they bear in mind that the reason they are unable to get these staff is due to the high standing of our universities? They must ensure that the universities are supported to the full, or there may be a general falling off in the standards of further education.

Baroness Hooper

Yes, indeed, my Lords. I shall certainly convey the noble Lord's specialised knowledge and the points he has raised to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. We are certainly bearing these matters very much in mind in considering the proposals that have been put forward.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, will the Government not agree that the question of the retention of good university staff goes beyond the question of salaries to the funding of universities as a whole? Universities cannot be funded with widely varying support from year to year. They do not recruit staff year by year; they do not maintain their premises year by year; and they do not have their students year by year. Will the noble Baroness not agree that, unless the Government can give security of funding into the future, there will be no long-term solution to the recruitment of first-class university staff?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, in relation to funding in the longer term, the Secretary of State has told the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals very recently in Edinburgh that his long-term concerns were how to increase participation in higher education in order to meet the future needs of employers and how to fund such an increase. The Government are considering possible sources of private finance for higher education, including, for example, the introduction of a loan element in student support. However, the important factor of the proposals now under consideration is that they include greater proposals for flexibility for individual universities.

Lord Hunter of Newington

My Lords, I should like to ask the Minister whether the miserable business about clinical academic salaries has been resolved. Recruitment of staff to the medical schools is extremely difficult when the consultants there, who are also consultants in the National Health Service, are not receiving the same salaries.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, again, the Government are conscious of this problem. The Secretary of State explained the Government's undertakings to the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals at a meeting on 13th October. I hope that, in the light of that, they will now feel able through the Clinical Academic Staff Salaries Committee to bring about a speedy settlement for the clinical academics.

Lord Roberthall

My Lords, would the Minister agree that the most serious aspect of this matter is the drain to the United States, where the salaries and conditions are so much better than they are in this country?

Baroness Hooper

Certainly, my Lords; and the Government's intention is to improve conditions for academic staff as much as is possible within the financial constraints about which we are all aware.

Lord Beloff

My Lords, would my noble friend the Minister agree that one of the things which attracts people to teach in the universities is the prospect of able and well-prepared students? In that regard, with particular reference to faculties of engineering and applied science, ought we not to take an early opportunity of welcoming the Government's proposals for city technical colleges, rather than opposing them, as appears to be the ignorant intention of Her Majesty's Opposition?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I can only say "Hear, hear" to that.

The Earl of Halsbury

My Lords, would the noble Baroness accept that the key to all recruitment is the morale of the body to which they are going to be recruited, and that the fostering of morale is important whether it is the Brigade of Guards or an academic university, of which I also happen to be a chancellor?

Baroness Hooper

Yes, indeed, my Lords.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, would the noble Baroness not agree—I am sure she will not, in fact—that 20 technical colleges is a totally inadequate approach to the present problems? What we need, throughout the education system, is a lift in the level of training in science and technology; and not only in science, but a great improvement in schools as a whole. It is camouflage to put the money into 20 technical colleges.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Government are working hard in order to achieve an overall improvement in education and education facilities. I should have said that the introduction of 20 new such technical colleges was a good start.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the swingeing cuts imposed by this Government on the universities have created acute problems for them—worse problems than they have encountered throughout the whole of this century? Would she specifically say a word about the work of the universities in seeking to balance their books by travelling round the world to get overseas students into British universities? What is the policy of the Government towards this? Are the Government in favour of 20 per cent. of the university population being from overseas or are the Government now hoping to get more than 20 per cent.? Is there not a danger that the composition of the universities will change radically if the Government's policy gets its way?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I would not wish to comment on the actual figures that the noble Lord quoted. All I can say is that the Government view as important an element of international involvement in our universities both on the pupil side and on the teacher side; and I should have thought that this added a great deal of spice to our university circles.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, in order to make it absolutely clear, is the noble Baroness aware that in fact we on this side support overseas students in this country? But is she also aware that if this matter goes beyond a certain point it will create an imbalance in British universities, the object being to save money for the Government?

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that some universities, in particular the University of Surrey, with which I have some association, are making a strong response to the Government's recent move that universities should find more finance themselves by support from industry? In particular, by the development of research parks, universities can not only strengthen the academic side by the interplay between the workers in these industry research units and their own staff, but can also raise substantial sums of income by the development of the research parks to add to their own resources. This makes for a splendid spirit of enterprise throughout the whole university.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, the Government have indeed welcomed the many initiatives in this field, and not least because this can often lead to an increasingly improved job ratio at the end, because of the contact between private industry and the individual university.

Forward to