§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone rose to call attention to the problems of higher education; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I begin by saying how much I look forward to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford and how glad I am that he has chosen to make his maiden speech in this debate.
§ More than a quarter of a century has now passed since Lord Robbins produced his report on higher education which advocated a major expansion in the number of young people attending our colleges and universities. No one in those optimistic days of 1963–64 could have imagined the sorry state of higher education in 1989. Few would have imagined as we enter the last decade of the 20th century, in 252 an economy in which income per head is so much higher than it was in 1964, that only 15 per cent. of our young people would enter degree level study.
§ No one would have anticipated that those who teach in higher education would be so demoralised that many of their most talented representatives would leave education altogether or seek jobs overseas. No one would have conceived of a university teaching profession so disillusioned and so depressed by a sharply falling standard of living in what is said to be a prosperous economy as to refuse to mark examination papers in an attempt to secure a fairer pay offer. No one would have believed that in an era of rapid technological change, an era in which economic strength is founded on talent and inventiveness, that the Government should be so short-sighted and so limited in their vision of the long-term needs of the economy as to constrain severely the opportunities for talent to be nurtured and for inventiveness to thrive.
§ In the 1990s higher education and academic research are not luxuries. They are economic necessities. If we do not at the very least match the investment which our competitors make in higher education, the economic future of this country is indeed bleak. We should not forget that in the next decade the number of young people aged between 16 and 24 will decline by 20 per cent. This is typically the most adaptable and most technologically sophisticated part of our population. That decline could inflict grave economic damage. If we are to prosper, we must greatly enhance the quality of education for the young and expand access to higher education, giving those groups which have not participated up to now every opportunity to do so.
§ In introducing this debate my primary purpose is not to speak for those who work in higher education but to consider, first, the nation's need for greatly increased numbers of students if it is to have the well-educated population it needs as we enter the 21st century; and, secondly, the nation's needs for properly funded research. Nor is it my intention to focus the debate on the universities. The role of the polytechnics and the colleges is every bit as important, particularly in relation to students. However, it would be a strange omission to say nothing about the university teachers' pay claim given that we are now awaiting the result of the AUT's national ballot on whether to settle or whether to continue the examinations boycott.
§ I should like to say only this. Whatever our views may be on the boycott, I am sure that there will be broad agreement in the House that the pay of university teachers should not be allowed to fall further in relation to other qualified people. I am sure that many will also agree that while the Government's offer of extra funding to allow the vice-chancellors to increase their offer from 3 per cent. to 6.5 per cent. is welcome, it is just not enough. The reason it is not enough is that it still means there can only be a pay increase below the rate of inflation in a context where university teachers' pay has fallen by 20 per cent. since 1979 in relation to average earnings and by considerably more in relation to comparable professional earnings.253
§ In spite of that, I hope the AUT will settle. If it does it will have the benefit of public sympathy. This sympathy should stand the union in good stead when returning to ask for a well-deserved and bigger increase next year. In turn, it would be not just ill-considered but churlish if the Government fail to recognise this responsible action in their decisions on future funding. It would be a further signal to those who work or plan to work in higher education that the Government do not value their contribution and that they would be better off abroad or in another profession.
§ I turn now to the central question of student numbers. The Government will say that numbers have gone up since the early 1980s. I concede that they have, though most of the increase has been in part-timers in the public sector with very small increases in the universities. However, it is the rate of increase that counts and that has been much slower than in the previous two decades. Given that our participation rates are far below those of the USA, where 44 per cent. of young people are enrolled in higher education and well below those of Japan, West Germany, France and Italy, can we really afford to expand so slowly?
§ Given the increasing demand for highly qualified people in our workforce and the growing competition for graduates, surely we should be making faster progress in matching the rates of our main industrial competitors, most of whom are expanding their higher education faster than we are. Since 1979 the age participation rate has only increased from 12.4 per cent. to 14.7 per cent. With the benefits of demographic decline, it is projected to go up to 18.5 per cent. by the year 2000. This will leave us worse off in that year than our main industrial competitors are today.
§ In the circumstances, is it not absurd that universities, polytechnics and colleges are being constrained in the number of students that they can admit? Is it not also quite wrong that in certain subjects, including law, business studies, financial management and accountancy, applications have greatly exceeded the number of places available? Speeches from the Secretary of State claiming that he would like to see participation going up to 30 per cent. over the next 25 years sound like hollow rhetoric when his own plans only take us to 18.5 per cent. over the next 12 years.
§ Meanwhile, there is also a vast untapped reservoir of potential demand among adults who missed the opportunity to go into higher education at the conventional age. For every student who enrols at Birkbeck or the Open University, or one of the polytechnics, there are many more who would benefit from studying at this level. What many of them lack is an institutional and financial framework which encourages them to do so. Since the numbers of 18 year-olds are going down so fast, what are the Government intending to do to promote access for older students? When are they going to provide local authorities with specific grants to set up a framework to provide access courses—a network throughout the country—that will allow adults to prepare for higher education and acquire the confidence that many of them lack? Why should adult part-timers on 254 degree courses who already receive no maintenance grants be the only group that has to pay fees?
§ What do the Government intend to do to remove this inequity? It is an inequity that will be made greater if, as we read in the newspapers, the Government increase fees by a substantial amount —an increase that only part-timers will have to pay out of their own pockets. May we receive an unequivocal assurance that if this happens part-time students will be treated in the same way as full-time students and have their fees paid by their LEAs or come under whatever new bursary scheme the Government have in mind?
§ Here I must declare an interest. If that is not done, my own institution, Birkbeck College, will be bankrupted. Moreover the survival of the Open University, which has contributed so much, will also be seriously threatened. In replying to questions that may be raised in this debate the Government may well say that they are a matter for the funding bodies. However, fees are clearly a matter for the DES. In order to expand, higher education schemes must be devised with government backing to increase the numbers coming forward from those social groups that until now have been under-represented.
§ Whereas there has been a welcome increase in the participation of women, there is still a substantial gender gap that must be closed. There are far too few women studying engineering and not enough of them taking science courses. In the past, the Equal Opportunities Commission has been active in publishing this situation and in promoting various schemes to encourage young women to study these subjects. Will the Government consider establishing a development fund which may be administered by the EOC to provide the necessary resources to get experimental programmes started that will bring in more women?
§ There is much wasted talent in the black and Asian population. The polytechnics have proved much more successful in recruiting from the ethnic minorities. Again a Government initiative linking expanded local access courses, and perhaps funded by Section 11 money to particular universities as well as polytechnics, would be a signal to the black community of the Government's genuine wish to improve opportunities.
§ One of the most disturbing aspects of this Government's behaviour has been their tendency to manipulate government statistics to their own advantage. Being selective is one thing, but deliberately distorting the facts by misusing statistical data or by changing definitions, is quite another. Higher education has been no exception in this shoddy decline in integrity. For example, the Government recently claimed to have increased student numbers by 50,000. But their claims were based on a head-count increase when Ministers knew perfectly well that the full-time equivalent figure and not a head count is the figure that is always conventionally used. Perhaps today the Government will set out their intentions on just how many additional full-time equivalent places they intend to provide over the next five years and what that represents as a percentage average increase.255
§ If the Government wish to widen access, they must be willing to spend some money. That means not only funding for pre-entry schemes of the kind that I have suggested, but providing higher education institutions themselves with sufficient recurrent and capital funding to allow them to admit more students. There is no evidence whatever that the Government plan to do this. The truly remarkable fact is that, as regards the universities, resources for the next three years fail to retain their real value by as much as 6 per cent. In the public sector additional resources have been made available in 1989, but it is now clear that rising inflation will erode much of the benefit.
§ If reductions in real resources had followed a long period of growth that had allowed institutions to invest in new young staff, libraries, equipment and buildings, there might be complaints but no one would be unduly concerned. In present circumstances, following a sustained attack for some years on public funding for higher education, it is quite astounding. Is there no conception of investment in our future on the part of Ministers? Capital expenditure is the key to modernising facilities in higher education as well as to bringing in more people. Since the Conservatives took office in 1979, capital expenditure on the universities has fallen by 16 per cent. in real terms. In the polytechnics and colleges it has fallen by 14 per cent., but with a much steeper drop in the past three years. Their capital allocation is paltry compared to their needs. No wonder staff complain that they cannot even provide their students with adequate skills in information technology.
§ We continue to turn out people who are computer illiterate simply because we cannot afford to provide the equipment. Those who work in higher education are being exhorted by the Government to obtain more funding from private sector sources. In the 1980s in the universities Exchequer grants and income from fees have declined as sources of income, forcing higher education institutions to obtain more income from research grants and contracts. Despite considerable efforts that have been made, particularly by the universities, the proportion of income from endowments and donations has hardly changed over the past 20 years. Yet the Government continue to expound the ridiculous myth that large sums of money can be raised by this means.
§ The USA is held up as a model for us to follow. In fact the idea that American higher education is predominantly privately funded is yet another myth. Four out of five students go to public institutions and the proportion is growing. State subsidies and research contract income—much of it from federally-funded programmes—are the main sources of income. The fact is that there is massive public funding of higher education in the USA. Will not the Government here accept that it is their duty to make available sufficient funds to create a buoyant system and that it is not the responsibility of the private sector or of individuals to finance a public service of this kind from which the whole nation benefits?256
§ The Government's record on research is as lamentable as on places for students. No doubt the noble Viscount, speaking for the Government, will refer to the one-off extra £100 million for the science budget announced last autumn. That is just peanuts compared with what is needed. Moreover, the desirable increases in technician and research staff salaries will very quickly erode the modest gains it offered. What is needed is not one-off attempts to buy off the serious discontent among research scientists, but instead we need a commitment to scientific research that provides a sustained improvement in real terms for several years ahead.
§ Is it not shocking that our investment in knowledge and its application should now be lower than that of other large European countries? In the context of 1992, is it not a matter of great concern that their investment is rising as a proportion of gross domestic product whereas our investment is falling? What will happen to our reputation as a country of research, creativity and new ideas? Are we to be left behind in this respect as well as in so many others? In these circumstances, is it surprising that more than one-fifth of the Fellows of the Royal Society now work abroad? The latest evidence shows that outflows from the universities, especially among senior academic staff, now significantly exceed inflows. The most experienced and probably the most talented staff are leaving.
§ Both academic staff and those recently completing PhDs or post-doctoral fellowships are going abroad because they are so frustrated by the poor research facilities available to them here. It is unbelievably short-sighted to sit back and allow this to happen without intervening to greatly improve conditions here. In case anyone believes that I am unwilling to concede that the Government are doing anything right, let me reveal that for a long time I have advocated moving from the dual-funding system as it is known. That is what the Government apparently now intend. But if that happens it is vital to preserve a substantial capacity for the seedcorn funding of research. It is equally important to avoid a vastly complicated bureaucracy for allocating funds for research by the research councils.
§ It is enormously dispiriting if the valuable time of clever scientists and others is wasted filling out excessively complex forms and accounting for every tuppence-halfpenny of projected expenditure. It will be most helpful if today the Government can explain their intentions on the funding of research both as regards the mechanisms that they have in mind for distributing resources and the level of resources that they are planning to make available. Only a much increased amount can constitute a satisfactory reply. Finally, it would be remiss in a debate on higher education to say nothing about student support. Like other areas of expenditure, student maintenance has been subjected to ruthless reductions by the Government. For example, in the four-year period between 1982–83 and 1986–87 the real value of the student grant fell by more than 21 per cent. Mrs. Thatcher believes that people should live within their means. Why then is she willing to stand aside while the great majority of students get into debt with overdrafts at the bank?257
§ She can hardly claim that students are being spendthrift when the Vice-Chancellors' survey of board and lodgings costs show that these costs account for more than 90 per cent. of the full grant in London and virtually 80 per cent. of it elsewhere in the country. This leaves little left for students' other needs. Meanwhile, the Government seem to have wasted two years studying ways of introducing a loan scheme and have come up with proposals which do nothing to improve access and are not even acceptable to the banks. Unquestionably, the current system needs reforming; but why, my Lords, should this generation of students suffer while the Government reduce its standard of living in relation to previous generations and preside over something of a shambles in relation to the reforms that are needed?
§ In this respect, as in many others concerning higher education, the Government's approach has been piecemeal and small-minded. They have focused excessively on saving money. They have tinkered with revising structures. It is, however, hard to discern what they really expect from our universities, polytechnics and colleges. Value for money certainly—and there is nothing wrong with that—but value for money without any sense of purpose, any idealism or any vision is penny-pinching and demoralising and, most important of all, will not work.
§ In the oil rich 1980s, a huge opportunity has existed to invest in developing the talents of able people, both young and not so young. The Government have failed to respond to this challenge. As we enter the 1990s the state of our system of higher education is one of which we could have been proud. Instead it is one about which we can only feel distress because of the wasted opportunities. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, we should all be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for moving this Motion today. It provides, I think, our first opportunity to discuss important higher education issues since our stimulating debates during the passage of the Education Reform Act last year. I should also like to say how much I am looking forward to the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford.
I shall of course be answering the debate later this evening but I rise now because I think it would be helpful to set your Lordships' discussions against the background of the facts about our higher education. I shall begin with resources. International comparisons are admittedly difficult. But it remains the case that the statistics available— which I am assured are well regarded abroad— show that we already spend in this country a higher proportion of gross domestic product on higher education than any other Western European country except the Netherlands.
Government grant to the university system for 1989–90 is some 5 per cent. up on 1988–89. This comes on top of increases of 10 per cent. for 1987–88 and 8 per cent. for 1988– 89. These are substantial 258 increases, not the miserly penny-pinching that some have claimed. And more money for universities' pay costs is on the table. Planned university funding from grant and fees in 1989–90 is 8 per cent. higher in real terms than in 1979–80. The Government's grant to the PCFC for 1989–90 is 6 per cent. higher than that available to institutions in 1988–89 after taking account of various changes inherent in the new status of the polytechnics and colleges.
In addition, the Government have demonstrated their commitment to supporting basic scientific research by providing substantial additional sums for the science budget. In the settlement announced in November, an additional £305 million was made available over the next three years. University research will benefit considerably. In particular, it will be possible to establish a further nine interdisciplinary research centres in universities, thus helping to ensure that our best scientists have the resources and facilities they need to be internationally competitive in important and rapidly advancing interdisciplinary areas of science.
I turn now to student numbers. The fact is that they are now at record levels. We also have record participation rates. Later this year we shall, for the first time, have more than 1 million students in higher education. Again, we do fairly well by international standards. The figures show that we are ahead of most countries in the European Community in the proportion of the relevant age groups gaining degrees and higher diplomas. The Government remain committed to the principle that places should be available for all with the necessary qualities to benefit from higher education.
On 1st April we saw the implementation of some of the key provisions of the Education Reform Act. The Universities Funding Council replaced the University Grants Committee. Perhaps more fundamentally, the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council took on its responsibilities for funding English higher education outside the universities, and the polytechnics and higher education colleges maintained by local authorities achieved their independence. These institutions are now responsible for their own destiny. The PCFC also takes on responsibility for funding those already independent institutions of higher education previously assisted by local authorities, and the voluntary and other colleges previously grant-aided by the Department of Education and Science.
The creation of the new sector marks the coming of age of what used to be known as the public sector of higher education. I am happy to report that the transition is going well. The new arrangements give these institutions the flexibility to confront the challenges and seize the opportunities facing higher education in the years ahead, building appropriately on their enviable record of providing higher education which is highly relevant to the needs of the nation, at a high standard and in a cost-effective way.
Finally, by way of introduction, I should turn away from facts to philosophy. The Government are often accused of somehow not caring about higher education; of not appreciating the contribution it makes not only to economic growth but to the 259 intellectual, cultural and social health of a nation. But those who make such accusations fall into a simple trap. It is false logic to say that a government who attach priority to economic regeneration and, from that, to expanding markets and increasing the country's prosperity, necessarily lack the spiritual dimension to appreciate fully what higher education has to offer.
The Government have made clear their commitment to higher education in all its variety. None of your Lordships should disagree that meeting the needs of the economy is one of the aims of a dynamic higher education system. If the values of professionalism and enterprise are absent, how can our universities, polytechnics and colleges provide adequately for those many thousands of students who look to them to teach skills in the application of knowledge, and for those who look for professional updating and high level continuing education?
But, as the Robbins Report made clear, instruction in skills is only one of the aims of higher education. There are others: the promotion of the general powers of the mind, the advancement of learning, and the transmission of a common culture and common standards of citizenship. These are not unique to higher education, but they are an essential part of it.
The Government made clear in Cmnd. 114—Higher Education: Meeting the Challenge— that they fully recognise the value of research, and especially basic research, together with those areas of learning that have at most an indirect relationship with the world of work. That White Paper also fully recognised that the encouragement of a high level of scholarship in the arts, humanities and social sciences is an essential feature of a civilised and cultured country. I am glad to have the opportunity to restate those views today.
Our higher education institutions are rightly held in very considerable esteem in other countries for the level of their teaching and the quality of their research. Our system of higher education is without doubt among the best in the world. In any field I could mention we have talent in abundance. We have innovators to compare with the best in the world. It is disappointing that the present difficulties in universities detract from the proper picture of our higher education institutions as places humming with dedication and sheer hard work. But no area of our national life can afford to rest on its laurels. We have an opportunity today to discuss how, against the background I have described, higher education provision can be strengthened further. I look forward to hearing your Lordships' views on the issues this raises.
§ 3.39 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for giving us the opportunity this afternoon to discuss this important subject. I am glad also that we shall hear the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford.
260 I was delighted to hear the noble Viscount say that he recognised that one of the major purposes of higher education is the development and the maintenance of a highly civilised society. I would put it slightly differently. That, in my view, must always be its first and its primary task. It also has the other very important task of assisting the development of the economy. Indeed, it is true—as I think the Minister implied—that unless the economy thrives it will not be possible to maintain the institutions which help to give us that civilised society.
I must say that I was astounded at the complacency of the Minister's speech. In his description of the universities, I could not recognise the scene that I see when I visit them; nor could I reconcile what I frequently hear when I am spoken to, as I frequently am, by members of university staffs. But, at least it is good to know that, in theory at any rate, the Government support the idea of universities being an essential part of the development of our civilisation, as well as being a very important instrument in the development of the economy.
There is no doubt that there is very great concern in the universities at present. Indeed, there is no such satisfaction as implied by the Minister. I shall not talk about the pay dispute, although I expect that others will do so. However, if the Minister really believes what he said, he must accept that it is a question of both quality and quantity; that is, that we need to maintain the quality, which means that we need to keep the people of the highest ability in this country.
The Minister cannot deny that many of our staff in the academic world have gone overseas because of dissatisfaction in this country. Therefore it is no good to say—as we were told from the Government Benches only the other day—that the brain drain is a myth. That is merely ignoring the fact that the quality of people leaving and the level at which they are doing so is of a quite different order from that of those who are coming into this country from overseas. I should remind your Lordships that my noble friend Lord Jenkins said not long ago that if we proceed as we are at present, in 20 years' time there will be no university of world class in this country. He may of course be wrong, but he is in a very good position to make that judgment, and it is indeed an extremely alarming one.
I was also delighted to hear the noble Viscount recognise that there was the need for expansion. I must say I found his claim that expansion is going on rather difficult to reconcile with what lie called the "facts". I must say that they are certainly not quite the facts to which my attention has been drawn. It is true, if you do not count part-time students as full-time students—a point that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has already made—that we in this country have a far lower proportion of our youngsters going into higher education. I think it is in the region of approximately half of those who do so in the major countries with which we have to compete. Surely that should be a matter of the very greatest concern. In addition, there are a large number of mature people who ought to be going into universities, or into polytechnics, and thereby 261 gaining the educational opportunities which have been denied them in the past.
I should like to put one or two questions directly to the noble Viscount. In his speech he referred to my late colleague Lord Robbins and to the work which he carried out. He said that the Government are committed to the maintenance of what was the Robbins principle; namely, that those who are qualified and who wish to go into higher education should be given the opportunity to do so. Is that in fact the position of Her Majesty's Government, as well as the position of the Minister?
The noble Viscount will know that there have been frequent references in the press to a strong difference of opinion between the Department of Education and Science and the Treasury. The Treasury has suggested that the number of people going into higher education should be governed by its estimate of what will be required in manpower terms. This shows a most extraordinary confidence in its ability to carry out manpower planning, if nothing else. Previous attempts at such planning produced an extraordinary excess of doctors and vets at a time when they were not the professionals most greatly needed. In any case, we all know that long-term manpower planning never gets the answer right. Indeed, it is impossible to do so because of the rapidity of change in the economy. Moreover, it is nonsense to argue, in connection with controlling entry into universities, in terms of estimated manpower needs—not least because we do not know what kind of qualifications will be most beneficial to the economy in three years' time, let alone in 20 years' time.
It is a well-known fact that graduates in philosophy have been very much sought after by some of the leading American companies because the kind of qualities of mind that are trained in that discipline have proved unexpectedly—certainly, it would not have been the case in the eyes of the manpower planners that they should be producing philosophers—to be a great help in the development of industry. Yet, that has proved to be the ease. Can the Minister say that the Government as a whole are committed to the Robbins principle? If that is so, then this debate will have been of the highest value.
If the Government do mean that they are committed to that principle, then we must face the whole question of cost and the need for a great expansion. This is not just being said by academics; it is being said by the Council for Industry and Higher Education, on which board sit eminent and successful industrialists as well as academics. We need a great expansion which will continue in the traditional ways but which will also add quite different kinds of higher education.
How will this expansion be financed? The Government have been talking about "loans" for many months. Universities, schools, teachers—not least the young people themselves—need to know when they make their plans what the prospects for funding and finance will be. We understand that the Government's approach to the banks to make them carry the can has not been met with universal applause in the banking sector. Moreover, if loans it must be, a better way of dealing with the situation 262 has been suggested—most interestingly, I think—by my old institute, the London School of Economics. Many of us would say that given the government surpluses, and given the fact that education is an investment, some of that money could be used so that the problem of loans would be very much less acute.
However, if the funding is to be by way of loans, will the Government take the suggestion that the best way to do this is not, as they suggest, through the banks with enormous administrative costs, but that they should look at the proposal that it should be financed by direct loans from the banks, recovered through adjustments to the national insurance contributions of graduates when they enter into employment? That would be a very much more cost-effective way of dealing with the situation. We need to know about these matters. We have not been told anything about them and we have been waiting for a very long time to be informed. Expansion is urgent; new categories of young people, and of older people, must be able to go into higher education and therefore we need to know where the money will come from so that we can make plans and get on with a long overdue job.
§ 3.48 p.m.
The Lord Bishop of Bradford
My Lords, there is a certain irony in my choice of this debate as the occasion for my maiden speech in this House, for I left school at the age of 14 and my higher education was gained in what is euphemistically called the "University of Life". However, in recent years I have endeavoured to remedy this deficiency, and through my membership of the Council of the University of Bradford and various of its committees, I have become aware of some of the very real problems confronting our institutions of higher education.
As a parent, I have become a consumer (albeit at second hand) of several of our universities and colleges, and so I know about the debates, and anxieties, surrounding such issues as student loans. As a layman, priest and bishop I have spent almost my entire life living and working in inner-city areas, and so I am conscious of the vast untapped resource of human skills and enterprise which so often remains trapped in these areas, waiting—usually unconsciously—for the challenges and benefits that further and higher education can offer.
The overriding impression that comes to me when working on the university committees is the constant, one might even say oppressive, battle to balance the books. On the one hand, we are being urged to take up new opportunities, to extend access, to think more creatively about partnership with industry, and to enter into collaborative programmes with other institutions. On the other hand, there is the constant factor of trying to minimise deficits, maintain efficiency and become more cost-effective. I recognise the importance of such constraints, and I want to pay tribute to the commitment and endeavour that I find in Bradford to deliver a service that is creative, imaginative, efficient and of a high standard. It is not easy, and we are not always helped by dictates that come from above.
263 Just across the road from the University of Bradford is the largest college of further and higher education in the country. Bradford and Ilkley Community College has 32,000 students and more than 500 full-time teaching staff. It is truly a community college, accommodating one fifth of the population between the ages of 16 and 20. It is well supported by local industry, and it continually receives excellent reports from its varied validating bodies. Its efficiency and cost-effectiveness match and exceed the target performance indicators set by the DES and local authority associations' Joint Efficiency Study. making its unit cost provision next to the lowest in England.
There is even more good news: the college's role in promoting inner city regeneration is in line with government policy and widely acknowledged, especially in meeting the professional and vocational needs of ethnic minorities. I give just one example—over 10 per cent. of its intake of teacher training students are black. That is an important factor in Britain today and one that is not without significance in the City of Bradford.
The college is an institution which fulfils the best and positive intentions of the Education Reform Act for further and higher education. There is wide and easy access to high quality programmes of education and training which are responsibly and flexibly geared to the needs of local industry and commerce. They offer hope and opportunity to a much wider range of people than would otherwise be able to benefit. In doing so they make a contribution to the regeneration of the whole of our metropolitan district, including its inner-city areas.
It is disturbing therefore to learn that those achievements have been hindered rather than facilitated by the implementation of the new Act. The new funding arrangements for higher education do not allow the college to compete on equal terms with other institutions of higher education that are members of the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council. Despite many assurances to the contrary, the college finds itself disadvantaged, one might use the word "penalised", in several areas.
It is all very well for us to urge greater access, greater efficiency and greater co-operation with industry and commerce. In Bradford we have an example of just that and yet what I hear is terribly sad, for when the institution endeavours to put those ideals into practice, it feels hampered and disadvantaged. It would be a dreadful irony if that part of the Education Reform Act designed to make public sector higher education more businesslike, more vocationally relevant and more cost-effective, should prevent an institution which has been as successful and effective in achieving those objects as Bradford and Ilkley Community College, from continuing to do so.
In moving on, I cannot stress too strongly the contribution that our institutions of higher education can make to so many of our cities, especially in the North, struggling as they are with issues of urban deprivation and industrial decline. To have the skills of their staff resident in our 264 community, making contributions in so many areas of life, is an enormous resource, and one upon which I am often able to call. It is disturbing therefore to realise just how disaffected so many of the staff are. Feelings of disillusion, of not being valued or respected, can easily lead to feelings of resentment and cynicism.
If we were to look at education issues from the bottom up, rather than from the top down, I believe that we would become much more aware of the vast resources in our community which are not being tapped. It is such a waste. It is so uneconomic. Our local communities need signs of hope and confidence, and to know that the skills that they contain are appreciated and affirmed. The institutions of education, from the nursery classes to the universities, need encouragement to think and plan more creatively, with a vision of building a better, a more caring and compassionate society. For us in government, it is both our privilege and our duty to serve; to respond to the needs and concerns of education institutions; to have an overview that seeks to include rather than exclude; that seeks to enhance rather than to diminish; and to promote hope and confidence rather than cynicism and despondency.
As I walk around the centre of Bradford, or move around the more rural parts of my diocese, I am constantly aware of the skills, ingenuity and enormous potential of thousands and thousands of ordinary people, and I ask myself: are they being encouraged to think and act as creatively as they might? Are they aware of, and do they have access to, the kind of training and education which could enlarge their vision and cultivate their gifts? Are we doing enough to affirm and utilise their skills and gifts?
Speaking as the chairman of the Church of England Central Board of Finance Stewardship Committee, it is perhaps appropriate that I ask the question: are we being good stewards of all the talents that the people of our country have? To all those questions I have to reply in the negative. I do not believe that we are, and so we are in danger of minimising the contribution that they can make to our society and to its wealth creation, its corporate and communal life and to its caring. That surely, in anyone's book, is bad management of resources, poor economics and questionable government.
I remember and respect the valued convention of the House that maiden speeches should be non-controversial. I assure your Lordships that I have spelt the word "government" with a small "g".
§ 3.58 p.m.
§ Lord Flowers
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford and therefore to congratulate him on his maiden speech, which I do, according to custom, on behalf of the House as a whole. I am sure that I can say that we were moved and charmed by what we heard. The right reverend Prelate lists many special interests in Who's Who, which encourage me to believe that he will grace our debates on many and varied occasions. I certainly hope so.
265 We are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for giving us the opportunity to explore some of the outstanding problems of higher education and for her opening speech with which I found myself in wholehearted agreement as I also did with the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear.
I should like to speak about the Universities Funding Council which came into existence on the 1st of this month. Before I do so, I must refer briefly to the unfortunate dispute over academic salaries. The present offer as regards the vice-chancellors, made with government support, is still far too low, but it is all that can be expected for the time being. I therefore hope that the AUT ballot will lead to acceptance of that offer. It can then be followed immediately—I speak as a member of the council of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals—by negotiations for a better settlement next year. Whatever the result of the ballot, however, I must put on record in the House my disapproval of the tactics adopted by the union. To put at serious risk the careers of our students by the boycott of examinations is unprofessional, unethical and totally unacceptable.
We welcome the appearance this month of the Universities Funding Council. I hope that it will introduce some sense of purpose into its funding mechanisms. We look to the UFC to provide broad objectives on the basis of which autonomous universities can develop into a heterogeneous system from which incidentally, I myself should not wish much longer to exclude the polytechnics.
The UGC had no broad objectives, either for itself or for the universities. All it had were our detailed academic plans, some reviews of research attainment and an arithmetic formula for assessment of grant. This has given rise to a monstrous bureaucracy, a Himalayan mountain of paper, an insidious form of state corporatism and the belief that universities can and should be managed in detail from Park Crescent.
Whatever the original intentions, it has had the effect of encouraging uniformity instead of diversity. In particular, it has stressed the virtues of research, almost to the exclusion of teaching. In its concentration on detail it has lost sight of universities as entire institutions. I hope that in the chapels of the UFC there will be no undue genuflection to the holy relics of the UGC.
There must be some long-term objectives. As a well-known American baseball philosopher once observed, "If you don't know where you're going, you'll maybe end up some place else". The first objective, a matter of high policy, really must be set by government. Are we to continue to be funded by some predetermined centralising formula or are market forces to prevail? If the latter, are we to be freed of Treasury rules which inhibit us from creating and responding to the market? The day may come when higher education is largely sustained from private sources, but government will have to take a major political decision, however unpopular, if it wishes to see that change coming quickly. It is no good proposing loan schemes that neither the Government nor the banks are prepared to finance. 266 it really will not do to pepper us with half-baked ministerial whimsies and hope that we shall take the unpopular decisions for them. We are not in a position to do so.
As for the other objectives, I hope that the UFC will consult us about what they should be. They should be sufficient to provide strategic guidance to development and a framework according to which we should be accountable for our actions and policies. I mean accountable for what we have done with public money after the event. They should not be detailed plans requiring agreement before action can be taken. The one leads to clear accountability, the other to bad management.
The prime objective, of course, should be the attainment of academic excellence in teaching, that which was so shamefully omitted by the UGC on the specious grounds that it found it difficult to measure—a clear case of not being able to see the wood for the trees. There is no formula that will ensure good teaching, but universities can and should be judged by the scholarly environment they create for their students.
Universities should also be encouraged to offer realistic research objectives. Long gone are the days—if they ever existed—when we could all pretend to be equal in everything. We have to pick and choose, but try to achieve a reasonable academic balance within our means and expect some rewards for high achievement. Each university, depending on its interests and local environment, should have realistic objectives for collaboration with industry and commerce and with other bodies in the community, as the right reverend Prelate stressed so persuasively. I believe also that universities should do more to encourage the home student, not only because that can be cost-effective but because it would help to strengthen local links.
Finally, among the objectives there has to be some element of manpower planning, however limited in scope. Not everyone can be a doctor. But, on the other hand, some subjects—medicine is one, certainly, and engineering is another—must be safeguarded for the sake of the economy as a whole. We cannot again risk the uncontrolled expansion of the social sciences that followed the Robbins Report. Student demand is important, but it is not sufficient. It is a matter that I hope the UFC will consider very carefully.
No doubt others will offer further objectives; I hope so. But the essential point is that whatever objectives are eventually adopted for a particular institution, they should form a strategic framework within which that institution can develop its own approach to the service of the community through academic excellence, and according to which the progress of that institution will be monitored by the UFC, from which its block grant will be obtained and through which it will be accountable to Parliament for its performance.
What I have tried to describe implies very strong central accountability according to agreed objectives, but decentralised management of a deliberately diverse system of autonomous institutions. What we have at present is growing 267 interference with management from a centre that favours homogeneity and no real accountability, except in strictly financial terms, because there are no objectives against which progress can be assessed. I hope that the Government will make very clear to the UFC which course it prefers and then fund it adequately.
§ 4.7 p.m.
My Lords, I too welcome the debate initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. I agree with her and the other speakers that our future as a society and not only as an economy depends upon an ample supply of well-educated people in the humanities and in science, medicine, engineering and technology. But those subjects will not be enough unless we also have the prime movers, the entrepreneurs, to identify, pursue and satisfy markets at home and abroad. Any industrial society depends on such skills for its jobs and its prosperity.
Of course, higher education cannot teach such skills but it can discourage them by denigrating the business function. Many of our jobs and much of our standard of living, such as it is, compared with that of our neighbours, stems from entrepreneurs who—though in quite a different field like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford—never went on to higher education.
These entrepreneurs, many of whom did not go on to higher education, have opened up or revitalised business sectors and sub-sectors. They employ and cannot do without numbers of graduates across all disciplines. Some other countries perhaps have more entrepreneurs who did go on to higher education and kept—I am nearly inclined to say, despite their experience—or found entrepreneurial flair. I hope that there is less contempt here for business in some parts of some of our universities than there was.
I am not suggesting that business should be the main aim of universities; but nor should business be denigrated. My inclination at the DES was to free universities, with a dowry from the taxpayer. However the capital sums involved were impracticable. I very much welcome the Government's action in freeing, to some extent, polytechnics and colleges. I also wanted to shift the financing of students in part from grants to loans. I thought that students who were in most cases, although not in all, on their way to high earning careers, should not be so largely supported by taxpayers, most of whom were on modest incomes. Noble Lords may remember that I was neither popular nor successful. Most students objected and my then colleagues did not accept the idea either. Now I delight to see that the Government accept in principle the idea of student loans. I do not speak of the particular scheme; I simply welcome the intent to have a loan component.
Perhaps both the objectives make sense—loans for students and, through them, much more freedom for universities and perhaps more freedom still for polytechnics and colleges too. We could then hope to have more students motivated and more institutions concerned with quality, effectiveness, adaptability and value for money. What I suggest is that the 268 Government should aim over time towards much freer universities. I gather that the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, will agree with that aim but not perhaps with the method of what 1 am going to suggest. Let me reassure my noble friends on the Front Bench that I certainly am not going to suggest a blank cheque on the Treasury. I shall explain briefly how I suggest that can be avoided.
Suppose that over the next period the taxpayer is asked by government to make a continuing fairly large contribution towards the expensive disciplines—for example, medicine, veterinary science, engineering, science and technology. I believe that those are the main expensive disciplines. Let us suppose that the taxpayer is asked to make a substantial contribution towards research and scholarship and a contribution for bursaries to encourage students from wage-earning households. Suppose that the Government retain buffer instruments and, through them, bid for a certain number of, say, scientists, doctors, dentists, vets, engineers and technologists. As the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, said, it would remain unnecessary to safeguard those disciplines to some extent. Suppose that the buffer instruments distribute money for research and scholarship, and suppose that the Government move towards student loans of some kind covering increasing proportions of the remaining maintenance and tuition costs—that is, the costs as reduced by taxpayer contributions towards the expensive disciplines and the cost of research, scholarship and some bursary schemes for students from wage-earning homes.
I like to think that, with such arrangements in place, and always in discussion with the buffer bodies, the higher education institutions would be freed to decide their own mix of subjects, numbers of students—including mature and part-time students—admission criteria, length of courses, staff numbers, staff pay and charges to students. They would, of course, have to include elements in those charges for capital costs, for research and for scholarship, for libraries and for other items not covered by the taxpayer. I like to think that, in order to stimulate the maturing of students, it would surely be best, wherever practicable, to involve them, even if only fractionally, at the leading edge of understanding where research and scholarship lie.
But what about quality and effectiveness? I agree with the noble Lord who has just spoken that both must be stressed. I believe that quality and effectiveness are best safeguarded by the pride and the self-interest of each institution. They will intensely desire the good opinion of students and of employers. Moreover, the buffer bodies will distribute their research and scholarship grants on their own judgment. Of course students will make use of their own, or often their school's, grapevine, which will sometimes inevitably be based on obsolete perceptions. No doubt "Which?"—type publications would arise spontaneously.
I realise that some of my suggestions raise difficult issues. The buffer bodies will need to make judgments on research, on scholarships and on standards. Peer review is the best method known. Performance indicators can help, where appropriate, 269 although they can he abused, as, in some cases, can market judgments.
However, I return to a key issue of how such a scheme can protect taxpayers and the Treasury from the blank cheque that could result if institutions are freed to set their own admission criteria and student numbers. "Wider access" is an ambiguous slogan. It could mean lower standards. Unless Ministers can be reassured, they will insist—and rightly in my view—on capping numbers, and much of the invigorating freedom of institutions will vanish.
The institutions will need in their dialogue with the buffer bodies to satisfy them that entry standards are maintained. I mean, by my suggestions, that no more public spending should be entered into than is implicit in present arrangements. When in due course schools and the mature non-graduate population together produce more candidates of suitable quality than is the case now, there will be a case for considering more spending.
I have seen reports in the press that the Labour Party proposes to abolish 'A' levels. That makes me suspect that what that party really means is a lowering of standards in universities and polytechnics. I leave out of account for this purpose the Open University and colleges: mature students will need to have their own admission criteria carefully worked out by institutions in agreement with the buffer bodies. My suggestion aims at more effective spending by way of a redivision of functions between the central buffer bodies and freer institutions of higher education with standards at least as good as they are now.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, and I are old adversaries in education from another place, and, as the views of the noble Lord do not change, I am tempted to express my disagreement. However, in view of the time, we had better do that on another occasion. I hope the noble Lord will not disagree too much with my own remarks because I must say that my contribution to the debate today will be concerned solely with adult education and, in particular, with full-time and part-time courses at universities and polytechnics. I must say how delighted I was that my noble friend in her splendid speech in opening this debate made reference to adult education, of which she has so much experience.
I raise the matter of adult education because it has always been the Cinderella of education. From the evidence available, the present Government are even less interested in it than previous administrations. The Government have, not unusually, put down some fine words about their policy in this field. In Command Paper No. 9524, entitled The Development of Higher Education into the 1990s, the Government state:The Government is committed to the availability of higher education to mature students who are able to benefit from it".The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, referred to the Robbins principle, and that phrase I quoted reminds one of it. The noble Baroness asked the Minister whether that was still the Government's policy. I 270 shall not ask him that question because it is evident that the Government departed from that principle a long time ago. The situation has become worse every year during the decade in which the Government have been in power.
There are two very substantial reasons why any government, or indeed any nation, should be concerned about proper provision for adult education. First, there is the need for individual self-fulfilment. That sounds rather like a phrase from a textbook and something theoretical, ethereal and unreal. However, all I can say in response to that view is that to talk to someone who has had the opportuunity of undertaking higher education some years after leaving school is a very interesting and indeed touching experience. There are literally thousands of adults who yearn for that second chance, but unfortunately, for a number of reasons, most of them are not given the opportunity to experience it.
The second reason is a more practical one. It is that a well qualified person can make a greater contribution to the national good. It is interesting that already three speakers in the debate have referred to that same point. It so happens that the need for many more highly qualified people is greater than it has been for a long time. On the same day as the Secretary of State, Mr. Baker, announced the White Paper implying record levels of participation in higher education by the end of the century 22 top companies forecast a shortage of graduates to the detriment of the country's economy.
Every day we read of the sharp fall in 18 year-olds which is to take place in the next decade. The only possible way in which that shortfall can be made up is by an increase in the number of mature students. One hears that the mature student does not attain the results which would make an effective contribution to the nation's needs. That is not shown in the research conducted by the Council for National Academic Awards. That research states that older students without the standard university entrance qualification get better degrees than many students admitted with A-levels. Specifically, nearly 40 per cent. of entrants to full-time degree courses without the normal minimum qualifications went on to gain firsts or upper seconds.
I am certain that one ingredient in such impressive results is the sheer hard work and the desperate application to study which is shown by virtually every mature student. These are people who grab their second chance with both hands.
The thirst for higher education by mature students is clearly shown in the Department of Education and Science Statistical Bulletin. I have the most recent issue, on mature students in higher education, dated August 1988. I shall spare your Lordships too many figures. The following, however, give an indication of the point I am making. Between 1979 and 1986 the number of full-time mature students rose to 60,100, an increase of 23 per cent., and the number of part-time mature students rose to 126,300, an increase of 54 per cent. That is a measure of the interest and demand for the "second chance".
271 I have mentioned full-time and part-time students and herein, I need hardly mention, lies a problem. If the circumstances permit, and I have to say that they do not often permit, I believe that great benefit derives not only from full-time study but from residential education. However, many adult students are married, many of those have children, and full-time residential education is simply not possible. There is a school of thought which says that all mature students should be non-residential, part-time and based in the polytechnics. I believe that that is too rigid and the answer must surely be, to use a colloquialism, "horses for courses".
In everything I have said so far I have been referring to courses leading to first degrees or higher diplomas which are degree equivalent. I am, however, aware that there is a wide range of other qualifications for which mature students should be fully encouraged. There is another type of educational institution for adult students which provides largely non-examination courses. They are, I think mistakenly, sometimes referred to as "workers' colleges". I refer in particular to Ruskin College, Coleg Harlech, Newbattle Abbey and the Northern College. I should like to say how deeply disappointed I was by the reply from the Minister today at Question Time about the closure of Newbattle Abbey College in view of the tremendous good which that college has done for Scotland and elsewhere.
In those colleges students go literally from the factory, the mine, the office or the shipyard to a rigorous regime of study. In my view the academic discipline and the fact that the courses are residential have a major impact on the students. There is a great demand for places in those colleges and I think that that speaks for itself. I mention that fact because I urge the Government—and I hope that the Minister will take note of this—to commit themselves to the building of one more college of that type.
I have left till last the most important part of adult education. That, of course, is the financial assistance which is available to mature students. I say at once that when the university, polytechnic or college has said that an applicant is felt to be capable of undertaking the course the grant and social security provisions must be adequate. Of course the definition of "adequate" opens up considerable debate. I recognise that fact. However, it should not be beyond the wit of the educational institutions and the Government to arrive at a satisfactory level of provision and, incidentally, to make it much less complicated than it is at the moment, which is a deterrent to many people hoping to go into adult education.
However, I believe that for some people some degree of sacrifice should be acceptable. In my experience most mature students are prepared to make that sacrifice. In a case with which I had some dealings last year the person concerned was married with two children. He received £5,500 for the year. That sum certainly calls for a close examinaton of priorities in that family's way of living.
272 The level of grants should not be so low as to act as a deterrent. I say to the Minister that the present awards are preventing people who would do well on university courses from undertaking them. I believe that it is a position which needs urgent examination, particularly in view of what I said and what others have said in their speeches in the debate about national needs.
There is a great deal more that could be said about adult education, not least about the simplification of entrance procedures for mature students, joint publications by the DES and the DSS, the need for a mature students' advice centre and much greater publicity and dissemination of information than exists at the moment.
This sector of education is not a backwater. It should not be thought of as being in competition with school leavers and therefore pushed aside. The need for greater provision has never been more evident than it is now, and I hope that the Government will view it with the urgency it deserves and requires.
§ 4.26 p.m.
§ Lord Butterfield
My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the views and thanks expressed to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for initiating this debate. The noble Baroness has initiated a move carrying us forward on a wonderful tidal wave.
From these Benches I should also like to convey our heartiest congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford. I shall certainly recommend that he receives a first class honours degree as soon as possible.
I should also like to say how conscious I am that I have been promoted and find myself speaking among my recent masters and my heroes. I am concerned that I should be able to add something useful to this presentation.
I agree very much with all the remarks that have been made in favour of the universities. When I put down my name to speak in the debate I did so mostly because I was very anxious to play my part in the encouragement of higher and further education. The problems of higher education are very wide-ranging. Not to put too much of a point on it, as I shall say later, when one puts the question to students they say that the main problem concerns money. I do not know whether we need to talk about that aspect for too long.
Soon after I joined this House a very distinguished noble Lord, finding out who I was, said to me, "Oh, you are one of our new scholarship boys. Very welcome". That gave me a hint that I should perhaps cast myself as a reporter of the last several years which I have spent among students.
I should not like noble Lords to be misled by the fact that my cricketing and tennis playing friends at Cambridge made the suggestion, which was reported in one of our newspapers, that I might take the title of Lord Buttercup of Fenners—which is where they play cricket and tennis. I shall counter that by pointing out that my college—which I shall leave nameless for noble Lords to discover—came out top 273 in our equivalent of the Norrington Table of Tripos results. So I hope that when I talk about what students are saying among themselves, noble Lords will recognise that it is a rather balanced account of their feelings.
I should first like to tell your Lordships that students hear a lot about competition from people like us and the Government Benches. Yet they constantly tell me that they feel they have been tried by some of the most serious types of competition that one is ever likely to encounter. Therefore they very much hope that those with responsibility and those who are concerned with government policy will not consider them as rather lazy people, which has perhaps been said. To my certain knowledge they are not.
I feel it is important to recognise that from among them will come those who will be our future leaders. Let me assure the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, that springing up among them are young men with strong entrepreneurial flair. I shall not go into details or speak about anyone in particular, but in the past week I have received letters from two young men who have developed a truly wonderful idea to recruit people from the universities who will be trained up and go to learn about Japan. I think that they will do it very well.
I did not realise until I spent some time talking to these young people that one of the consequences of their success in competition is an inherent feeling of guilt. I found that astonishing. From my experience during the war I know that sometimes people who survive battles can feel rather guilty that they have come through. Among our young people there is such an element of guilt. They feel rather guilty about the fact that they have managed to get in. That makes them appear rather liberal. They are very egalitarian and that makes them appear to be of the persuasion of this side of the House rather than of the other. They are worried that there may not be enough places for all the good people to get into university. When the noble Viscount made the point about following the general theory of places for all who are qualified, my heart was gladdened. I felt that it may not be so necessary to melt the heart of the Treasury as I had thought before the beginning of this debate.
Perhaps I may also say that students are very concerned about those among them who are the sons and daughters of retired people and who do not wish to call upon their parents for full financial support. There are two matters in particular they would like to see appreciated and they are not slow to point them out. They believe—the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, raised this topic earlier and other noble Lords followed up the issue—that we ought to have places available equivalent to those made available in America, Japan and other countries. They are aware, however, how difficult it is to make international comparisons because in some parts of the world many young people enter university only to be sent out again at the end of the first-year examinations.
They hope that the question of their finances will be resolved because they do not know how to plan their budgets. They do not think that it is a very 274 good precept always to be told that they should plan a budget and work to it.
They also feel very strongly about loyalty to their student unions. That was a surprise to me when I discovered it. The point became clear when they reminded me that the unions provided a large number of extraćurricular activities which students see as a training ground. It is surprising how many of them plan their curriculum vitae in the first weeks or months of their university career. I am sure that that is true also in the polytechnics. They are already beginning to consider whether they may possibly become the president of the union and succeed in the OUDS at Oxford, or whatever it may be.
So when they hear people coming down on the unions because some of them have been passing money to strikers, or whatever, they feel that we have not grasped that they are interested in training themselves for real life and that the unions provide a vehicle for that training at very low cost. They are very largely self-financing societies.
Perhaps I may also say very quickly that they believe their teachers are underpaid. Many of them say that they themselves certainly do not intend to join my academic world or type of career. They will be earning more than the teacher who is teaching them within a year or two of going down from university. I think it would be fair to say—and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, will go along with this comment—that they do not much like the idea of their examinations being the target for AUT action. They say: "We cannot understand, master, why you did not refuse to go on all those government committees, which you do freely attend. Why did you not say that you would not do that? That might more quickly have stirred up the Government to deal with our case and that of our teachers".
They are also very concerned about research in the universities. Other noble Lords can elaborate on that better than I. Before this debate began I asked myself what would be my prescription. I thought I would remind the House that by far the cheapest course is to pledge ourselves to give much more support to this rising generation on whom, if we get into the 21st century, we shall very much depend. We must not think of all students as simply being involved in demonstrations.
While it is very easy to range universities in order of rank by weight of research papers produced, students know that the teachers do a great deal of research and not enough teaching and they are very keen that the Universities Funding Council should get busy ensuring that the teaching will keep them in the forefront, as we like to think has been the case in the past.
§ 4.38 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Butterfield, has spoken mainly about the feelings of young people in higher education. I should like to say a few words about access to higher education for adults. During our debate in this House last week about training it was pointed out that the Government's White Paper on employment in the 1990s, while saying much about the developments 275 now needed in the world of training, makes virtually no mention at all of the implications for higher education. That seems to me to be quite extraordinary. In my view, the fact that education and training are dealt with by two separate government departments is nowadays no excuse at all. In 1989 education and training simply cannot be separated.
Without question the increased demand that lies ahead for people with managerial and professional skills—Warwick University estimates that 1 million more such people will be needed by 1995—combined with the demographic changes have enormous implications for higher education. The quality of higher education for young people leaving school will be more important than ever; but equally crucial will be access for older people later on in their working lives. The changes that must be made to accommodate that will clearly require a good deal of imagination, flexibility and commitment on the part of staff in higher education institutions. It will also require a wide variety of arrangements in individual institutions, each responding in its own way to the needs that it comes across.
There is change but as yet it seems to be coming much too slowly. For example in the universities there are now 546,000 people on short courses in any given year. That is one-third more than in 1980. One in seven university students is now over 21; one in eight studies part-time, as opposed to a quarter of that number 20 years ago.
There is movement, but it is slow. If one uses the Open University as a yardstick—and it is excluded from those figures that I have just given—the demand by adults is not just in the future; it is here and now. The Open University is now producing 9 per cent. of the nations' graduates. It is incidentally doing so while receiving only 4 per cent. government funding to universities overall. In the Open University in 1988, 72,000 adults were studying for degrees. Of the new entrants half are studying maths, science and technology. Twelve thousand students were on nine-month associate courses, including, for example, teachers studying shortage subjects. Ten thousand were on short courses—three times more than in 1984. In addition, 73,000 packs were provided on which study outside the Open University can be based. To this end the Open University produced in-house no less than 504,000 audio cassettes and 89,000 video cassettes as well as 14,000 disks for students who were already studying with their own computers. Very relevantly, the school of management had getting on for 9,000 registered students, many paid for by their employers.
It is interesting that, when they are asked about their courses at the Open University, what students value most is the ease of access, the quality of teaching materials and the teaching.
What does the evidence of the Open University suggest? Quite simply it seems that people want, need and respond to the opportunity for higher education if it is made possible for them to do so. For most higher education institutions this means a big change in the way of working, in particular in the areas where education and training meet. The 276 Open University is structured differently. The scope, even in the most traditional institutions, for far greater use of new technology for teaching, for more flexible timing of courses, for greater use of modular courses and for maintenance of quality is crucial.
I believe that different arrangements for students' unions will be needed if there are going to be many adult students. Also the increase will probably lead to the development of separate salary arrangements and conditions of service because the work of the staff will vary so much. In particular, universities will have to project themselves as more user friendly to adult students and to employers. In this one would have to say that the current threat—the so-called industrial action, should it take place—cannot be anything other than a major own-goal.
In this area of shifting to far more access for students, it seems to me—and I say this to my noble friend on the Front Bench—that the Government must give a lead. It simply is not enough to hold down finance and to tell institutions to find their own markets. We shall not get the change quickly enough that way. Surely we now need a strong steer from the centre. We need a clear, coherent strategy for the funding bodies to follow in this matter of greater accessibility. We need an end to the distinction made by government, and within institutions, between undergraduate funding and other higher education funding for adults. I suspect that we need a different system for salary negotiations.
I ask the Government to give this steer, and to give it soon, because there is no time to lose.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, I start by adding my congratulations to my noble friend, if I may so describe him in the context of our mutual membership of the Council of Bradford University, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford. It was good to hear his wise counsel in our Chamber this afternoon.
This debate is very timely. It is timely in the light of the demographic factors that we are facing. It is timely in the need to expand the number of highly qualified people who are needed if industry and commerce are to be competitive as we enter the 1990s. Underlying all this is the crucial need to widen access to higher education. Of the four major sources from which an increasing number of students can be drawn—adults who have missed out in the past, ethnic minority groups, children of working class families, women—I wish to concentrate on the latter. However, first, I should like to make a general comment on the question of widening access.
At a time when institutions of higher education are being told to increase their funding from outside sources and to achieve a greater level of self financing, widening access is not an attractive option, in particular if part-time courses are involved. Widening access is not necessarily a money-spinner. On the contrary, students entering through non-traditional routes often involve a reorganisation of the curriculum—more staff time, both tutorially and pastorally, different marketing 277 techniques and so on. This is all both time consuming and initially, expensive. It presents additional problems for universities which are being forced, on the one hand, to reduce staff in order to balance the accounts and, on the other, to increase access through non-traditional routes. It is cynical of the Government to talk about being committed to widening access and yet to place the universities in this untenable position.
If we are serious about the need to expand higher education—and the Minister has underlined his commitment, although the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, seemed to have some reservations on it—then government funding must be increased. This message has always been clear, whenever the question of widening access for women has been examined. For instance, back in 1976, the Equal Opportunities Commission, in its evidence to the DES on the triennial review of awards, said:The discretionary nature of non-advanced and part-time awards constitutes a form of indirect discrimination against women, many of whom can only follow part-time courses because of domestic commitments".Thirteen years later the Equal Opportunities Commission is still having to say the same thing. Access courses do not carry automatic awards. Neither do part-time degree courses. This places a financial burden on both individuals and institutions. Individuals paying their own fees—in particular married women with no resources or small resources based on a low paid part-time job—find it impossible to pay the full economic fee. Universities have therefore pitched their fees at a lower level and consequently suffer a disadvantage, as the UFC, following the course of the UGC, has based funding on 0.5 per cent. of a full-time equivalent student. That was why the crisis at Birkbeck College was so acute. Birkbeck College's provisions at undergraduate level are solely on a part-time basis. Although some assistance has been given to that institution to help it overcome the worst of is financial problems, other institutions that are seeking to expand part-time courses are running into similar difficulties. Most are now having to increase their fees, which in itself is a deterrent to expansion. Thus we are faced with a vicious circle: increase your fees in order to balance the books and you deter the students.
Some universities have a differential fee for part-time students, one level for those who are personally funded and a higher level for those who may be funded by their employer. However, even here difficulties arise in such a situation. For the individual it is not a question of fees alone but also of maintenance. No maintenance whatsoever is attached to part-time degree courses, let alone to access courses. The White Paper on student loans made no provision for part-time students. Apparently they were not even considered. One would assume that they were still peripheral to the whole problem of funding university students although they now constitute something like 12.5 per cent. of university students.
I am pleased to say that there is now little difference between male and female students entering university through the traditional channel. Girls constitute some 45 per cent. of undergraduate 278 entrants. That means of course that there is still a 10 per cent. difference, because boys constitute 55 per cent. of the intake. There is an even greater difference at post graduate level where women constitute something like 37 per cent. There continues to be a major difference in subject choice. These are important areas that need continually to be addressed.
My noble friend referred to some of the conversion courses that are being made available in science and other shortage subjects. Well qualified arts A-level students are being introduced to engineering and other science subjects. Preliminary evidence, however, suggests that even here an insufficient number of girls is being attracted. For example, at Bradford, where there is such a course, about one-third of those entering are women. Can the Minister give us an assurance that all such integrated conversion courses will in the future be designated as four-year undergraduate courses, thereby automatically qualifying for a four-year mandatory grant and a four-year student award so that the universities and other institutions undertaking such courses will be funded on a four-year basis? I understand that at present this is not so in all cases. The route to expanding higher education is not an easy one. There are all sorts of problems that need attention and have to be overcome. Fundamental to them all is not just a verbal commitment on the part of the Government but also a commitment that is backed up by the necessary resources to carry through such programmes.
§ 4.54 p.m.
§ Lord Dainton
My Lords, I wish to add my congratulations to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford. His was a voice of sanity and humanity which reminded us of some fundamental values in education. I would expect no less from one who comes from the West Riding of Yorkshire. I thank also the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for the debate. I confess that when I heard that it was to take place my heart sank, first, at the prospect of yet another debate on higher education and, secondly, at the phrase on the Order Paper,To call attention to the problems of higher education".That smacked to me of whingeing.
For a person like myself who has spent almost half a century in the service of British universities as a teacher, researcher and administrator, I find that there is much to rejoice about in the way that the universities have served the country. We have produced graduates who are not only internationally well regarded but also very much sought after—some would think too much sought after. We produce them at a very low cost whether they are full-time or part-time students. This is achieved partly by selection at entry but mainly by more intensive teaching and shorter courses with lower wastage and fewer drop out rates than in countries in Europe, North America and Australasia. All the country's doctors, dentists and agricultural scientists are trained in our universities. The universities are the research base of the country in every field. Their record in this respect does not lack internationally accorded marks of distinction. Nevertheless, one 279 cannot visit universities today without being conscious of a genuine and deep-seated malaise, of which the most deplorable public manifestation is the proposed boycott of examinations by some academic staff. This malaise is very damaging, and it is important to know and to eradicate its cause.
Of course, the universities have had a great deal of change forced upon them from outside during the past decade or so, but I do not think that change in itself is something that can account for the malaise. After all, good academics thrive on change in their own subjects, and in the intellectual life of the teacher or researcher change is the very breath of life. Only stasis is death. The academics also appreciate that the nation now expects different things of today's graduates from what it expected of yesterday's graduates. Therefore, if the nation's vital needs for high-level educated men and women are to be met, their educational experience too must change, as indeed the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, reminded us.
What manifestly has a deleterious effect on the attitude of academics is the lack of esteem that they perceive the Government to have for their efforts and that we have seen expressed in the most blatant financial way. In real terms a unit of resource, by which I mean the size of the exchequer grant plus the fee per student year—this goes back beyond the life of the present Government—has for over a decade undergone a steady decline in real terms. Not only is this discouraging in itself, but academics are bound to ask why the Government use the cost per student year as a marker for comparison with other countries where they allege that the cost is less. For the reasons that I have mentioned—the shortness of courses and lower wastage—the proper comparable cost of producing a British graduate is extremely low and better than in the case of our European competitors. In passing, I am bound to say that I find this obsession with the cost per student year an extraordinary kind of economics. If one is buying a car one does not inquire the cost per man hour employed in making it. The customer is interested only in the cost of the finished product. That is why I think that we should concentrate on the cost of producing graduates.
That failure of the Exchequer grant plus fee income per home student to keep pace with ascertainable costs, and the expectation that the trend will continue, has been made even more unbearable when, as over recent years, the body which distributes the Exchequer funds does so in a most intrusive and dirigiste manner based largely on formula-funding. That processcan never carry conviction with the academics themselves. Those academics know only too well that the formulae used have little empirical justification, and the coefficients employed in them when applied have even less. The learned societies often find themselves at odds with the judgments of working parties about the qualities of departments. The list of complaints is endless and I shall not bore your Lordships with more. All that experience has led to considerable loss of confidence in the validity of the methods and judgments of the grant-making body. Its attempts 280 from the top down to penetrate and control the detailed workings of each university make a mockery of the autonomy of the universities.
But in my view the greatest single cause of the malaise, affecting administrators and lay-officers as well as academics, is the sense of uncertainty of what is now expected of universities and their staff. In the old days one had broad planning targets on which one could rely over a five-year period. They related to student numbers in various subject categories. There was a block grant to meet recurrent expenses which reflected those targets. It was rarely earmarked and was at the discretion of the university to use it in the best possible way that it could devise. Now the only certainties appear to be those of a declining unit of resource from the Treasury, more bureaucracy accompanying less money and therefore the constant anxiety that plans drawn up today to achieve financial viability in the future are based simply on shifting sand.
Only this morning I received—I suspect simultaneously with all the other members of the Ancient House of Congregation of the University of Oxford—a letter from the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Patrick Neill. It made only too clearly the point that the general board and hebdomadal council, having made plans for this year, now find that yet again they must be revised downwards. As many noble Lords will know, Oxford is a democratically run university. Therefore, it was necessary to inform all members of staff of that and the fact that some of their hopes were likely to be disappointed. If that is the case for Oxford, which is one of our two most wealthy universities, what is it like for many others without its private resources?
One can add to that uncertainty the impression gained from what appears in newspapers and conferences that there is the likelihood of more change but we know not in what direction. Perhaps it will be in the fee structure; in the mode of student support; and, not least, in those 19 universities which have medical schools with the considerable uncertainty as to how they can operate their medical and dental education programmes in hospitals whose future status under government proposals for the National Health Service have yet to be determined. Taking all that together, serious planning by individual universities appears to be almost pointless. One cannot wonder that, in these circumstances, the morale of universities has considerably diminished.
When I look at the situation, I ask myself whether it would not be better if government were to do one of two quite different things. Either we could go back to the broadly planned system, properly financed and with some considerable scope for individual university initiative. Or, at the other extreme, we could abolish the planning; let the fees rise to the proper economic cost for each subject studied full time or part time; guarantee the student an income, whether wholly by grant or partly by loan but a sum of money which is adequate in total to meet his maintenance and fee costs; and let the universities simply compete for students. Then the new Universities Funding Council would be largely redundant and I should shed no tears over that.
281 There would of course be a need for a government mechanism to provide funds for desired expensive new buildings and which could not be met out of fund income. That could be the Government's main, perhaps their only, regulatory machinery for university development.
Either of those two alternatives would be preferable to the present unstable position which is poised between the system under which the universities have operated satisfactorily and with which they have been familiar for the past 30 of the 40 post-war years and the open competitive system towards which we appear to be moving. I said "appear" deliberately because it is an inference drawn by me from the direction of change which I have observed to have prevailed in recent years.
I hope that in his reply the Minister will give a clear answer to the question of whether it is the Government's aim ultimately to have an entirely free competitive system along the lines, or similar to, those that I have described. If so, I hope that he will state it plainly. If it is not, I equally hope that just as unequivocally he will state the Government's objectives for the universities. We in the universities are uncertain of our ultimate destination. The problem for the universities is not knowing where they are going and where they are expected to be at what time.
I am confident that if a policy is set which is stable in respect of objectives and funding, so that the universities can see where they are expected to go and are given freedom in charting their own course, much of the current malaise will disappear. Much creative energy and inventiveness will be liberated in the universities with beneficial effect on the educational service and research which they can provide.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Lord Grimond
My Lords, I should first like to apologise. As a result of a longstanding engagement, I cannot be present during the final stages of the debate. I apologise in particular to the noble Viscount and the noble Baroness who so ably opened the debate.
In my experience, surprisingly enough the universities which I visit are in rather good heart. I say "surprisingly" because they are inundated with troubles none of which, broadly speaking, is caused by themselves. I should like to speak about two of those troubles. The first is the pay of lecturers. Apart from the malaise which has been mentioned, that puts the vice-chancellors and principals in an impossible position. They are in a trap because they have no untapped resources from which they can increase the offer of 6 per cent. On the other hand, if they throw the reins on the horse's neck, so to speak, and refer the lecturers to the Government they are inviting more government interference in universities. That is at an already dangerous level.
I should like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the UFC has appointed two members to an internal committee of the University of Aberdeen. I do not say that that is wrong or that the university objects, but I believe that it is a new and 282 rather dangerous precedent. When one looks at the history of the past few years there is no doubt that the lecturers have an extremely good case. They were offered an increase which by no means makes up for their loss in times past, and it is much less than other people have received. However, we can hope only that they will accept the offer and, in particular, that this summer's examinations go ahead and are marked.
When the trouble is over we must look again at the way in which pay is decided. I believe that there are two essential issues. First, the Government must realise that if they increase the pay of the top people—as has been done and by large amounts in some cases—it is absurd to expect the more poorly paid to hold back. Secondly, the Government must arrange for universities to have more elbow room in these matters. I suggest that they should have endowments which can be used at their discretion. Certainly, the whole matter of university finance needs consideration. To my mind that means that more must be paid for by fees or bursaries which will come largely out of public funds.
Secondly, I should like to say a few words on the present proposals for student loans. I trust that the Government will drop that proposal. I am not wholly against loans at all times for all purposes, and I can see that there may be a case for loans to postgraduate students. Oddly enough, they are omitted from the Government's proposals. I can see that there may be a case for topping-up parental contributions. However, that loans should increasingly become the main way of financing students at universities seems to me entirely wrong and wrong for four reasons.
First, it is bound to reduce the number of students particularly those from poorer homes. That is the exact opposite of what we should be trying to do. If the Government deny that, they are denying the whole political theory on which most of their policies are based; namely, that if you increase the price, you decrease the demand.
Secondly, I do not believe that it is right to encourage people to start life by thinking that it is essential to be in debt. It seems to me that this country already suffers from far too much debt, and again, that is a step in the wrong direction. Further, I must point out that most students are already in debt. I believe that the average is £300 or £400 per student. To my mind that is enough.
Thirdly, it will mean that graduates—and this particularly affects girls—will have a burden around their necks at the very start of their lives. It is no good saying that these debts are interest free. They are indexed, and as inflation will unquestionably rise steeply under this Government, they will become fairly onerous. Lastly, the loans will further increase the burden of administration which is strangling universities. Therefore I hope that we shall get rid of student loans.
To my mind, one very fundamental mistake which the Government have made is to treat the universities as polytechnics. They are not simply polytechnics but something much wider. Secondly, they are not really applicable to ordinary market forces. Thirdly, the reason that the universities are so 283 excellent and well managed, because they are well managed, lies in the quality of the staff. That quality will not be maintained unless the staff are treated fairly and unless the universities are treated with more respect as some of the most effective institutions in the country.
As we go into Europe it will not simply be a question of going into Europe economically but it will be a question of going into the whole civilisation of Europe and the Erasmus Scheme and so on. When I was at Bologna all the universities signed a manifesto of freedom. Even those from behind the Iron Curtain, as it used to be called, from Poland, Hungary and Russia signed. To my mind it would be a tragedy if at the moment of our going into Europe the British Government attempt to interfere more directly in the universities and show in their interference too often, although not always, that they really do not understand what universities are all about.
§ 5.13 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, listening to the speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, the noble Lords, Lord Flowers and Lord Dainton, I am reminded of an event in the history of the other place when Robert Peel, facing an attack on the Corn Laws by Cobden, is reported to have torn up his notes, turned to his neighbour on the Ministerial Bench and said, "You must answer this for I cannot". I do not believe that a case can be made to defend much of what is going on either in respect of the Government's policy, or lack of it, or in the way in which that policy is being administered.
I believe that the outlook for and the crisis in the universities is at least as serious as successive speakers have told us. I believe that that has been made notably worse because of the alienation of public opinion by the proposed or, indeed in some cases, already materialised boycott of examinations. It seems to me that the AUT by its conduct in recent months has been revealed to be simply a congeries of politically motivated small groups and has really ruled itself out as a participant in a partnership in the academic community.
The one good piece of news which I have for your Lordships is that the AUT is now losing members at a considerable rate and that the Professional Association of Teachers, which is expanding in higher education, is gaining members at a very considerable rate. That shows at least that a great many university teachers appreciate the point that they have a real obligation to their students. To say that 70,000 or 80,000 young people are to be denied the degrees and classifications which they need to embark on their several careers is quite unforgivable. In my view, that is something which really makes a person ineligible to belong to the academic community. In old-fashioned language, it is moral turpitude. One has seen major confrontations and major disputes in the medical profession. However, I have never heard of a nurse or a doctor who went around switching off life-support systems in order to benefit their pockets.
284 However, when all that is said, the decline in morale, which is given in explanation is undoubtedly due, as has been said, both to inadequate funding and to inadequate funding in relation to salaries. That is the cause of the brain drain. It is not recognised that the market for skills in higher education, in teaching and research is an international market which cannot be judged by the yardstick of other salaries or conditions in this country alone. Even more—and here I should like to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Flowers—it is felt that there is no obvious aim which the Government are pursuing. A series of improvisations and schemes have been launched. I believe that I told your Lordships 18 months ago when the student loan scheme was launched that in that form it would never work. Eighteen months after that, the banks have still not been reconciled to it and probably never will be.
That places a very great burden, or should do, on what is now the institution responsible for guidance to universities; namely, the Universities Funding Council. One wants to know whether that is trying to discharge that obligation and trying to act as a genuine intermediary between the Government and the universities and as the place where these problems—and no one can deny the reality of the financial problem—are being worked out.
What I shall say now is personal, but I gave long notice—indeed, as soon as this debate was planned—to the noble Lord, Lord Chilver, that I should raise this matter. I am referring to the question of whether the very heavy responsibility placed upon him—and if one has read the letter to him from the Secretary of State last October one can see how far-ranging is that responsibility—can be properly discharged by someone holding a major position in a major industrial and commercial firm. I believe that those are not compatible. I very much regret that the noble Lord, Lord Chilver, is not here to present his case for believing that he can carry out his duties on the UFC on the odd day. I still more deplore the fact that, the Government having appointed a Member of your Lordships' House to this important position, he has not seen fit to participate in any of the discussions that we have had on higher education.
This can only suggest what some of us suspected when the Bill was going through—certainly some of us told your Lordships' House—that the UFC was a pretence. What in fact is happening, and must happen if the council does not operate, is that the bureaucrats who manage have a free hand. That is the way in which the universities are being subjected to departmental controls.
Indeed, if one looks at such correspondence and such records of conversations as are available, what so much depresses the universities is the diversion of their funds into paying extra administrators at the expense of science and learning. That comes not from the members of the UFC—after all, they have only just taken up their appointments, if one takes that seriously—but from the Department of Education and Science, in turn directed by the Treasury which has a pathetic belief that you can turn anything into numbers and get away with it. 285 I believe that the universities demand from the Government, if not all the money they would like—they will never get that—respect.
The Minister gave us his personal assurances, which echo what has been said by the Secretary of State, that the Government hold in high esteem the achievements of the universities to which the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, referred. If the Minister wants to reassure the universities perhaps he can assure them that they will not be subjected to further visitations or speeches from the junior Minister for higher education because every time he opens his mouth the Government's prestige in the universities suffers a further blow. His presence in the universities reminds me of what would happen if Mrs. Edwina Currie were to go to a gathering of egg producers. It just does not work.
This may be regarded as a frivolous way of putting the argument but if the Government are serious they must seriously respect the fact that universities are institutions and that they can only flourish if they have a corporate sense of their own purposes and how those purposes fit into the national scene. It is because we can see no such evidence that, for all my allegiance to the party to which I belong, I must confess I am in agreement with almost every word of the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone—a fate I never thought would befall me.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I have often listened in the past with great but mixed pleasure to the orations of the noble Lord but on this occasion I have done so with absolutely undiluted pleasure. I am sure that the Minister and his colleagues will have to pay more attention to the noble Lord's remarks than to the remarks of most of us. The noble Lord is not only a passionate Conservative but he has built up his own university and is a great lover of all that universities stand for.
I join with all those who have paid tribute to my noble friend Lady Blackstone who opened the debate so incisively. She has made many much admired contributions since she joined your Lordships' House. She has been criticised outside this Chamber and was referred to on one occasion as the dark-eyed, evil genius of the think-tank. I do not see my noble friend in that light; at any rate, not this afternoon. I see her as the good fairy on higher education and we are all grateful to her.
I was a college tutor before my noble friend Lady Blackstone was born and it is tempting for me to begin by reminiscing about the past and to recall that I opened the first debate on universities in this House 30years ago. However, there is a time limit and I shall resist that temptation. I shall therefore concentrate on one aspect only of higher education —the polytechnics. Before I speak about the polytechnics I want to make plain that I am not in some way saying that they ought to be given more and the universities less. In case I am overtaken by the gong before I can fully develop my argument, I should point out that my argument is that the universities are being treated badly and the polytechnics much worse.
286 I must disagree with a noble Lord with whom I seldom venture to disagree. The noble Lord, Lord Grimond, treated the polytechnics, as so many people treat them, as second-class institutions. I hope that the Minister will make plain that the Government do not look upon them as second-class institutions.
§ Lord Grimond
My Lords, I apologise for intervening but is the noble Earl saying that I said the polytechnics are second-class institutions? I must have been talking in my sleep.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, I have no doubt that the noble Lord was talking in his sleep—at any rate it is on record. The noble Lord said that the universities stood for something much wider and, as I understood it, much better than the polytechnics. I am here today seeking to refute that accusation. I know that is not possible in the few minutes available to me and therefore in the near future I hope to promote a full debate on the polytechnics because what I can say today must of necessity be far too abbreviated.
I suppose there are quite a few noble Lords, perhaps including myself until recently, who are not aware that the polytechnics and similar institutions are responsible for the major part of higher education in this country. The number of full-time students are roughly the same as for universities and there are five times as many part-time students. Therefore, we are not talking about a negligible group of eccentric or second-class colleges. It s all the more shaming when one realises that we have never discussed them in this Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, dealt with them in 1984 when he opened the debate on higher education, but he did so only briefly. No one will challenge my statement that in this House we have never considered the polytechnics at any length although they are responsible for more than half the education in this country.
To have one final crack at my old friend the noble Lord, Lord Grimond, he may not be aware that the degree standards in polytechnics are generally considered to be as high as those in universities. The noble Lord has just made a sotto voce intervention but I regret I cannot respond in the few minutes I have left. The truth about the polytechnics is that they are doing all this work and covering an enormous area of education. At the same time, they are being badly treated.
Perhaps I may briefly put the facts in front of your Lordships. It is reported that between 1979–80 and 1986–87 the funding per full-time equivalent student—that means full-time or taking part-time on an equivalent basis—in polytechnics declined by 20 per cent. in real terms whereas university funding increased in real terms by 3 per cent. I suggest not that the universities have been funded too generously but that the polytechnics have been disgracefully funded. The funding per student in universities was far higher. The figures might be a basis of argument but one must agree that the funding per student in universities is far higher than in polytechnics; the idea being that the universities are more capable of 287 doing research. In other words, the Grimond heresy has, if I may say so, prevailed in certain circles. I hope that tonight the noble Viscount will refute that.
There are certain facts about the polytechnics which should be made plain. Polytechnics are performing an essential service. The philosophy of the polytechnics and whether there is to be any vocational orientation is a subject that can form a whole debate. However, I do not intend to develop those issues today. I shall confine myself to the facts—the amount of education that they supply, the level of degrees they provide and the fact that they are treated so abominably, even compared with the universities which are treated badly enough.
There are one or two other points that I wish to raise. I accept the argument that has been put forward on behalf of the polytechnics that they should be allowed to compete for funds with the universities. That may or may not be accepted today but some of the polytechnics care very strongly about that. Another point that may not be acceptable today is that the polytechnics care that the word "university" should be incorporated in their title. Those are two of the points, but the whole subject should be gone into much more thoroughly. I hope that will be possible on another occasion.
I am sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, is not here. His grandfather founded the polytechnic in its modern form. He devoted himself to the spiritual welfare of ragged boys to the extent that he disguised himself as a shoeblack in order to minister to them. We must salute his memory. Whether the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, is here or not, the polytechnics will continue from strength to strength. But they will not do so unless the Government treat them more fairly than hitherto.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Sherfield
My Lords, in a debate of this character, even as an intermediate speaker, it is difficult to raise new relevant points. If I emphasise or enlarge only on points that have already been put forward, I will at least be brief. In the debates on the Education Reform Bill much anxiety was expressed at the degree of centralised and detailed control that could be exercised by Whitehall over the management of universities. Amendments were carried or concessions made by Ministers on that point.
In the first draft of some of the documents intended to give effect to the provisions of the Act—a number of which I have seen—it was only to be expected that an attempt would be made by the bureaucracy to claw back what had been conceded by Ministers. As a result of discussion and negotiation leading to the documents in their final form, this situation may be remedied. But the threat remains of undue bureaucratic interference in the management of universities and polytechnics. That can range from direct interference to over-detailed regulations, and burdensome requests for information and statistics and the like. At times it has seemed that under the new arrangements the whole university system was to be made to pay for 288 whoever was at fault in not noticing what was going on at Cardiff when that university went into heavy deficit. There have been indications that, subject to proper accountability, the Government want the universities to be genuinely independent and free from undue bureaucratic control, and they hope for a lighter touch from the Universities Funding Council than was exercised by the University Grants Committee.
If that is the policy, is it firmly and well understood by the department and the staffs of the two funding councils? It is desirable to have an assurance from the Minister that that is the case. It was a major defect of the nationalised industry regime that the staff of the departments concerned were continually questioning and double-guessing the executive managers who were trying to run the show. When I was with the Atomic Energy Authority I was fortunate in escaping that treatment but only because the then Minister for Science, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, had such a small staff that it did not have the time or the inclination to do it. It remains a present danger.
The second point I wish to stress relates to salaries and conditions of service. I shall look beyond the present dispute with the Association of University Teachers. Whatever the outcome, the vice chancellors' committee has probably achieved the best deal available at this particular juncture. The noble Lord, Lord Flowers, confirmed that. Whatever the Government may say about the offer, it started from a very low base. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, began with a point regarding academic salaries. They are running behind and may still be falling relative to the salaries available to graduates in industry, law and accounting, the City and elsewhere at home and, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, reminded us abroad as well. Until academic salaries are competitive, there is likely to be a continuing fall in the actual number of men and women—let alone people of the required standard of quality—available to teach many crucial disciplines.
We all know of the demographic situation coupled with the demand for more graduates. But unless enough well-qualified teachers are available for our industrial and business performance the result may be catastrophic. The same may be true of the quality of our research. The aim must be to encourage excellence in both fields and that cannot be bought on the cheap. One sometimes wonders how deeply the Government are really concerned about the prospective shortage of scientists, engineers and teachers.
A large query still remains as regards what idea the Government have concerning the nature and function of universities. In the past many views have been put forward on this subject. There is a good deal of talk about the play of market forces. Quite recently I heard it publicly stated on behalf of the Government that they now regard themselves as purchasers of higher education and that students and others are customers of the universities. For example, fees may be raised in the future to enable students to exercise greater freedom of choice and influence. In other words, a university is a kind of academic supermarket.
289 That is certainly a point of view, but it does not appear to coincide with what the noble Viscount had to say in his speech earlier this afternoon. What is the Government's considered view? I hope that we shall be enlightened about it in due course, if not this evening. If the view I have mentioned represents the true scenario, what is the position of research? We are told that proposals are being considered for separating the funding of research and teaching in the university system. We shall have to wait to hear what those proposals involve. No doubt they will be the subject of much future discussion. This evening I shall not embark on the subject.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
My Lords, having personally participated in every aspect of education from school to university, in the few moments that I have to speak this afternoon I wish to concentrate on one aspect that I believe has not been dealt with so far during the debate. It complements what my noble friend Lord Dormand of Easington had to say concerning adult education. I wish to speak about that subject not in the way that he did but in addition to what he had to say as regards the position of mature students. There is an aspect of adult education which is a very precious heritage of this country. It has made an immense contribution to the development of British culture but today it is being neglected if not destroyed.
I refer to the voluntary, non-vocational form of adult education as seen in the extra-mural departments of universities and in the Workers' Educational Association. This has made a profound contribution to our culture. It dates from at least a century ago when the steel workers of Sheffield would meet at six o'clock in the morning to discuss current affairs. The attitude of the Government, as has been shown through speech after speech this afternoon, is the antithesis of that attitude. It was encapsulated in a phrase stressed by the noble Viscount at the beginning of the debate. He said that the purpose of higher education was to meet the needs of the economy. Higher education has to do something probably more important and certainly as important and much deeper.
Universities cannot make profits. They are not subject to proving cost-effectiveness. They cannot demonstrate the ruthlessness of employment policies. They cannot argue that history or philosophy contribute to the national product. They have something much more important and indeed different. The attitude of the Government has been to assume that everything is political. Detachment is held to be a chimera and objectivity a fraud. The 1985 Green Paper The Development of Higher Education into the 1990s shows this economic ethos as dominant: higher education must serve the national economy, research is to be financially controlled either by central government or by business and commerce. I would be the last to say that we do not need more research, development and vocational training in this country. My participation on the Select Committee on Overseas Trade shows that. But we also need education for the sake of the individual and education for its own sake. It is part of the quality of British life.
290 Perhaps I may quote again from a UGC statement issued in September 1984:Continuing education needs to be fostered not only for its essential role in promoting economic prosperity but also for its contribution to personal development and social progress. It can renew personal confidence, regenerate the human spirit and restore a sense of purpose to people's lives through the cultivation of new interests. In short, both effective economic performance and harmonious social relationships depend on our ability to deal successfully with the changes and uncertainties which are now ever-present in our personal and working lives".That is a better statement than I could have made of the central purpose of adult education.
It has been my privilege to serve in adult education in the National Council of Labour Colleges and in the WEA extra-mural departments in this country and other countries. I should like to look at the extra-mural side of adult education. In 1981–82 there were 5,656 courses. In 1986–87 there were 7,344 courses. The demand was increasing. In 1981–82 the number of students was 124,738. In 1986–87 it was 156,290. However, the end of the equation shows that the grant from the Government, which was £4.967 million in 1981–82, had risen in 1986–87 to only £5.043 million. The figure was falling and had been falling for three years. Consequently adult education has been starved.
We know that from 1st April the funding of the extra-mural side of adult education has come under the new funding council. We must express the hope that it is more generous than the Government have been. We hope it will recognise the crucial importance of adult education through university guidance and through university contributions on the extramural scale.
I should like to refer to the work done by the Workers' Educational Association. It is frequently done in conjunction with the extra-mural departments. In 1982 the Workers' Educational Association suffered an 8.3 per cent. reduction in grant from the Department of Education and Science. Since then it has been subject to a three-way cut: it has been cut by the DES, it has been cut by the universities and it has been cut by the local education authorities. As a consequence, fees have risen, which is tragic. It means that those who cannot afford to go to such classes are no longer able to look to the community for their support. In London over the past three years the number of students has fallen because of the increases in fees.
I know that the Workers' Educational Association is at present negotiating with the Government and that it has accepted a new financial structure. However, it has not been told the findings of the Government's working party on education policy within the Workers' Educational Association. It has its annual conference next week. It is still in the dark and has no means of planning for the future. I told the noble Viscount who is to reply that I would concentrate my remarks on adult education, and I hoped that he would prepare himself for that. When will the Government inform the Workers' Educational Association of their policy towards the future of the WEA and the future not of its financial side, which has been virtually agreed, but of its education content?
291 I believe deeply that adult education in its liberal sense is an essential part of our democratic tradition. It is an essential pillar of the maintenance of our democratic way of life. I leave the House with a quotation from Henry George:We cannot safely leave politics to the politicians; the people themselves must think".Thousands, tens of thousands, and now, I suppose, millions of British people have learnt they way to think through the adult education classes of extramural departments, the Workers' Educational Association and the National Council of Labour Colleges. They must be preserved if our democratic system is to flourish.
§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Lord Swann
My Lords, nothing has cheered me more in this debate than to hear the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, commenting on the junior Minister responsible for higher education. I too keep a sharp eye on what that gentleman says. In consequence I was puzzled to read in The Times Higher Education Supplement of 24th February a quote from Mr. Jackson speaking in a debate in Oxford, broadcast on Radio 4. He said:Society receives a 5 per cent. rate of return on investment in higher education. At a 5 per cent. social return, the level of investment is just about right".Knowing what the multiplicity of graduates do for society, and bearing in mind the astonishing advances stemming from academic research—namely, molecular biology, and all the consequent advances in medicine and agriculture, the computer revolution, and all that it has done for industry and society—a social return of only 5 per cent. seems to me absurd. Moreover, what did Mr. Jackson mean when he said that with a 5 per cent. return,the level of investment [in the university system] is just about right"?In consequence I wrote to Mr. Jackson precisely a month ago. After a fortnight I received an acknowledgment on one of those horrible little second-class postcards which enable the village postman to see to whom you had been writing and about what. However, a month later, I am still awaiting a reply to my letter. Of course, speedy replies are not the DES's speciality, as most of us will know. I decided that I must obtain advice from some distinguished academics who know about social returns; they have kindly put me on the track.
Mr. Jackson's figure is based on calculations embedded in an appendix to the 1985 Green Paper on higher education. Briefly, what the DES officials did was to take the average increased earnings of graduates over and above those with higher school qualifications but without a degree and express those extra annual earnings as a percentage of the average cost of producing a graduate. Hence the 5 per cent., or to be more accurate, depending on various details of the calculations—and all these matters are somewhat involved—the paper in question gives figures ranging from 4 per cent. to 10 per cent. Therefore Mr. Jackson, or someone, seems to have chosen one of the least flattering figures.
292 The 1985 Green Paper goes on:These figures may be compared generally with the returns obtainable elsewhere in the economy, and more specifically with the Test Discount rate established for use in public service investment appraisal. Such comparisons suggest that the gains from Higher Education overall are satisfactory".That worries me. It leaves me with dark suspicions that the social return figure of 5 per cent. lurks silently somewhere, probably not understood, in the Treasury and indicates to its officials that no more needs to be spent on universities. Hence, perhaps, Mr. Jackson's comment that investment in universities is just about right.
One does not need to be an economist to realise that the pay-off to society based on the increased earnings of graduates, while it is perhaps an interesting calculation, does not mean very much. In no walk of life could even the most ardent free marketeer insist that people's contribution to society is a function of their salary. To be fair to the Green Paper, it stresses that the pay-offs from research are difficult to quantify—and I shall have more to say about that in a moment. Moreover, to be fair again, the Green Paper goes on to say that the DES calculation must result in an under-estimate of the true return. It ends up by saying;There are other social benefits derived from higher education which are not directly associated with the education of highly qualified manpower or research. These include the cultural benefits of higher education and the preservation of the stock of knowledge. Such items are not amenable to measurement with any pretensions to objectivity but it is important that their existence should always be kept in mind".Well, Mr. Jackson would appear to have forgotten that fact. Such intangible matters are what economists call "externalities". They cannot in principle have an accurate cost benefit put upon them. If one were to guess, it would only depend on how much one cared about the different facets of a civilized society. Perhaps I may cite just one case which intrigues me; namely, the legal profession.
We have heard a lot of criticism about the legal profession recently, but if it were not for the output from universities of people with law degrees going into the profession we would not have a proper system of justice in this country. One wonders what that would do to society. I have a feeling that it would collapse in a heap and the cost would be astronomic.
Finallly, I should like to say a certain amount about the pay-off for research. It is indeed difficult to work out, but it is not altogether impossible. Working out all the costs of research—that is, basic, strategic and applied—together with the costs of the development and application, partly in universities, partly by research councils and partly by industry itself, is a daunting task. However, it has been done in a number of cases, with varying degrees of objectivity, and mainly, though not entirely, in the United States.
The increased industrial productivity as an annual return on the total investment in R&D varies. I have found out some of the figures from an interesting paper by a Dr. Grillickes of Harvard University, who is an expert in such matters. The return—one can call it a social return if one wishes to do so—from government and industrial money put into research 293 is found to range from 10 per cent. to 50 per cent. per annum; that is, from twice to 10 times Mr. Jackson's 5 per cent.
Those figures are described by Dr. Grillickes, in what I consider a fascinating paper, as worthwhile at the bottom end, that is, 10 per cent.; and very high at the top end, that is, 50 per cent. I was also intrigued—and I think that the Treasury should note this—by his remark:Public sector investments in research which are not constrained or guided by the profit motive, and where there is wide scope for bureaucratic bungling, do seem to yield not only positive but actually rather high rates of return. This, while not unexpected, is heartening".In short, it looks as though the total return on investment in research from both public sources and private industrial sources is not the Treasury's and Mr. Jackson's 5 per cent. figure, but a lot more. However, just how much more is hard to say. I have quoted social returns for research ranging from 5 per cent. to 50 per cent. In fact, there are further complexities in that area, but I do not want to go into them at any great length.
In the United States—and Dr. Grillickes gives the figures in his paper—the amount spent on R&D by industry is about four times what is spent by the federal government. There is then a factor of four which alters the figure of British universities. In fact, it could be more than a factor of four, but I shall not bother your Lordships with the details of why that could be so. Therefore, you end up with social returns on research done in British universities that look more like 10 per cent. times 4 which is 40 per cent., or 50 per cent. times 4 which is 200 per cent. I am not an economist. I received Dr. Grillickes' paper only yesterday, so I may be wrong; but I doubt that I am totally wrong.
In the 1985 Green Paper the DES said it proposed to investigate those matters further. Has it done so? Not to my knowledge. In the DES's latest list of its research contracts—with some 90 odd projects costing about £40 million—I find no mention of any such thing. If the Government really think that the social return on universities is only 5 per cent., I suggest that it is high time they found out the truth. I have no doubt at all that the real figure is much higher, and it is folly not to invest in such handsome financial returns.
I could say a great deal more, but I shall rest content if what I have said provokes the Government into finding out the whole truth. I am no economist. I do not in the least mind being proved wrong. Indeed, I should welcome it. If the Government shy off potentially embarrassing investigations, I can only hope that the universities and the research councils will do them instead. So far only the Agriculture and Food Research Council has endeavoured seriously to estimate the pay-offs from its research.I commend the appendix in its latest corporate plan to the notice of the DES, the Treasury and your Lordships. It outlines the enormous potential benefits of its research, although it is not detailed enough in some respects for me to fit it into the figures that I have just given.
§ Lord Swann
My Lords, I am sorry. Will the House allow me one more minute? In short, I hope profoundly that the Government will cease to rely on the wholly inadequate figure of 5 per cent. return when the real return on the research of universities, supported in part by the UGC and the research councils, looks more like 40 per cent. to 200 per cent. If we express that as a percentage of the total expenditure on universities, it comes out at as much as 60 per cent., research being about one-third of the whole. It looks rather as though universities could be returning to society at large, per annum, up to half their total cost. Can the Government find any better bargain than that? Are they not foolish in the extreme to try to get it on the cheap and to smother it with dirigiste bureaucracy? I hope that the Minister, on behalf of the Government, will give some straight answers.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, when considering the problem of higher education one should perhaps first try to consider its objectives. They should include some combination for the imparting of practical skills in such areas as science and medicine, encouraging research, and, while trying not to sound too pretentious, expanding the mind to give a degree of control and discipline that will be useful in later life. I remember the old saying that what is important in education is that which remains when what has been taught is forgotten.
Industry seems to want graduates in all disciplines. It seems that our institutes of higher education (universities, polytechnics and colleges) are enjoying a degree of success. Estimates of the annual increase in demand for graduates vary. They range between a conservative 4 per cent. and the Association of Graduate Careers Advisers' estimate of 10 per cent. There is likely to be a considerable shortfall as government planning is based on a growth rate of 4.5 per cent. for the year 2000. Graduates are more likely to be in full employment than other adults.
Industry appears to regard higher education as economically advantageous. That, added to any benefits to society gained by people having degrees, suggests that we should regard higher education as a positive investment in the nation's future. If graduates are to be regarded generally as a valuable commodity, we should do everything possible to encourage a higher proportion of the population to enter college or university, and to ensure that there are places available for them, so that we can produce more of those benefical holders of degrees and diplomas.
Although I acknowledge the vast experience of many in your Lordships' House of university administration and, even more so, of academia, I believe I can safely say that as I graduated from Aberdeen University last July I have the most recent experience of being an undergraduate. It was my experience that many new students of 18 or so (many in Scotland are only 17) had only a vague idea of why they were at university other than the fact that a degree meant a better job and career prospects. There was also the idea that being at university would offer other opportunities—a package which 295 contains opportunities to expand oneself socially and in sport, drama or other creative activities. A rough consensus was arrived at by most undergraduates that that package, as a whole, was what made forgoing three or four years of paid employment worth while. If it is to be effective, that package will require considerable funding for university departments and the facilities that make the rest of the package worth while.
I shall indulge in a little sentimentality and point out that Aberdeen University is about to lose about 27 per cent. of its staff. The package at Aberdeen, at least in the academic sphere, may be severely damaged. The student must also be considered. The level of individual student funding is vitally important. If students become short of money they have two options. They can run up large debts with banks or other institutions or take a job during the university year and outside it. Although that is not a bad thing on a moral ground, it invariably cuts into the time available for study, which is what the student is at university to do, and may effectively damage the chance of gaining a good degree.
The full grant for those outside London in this academic year is £2,050. A further £375 is made available for those in London. That breaks down over the 38-week academic year that it is supposed to cover—I stress that that level of full grant is for the poorest students from the poorest background who have less access to other funds from parents and relatives—and means that they will have only £54 a week to live on outside London.
Students have to meet an increasing variety of financial demands as they move through their academic careers. Students usually start in university, college or polytechnic halls of residence, if they are lucky. Lower down the academic prestige ladder—if I may be allowed to use such a status-oriented expression—halls of residence become increasingly less common. After students leave university or college accommodation, they have to go into the private sector, which is invariably more expensive. More costs are incurred and they will have to start to budget for meals. Many students do not know how to budget at the age of 18 or 19. Students will have other costs in addition; for instance, books. I remember medical and engineering students talking about having to buy several tomes costing about £30 or £40 apiece. That is a large chunk of any weekly budget. Students have a mounting level of expense. It is almost always true that a student who can only just manage in his first year will be in debt in the third year.
The type of support that students should be given must be given careful consideration in view of the proposals made in the Government's White Paper on top-up loans for students. It is true that the loans would initially add an extra £420 to the student's budget. However, as the level of loan rises as a proportion of the student's income, so would the level of debt rise. Although that increase in loan will undoubtedly make up some shortfall in the full grant (approximately 21 per cent. between 1981–87; I apologise for repeating the statistics but I believe they bear it) one can see that a rising tide of debt will 296 be imposed by the loan system. That will provide, at the least, a psychological barrier against those from the poorest backgrounds entering higher education as the debt to them will appear greater. Mature students will also be affected as they will have less time to repay the loan.
If the Government are prepared to forgo large amounts of interest on debt, and in some cases wipe it out altogether, it would be simpler and probably less expensive merely to maintain a realistic level of grant support.
I shall try to summarise. I am reminded of the Scottish romantic myth of the lad of parts. For those in your Lordships' House who are not familiar with the myth, I shall try to give a brief rundown. It is based on the old bursary system in Scotland, where people from the kirk schools could compete for places at universities through bursaries. The scholar who won the bursary was supposed to walk to one of the universities, usually Aberdeen or Glasgow, carrying his supplies for the year on his back. Those invariably consisted of a sack of oatmeal and a sack of potatoes, with a few herrings and other assorted items thrown in. He would sit in a freezing garret and work all the hours God sent, and invariably acquire a first-class honours degree. All very noble: but unfortunately he inevitably died of consumption after receiving his prize.
I suggest that is not an outcome which would be beneficial to the student or to society and that a realistic level of funding is an investment in the future. We shall not have people entering higher education if the experience is not at least vaguely pleasurable some of the time.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, it seems to be singularly appropriate that in the year when the French Revolution is being celebrated we in this country should be enjoying an educational revolution. Of course I do not mean by that that we shall see the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, and the other vice-chancellors pinioned and drawn in tumbrils to the guillotine while two hideous tricoteuses—the Secretary of State and Mr. Robert Jackson—sit counting the heads as they fall into the basket. Nevertheless, we are engaged in a revolution, first, in priorities and, secondly, in the way in which education is funded.
Debate on higher education in this House is always the same; it is invariably about the universities and nothing but the universities. Very few of us understand much about the other sector because very few of us have had experience of it. But I rejoice that both the Government and the Opposition believe that today the most important sector is the sector of further or higher education after the age of 16, conducted not in universities not even in polytechnics but in the colleges and industry. Both the Government and Opposition are agreed that 40 per cent. of 16 and 17 year-olds who are receiving full-time education or training is far too low. We must train our workforce fast. We must also persuade the young that they need to be trained and that it pays to be trained.
297 I must say that I was disappointed by Lord Beloff's philippic against the Government's policy on universities. In it he never mentioned the boys and girls of 16 and 17, the 40 per cent. who do not receive further education but who in Germany and Japan do receive it. I was surprised that he had not read the speech of the Secretary of State of his own party in February this year which was precisely on further education.
At this point agreement between Opposition and Government parts. As I understand it, the Labour Party wish to abolish the YTS and to insist on a four-year apprenticeship scheme from the age of 16 to 20, similar to that in Western Germany. They also wish to give subsidies to 16 year-olds from poor families, as well as abolishing 'A' levels. Here I must dissent slightly from the noble Lord, Lord Joseph. I think that they are right to do that and seek a way forward developing from the 'AS' level. They wish to try to get a broader based education like the baccalaureat in the sixth form. It is essential that we have both mathematics and English as a working language being taught up to the age of 18.
My Lords, will the noble Lord permit me to intervene? I should be grateful if the noble Lord's propositions or suggestions could be validated or otherwise by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, when she comes to reply. My suspicion is that the Labour Party will not abolish the 'A' level in favour of the 'AS' level. They propose to phase it out altogether. I hope that we shall be reassured on the point.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, I do not speak for the Labour Party. But I am bound to say I was surprised when the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said—and I heard her, if I am not mistaken—that it was wrong of the Government to rely on any individual contribution or any contribution from the private sector to pay the costs of expanding higher education. That seems to me grotesque. In the 1950s and 1960s we set up a scheme, a system of Rolls-Royce education which we cannot afford. If we are to expand higher education and help the people who need it most—the children from poor families—we must reduce costs and bring more money other than public money into the system.
The Government think that the problem is to boost demand. That will not be done by handing out grants. The Secretary of State believes that the best way in which to learn is to want to learn. The young must be induced to believe that they will learn in further education. What they learn then will be even more useful than what they learnt at GCE level.
The revolution that is taking place is a revolution in priorities. It is the shift in priorities that accounts for Lord Dainton's malaise in the universities. The priority is now vocational training rather than academic achievement. In the past most people believed that the ability to master an academic subject at the very highest level of scholarship was the best test of ability and the best kind of mental training. Do that, and the skills required in one's vocation could be mastered with ease on the job. 298 That was at the heart of the Northcliffe-Trevelyan reforms for competitive entry to the Civil Service. That philosophy went all the way down.
That is the assumption which is being displaced today. I have read the speech of the Secretary of State which he delivered in February. It gave an indication of what he wants the young to learn: how to explain a complicated working procedure; how to understand different orders of magnitude; how to work in a team and give it leadership; how to use information technology; how to understand employment hierarchies and office procedures; how to speak foreign languages, not in restaurants, but in business negotiations. That is what the polytechnics ought to be doing, as well as the colleges.
The second revolution is the method of funding. In this there is a great difference of opinion between the Government and the Opposition. As I understand it, the Government wish no longer to be regarded purely as a provider of education. They wish to be regarded as an enabler. An enabler is someone who enables individuals to obtain services from universities, polys and colleges.
From that comes the idea that students should be given vouchers to choose what course suits them. Hence the idea that far more of the grant to universities should be in the shape of a higher Fee. From that comes the next idea that, in addition, universities should charge a further fee as a way of increasing their income. From part of that fee, of course, the institution would create bursaries for students who could not afford to pay such extra fees. Again, the whole matter of loans comes into the philosophy. How to get 40 per cent. more students into education from the age of 16 onwards without some means whereby they pay for part of that education, is beyond my comprehension.
This is no time to discuss such complicated issues. But there is one point I wish to make. I beseech the Secretary of State, as soon as he possibly can, to make a comprehensive speech setting out his priorities and objectives in higher education. I hope that he will not mince his words. I remember Tony Crosland once saying to me, after he had spent an evening with the vice-chancellors, "To tell the truth, I am not all that interested in universities'. That was at a time when he was setting up the polytechnics.
The present Secretary of State may feel that way since all last year he was wrestling with the Education Reform Bill. But this year he should surely try at some time to tell institutions what he is trying to do in higher education. Universities need to be told just what their future is. The polys know their future; the colleges know their future.
However, even if the message is grim for universities, they really ought to be told. It may well be grim. If the Government give priority to further education and the training of the workforce, there will be even less money for universities and polytechnics. I ask myself whether universities in their present troubles—and I do not underestimate those troubles—have put their prime difficulty to the Government. It is not merely a question of insufficient money for research; there never has been enough. It is not even a question of the separation 299 of funds for teaching and funds for research, which cannot be delayed much longer. The problem, surely, is the blockage for the next 10 to 15 years in promotion, created by the intake of academic staff to cope with the expansion of the 1960s. Money is needed to get early retirement for some teachers in that great bulge, so that we can get new blood into the profession to take their place in the years after the turn of the century.
I have always held heretical views about the Government's control of higher education. All I wish to say is that central governments are right at times to intervene. Anyone who talks about the Government meddling has forgotten what marvellous work the Royal Commissions of Victorian and Georgian times did, and the committees set up to reform the University of London. But, if the Secretary of State is to create a new pattern of higher education and new priorities, he must explain them. I can guess what the noble Viscount will say to that. He will say that this is perfectly ridiculous and I am giving hostages to fortune. Nevertheless, leadership is what is needed to do something to restore the morale in those sectors of higher education which have been hard hit.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Lord Monkswell
My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for opening this debate. I must apologise as I shall have to leave before the end of the debate, and not least because I shall also miss the debate on dog registration later tonight. I am sure that proposal will receive the overwhelming support of your Lordships. I shall read the balance of the debate that I missed later.
The problems of higher education are twofold. First, there are the problems of staff and students in higher education, and, secondly, there are the difficulties and problems for the whole of our society because of the lack of numbers of students in higher education. That is not only the case currently but it has been the case historically, and that situation is forecast to continue into the future.
I wish to take a rather longer-term view of these problems than most of the other contributors in the debate have done. I do not criticise the contributions that we have heard so far that have concentrated on the nitty-gritty of the details of the current situation. I can understand the reasons for those contributions. This Government have been in power for almost 10 years and that period has been almost universally damaging to higher education. However, education is a long-term business. Young people in their late teens and early twenties who receive higher education will contribute to society, whether as doers, managers or policy-makers, for the next 50 years. The result or the product of higher education —the graduate, if one likes—will have an effect on our society, both in its quality and in its quantity, but more particularly as regards quantity, if one takes the view that a graduate participates in higher education up to a certain level.
We are talking about the sheer numbers of graduates who will have a significant effect and a 300 measurable effect, in whatever manner we care to measure that, whether it is an effect on the economic performance of society, or the moral or philosophical position of society. The proportion of graduates to the rest of society will have an effect. Higher education has always been funded by the fees paid by the individual student, and by money or sponsorship of some kind from other people. To enable more than the very rich, or the children of the very rich, to take part as students in higher education, money must be forthcoming. That money comes from the people; it is other people's money.
In the Middle Ages that money was channelled into higher education from the people by the Church. A little later, kings such as Henry VI and Henry VIII channelled the people's money into higher education through taxes they levied. Rich landowners also endowed seats of higher education. That process has continued under successive governments. Until the 1960s there was just a gradual increase in the proportion of the population who went into higher education. But in the 1960s it was recognised that it was a tremendous benefit to society generally to expand the numbers of people going into higher education. That process was started, fostered and developed by the Labour Government.
Successive governments have seen fit to pursue that objective. That continued until the arrival of the present Government. Unfortunately, the present Government have cut, are cutting and show no sign of increasing the flows of money that are needed to increase the proportion of the population entering higher education. The very simple answer to that problem, and to the problem of the staff and the students that exists currently, is to provide more money.
I do not wish to speak for too long, but in closing I wish to make a number of other little points. I say they are little, but I think they are quite important. However, I leave that for your Lordships to ponder. My first point is that we may have come to a situation, after 10 years of a government who appear not to understand, have no respect for and do not wish to fund higher education, where a decision to channel the people's money into higher education may have to be taken at a different level.
As the money comes from them, it may be useful to think in terms of the collectors and the dispersers of that money being determined by the great urban conurbations of our society. One thinks of Greater London and the people within that area, or the people within Greater Manchester or those within Greater Glasgow contributing taxes for higher education and asking their elected representatives, at that level, to disperse that money into higher education provision in their area. That process may engender a sense of responsibility, pride, understanding and respect, both on the part of the higher education institutions and on the part of the people providing the money.
My second point is that when we talk about higher education, it is becoming more and more evident that there is a very false distinction between the higher education provided by colleges and polytechnics and that provided by universities. I believe the 301 time has now come, if it did not arrive a long time ago, for that distinction to be ended. I make the point that I am talking here in terms of higher education. I believe there is a separate argument, although it follows on to some extent, concerning research, particularly pure research, although I recognise the relationship between the processes of higher education and research. One merges into the other.
I also wish to make a plea for student maintenance grants to be received by all students at the same level in higher education, and for students to be able to benefit from education without having to worry about where the next meal is coming from or whether they are going to have a roof over their head that night. It is interesting to think that in practice one of the most formative lessons that students learn at an institute of higher education is how to balance the books and how to live on very little money. Whatever other benefits they receive from higher education, that is surely one lesson they learn. I learnt that lesson before I went to my college of higher education, so I managed better than most.
We have lost some very promising students because, when doing cashflow projections, they could not accept that, having gone through a degree course on a grant and started work in industry at a low salary, at the end of their working lives they would be worse off than if they had gone straight to the production line at Ford at Dagenham.
There is one final plea that I should make. It is that the decision-makers and the policy-makers—we in this House, the Government, those in the other place—should trust and respect the people who provide higher education in this country. I make that plea earnestly and I hope that it will be accepted.
§ 6.31 p.m.
§ Lord Adrian
My Lords, however grateful I am to the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for initiating the debate this evening, I speak with some reluctance because it appears to me in some ways an inopportune moment for me to join in a debate on higher education.
I shall speak of universities, and I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has said. The universities are in the critical stages of a pay dispute. Moreover, we have only just seen the birth of the Universities Funding Council and it seems to me to be early days to offer criticism of that body. The debates of last year on the Education Reform Bill exhausted both your Lordships and the subject for the time being, and as yet the effects of that Act are not clearly to be seen in the universities.
Perhaps it would be better to ignore present discontents and to focus on the future, to point out the Alice in Wonderland aspect of passing a great Act to reform higher education and then beginning a great debate on whether to nationalise universities or to privatise them. The talk is all of loans and vouchers, of autonomy, and of accountability. As a result, we do not know what the Government think let alone what the UFC will think. All we know is that we have been reformed, but it is hard to speak when one does not know what the real reforms have been or are to be.
302 Let me say only this: a brief experience as a vice-chancellor of Cambridge convinced me that centralised bureaucracy is a more inefficient way of running universities than is peripheral autonomy, and less likely to produce institutions which contribute to our national purposes and which the world will respect and even envy. Whether a central bureaucratic mechanism will bend universities better to the Government's will is quite another question. In its history Cambridge has not always instantly obeyed either King or Parliament, but then it might not have become Cambridge if it had.
Most of my reluctance today stems from what I feel I must say about the immediate dispute, in which I have to declare not only an interest but also an involvement. I propose to set and mark examinations and I agree to be appraised and to take part as best I can in the appraisal of others. To do otherwise would be contrary to my professional standards, and indeed, to undertakings that I have given and have persuaded others to give. It would do untold damage to students who have committed themselves to our care. For reasons which have already been touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I shall not be in a position to vote on that issue. I shall not mince my words. My profession—and your Lordships will know already that I am proud to be an academic—is in danger of behaving with great irrationality, even with stupidity and turpitude, in the words of our statutes at the university and in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff.
We have won a skirmish but seem about to force a battle that we cannot win. I believe that we should, and I profoundly hope that we shall, accept appraisal and the current offer on pay; plan for the next round and prepare for the battles on the much wider issues than pay which still face us. But if the offer is in the event rejected one must ask why should people who by and large are intelligent behave so irrationally. I believe that it would be because we have lost our bearings and are dangerously close to believing—as do far too many in this country who ought to know better, although I am much relieved to hear that the Minister does not believe it—that what academics do has little value.
When the academics are persuaded of that, where will the graduates that the country cries out for come from? Is it any wonder that we have lost our bearings? The average university teacher has no idea where he is going, unless it be to the United States of America. He has no idea where the universities are going and hears little but confusing rumours and leaks about where the Government want the universities to go. At best he gets only glimpses of what goes on in that byzantine bureaucracy, that unholy alliance of the Department of Education and Science, the CVCP, the AUT, the UGC and, now, the UFC. I spent two years in that arcane world and learnt only how easily unintended harm can be done by well-meaning committees.
The existence of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, and especially its growing role of negotiating directly with the AUT and with the Secretary of State, has meant that vice-chancellors have become committed to acting 303 collectively and to imposing changes on their universities by agreements with Ministers in which they may have had individually only a minimal part. They become middle managers and ultimately just employers—employers of an increasingly casualised academic labour-force.
More and more, as vice-chancellors accept that role and as the UGC has increased its grip on individual universities, as the paradigm of university organisation becomes industrial rather than collegiate, so the behaviour patterns of the industrial world spread in the universities. Today's dispute, I believe is simply an inevitable part of that process.
Has industry managed its affairs in the last quarter century so well that it is self-evident that its management methods and structures must be appropriate to all other national activities? I do not intend to denigrate industry by saying that, only to ask whether its methods are universally applicable.
As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has said, we are in a moment of great reform. But great reforms can as easily be great disasters as great leaps forward. The Education Reform Act is enabling legislation. We still need to know and to judge what it will enable and to ensure, if we can, that it makes rather than breaks our universities.
§ 6.39 p.m.
§ Lord Donoughue
My Lords, I shall not weary noble Lords by repeating arguments and facts already deployed by ranks of educational experts who in this House exceed all but lawyers in their number. Of course, in modesty and concern for the national interest, rather than self-interest, they exceed even our legal representatives.
For a detailed critique not only of the failures of the present Government to remedy the deficiencies in higher education but also of the positive damage being done by aspects of government policy, I could not match the splendid speech of my noble friend Lady Blackstone whom I wish to thank for opening the debate. The manner in which my noble friend mobilised her great knowledge and experience to present a devastating array of arguments was most impressive and leaves us looking forward to the Minister's reply with more than a little wicked pleasure.
I certainly do not reject all recent developments in higher education. The apparent liberation of the polytechnics and colleges seems broadly right and reflects credit on the local authorities and college staff who have nurtured them so successfully. In the two institutions with which I am connected, Nene College, Northampton, and the North East London Polytechnic, the benefits of positive and entrepreneurial management have been clearly evident in recent years. Relations with the local community are excellent. It is hoped that they will not weaken as the association with local government alters.
As for the universities, recent efforts to make the institutions more cost conscious and their staff more accountable are certainly in the national interest. I was a university teacher for many happy years and still serve on the governing bodies of two university 304 colleges. The need to sharpen up all of them was clear. I support the abolition of tenure. Most of the job of sharpening up is now done. I hope that the Government will not go on beating the institutions over the head for ever. That will only mobilise teachers further and rebound to the detriment of a whole generation of the nation's youth. As noble Lords opposite, who are close to the Jockey Club, know—it has also recently been publicly admitted —there is a limit to how long one can beneficially go on whipping a horse, even one facing the hurdle of the present pay negotiations so wildly.
The heart of my concern today is of a longer timescale; it is the implicit general drift and underlying philosophy of government policy towards higher education. As with the National Health Service, we are not completely confident that the Government have been fully open about their deeper intentions. We sense that their deepest instincts towards centralisation as a brief step towards privatisation are to squeeze out the public involvement and to turn education into just another self-financing industry. I urge noble Lords on all sides to resist that development very robustly. It is based upon a crude desire to reduce public expenditure at all costs and an even cruder dogma which assumes that private is always better than public and that the market economy is the ideal context for all of life's activities. The recent experience of Miss Pamella Bordes, I think, may have cast some doubt upon that general assumption. Sadly, that dogma does not seem to ask the fundamental question: what is best for the higher education of our children?
The danger in moving towards privatisation—to take up a point made most convincingly by the noble Lord, Lord Adrian—is that it narrows the range of dominant values within higher education. Of course we welcome greater private sponsorship; of course we accept that prosperous parents should contribute to the costs of their children's education; and of course, in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, we cannot solve education's needs without private financing. However, education remains fundamentally a public asset and a public good.
We noted with approval the Minister's quotation of the Robbins statement on the plurality of purposes in education, including as central aims the promotion of general values, the advancement of learning and especially the transmission of a common national culture and common standards of citizenship. However, I wonder whether he was not merely curtseying to virtue before getting down to sin in the way that people say, "Some of my best friends are Jews" as a prelude to a deeply offensive racist remark. Those wider aims of higher education outlined by Robbins are essentially national and public. They do not necessarily, although they may sometimes, involve business or financial standards or criteria of profitability and return, important though those standards and criteria may be.
We cannot rely on particular private financing sources with their particular private priorities, sometimes reflecting current fashions in subjects for study, to protect and pursue the whole plurality of educational aims. Nor can we rely on self-financing institutions, which price education according to 305 market economy, to provide—most important of all—access to all classes in society. Only major public finance can guarantee to do that.
What we need is a mixed economy in higher education with access for all who are qualified by ability and facilities in which to pursue the advancement of learning beyond the narrow boundaries set by the passing fashions of a private market economy and above all where the dominant values are public values.
In Japan last month I lunched with the distinguished president of a major finance house, one of the world's great capitalists. He asked me, from his great knowledge of, and admiration for, this country and for its Prime Minister, whether it was necessary in order to regenerate the British economy to damage one of our nation's greatest assets—what he called the "delicate fabric" of our educational system. The answer must be, no. I look to the Minister to give that assurance tonight.
§ 6.47 p.m.
§ Lord Hunter of Newington
My Lords, I thought that it might not be inappropriate in the debate to say something about the University Grants Committee as I knew it. It finished its duties in higher education at the end of March to be succeeded by the Universities Funding Council on the most appropriate date of 1st April.
The UGC changed substantially in its role and methods of working during its 70 years. It adjusted itself to the needs of the situation, including recent changes due to government demands. The first chairman of the UGC, Sir William McCormack, held office for 11 years. The committee did not meet between 1931 and 1933. There was almost complete reorganisation under Keith Murray, (now Lord Murray of Newhaven), whom I tried to persuade unsuccessfully to attend today, after the move from the Treasury to the Department of Education and Science. There was substantial development of specialist sub-committees under Lord Wolfenden in the mid-1960s. Dainton, Berrill and Parkes continued the process; and more recently Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer has occupied the hot seat.
On Thursday 30th March the committee met for the last time. That evening there was a valedictory dinner attended by 51 present and past members of the committee. One wondered what the atmosphere would be like. Your Lordships may be interested to know what it was like. The noble Baroness, Lady White, was present, whose father had had so much to do with the setting up the UGC in 1919.
I should like also to make brief reference to the last great discovery within the university system which the UGC substantially supported: the discovery of genetic fingerprinting by Professor Alec John Jeffreys of the University of Leicester.
At the time the atmosphere of the dinner was one of good fellowship and an appreciation of the work done by sub-committees in raising understanding within and between universities. There was no gloom; rather a firm conviction that the job had been done well. There was the realisation that much depends on individual initiatives, and though 306 universities should collaborate and make strategic research more effective, the pursuit of basic ideas was their prime role together with the teaching of the young, which was of paramount importance. The trouble is that, as will be seen, the timescale for these developments is perhaps 10 or 20 years. Those present perhaps noted also the millions of pounds spent by the Department of Trade arid Industry on educational matters—reference to that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan—at a time when university financial support has been falling steadily. Perhaps the Government should defend themselves tonight when educational programmes are being handed to committees which are substantially controlled by industrialists.
Leicester University was founded in 1957. In the 1960s the UGC strengthened the biology department and established a clinical medical school. At the beginning of the 1980s the top priority of the university was the creation of a biology centre at the behest of Professor Jeffreys who was the professor of genetics. In that centre fundamental work was complemented by more applied research sponsored on a contract basis. It was done with encouragement and finance from the UGC and equipment from the Science Research Council. More than £1 million was subscribed over a five-year period by four firms: Dalgety Spillers, Whitbread, Gallagher, and John Brown Engineering. There was also strong support from the ICI.
The result of all that collaboration was the discovery, the application and development of genetic fingerprinting, a process which is now accepted worldwide as having been a major discovery. That was all done in a new university, encouraged and guided by the UGC and funded by a number of sources. Professor Jeffreys and his colleagues—with, on the one hand, their academic excellence, and on the other their practical skills—made everything possible. That is a typical picture of the UGC environment until work came under the recent restrictions referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dainton. Let us hope that the Universities Funding Council will match its predecessor's achievements. Substantial responsibility must rest on the lay members of that council. The lay members of the UGC were superb.
One of the principal problems facing the new funding council concerns the future or the clinical medical schools, which depends on the collaboration between two departments of Government: the education department and the health department. What influence will the Universities Funding Council have in this difficult situation? Considerable anxiety has been expressed in your Lordships' House by the Select Committee on Science and Technology about the funding of research, and research and development in the National Health Service, to which the Government have given no reply. Moreover, there are difficulties faced by the Education Department in funding clinical schools adequately. It means that the whole area of collaboration between the two departments is under the closest possible scrutiny. This matter has been examined in the past 18 months by senior civil servants.
307 Sadly, the Government's White Paper on the National Health Service made no reference to those key problems, and scant reference to educational problems. It is no exaggeration to say that on the solution of these departmental difficulties depends the future quality of medicine in Great Britain. The National Health Service must do its audit and its research and development. Audit is the medical component of research and development.
The Universities Funding Council will also have one other problem to consider; namely, the University of Glasgow's response to the recommendation to the UGC by the Riley Committee that the most distinguished veterinary school in the United Kingdom should be closed. We wish the Universities Funding Council well, though many people remain to be convinced of the significance and importance of the changes that the Government have made. Only time will tell.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Baroness McFarlane of Llandaff
My Lords, in the interests of saving time I shall not repeat some of the points that have already been made about the uncertainty of funding and the models of funding in the higher education system. They are very real concerns both of the vice chancellors and of the Committee of Directors of Polytechnics. I wish to speak from the viewpoint of my own profession of nursing. Until recently I held the Chair of Nursing in the University of Manchester so I think I can speak as a practitioner of a comparatively new discipline which is trying to enter the realm of higher education and trying to break through the powerful bastions that exist there.
In the present climate of funding it is exceedingly difficult for new and small disciplines to break into higher education although it has been done and with some success. In addition, the method of funding research has militated against small and new departments. I served on the University Grants Committee panel on subjects allied to medicine, and was associated with the first research selectivity exercise. I am sure that your Lordships will know that there was intense dissatisfaction among academics after that first exercise and we are now seeking to remodel it.
However, that method of funding research and rewarding centres of excellence which on one view is highly desirable was another thing that militated against the newly established department and the small department. So I think that it was a formula that tended to impose greater inflexibility on the system and a lack of responsiveness to new developments.
I have recently become a member of the Council for National Academic Awards. In that capacity I recognise far greater inequities between the funding of research in the university system and that in the polytechnic system. By virtue of its charter the council is required to ensure that its awards are comparable in standard with those of other higher education institutions in the United Kingdom. To that end the council seeks to promote research and ensure that the teaching in its accredited establish 308 ments is invigorated and informed by research. It is no wonder that the directors of polytechnics question the present dual system of funding in the university. Only on Friday I was told that the polytechnics are teaching the whole range of subjects offered within the university with the exception of medicine and veterinary science.
I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Addington, mention the problems of students and student loans. Only yesterday I received from the department in which I worked until recently a small survey carried out by one of the students on the cost of taking a nursing degree in the polytechnic sector at the Polytechnic of the South Bank compared with the cost in the university sector. Your Lordships may be interested to hear some of the results from that small survey. Seventy-three per cent. of the respondents had claimed housing benefit at some point during their course; that is an average of £5.26 per week in Manchester, and £11.96 in London. Fifty-four per cent. had claimed support in the summer vacation. It is far more difficult for disciplines such as nursing and medicine to obtain jobs in the summer vacation because their summer vacations are shorter.
Little or no account was taken of the extra equipment and travel costs entailed in such courses. The Manchester students found themselves on average at the end of the year £300 overspent above the grant supplied, and the South Bank students £800. Seventy per cent. of these students had had an overdraft at some point during their course. I am sure that we should like an assurance that whatever from of funding of students is promulgated in the future, it will not leave students with the sense of guilt with which this system of funding leaves them.
I should like to go on to the business of how, in my profession, the higher education system needs to be opened up far more to the common run of nursing education that takes place at the moment in schools of nursing. Your Lordships' House will know that the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting education has recommended proposals, Project 2000, for the reform of nursing education, and Her Majesty's Government have accepted these proposals. Only last week, the chief nursing officer published her strategy for nursing. Within that, and in Project 2000, there is an objective of establishing closer links with higher education and a great deal work is being done to link schools of nursing with the higher education sector.
There is already an integration of some schools of nursing into the higher education system—for instance, at St. Martin's College at Lancaster University, and in the polytechnics of Oxford and Portsmouth. There are accreditation schemes for schools of nursing. We are delighted that the Council for National Academic Awards has issued credit ratings for basic and post-basic nursing courses so that a system of credit accumulation and transfer can be achieved. As one who has been concerned with post-registration nursing education, and admitting nurses into part-time degree programmes, I have no doubt that it opens up the whole of their 309 professional lives, and that they approach their work with a completely different perspective. Their personal development is also greatly enhanced.
However, we still have problems in maintaining links with higher education. One of the major problems, and perhaps one of the silliest, is that the necessary nurse manpower for district nursing, health visiting and community psychiatric nursing is being denied access to established courses in higher education because health authorities are achieving economies by cutting nursing education. We are therefore losing the very workers that we need most. There is a feeling that this could be better achieved by central funding. As links with higher education proceed, there is a real need to rationalise the present schools of nursing and to bring this under the managerial control perhaps of the nursing boards in the four countries.
Perhaps I may close on a more dismal note. The brain drain does not apply only to the powerful scientific echelons. The first professor of nursing in Australia is a Manchester graduate who has recently gone there from a very innovative post in the Oxford region. Five other heads of schools of nursing in Australia have come from the University of Manchester. They have far better resources both for education and research than I could achieve in this country.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord Dacre of Glanton
My Lords, we all deplore the financial constraints that are depressing the income, status and morale of university teachers in this country and are thereby alienating so many of them from the Government. This massive alienation has been illustrated in this debate and must surely be heeded by the Government.
However, we have to admit that the academic world has seldom reformed itself except under pressure either from government or from outside sources. This is a sad fact to which history bears witness. Universities are corporations and they have something of the corporative spirit, like trade unions. As corporations they have resisted initially most important movements in our history. They resisted the new learning, the scientific revolution, and the reforms of the 19th century, all of which were imposed initially from outside. When universities were most free, when they were liberated by the Glorious Revolution from external control, in England they became, alas, most disreputable.
However, having said that, we have to add that the reformers who have reformed universities from outside, from government, or from what is now known as the private sector, have always acted in co-operation with parties within the universities. Whenever governments have attempted to interfere in detail from outside to determine more than the external circumstances of universities, posterity has always judged those governments to be wrong.
What is alarming to me at present is the pressure on the universities to reform, although I sympathise with some of it because of the sheer necessity for it. I am glad to see guaranteed tenure disappear. Nevertheless, much of the pressure is interfering with the intellectual mechanics of universities. This 310 is something new, and it is disastrous. Governments are not equipped, through docile bodies of nominees, to regulate the intellectual character of a university. Crude criteria imposed from outside are not the way to improve teaching or research.
Time is short. I am asked to be very brief. I shall concentrate on one small particular which may seem rather insignificant and almost below the level of this debate. In its small way it indicates the gulf between the policy of the Government and the understanding of the basic philosophy of a university. I refer to a proposal by a sub-committee of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the UFC, to which the noble Lord, Lord Sheffield, referrred, on the attempt to separate the funding of teaching from the funding of research. In order that that should be done the sub-committee issued a document mobilising a pilot project in order to assess the quality of research in different universities.
The circular informed us that the UFC was developing a methodology. I believe that it meant a method. The document is written in the dreadful jargon which, in my opinion, it is the function of a university education to eliminate from our language.
§ Lord Dacre of Glanton
My Lords, the UFC was developing a methodology to measure research output. For that purpose it solicited appropriate data in four specific subjects to be a model for annual returns. The appropriate data are to be assembled by an appropriate bibliometrical methodology.
Uniform questionnaires have been sent out and my former colleagues in the departments of economics, history, chemistry and physics—those are the four subjects—have been spending time on enumerating their research publications under various heads. They have done so in order that, on the basis of quantity, the UFC can decide whether their university or department deserves economic support for research.
In considering the pilot scheme my great difficulty is that, in my opinion, teaching and research at university level are not entirely distinct. One cannot be a good teacher without having an interest in research, and that research cannot be evaluated by quantity. A great deal of research in humanities is of value although not printed, and a great deal of what is printed is trivial. I see it as he drops of perspiration exuded by hard-pressed runners in the academic rat race.
Although I can speak only for the humanities I believe that that is also true of the sciences. I have memories of sitting on electoral boards and being amazed, first, by the vast list of publications presented by some scientific candidates for university posts and then by seeing the list reduced to almost nothing on closer examination by experts.
When I think of that suggestion I believe that the body which proposed it has lost sight of the basic philosophy which should underlie any university. I believe that the social function of a university is to educate the laity. For that purpose it must have a professionalism of its own and breed up a class of 311 professionals with high professional standards. Both those activities are expressed to some extent, although not exclusively, in publication.
But to measure and judge universities by the quantity of publication assessed purely numerically by computer is to put a premium on publication for publication's sake. It has no necessary connection with the quality of either teaching or research. In my opinion, its implications are positively harmful, but I must not take up time in developing that theme as I should like.
We are told that it is only a pilot scheme and that it is designed as only one part of the method—or methodology—of the sub-committee. However, I have grave apprehensions when I see the crude form in which returns are to be made; when I consider what deductions will be made from them; who will make them; and what effect those deductions will have not only on the policy-makers of the UFC but also on the universities and their teachers. I believe that the UFC should go back and reconsider not merely this or that detail but the whole philosophy of which this extraordinary document is an expression.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Maclehose of Beoch
My Lords, I shall speak briefly and on only one point. I believe it to be of general application based on my experience as chairman of the board of governors of the School of Oriental and African Studies. The school expects to account in detail for the resources it receives from the public purse. It welcomes external retrospective audit, both financial and academic, of the funds it receives. But the operative word is "retrospective". It makes no sense, especially in the case of a highly specialised institution such as SOAS, for a central and remote authority to attempt to control in detail and in advance exactly how the resources should be applied, as the UGC tended to do.
That kind of bureaucratic centralism simply inhibits progress in the ability of universities to do their job properly and develop their individual interests and potential to the national benefit. For instance, SOAS possesses not only special expertise but long experience in identifying and meeting the needs of its customers. By that I mean not only the needs of students, important though they are, but also the needs of the many commercial enterprises, government departments and other public authorities which increasingly make use of the school's services.
In order to develop the excellence necessary to provide those services a school such as SOAS needs to be allowed freedom to use its own experience and judgment in deploying the resources made available to it, subject to retrospective audit. I was encouraged to hear the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, make the same point but with infinitely more authority than myself. Other noble Lords have also done so.
I believe that point to be of general interest and I hope that the message reaches the Universities Funding Council.
§ 7.17 p.m.
§ Lord Allen of Abbeydale
My Lords, in the few minutes that remain to me in my not unaccustomed position as the last Back-Bench speaker in a timed debate to which many eloquent noble Lords have contributed, I should like to say a few words limited to the universities.
I cannot claim to be an expert, as have so many noble Lords today but, as chairman of the Council of Royal Holloway and Bedford New College, I see a little of what goes on. Frankly, I am most puzzled. The great comfort that I have derived from today's debate is to discover that I am not alone in wondering what is the Government's policy towards the universities and what it is that they are hoping to achieve. For example, although there is to be a drastic decline in the number of 18 year-olds, we are told that there is still to be a substantial increase in the number going to university. However, at the same time it is made clear that the extra costs will not be met primarily from public funds and that existing subventions will not keep up with inflation, as they have been failing to do for some time.
We are assured that there is to be no attack on the arts and humanities but, equally, we are told that there should be more vocational emphasis and that employers, as well as students, should have a say in what is taught. I even saw a report that Treasury officials epitomised the present philosophy by explaining that one of the merits of student loans will be to encourage students to opt for careers which will prove to be financially rewarding.
I confess that all that leaves me in the dark as to how those somewhat conflicting aspirations can be fitted together into one consistent policy. However, no doubt we shall be told in a few moments time.
As has been pointed out on a number of occasions today, in this country we have experienced great changes and there is likelihood of more to come which will drastically alter the culture in which we have been brought up. One thinks of such matters as student loans, tuition charges and universities at the bottom tier teaching and carrying out no research. I may be unfair but I cannot escape the feeling that much of that has been worked out on the basis of hunch and not on the basis of solid research.
As has been pointed out, to announce projects for student loans without first clearing the matter with the banks does not encourage much confidence in the planners. My own impression as an interested spectator is that what has been done already has been done too quickly and in too blunt a way.
Perhaps I could just take a few moments to illustrate what I have said by reference to experience at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College. When the college was formed by merging two comparatively small colleges, considerable funds were made available for new building but the decisions by the UGC and the Court of London University as to the size and shape of the new college meant that it started life on the edge of viability. In the first year, 1985–86, although it carried forward an accumulative deficit of over £400,000, the economies which had been foreseen were duly made and income and 313 expenditure were balanced. Just as we were recovering from the traumas of the merger and building up research, changes in funding knocked our plans for six. We cut the staff by 15 per cent. in two years on top of the cuts which had been made at the time of the merger. Although we have had some special funding since, for which we are grateful, we do not see how we shall avoid an accumulated deficit of something like £2 million by 1992—that fateful year.
Like everyone else, we have been exhorted to raise more money from industry and elsewhere but however good the classics and history departments may be, there are limits to the extent to which they can raise money from outside and involve potential employers. Even our science faculty which concentrates on basic research is not in a position to attract much of the funding which may be forthcoming from industry.
Here we have a college, including a repetition in red brick of the Chateau de Chambord, which does not teach law, medicine or engineering but which has a combination of arts and sciences much in the nature of a liberal arts college in the American tradition so lauded by Ministers. If the Government really value diversity between institutions of higher education, it seems unfortunate that its future should be put in jeopardy because of the nature of the funding mechanisms currently in use or, as far as I can see, in prospect.
However, I end my short contribution as I began by making a plea for further enlightenment on just what the Government are looking to the universities to achieve in this increasingly market-oriented economy. I believe that the president of IBM once said that he could teach management accountancy to his staff but could not teach them to think. Is that not what universities are for? In the desire to educate our young people in a way which will maximise their return on the capital investment, are we not at risk of abandoning the aim of encouraging them to pursue knowledge and ideas for their own sake, to look critically and independently at the world around and to develop open, curious and disciplined minds?
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
My Lords, first, it is my pleasure to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford on his maiden speech. It is not very long ago since I made my maiden speech and I can only say that I wish that I had done it as well as the right reverend Prelate. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, on his recruitment to the ranks of the academic peerage where he will be very welcome. I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for so ably introducing this debate in which, as a serving university teacher, I must declare an interest.
I should also like to respond cursorily to the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, about the tendency to a disparagement of business. He is quite right about that. That is a lesson which I learned long ago from my father-in-law who made electric furnaces. I believe that most of us have learned that lesson by this time and on any future 314 day when peace may be made between the universities and the Conservative Party, I hope that that will be one of its terms.
This debate has carried three themes running right through it. First, the theme of access developed by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. Secondly, the theme of the acute difficulty of funding dwelt on by the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale. Perhaps I may say as a former member of Bedford College and as one with many friends in the new college that I agree with everything that the noble Lord said about it including the excellence of the history department. The third theme, developed very powerfully by the noble Lords, Lord Beloff and Lord Dacre, was the theme of autonomy and Government pressure.
What do those themes have to do with each other? I suspect that what really holds these themes together is the conviction in Government circles that it is possible to lower universities' unit costs and that were they to do that, they could make the problems of access a great deal easier than they are.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dacre of Glanton, that previous forces which have reformed universities from the outside have co-operated with the people within. He might perhaps have added that other outside reformers of universities, notably in the 19th century, made considerable extra funding available in the process. It is that which is not happening now. It is that conviction that unit costs may be lower which holds things together.
In that context, I was rather sorry that the noble Viscount repeated the argument that universities' costs are higher in this country than any other country in Western Europe except the Netherlands. Perhaps I may be forgiven for taking that back to source; namely, DES Statitistical Bulletin No. 487, table 8. First, those figures relate to 1983. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, may confirm that universities' unit costs have fallen since then. That table related to seven countries. It was a table of costs per capita. On that table we came third out of seven which is not a disgracefully expensive position.
However, that is not the only part of table 8. A figure was also included for costs per qualifier—numbers of people gaining a degree. It seems to me that if you are trying to assess your costs, you assess them in proportion to your objective and the objective, I hope, is to produce graduates and not merely for people to say that they have been to university. Therefore, the cost per graduate is perhaps a relevant figure. On that, we came fifth out of seven—not even in the most expensive half of the table.
There is a further effect as regards these figures. They relate only to the cost of university education to public funds. As the Government have repeatedly reminded us, that is not the same as total costs. In fact, the White Paper shows that on student loans France and Germany—two countries which appear cheaper than us in the table of public funding—provide a far smaller proportion of student support from public funds and a far higher proportion from private funds than we do. Perhaps British universities are not so expensive after all.
315 However, there are fixed costs which cannot be avoided. One must refer to the universities' pay and prices index published by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. Since 1980 the retail prices index has risen to 147.2 and the universities' pay and prices index to 157. Funding, of course, is based on the retail prices index. It is that difference which accounts for many of the universities' financial difficulties.
Where in the costs of universities does this arise? Is it extravagance? Is it waste? I looked through the table with some care to see what the answers might be. The item which has risen fastest is, of course, books. Whether that arises from net book agreement or the price of paper, it is not our extravagance. The second item is computers. I think that is a change which is probably paralleled in every office in Whitehall. Consider also the other items which have gone up faster than the retail prices index and faster than the universities' index overall. National insurance—by government action through a change in the upper limit. Rates—by diminution of the rate support grant. Minor works—we all know that 15 per cent. of that is directly attributable to the actions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Therefore, if we ask whose actions have made university costs rise faster than the retail prices index it is apparent that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has made a much bigger contribution than have the universities. I do not think he should blame us for that.
The other problem that enters into the picture is that of funding pay increases, on which the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, dwelt very ably in the debate on the Victoria and Albert Museum. Only 42 per cent. of the 23rd report was funded by the Government. The rest was funded by the vice-chancellors at a cost of £32 million they did not have. It is exactly the situation that exists at the Victoria and Albert Museum, described by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington.
I once said in this House that the system of failing to fund public sector pay increases makes the Government the proud possessors of more hot potatoes than McDonalds. The noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, said that he was unaware of this vast store of hot potatoes. I hope the noble Viscount who is to reply will take this remark in the spirit in which it is made. I am rather glad that the noble Lord, Lord Hesketh, is not replying tonight, because I have wondered whether the Government have been taking him on a conducted tour of hot potatoes.
At the end of the day we have a system of funding which each year falls inexorably further behind our costs. At the same time we have a vast demand for expansion. We cannot have something for nothing. The hub of this debate is that we have a demand for expansion and a regime of funding which is compatible only with contraction. I wish the Government would make up their mind which of them they mean, because they cannot possibly mean both.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Baroness David
My Lords, in his speech at Lancaster in January on higher education 25 years 316 on, Mr. Baker spoke of the present great debate on the organisation and funding of higher education. I hope that what has been said today by a large number of very distinguished academics on both organisation and funding—in a very disciplined way for the most part—will be taken note of by the Secretary of State. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate on a very enjoyable and human speech.
There has been almost unanimous agreement that more funding is essential and that most of it should come from the public purse if the necessary expansion is to happen. All agree—with the possible exception of the noble Lord, Lord Joseph—that expansion is essential. Access has been discussed by a number of Peers. My noble friend Lady Blackstone paid particular attention to it, but it is so vital that I make no apology for returning to the subject.
In spite of the falling number of 18 year-olds, Mr. Baker wants the participation rate to go up from the present 15 per cent. to 20 per cent. Mrs. Thatcher, in Framework for Expansion, had aimed for 22 per cent. by 1981. Mr. Baker also wants to recruit students, currently under-represented. We all say "Hear, hear" to that, but again possibly wondering whether the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, would agree.
My noble friend Lady Lockwood emphasised the need for more women. I would add how shocking it is that so few women get to the top. There is no woman vice-chancellor now, and very few professors and readers. We need far more from the ethnic minorities; for one thing, to provide the leaders in the community. Inner-city problems might not have been so great had we had them—and I think the right reverend Prelate referred to that.
There are now more applicants of quality than there are places. The polytechnics and colleges are to be congratulated on taking in 9,000 more students this academic year. Admittedly, there are not enough applicants in science and engineering, and if we want to improve those numbers we have to look back at what goes on in the schools. There is a narrowing of the curriculum at 16 and there is a shortage of teachers for both those subjects. Why was the Higginson Report turned down? The noble Lord, Lord Joseph, criticised the Labour Party about A-levels. The aim is to stop this narrow curriculum and to give a much more broadly based education up to the age of 18.
We must encourage more 16 year-olds to stay on in education; 60 per cent. leave at the first opportunity. As for mature students, we must make things easier for them. We had an interesting contribution on that from the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, who also spoke about the Open University, which of course is also good for them. We need more part-time, sandwich or modular courses so that credits can be accumulated over time and be transferred between institutions. Greater variety of provision would give greater opportunities.
There must be a greater investment of public funds. It would be a good investment. Unfortunately, all the evidence is of the meanness of the Government and their lack of imagination. Their industrial relations are abysmal. It is almost 317 incredible that in the space of a few months the Government could arouse such hostility among the professions—the doctors, nurses, lawyers and teachers. Only accountants seem to be okay.
I do not want to spend time on the pay dispute but we should remember that the starting salary of a lecturer is £9,260. It takes 16 steps up the incremental ladder to reach the top at £19,310, by which time the lecturer will be over 40 with full family and mortgage commitments. In the public sector the starting point is even lower— £8,481.
The Exchequer grants to universities have gone down. Research grants, contracts and income from other sources have gone up. Therefore, the universities have made efforts to help themselves. Capital spending—the key to expanding and modernising facilities, equipment and buildings—has gone down by 16 per cent. in real terms between 1979–80 and 1987–88. We read in the Observer that Mr. Jackson plans to double tuition fees to give institutions more income. Is that to come from LEAs and, if so, will their grant be increased; or is it to come from the students themselves by way of loans, vouchers, or from the pockets of parents? That could be unpopular—perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Joseph, will remember that—and is unlikely near an election.
What would such a scheme do to student demand? One suspects that if fees increase the block grant to universities will go down. We also read that Sir David Hancock says it is unlikely that Ministers will agree to a full-blooded voucher scheme. I hope that the Minister will give us firm information when he replies to the debate. Are the funds for teaching and research to be separated? We gather, again from Sir David Hancock, that a paper is to be published soon, the aim being to make universities more accountable for the public funding they receive for research. The noble Lord, Lord Chilver, says that that is likely to happen. Like the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I greatly regret his absence and his ignoring of this debate today.
The questions are endless and the uncertainty great. That has certainly emerged in the debate today. When are the Government going to divulge their plans. Have they made up their mind on policy? Do they have a policy? Several noble Lords have asked for a clear strategy. Two years ago we had the glossy White Paper on higher education; we have had the paper on student loans. Are we to expect another White Paper this summer as has been rumoured? I ask the Minister for answers.
I should make it clear that we in the Labour Party are committed to reverse the decline in government support for research. While concentration of some research specialties—in particular institutions—is inevitable and economically desirable and while centres of excellence should certainly be encouraged, Labour believes that research is an appropriate activity for all institutions of continuing education, enriching the experience of students as well as of academic staff. As the noble Lord, Lord Swann, said, it is probably a profitable enterprise too.
Not a word was mentioned concerning overseas students in relation to funding. Higher education has been tempted to go out seeking them for financial 318 gain. They are looked on as a resource. That is not right for them nor for the reputation of British higher education. These students now tend to come from the richer countries like the USA rather than from the third and developing world as used to happen. There is a loss of commitment to development and that is a great pity. Overseas students should not be used to prop up numbers in ailing departments where closure might otherwise occur.
I wish to concentrate now on the public sector where very radical changes have come about as a result of the Education Reform Act which was the cutting of the cord between the 30 polytechnics and 59 colleges and their LEAs. Instead of the binary line which we wish to get rid of, we now have ternary lines which separate the universities from the PCFC and both from the LEA sector. There will certainly be a diverse picture from now on with policy on the universities related to all of the United Kingdom, Scotland and Northern Ireland included, PCFC higher education in England, the Wales Advisory Body in Wales, two kinds of LEA higher education —PCFC-funded and LEA-funded—and LEA further education in England and Wales. The only body looking like an overall planning body is Her Majesty's Government. Certainly the Department of Education and Science is not a focal point for it shares higher education responsibility with the territorial departments and with the Department of Employment.
There is much concern about the absence of planning. Talk about a market place in higher education could imply that little is intended. PCFC is currently consulting about the basis of funding and the investigation of bids and contracts suggests a fragmented picture of higher education across England. Of course higher education has to be responsive to industrial and commercial needs, and that has been its great strength. But there must be planning as well.
As regards regional planning, Sir Ron Dearing, chairman of the PCFC has expressed scepticism. I should have thought it important. We still have the regional advisory councils in further education. They are well equipped to advise on higher education matters in their area. The universities have been reluctant to engage in regional discussions. I believe that that is an unnecessary sensitivity about the sanctity of their own chartered existence.
The NAB came to an end on 1st April. It had a good record on consultation and achieved a coherent and highly economic set of planning arrangements in its seven years of existence. Thanks and appreciation should go to Sir Christopher Ball. It is a great shame that the Government did not choose to go on making use of his experience and talents.
The conclusion I come to at the end of this debate is that there are many dissatisfied and uncertain people in higher education. The students are dissatisfied because their grants are inadequate and they get into debt. Many people want to get into higher education and cannot. Those teaching are dissatisfied because they are underpaid and undervalued. Their morale is low and they are taking off abroad or to more profitable jobs in industry. 319 The vice-chancellors and directors of polytechnics are struggling with inadequate finance. They are uncertain about the future and about how their institutions are to be organised and funded. The noble Lord, Lord Dainton, reminded us of the greatness and acclaim that our higher education had in the past. This Government have undermined the public services. They have created a lack of confidence in them.
I hope that this debate may have helped to persuade the Government that the path that they appear to be following is not the path that they should follow. They will provide higher education with a very good service if they heed that advice.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, as I had hoped, we have had a very interesting debate today. But I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Adrian, that the timing of it could have been more fortuitous. First, I wish warmly to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford on his maiden speech. The House clearly enjoyed it and I particularly enjoyed his punchline. Knowing how many of your Lordships who have spoken have a personal and detailed knowledge of university life and its problems, I am not surprised at the degree of concentration on that particular branch of academe in our debate. Having spent three of my formative years at the university represented here so ably by the noble Lords Lord Annan, Lord Butterfield and Lord Adrian, I might have been tempted to have done the same.
I must emphasise that more than half of the nation's higher education is provided in the institutions that form the new polytechnics and colleges sector—to which I referred in my earlier remarks—and in the central and other institutions in Scotland. They are rather less well represented here, but I hope that no-one reading the record of this debate will draw the erroneous conclusion that this House underestimates their distinctive and very valuable contribution to higher education.
I am particularly grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for his contribution on their behalf. I am sure that he will be interested to know that one of my daughters went to the Cambridge polytechnic and benefited from it very much indeed. In my opening remarks I concentrated on the achievements of our higher education and a little on its aims and purposes. Before responding to points made during the subsequent debate, I should like to turn briefly to the Government's thinking on some important issues relating to the future of higher education, although I should make clear that we are not about to publish a new White Paper, as one newspaper speculated recently. There is still plenty of meat in the challenges set out in Cmnd. 114 which the Government invited higher education to meet. Those noble Lords who wish for a statement of the Government's objectives should look again at that document.
Earlier this year, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, made an important speech at Lancaster University setting out his personal hopes for higher education over the 320 next 25 years. He focused in particular on his vision of much wider access than we now have; a vision for which he has. been rightly applauded. He also highlighted some important issues raised by the pressure for such wider access. In this context noble Lords need to distinguish between these aspirations on the one hand and projections on the other that are more of an extrapolation of existing patterns. My right honourable friend went on to highlight some important issues raised by the pressure for wider access.
One issue was that the still dominant position of the three to four year full-time first degree course aimed largely at the bright 18–19 year-old may become less appropriate for a student body with much more varied characteristics. Very real questions will need to be asked about what standards are to be expected of (and demanded by) a much wider set of customers for higher education. That is not to say that students should not continue to be stretched intellectually to the limit of their capacities. But we must recognise that a broader higher education will need to be more varied both in the nature of the courses it offers and in the levels at which it offers them. That has particular implications for our universities.
Another issue is that it is unrealistic to look for an increase in the publicly funded share of gross domestic product applied to higher education, which is already among the highest internationally. Higher education institutions will need to seek both greater efficiency and to exploit alternative sources of income. Some are already very successful at the latter. But others are probably still not doing enough to exploit the services they have to offer to a range of potential customers in industry and elsewhere, or to fund-raise from alumni.
In other words, aiming for wider access—which we all agree is the only sensible way forward—requires us to think more about new forms of provision and new sources and methods of funding. Against that background, my right honourable friend suggested that there are aspects of higher education in the United States, in particular the diversity and flexibility of provision, and the multiple sources of funding, that need to be looked at. He was far from arguing for the uncritical adoption of the United States' approach in the way that some have since claimed, or indicating particular answers for the United Kingdom. He was seeking to further the current general debate on the future funding of higher education in the context of much wider access, of which this debate is part. We would be misleading ourselves if we thought that today's higher education is equipped to meet all the new needs which are going to arise.
My right honourable friend has made clear that the debate needs to develop and mature much further before some new general strategy could properly be devised. That is what is now happening. Indeed, our debate here is a valuable contribution to this process, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, pointed out.
The Government do, however, have some specific proposals. Noble Lords who have taken part in the debate have asked for them all the way through. One important means of increasing the participation of 321 mature entrants who hold neither traditional sixth form nor vocational qualifications is access courses. I know that a great deal of thought is being given to developing these in such a way that they are appropriate to the experience of non-traditional entrants. At the request of the Government, the Council for National Academic Awards in partnership with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has devised a framework for the recognition of such courses.
My right honourable friend has now asked the CNAA and the CVCP jointly to take on the job of administering the scheme on behalf of both the universities and the polytechnics and colleges. The scheme will extend students' opportunities while safeguarding against the risk of erosion of standards, and it will enable individual courses to achieve wide acceptability for entry to all higher education institutions. This marks an important step towards improving access opportunities for mature students and will I am sure be welcomed by those noble Lords who raised the issue of wider access.
The Government also intend to secure the separation of funding for research from funding for teaching in grant to the Universities Funding Council and within each university's grant from the council. That point will reassure those noble Lords who raised the issue. The Government see substantial advantages flowing from the consequent encouragement of universities to think more systematically about the quality of their performance in both teaching and research.
Finally, my right honourable friend is giving serious consideration to the possibility of shifting the balance between grant and fees in the public funding of higher education, giving greater weight to the purchasing power of the student. A higher fee, still paid out of public funds, would give institutions stronger incentives to compete for and recruit more students. It would also put them on their mettle, with a greater proportion of their income depending on the attractiveness of what they have to offer and their ability to market it. Institutions should welcome this challenge and the reduced dependency on central funding and greater self-reliance which it would bring.
Against that general background, I should like now to respond to some of the specific points made in the debate today. I was glad to hear the noble Lords, Lord Dainton and Lord Grimond, and others note that all in higher education is not unmitigated gloom. There is much to celebrate, and the Government do so gladly, as I stressed in my opening remarks earlier this afternoon. Of course there are problems. No one living in the real world can realistically expect to be free of them. However, I thoroughly reject the assertion that the only thing standing between the present position and nirvana is more central funding. As I indicated in my opening speech, we already devote a higher proportion of our gross domestic product to higher education than all other European countries except for the Netherlands. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, misunderstood me. I was not making comparisons of cost per head. I was comparing the proportion of our GDP devoted to higher education. We must clearly find ways of deploying those 322 substantial sums to more telling effect. In the meantime—and in this respect I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Adrian—higher education does itself a disservice by overselling the problems.
Let us consider the so-called brain drain, which the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, mentioned. Until recently there was great alarm at the alleged haemorrhage of talent. One academic compared the outflow to that of the Jews from pre-war Germany. I shudder at the thought of how that has been perceived abroad. Figures were then published to show that the net flows were in fact quite small. Indeed there has been a net inflow over a period of years. The attack then changed. What we are now asked to be concerned about is that those with talents go abroad and their replacements are less distinguished. Of course there are comings and goings between academic institutions both within and between countries. We should need to be worried if there were not. The Government are not complacent but remain of the view that we have world-class talents in our institutions of higher education.
The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, asked me to restate the Government's commitment to Robbins. I quote from Cmnd. 114:The Government remains committed to the modified form of the Robbins principle set out in Cmnd. 9524. Places should he available for all who have the intellectual competence, motivation and maturity to benefit from higher education and who wish to do so".How those needs are best measured and met are at the heart of the continuing debate on higher education.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, is the noble Viscount saying that the alleged argument between the Treasury and the DES is being won by the DES and that there is no intention of attempting to control intake in relation to manpower planning?
§ Viscount Davidson
My Lords, I am not aware of it. I do not always believe everything I read in the press.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, accused the Government of manipulating the figures on the growth in student numbers by relying on a simple head count rather than a full-time equivalent number. In fact, full-time and part-time numbers have been rising at broadly the same rate and are projected to continue to do so. She also expressed concern about the impact on part-time students of the proposal I have mentioned to increase fee levels. That is a proposal to switch some funding from recurrent grant paid by the funding councils to the student fee met under the mandatory awards arrangements. It is intended to be neutral for part-time students.
The noble Lord, Lord Flowers, and other noble Lords have welcomed the fresh start provided by the new Universities Funding Council under the 323 Education Reform Act. Enthusiasm was not always evident in your Lordships' debates last summer. The Government have been asked this afternoon to give a clear direction to the UFC to do all manner of good things. We have done so. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science wrote appropriately to both the UFC and the PCFC chairmen. It is too soon to say how things will work out in detail. The UFC met for only the third time today. The Government very much hope that the council, and its sister the PCFC, will develop funding approaches that allow institutions the maximum freedom to do what they do best within the necessary constraints of a national system substantially supported by, and hence accountable to, Parliament.
My noble friend Lord Beloff said some strong words about the leadership of the UFC. The current provision of a part-time chairman and full-time chief executive was the clear recommendation of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Croham. It is only right that I should remind my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady David, of the Addison Rules regarding members of public boards who are members of your Lordships' House. I quote:There is no duty upon the board member to answer questions put to him in debate and no criticism should attach to any member of a board who refrains from speaking in a debate".Having said that, it is good to have the fresh start represented by the UFC. I cannot accept the criticism which some noble Lords have aimed at the UGC. Like the noble Lord, Lord Hunter of Newington, the Government commend that committee for having done a difficult job to a high standard. If, as some noble Lords implied, it has been a poodle, all I can say is that it did not pay particular attention at its obedience classes.
A number of contributors to the debate have touched on the Government's intention to introduce top-up loans for students. We believe that these will provide a valuable extension of the sources of support available to students. At the same time loans will share the cost of supporting students' living expenses more equitably between taxpayers, students' parents and the students themselves. The top-up loan will give students a personal stake in the investment made in their future and encourage greater economic awareness and self-reliance.
Obviously, the question of access has a crucial role in the debate about student support. This fact has been amply reflected in the House today. There is no evidence from experience of loans in other countries that a favourably structured scheme has in practice reduced participation by lower socioeconomic groups, women or mature students. Simply stated, the fact is that top-up loans mean more money for students, thus helping them to overcome their financial difficulties about which we have heard a good deal in this debate. The increase in resources will make higher education more attractive to students from all backgrounds.
The question of discussing the method of securing the loans from the banks has been raised. Our aim is to establish the most cost-effective method of administration in respect of top-up loans. The 324 financial institutions have great expertise in that area. Moreover, whatever noble Lords may read in the press, or have heard said in this debate, we are having constructive discussions with those institutions both individually and collectively. We are also studying possible public sector administrative arrangements of which the national insurance based scheme mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is an example. The discussions have not yet reached any conclusions and there is no reason why they should at this stage. However, they are producing various workable models for the administration of the new system. I can assure your Lordships, and prospective students, that it remains the Government's intention to have a loans scheme in place by September 1990.
As regards the question of student grants, which are linked very closely with that of top-up loans, much has been made of the decline in value of the grant in recent years. I have already mentioned that top-up loans will increase the resources available to students. However, the Government believe that students, like the rest of us, must bear some of the consequences of the need to contain public expenditure and reduce inflation.
We have no plans to extend the scope of the present grant system to cover free-standing access courses. But, increasingly, higher education institutions are offering conversion courses in science and engineering subjects as integral parts of first degree, higher diploma and equivalent courses. Those courses attract mandatory awards and we are encouraged by the extent to which institutions are broadening access to those subjects within the grant system.
I turn now to the particular issue of university lecturers' pay. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Flowers, Lord Beloff and Lord Adrian, for their strong condemnation of the university lecturers' boycott of examinations. It is indeed unprofessional and unworthy, and the more so in the light of the improved pay offer. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that lecturers should accept the offer and resume normal working in time for the summer term.
As regards aspects of the current offer, it is worth noting that lecturers' pay has kept ahead of inflation since 1979. Comparability should not be the main criterion. The key factors are recruitment, retention and affordability. No evidence has yet been produced of general manning problems. There are specific problems which can be dealt with through the flexibility of the pay system. If the present pay offer is accepted, the flexibility would be even greater. That is sensible targeting. I remind the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that the Government have made considerable additional funding available for pay increases for university staff in response to representations from the employers and the AUT.
The noble Lords, Lord Dormand of Easington and Lord Hatch of Lusby, asked about adult education. The transfer of funding for university extra-mural departments to the Universities Funding Council in no way implies that the Government regard adult liberal education as less important or less valuable; 325 rather it will enable the whole range of adult continuing education to take its rightful place alongside other university activities. The new funding arrangements provide a much needed opportunity for universities to review the range of provision they make in their extra-mural departments, including not only liberal adult education, but also post-experience vocational education, part-time degree courses and access courses designed to prepare mature students for entry into higher education.
In the time available I am conscious of the fact that I have probably done less than justice to all the points which have been raised by noble Lords. I shall of course study the record of the debate closely and draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend who has departmental responsibilities for higher education. Moreover, I shall write to noble Lords on the points to which I have not been able to reply.
I hope that I have shown that the Government very much value the contribution that higher education makes towards the intellectual and economic life of individuals in the nation. The general aim of our policies is to ensure that that contribution is both fostered and enhanced as we move towards the end of the century and beyond. Further, I know that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State will read the report of this debate with very great interest.
§ 8.5 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Viscount for his reply to the debate. There are many points which he made in his reply that I should like to take up, but unfortunately time does not allow me to do so. However, there are just two or three points that I should like to comment upon and raise further questions about.
I am delighted to hear that the Government intend to set up a scheme for validating access courses. I am sure that that is something which will be welcomed by everyone in the House. Nevertheless, I should like to say that it is not just validation which is required; it is the extra funds—whether they be provided for universities, polytechnics, the local authorities, or the agencies which will provide such courses—that are really needed. There is no point in having validation without the money to get such courses off the ground.
The second point I should like to raise concerns something which is a particular interest of mine; namely, the issue concerning an increase in fees. I was extremely surprised to hear the noble Viscount say the effect of an increase in fees would be neutral on part-time students. I cannot see how that can be the case since part-time students are the only people who pay fees out of their own pockets. If the institutions which have large numbers of part-time students were to keep fees at their present level rather than raise them, they would suffer in turn because their grant allocation would presumably go down but their fees would not go up. Therefore I find it very hard to understand exactly what was being said. However, that is perhaps a matter which I can pursue on another occasion.
I was also somewhat surprised to hear that comparability is completely unimportant so far as 326 concerns the salaries of university teachers. When looking at pay claims, I think that it is a normal procedure to consider comparability. I certainly think that many university teachers compare their position in relation to others. There is no doubt that their position has become less good than it was 10 years ago, when compared with other similar groups.
As I said, there are other points which I should like to take up with the noble Viscount but there is no time now. However, I should like to say that in the debate this afternoon concerns about the state of higher education have been expressed from all sides of the House. I very much hope that the Government will go away and study what has been said and perhaps surprise us all by taking some positive action in responding to some of those concerns.
It remains only for me to thank everyone who has taken part in the debate. I am most grateful to them. In particular, I should like to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford on his excellent maiden speech. I believe someone said that he should be offered a first-class honours degree. We shall not do that at Birkbeck because it would depend on his performance; but we shall certainly offer him a place if he comes to London. Perhaps I may end by simply begging leave to withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.