§ 4.31 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford rose to call attention to the case for increased emphasis on the polytechnics; and to move for Papers.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, I am very grateful to all those expert people who have agreed to take part in this debate. I cannot mention them by name. However, I found a passage in Macaulay's account of the trial of Warren Hastings, which describes them well. He wrote:
There were gathered together…grace and feminine loveliness, wit and learning, the representatives of every science and every art".
§ That I think is a reasonable account of those who are participating today—leaving aside myself of course! However, I am only sorry that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham—whose family is so honourably associated with the history of the polytechnics—is not able to participate. I have a letter from the noble Baroness, Lady McFarlane, who had hoped to be present; and who is a leading person in the polytechnic world. Although it is detailed, it indicates quite a strong sympathy with the point of view that I shall be expressing.
§ I was just saying how sorry we were that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, was not able to participate. However, he is here, which is half the battle.
§ Everyone is restricted by time. I have a little more time in which to speak than others, but 15 minutes is not a very long period in which to introduce this disgracefully neglected subject—neglected for all the time that I have been in this House. In order to make sure that the gong does not sound before I make my main contentions clear, I have summarised in advance the three main points that I wish to make. First, the polytechnics are a vital though much under-estimated element in our education system. Secondly, they have been disgracefully starved hitherto of adequate resources. Thirdly, they will never get fair play or achieve parity of esteem until the distinction is eliminated between them and the existing universities. The so-called binary system may have seemed a good idea at the time—I have an idea that I helped to defend it myself about 24 years ago in this House—but by now it has served its purpose. The binary system has had it.
§ There are now 30 polytechnics in England and Wales. Together with other public sector funded colleges and institutions they now provide the majority of higher education in this country. In 1987 53 per cent. of first year students on full-time courses were in the polytechnics and colleges; 47 per cent. were in universities. The number of part-time students in polytechnics and colleges vastly exceeds the number in universities. The figure is 232,000 against 40,000 or so. We must recognise the tremendous importance of the polytechnics and feel a sense of shame, if we have been in public life for any length of time, that we have not played our part in bringing them before the public. They also educate a very large number of students on short courses. For example, the Polytechnic of Central London alone educates some 16,000 of such students each 681 year. The polytechnics serve other purposes, especially through their contacts with the local communities. I do not have time to dwell on that now.
§ I make one point quite emphatically after my small amount of research. However, I am quite sure that it is a point that cannot be disputed. Polytechnics provide diploma and degree education and research of a standard entirely comparable with universities. When we talk of research it is the quality that is comparable. The quantity, for reasons that I shall touch on in a moment, is much less. So much for the scale of the service being rendered.
§ I now turn to the adverse discrimination. The funding per student in polytechnics has been reduced by 20 per cent. in real terms in the last 10 years. The same figures show that university funding per student has increased by 3 per cent. or more. At the present time polytechnics receive £3,325 per full-time student. Universities receive £5,276. Even the crudest mathematics show what an enormous advantage the universities at present receive per student. There is no doubt that the polytechnics experience adverse discrimination from parents, employers, funding agencies and overseas institutions compared with universities. It stems from a historic legacy that universities are better known and understood. To put it crudely, in many people's eyes, the polytechnics are second class institutions. Part of my purpose today is to try to nail that lie forever.
§ The polytechnics are rightly proud of their achievements. However, they insist—and I agree—that if they could incorporate the word "university" in their titles, they would receive a much fairer deal all round. That is one aspect of the discrimination.
§ I turn to another. From what I am about to say, I do not want anyone to suppose that I am suggesting that the polytechnics should gain at the expense of the universities. I am suggesting that the total received by our education system should be increased. The polytechnics seek to compete on equal terms with universities and to be accorded parity of esteem. That has strong financial implications. They are seriously disadvantaged by not being able to compete for the £700 million of money for research handed to the universities. I put the question to a Government which for all their faults and virtues stand, I believe, for the free market at all costs. Why do not the Government agree to permit a free market in the world of academic research and allow the polytechnics to compete on equal terms with the universities?
§ We have now to ask ourselves whether there is anything fundamental that can be done. Here I make a suggestion that is revolutionary although it is in a way common sense. I believe that anyone who looks into the matter will agree with it. The Education Reform Act has removed polytechnics from local authority control and passed them into the hands of the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council. Whatever the merits of the binary system before, those merits have now ceased to exist. There is no doubt whatever that the polytechnics would be far 682 more likely to receive justice—indeed this would be their only chance to receive justice—if the so-called binary system, with universities on one side and polytechnics on the other, were abolished. At the time the binary system seemed a good idea; but it is now an outmoded concept which causes nothing but divisiveness and maintains the general idea of the polytechnics as second class institutions. The case for it has finally disappeared since the education Act which was mentioned previously. If we really believe that the polytechnics deserve parity of esteem with the universities, and are not substituting disingenuous words, we shall say goodbye to the binary system—and the sooner the better!
§ There are many other topics that I might raise, but with this long list of distinguished speakers to come I think that if possible I should keep well within my time. I shall leave for other speakers, the whole problem of how the Government's latest proposals, for example, will affect the part-time students, and the danger that their fees might be increased. I know that the polytechnics take this matter very seriously and anxiously.
§ I shall conclude as I began. The polytechnics are an invaluable part of our system. They have not received anything like justice up until now. I hope that this message will go out from this House and from the Government, that at last they are going to receive justice. I beg to move for Papers.
§ 4.41 p.m.
§ Baroness Seear
My Lords, the Council for Industry and Higher Education, in its valuable report Towards a Partnership, said:Government, higher education and industry need to become partners in developing a different kind of higher education system to provide for larger numbers, recruit them for a much wider segment of the population, and offer them a diversity of learning methods and opportunities, often work-related, at different stages of their lives".The Government should be grateful to their predecessors who, 25 years ago, had the foresight to launch the polytechnics on a very much enlarged scale. They had of course started years before that. The polytechnics in fact are meeting those requirements laid down by the Council for Industry and Higher Education in all particulars. I would remind your Lordships that that council includes such dangerous radical spendthrifts as Sir John Clarke, Sir Alex Jarratt and Sir Hector Laing.
The polytechnics have a remarkable record in providing this diversity—this new type of opportunity, as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has said. I want to give just two examples of the way in which valuable initiatives, peculiarly appropriate initiatives, have been taken by polytechnics. I should like to quote first the case of the Middlesex Polytechnic. I must confess that at one time I was on a very small scale an external examiner for Middlesex, but I do not think that that constitutes an interest. It has shown that it has a higher percentage of first-class degrees than any other polytechnic.
However, what I want to draw particularly to your Lordships' attention is not only the quality of the work that Middlesex is doing but the extent to 683 which it has developed collaborative teaching for its students in a number of countries, which can only be particularly valuable as 1992 approaches. It has liaison arrangements in France, Italy, Spain and Germany to mention only a few. Surely this is exactly what we need to be developing. Although something of the same kind has developed in the universities—I do not deny that—they are much less quick to develop schemes of this sort and indeed have not the facilities to do so on quite the same scale.
The second example to which I should like to draw your Lordships' attention is Hatfield Polytechnic, where again I have a small degree of involvement. The case that I would use to illustrate the valuable intitatives that can be taken is that of courses to bring back into employment professional women who have been out of employment for anything from a year to 12 years on short, eight-week—now, I am glad to say, to be extended to nine-week—courses.
When the course was first started 12 women were selected: an architect, two pharmacists, an accountant, two engineers, a marketing executive, a dietician, a publisher, a teacher, a Chinese linguist and a disabled graduate with a varied occupational background. At the end of that course all except two of those people were quickly absorbed into employment and were being paid in that employment at what was a very good going rate. I am glad to say that these courses are continuing and that an increasing number of them will be undertaken, and not only at Hatfield.
This is surely precisely the sort of thing that we need. It is precisely what the Council for Industry and Higher Education is calling for. I would ask the Government to look at the polytechnics not with the eyes of penny-pinching bookkeepers but with the eyes of economists who can see the value of good investments. Surely if you can have a group of women with this kind of qualification coming back to fill jobs for which it is extremely difficult to recruit the people needed, at least the Government will be getting a very good return on their money from the taxes that these women at this level will be paying. I use this as an example, but of course there are many other groups of whom it would be equally true.
By doing this they would be doing not only the women and the economy but also the Treasury a very good turn. Will the Government look at this on a longer term basis, for indeed it is not very long term. As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has said, the polytechnics are skimped for money. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, will deny this, but in comparison with the universities—and the universities in all conscience feel themselves deeply skimped for money, and indeed are—they need investment, and the students need encouragement and financial assistance at the stage at which they are taking up these courses.
The handicaps placed on part-time students are quite ridiculous having regard to what can be done in terms of employment with people on a part-time basis who go through courses of this kind. Although I have mentioned it once already in another context this afternoon, women of the kind who are going 684 through this particular course need short-term help with child care. One woman had to spend £60 a week on child care while she was doing this course. There are a large number of people who could come into the labour market very valuably. Can the Government not find ways to see to it that every encouragement is given and all obstacles are removed?
I should like to say one other thing. I greatly agree with the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that the time has come to get rid of the ridiculous binary divide. It may have made sense—I think perhaps it did—25 years ago, but the polytechnics have now proved themselves, and as such they should be given the opportunity to rank and compete (since that is the word that always rings so well in the Government's ears) with the universities on, shall be say, a level playing ground.
Then of course there is the question of the name. Perhaps we on these Benches have special reason for appreciating that a rose by any other name does not in fact smell as sweet. Nobody can possibly pretend that their pulses beat faster when they hear the word "polytechnic". Surely it is time that they were called universities.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ The Earl of Limerick
My Lords, this debate on polytechnics is timely, and for that we are beholden to the noble Earl, Lord Longford. I must declare an interest as chairman of the board of governors of the City of London Polytechnic, one of the five inner London polytechnics formerly supported by the Inner London Education Authority. I have held the position for five years and thus have been closely involved in a rather protracted transitional phase during which we lost progressively the top-up and completive funding from the ILEA. Over a three-year period our funding was reduced by around 25 per cent. in real terms, with the concomitant necessity to reduce both teaching and non-teaching staff likewise by 25 per cent. Payroll accounted for almost 80 per cent. of our budget. Non-payroll expenditure was cut even more severely. One can only be ashamed of the current state of provision of books in the library.
This position has not been achieved without anguish and sacrifice. We have lost many excellent members of staff and have been obliged to cease offering courses of admittedly high quality in the natural sciences. But we have survived. The sense of dual mission is strong for the professional, commercial and financial community in the City of London and, in parallel, for the provision mainly of further education in the East London boroughs. We are building a new basis of support with the PCFC and the City Corporation as our lead borough. We are developing new and relevant programmes of vocational and re-training courses, alongside the conventional 18-plus education and use of the modular degree and diploma scheme of which we are leading exponents, in order to attract into tertiary education many who will greatly benefit but who would not commit themselves to a single academic course.
685 The new freedom given on vesting day last month to many polytechnics and colleges hitherto under direct local authority control has been widely applauded. The imagination and energy of academics and governors alike has been unleashed and much benefit can be anticipated. But the reverse of the "freedom" coin bears the word "responsibility". There are formidable questions to be addressed and formidable problems to be overcome.
As our counterpart and principle source of funding we have the new Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council represented in this debate by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London who is to speak next. After a certain period of pre-marital dalliance, we are still in the honeymoon stage. We have high hopes for the relationship, coupled with a certain anxiety about the ambivalence of a dialogue which encourages sturdy independence yet also controls the purse strings. As parents we clearly recognise that particular dilemma.
The polytechnics have advanced enormously since 1970. Many now offer courses of international reputation far removed from their original local confines. Thus it must be absolutely right that they are now funded on a national, not a local, basis. Increasingly, young people are responding by choosing the course best suited to their needs without attaching undue weight to the assumed superiority of a university education. I have examples of that within my own family.
There are those who urge, as we have heard argued this afternoon, that all such higher education institutions should be styled "universities". I am in no way ashamed of the style "polytechnic". I believe that now it has an honour and a dignity of its own. But I do not believe that that is the important question. Given the acknowledged record of the polytechnics in developing high quality, relevant courses, I am less concerned with the nomenclature than with removing continuing anomalies in comparative funding, not least over research programmes.
I have described the necessarily painful steps which the City Polytechnic has taken and which other institutions are even now addressing to balance their revenue budgets. Here I wish to enter two very strong caveats concerning continuing viability. The first concerns the basis of funding for students. Despite increasing, and increasingly effective, efforts to find sources of additional revenue, student fees will rightly remain the underpinning for revenue budgets. After all, teaching students is what we are mainly about. The recent consultative paper flags an increase from £600 to £1,600 per annum from 1990 in the fee for home, full-time students with graduated further increases for the most expensive subjects. They are major increases which must raise questions.
A much greater concern would arise if it were suggested that such increases be applied pro rata to part-time students. The polytechnics have a distinctive mission for teaching part-time and mature students. For example, the City Polytechnic has approximately 5,500 part-time students virtually all of whom are on business-related courses. And, 686 contrary to some belief, a great number of those are not funded by the employers, at least on anything approaching a reimbursement basis. Many such students would be excluded by major increases, and those are the very skills which we need in increased quantity to prosper in Europe post 1992. There is some acknowledgement of that point in the consultative document but a singular vagueness as to how it could be met. I need hardly stress that it is very difficult to recruit on to courses unless one can be precise about the fees payable throughout their duration. That is especially so in seeking students from overseas whose increasing numbers—happily so, after the shock of the massive fee increase 10 years ago—are greatly to be welcomed both for their benefit and for ours.
My second caveat concerns the availability of capital. That worry is simply but dramaticaly illustrated. On 1st April assets handed over to PCFC institutions—broadly, buildings and land—were valued at around £4 billion. The PCFC's budget on the other hand for 1989–90 for new buildings is a mere £15 million: that is one-third of 1 per cent. of the capital value. In any other context it would be regarded as a sum totally derisory for comparison. It would be inadequate even if all the buildings were purpose built and in tip-top condition. Anyone familiar with polytechnic buildings will know how woefully far that is from the truth. My own polytechnic will happily speak for that PCFC total on its own without coming close to giving us security of tenure in buildings of an acceptable standard. Over all it has been suggested that bids for those capital funds might exceed the £15 million available in 1990 by a factor of perhaps 20.
To avoid a charge of special pleading I shall finally make a general point about polytechnics carrying inner city costs, especially in London. Teaching, like anything else in London, is relatively expensive. Not all such teaching need be carried out in city centres, but much of it must. City centres are also the centres of demand, especially for the part-time courses. In our case those 5,500 students attend our courses in the evenings. For example, we are the main source of teaching for the Institute of Bankers' exams. It is just not possible to conduct such courses other than within a few minutes' journey of places of work.
When resources are scarce, judgment must be exercised. To make my point I should like to contrast two cases. The first is of a polytechnic amply endowed with good freeholds. No rents or mortgage payments appear in the accounts. But in those accounts neither is there any recognition for the opportunity costs of occupying such a site. Sadly, the second case is our own. Only one building in which we teach was vested in us as a freehold representing approximately 15 per cent. of our need. Of the balance, 60 per cent. of our space is occupied on leases with five years or less to run. If renewable, those leases will command substantially increased rents.
That situation has not arisen by foolishness or negligence on our part. The provision of buildings was a matter for the local authority and we had no control. Indeed, in some cases we could not even discover the rents which were being paid for our 687 occupancy. We are acting with some determination to improve the situation but it cannot be done overnight and certainly it cannot be done without substantial cost.
The issue which I strongly urge on the PCFC, and perhaps even more strongly on the DES and HMG which provide the PCFC with its means, is this. In macro-economic as well as in educational and social terms, it must be perverse to make black and white distinctions between what is and what is not affordable in the short term. The higher test is that of educational need for each particular class of education, not least part-time courses, vocational training, retraining and adult education. I hope that we shall hear some acknowledgement of those matters at the end of this debate.
§ 5 p.m.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
My Lords, as did the noble Earl, Lord Limerick, I too have to declare an interest as a member of the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council. Of course I do not speak in any way in this House on its behalf although I assure him and your Lordships that what is said here will be carefully studied by the members of that council.
When I was made a member I was well acquainted with the voluntary colleges having been associated with them for over 30 years and I have some knowledge and association with two polytechnics in London. Apart from that, my knowledge of the polytechnics was somewhat limited Therefore, having become a member I thought it my duty to visit them. In the past two months I have visited three and I shall visit a fourth in June. I should like to say straightaway that I have been enormously impressed by the quality of what I have seen in almost every respect except perhaps in some cases the buildings, but that is not their fault, as has just been said by the noble Earl. They inherit buildings from the past, many of which were not designed for the purposes for which they are now being used.
Perhaps I may make one point in passing. What impressed me—and I met not only staff but also students—was that I was shown figures in more than one polytechnic which demonstrated that the number of students who are putting polytechnics as their first choice is increasing. I believe that that is a very important factor which we must remember.
Three points struck me during those visits. The first was the quite remarkable academic standards which are being achieved. Of course the high standards have been recognised, for example by the fact of the grant of self-validation by the CNAA to the polytechnics. I found the standards particularly high in the modular degree courses. I have heard it said that if you have much inter-disciplinary study and if you have modular courses, it is very difficult to keep up standards and that no one subject will be able to be pursued at the depth at which you can pursue it if you are reading one subject at university. From what I saw, that is simply not true. The standard on some of the modular degree courses was extremely high and I was able to see that for myself.
688 I believe that the inter-disciplinary provisions available in the polytechnics are extremely important in these days when I believe that in any form of higher education the need to relate the disciplines is more important than at any other time.
The second point which struck me was the awareness which the polytechnics had of their own identity. Again that is surprising when you consider the size of some of them and the fact that their buildings are not ideally situated to create that sense of awareness. I also noted, for example, the length of time which the staff stay and yet do not become staid. I inquired why that was and they said that over the years they have so often faced changes. I believe that the polytechnics have developed a splendid way of adaptation to meet changing situations. As one lecturer said to me, "When I had been here a few years I did not get a chance to settle down because a new challenge came along to which I had to respond, and that has happened during my years here in the polytechnic". I believe that that is a point which is very much to be welcomed.
Thirdly, I was surprised and encouraged by the place given to research both in relation to industry and in relation to the needs of the third world. I was very impressed by certain projects of which I was given detailed accounts which related to intermediate technology being available. For example, in one case in Egypt it enabled villages there to be irrigated within the cost available. Those are the three main points which struck me and I shall return to them in a few moments.
On this question of the binary system, it seems to me that the polytechnics provide four main characteristics. The first is the modular degree course, which I believe is extremely important. Secondly, there is the vocational aspect of higher education. One has only to look at the figures. They show the higher employment rate for those leaving polytechnics compared with those leaving universities. The third point is the link with the community. I could develop that at some length. I have seen it in London and elsewhere in this country. While drawing students from far afield, nevertheless the polytechnics have developed a very healthy and creative relationship with the community in which they are set. That also applies to some of the colleges. Here in London we have an urban studies centre which enables students at our colleges to spend part of their training in an inner city situation. That not only helps them in their training but they also see what is involved if they come, for example, to teach in an inner city situation.
All that leads me to believe that the polytechnics need the same funding as the universities. I should just like to mention one point and it concerns the relationship between research and teaching. Until you have left university you do not begin to realise how much you owe to the fact that you were taught by people who were working at the frontiers of knowledge in whatever subject it was. I believe that that applies right through teaching. I do not believe that you can be a good teacher unless you are continually seeking to educate yourself in whatever way is appropriate. I believe that the polytechnics do an amazing amount of high quality research, and 689 if they are to keep the standards as they are now, that research must be encouraged and funded. Looking at the terms of reference of the committee of inquiry set up by the PCFC of which the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, is to be chairman, I believe that those terms give her an opportunity to say something about the relationship of research to standards of teaching, and I hope that that matter will be taken up.
Perhaps I may now turn to the question of the title. I know because people have told me that particularly in Europe the title "polytechnic" causes problems. However, we live in an age where one of the great heresies is that equality must mean identity. I believe that to be totally fallacious. What worries me is this. I want to see the polytechnics treated in precisely the same way as universities but I do not want them all to become the same. They are different and have their own particular qualities and characteristics. If in order to obtain parity of funding it is necessary for polytechnics to be called universities, I suppose that I would accept that. However, I should want it to be made quite certain that in the process the polytechnics do not lose their distinctive character and quality which I believe has very much to give not only to this country but also to the education of our people.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
My Lords, I recently heard the Secretary of State for Education and Science express a very ambitious aim for numbers in higher education. He wanted to see student numbers double to 2 million over the next 25 years. On that occasion Mr. Baker applauded the polytechnics for their growth over the past decade. He used that as something of a stick with which to beat the universities over the head. In my view that is not a fair or fruitful line to pursue as the universities are changing and adapting too. Also it side-steps the main questions of how expansion is best achieved, what the barriers are and how they can be removed.
In meeting this national challenge the polys—if I may refer to them in that affectionate way—actually enjoy a certain advantage over the universities through their long experience of post-traditional courses and non-traditional forms of entry due to their historic roots and early mission, which dates from the early 1880s, to attract evening students who would not normally have access to higher education. This tradition is of great relevance today, with a sharply declining 18-to-25 age group and an increasing demand for mature post-experience students.
Whatever the demand for short or sandwich courses and mature entry, which the polytechnics meet so admirably and to which a number of speakers have already referred, it must not be forgotten that the main supply of students will come from the 18-to-25 age group. Their interest in higher education will depend crucially on the staying-on rate at 16 plus after the end of compulsory education. Though there has been some improvement, that rate is still lamentably low by international standards.
690 That brings me to two barriers I wish to single out. The first is financial. A student attending a sixth-form college, for example, in central London who lives within three miles of the institution will not receive a travel grant so his fares, meals and materials can easily cost £30 a week. That is a severe disincentive to lower income families who will be much more likely to encourage a child to seek paid work. In the past my party has advocated an educational maintenance allowance at the single supplementary benefit or income support rate, less child benefit if that continues to be paid. That would at least involve families in no net loss. However, it has to be recognised that this is an expensive option because it entails a deadweight of payment to those who would have continued in any case.
At the same time, leakage of basically unskilled fifth formers into the labour market is a serious danger, especially if and as unemployment falls. Therefore, the prudent position I put to the Government is to urge the Secretary of State that he and his officials keep a close eye on the labour market in the 16 to 18 year-old range. If it appears that, for example, the Norwich Union or similar companies are poaching large numbers of 16 year-olds fresh from O-levels or GCSE, the appropriate measures should be taken to encourage students financially to stay and to aim at higher education, which is what they and the country need in the long run.
A means-tested educational maintenance allowance should probably be introduced at this point. Can we be assured that the Secretary of State will keep this possibility very much in mind, because one of his most vital roles is to see that higher education aspirants are neither put off nor tempted into blind alleys and dead ends?
Another barrier, in my view, is the over-rigid divide—enshrined, I am afraid to say, in the last education Act—between academic and vocational subjects at 16-plus. If it is widely believed that staying on is only for high flyers and sixth forms, and sixth-form colleges get a reputation simply as forcing grounds for academic talent, thousands of bright but non-academic children will be put off. It is therefore very important that a wide sixth-form subject mix is not only permitted but encouraged so that not only A-levels but also B-Tech and similar qualifications are on offer in the same school or sixth-form college, because that is what is attractive to young people. It is counter-productive to hive off vocational subjects exclusively into the world of FE. That of course is what the National Association of Teachers in Further Education would like, but the Secretary of State ought to be, and is, I am sure, strong enough to stand up to them. I hope that he will jolly well do so.
A further barrier is being busily erected by the Government's proposals for student finance. There is nothing wrong in principle in loans for maintenance, but the Government's present proposals will undoubtedly act as a deterrent to students from lower income homes. It is widely admitted that there should be some contribution to higher education costs, but it would be much less off-putting in the form of an income-related graduate 691 tax, as in Australia. Nobody wants to handle the Government's scheme and I hope that the Government will therefore think again.
What can be welcomed is the decision to increase the fee proportion of the higher education establishments' income which in effect makes them more sensitive to demand. There are two assurances that I should like to have in that respect. The first is that the fee element will remain covered by government grant; and that is not the thin end of the wedge for means-tested fees. The second is that in the administration of the rest of the money the funding councils—I was glad to learn that the right reverend Prelate is a member of the funding council that deals with polytechnics—will not be over-prescriptive in their allocation for particular subjects.
Manpower planning is always behind the times. Students and their families are not stupid; they know the skills that they will need for own futures. If the two or three barriers I have mentioned are removed, or lowered at the very least, and the market is listened to, the polytechnics will flourish and the Secretary of State or his successors will have some hope of achieving his target. If not, that hope will fade.
I believe that I still have time to make one final point. I refer to the nomenclature of polytechnics and universities. In their otherwise excellent briefing note the polytechnic directors say that they want to drop the honourable and well understood description "polytechnic" and become universities in the so-called interests of marketing. That is what they say in their paper and this has also been referred to by other noble Lords. My feeling is that that would simply reinforce the existing tendency towards folie de grandeur in our higher education system. I hope the Government will resist that suggestion. In that respect I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Limerick, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London.
I do not disagree with the pleas that have been made for parity of esteem, for parity of funding, for level playing fields or for any of those things but, as the right reverend Prelate said, polytechnics have special and valuable characteristics. Their virtues are particularly those that are required at this time. Therefore, on balance, although I agree with what has been said about parity of esteem and funding, I tend to consider that that would not be the right route to follow and that the Government should resist it. My guess is—although I may be corrected—that both Quintin Hogg and Anthony Crosland would have wanted to stick with the original name of their creation.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Lord Glenamara
My Lords, I wish to make two points. The first concerns the independence of the polytechnics and colleges and the second is about their resources. First, however, I welcome the independence given to the colleges and polytechnics in the reform Act. They have outgrown the local authorities, but of course their anchorage in the local authority system was one of the main justifications 692 for the binary system. Therefore, I hope that 1st April this year will be a major step towards ending the binary system. I agree with my noble friend Lord Longford and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that there is no justification whatever for forcing the polytechnics to continue with this albatross of the name "polytechnic" around their necks.
The question I want to ask is this: how independent are the polytechnics? There is a widespread view in the polytechnic and college world that they have exchanged a local, known, often generous but often petty system of control in the local authorities for an impersonal, distant system of control in the funding council; and I am glad that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London is here. The funding council is a new young organisation. First impressions, which is what I shall be talking about, might well prove to be not well-founded. Nevertheless, protocols and style of a new organisation at the outset may well determine future relationships for good or ill. It is therefore extremely important to get both right at the beginning.
The polytechnics had expected when the reform Bill was going through Parliament that their relationship to the new funding council would be similar to that of the universities to their funding council; that is a partnership, but so far it has not proved to be the case. The PCFC record so far has been distinctly uneven. It has taken some positive steps, especially in capital provision, but in other areas there are fears that it is being insensitive, regulatory and failing to honour the spirit of the partnership. Perhaps I may give one or two examples. First, the promotion of the polytechnic and colleges sector is not a matter for the funding council but for individual institutions. The funding council should not seek to be a vehicle for providing publicity material on the institutions. There are signs that it wishes to do so, but its first attempts so far do very little service to the polytechnics and the colleges.
Secondly, in the matter of research, at the moment the polytechnics and colleges cannot match the universities in either funding or output. But as the polytechnics and colleges move into the market-place, their achievements should be admired and praised and not belittled.
Thirdly, there is a failure to relate to the two national organisations which are comparable to the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals; namely, the CDP (the Committee of Directors of Polytechnics) and the Standing Committee of Principals which could and should have a very important advisory role with respect to the funding council in such matters as the composition of committees. It is not being accorded that role at present.
Fourthly, there are fears that the methods chosen by the PCFC to measure quality will not have the confidence of the institutions themselves. I believe it essential that they should have that confidence. Any attempt that the PCFC may make to measure quality will be crude and insensitive. There is concern that it will accept advice from others—for example, the validating bodies and the 693 inspectorate—whose assessment of quality of provision is not made for relating quality to resources but for other purposes. The Lindop Committee said:The best assessment of quality is the self-critical academic community".I agree with that and add to it the critical judgment of the marketplace. Those are the two factors needed for assessing quality.
Fifthly, the funding council demanded strategic corporate plans. The way in which its demand was put was insensitive, rigid and over-demanding in the amount of detail required. I have spent many hours sitting round a table working out one corporate plan. It imposed an enormous amount of work.
Perhaps I may make it absolutely clear and have it put on record that the only powers that the funding council possesses are set out in Section 132 of the Education Reform Act. They are not in the White Paper of April 1987 and neither are they in the Secretary of State's letter of guidance to the chairman of the funding council. Those two documents cannot add to the powers of the funding council. Its duty is limited to the allocation of funds for purposes strictly connected therewith. It has no general powers of surveillance over the polytechnics and colleges and it is not an overlord. The polytechnics and colleges are now independent, freestanding corporations and they have to resist the pushing out of clearly defined statutory powers by the funding council. Their independence must be made a reality and it must be respected by the Government and the funding council. I have the utmost confidence in the chairman of the funding council, who is a very old friend of mine, but the majority of his council has no experience of higher education. There are difficulties ahead if the Government do not heed this warning.
Perhaps I may say something about resources. The disparity of funding between the two sides of the system is a sheer disgrace. It is not getting less, it is increasing. I have taken a close interest in the polytechnics. I was involved in their launching; I designated most of them myself and I have been intimately concerned in the running of one of the largest ones. Therefore I know the deprivation from which they have suffered in recent years. I wish to quote two indices; first, the staff-student ratio. In the polytechnics it has increased by 4.5 since 1979–80; in the universities it has increased by 1.4 in the same period. In the polytechnics it now stands at 12.9 and in the universities at 10.7. There is not much parity of treatment there. The staff-student ratio is the result of the disparity in funding.
On 10th February a Minister in the other place gave some figures as regards institutional expenditure on full-time equivalent students in real terms at 1986 prices for the polytechnics and the universities. I believe that my noble friend Lord Longford quoted the figure for the polytechnics. It is £3,325, which is a decrease of 20 per cent. between 1979 and 1986. The figure for the universities is £5,276, which is an increase of 3 per cent. It is a decrease of 20 per cent. in the case of the polytechnics (to bring them down to £3,300) and an increase of 3 per cent. for the universities—I am not 694 criticising that because they need more—which takes them up to £5,276.
I know the two arguments that some university courses such as medicine are very expensive, but some polytechnic courses are also very expensive where sophisticated equipment has to be used and kept up to date. I know the argument about research which is funded differently in the universities. Research in the polytechnics is now a major element of their work and failure to recognise this is another injustice. I believe, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said, that research, which is related to the quality of teaching, should have parity of funding in the universities and the polytechnics.
Finally, the polytechnics are one of the two outstanding successes in the story of education in the last two decades. The other is the Open University. They were both started in the government of my noble friend Lord Wilson of Rievaulx during the 1960s. In the polytechnics the standards are extremely high and at least as high as in comparable departments in universities. But the nation is getting this excellence at bargain prices. The polytechnics are paying the price in early retirements, posts not being filled, buildings not being maintained and equipment not being replaced. That is a deprivation that cannot and should not be allowed to continue.
§ The Lord Bishop of London
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may ask him whether he is aware that at the last meeting of the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council it made clear that it was not its role to approve strategic plans; that was a matter for the governing body, and this fact was made public after that meeting.
§ Lord Glenamara
My Lords, I am very relieved to hear that, but throughout the country many of us have spent very many hundreds of man-hours drawing up the strategic plan.
§ 5.28 p.m.
§ Lord Trafford
My Lords, in congratulating the noble Earl on raising this important question, I must apologise to the House for having missed the early part of this debate because of an unavoidable time factor. I agree very much with the noble Lord's last words in his tribute to the success of the polytechnics. I believe he put it very well indeed and I entirely agree with him on those points. I am referring of course to his final words before the intervention. They were absolutely correct.
We are conducting this debate at a time when I believe nearly everyone will agree that throughout the whole field of higher education there is not only a great need but a great acceptance of the necessity for expansion. I was glad that the Secretary of State for Education expressed this view in his Lancaster speech. At the present time polytechnics are responsible for slightly more than half of those in higher education. As has been pointed out, in recent years the expansion has been even faster. They have a critically important role to play.
695 Perhaps I may in the broadest terms define their mission. It is to teach at a high level with a vocational bias. I fail to recall who originally devised the phrase "vocational education". It is not for the polytechnics to discuss 14th century court poetry at Avignon Palace. That is a role that can best come under the description of Sir Edward Boyle when he spoke of the necessity for what he called "disinterested education".
For that, as I am sure the House will agree, there must always be a place and a role. However, I do not believe that it is truly the role of the polytechnics. That is why I am not so concerned about titles. The polytechnics have done a first-class, splendid and necessary job and therefore whether one calls them polytechnics or universities does not matter very much. One could call them technical universities or many other things; but whatever name one gives them they should not lose sight of their essential mission, which is the type of education that I have described.
A century ago this country in large part sold the pass on education. It accepted a view of what would be called higher education, which in those days would be a 19th century Oxbridge tradition, and it rejected what was happening elsewhere on the Continent with the development of technical education in schools, and so on. Even in the Education Act 1902 the concept of any form of vocational or technical education was torpedoed by the then Permanent Secretary at the department. This unfortunately continued for many years. I pay tribute to Anthony Crosland, the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, and others, who introduced and nurtured the polytechnics and brought them towards their present role. This was one of the most important corrective actions in the whole field of education. I agree with the noble Lord—it is not often that I can agree so readily with noble Lords opposite—that the polytechnics have been one of the successes in education.
This country has suffered as a result of this lack and as a result of the attitude in some areas of higher education that learning is something not to be sullied by trade. That is wrong. We have suffered from this for 20 years and more. The correction of it has rested to a certain extent with the polytechnics and to a certain extent with developments across higher education which I hope will continue to take place. It does not seem to me that titles are as important as mission; that names are as important as function. I do not see the need for categories of institutions. I do not like it. Many departments in polytechnics are just as good as those in universities; indeed better. One student, needing a certain qualification or looking to a certain future, will require a certain form of education, while another student will look elsewhere. That is what really matters; not the name of the place at which they attend.
I take issue with one point that was made about judgment by the academic of the academic and also by the market. We do not have in this country a true market in this field. Even in those areas where it is being expanded, with the suggestion of increasing 696 tuition fees and so on, this is Monopoly money. The only market, where markets are defined, is where one uses something oneself, not somebody else's Monopoly money.
I cannot see why we need to make these categories. Colleges of higher education and of further education that were left out of the Bill last year are still in many ways under the control of the local authorities. They do a good job. We have a number of different institutions and levels of institution and types of education. At the end of the day what matters is that each of these provides a form of education that is not necessarily useful to society or the country as a whole (which incidentally is difficult to define) but meets the needs of the student in the role that he sees for himself in society. There are models of relationships. In California there is the Cal-Tech and the community colleges. Why are we not looking at that idea a little more closely? Why are we not seeing whether or not we can get away from this idea of divisions and divides?
I should like to see a larger choice of more autonomous, freestanding institutions offering a wide range of educational opportunities, tailored not just to some supposed national, economic, social or vocational role but also to the great variety of student requirements; and in the midst of this what we now call the polytechnics, adhering I hope to their special role and their special ethos, playing as important a part in the future as they have in the past.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Lord Addington
My Lords, polytechnics are undoubtedly a vital part of our higher education system. However, they suffer from one fairly unique problem. They lack status in the current system. Why do they lack status? I gave this considerable thought and came to the conclusion that possibly people think that their degrees and diplomas are not of quite such a high standard as those of universities. I then turned to the handbook of the Council of National Academic Awards and found in section A(1)(i) this statement:The degrees, diplomas, certificates and other academic awards and distinctions granted and conferred under the council's charter are consistent in standard and are comparable with the standards of awards granted and conferred throughout higher education in the United Kingdom, including the universities".It would appear that degrees and diplomas awarded by higher education establishments and polytechnics are as valid as those awarded by any other institutions in the higher education system. It would seem therefore, if I may make a slight aside from the main thrust of my speech, that the Government would only be playing fair if they were to let the lecturers and teachers involved in polytechnics know as soon as possible the terms of their new contracts.
I shall now try to make a stab in an area in which I have a unique advantage. I refer to my knowledge of students going into polytechnics and entering higher education as a whole. I stated on 12th April in the debate on higher education that I was probably the Member of the House who had most recently been an undergraduate. I do not think that that position has changed in the past month or so. When I was considering going into higher education I can 697 remember being given piles of forms to fill in. The first forms I was given were the university application forms. It seemed that these were the places to go to. If I may refer back to that speech, I think I said that if one achieved x grades one went to university, if one achieved grades slightly lower than x one was expected to go to a polytechnic, and if one achieved still slightly lower grades one was expected to go to college. At the time it seemed to be the accepted wisdom and most followed this pattern, although some—possibly because they were better informed than others—took longer to look over the courses. In certain specific areas I am glad to say that people are looking at the courses offered and not the places they derive from.
This attitude that one should go to the institution with the highest status seemed to be prevalent. Indeed my younger brother and sister also seem to be following this course, as do their friends. Matters do not seem to have changed very much in the past few years. Why is there this lack of knowledge and why does this notion of status stick with us and result in so much channelling? I suggest that it is because we are in a tradition of universities being the best form of education regardless. We are not looking closely enough at their courses, at the way they are organised and at the individual who has to go into those courses. It is considered that one will take a degree if one has the academic qualifications to enter a degree course. Many people might benefit considerably more from an HND course. Some people might benefit from a full-time course while for others a sandwich course might be more beneficial. One finds out that certain courses fit certain types of person.
Polytechnics offer a very wide range of courses, which include some of the pure academic disciplines. I do not mean to say that they are better than those, for instance, in history, English or, to an extent, the sciences. However, such courses are at their greatest strength when they feature subjects which have a more practical air about them; that is, an air of being more "hands on". I find myself, somewhat surprisingly and pleasantly, in agreement here with the noble Lord, Lord Trafford. Such courses are certainly most beneficial and are certainly particularly beneficial to the workplace. Moreover, if it is the aim of higher education to provide people not only with better job opportunities but also with a training which is beneficial to the economy, I suggest that people should be encouraged to look closely at these courses. They should also be encouraged to look closer at the places offered to them in the light of the courses available and not merely be guided by status.
I could continue at some length on this subject but, as so much has already been covered, I should like to conclude by saying that the way to circumvent the problem would almost certainly be to ensure that there are more careers officers available. There should also be more teachers who have specific training in what certain institutes can offer by way of their courses at HND or degree level—or indeed, at any other course level. In that way we shall ensure that the appropriate people undertake such courses and thus avoid having to pay the price for people 698 dropping out, or under-achieving, once they have achieved a place in higher education.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Baroness Warnock
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for initiating this debate which is extremely timely. I say that because hardly had the two new funding councils taken up their tasks than the funds which they have to distribute were radically diminished. That has made a difference to their status. Much of the money which the Government forward to the polytechnics, colleges and universities will now come indirectly through student fees. Whether that is a good change is not, I think, the point at issue today. However, it means that what the two funding councils have to do is to distribute the remainder of the funds to institutions according to two criteria: one is cost-effectiveness and the other is quality.
The record of the polytechnics on cost-effectiveness is extremely good. Indeed, it has had to be. They have learned the hard way, from their days under the local authorities, that they must be able to demonstrate value for money. However, those days are over: the particular financial local connection has gone, but they will doubtless carry on their tradition of financial prudence and caution and may even have lessons to teach some of the universities.
The point I wish to make is this. There is now no difference between the relation of the polytechnics to their locality and that of the universities. Both the polytechnics and the universities will need to explore and to enjoy—as they are exploring and enjoying—connections with their local industries, their local hospitals, and their local music and art centres. I think it is quite wrong to imagine that the universities are completely detached from their locality. Indeed, there are many examples which prove the contrary, including the University of Warwick which has been especially strong in developing local connections, particularly local connections with industry. Moreover, that is also true as regards the University of Cambridge.
In truth there no longer is a serious difference between the relation of universities to their locality and that of the polytechnics, now that the financial dependence on local authorities has gone from the polytechnics. Therefore, so far as concerns cost-effectiveness and using the locality, it seems to me that universities and polytechnics are, and ought to be, in the same boat.
I turn now to the second criteria; namely, quality. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, will give up some of his extreme suspicion—if I may put it that way—of the committee which has recently been set up by the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council, of which I have the honour to be chairman. There is no doubt whatever that that committee is not seeking in any way to oversee, or exercise power or control over, the quality of teaching in polytechnics—far from it. However, it is the case that quality of teaching has been laid down as one of the criteria according to which funds should be distributed. Therefore it is necessarily the task of the 699 funding council to try to explore the concept of quality of teaching and to try to establish ways in which good practice may be identified to be used as a pointer in the distribution of funds.
I also had the honour of serving on the Lindop Committee. It was quite obvious from that experience that there were ways within the polytechnics in which one could identify good quality of teaching. Indeed, the committee recommended that those polytechnics which were extremely strong, and often stronger than their local university, should be released from the necessity of having to have their work validated. It seems to me that the committee is bound to determine once more where quality of teaching lies. I feel perfectly certain that the connection between quality of teaching and quality of learning will turn out to be very strongly connected with quality of research. That is something about which nearly everyone in universities, and in the polytechnics, feels strongly. However, it remains for someone to try to put that argument in a persuasive enough way. In my view, that is a point of enormous importance.
Because quality of teaching cannot be quantified—and it would obviously be contradictory to suppose that it could—the Universities Funding Council is not setting up a committee parallel with that set up by the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council. However, I believe that whatever value is discovered by the committee, if any, will also apply equally and exactly to universities. Indeed, there are already arrangements by which the two funding councils will share whatever knowledge they acquire in this field.
I do not believe that there is a special concept called quality of teaching or quality of learning in the polytechnics; it is quality within higher education. That also leads to the point that there is virtually no difference between what would count as good practice in the polytechnics and what would count as good practice in the universities. This is yet another reason for hoping that the binary division will—as I believe it will—wither away; it has lost any point which it had.
There is one final point which I should like to make. It is also a good reason for hoping that the binary line may be discontinued and that it may just die. The present discussion on higher education in general tends to be extremely confusing to the general public. I do not think that the general public is frightfully good at drawing distinctions between colleges of higher education, polytechnics, universities and any other kind of institution of post-school education. People tend to talk—and the press encourage them to do so—about colleges as a way of referring to all those different institutions.
There is a real danger in such a degree of confusion. I believe that it is of the utmost importance in higher education that we should distinguish between degress which though they may be partially vocational must, nevertheless, have a theoretical component and, on the other side, different qualifications which may be diplomas or certificates that need have no theoretical content 700 whatever but which may be in such valuable skills as butchery, hairdressing or carpentry.
In my view the distinction between degrees and other qualifications must not be allowed to be overlooked. We must not talk about going out into the market, or talk in a rather loose, misleading way about how one can choose to read a degree in any subject one likes in America. Such talk confuses the public a great deal. I think that that is the final reason which I would put forward for taking away the cumbersome and, by now, outdated binary distinction and insisting instead on a distinction between degree-giving institutions, or degrees themselves, and other purely technical qualifications.
Technology is an expression which is totally ambiguous as between theory and practice. The Government have been guilty of encouraging that kind of confusion by talking about the desirability of having technology and science in degree courses. Engineering students in Cambridge, for example, who are some of the most highly qualified in the country, are not to be thought of as technicians. That is not a matter of snobbishness; it is a matter of what they are capable of doing. They are often not capable of doing simple technological tasks, as I know to my cost. That is my final reason for wanting to see the end of the binary distinction.
§ 5.50 p.m.
§ Baroness Lockwood
My Lords, as we have already heard this afternoon, there is a different pattern in the polytechnics from that in the universities. That is especially so in relation to the numbers of part-time students, the numbers on sandwich, short and modular courses, and the types of entry qualifications into higher education. Nevertheless, it is remarkable that we hear, and underline the fact, that standards are comparable. That that is so is a strength of our higher education system and something that should be preserved, so long as the polytechnics are not regarded as a cheap and inferior alternative to universities—a sentiment which I fear still pervades many quarters.
I should like to say a word about the binary line, not on the principle of whether it should continue, but upon the fact that, in my view at any rate, it is on its way out. It is a strange irony that when the polytechnics were set up many people criticised their approach and said that they were aping universities. Now it might be said that the universities are aping polytechnics with their growing interest in part-time and non-traditional students. Demographic factors and pressure for a more highly qualified workforce are merging their approaches.
Other factors are also intervening, some of whose effects upon the polytechnics and upon the Government's declared intention to widen access to higher education are ambivalent. Arising from the Croham Report, the Government declined to take up the idea of an over-arching body for the universities and the polytechnics, but they set up the two separate funding councils. Those two bodies are now to be relocated in the same premises in Bristol. Common sense dictates that there must be more 701 co-operation between them in that setting. Further, methods of funding are to be changed. In what way is not yet finally determined, but the change must have an effect upon the relative position of the two sets of institutions.
I refer to two consultative documents which have already been mentioned by other noble Lords. The first relates to student loans. As we have said before in the House, student loans could be a disincentive to the lower socio-economic groups, to ethnic minorities, to women and to mature students, and of course in that respect part-time students are not included. That would be a minus for the polytechnics because they have made greater inroads into those groups than have the universities. On the other hand, it could also deprive the universities of the variety of richness which expansion into those groups brings. That for them would be a loss.
Secondly, on the change in tuition fees, as the noble Earl, Lord Limerick, has said, the proposal is to increase the current undergraduate tuition fee of £607 to £1,600 per annum in 1990. Unless student loans take priority in policy making over that proposal, it would still mean that the students' tuition fee would be paid through the same mechanism—that is, through local government and the mandatory award system. That could mean a shift in polytechnic funding in their favour vis-à-vis universities. Their unit of resource, as has already been indicated, is much lower than that of universities and has been eroded to a much greater extent in the past decade. That type of funding would put them on a par with the universities in competition for full-time students. It would not however strengthen the incentive to increase the number of part-time students, because even on degree courses they would be excluded from the change in the system. So too would other students, both part and full-time, who were not receiving mandatory grants.
Paragraph 14 of the consultative document states that the Government will not reduce the funding available to the funding councils to support part-time places. That seems to be an ambiguous way of expressing the situation, and perhaps the Minister could explain it further. The amount paid to institutions will have to be increased or there will be no incentive to increase the number of part-time students in line with government thinking. Institutions like the polytechnics, 25 per cent. of whose undergraduate and HND students are part-time, and Birkbeck College, 100 per cent. of whose undergraduates are part-time, will suffer comparatively. I hope that the Government will look carefully at that point.
There is then the question of research funding. It has already been decided that funding for student fees and for research in universities will be separated. If the proposals for more or all research to be funded through the research councils, or through the suggested new research council, are accepted polytechnics would again be in a better position to compete for research grants. Here I would enter another caveat. Polytechnics have not only been less well resourced than universities for research purposes, they have been less well represented on 702 the research councils. In any new structuring of research funding the polytechnics will need to be better represented if they are to retain a fairer share of resources.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Baroness Cox
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Longford, on choosing this topic which is of such great importance for the future of higher education in this country. I suspect that I am one of only very few—perhaps the only one—from these Benches to have benefited from studying at a polytechnic and to have benefited from the greater flexibility of access to higher education to which polytechnics are committed, with their traditional emphasis on part-time, evening and sandwich courses, and to courses with a more vocational orientation.
Present government policy emphasises accountability for public money; competition to promote efficiency and cost effectiveness; and the development of wealth in an enterprise culture. On all those counts, I believe that polytechnics had a great contribution to make. I wish to address three topics. First, funding arrangements, especially for part-time and evening students and for research; secondly, nomenclature; and, thirdly, quality control.
First, funding: I ask my noble friend the Minister to consider certain anomalies in the methods of funding part-time students, especially those on evening courses. CNAA-validated evening degree and postgraduate courses have been declining—by 13 per cent. between 1985–86 and 1986–87 and that decline continues. That is serious because these courses are particularlybeneficialfor small businesses (who cannot afford day-release for their staff) and for women with family commitments.
However, funding formulae discriminate against evening only courses, with only 0.2 per cent. of the resources which are provided for a full-time student, although anyone who has run evening courses knows that the teaching and administration of these involve proportionately more than that. I ask my noble friend whether the Government will undertake an examination of the weighting of all part-time courses for 1989–90 as action is urgently needed if provision is not to decline further.
Secondly, I come to funding for research. As other noble Lords have said, I too should like to see polytechnics given the opportunity to compete on equal terms with universities. Research councils always carefully scrutinise applications before allocating funds. They require progress reports to ensure accountability to them and, through them, to the Secretary of State. Thus there is a systematic accountability for the £575 million allocated to research councils during 1987–88. In the same year £712 million was allocated to the University Funding Council (then the University Grants Committee) for research. The polytechnics receive no such comparable funding.
An alternative means of funding research in our academies, which would be more equitable and consistent with the Government's commitment to 703 fair competition and accountability, would be for a greater portion of money for research to be allocated to research councils which could then disburse it, according to appropriate criteria, to universities, to polytechnics or to other relevant institutions. I sincerely hope that the Government will respond sympathetically to requests from polytechnics to incorporate the word "university" into their names, if they so wish, until or unless that binary divide dissolves. This does not mean that there is nothing in the name "polytechnic" of which to be proud. Indeed I believe that there is much of which to be proud. But many polytechnic directors have argued very strongly that unless they are allowed to use the word, "university", they are being compelled to compete on unequal terms to the detriment of their own well-being and that of their students.
For example there is evidence that many potential students, especially school leavers, are put off by the fact that polytechnics do not carry the title "university". There is also evidence that many employers prefer graduates with university degrees. As the CNAA strives so hard to ensure comparability of standards with universities, it is surely unfair that students who graduate with degrees obtained at polytechnics should be penalised in the marketplace for jobs.
There is also evidence that polytechnics suffer from discrimination in funding from external sources for developments such as science parks or the endowment of chairs. Finally, on this theme the title "polytechnic" causes confusion abroad. It has been suggested that the work of the British Council would be made easier if the term "university" could be used by polytechnics in their titles.
Of course that does not mean that every polytechnic is directly comparable to every university, but neither are universities directly comparable with one another. What such a change would allow would be the opportunity for polytechnics to be considered without the disadvantage of prejudice based solely on "what's in the name".
Similarly I hope that PCFC will give sympathetic consideration to requests for changes in name by other institutions of higher education which have developed their work to a level comparable with that offered by polytechnics. I must declare an interest here as a governor of Dorset Institute. I am deeply impressed by the calibre of staff and students there and by their high quality of academic work, which compares very favourably with polytechnics. I hope therefore that this college and others of comparable calibre can be designated polytechnics, should they so wish. It would only seem to be a matter of natural justice. I have one other point on natural justice. While there is effective and valuable representation of universities in your Lordships' House, there is not a single polytechnic director. I hope that that anomaly may be corrected in the near future.
Finally, I come to quality assurance. I must declare another interest here as chairman of the health studies committee for the Council for National Academic Awards. I should like briefly to pay tribute 704 to the CNAA for the work it is doing and has done to ensure high standards in the non-university sector. Having taken part in CNAA-validation exercises, I must say how impressed I am with the care and attention to detail given by everyone involved. I believe that it might be no bad thing if all courses in higher education were to have the benefit of such rigorous self-examination and external endorsement. But there is strong pressure for some polytechnics in some quarters now to become entirely independent of CNAA. It can be pointed out that my own arguments in favour of polytechnics being allowed to use the word "university" should entail this. However I believe that there is greater benefit to be gained from retaining the CNAA connection, so that academic standards are not only maintained but are seen to be maintained.
Much of the old CNAA bureaucracy has disappeared. CNAA is now strongly encouraging innovation and flexibility. The chief executive, Dr. Malcolm Frazer, uses the term, "flexibility with quality". I believe he is achieving this. My appreciation of the contribution of the CNAA brings me back to where I began, for many of its achievements are closely interwoven with those of the polytechnics themselves.
The polytechnics have made a great contribution to the life of this country. They have a distinguished tradition of offering education opportunities to many who would not otherwise have had them; and they have achieved academic recognition, sometimes against the odds in terms of resources and prejudices. Now it is time, as the the noble Earl, Lord Longford, proposes, to give greater emphasis to them, to enable them to realise their full potential and to make an even greater contribution to the nation.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Lord Kirkwood
My Lords, the polytechnics have a special role in higher education as community institutions. They can respond quickly to local needs with a variety of packages in addition to providing conventional degree courses. Historically polytechnics have been more flexible than universities as regards entrance qualifications. They have, for example, pioneered introductory courses for mature students and others requiring additional education before pursuing more advanced studies. This flexibility has been enhanced by the credit accumulation scheme which takes account of experience in industry. They also have a tradition of part-time and block release courses which again are a response to local needs.
All polytechnics are going down the road of modular courses with mutual recognition of modules spreading across a variety of institutions so that students may take credits at different polytechnics and at different times or stages in their careers, all finally contributing to a diploma or degree. Such collaborative ventures have begun to embrace some universities and these must be encouraged. While universities are essentially national and international institutions, polytechnics are and should continue to be strongly community centred.
705 The emphasis within polytechnics is towards vocational and professional courses—as has been mentioned several times—business studies, accountancy, law, languages, architecture, computing, applied sciences, engineering, and so on. A good proportion of these courses, it should be said, are at post-graduate level. This emphasis on applied disciplines should be reinforced, but not at the expense of the educational content or intellectual rigour that should underpin all vocational and professional courses. There is a danger that polytechnics are becoming so market oriented that the goal of educational excellence is being sacrificed to short-term market expediency.
The Government have recently proposed to shift funding in both the polytechnics and the universities towards fees and away from block grants awarded through the new funding councils. As penalties for over-recruitment will be abolished, universities, particularly those in greatest financial need, will be encouraged to widen entry standards and poach in the traditional market of the polytechnics to boost their income. I think this could be disastrous for the polytechnics, and the Government should be encouraged to think through the consequences of such a free-for-all policy.
With the demise of the NAB, the polytechnics have lost an earmarked source of research funding. There is a tendency to regard them as essentially teaching institutions. However, as has been said, they have an important role to play in terms of applied research as they have close links with local industry, commerce and health authorities. Research itself feeds back into teaching. I must say that I sympathise with the sentiments of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London in this respect. There is nothing worse for students than lecturers who have no direct contact with their subject, either by scholarship, research or practice, and who cannot consequently communicate the excitement of their subject.
The polytechnics have always been more cost effective than the universities, mainly because research has been discouraged. The staff-student ratios should be improved and unit costs allowed to rise more in line with the universities in order to allow staff to engage in research for which, of course, there must be accountability.
Finally, I come to the matter of the name "polytechnic". This matter has been mentioned many times before. We all know how much trouble, time and expense companies devote to choosing a name to market a new product effectively. That is undeniably important. Much as I dislike the idea of renaming the package without altering the contents, I cannot help but sympathise with the frustration and annoyance of those in polytechnics who are trying to attract good staff and students when the nature and standards of these degree-giving bodies are misunderstood by the general public, who tend to confuse them with the old technical colleges. I, like the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, have been involved in discussions with the British Council. That body regards the name "polytechnic" as a positive hindrance in the recruitment of overseas students. It certainly lowers the prestige of polytechnics in the 706 eyes of foreign officials who are making judgments as regards placing their students.
It has been represented to me by colleagues in polytechnics that they should be called "polytechnic universities" or "technical universities". I must admit to having doubts over this, although I do not think I have anything better to offer. However, there is a real and proper distinction of roles between polytechnics and universities. I fear that renaming of the kind I have mentioned would only lead to confusion. The attitude in this country is a product of particularly English snobbery. The institutes of technology in the United States and the Écoles polytechniques in France clearly do not suffer from this. However, we cannot deny that that exists here, and rightly polytechnics demand parity of esteem. Some consideration must be given to the matter of a name.
§ 6.14 p.m.
§ Lord Annan
My Lords, hearing the noble Earl move this Motion this evening took my mind back to 1967 when, so it is said, Mr. George Brown asked the Secretary of State in Cabinet whether, if he had to make cuts, he would choose to cut the universities or to postpone raising the school leaving age from 15 to 16. Mr. Gordon Walker replied that if he had to choose, he would have to postpone raising the school leaving age. Mr. George Brown said, "May God forgive you". I daresay the noble Earl thought God would never forgive him if he took the same line as Mr. Gordon Walker, and, being a devout man, he resigned from the Government. I have always honoured him for doing so because the curse of this country has been our concentration on academic fliers and the century-long neglect in educating the people who will form the workforce of tomorrow.
But at this point I am afraid I part company from the noble Earl. When Tony Crosland set up the polytechnics, he did so because, I am glad to say, he was an egalitarian and he wanted disadvantaged boys and girls to have the chance of receiving higher education. But he made the mistake, in my view, of wanting institutions, as well as people, to be equal. So he made the polytechnics offer a three year bachelor degree which was to be the equal of the university degree and all were to be funded for research as well as teaching.
Higher education institutions should not pretend to be equal and all do the same thing. The country cannot afford that. I beg the Government to differentiate between institutions. Do not let us fall a victim to inverted snobbery. Everyone in America knows that Chicago and Berkeley are different institutions from Indiana, and that Indiana is a different institution from community colleges. If any noble Lord thinks that Cambridge, Massachusetts is funded in the same way and is on a par with Oxford, Mississippi, let him stand up in his shame. We are not as fortunate as America. In America all boys and girls go to, what everyone calls, college. I wish to heaven the same thing applied here.
However, I detect a change in the funding of higher education institutions. There is talk today of the funding councils dividing their grant between 707 teaching and research. This would give us the opportunity to fund institutions on differing principles. There are some institutions, perhaps no more than 10, which should be regarded as major research establishments in all subjects and funded accordingly from the block grant. However, the vast majority of institutions, universities and polytechnics alike, should obtain funds from the research councils for specific departments of excellence. Some departments in the polytechnics would surely qualify for such support.
Here I do not see a difference between the funding of a polytechnic and a university. It may well be that a polytechnic would obtain more funds than a specific university. Even so, the main research support for polytechnics should surely come from industry—from the customer who requires and commissions the research. That was how the Land Grant Colleges in America began. They were set up to help the farmers in their communities. Then, as industry and business grew in those communities, they helped businessmen and industrialists.
The polytechnics should be the major re-trainers of the industrial workforce as well as the teachers of 18 year-olds. I hope that the Minister can this evening reassure us on two scores about the polytechnics. If under the new system of funding higher education, universities can bid for as many students as they like, is the Minister sanguine that the flow of science and technological students into the polytechnics will hold up? After all, we know of the shortage of science teachers in the schools. We also know that we shall never get enough students to study both technology and foreign languages unless the Higginson recommendations are accepted and A-levels are replaced by a baccalaureate. Will the Minister tell us, or ask his right honourable friend the Secretary of State, what safeguards exist as regards intake to the polytechnics under this new scheme of bidding for as many students as institutions wish? Or is everything to be left to the market?
My second question to the Minister is this: can he tell us whether all humanities courses in the polytechnics are now vocational?
I have absolutely no objection to philosophers and teachers of English having posts in polytechnics provided that the philosophers do not teach Wittgenstein or Marx. They should teach what Susan Stebbing used to call the difference between straight and crooked thinking. English teachers should not teach English literature but how to write clear and concise English free of jargon.
Indeed, one could combine philosophy and English. One has only to read the works of the father of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, to read the most pellucid English. Make students compare a passage by Russell with passages in almost any academic periodical written by dons today which abound in jargon, cliche and muddled exposition.
I remember well, when I was trying to create links between University College London and the Polytechnic of Central London, visiting the Polytechnic's German department. It was run by a 708 fine refugee from Hitler's Germany. He said to me, "do you tell me that I may not teach my students Goethe?" I said, "Yes, but after hours. Surely what you ought now to be teaching is the kind of German which a marketing director needs to know", a kind of German I may say which I, to my shame, do not know.
If that is accepted, then let those polytechnics and universities training students in sandwich courses and re-training the workforce on short courses be given additional funds specifically for these vocational purposes. But note this: skew the funds to the polytechnics rather than to the universities, but do not spray the money over the whole polytechnic flower bed. Spray the plants you particularly want to bloom.
§ 6.22 p.m.
§ Lord Stallard
My Lords, I too should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Longford on inititiating this debate. Rather like the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, my own interest in the subject goes back to the time when I was an apprentice engineer when there was no such thing as a formal training scheme and apprentices had to find their own courses after work. I attended a number of polytechnics and benefited greatly from their courses, not only technically but from studying life in general.
Later, when I became a technical training officer, myself teaching apprentices in a training school, I had, with other instructors, to work very closely with local polytechnics. By that time day release, block release and sandwich courses had been negotiated between employers and the unions. We worked together on those courses as well as on examinations. Therefore my experience has been mainly practical; but I have maintained that interest.
I have also been aware for a very long time of the difficulties which the polytechnics have faced in constantly having to justify their existence and of their need for greater recognition and improved financial provision. I know, for example, that employers, particularly the larger ones, tend to concentrate their recruitment efforts on the universities while at the same time denying any prejudice against polytechnics. Schools also have tended to recommend polytechnics to their less clever pupils or to those pupils who are keen to attend a course which is not available at a university. In other words, the poly was second best. As a result, many parents too were conditioned into thinking that polys were second best and that they should direct their bright children towards the university rather than to the poly.
The Government praise polytechnics and their achievements; but we have heard this evening that they are not prepared to consider reducing the disparity between the unit of resource available to students in universities and polytechnics studying for identical qualifications. That is very hollow praise from the Government.
Despite all those difficulties and despite a 20 per cent. cut in their budgets in real terms over the past 10 years, polys have increased student numbers; 709 they have encouraged older students and part-time students; and they have succeeded in encouraging more women students. As has already been mentioned, they have maintained very high standards in the process. That is a very creditable achievement by any standards.
I get the impression that the changes that have taken place have been unanimously accepted and endorsed by the majority, if not all, of the directors of the polytechnics. The changes under Section 30 of the 1988 Education Reform Act have been accepted at least in principle. Those to whom I have spoken expressed a general feeling of relief that the bureaucrats were now off their backs and they now had freedom to manage. However, there are naturally worries, mainly about resources.
I do not have time to develop that point but some of the problems have already been mentioned by other speakers this evening. However, I should like to mention two which seem to me to be the most urgent.
First, it has been mentioned that many buildings are dilapidated and in a poor condition. They will need immediate attention. That means that the polytechnics will need extra money over and above what is allocated for educational purposes. Will the Government be initiating a survey of those buildings and will they be prepared to finance the work that should be carried out as a result of that survey? Secondly, we know that the Government envisage an increase in the student population over the next 25 years. That will mean even more buildings are required. Will finance be made available for the provision of such buildings in order to meet the Government's own forecasts?
I have another worry about government policy and the Government's whole approach to education and training. There appears almost to be a deliberate attempt to separate the two. I have spent most of my life trying to bring them together. For example, the 1984 White Paper Training for Jobs envisaged a national programme for adult training controlled by the Department of Employment and largely outside the education services. The new employment training initiative replaces the old JTS with a unified system of adult training, again with the emphasis on industry-based provision. Local authorities and colleges are again largely ignored in those provisions.
The White Paper Employment For The 1990s contains proposals for the setting up of training enterprise councils dominated by employers with token representation from trade unions and educationists. Those councils, or more realistically perhaps given the part-time nature of the councils the officers of those councils, will determine the pattern of training and education because they will in effect by carrying out government policy.
Paragraph 4.19 on page 31 of the White Paper Higher Education: Meeting the Challenge states:The Secretary of State will provide general guidance to the PCFC on its work and will have reserve powers of direction".In other words, it will be strictly controlled and will be virtually carrying out government policy, although it is alleged that it is independent. Now we have the latest consultative document Shifting the 710 Balance of Public Funding of Higher Education to Fees containing proposals for huge increases in fees, in the region I understand of 300 per cent. In my view that must affect the access to education, particularly of full-time students and part-time students without mandatory awards.
I believe those to be serious worries. I hope that in his reply the Minister may be able to allay some of them and give us some hope. I am convinced that the debate must continue. Many of the aspects that have been mentioned tonight will have to be thoroughly debated in more detail. I look forward to further opportunities to participate in those debates.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I am doubly grateful in joining with other noble Lords to thank the noble Earl for introducing this debate because I was unable to take part in the earlier higher education debate. This is therefore my opportunity to get back into the swim of education, so to speak. I can cover only a few of the topics that noble Lords have raised, but I shall do the best I can to express at least some of the views of the Opposition Front Bench on the matter.
Perhaps I may start with the question of parity of esteem. There should certainly be parity of esteem in the sense that a polytechnic graduate with a specific class of degree is, on average, just as good as his or her university counterpart. Those of us who admit students to graduate work are well aware of that fact. Indeed, I go further; in my own subject, there are polytechnic economics departments whose graduates are better prepared for masters degrees and PhD work than those from some university departments which I shall not name. We are perfectly well aware that the professional bodies fully recognise polytechnic degrees. I refer to the Law Society, the Bar, the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain and many others. That is another underpinning, as it were, of the quality of the work.
Furthermore, there are also employers who give polytechnic students a fair chance and are well aware of the standards there. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others have said, there are too many employers, and perhaps too may personnel directors, who, either through ignorance or prejudice, have a hierarchy even within the university institutions and, below that, of polytechnics. They seem to prefer inferior students from so-called better institutions to superior students from polytechnics. In doing so, they damage their own firms and the British economy. Noble Lords who have connections with business enterprise would do well to inquire about their firms' employment practices in that regard, if not on grounds of principle—although I hope that that would be so—at least on grounds of efficiency and economy.
That takes me on to the question of what polytechnics call themselves. In one way, I do not much mind what they call themselves. In that respect I am not very different from the noble Lord, Lord Trafford. Nonetheless, I must admit that, in practice, the title of universities does seem to be significant. 711 I do not think that one can quite say what is in a name. I therefore believe that we must move in the direction of giving them a chance to call themselves by that name if they so wish. If they wanted to take a risk, they could call themselves institutes of technology, but I am not sure whether we have any institution in this country that could stand up to international comparison on that basis.
The main point that I wish to make, however, is separate from the question of names. The polytechnics need real academic independence. Here I take issue with the noble Baroness. I believe that that means granting them charters and, therefore, the ability to award degrees in their own right. I have been closely involved with the CNAA and am well aware of its achievements, but the time has now come once and for all to free the polytechnics from the CNAA. It can pursue its validating role elsewhere.
Those points concern the general question of prestige. A related point concerns the PCFC and independence to which the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, referred. During the proceedings on the Education Reform Bill, we were promised—given what I and others thought was the bureaucratic nightmare of NAB—that the PCFC would not be like that. The noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, is right at least to warn that we must not go down that path. I am perfectly willing to believe that we shall not do so. I can only say that those bureaucracies have a tendency to produce vast numbers of incomprehensible bits of paper which it is impossible to believe will ever be used. That word of warning is of enormous importance and I am glad that it has been uttered.
Perhaps I may join with other noble Lords in making a few remarks about the Government's recent document on fees. It is a pity that we have had no opportunity to debate that document. On the face of it, it seems to me to be rather advantageous to the polytechnics. After all, this is one of those rare cases where they appear to be being treated in exactly the same way as universities. The fees are being offered in exactly the same way. However, like other noble Lords, I have two obvious queries to put: will the proposal lead to a free-for-all in which intense competition for students will lead to lowering of standards; and, more importantly, is it not a disincentive to the admission of part-time students? The document appears to suggest that the polytechnics and universities are still free to charge lower fees, as of now, for part-time students, but surely the incentive to do so will no longer be there. The incentive will be to admit full-time students on the new higher fee. I ask that simply as a question. I do not wish to dismiss the new document totally. I merely wish to know what the Government believe.
On the question of finance, it must be right that the polytechnics deserve a better deal. I simply do not see why a polytechnic student should have to make do with poorer library facilities or inferior laboratory facilities simply because he or she is a polytechnic student. I cannot think of any grounds whatever to justify that state of affairs. Viewing 712 the polytechnics for the moment soley from their teaching function. I have no doubt that they must certainly be properly financed.
On the question of research, I, like other noble Lords, am old-fashioned enough to continue to believe that at the higher level students should be taught by scholars and researchers. That does not mean that the mix of research and teaching needs to be a constant across institutions or a constant over time, but it does mean that every teacher at the higher level must be an expert in his or her subject and a contributor to it. Again, some of us have used up our ability to contribute, but, at some time in one's career, one must be a contributor to it. Again, from my experience in economics—although that is only one example among many—I know that excellent research is undertaken in the polytechnics. It is certainly up to the highest academic standards in terms of access to the best academic journals. Apart from anything else, it would be extraordinarily wasteful if that sort of activity ceased to be undertaken.
I do not think that a debate like this should simply praise the polytechnics and suggest that there is no way in which they can be criticised. Although I would not necessarily use the language of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and although I certainly believe overwhelmingly that the polytechnics have been a success, in my view it is worth noting that there is a gap that has not been filled by either the universities or the polytechnics; namely, the need for some institutions to play a part similar to that played by the great German technological universities.
Although some polytechnic courses are more practical and vocational, they have not gone as far down that path as the nation needs. I do not blame them for expanding the social sciences, law and the arts, because that is where student demand and prestige lie, but it is necessary to emphasise to some degree that a demand-based system may not be of full benefit to our nation.
As has been said before, if British industry is to raise the skill content of its output and we are to become leaders again in the manufacture of sophisticated products, we must employ and promote the kind of graduate manpower that is broadly defined under the heading of engineering and technology. I believe that polytechnics are ideally based to provide that manpower and to upgrade our existing managers and technologists. The problem is that they are not in a position to adopt what is nowadays called a strongly pro-active role in that respect. Apart from anything else, they do not have the resources to do so.
I take a lower view of British industry than do some noble Lords. I do not believe that, if we wait for British industry to demand all that, the polytechnics can be reactive. I do not believe that that will ever happen. Therefore, while partly criticising the polytechnics in saying that this is a role they can play, we must also say to the Government that they must do something about the matter. They must provide more resources. Indeed, in terms of showing a belief in technology and 713 science, I should like to believe that the Government would react more strongly in terms of recruiting appropriate people of that kind into the administrative Civil Service. I do not wish to end on a critical note. I simply add that point because I believe that it is important.
One move on which we all ought to agree is to reiterate how important and valuable a set of institutions we possess in the polytechnics, and to say that they could play a most excellent additional role. We want from the Government at least a resource input which will encourage them to play that role and succeed in it.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I should like to start by apologising to the House in advance because I do not think that I shall be able to cover all the points that have been raised by noble Lords. Bearing in mind the time limits on this debate, I should finish more or less on the dot of 7 o'clock—or two minutes before the hour. I shall probably have to omit a few of the points raised. However, I certainly give the assurance that I shall write to any noble Lords whom I do not manage to answer.
Like all other noble Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Longford, for having moved this Motion today. As he pointed out in his notable contribution to the debate on higher education in this House last month, and again this afternoon, we have never had a debate specifically on polytechnics. The Motion calls for attention to be given to the case for increased emphasis on the polytechnics. Despite their major achievements in recent years—to which I shall return—the polytechnics and their achievements are not as widely appreciated as they should be. I am very glad that the noble Earl has seen fit to give this House an opportunity to contribute towards putting that right.
Compared with the universities, the polytechnics are relatively new institutions. They have been making sterling efforts to carve out and disseminate a distinctive and coherent image for themselves to complement the universities. They are making progress, to which today's debate bears witness, but there is still some way to go.
In many cases, they have grown from existing institutions and have rightly sought to build on the strengths of those institutions to create a new identity. The diverse origins of the polytechnics give diverse strengths; but it is essential that the common characteristics of polytechnics are better understood.
One reason for the lack of public perception of the role of the polytechnics is that their common characteristics do not fit the all too prevalent popular stereotype of higher education. I suspect that a significant proportion of the population associate higher education with a traditional and distorted view of university—of academic teaching and research conducted in a gentlemanly, even leisurely way; in other words, the ivory tower.
Of course, most universities—perhaps all—no longer fit that popular stereotype. The polytechnics emphatically do not. They are primarily teaching establishments, and very effective ones. They make 714 a valuable contribution to research in some areas particularly in support of industry. But their fundamental mission is teaching. They are very much in the real world. Their courses have a distinctive vocational emphasis, and they give high priority to making a flexible and tailored response to the needs and demands of students and of their prospective employers.
A good deal has been said this evening to suggest that the difficulty which polytechnics face is essentially one of title; and that the Act passed last year with its clear legal distinction between them and universities has merely reinforced that difficulty. Several noble Lords have suggested that it could be overcome by the simple device of allowing polytechnics to include the word "university" in their title.
The Government recognise that the polytechnics have a real problem with attitudes, and particularly in marketing themselves overseas. Nevertheless, even if it were legally possible for the Government to allow the proposed change of title, it would not necessarily change public perceptions. But it would increase confusion and risk permanently casting first-class polytechnics as second-class universities. The distinctive and special contribution of the polytechnics to higher education might well be lost. The Government remain convinced that publicly expressed self-doubts about image and status are bound to be counterproductive. Last year's Education Reform Act is a great step forward for the polytechnics. It gives a new prominence and status to that sector. This opportunity should be exploited.
There is also a suspicion abroad, occasionally articulated, that polytechnic degrees are of a lower standard than university degrees. Like the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I too should like to give the lie to any such suggestions. Unlike the universities, the polytechnics have had to be publicly accountable for their academic standards to the Council for National Academic Awards which has validated their degrees. It is a mark of the polytechnics' coming of age that the CNAA has accredited all of them to validate their own courses for the award of the CNAA's degrees. Furthermore, many employers clearly regard polytechnic graduates in a favourable light, and professions such as the engineers now accept for membership polytechnic degrees in the same way as university degrees.
Of course uninformed prejudice continues; but, as polytechnic graduates gain positions of influence in our society, I am sure it will diminish. As the demographic downturn in the number of young people puts an increasing premium on qualified manpower, the country can ill-afford not to acknowledge the contribution which the polytechnics make.
It is especially apt that we should be discussing polytechnics now as they are, for the first time, masters of their own destinies. The Education Reform Act marks the coming to full maturity of the polytechnics and other major colleges of higher education. This is a watershed in the development of our higher education system.
715 The polytechnic sector of higher education, as we now understand it, has a relatively short history. Its achievements are all the more admirable for that. Twenty-five years ago there was no real concept of a strong, coherent sector of higher education to run in parallel with and to complement the universities. Perhaps most significant of all, there were only 120,000 higher education students outside the universities. Twenty-five years have seen dramatic develoments. The English polytechnics and colleges now have about 300,000 students, which is roughly the same number as the universities. The growth in numbers has been phenomenal—30 per cent. in the 1980s alone.
The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred in the earlier debate on higher education to the role of the grandfather of my noble and learned friend, Lord Hailsham, in establishing in central London over 100 years ago the first polytechnic. It is true that many of our polytechnics are built on a long and fine tradition of providing education for the less privileged in our society. Their particular strengths—their mission—have been very largely concerned with learning of practical application. At the same time they have brought the benefits of higher education to many who would not otherwise have enjoyed them. It is no coincidence that the polytechnics, with their commitment to part-time courses, have been the focus of the recent increases in the number of students who have entered higher education.
The new era brings new challenges. For the first time the polytechnics are wholly responsible for their own affairs and for charting their future development. There is every sign that they are squaring up to those challenges in a positive way.
Of course a change of this magnitude and complexity has given rise to some concerns. The polytechnics have had a great deal to do in a very short time to prepare themselves for independence. They have been particularly concerned about finance as a result of the removal of topping up, in some cases substantial, of institutional resources by local authorities. Nevertheless, the relative smoothness of the transition is a tribute to the maturity of the polytechnics.
The Government have provided a very significant increase in the resources available to the sector in 1989–90—6 per cent. higher than in the resources available in 1988–89 after taking account of various changes—including the ending of topping-up, inherent in the new status of polytechnics and colleges. We have earmarked some of the funds made available to the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council to assist institutions to make inroads into the problems that they have inherited. In particular, these funds will help in replacing and updating equipment, and in catching up on the maintenance problems of the building stock.
I am most pleased that the right reverend Prelate—a member of the PCFC—has been able to play a part in this debate. The PCFC has a vital role to play, in partnership with the institutions. The council is working with the institutions to get them 716 through the early days of independence in good shape to face the future. For the longer term the council is looking to devise funding arrangements that are not excessively bureaucratic. It has made clear that its role should be that of a facilitator: it is not in the business of second-guessing institutions. The council's consultative document on approaches to funding institutions in 1990 and beyond bears witness to the council's approach.
The Government's view is that polytechnics and colleges should have substantial responsibility for setting and monitoring their own standards. But the PCFC has a very important role in quality too, central to its primary task of securing the effective investment of public money. The PCFC needs to work with the institutions, with validating bodies such as the CNAA, and with Her Majesty's inspectors to develop methods of assessing and monitoring the quality of output. This is a complex and difficult area which I know the PCFC is approaching carefully. But the fact remains that neither the PCFC nor indeed the institutions can do their jobs properly without reliable information on quality. The PCFC's efforts will be of benefit to higher education as a whole.
The 1990s will be a decade of challenge for higher education generally. Competition for 18 year-olds will be more intense. The demands from employers for qualified manpower able to cope with new challenges such as the single European market will grow. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has made clear his concern to see many more students, young and mature, going into higher education. The polytechnics are well placed to respond positively.
Noble Lords have raised a number of points in this debate. I shall endeavour to deal with some of them. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, my noble friend Lord Limerick, the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, and others, raised the question of resources. The Government have provided over £1,100 million for the new sector. The £1,030 million available for recurrent expenditure includes some £32 million to cover costs of transition to the new sector of which £ 10 million is to help with restructuring. For future resources the Government will be considering the need for public expenditure including expenditure on the needs of the PCFC sector from year to year in the normal way. The PCFC is responsible for advising the Government on the resource needs of the sector and we shall take that advice into account on reaching decisions.
With regard to comparison with university resourcing, comparison of funding of universities and polytechnics is not a comparison of like with like. Universities and polytechnics are different types of institutions with different missions and different staffing and, typically, different kinds of premises and facilities to maintain. The essential difference is that universities are historically funded to undertake research as well as to teach. The research function adds considerably to the cost of the university system. The Government intend to take steps to distinguish more clearly between the funding of university teaching and research so that 717 both activities will be seen to be carried out to the highest possible standard in a cost-effective way.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, perhaps I may intervene. As I understand it, the noble Lord's department has undertaken work which shows that even when one makes the most generous allowance for the research effort of universities—leaving in the remainder as comparable for teaching—the universities are still excessively generously treated compared with the polytechnics; or, to put it the other way round, the polytechnics are not reasonably well treated. I understand that his department has done that work. Perhaps in due course he will let us know about it.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Lord on that matter. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, mentioned two figures, one of £3,200 received per polytechnic student; and the other of £5,000 received per university student. There is a big difference. My understanding is that most of that difference was for research. If I am wrong, I shall let the noble Lord know.
The noble Lords, Lord Glenamara and Lord Kilmarnock, mentioned the PCFC approach to funding. We look to the PCFC to develop funding arrangements but recognise that funds allocated are an exchange for the provision of teaching and research and are conditional upon their delivery. How this principle is put into practice is a matter for the PCFC.
The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, was anxious to ensure that the funding arrangements were not excessively bureaucratic. We wish to ensure that they are not excessively bureaucratic but that they respect the distinctive characteristics of higher education, do not jeopardise the pursuit of research or scholarship, and do not deprive the institutions of the flexibility that they need to seize new opportunities.
Various noble Lords asked about tuition fees. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, referred to concern about the impact of the Government's tuition fee proposals on part-time students. It was also raised by my noble friend Lord Limerick, the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, and others. The Government's proposal is to increase the full-time publicly funded undergraduate tuition fee to £1,600 in 1990–91, and to introduce a differentiated fee structure from 1991–92. The higher fee will continue to be met under the mandatory award arrangements.
There will be an associated shift of public funds from grant to fees across the system as a whole approaching £500 million in 1990–91. But both funding councils will retain a strategic role in the funding of, and provision in, the two sectors. This shift of funds is only in respect of mandatory awards. In other words, current public funding of places for students without such awards, including part-time students, will remain with the funding councils. We see no difficulty in their being able to maintain the current level of support for part-time courses thus obviating any need for fee increases. The Government are clear that their proposals should not discourage part-time students from entering higher education, and there is no reason why they should have to pay more. Beyond that the funding of 718 part-time provision must be a matter for the funding councils.
Finally, I hope that our debate today will have shown the country that this House does not underestimate the very significant and distinctive contribution that the polytechnics and colleges sector has already made to higher education in this country. The institutions' records speak for themselves.
Continuing improvements to our higher education system have a key role in the continuing success and prosperity of the nation. The Government believe that the polytechnics and colleges have a vital contribution to make in securing those improvements and are confident of their ability to do so.
§ 6.58 p.m.
§ The Earl of Longford
My Lords, in the two minutes left to me, I have time only to express my thanks and admiration to all the speakers. We have had a number of brilliant contributions and I shall not continue the argument. I express my especial gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who wound up so effectively for us. I thank the Minister for the usual charm and courtesy of his reply—when I can get his attention!
The Minister will forgive me if I say that I found his answer disappointing—or I would find it disappointing if I thought that it was the Government's last word. Last week I ventured to send a draft of my speech to the Secretary of State. His secretary replied that he was abroad—I do not know whether he is still abroad—but that he will give full consideration to everything that is said today when he returns. I hope therefore that this is an interim reply due to the absence of the Secretary of State on holiday somewhere and that when he returns full weight will be given to all that has been said this afternoon.
Once again, I am very grateful to the Minister and to all the other speakers. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.