HL Deb 28 February 1990 vol 516 cc740-76

3.11 p.m.

Lord Annan rose to call attention to the case for a policy for higher education; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, today I am asking the Government what their policy is on higher education because no one in the universities, polytechnics and colleges appears to know.

The Secretary of State and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary responsible for higher education are too young to have been required to undertake military service. Mr. Baker undertook military service but, as he became an instructor in the Libyan army in gunnery, he may have forgotten one of the lessons that the army teaches its officers. It is this: always tell the troops you command—whether they are in a platoon or, as in the case of Lord Montgomery, an army group—what your plan is; what your intentions are; where you expect to go; what hardships there are on the way which must be endured; and why that is the best way to reach your objective.

At the beginning of the 1980s everyone knew what the Government's policy was. They were determined to cut public expenditure and as a result 450 dons were retired early. But when Sir Keith Joseph, as he then was, became Secretary of State, the tone of faint regret turned into a snarl. He waved Mr. Corelli Barnett's book in the faces of his officials and told the universities that they were idle, teaching the wrong subjects and doing little to make Britain more prosperous. So tenure was abolished and universities were forbidden to take more students. Academic salaries were cut in real terms, presumably in order to make teaching in higher education less attractive and to drive graduates into other occupations. Is that now the policy of the Government?

They may well have in mind two reports written in the 1960s by the noble Lord, Lord Swann, in which he pointed out that the universities had Peloponesian habits; like Pelops they ate their own children. In those days 50 per cent. of graduates in physics went into universities or into teaching following academic careers and only 10 per cent. went into industry. But that can hardly apply today.

No one, certainly no former vice-chancellor, can have criticised more than I the failure of universities and polytechnics to respond in the 1960s and early 1970s to Government's hints and nudges. In those days, when money was still pouring into higher education, the slightest check to the flow brought moans that morale was shaken and the rate of the brain drain was alarming.

But today morale in higher education really is at rock bottom and the brain drain is not an illusion. Dons are not ready to accept Mr. Jackson's blithe reassurance that as many members of staff are draining back to our universities as are draining away to America and elsewhere. The dons are not reassured because the count neglects the quality and age of those leaving compared with those who are returning.

I believe that the Government's policy is to give top priority to the teaching and training of 16 year-olds. If that is so, why not tell the universities and polytechnics that funds must go first to JTS, YTS, ET and now BGT? There are so many schemes that they now resemble alphabet soup. But can the Secretary of State encourage universities and polytechnics by saying, "Yes, this effort has top priority but I have extra funds for the work so you will not suffer"? How many of those schemes are financed from the votes of the Departments of Employment and Trade and Industry? Should not the college have top priority? Is the Secretary of State satisfied that the colleges are providing sufficient full-time courses leading to the higher national diplomas as well as for diplomas and certificates for part-time students? Or does he envisage the polytechnics increasing their share of such

The Government are being urged to reward the polytechnics for the admirable way in which they have accepted many more students with hardly any increase in staff. Naturally, polytechnics and their advocates—such as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford—have argued that they wish them to be funded on the same level as universities.

On that issue my mind goes back to 1962. I then urged that the colleges of advanced technology (CATs) should be upgraded to universities. I thought that technology should be given the same status as pure science and that we needed to encourage the new universities to follow the example of the CATs and introduce sandwich-course degrees.

Following the Robbins Report the CATs were upgraded. What happened? Not a single university introduced sandwich courses, the CATs dropped their diploma work and their costs escalated enormously without a single additional student being educated.

We must have some cheap higher education. Do not let the ship which is carrying all the additional students—who last night we said were so important to our economy—run aground on the rock of parity of esteem. Have the Government considered giving encouragement to the polytechnics now that they are admirably undertaking the work for which they were set up; that is, the national diploma and the three-year degree courses? Have the Government considered giving the polytechnics priority over universities in the DES capital programme? If so, are they prepared to tell the universities and the polytechnics that that is their

The universities deserve recognition for the way in which they have changed during the past decade. They have at last responded to government requests that they should introduce more vocational studies. How do the Government intend to finance universities? The last Secretary of State appeared to have worked on the dubious principle of "pull devil, pull Baker". In other words, he set up as chairman of the new Universities Funding Council the noble Lord, Lord Chilver. The noble Lord seems to believe that all should be left to market forces, whereas the head executive of that body, Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer, is a convinved dirigiste. Are the Government expecting that student demand will determine which universities will flourish and which will be left to wither? Will students be allowed to take their fees with them and study what they will, where they will? Are universities to do as was forecast; to bid against each other for students? Will the university prepared to take more students at the lowest cost be the one favoured by the

I hope that in her reply to the debate the noble Baroness will not shelter behind the existence of the UFC. I am sure that she will not. I understand that these days the vice-chancellors are in and out of the Secretary of State's office almost every month. The Government must have a policy towards universities. What is it? Perhaps the noble Baroness can reassure some of us by announcing that market forces and student choice are not regarded as being the best ways in which to finance universities. If vouchers come in, the numbers opting for science and engineering will inevitably decline. If universities are to operate on trends, then what they are famous for—scholarship and learning—will perish.

Is it the policy of the UFC to fund research in universities according to the results of the inquiries into the excellence of departments which have been made in past years, at great inconvenience, no doubt, to universities? Of course, many dons have sneered and protested at the methods of those inquiries in determining excellence. However, numbers of dispassionate observers believe that by and large the inquiries got it right. Can we now assume that the half dozen or so institutions will receive preferential treatment in research allocations but that outstanding departments in other universities will receive an indicated increment for research in the UFC grant? You cannot have 50 Caltechs or Berkeleys in Britain, and if you try to do so, you will end by having none.

However, I must ask: do the Government value Nobel prizemen? I must ask that because now the cliché seems to be gaining ground in government circles that such research is self-indulgence and that only vocational research matters. If the Government want an example of what a powerful scientific mind can bring to bear on a problem, let them read the devastating speech made last night by the noble Lord, Lord Swann. He exposed the phoney reasoning in the White Paper which was attempting to make a numerical assessment of the so-called social rate of return of university studies.

Why do the Government so often give the impression that they despise the humanities? The national heritage is not just country houses and works of art. It is also our literature and cultural traditions. As a historian, I am old-fashioned enough to believe that history teaches us not only how society works but also statesmanship. The humanities teach us how to distinguish between merit and the meretricious. Perhaps that is why governments are not too keen on the humanities.

I have spent a good part of my life most unsuccessfully trying to persuade universities to change their ways. I know how dispiriting that is. Therefore, I have more sympathy with Ministers from both Front Benches than have most academics. Whatever change is proposed, an outcry follows. Last night the outcry was on loans. In 1967, two years after I entered your Lordships' House, the subject of outcry was the introduction of a differential between overseas students and home students made by Mr. Tony Crossland. The howl that went up then was at least the equal of what happened last night.

I must finish by reverting to my theme and my military metaphor. Ten years ago the universities and polytechnics were fed hard rations and put on the square to be drilled, chivvied and shouted at by Mr. Robert Jackson who was promoted to the rank of regimental sergeant major. The time has now come to replace the RSM on the square by the commanding officer.

The new Secretary of State has the advantage of being a Scot and therefore prejudiced in favour of education. Could he not meet the directors of the polytechnics and then the vice-chancellors and tell them what is his strategy and listen to their comments? I know that in all good faith last night the Paymaster General told us that the Secretary of State had consulted the vice-chancellors about the scheme. I have had an opportunity of looking at the correspondence. It seems that what happened was that in January the Secretary of State wrote to the universities and asked them for their views on the loan scheme. The universities then replied. In a letter dated 3rd March 1989 they said that they had other ideas in mind, one of which was the graduate tax. It was to that letter that they never received any response so I am informed. Of course, I am not for one moment suggesting that the Paymaster General was in any way trying to delude the House on this matter but it is precisely on that kind of issue that I really believe that the Government could improve their record.

The Government have a political philosophy and principles. However, that is really only one reason why they come into conflict with the universities. Could the Government not try to help and inform those in higher education? Could they not put the men and women who are in higher education in the picture? I use a World War II expression. You will not make them happy. Times are far too hard. You are asking them to change their ways and to take more students. You are having to curtail the activities on which they like to spend their time such as research and learning. However, you have to convince them that that is right. If you try, you may perhaps win their respect. At the moment, you have lost it. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.28 p.m.

Lord Prior

My Lords, I am very pleased to follow the noble Lord, but I do so with a good deal of trepidation because he has a lifetime of experience in higher education and particularly university education and I have practically none. When I was up at Cambridge I believe that the noble Lord was a tutor at King's. At that time one of his pupils was Mr. Simon Raven, the novelist. He and I have shared an interest of one sort or another in Mr. Simon Raven and his writing ever since. Sometimes we have wished to disown him, but on other occasions we have perhaps been quite proud of what he has said.

One thing I know is that anybody like myself taking part in a debate of this nature is bound to be shown up for his lack of knowledge because this is a veritable minefield and the more that one delves into it, the more difficult it becomes to decipher. Therefore I shall spend a few moments saying something from the point of view of an industrialist and how I look at higher education in that regard.

I do that because the Council for Industry and Higher Education was set up somewhat at my instigation after I left government some five years ago. It seemed to me all the time that I was in government—and it certainly seemed to me with my interest in industry—that there was a very considerable gulf between what industry thought about higher education and what higher education thought about industry. In a very quiet and economic way the council has tried to examine the points of view of both and to try, wherever possible, to bring both closer to each other.

The purpose of the Council for Industry and Higher Education is based on the identification and acceptance of common objectives for developing higher education so as to produce a more highly and broadly educated nation—and from what the noble Lord said, that must of course include humanities—and one which is able to compete with the most successful and advanced industrial economies.

The fact that we have had two debates on successive days on higher education should not be thought of as a mere quirk of the parliamentary timetable so much as an intense interest and concern about what is happening and needs to happen. I know that the noble Lord has some sympathy for Ministers. I only pity my noble friend who has to reply to the question which the noble Lord asked. Thank goodness I am no longer a Minister!

Although there is no evidence from the past to support the view that more higher education leads to more economic growth—over the past few years one could perhaps make out that the contrary has happened—most people believe that educated and highly educated people are the key to success in the market place of the future.

The Council for Industry and Higher Education, which consists of a majority of fairly tough industrialists, put forward a strategy to change our higher education system from one geared to a small minority to a more open system which will bring many more people to a higher general level of education than they now attain. It also stated that larger numbers, more widely recruited, were needed with a diversity of learning opportunities at different stages in their lives, and a broader education balanced towards maths and technology as a foundation for later specialisation. It should not be entirely maths and science based because industry requires people who are well educated and able to think for themselves rather than simply having specialist knowledge. There is therefore a need for those people.

Playing the numbers game for a moment, the latest figures show that there will be a growth in employment of around 7 per cent. in the years up to 1995, but a growth in the need for graduates of 17.5 per cent. Graduates will therefore be needed. The Government suggested a doubling of numbers in 25 years; having suggested that, they started to edge away from it, but at least they made the suggestion and should be kept to that rather minimum undertaking.

That growth has to happen against a falling supply, so we need to attract into higher education those who are less qualified academically and those from different social classes than the majority come from at the moment. It is a fact that social groups 3 to 5—if one can define them—are apparently 68 per cent. of the population, but only 7.5 per cent. of them qualify for higher education. There is therefore something definitely wrong there.

We need to attract more part-timers, more older people and more people from the ethnic minorities. How do we do that? We need to change the culture—this is where Parliament and the Government come in—to make higher education for us and not just for them. A house, a car and a college education must become the natural aspiration of all people. We must move from an elite to a mass system, though I do not doubt that there will always be some elite, and I certainly think that there should be.

That means pupils staying on at school after 16. Incidentally, there is a great improvement in that regard, and that is helpful. It means there must be courses relevant to the life and work of the people we wish to attract to them. We need to attract women and mature students and also those who qualify by vocational routes. With regard to women, if, by the year 2000, we could equal the number of women obtaining two or more A-levels—which at present happens in Scotland—we could add a quarter to the total number of people in England and Wales going on to higher education. That speaks well for the Scottish system and for women within the Scottish system who are actually at the top of the whole system, as no doubt my noble friend. Lady Carnegy of Lour will point out. Through a whole range of access courses we could improve the uptake of people attending polytechnics and universities.

The system also needs—and this is where I part company from the noble Lord—to be more customer-orientated. In the past it has been too producer-orientated and some change towards what the customer requires is needed. It has been happening, but needs to go further.

How will we pay for all this? It is very important not to fudge that particular issue. I simply do not believe that any government of any party will ever find the money required to expand the university and higher education system, as much as many of us believe is necessary, entirely from the taxpayer without other sources of money becoming available. That is just a con on the public to believe that that is likely to happen. It has not happened in the past and I do not believe it will happen in the future.

How will we bridge the gap that there is bound to be? There is still room for greater efficiency in the system, though as the noble Lord pointed out there has been considerable improvement in the past 10 years and in some respects perhaps the squeeze has gone too far. There will certainly be a need for some extra government money; the polytechnics in particular will require some new capital investment.

Yesterday we discussed student loans. I see no alternative but to encourage student loans, and I think they have an important part to play. There may also perhaps need to be some switch from block grants to fees so that students can obtain more money from local authorities and rely less on central government. That has the great advantage that it would be demand-led in technical Treasury terms and perhaps not be so objectionable as otherwise it might be. We need new methods of teaching. We will need to make much better use of distance learning than we have so far.

Industry can help, but it will need the assurance that it is not just there to fill a hole which the Government make in advance. Industry wants to feel that it is putting additional money into the system and not substituting money for that which the Government would otherwise put in. In this regard the professions and the City should be encouraged to do a great deal more. Professions and businesses—the commercial sector—are now taking more graduates than the whole of industry, yet they contribute practically nothing towards the cost. There is a great deal more to be done there and I hope the Secretary of State puts a lot more pressure on the City and the professions to play a larger part.

There is perhaps room for more research money; but basically the Government have preserved the research element going to higher education reasonably well. There is also the problem of morale. In politics one becomes used to people telling one that morale in a certain organisation is bad. In my political life I have rarely known morale in any organisation to be particularly good. However, I think morale is bad at the moment, particularly in the universities. We have to recognise that. I am not certain that remarks made yesterday by Mr. Morgan of the Institute of Directors were designed to improve matters very much. I do not think one can blame the establishment, the university establishments and the Bishop of Peterborough for everything that has gone wrong over the past 20 years.

There is a strong case for more and better higher education, but it requires the co-operation and understanding of us all if we are to have the improvement we need. Some of the good will that exists between industry and higher education must help to mend the breaches and promote the keen, able and dedicated to get on with their job.

I conclude by saying to all noble Lords that I have enormous confidence in the Secretary of State. He is a sound, sensible Scot. If he is not listening or has not listened in the past, I am certain that from now on he will listen. He is the type of man who wants to steady the whole system and build confidence back into it. For those reasons I wish him every possible success.

Lord Hatch of Lusby

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down perhaps I may ask him a question; I did not want to interrupt him during the course of his speech. Did I hear him aright that his ambition is that every person in this country should have a house, education and a car? I stress "and a car". If I am right has he spoken to the Secretary of State for the Environment about the effect that that is likely to have on the environment?

Lord Prior

My Lords, I do not have any objection to answering that. Very nearly everyone has a car now. However, I want people to regard a car, a house and a college as all being important parts of their future careers and aspirations. That is what is important. If after having obtained a car they prefer to travel by train, that will suit GEC even better.

3.42 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I am happy to follow the noble Lord though I hope not to follow his example and overstep the time limit. Of course I may also overrun but I am simply stating a fact.

I was glad that in referring to morale the noble Lord appeared to draw a distinction between the universities and the polytechnics. I say nothing about the universities because it is many years since as a college tutor I was qualified to say anything about them. However, as far as I can see morale in the polytechnics has never been so high. The noble Lord, Lord Annan—to whom I shall be referring, I am afraid, in a way that will not altogether please him—said on a previous occasion that the polytechnics were the success story of the 1980s. Therefore, let us be clear in that respect: morale in the polytechnics is extremely high; morale in the universities remains an open question.

This House is replete with men of academic genius or at any rate talent. I need only look across the Chamber to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, my old college friend the noble Lord, Lord Blake, and on the Bench below me my noble friend Lord Peston. There is also the noble Earl, Lord Russell, although he appears to have fled the Chamber. The place is full of professors or noble Lords who ought to have been professors if they had had their rights.

Among them all no one has exceeded the academic achievements of the noble Lord, Lord Annan. He comes before us as a supreme elitist. He was Provost of King's College at the age of 40 and perhaps has never quite lost that point of view. At any rate he will not have any use for the poor old polytechnics and I regret that I must disagree with him totally in his whole approach to the subject. He went out of his way, if I may put it in that fashion, to say that there should be no parity of esteem.

I am desperately anxious not to follow the example of the exalted noble Lord opposite and overstep my time, so perhaps I should say at once that I am arguing today for parity of esteem, parity of funding and parity of opportunities. Therefore, there can be no meeting point between the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and myself. He will of course have the final word and no doubt will make some concession or alternatively try to debunk me. We shall see. At any rate that is the position.

We must bear in mind that the polytechnics cover more than half of all higher education and yet the noble Lord who has selected this subject for debate has gone out of his way to say that they should not have parity of esteem. That message will intensely anger the polytechnics. I do not suggest that there will be any loss of morale, rather the adrenalin will flow more strongly through their veins when they hear that pronouncement.

I need to give the House some facts about polytechnics and if during the course of that a noble Lord intervenes to ask whether I am reading my speech I can only say that I shall wait until he delivers his speech and apply the same treatment. There are certain facts about the polytechnics and it is as well to read out the figures rather than appear to be making them up as one goes along.

I am sure we are all aware—I hope the noble Lord, Lord Annan, will agree—that the standards of polytechnics are now as high as those of the universities. Their degrees have the same value. Both groups are partly funded by the state. However, parity of esteem is not to be conceded by, so to speak, the champion from King's College. That is the situation we face today and there is no getting round it.

I refer to the old universities and what I call the best colleges. When I was at Eton with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, I knew of only one college anyway. That was King's College, Cambridge, because that is where all the Eton scholars went—except the noble and learned Lord. At any rate, we knew about King's College and I understand why they see themselves as being on a pinnacle. They look down on these wretched interlopers who nevertheless have had success, albeit on a lower level altogether. I am bound to say that that is the impression left by the noble Lord. I am speaking warmly on behalf of half the higher education in the country which will be very much affronted by that way of looking at the position.

I now give a few facts. Of course we have this binary line. As I said on a previous occasion, I have a slightly guilty past in this respect because when I held a responsible position in this House I defended it when I did not know what it amounted to; but that was 20 years ago. Today I believe that all who have looked into the matter agree that the binary line has had it. It is the binary line that is at the root of the trouble. While it exists we will have this distinction between the universities and the polytechnics, all to the advantage of the universities.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and most noble Lords who spoke last night that we must have far more resources devoted to the universities. However, do not let me convey to the Government the impression that a gain for the polytechnics should necessarily be a loss for the universities. Taking the amount allocated by the government of the day to higher education, all I am suggesting is equality of opportunity—the right to compete on equal terms. One either concedes that or one does not, but it is not being conceded at present. That is a fact.

The noble Lord, Lord Annan, was quick to concede today and has done so on previous occasions that the polytechnics have greatly increased their intake. In 1989–90 the polytechnics increased their intake of students by 24 per cent. Their reward is to see funding per student for next year, 1990–91, cut by a further 2.6 per cent. That is the way the polytechnics are being treated.

In 10 years the funding per student in polytechnics has been reduced by over 20 per cent. but in universities funding has marginally increased. That discrepancy is increasing the whole time at the expense of polytechnics. I am dealing entirely with facts, whatever conclusions one wants to draw from them. I shall not go into detail because there is no time. I merely want the House to realise the way that steadily, as time goes on, the polytechnics, which are the success story of the 1980s according to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, are being discriminated against.

The polytechnics have suffered years of neglect in funding, building repairs and equipment purchases. It is estimated that over £700 million is required to put the buildings into good order. Obviously the polytechnics need far more help than they are receiving.

The universities have been able to stay more or less equipped, but the polytechnics are having a very hard time compared with the universities. There is not an ideal standard, but I am comparing the polytechnics with the universities. The polytechnics do not receive enough funding to replace outdated equipment. These are policy decisions which can be altered tomorrow. I hope I have not said anything offensive to the noble Lord, Lord Prior, but I am ready to believe almost anything that he said, including the fact that because a man is a Scotsman he is going to make a better Minister for Education. I see no reason to believe that at all. I am wearing an Irish rugby union tie and no one would think that because I am an Irishman I would be better as Minister for Education, or even if I were a Welshman. We on these Benches have been accused of being run by the Welsh "Tafia". These racial discriminations are not helpful.

I am quite ready to wish the new man luck but I doubt whether he will be anything like as good as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I hope that I have made at least one convert in the course of these remarks. The new man has the chance to provide equality of opportunity between the two sectors, the first represented by King's College, which probably looks down on all the other colleges, even Trinity I should think. The second is represented by the polytechnics. They will rise bursting to serve the community. I hope that this Government—and no party issue can possible be involved here—will see the light. I feel that there is no man in this country who if he once became converted would be more like St. Paul than the noble Lord, Lord Annan.

3.52 p.m.

Viscount Hanworth

My Lords, it must be more than 20 years ago when, with great temerity and as a much younger man, I attacked university education as being inefficient and not meeting the nation's needs. This I did after a Reith lecture given by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, which was largely in favour of what the universities were doing. Believe it or not, this was at a time when it was seriously thought that whatever was taught at a university and however badly it was taught, it was self-justifying because it was taught at a university or an upgraded polytechnic.

Much has changed since then, but I think that periodically we should look at the aims of higher education and consider how well we are meeting them. I suggest to noble Lords that there are three main headings: first, to train future academics and research workers (in the main that is what universities have always done fairly well); secondly, to teach students disciplines which are likely to be useful to themselves and to the nation when they are employed afterwards; and thirdly, to enlarge students' minds to fulfil their academic interests and, it is hoped, make them more rounded people and better citizens.

I would like to consider the last two aims in more detail. I question whether we have fully exploited what I term methods of instruction. Most certainly, even experienced lecturers can improve their techniques. Brief seminars and discussions for the staff are needed. Some universities have decided to do that and others are still lagging behind. I am sure that for most students, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has said, mixed courses are desirable. For example, to spend three years studying economics is wrong unless the student is likely to become an academic. Some other added disciplines are required. For example, some knowledge of management skills and even a superficial knowledge of accountancy are useful and important.

Under this heading I believe that sandwich courses are all important. During their academic work students should become acquainted with the harsher and often less satisfactory life outside. In the University of Surrey all disciplines, even music, have to adopt the sandwich course to a greater or lesser extent.

I now turn to the much more difficult third aim. It had been hoped that education would make people more reasonable. I mean that it was hoped that educated people would take a more reasoned and balanced point of view whatever their political persuasion. That has not been the case. Here I stick my neck out. Many lecturers on subjects within this category have come direct from university with no experience of life outside.

I want to put forward a long thought-out personal view which to me is of great importance. Surely, one purpose of education is to teach people to think clearly. By that I mean that they should first logically consider the arguments for and against a course of action and only after doing so should they weigh the factors using their experience and emotional views. But they must be able to analyse the reasons for their weightings. So often people adopt a reverse procedure. They decide what they feel and then look around for the arguments to support their view.

I believe that the approach I have described could easily be taught under the banner of some recognised discipline. One would start with an historical situation which today has little emotional content and build up gradually to some issues which are highly controversial and emotive. If the approach I have described was more common, much of the bitterness and misunderstanding would be eliminated in discussion on controversial issues. I would like to continue with this theme in more detail, but I believe that if I have interested noble Lords at all in this matter then I have probably said enough.

I wish to make one further point which I have made many times over the years. Though I was at Cambridge and took a degree there, the best mental training that I ever received was at the Army staff college. I believe that universities might take that to heart. Finally, I make the point that I believe both universities and technical colleges have slightly different roles to play in higher education. The rather more down-to-earth approach of technical colleges is better for some students rather than that of the more sophisticated university teaching methods. We now require both.

I hope that greater status will be given in the future to the technical colleges and, at the same time, to the teachers and not just the researchers. Some people have said that part-time researchers are impossible; in other words, women who might do this simply could not be employed. My reply to that is in that case most of the university professors and lecturers should be sacked.

4 p.m.

Lord Hunter of Newington

My Lords, I should like to add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for his stimulating introduction to this debate. I wish to make reference to one aspect of higher education in medicine. I refer to the provision of funding for clinical teaching and research centres, the facilities of which are funded by the National Health Service and the Department of Education and Science through the universities.

For many years there has been a very happy relationship between the two departments concerned. This allowed for the creation of medical teaching centres where the medical school was embedded in the hospital. I was concerned with the development of these centres in the 1960s. One thing that made it possible was the knock-for-knock principle between the Department of Health and the Department of Education and Science and amicable agreements on the sharing of capital costs with the University Grants Committee. The universities and the National Health Service both derived enormous benefit from this close relationship in relation to education, research and service to patients.

Two things have happened in recent years which could possibly jeopardise the relationship. There were the recommendations of the Croham Committee about university funding and the creation of the Universities Funding Council to replace the University Grants Committee which operated substantially on block grants. There was also the Government's White Paper, Working for Patients and the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. The Bill proposes very substantial consideration and recording of financial details within the health service. The University Grants Committee had arrangements with the Medical Research Council about overheads. Will those arrangements continue with the Universities Funding Council?

Because of these changes, the Government set up a steering group chaired by the Permanent Secretary in the Department of Health, Sir Christopher France. The group examined the position with the intention that good will and constructive relationships would not be jeopardised, but at the same time recognising that many previously informal relationships might have to be more explicitly defined and better quantified. The first report of the steering group in June 1989 indicated that a further range of matters should be examined before the group presented its final recommendations. Will the Minister indicate whether it is possible to give the House further information about these matters? They are vitally important for the future welfare of the health service, student training and medical research in this country.

I remember vividly my first visit to the Stanford Medical Centre in California. As we went through the front door of the building, I asked the dean about the enormous object which confronted us. He told me that it was the computer which was there to help to divide the costs between the university and the city. Nowadays of course computers are much smaller. This is a complicated business. For example, a patient admitted to hospital will first be seen by staff who are health service employees. He may then be taken to the wards to be seen by a professor of medicine who is paid by the university. The equipment used for investigating his illness may be provided by a charity, while the person supervising the use of that equipment may be funded by another charity. It is important that some agreement on these matters should be reached which recognises the enormous input into the medical centres by charitable foundations.

Will the Minister also indicate how these matters will be conducted in the new amalgamated medical schools in London? What is the relationship of the governing bodies of the schools to the National Health Service? Will she be kind enough to indicate whether any of the difficulties that we fear have in fact occurred in the complex London situation?

4.5 p.m.

Lord Blake

My Lords, I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for raising this subject for debate. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, was rather severe on the noble Lord but I am sure that he will be well capable of looking after himself when he comes to reply. So I shall not dwell on that aspect of the matter.

I have only one main point to make. I regret that in this House both today and yesterday there has been an inordinate degree of personalisation about the Department of Education and Science. Some noble Lords have spoken as though Mr. Robert Jackson is a kind of demon figure, while on the other side my noble friend Lord Prior said that the Secretary of State has an advantage because he is a Scotsman. Noble Lords should remember that both Ministers merely represent the Government. Can anyone imagine that the proposals on student loans and so on would have gone to the House of Commons let alone come before your Lordships' House had not the Prime Minister, with her passion for detail, approved of them? I think that it is personalising the matter to dwell too much on those people.

The noble Lord, Lord Annan, is surely right—by which I suppose I mean that I agree with him—that there is not at present a policy for higher education, and that there ought to be one. What we get from the DES is very much on a piecemeal basis. We hear announcements of plans to double the numbers of people in higher education and of methods of financing higher education, to one aspect of which we devoted eight dreary and sometimes rather cantankerous hours yesterday. We do not get a clear declaration of what the Government actually have in mind as the purpose of higher education, or a clear definition of the role which particular varieties of institution are intended to play.

I have never been quite clear what the relationship is supposed to be between universities and polytechnics and which functions they are supposed to perform and which functions they actually do perform. I was interested in what the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said on this point but I am still none the wiser about exactly what they are meant to do. I know that the polytechnics have now been freed from LEA control, something which most of them greatly welcomed. I know that they have their own machinery for funding. I know too that they are a much cheaper form of education. The cost per student is less than two-thirds of the figure for university students. But what do they actually do? How do they differ in function?

I always thought the difference was roughly that courses in polytechnics were vocational, technical and practical whereas in universities courses were academic, though there are obvious exceptions such as medicine and law in universities. I thought this until I was told on good authority three or four years ago that one of the London polytechnics—I cannot remember which—had the largest intake of philosophers among all the institutions of higher education in the United Kingdom. I believe that this is no longer true today but it certainly suggests that there was at least until fairly recently a curious blurring of the edges.

I read in the press only the other day of a director of one of the polytechnics declaring that what he would really like is for the polytechnics to be renamed as universities. I had a lot of sympathy with his reasons for wanting this. He said that most employers did not even bother to interview polytechnic graduates, and that the CNAA degree was not understood as a qualification in large parts of Britain by employers, let alone abroad where he said that it cut no ice at all.

Perhaps I may say at once that I regard this as a deplorable state of affairs—that is, if is true, for I have no means of checking the position. However, if it is the case, the polytechnics have every cause to feel that it is very unfair. No wonder they would prefer to have the cachet of the name "university", if that matters, and, presumably, the power to award their own degree which would be implicit in that change.

But polytechnics were not set up to be a kind of second tier of universities and I imagine that the Government have no intention of changing the situation. They were intended to have a purpose and function of their own, distinct from that of universities but of an equal status with them. They should have parity of esteem, as has already been said. That was a famous piece of jargon a few years ago but, nevertheless, it means something.

I think we need a clear definition of the role of polytechnics and the respects in which it differs from that of universities. Such a definition should not be an obscure leaflet tucked away in a pigeon-hole in the Department of Education and Science; it should be a lucid document with wide publicity in the world of higher education. It should be a document issued after suitable consultation with other education organisations and it should be issued in the end on the authority of the Secretary of State. One would never get agreement among vice-chancellors, principals and directors. There is no hope whatever of that. However, he should at least consult closely and produce a document which makes clear what really are their roles. At present they are very blurred and it would be a help to all of us who are interested in higher education to know what they are.

I should like to make just two further points before I sit down. They concern the universities. I believe that sooner or later in the field of science, and in particular scientific research, the Universities Funding Council will have to take on the invidious task—that is, if it has not done so already—of selecting some universities as centres of excellence and concentrating its resources upon them. Other forms of research such as those that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and myself have been engaged in—namely, historical, literary, philosophic and even economic—are relatively inexpensive. They do not cost a lot of money. However, scientific research is enormously expensive and becoming increasingly more so. A mass spectrometer—I do not really know what that is, but I read about it somewhere—costs £1 million. Therefore, even if it was considered to be desirable, you could not scatter such equipment all over the place.

As a student of humanities, I do not think that I am in any way criticising or denigrating science research. I do not share the view of the wife of the head of an Oxford college who in 1926 found herself sitting next to Professor Lindemann, who some noble Lords may well remember. He was then a young man in his early thirties who later became Lord Cherwell. Incidentally, he is the only professor who has ever played tennis at Wimbledon. The wife turned to him after a long pause and said, "I suppose, Professor Lindemann, that anyone who has read Greats can get up science in a year or two". It was a remark which that somewhat acerbic character did not lightly forget or forgive.

If only on cost grounds, I suspect that the way ahead will lie more and more with the establishment in the field of science of what are called interdisciplinary research centres, or IRCs. An example is Oxford's first such body which was recently set up, the Oxford Centre for Molecular Sciences, and which was opened by the Prime Minister last July. I believe that it will be necessary for the Government in their various manifestations—namely, the UFC research councils and so on—to concentrate resources more and more in a few places and grasp the rather disagreeable nettle of frankly saying that some universities will simply not receive this form of funding.

Having said that, I must wholeheartedly agree that the university system as a whole is suffering from gross underfunding. It may be that universities were over-generously treated in the years of post-Robbins euphoria. Certainly there was a good deal of waste at that time; but there is not any now. Cuts are reaching the stage of seriously impairing the ability of universities to carry out their functions, though why Oxford University thought it could improve matters by denying the Prime Minister an honorary degree passes my comprehension. No sillier act has ever been performed by a great university anywhere.

The Government's only policy seems to be to urge universities to raise money from industry, banks, business and so on. But, as the Chancellor of Oxford University, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, said in an earlier debate on higher education, it is quite unrealistic to expect such fund raising to have more than a marginal effect. Oxford's aim of £200 million by no means covers all that is needed. Moreover, Oxford and Cambridge have quite exceptional advantages for fund raising, although they also have one or two drawbacks.

Comparisons with America are misleading. There the whole culture and tradition are different and a system of tax breaks makes painless giving possible in a manner which would only get through here over the Treasury's dead body—a phenomenon we are unlikely to see. I think that there is no alternative but for the Government to view with more sympathy and understanding the real problems of university finance. It is as simply as that: to spend more money. We do not expect the Treasury scrooges to produce a turkey, but even a partridge or a brace would be a help.

4.16 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, whatever may be our differences on education policy—and I do not propose to follow the noble Earl, Lord Longford, in his passage of arms with the noble Lord, Lord Annan—there is one aspect upon which everyone seems to agree; namely, that the number of those staying on in full-time education after the age of 16 is insufficient and that our student population as a whole is insufficient to provide the skills that we shall need to survive the full implementation of the Common Market and competition from newly industrialising countries with labour costs lower than our own.

If that fact is accepted, it is certainly worth setting indicative targets for student numbers, as Mr. Baker did, and which the noble Lord, Lord Prior mentioned. However, we shall not achieve them or anything like them unless we first manage to eliminate, or at any rate much reduce, the many disincentives to higher and further education which still exist. Today, therefore, I want to devote most of my speech to the twilight zone between school and higher education, between further and higher education and between mature students and their goals. These are shadowy areas in which there are many trip wires, hurdles, conflicting signposts and other impediments. I am convinved that there must be clearer and better marked trails through this labyrinth and much less problematical support mechanisms for those who enter it.

I am not denying that there are well established educational high roads in this country: there is the royal highway from good A-levels at a private sector school, grammar school or middle class comprehensive or the more prestigious secondary schools. With a combination of two or three A-levels above a certain threshold, the red carpet treatment is more or less assured. Universities have encouraged the trend to high quality specialisation at an early age. Whether the AS level, the half A-level, will make significant inroads into university admission policy remains to be seen; the signs are not particularly encouraging. The royal high road is unlikely to change much and it may be appropriate for high flyers. Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Prior said, we shall never do, nor should we, without some measure of elite.

However, as soon as you leave the well kept verges of the royal high road you enter the shadowy realm to which I have alluded. First, in order to secure a place in any institution of further or higher education a student of modest financial background and with average ability needs to stay on at school into his seventeenth and probably his eighteenth year. Although the education is still nominally free—the Secretary of State has to provide it up to his nineteenth birthday—there are plenty of subsidiary costs to switch off people from poorer families.

At sixth form college level outgoings on travel, meals, books and materials for some courses can easily reach £30 a week. This minus of £30 has to be compared with an almost equal plus on YTS. I have made this point before and I make no apology for repeating it. When I criticised the YTS in the debate of noble Lord, Lord Peston on 31st January, the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, was aggrieved and said that it was a triumph, or words to that effect. Only a few days later, suggestions were made in the press that the Prime Minister was minded to wind it up and save for other purposes the £1.1 billion that it costs. That would remove at any rate those letters from the "alphabet soup" of the noble Lord, Lord Annan. If this is in the prime ministerial mind, it strikes me as very sensible because—pace the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde—YTS has not lived up to expectations. There are plenty of claimants for the money in the education and training field One claim could be made for an educational maintenance allowance at 16-plus—something which the SDP has always advocated—to improve the staying-on rate in post-compulsory education. Others argue that a blanket provision of this nature would carry a heavy deadweight cost which would unnecessarily reward those who would stay on anyway, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Prior, said, the staying on rate is in any case improving. The argument is that it would be better to target money on more specific courses. If that line is followed, then I would put in a plea for BTEC lower national diplomas and their equivalent which at present attract grants from local authorities on only a very patchy and discretionary basis, if at all.

There has also been talk of training vouchers of £1,000 or so for school leavers. If that is a serious option, I suggest that they should be education and training vouchers so that they could be spent on academic studies or vocational training or a combination of the two. I hope that when the noble Baroness comes to reply she will give us an inkling of what is in the Government's mind in this confusing area. The desired expansion of the student population will not happen if all the potential channels into higher education—particularly the non-traditional ones—are not flowing much more freely than at present.

I turn now to the rather complex area of credit accumulation and transfer, which is still in its infancy. An information and counselling service on this, called "CATS", is provided by the CNAA. This is an important field in several ways. First, it builds bridges between further and higher education. The CNAA has agreements with the BTEC council whereby credit is given after the first or second year of a Higher National Diploma Course to those switching on to a degree course. For example, someone who is doing a diploma in graphics and who develops an interest in computers could switch to a BSc in computer science. Such flexibility is valuable because it avoids students getting stuck in the wrong groove and helps them to develop their talents to the full.

The potential of credit accumulation and transfer is, however, probably greatest in its application to mature students, on whom we shall depend crucially for our expansion of student numbers. For them the notion of "portable academic credit", as it is called, is particularly attractive. It is possible to design a programme of study which was full or part-time or done by distance learning or by a combination of these modes and which might incorporate credit for experiential learning or industrial training wherever those could be assessed. The student who moves from one area to another can generally translate credit from one institution to another via the scheme and avoid loss of time or credit. If a break in studies proves necessary, credit for those successfully completed can usually be retained over a reasonable period of time.

All this is admirable. The scheme is subscribed to by 136 institutions of higher education, Including all the polytechnics and some of the universities. It has increasing links with industry. Even so, it is still very small. The advisory service is only on offer (for a fee of £25, I believe) from the CNAA's London office. So far only 1,000 students have contacted the CATS registry and 400 students have joined higher education courses as a result. These were the figures in July last year. Regional centres are being developed but they have not yet been widely publicised, as the council feels that it is not yet in a position to cope with the demand that might come from national promotion. Through its industrial network, CATS programmes are available to many employees through agreement with their firms, but the service to individuals who go shopping in the education marketplace is still very limited.

What else is available? There is also ECCTIS—an unpalatable acronym to chew—which stands for Educational Counselling and Credit Transfer Information Service. Until recently this was run by the Open University but it is now a management consortium funded by the DES with the idea that it should eventually become self-financing. It is much stronger on the information part of its title than on the counselling side, though it has a telephone inquiry service. It has a large database with 60,000 entries covering all post-school further education courses and all higher education courses, including postgraduate degrees but not research. One can undertake one's own search of the on-line database through Prestel or Campus 2000 for a premium of £50. Or one can subscribe for three issues of the disc per annum for £130.

This is clearly of interest mainly to schools and colleges, many of which subscribe. There are also some publications, notably a guide to courses throughout the United Kingdom designed for adults without normal entry qualifications, published in conjunction with the CNNA, and an educational credit transfer handbook. Both are priced at £7.50.

These are useful services but not particularly user friendly to the man or woman in the street, a person whom I have described as shopping in the education market. It strikes me that the time may therefore have come to establish a national framework for credit accumulation and transfer, though it would certainly need a more attractive title than that. Something of this kind was mooted by the now defunct UGC and NAB and was then estimated to cost some £4 million, which might mean £5 or £6 million today. The need to cast more light on what I call the twilight zone is now greater than ever before. It really requires counselling points up and down the country on the lines of the CNAA service.

It would also give us more clout for negotiating transfers with our European partners—something that will become increasingly important with the free movement of labour after 1992. It would be helpful if the noble Baroness could say a few words about the Government's view of this.

If the twilight zone needs more light, it also needs more cash. One of the things I learned with interest from scrutiny of the Government's forecasts of the costs of their student loans scheme is that they are based on freezing grant and loan-eligible students at 427,000 from the years 2000 to 2027. That is about the same number as now, well into the next century. This means that most of the expansion for which we are looking will have to come from mature students and by unconventional routes. At the moment most further education and many professional training courses, including social work, attract only discretionary grants. But the local authority grant system is a lottery and will be of even more dubious outcome after the introduction of the poll tax. Furthermore, there is a total lack of grant facilities, so far as I know, for part-time courses, which are ideally suited to mature students' needs. Some mature students are able to finance themselves, others are financed by their firms, but many are not.

Whatever the shape in which the Education (Student Loans) Bill emerges, it will have one large lacuna. It does not address, indeed it ignores the problems of these people. Whether through loan or graduate tax, the same facility needs to be much more widely available than the Bill appears to envisage. It is not appropriate to embark upon discussion today which properly belongs to the Committee stage of that Bill. However, I think it is reasonable to ask the Government what plans—if any—they have to help individual mature students re-enter or embark on higher education.

Given the demographic profile over the next few decades, there can be no doubt that any expansion of higher education will depend crucially on attracting young people into, or mature people back into, it by unconventional routes. The Government owe us an account of how they propose to stimulate this process.

4.28 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I must add my words of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Annan. This is a most timely if short debate. We have reached the point where most people in the country understand that if we are to raise our education and training standards—and we must if we are to survive—one major part of the effort must be in higher education. Most people look to the Government to give a clear, strong and positive lead.

My noble friend Lord Prior spoke from his experience in industry. The CBI tells us that it needs an expanding base of qualified people. For example, with South Korea aiming for 85 per cent. of its people being educated at higher education level and France at 75 per cent., there is no time to lose. If our higher education student numbers are to be doubled in the next few years, as everybody seems to wish, we need institutions which are clear about what the overall strategy is and which are enthusiastic about playing their part in it. I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, about that. I also agreed with him that only the Government can set the strategy; and the very setting of the strategy, giving a lead, will help to kindle the enthusiasms of those concerned.

Over the last decade it has been necessary to bring about many internal changes in higher education: changes in attitudes, in understanding, in how resources are found and allocated, in management structures and styles. These changes have been difficult and painful but much has been achieved. That, it seems to me, is to everybody's credit, and not least to the Government's and the heads of institutions for sticking to their last despite the uphill struggle and unpopularity involved.

Everybody concerned is now a bit weary, even disgruntled. We saw more than traces of that in our debate yesterday. Change will not go away and at every level management must continue strong and firm. But higher education people are now set to move on to a new, more exciting, more satisfying stage. It seems to me that the time has come for the Government to show themselves much more sensitive to this, to make their broad strategy clear and to give encouragement to everyone concerned to play their part.

My view on this matter derives from experience of the Open University, the institution I know best because I am a member of its governing body and its finance committee. It seems to me unlikely that 50,000 extra students—I think that my noble friend Lord Prior hinted at this—can be brought into higher education without a well thought out and structured increase in open and distance learning. This can happen in a variety of ways, but clearly the Open University should play its part. Indeed, the Visiting Committee, which advises the Secretary of State on Open University matters, recently told him: We believe that the University is a key element in the Government's armoury for attaining its objectives for higher education and adult continuing education. The university is most certainly keen to take up this challenge. Its track record suggests that it is well equipped to do so. But unless it knows what precisely the objectives are, unless it can be given positive guidance as to its place in the strategy, and reasonable resources and flexible arrangements for the use of those resources to carry out the strategy, it is difficult to proceed effectively.

The accessibility and cost-effectiveness of the Open University are well established. More than 50 per cent. of its students have no A-level qualifications and 10 per cent. have no educational qualifications at all. Although systematic records are not kept, the evidence is that the Open University attracts greater numbers of socially and educationally disadvantaged students than the average of all the other conventional universities. The Open University still has two-thirds of all the country's part-time undergraduates.

The majority of Open University undergraduates pay their fees and expenses out of their own pockets. None receives a mandatory grant. Nearly three-quarters are in employment, some 24 per cent. of those receiving some help with their fees from their employers. Others receive help from local authorities, from their families and so on. Over the years that it takes to get a degree—and of course it takes considerably longer than in a conventional university—a degree costs students several thousands of pounds and the fees are now set as high as the student market will stand.

As to the cost to the taxpayer of all this, the Open University produces over 9 per cent. of the United Kingdom's undergraduates with a government grant of only 4 per cent. of the total they give to the other universities. And cost-effectiveness for the taxpayer has been improving, too. Since 1980 the DES grant has fallen by 13.8 per cent. in real terms, but undergraduate numbers have risen by 10,000.

In addition, there are all the students on the other self-financing courses and there are many more of those than there are undergraduates. For example, the School of Management, now one of the largest schools of management in the country, has 13,500 students. It is undoubtedly a success story. But if the Open University is to play its part in the expansion of higher education the Government really must play their part too. Given that the scope for increases in fees and the raising of other income is now limited, it is simply not possible to sustain and develop the Open University's contribution if the Government's grant does not more nearly meet the increase in costs. Apart from all the other implications, far too much energy has to go year by year into crisis management, into balancing the books, and not enough into strategic planning.

The university also operates within what seems to me to be a quite unnecessary straitjacket of accounting control. It still is not allowed to accumulate reserves. The undergraduate and other programmes' funding have to be kept separate. Much greater flexibility is needed as has been given to other universities. But, above all, the Open University, like all the other higher education institutions, needs, in order to make its special contribution, a clear national strategy within which to work, a positive and encouraging guidance as to its role. I do not think that at the moment it knows what that strategy is.

I hope that my noble friend has listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Annan, the noble Lord, Lord Prior, and other speakers have had to say. I ask her whether she will remind the Secretary of State, that sound and sensible Scot, that just as in the army there is a part that only the commanding officer can play there is a part in the work of the Open University and of higher education in general that only the Government can play.

4.38 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, after yesterday I feel a little as if I were purveying tickets to "The Mousetrap". However, I reflect that I was an undergraduate at Merton College, Oxford, whose Visitor I am very glad to see in the Chamber today. That is a college which celebrated its septencentenary shortly after my graduation. In that context perhaps we may regard "The Mousetrap" as the novelty that it is and reflect that the show must go on.

The underlying note of this debate has been the expression of a good deal of dissatisfaction most clearly articulated by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, with questions about objectives, and by the noble Lord, Lord Blake, with questions about funding. Indeed, I have been reminded during the debate of the election posters that many of us remember from 1979 bearing the caption "Education is not working". Listening to the debate I cannot help feeling that if those posters were put up now many of your Lordships would give an instinctive assent. that is said not simply as a criticism of government of any political persuasion but also as a reflection on the fact that education tends to absorb our hope for miracles.

My noble friend Lord Hanworth reflected that we had hoped education might make people reasonable. It was a wonderful aspiration. But David Hume was right. Reason is and ever must be the slave of the passions. Some of the dissatisfaction is of course the result of having a hope of things which never can be, but there is also a real dissatisfaction and acute difficulty about immediate and practical questions.

I listened with a great deal of interest to the noble Lord, Lord Prior, and if I may I should like to assure him that he did not put a foot wrong in any academic matter. Wearing my academic hat I warmly welcomed what he said about the need for better relations between universities and industry. My only reservation wearing my Liberal Democrat hat is that I am aware of the danger of measures which unnecessarily increase industrial costs. Industry will, I hope, invest in things profitable to itself. I agree with what the noble Lord said—that it should not be used as an alternative to government funding but as additional funding. That is a point of great importance.

The noble Lord, Lord Blake, of course made a speech with practically all of which I agree. But I should like to qualify what he said on one point: the refusal of the honorary degree to the Prime Minister. He said that he could think of no sillier act perpetrated by a university. He might perhaps think of when the same university, to which we both owe allegiance, was consulted by King Henry VIII about his divorce and it told him he could not have it. One perhaps needs to reflect here that there is use sometimes in having an intellectual Light Brigade.

I listened also with a great deal of sympathy to what the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, said about the Open University. It does a good job. I think the figures she gave were of a 13.8 per cent. cut in grant and a 10,000 increase in student numbers. I believe that that is correct. That is a pattern—a more extreme example perhaps—which is common around the country and in which I cannot take great pleasure.

If one thing was clear yesterday, it was that those who spoke to a Department of Education and Science brief were saying both that we need an overwhelming expansion in student numbers and that higher education cannot enjoy a much greater share of the gross national product. I can see the force in both those propositions. Put together they are, as my noble friend Lady Seear has often said, a demand to make bricks without straw. In that context I can see why there was a need to send the magician to the Department of Education and Science. Indeed, I am reminded of the concluding words of Sir Keith Thomas's Magisterial History of Religion and the Decline of Magic: If magic be defined as the use of ineffective techniques to allay anxiety when no effective techniques are available, then maybe no society will ever be free of it". Certain specific points arise here: the attempt which the Government have made in many contexts to hold the public services to increases in spending no greater than the retail prices index when they perhaps compare that with what happens in universities in other countries. I take the case of Japan, which we have often been urged to imitate. In the past 10 years Japanese prices have risen by 34.4 per cent; their education costs, depending upon the quality of the institution, have risen in a range from 47 per cent. at the lowest to 80 per cent. at the highest. It is worth remembering in matters involving quality that we get what we pay for. We tend much too often to talk about education exclusively in terms of quantity. We have to remember that there is a problem of quality as well. If we try to get more for less money, what we are hearing is a prescription for a cut in quality. That causes great anxiety in the academic community.

There are some specific points which call for thought. The number of junior staff the universities can afford to employ is a matter of grave anxiety. I fear, having perhaps faced the pressure to retire from now until I reach retiring age, that when I reach it I shall face equally constant pressure not to retire because there will be no one to succeed me. Last year in English the number of full-time permanent lecturers under the age of 30 in the whole country was six; in sociology it was one. I do not know who that one may be, but I hope that he or she is equal to the burden that he or she will have to bear.

I know that there have been government measures since then to help with new academic appointments, which I welcome. Indeed, I warmly welcome them. On the other hand, the help that is given with those appointments is transitional. It is for three years only. It will not be easy for universities to take over the permanent carrying of that weight.

The Government have not always had a good record in deciding how much other people need to spend. Universities can feel a certain amount of sympathy with borough treasurers looking at estimates of how much they should be spending when they fix their poll tax. For most borough treasurers those figures do not appear to be in the real world. We listened to the Secretary of State tell us that whether universities charge fees is a matter for the Vice-Chancellors and nothing to do with the Government. We feel the same scepticism about that that borough treasurers sometimes feel when told that whether they levy additional poll tax is entirely their own affair. That cannot be true unless the initial spending limits are realistic. It is that realism about which we feel some doubt. We also feel some doubt about the effect on long-term academic planning of universities responding to short-term fashions and market forces. It takes a long time to produce a quality academic department where it is needed.

We have recently had in the Wooding Report, which I welcome, a demand for an expansion of Russian and East European studies. The topical necessity of that is something one can hardly question. Listening to television news from Romania and watching Romanians answering the BBC in high quality English, I can only feel shame at what would happen if a Romanian interviewer, or even a Russian interviewer, were to attempt to do the same in this country. What we are seeing in East European studies is the effect of financial stringency and the cut-back of small departments characteristic of the early 1980s.

It will take some 15 years to build up the postgraduates and the trained staff to produce good East European departments which will be available long, long after the current topical need is over. One only hopes that they may be in place in time for the next round, whatever it may be. There is a real difficulty in trying to plan learning because we are planning for a long time ahead. We do not see the need and we are probably suffering now from the mistaken decisions taken 10 or 15 years ago.

Finally, I beg the Minister when she replies not to give us many figures about increases in real terms because frankly when we see what is happening on the ground we cannot believe them.

4.50 p.m.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I should like to add my voice to those of other noble Lords who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Annan, on introducing the debate. Although we are not a vast group of speakers we seem to be a very select one.

I should like to speak to some degree about universities and to some degree about polytechnics. I shall not refer to every noble Lord who has contributed to the debate, not because I disagree with them but because I do not like to repeat arguments that have already been put extremely effectively. Therefore I hope that noble Lords will not be insulted if I do not say that I agree with this point or that point.

Concerning the universities, I accept that there has always been some degree of animosity between university teachers and politicians. When I had the honour to advise Ministers in the last Labour Government they were occasionally rather dissatisfied with my colleagues in universities. Equally my colleagues in universities were dissatisfied with the Government. That is the usual relationship. However, it seems to me that something more serious has developed in the past few years. The antipathy between university staff and this Government is undoubtedly stronger than any I have known in my lifetime. I do not say that it is deserved but I believe that it is a cause for alarm. Our universities are a major national asset, independent of politics. It is not a satisfactory state of affairs for the view of Her Majesty's Government held by academics to be as adverse as it is at present.

The problem is partly one of funds. I do not want to go into details; I agree with the noble Earl that we do not want to bandy figures about. It is not entirely a problem of funds, but that does not mean that I know entirely what the problem is. I shall give the House an indication of what I have in mind.

A great many years ago I was a graduate student at Princeton University. I then came back to this country. Most of my colleagues at Princeton thought that I was stupid. They could not understand why I should return when I could have stayed there. I returned because—apart from my normal loyalty to the country—I felt that important things were going on in my subject in this country. I felt that I could be part of a serious academic profession and could make a career. I believed that higher education in this country mattered and that it was important to be part of it. I have never thought that I took the wrong decision.

When I reflect not merely on my Alma Mater of Princeton but more generally on what I now see in American universities and compare that with what I see here I know that today I should certainly not come back under any circumstances. The reason is partly a question of facilities. I do not believe that most people in this country, and perhaps even most noble Lords, appreciate how far behind even our best universities are—and I shall not argue about which—compared with those in the United States. The quality of the libraries in a university like Princeton far exceeds anything that we have in this country. The research facilities for scholars in the humanities as well as for scientists are beyond anything that we have or believe that we could have. I despair of persuading people of the nature of the problem, but it undoubtedly exists.

If one goes to the United States, not merely to the great Ivy League universities but to others which one may feel are not quite so great—although in my view they are—one will see a belief in academic values and a belief that there is still everything to be done. There is not the negativism that now dominates our own universities. That is the nature of the problem.

I do not believe that the problem is entirely one of pay. I was interested to learn that the noble Earl did not take early retirement and that his colleagues did not want him to. I have to admit that when I announced that I was to take early retirement I did not hear a single voice suggest that I should not. I envy the noble Earl. I still teach part time so I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I say something about pay because if it were higher I should receive at least a couple of pounds more a week.

On 30th January 1990 the Parliamentary Under-Secretary quoted (at col. 163 of Commons Hansard) figures concerning the growth of real pay in the decade 1979–89. We ought to reflect on those figures. Average national earnings grew at 2.5 per cent. per annum; professors' salaries grew at 1.9 per cent. per annum; university senior lecturers' salaries grew at 1.3 per cent. per annum. I mention those figures as indicative of one aspect of the problem. However, I do not wish noble Lords to believe that I am making a pay claim or expressing a belief that the problem has everything to do with pay. I believe that it is all about attitudes.

I believe that the universities feel that in some sense they are not wanted and that academics are regarded as irrelevant. I shall come to the question of businessmen in a moment, but certainly the Government give the clear impression that they believe that businessmen are far superior to academics in every way. Like the noble Lord, Lord Blake, I deplore personal attacks on Ministers. However, I believe that Mr. Jackson is as puzzled as anyone else by that. It may be a failure of communication, but undoubtedly there is a very serious problem in that relationship.

On the theme of the debate I part company to a certain extent with the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and the noble Lord, Lord Blake. Certainly the universities want to be encouraged. They want to be made to feel that they are wanted. However, I should not care to have a government which told universities what they ought to do. The noble Lord, Lord Blake, said that the Government should have in mind some purpose for the universities. I wonder whether, on reflection, he meant quite that. My own view of the correct policy for the universities—to use a word which I do not like but which conveys the correct meaning—is for the Government to act as a facilitator. The universities could then get on with their job. As a university teacher—and several others have spoken in the debate today—all I wanted was to get on with my job. I wanted the Government at least not to get in the way and, if possible, even to help. That is the nature of the problem.

I appreciate that this is quite a long moan and I do not usually moan in debates. Part of the problem is growing bureaucracy. During the debates on what became the Education Reform Act we expressed worries about the UFC. The noble Baroness's predecessor promised that the dead hand of bureaucracy would not be extended from the UFC. I can only say that so far that promise has not been fulfilled. I believe that I speak for almost all my colleagues in expressing extreme anxiety about what the UFC is up to. Someone—and in this case it has to be the Government—has to tell it to stop whatever it is up to and become a facilitator. As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, it should not be dirigiste; it should abandon the degree of dirigisme which it has adopted.

I have one last point about the universities before turning to the polytechnics. As an ordinary teacher I have never been keen on vice-chancellors. I have never understood why anybody wanted to be a vice-chancellor, but there seems to be a mentality which wants to be a vice-chancellor or a principal. The vice-chancellors are the best that we have. I say to the Secretary of State, through the noble Baroness, that one must proceed by co-operation in this area. One must not proceed by threats. One reason is that threats will not work: it is also not the right way to do it.

There has been a slight difference of view over the polytechnics. I am very much closer to my noble friend Lord Longford in that regard than I am to the noble Lord, Lord Annan. My credentials on the subject are quite good. I have been involved with polytechnics since the first. I was on the polytechnics' business studies committee when it was set up and I was very much involved with raising the level of business studies in polytechnics. I was the first chairman of the polytechnics economics committee at the CNAA. I regard myself as strongly supportive of the polytechnics.

Again, I address the noble Lord, Lord Blake. The noble Lord has shown an obvious new interest in the matter. I believe that the polytechnics have earned their laurels. They started a long way back. People might be surprised by their great achievements, but they have achieved extraordinary things. The Government—I supported them in this—recognised that fact by making them independent of the local education authorities. I said then that that was the right decision. However, I would go further; I would now free them totally from the CNAA. That is not to denigrate the CNAA. It has done its job, but the polytechnics could now be free-standing institutions awarding their own degrees.

On the subject of names, the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Blake, are right. People misunderstood the quality of the polytechnics. They misunderstand their achievements. It is no big deal. If they want to call themselves universities, let them call themselves universities. I do not see what the fuss is about. There is no doubt that businessmen are somewhat misguided in not appreciating the quality of the polytechnics. It is a similar attitude to that which I have pointed out previously to noble Lords; namely, that they also suffer from the delusion that undergraduates from Oxford, Cambridge and London are better than other undergraduates. That is not true either, but we have managed to get rid of that idea to some extent. I strongly believe in supporting the polytechnics along the lines suggested by my noble friend Lord Longford. It has been said that the approach is unfair, and I suppose it is. But it is inefficient. I hope that the idea will appeal to noble Lords on the other side: for business not to recognise the quality of graduates emerging from the polytechnics is a waste of resources and should not happen. I hope that the Government will move in that direction.

The polytechnics are under-financed. One problem is that the Government are loath to let the polytechnics move up to the university point because it might mean that they would then have to jump to the same expenditure as universities. I understand the Government's problem. Until they are ready to move over and let us face that problem, it is a problem that they must accept.

Perhaps I may add a word of advice for the polytechnics. They have over-expanded. They have made a slight mistake. They thought that if they expanded to meet student demand the Government would pat them on the head, say, "Well done", and give them more money. But the Government have merely patted them on the head and said, "Well done".

I realise that I have slightly exceeded my time, but I am trying not to delay the noble Baroness whom I wish to hear. However, I cannot resist saying a few words about business in response to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Prior. I agree largely with what he said, but I wish to make two points about the relationship between business and students.

As was pointed out in the debate yesterday, students are naturally progressive. In due course large numbers of people with degrees—perhaps even the majority—will end up voting for the other side rather than our side. However, noble Lords on the other side need not worry that students will not one day vote Conservative. However, when they are young, they are often not merely naturally progressive, but they know which is the naturally progressive party. What bothers them about going into industry is that they believe that one can do so only if one supports the Tory party. The association of industry with the Tory party can sometimes be slightly to its disadvantage. I merely place the idea in noble Lords' minds. I do not press it too strongly.

Lord Prior

My Lords, what the noble Lord has just said is simply not true. I might wish that it was, but it is not.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I take the point. I do not seek to disagree with most of what the noble Lord said, but my experience is slightly different.

One other point regarding the relationship between business and higher education, which I hope we shall discuss on another occasion as we do not have time today, is the question of who will pay. I repeat the point that I made yesterday in the debate on loans. As the economy has become so much richer, why do we find it harder to finance higher education than when the economy was poorer? I set that as an exam question. I asked it yesterday not entirely as a rhetorical question because I do not know the answer myself.

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord in his charming discourse. The only excuse that I can give him for doing so is that I have just come from a lunch party at which his leader, Lord Kinnock, addressed—

Noble Lords

Mr. Kinnock!

Lord Lloyd of Kilgerran

My Lords, I apologise; he is not yet Lord Kinnock. I am always in advance of my time. He addressed the Parliamentary scientific committee in the presence of His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, is not following the general policy in relation to higher education about which I heard only this afternoon from Mr. Kinnock. I am also disappointed that so far in his very attractive 15-minute oration he has made no reference whatever to higher education policy in relation to science and technology except for some chance remarks about business. Surely, in his speech on policy for higher education, he should say something about that.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I do not seem to be doing very well these days. My speech yesterday ran into difficulty with at least one noble Lord, who I see is in his place and who thought it was not good enough. It now appears that my remarks today are not good enough for another noble Lord. It is the only speech that I have. However, I have not in the past been backward in speaking on the question of science and higher education. One cannot talk about everything at the same time.

I should like to make one final remark on industry. I am a little worried about attitudes. What will industry pay for? To return to my concept of the university and the polytechnic, pay is not a word that I want to see used all the time. Perhaps I may give a personal example. All my life people have rung me up to ask me whether I will explain this or that for them. I am now told by my colleagues that if people ring me up from now on, I should ask how much they will pay for that piece of advice. My colleagues also tell me that, if people ring me at the office, I should add that there will also be a 40 per cent. overhead charge. I hope that we do not go too far down that line. My day is over, but I do not want our new generation of academics to be so concerned with pay and with paying that they forget what being an academic is all about.

I am sorry. I have gone on far too long, although a little of my time was taken away. I conclude with one final, simple point. The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, reiterated the Government's 25-year doubling policy yesterday. I believe that I heard him correctly, but I should like the noble Baroness to reassure me that that still remains the Government's firm policy.

5.8 p.m.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, I cannot resist the temptation of saying that we have had something of a surfeit of debate on higher education over the past 30 hours, starting with the Question of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, early yesterday afternoon, followed by hours of debate on student loans and now this debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Annan. I ask myself whether it is too much of a good thing. I think not. This has been a most useful and interesting debate. I join with other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Annan, for presenting the opportunity to the House, widening out yesterday's discussions on higher education. However, I stand here rather tentatively before an impressive presence of heavyweights from the world of Academe. A range of concerns has been expressed about the state of and prospects for the nation's higher education. It would be unrealistic to think that higher education, any more than any other complex system, could be problem-free. We must not lose sight of what has been achieved and of the opportunities for further achievement being opened up by government policy.

With an estimated 1,061,000 students currently on higher education courses in institutions in Great Britain—over 50,000 more than last year—numbers are at record levels. This success is a fitting end to a decade of expansion in which student numbers have grown by more than a third, and the proportion of young people entering higher education has increased from one in eight to one in six. This increase in demand reflects the priority which the Government attach to education on schools and further education. I am very pleased that the noble Lords, Lord Annan and Lord Kilmarnock, chose to make their starting point the school sector. The introduction of the GCSE examination with its greater emphasis on learning about practical applications has led to a sharp jump in the number of pupils staying on at school. Additional funds were provided specifically to assist the introduction of that new examination.

In 1988–89 the participation rate for 16 and 17 year-olds in schools increased by nearly 10 per cent. and we expect to see further increases in the years ahead. The Government's technical and vocational education initiative (TVEI, as it is known in our schools), funded through the Department of Employment's training agency, has enhanced the school and college curricula for 14 to 19 year-olds to make their learning more relevant to adult and working life.

In the light of those developments we have seen increasing numbers of young people taking A-levels and going on to higher education. With the introduction of the national curriculum we expect pupils to follow a broader and more balanced curriculum leading to higher standards of attainment at 16. That in turn should produce further increases in demand for higher education during the 1990s.

It is important to note that the expansion of higher education has taken place largely in the polytechnics, colleges of higher education and Scottish central institutions. It is too often assumed that higher education is coterminous with undergraduate provision in universities. In fact, more than half of the nation's higher education is provided outside universities, and over half of the higher education qualifications gained are other than first degrees.

I think that this is an appropriate place to applaud the remarkable achievements of the Open University. We have a product of the Open University who is fairly vocal on the Front Bench opposite. With nearly 90,000 students and 6,500 graduates a year it has done perhaps more than any other institution to widen access to higher education, which is a particular aspect of this debate today. As we all know, the Open University is directly funded by the DES. The level of the current grant for the 1990 academic year is £79.5 million, an 11 per cent. increase over the level for 1989. There are plans for early discussions between the department and the Open University on the subject of the Open University's future priorities and funding arrangements.

It is sometimes asserted, and it has been asserted today by a number of noble Lords, in particular the noble Lords, Lord Annan and Lord Peston, the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and my noble friend Lord Blake, that the Government have starved the system of funds. In fact, public spending on higher education has increased. I apologise for producing statistics. I was begged not to use them but, like the noble Lord, Lord Peston, my speech also is the only speech I have. Public spending on higher education has increased by 5.6 per cent. in real terms—a phrase that offends the noble Lord—since 1979. At the same time the system has become more efficient with unit costs per student (a point which has also been mentioned this afternoon) falling by about 3 per cent. in universities (a point noted by the noble Lord, Lord Annan) and by about 20 per cent. in polytechnics and colleges.

The most recent public expenditure settlement provided for a substantial increase in the public resources available to higher education of some £750 million over the next three years. Resources for 1990–91 are planned to be some 10 per cent. higher than in 1989–90. That amply demonstrates the Government's continuing commitment to securing the provision of places for all who are qualified and willing to take them and to ensuring that higher education receives an appropriate share of funding.

I must not let pass one other word on the polytechnics. I entirely endorse the view of my noble friend Lord Blake, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and other noble Lords about the need for parity of esteem for polytechnics. The Government's policy is to encourage diversity and, without wishing to intrude on the debate between the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and the noble Earl, Lord Longford, I think that the point put by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, was about vive la différence as distinct from parity of esteem, therefore encouraging diversity in higher education and not dull uniformity. Different types of institutions should continue to develop their distinctive roles. For example, basic research is one of the essential functions of universities, while polytechnics make a valuable contribution to research in some areas, particularly those relating to the needs of industry—a point that was very well made by the noble Lord, Lord Prior. Their fundamental mission is teaching. The more effectively that polytechnics can project themselves as providing accessible high quality education of a practical character, the more successful they will be.

Whatever the national provision, there are also those who assert that our higher education system compares badly with those of other countries in terms of funding and performance. Although international comparisons are notoriously difficult, the generally accepted statistics tell a different story. The United Kingdom spends a higher proportion of its gross domestic product on higher education than do most comparable countries. We are also well up by international standards in the proportion of our young people who actually gain qualifications, which is surely a better measure of performance than the proportion simply entering higher education, where our efficient system can seem to give us a low ranking.

Much has been made of the issue of the brain drain. At this point I should like to make reference to that issue. The volume of alarmist rhetoric about the brain drain has not so far been matched by hard evidence. Therefore the Government welcome the decision of the committee of vice-chancellors announced last July to collect detailed information about the numbers of staff coming from and going overseas. In the meantime the best data available from the universities' statistical records show that there has been a net inflow of university staff into this country every year since 1983. I have not seen the evidence to support the noble Lord's assertion about loss of quality or indeed loss of quantity.

Some of the newly established interdisciplinary research centres are attracting excellent staff from overseas as well as providing challenging opportunities for some of our best young scientists. There are no barriers to the free movement of scientists in the West. British academics have always gone overseas and scholars from other countries have come here. Research and scholarship are enriched by that.

The achievements of the higher education system in the 1980s under this Government speak for themselves. I have no doubt that the planning and funding framework established by the Government will promote further improvements in participation, quality and efficiency in the 1990s.

The Government remain committed to a higher education system which plays its full part in meeting the nation's economic, social and cultural needs. We believe that these purposes are best served not by rigid central planning but by increasing the scope for institutional initiative and the system's responsiveness to the needs of students and employers. That has been the main thrust of government policy, consistent with the assurances that we gave to the House during the passage of the Education Reform Act 1988 about an arm's length relationship with the sector. There are three particular aspects of policy that I should mention.

The first is the shift in the balance of public funding for higher education from institutional grant paid through the funding bodies to tuition fees paid for individual students through the awards system. From autumn 1990 this will create a more direct link between institutional income and recruitment, encouraging institutions to increase their efficiency by making full use of marginal capacity. Just anticipation of this change has helped institutions to respond to the demand for places this year. Differentiated fees, which the Government intend to introduce in autumn 1991, will facilitate recruitment to more expensive practical courses—and that is the answer to the point raised by noble Lords about the need to safeguard provision for engineering and technology. I should add that the allocation of funds to institutions is a matter for the funding councils. However, it is certainly the case that the Universities Funding Council will identify separately the funds available for research and will allocate them in a selective way which takes account of research quality in departments, which I believe was a point raised by my noble friend Lord Blake.

This incentive to respond more effectively to buoyant student demand is complemented by the second strand: the inclusion by the funding councils of elements of competitive bidding for places in their methods of allocating funds for teaching.

The third strand is our encouragement of the broadening of the higher education system's funding base which looks set to continue into the 1990s. The Government believe that overdependence on public or any other funding source is not conducive to maintaining the degree of autonomy and self-reliance appropriate to higher education institutions. It was a point well made by my noble friend Lord Prior. Institutions have been increasingly successful in generating income from private sources. However, I wish to emphasise an assurance for which I was asked by a number of noble Lords, but in particular the noble Earl, Lord Russell. The Government will stand by their commitment not to reduce public funding in response to such success.

My noble friend Lord Prior introduced the subjects of wider access to universities for all social groups—a matter that came up in some detail in yesterday's debate—and responding to employers' needs. While student demand is the central factor in the Government's higher education planning, employers' demand for highly qualified labour is also very important. The interdepartmental review of demand for new graduates announced by the 1987 White Paper on higher education, to which the Council for Industry and Higher Education made an active contribution, was completed earlier this month. Its results, which will inform future policy, are currently being considered by Ministers and an announcement will be made shortly.

Some see these market-related initiatives as uncomfortable and even inimical to the very nature of higher education. The Government simply cannot agree. We are seeking to free higher education, not to constrain it. It should have the maximum freedom to make the provision that it judges best to respond to the various challenges and demands. The framework we are putting in place reconciles that with the reasonable requirement that the substantial assistance from public funds is used efficiently and with appropriate accountability.

When the House debated higher education in April 1989 fundamental changes were in progress. Polytechnics and other major higher education establishments had just become independent institutions and the two statutory funding councils, with executive powers to administer the majority of public funding for higher education, had just been established.

Ten months later I am pleased to be able to confirm the successful implementation of those changes. I should in particular draw attention to the way in which the new polytechnics and colleges sector and its funding council have responded to the challenges that they have faced in the new situation.

Looking forward, all the indications are that student demand will remain buoyant and that, while the decline in the 18 to 19 year-old population will continue until the mid-1990s, their participation in higher education will continue to increase.

The latest projections indicate that, notwithstanding the substantial decline in the age groups leaving school to the mid-1990s, full-time equivalent student numbers will rise to about 8 per cent. above their 1988 level by 1992, then flatten out until 1995, before rising again to about 17 per cent. above their 1988 level by the end of the century. Those projections are being further reviewed in the light of the record enrolments for 1989–90.

I am pleased to reaffirm—and I have been asked again by a number of noble Lords to do so—the Government's commitment to increases of an order consistent with the aspirations expressed by my right honourable friends for a doubling of participation in higher education. I could say a word or two more on doubling of higher education. The latest projection of student numbers indicates that the participation index for young home entrants to higher education will rise from 15 per cent. in the 1988–89 academic year to 23 per cent. by the year 2000, an increase of over 50 per cent. in 12 years. That is about half-way through the period about which my right honourable friend the former Secretary of State for Education and Science was speculating. That rate of increase is consistent with a participation index of around 30 per cent. by about the year 2014. But I must emphasise that my right honourable friends have never seen this aspiration as a target to be pursued regardless of all other considerations.

The cost of the present system of student maintenance grants, which accounts for a much higher proportion of higher education spending than in all other countries, would be a serious obstacle to longer term expansion. That is why the Government intend to change it. The Government's loans scheme, in addition to increasing the resources available to students, will share the cost of student maintenance more fairly among taxpayers, parents and students themselves.

I should now like to respond to some of the other points raised in the debate. I welcome the emphasis of the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, on co-ordination and liaison among all the sectors of education. There is a great deal of scope for improvement there. On his point on vocational education and training the CBI's vocational education and training task force has made some very interesting recommendations for the education and training of the 16 to 19 year-old age group, including the use of vouchers. The Government are considering all these recommendations carefully. I welcome the encouraging report from the noble Lord and accept the part to be played by credit transfer arrangements and good counselling services. As he acknowledges, these schemes are in place and the Government continue to monitor their development. However, this debate and a reminder will certainly do no harm in that direction.

On the point of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about the independence of the UFC, the Universities Funding Council is an independent and executive body which must ensure accountablilty for the substantial public funds that Parliament votes each year for the universities. It has been suggested that it is overly bureaucratic. I reject that charge. The council has established a proper framework for accountability, which is prudent financial management, not bureacracy.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, made an important point about Soviet and East European studies and the expansion of such studies in the university sector. A review of Soviet and East European studies was carried out last year. I refer to the Wooding Report which the noble Earl gave notice that he would be speaking upon in the debate. A report containing recommendations was produced by the review working party. The Universities Funding Council and the universities have been considering the implications of the report's recommendations for the university sector. Similarly it will be for the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council to respond to any proposals arising from the review which involve expansion of Soviet and Eastern Studies in its sector.

However, some of the report's recommendations advocate specific action by other public bodies and government departments. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science is consulting those organisations and departments. When the consultation is complete he will consider a further response against the background of the Government's overall policy for funding higher education.

The noble Lord, Lord Hunter, referred to medical research. There is no question of medical education being downdraded by the Government's proposals to reform the National Health Service. The Government's intention is that the vital relationship between universities and the National Health Service should be preserved and strengthened. The Secretary of State for Health remains fully committed to maintaining the high standards of undergraduate and post-graduate medical and dental education and research. He recognises that these standards can be sustained only by full and effective collaboration between universities and all levels of the National Health Service. To this end the interdepartmental steering group on undergraduate medical and dental education chaired by Sir Christopher France, on which all interested parties, including the vice-chancellors and the General Medical Council, are represented, has been meeting regularly and has made a number of useful proposals designed to ensure that the quality of medical and dental education research is maintained.

Perhaps I may draw to the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Hunter, a press release hot off the press. It was released only today. It is on medical and dental education research and arrangements for improved joint working between universities and the National Health Service. Perhaps I may further say that my noble friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health is actively having meetings with her opposite number in the Department of Education and Science on this issue. I hope that the noble Lord will avail himself of that document.

Perhaps I may apologise to the noble Lord for not being specific on his question on the London issue. I promise to write to him. In the time allowed I have done less than justice to many of the specific questions that have come out of the debate. If I have missed out anything that is still concerning any noble Lord please remind me and I shall do what I can to elicit an answer. I shall certainly write in reply.

I am conscious of the depth of experience in higher education on all sides of the House. I hope that in the time available I have answered at least some of the questions. I have listened to the debate carefully and, as requested by all noble Lords, I shall pass on to my right honourable friend all the points that have been raised.

Whatever else may divide us, we are united in the value that we place on higher education for the cultural, social and economic benefits which it brings to our national life and in the wish that as little as possible should stand in the way of its being able to meet those goals.

Lord Annan

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I have time to take up only two points. I cannot persuade the noble Earl, Lord Longford, that my views on the polytechnics—for which I have the highest esteem—are not the product of academic snobbery. However, I shall continue to try by using analogies such as the colleges of advanced technology and their history.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, said that the last thing he ever wanted to be was a vice-chancellor. I thought that his speech was eminently that of a professor. He was not concerned with priorities but just the business of, "We must have it and that is all there is to it, Vice-Chancellor!".

I thank the noble Baroness for the way in which she spoke and met so many of the points which I and other noble Lords have raised. However, I did not find what I was searching for; that was the Government's strategy. I do not know that I am any the wiser but I lay myself open to the reply given by F. E. Smith to a judge before whom he was appearing. He said, "Possibly not my Lord, but considerably better informed".

I believe that after this debate funding for higher education is a little less like a lottery. Therefore, I give way to the noble Lord, Lord Birkett, and beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.