HL Deb 28 November 2001 vol 629 cc369-85

7.26 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they support the increasing use of short-and medium-term contracts in the further and higher education sector.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest. For the years 1981–99, I was employed as a contract researcher at the University of Sussex. Part of the case that I want to make rests on my experience as a contract researcher. I moved to the University of Sussex in 1981 from what was effectively a Civil Service job, working for the National Economic Development Office. In 1982, I was selected as the SDP candidate for Guildford. As a result of that selection, I in effect had to return my return ticket to NEDO. Although I had been seconded from NEDO to the University of Sussex, I had to give up my right to return there and I became willy-nilly a contract researcher. I was lucky because I had a husband who was in full-time employment as a civil servant. My salary was therefore supplemental to his. The flexibility that being a contract researcher gave me was very helpful in my pursuit of a political career.

Initially, I was on a three-year contract, which meant that I did not have to sacrifice pension rights. Had I been on a contract of less than one year, I would not have had my pension rights continued. Subsequently, I found that I had little difficulty in putting in applications and research proposals or in getting them funded, and I was therefore funding my own salary—I did that from then onwards. I gradually moved up within the unit in which I was working. I moved from being a senior researcher to leading a research group, and subsequently led an ESRC research centre. In the process and through the research group, I brought about £7.5 million into the university.

I was lucky, but others in my unit were not. Many of them had had as many as 25 contracts during a working period of 20 or 25 years. Those who were on contracts of less than one year often had periods in which their pension was not paid. There was also constant uncertainty about where next year's income would come from. Again, so far as I was concerned, that did not matter too much—my husband was pulling in a perfectly good salary. If I found myself without a job, that would give me a little bit of unexpected leisure. However, for people in their late 30s or early 40s with a family and young children to look after and a mortgage to pay, that was a very difficult situation.

One matter that rankled with me was that I found that I was disenfranchised—I had no right to vote for the senate or to sit on it. In some senses I did not mind about that. When I was a full-time academic at LSE, I found that sitting on the senate was not necessarily a pleasurable experience. Nevertheless, the fact that I was disenfranchised in that way meant that I was a second-class citizen. When the Vice Chancellor's wife convened a dinner party for senior women academics at the university I was not there because I was not a tenured member of staff. I was a second-class citizen. Contract researchers are or have been within the university hierarchy second-class citizens.

Interestingly, the research that I was doing at the time led me to learn rather more about contract researchers. I was following the biotechnology directorate in the Science and Engineering Research Council and evaluating a number of their programmes. That led me to have a better understanding of the concept of the post-doc researcher in the British scientific world. The post-doc is the equivalent of the junior hospital doctor in medical training. When you have done your doctorate and are qualified, you go on to do an apprenticeship of two to three years, after which you are in a position to hold a fully tenured post. The traditional position for post-docs was that after two or three years they obtained substantive posts as lecturers. Those that did not were quietly pushed to one side to work in government laboratories or industry and quietly made to recognise that they did not have a future in the universities.

However, by the 1980s that traditional pattern of apprenticeship had changed. First, the substantial expansion of university research and a contraction in the number of government laboratories and industrial research associations meant that there were many more jobs in universities and rather fewer jobs elsewhere. Secondly, the squeeze on university funding meant a freeze on recruitment. No new lectureships were created. By the mid-1980s, typically, instead of waiting just two to three years for a lecture post young researchers were having to wait five to six years or sometimes even longer.

Meanwhile, because of funding uncertainties universities preferred to take on short-term rather than long-term staff. The anomaly emerged. Numbers employed at universities remained the same but the balance began to change with a larger proportion being employed on short-term contracts. That even extended to lecturer posts. Most first appointments from then on were made as temporary lecturer posts. Those young people, mostly in their 30s, faced all the uncertainties faced by my colleagues; that is, problems of getting mortgages and an uncertainty as to where their income was coming from.

In addition, one matter which I found interesting in my research was that most universities imposed a six-year limit on the length of contract of employment. If contract researchers stayed over six years, universities would be liable to pay redundancy pay. I discovered a merry-go-round under which contract researchers were shuffled around from one university to another. They had limited pension rights—contracts of less than one year carried no pension rights—limited employment rights; no rights to sabbatical leave and no career development path. To boot, they were treated within the university world often as second-class citizens. It was no wonder that I found among them a disgruntled group of citizens who often had little time for their universities or their career.

Now, thanks partly to a report from your Lordships' House in 1995 on academic research careers, things have changed. That report highlighted the problems of contract researchers. The CVCP as it then was, now Universities UK, introduced a concordat which promised to create a proper system of research and guidance in research careers. That was followed up by the research careers initiative, which proceeds to this day. The same problems were also highlighted in the Dearing report—I see the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in his place—and subsequently in the Bett report, which highlighted in particular the degree to which inequalities made their mark on both women and ethnic minorities.

Today we have a new directive from the European Union on fixed-term work, which promises—if we make the best of it—to end the scandal completely. But how much have things changed? A recent labour force survey shows that of the 400,000 employees in higher education, 98,000 are employed on a temporary basis with 84,000 of those on short-term contracts. There are 39,000 research staff. Ninety-four per cent of research staff employed in British universities are all on Fixed-term contracts. The proportion of academic staff on fixed-term contracts increased over the past five years between 1995 and 2000 from 39 per cent to 42 per cent.

I believe that universities have been trying to improve practice, but that is extremely difficult. There are increasing pressures to increase research incomes, but by its nature research income is uncertain. Fixed-term contracts tied to the length of the research contract are well suited to be able to tailor the needs of the research labour to the length of the contract. Other income is extremely tight. There is no capacity to cross-subsidise from the teaching budgets to the research budgets within universities. Increasing pressures on universities from the quality assurance assessment and research assessment exercise have consumed top management time and given little chance for development of long-term policies for human resource management, least of all for those at the bottom of the academic pecking order.

Therefore, I call on the Government to recognise that the problem of contract research remains a real problem in British universities and also in the further education sector. I have not had time to talk about that sector, but many of the same problems apply. I ask the Government to recognise that this remains an important issue. They should encourage publicly-funded institutions such as universities and further education colleges to improve their employment practices. They should not make matters worse by multiplying further the number of initiatives and challenge funds they sponsor. More core funding is wanted in universities, not more initiatives which require more proposals and encourage short-term and uncertain funding.

1 call on the Government to accept that the cost of making good the inequalities revealed by Bett and other reports is substantial, and to fund universities and colleges sufficiently to enable them to right that discrimination. Finally, I call on them not to duck out of the EU directive on fixed-term work which, if implemented, would go a long way to meet the current criticisms of the system. There are dangers that the Government will seek to duck out.

Finally, I call on universities and colleges to consider initiatives which, without cost, could improve the position of contract researchers. Are they still practising the implicit discrimination that I experienced in my time by not giving, for example, a voice to contract researchers or a chance to vote on senate? There are many small matters which, in this way, could help to restore morale and goodwill. If we believe that the collegiate principles of such institutions are important, the concept of membership and equality of membership is also important.

7.38 p.m.

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass

My Lords, it is more than a mere courtesy or formality that causes me to begin my first short contribution in your Lordships' House by thanking your Lordships and the staff of the House for the considerations and kindness I have been accorded in my short time here. I am genuinely grateful.

After 18 years in another place, preceded by 23 years as a village schoolmaster, I have quickly learnt that your Lordships' House, whatever it may appear to others, should not be regarded as some sort of ante-chamber just outside the gates of Heaven. That said, I recall how, after my 1997 re-election to another place, I found myself getting into a lift with a young lady who was obviously unfamiliar with her surroundings. Wishing only to be of assistance I enquired whether she enjoyed it here and for whom she worked. "I don't work for anyone", she replied, with perhaps not altogether feigned displeasure, "I am a Member of Parliament". I promise that I do not have any similar misapprehension about my place in your Lordships House. I am privileged to be here and I am anxious to learn how I may best contribute to the work of the House.

I have been well cautioned that my first contribution should not be controversial. What I cannot quite work out is why those who so advised me were predominantly former Secretaries of State and Ministers of State for Northern Ireland. Perhaps I made an impression on them. Yet, for me, education is an emotive subject at every level. Perhaps in that it is no different from any other aspect of politics, be it health, the environment or democracy.

In terms of democracy, my own political life in Northern Ireland terms has been dominated by a continuous striving for something better. Education and opportunity for our young people are an essential aspect of that ambition. However well we do in educational provision, we can never do well enough.

When I read the Dearing report I found it, if not somewhat confusing, frustrating and not altogether encouraging. It suggested that a greater reliance on short-term contracts could have a detrimental effect on the quality of achievement within higher education institutions, stating: Loss of expertise as staff on short-term contracts look for stable employment may lead to inefficiencies in research, and impair the quality of teaching. Career planning is difficult and the uncertainty may act as a disincentive for people to enter the profession, or remain in it, in the absence of more senior level posts". However, Dearing later appears to recognise a different reality when he states: Short-term contracts can be beneficial for both sides, if managed carefully. They provide the flexibility needed for projects whose funding cannot be guaranteed long term, thus enabling institutions to avoid making commitments they cannot fulfil". A 1999 report published by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education entitled Casualisation & Quality—a study of the issues for quality and research raised by the employment of part-time and fixed-term staff in higher education, concluded: The overall picture that emerges from this initial research is inconclusive, but does give ground for concern. There is plainly a mixed picture". At whatever level we consider the teaching profession, we cannot believe that we will achieve greater productivity and more commitment if there is a significant element of that profession unsure of its long-term future. Uncertainty does not engender happiness and unhappiness can only diminish the profession.

Obviously, there is some need for further and higher education institutions to have a degree of contractual flexibility but that must not be at a level that leads to instability. The questions to be decided must be: what is a sustainable baseline? Can it be defined on a national basis or does it vary from institution to institution? Can government do more to encourage greater levels of research funding than are at present achieved, through even closer links with industry? That may be the way forward.

In conclusion, reality is that higher and further education will always have to compete with industry and the private sector for the best brains. It will not do so successfully unless it either competes on a level playing field—financially the field is not level—or finds more ways of co-operating with the private sector, having defined common purpose and mutual benefits.

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe

My Lords, it gives me enormous pleasure to rise to compliment the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, on an excellent maiden speech. It was not only thoughtful but inspirational. I warmly welcome him to the House. I am particularly pleased to congratulate the noble Lord not only on the 23 years that he spent as a village schoolmaster, which I did not know, but also on the years that he spent as the vice-president of the Council of the University of Ulster. The noble Lord is another excellent addition to our debates on universities.

That university, along with its sister university, Queen's University Belfast, has made such a contribution not only to the cultural and social vitality of the Province but also to its growing economic success. The noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, has given outstanding service to his Province and outstanding parliamentary service in another place. He has devoted his attentions particularly to defence and policing. But I am sure that we can look forward to his speaking on many subjects in your Lordships' House in the future. We look forward to that.

I turn to the subject of the debate. I declare an interest as the chief executive of Universities UK. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for introducing this timely debate on a difficult issue, and for her speech. The noble Baroness looked not only at the past but also at the way in which the situation has improved. I hope it will improve further.

University vice-chancellors are aware of the many problems outlined by the noble Baroness associated with the use of short and medium-term contracts in higher education. I want to use this opportunity to describe their efforts to deal with the challenges that the situation presents. Their commitment to making improvements in this area reflects a firm conviction that productive, high-quality research depends on the sector's ability to recruit and retain the best possible staff. But we should not forget that we also need to look at the way the Government fund universities if we are to tackle properly the issues raised by the noble Baroness.

It is certainly true that universities employ many more staff on short-term and fixed-term contracts than they used to. That can lead to problems of job security and career progression. It is perhaps most of all an issue for research staff, some 30,000 of whom are employed on these types of contract. There is nothing wrong with spending a short time as a post-doctoral researcher. But extended use of such short-term and fixed-term appointments is certainly undesirable.

Universities are in no doubt about their obligation to treat all their employees fairly and to offer them opportunities to develop their careers. Like any other organisation, universities want to employ the expert staff who are vital to their success. However, universities face acute operational and business pressures. They have to be competitive. They are subject to market forces and must remain efficient and flexible to meet the challenges of the future.

In so doing, universities depend on a variety of sources of funding. Some of them are increasing and some are declining but nearly all of them are variable and insecure. For example, the volume of project grants from the national research councils and charities has risen sharply in recent years as has research undertaken for business and industry. But funding for both of those is for defined, time-limited projects. As a result, universities have little choice but to rely mostly on fixed-term contracts for the staff directly employed on those projects.

But universities certainly are not complacent about what they need to do to improve the conditions of those who work in them. They are tackling the problem in several different ways. Universities UK is represented on the Research Careers Initiative strategy group, which was established in 2000 with the support of the Minister for Science. It has produced a series of reports. The most recent one appeared in September. The RCI helps universities to promote career development of their contract researchers, the majority of whom—I stress this point—will not obtain permanent academic posts. The RCI's support includes addressing researchers' specific needs for training, career guidance and staff development. Many contract researchers need support to help them to move into other areas of work—for government or industrial research—where they build on their post-doctoral research experience.

There is little doubt that all that activity has resulted in measurable improvement, although, as I said, a great deal more needs to be done. There is clear evidence of high-level commitment to change, both within the sector and outside. Funding incentives have been introduced to encourage institutions to give greater priority to human resource issues. Clearer, stronger career structures for research staff are emerging, supported by revised institutional policies and practices that give greater recognition to the interests of that group. Measures are being developed to enable institutions to evaluate their performance in managing staff and research staff are central to such initiatives.

Institutions will also have a role in actively managing access to funding. They will need to support the development of research teams that can secure the income necessary to sustain them. They will also want to offer rolling contracts to those staff whose strengths match the funding opportunities available.

However, short-term contracts are not restricted to researchers. I turn to what is being done by the joint working group on staffing in higher education, set up in the wake of the 1999 Bett report. The report concluded that there was indeed scope for many institutions to reduce their use of fixed-term and casual employment. The group comprises the Universities and Colleges Employers Association and higher education trade unions. The group has published a guide to good practice for fixed-term and casual employment in higher education and helps institutions to balance levels of short-term and casual contracts with the demands on them to retain their flexibility.

I am pleased that those central initiatives have fed through to changes on the ground. In an interesting development, individual universities are leading efforts to identify and disseminate good practice. One project group, led by the University of Sheffield, is considering appraisal; the University of Manchester is leading a study to track career trajectories; and the University of Loughborough is considering continuing professional development. Those are just three of many initiatives, which are beginning to make a real difference.

My final point is that there must be a fundamental rethink of how universities are funded if their reliance on short-term contracts is to he reduced—especially for staff outside research. It is well known that the unit of funding for universities has progressively declined over recent decades. I do not want to dwell on the past, but it is nevertheless true that the level of universities' core funding, combined with uncertainty about the size of total allocation from year to year, is central to this issue. The cumulative effect of the declining unit of resource is that universities lack the financial security to underwrite the risks of longer term employment contracts in project-funding areas.

That is one reason why in the spending review submission of Universities UK, we have made clear that extra resources are needed to invest in university staff. Just as importantly, any increases in funding need to be in core funding, to allow universities the flexibility to offer good terms to the staff whom they employ and value. Of course, I do not expect any announcement of extra resources today, but the Minister's comments on the value of stable core funding would be most welcome.

7.54 p.m.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford for introducing the debate. Her account of her own case history explained more clearly the problems that we face with the rise of short-term contracts in the higher education than ever could any set of statistics. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, for his distinguished contribution to the debate and welcome him to your Lordships' House. Let us not be downhearted by the shortness of the list of speakers for the debate. As my grandmother said, good things come in little parcels.

As we have heard from my noble friend, the phenomenon of the rise of short-term contracts has occurred for many years. It applies to both teaching and research staff in the higher education sector. Almost half of all lecturers work part-time, are paid by the hour and are on short-term contracts. Those are not outside experts retained for a particular project but lecturers needed year on year to deliver regular courses. About a quarter of all academic staff are contract research staff—mostly full-time but also on short-term contracts. Like my noble friend, many of them have had years on such contracts.

The main concern must be quality. The quality of teaching by staff on repeated short-term contracts may not be of the best. Although the opportunity to gain a variety of experience may be seen to be an advantage, there are fewer opportunities to bed in at an institution and climb the academic tree in one place.

A report of the Further Education and Funding Council Inspectorate found that lessons taught by part-time staff were not always as good as those taught by full-time staff. Many part-time staff are on short-term contracts. Those contracts may affect career prospects of lecturers and the students whom they teach. There are also concerns about systematic monitoring of the performance of short-term staff and the ability to deliver continuity of course provision to students.

It is important for universities and colleges to devote sufficient time to the integration of contract staff—familiarising them with the course and the institution. The establishment is on a constant learning curve when it has a large number of short-term contract staff. The learning curve is a period well recognised in industry as requiring especial effort and investment.

The concordat introduced following the 1995 report of your Lordships' Select Committee sets out two objectives: improving career management and providing long-term support for research staff. How well have those objectives been realised?

Another concern is whether consistency of the examination system and student grading can be maintained when many staff are on short-term contracts, so that results are properly comparable year on year and from one institution to another. There are further concerns about the conditions of work of short-term contract staff compared with those in permanent establishment—as graphically described by my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford. Especially in the sciences, the high turn-over of lecturers and research staff introduces a series of hiccups into the otherwise smooth progress of a department or project.

The 1994 report, Learning from Audit, published by the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education noted: audit reports seemed to suggest that many part-time, casual and short-term staff were excluded from institution-based appraisal, staff development and promotion schemes". Has anything changed since then?

The situation described by noble Lords presents enormous challenges to the human resource departments of higher education institutions. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, about how they are tackling those problems. The Government would not expect a school to develop an individual ethos and personality—which they say that they want—if that school were staffed by a lot of teachers on short-term contracts. Why should they expect a college or university to do so? It is difficult for any institution to establish the loyalty and corporate spirit for which we would hope under the circumstances described by my noble friend.

We on these Benches believe that it is a question of the right balance between the enrichment, flexibility and economic benefits of short-term contracts—mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick—and the problems of stress, pension problems, mortgage difficulties and difficulties with continuity, quality, consistency and the monitoring of the delivery of courses mentioned by my noble friend.

8 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, for initiating this important debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, on his excellent maiden speech. As a former Army officer who served in Northern Ireland, I am deeply impressed by his reputation and gallant record. He served in the Ulster Defence Regiment and later as an MP for Fermanagh for 18 hard years. One can conclude only that he is a courageous man. We welcome him to your Lordships' House and look forward to hearing from him on many occasions.

The National Union of Students stated that, The increasing tendency to employ lecturers on a part-time and temporary basis leads to diminishing teaching quality as well as demoralisation in the workforce due to job insecurity, poor pay and poor conditions". In September 2001 around 60,000 academic staff were employed on fixed-term contracts in the UK. A recent report suggests that universities are second only to the catering industry in the "casualisation" of their workforce. During a period of 18 years it is possible to have a contract renewed at least 54 times in the higher education sector. Those facts do not make for happy reading. If the Government wish for high quality teaching in further and higher education, surely they should be resolving the situation.

We on these Benches have no objection to the use of short-term contracts when their use allows for a degree of flexibility both for the benefit of the institution and the needs of some individuals. However, as I shall emphasise today, the degree of reliance on short-term contracts and the reasons given for them goes well beyond that, which is neither sensible nor makes for effective management of further and higher education. It also deters many highly qualified staff from taking up posts at a time of great shortage.

Why has "casualisation" taken place? The usual argument is that the dependence of universities on "soft money" from contracts and awards renders fixed-term contracts expedient. Fixed-term contracts allow the flexibility that is required to deal with uncertainties in the universities' year-by-year funding allocation.

Long-term structural changes are also responsible. Core funding is allocated more precisely and often tied to numbers. The volume of research has grown enormously, mostly on "soft money" from research councils and commercial sponsors. Senior academics have become managers of research, chasing contracts and deploying large numbers of short-term staff. To maximise their effectiveness and cope with larger numbers of students, these "managers" are using part-time, short-term and casual staff to spread the teaching load.

A number of interesting issues have arisen from "casualisation". Those issues are not conducive for the nurturing of high quality students in further and higher education sectors, nor are they good for encouraging high-quality teachers and lecturers to settle in a career dedicated to the nurturing of these students.

Sexual equality is an issue. Half of women academics are on short-term temporary contracts. In some universities—for example, St Andrews—women are nearly twice as likely as men to hold fixed-term positions, with contracts lasting as little as three months in some cases.

The prospect of a stable and stimulating teaching career is becoming less attractive. Short and medium-term contracts make the teaching and lecturing professions unappealing to those who might otherwise enter them. Without sufficient teaching staff, it will not be possible for universities to deliver the kind of student increases envisaged by the Government. The Guardian of 1st May 2001 stated that: The job is bedevilled by insecurity and only 5% have a modicum of stability". Difficulties at work are also an issue. Similar to the view expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, Dr Clare Goodness of the Climatic Research Unit, UEA, said: It certainly affects morale. You tend to be excluded from some of the decision-making structures in the university. You do very much feel like a second-class employee. You also have to spend a lot of time writing proposals and trying to bring in more money". Stress is another factor. A pilot survey issued by the Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers) found that almost two-thirds of contract researchers and teachers in geography fear that insecurity at work is affecting their health and well-being. Almost 40 per cent of those surveyed felt that being on a temporary contract had a negative effect on their work.

Personal finance is also an issue. In many universities, contract researchers cannot hold grants, nor are they entitled to sick pay, study leave or other benefits available to permanent lecturers.

Let us look at some of the disadvantages to students. There is the geographical instability of short-term contracts which are often scattered around the country. For those students who are taught by contract researchers, that could mean a change of lecturer, supervisor or even teacher every few months. What is more, those people are teaching by the hour, which means that there will be little available assistance to students out of class.

The European Community directive on fixed-term employment is intended to help those on short-term contracts. It aims to prevent discrimination against fixed-term workers and to prevent abuse arising from successive fixed-term employment contracts.

In March 2001, the Government proposed draft legislation to implement the directive. The regulations would outlaw less favourable employment conditions for fixed-term staff compared with their permanent colleagues and limit successive fixed-term contract employment to four years. However, pay and pension benefits are excluded from the legislation. Furthermore, the four-year limit could be exceeded where it was justifiable on objective grounds. Those grounds are not defined. Can the Minister say when the Government propose to bring forward such legislation?

In conclusion, it seems that the predominance of fixed-term contracts can be detrimental to staff morale, the quality of research and the quality of teaching. What action do the Government intend to take in order that our universities have a good employment structure in place for teachers and lecturers? The structure must encourage well qualified people into the teaching profession; promote teaching talent, academic achievement and excellence in research; and inspire more young people into further and higher education.

At present the Government talk about measuring their higher education policy by the percentage of the student population entering into university. Surely the Government should measure the success of their higher education by the number of students who finish their courses with quality degrees. That system must be reliant on a high-quality, dedicated army of teachers and lecturers.

8.8 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, for introducing the debate on an issue which is crucial to the future prosperity of our country. I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, decided to choose this debate in which to make his impressive maiden speech. He sought to impress upon the House—and he did indeed impress us—two points. He said that education could engage the emotions in terms of our desire for the highest quality of provision, and I share with him that emotive commitment to the value of education. He also spoke of the fairness implicit in a level playing field, particularly for staff, and in their relativities to people who work elsewhere. Certainly, the matter needs to be addressed. The Government fully recognise that teachers in all sectors of education deserve proper reward and high value from the community for their contributions. Lifelong learning is central to the Government's plans. We recognise the need for a highly qualified and skilled workforce and a research base of the highest quality if we are to punch above our weight in the international marketplace in future.

In responding to the points made this evening I should like to consider the question of staff contracts in both further and higher education in the wider context of both standards and responsiveness. Perhaps in this Chamber in the past we have been guilty of giving precedence to higher education. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and others indicated, this issue obtains as much in further education as in higher education. I hope to address these issues on fairly equal terms.

Three themes underpin our post-16 agenda: widening participation, responsiveness and standards. I hope and believe that your Lordships recognise and support widening participation in lifelong learning and note the role played by further education in increasing access to higher education. It cannot be right that only some 40 per cent of young people from lower socio-economic groups go into higher education compared with 70 per cent of those from higher socioeconomic groups. Social inclusion, surely, means giving every young person a sense of worth both to himself and herself and to society, and the education service has a key role in communicating that.

Responsiveness is perhaps more complex and clearly includes the terms on which institutions in the post-16 sector employ staff. For too long we have not connected post-compulsory education closely enough with the world of work and it is now time to make that connection clearer. That does not mean tying public expenditure to commerce but being more sensitive to meeting the needs of the economy by ensuring that public funding goes into further and higher education. To achieve this, post-16 institutions must engage with industry. That is part of my response to the valuable points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. Such engagement with industry and the wider world must necessitate a range of part-time provision where people working in one area contribute to the education service and have experience of both sectors. This means that we need flexible contracting arrangements and an increasingly fluid boundary between educational institutions and the wider world. Does that not clearly imply flexible terms and conditions for staff in publicly funded post-16 institutions?

I remind your Lordships that in 1993 in both FE and HE we moved to a position where institutions were autonomous and had freedom to determine the pay and conditions of their staff. Since then they have worked hard to ensure that their employment practices are consistent with best practice in the public sector, including the fair treatment of fixed-term and part-time staff. Part-time and contract staff may need additional support if they are to make an effective contribution, and that too is gaining recognition. Staff are the key resource for post-16 learning and the Government have made support available for good working practices.

I hope, therefore, that the particularly graphic illustration offered by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp—the fact that she was perhaps treated as a second-class citizen within the institution because of her status and the work that she did—is recognised as a thing of the past. The contribution of my noble friend Lady Warwick indicates just how sensitive higher education institutions are becoming to the necessity to value part-time staff and short-term contracts and also to recognise the importance of such staff being fully integrated into the HE institution on terms equal to those which apply to their full-time colleagues.

In further education there has long been a tradition of flexible working practices and secondments into and from industry. Some two-thirds of college staff now work part time and about half are on temporary contracts. There is now a move for all FE staff to obtain relevant qualifications, starting with new entrants this year. Support for this is provided by the standards fund for existing staff without qualifications, the invaluable work of the FE national training organisation on standards for all staff in the sector and the teaching pay initiative—£300 million from the Government over three years—to restore career pathways. Part-time staff are vital to further education. All of the initiatives that I have mentioned show that action is in hand to enable them to deliver education and training of the highest quality alongside their full-time colleagues.

As has been mentioned by several noble Lords who contributed to the debate, Sir Michael Bett's independent review of higher education pay and conditions looked into fixed-term contracts. It found that overall 26 per cent of HE staff had fixed-term contracts and 93 per cent of researchers were on fixed-term contracts. The Bett committee found that pay and conditions for fixed-term contract staff were generally as good as those for permanent staff, although there was some anecdotal evidence of fixed-term staff being treated less favourably than permanent colleagues when it came to promotion. I hope that the observations vouchsafed by my noble friend Lady Warwick about the extent to which HE institutions are addressing themselves to these issues guarantees that fairness between different categories of staff is an important priority for HE institutions.

There is no evidence that students suffer as a result of the employment of contract or part-time staff in higher education. NATFHE recently published the report In front the Cold about part-time lecturers in higher education which did not uncover any problems in this area. Membership of the Institute of Learning and Teaching helps lecturers to ensure that they are equipped with the skills necessary to be able to give a high standard of teaching to their students. The ILT encourages membership of part-time staff, which represent approximately 9 per cent of the 8,500 membership of that institute.

I turn specifically to fixed-term staff in higher education. In 1999 a joint working group comprising representatives of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and the HE trades unions was set up to look at Bett's recommendation that there was scope for many HE institutions to reduce their use of fixed-term employment. As a result, UCEA issued guidelines to the sector on casual and contract employment. The report Fixed-Term and Casual Employment in HE—a Guide to Good Practice was published in June 2000. It recommended that institutions should seek to reduce the number of their staff on fixed-term contracts and develop more detailed local agreements with their recognised unions.

I recognise that the pace of change may not be as rapid as we all hope, but there is no doubt about the commitment of HE institutions to ensure that good practice becomes universal. Since then there has been progress more generally on HE pay and conditions. Earlier this autumn, the eight HE unions accepted the 2001 pay deal offered by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association. The deal involves the creation of a single joint negotiating committee and a single pay spine for all staff. The new pay machinery provides employers and unions with a vehicle to modernise pay and conditions for HE staff and to pursue the issues raised by Sir Michael Bett, including the crucial issue of casualisation.

While pay remains entirely a matter for HE employers and the trade unions, we want to help the HE sector get the new machinery off the ground quickly. It has a key role to play in resolving some of the long-standing issues raised by noble Lords this evening. That is why the Secretary of State has undertaken to provide up to £300,000 over three years towards the start-up costs of the new negotiating machinery. The sector is also taking steps to address the equal opportunities issues which affect all staff but which may have a particularly marked effect on casual, contract and part-time staff. UUK, SCOP and the funding councils have set up an equality challenge framework to promote equal opportunities for all HE staff. At its core is the Equality Challenge Unit, an office-based group of four full-time professional equality staff, which will work directly with institutions to help them to deliver the improvements, monitoring and performance that they have promised in their equal opportunity policy statements.

We recognise that there is only so much that the sector can do without additional funding. That is why we have both increased funding for the HE sector and included £330 million over three years to support increases in HE pay and modernisation of the human resource development in universities.

As regards university research, it is not surprising that Sir Michael Bett found that so many researchers were on fixed-term contracts. It is recognised that the concordat to which reference has been made in the debate has begun to produce some very significant improvements in this area. The Research Careers Initiative, chaired by Sir Gareth Roberts, to monitor progress and identify and encourage best practice is an important dimension of this. As a result, the Office of Science and Technology and the DfES have put resources into the improved career guidance and staff training recommended by Sir Gareth.

Returning, finally, to the issue of standards, the results of FEFC inspections in the further education sector show that the percentage of further education lessons taught by part-time staff judged to be unsatisfactory was 3 per cent higher than for lessons taught by full-time staff.

What are we to read into this? At face value, it would seem that part-time staff are not a good thing if we are to pursue a standards agenda. But if we look more closely a more complex picture emerges, to which I hope my remarks this evening have done some justice. The key, surely, is that all staff, whatever their contractual position, need to be properly integrated and supported if they are to contribute as effectively as their full-time colleagues. Colleges and universities must recognise this. Indeed, they are doing so, and they are putting in place, with government support, the necessary arrangements.

The noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, seemed to indicate that these were novel issues derived over the past four years of the present administration. As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, accurately identified at the beginning of the debate, the issue of part-time staff has a long history. We need to ensure that we make progress on the integration of part-time staff fully with full-time staff and guarantee that we have a proper structure in universities and colleges to ensure that everyone gets their true deserts.

I entirely accept the proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, that success in higher education should be measured on the quality of the experience of students and their success rates. The success rates of today's higher education institutions bear comparison entirely with the past against a background of the significant efforts made by HE institutions to accept more students.

In my view, higher education is a success story. The number of students is at a record level and the number of applications continues to rise. We are working towards a target of 50 per cent of young people participating in higher education by 2010, with a clear focus on widening participation.

We have taken some tough decisions on funding. Since 1996, the total additional funding for institutions is £1.7 billion, an increase of 37 per cent in cash terms over the six years up to 2003–04, an 18 per cent increase in real terms. With 1 per cent of the world's population, the UK carries out 4.5 per cent of the world's research. We have demonstrated our commitment to help sustain world-class research with the announcement in 2000 of substantial funding for science.

As far as concerns further education, we have pumped an extra £527 million into FE budgets this year alone, a 12 per cent increase in real terms this year, with another 3 per cent next year. Total spending per full-time equivalent student is up by 4 per cent in real terms this year.

Of course there are issues of fairness between groups of staff in both further and higher education institutions. It is essential that we ensure that students taught by part-time staff enjoy exactly the same quality of experience as those taught by full-time staff. There are many challenges ahead of us. It is obvious from the debate that both higher education institutions and further education institutions are well aware of the obligations that they have to part-time staff, both in research and teaching. I am quite sure that we will see significant progress in this area in the years ahead.