§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Bryan.]
§ 11.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
I do not want to detain the Financial Secretary longer than I need after he has been so busily engaged in the somewhat more important debate we have had earlier today. I feel particularly apologetic if he has to go into this matter in great detail, because, if one goes into the ins and outs of it, it is quite as complicated as the Purchase Tax Clauses and Schedules in the Finance Bill. I spend a difficult period trying to follow the report of the Vice-Chancellors' Committee, and I hope the hon. and learned Gentleman has not had to do that in addition to reading 1259 through the Purchase Tax Clauses and other parts of the Finance Bill.
At present, we are looking forward to the implementation of the Chancellor's statement of 20th February, when he envisaged an increase in university places by the mid-sixties to 124,000 plus a possible increment beyond that. We have now about 95,000 in our universities, but the places available are not enough. In making that statement I am in fairly good company, because a few weeks ago the educational correspondent of the Sunday Times said, bluntly:There are not enough places for able boys in our universities,and pointed out how much this fact worried headmasters, the able boys themselves, parents, administrators, and tutors at the universities.
A week ago, the other of the two "posh" Sunday newspapers—to use the phrase of the angry young man—the Observer, carried an article by Robin Pedley in which he said very much the same thing; that the universities are being flooded with applicants for whom they cannot find places.
The first thing I want to say is that we should try to make some sort of estimate of what numbers will be coming forward as qualified applicants for university places each session. We can then at least put that against the capacity of the universities, even though, as the hon. and learned Gentleman says, there is not an exact number of places. I know this may be difficult, and it is probably extremely complex, but I should like the hon. and learned Gentleman to express an opinion on the possibility.
In the session 1955–56 there were admitted to the universities about 25,000 students. A considerable group of other applicants were promised admission after a wait of a year or more. About 2,000–2,500 who were qualified in the sense of having London University entrance qualifications were not admitted at all, then or later.
The situation is serious when we remember that those 2,000–2,500 students are qualified and could have taken university courses had these been available to them, and when we remember how much importance we attach to enabling all students who are able to do so to go on to a university. The whole point of this debate is that this figure 1260 is big enough to demand a great deal of attention from the Government; but I am not sure it is getting it.
In respect of the period from 1955 to the present session of 1957–58 there are no figures of which I know which indicate whether there was a corresponding number of qualified applicants who were not admitted. The one thing that we are told in general reply when we raise the problem is simply that in the mid-sixties there will be 124,000 places. But it really is no answer to say that in, say, 1965 there will be so many places. In 1955, we had this number of non-admittances, and there may be an equal number of non-admittances each year from 1955 to 1965. There may indeed, even after the expansion, still be a number of qualified applicants who are not able to gain admission. As a matter of national policy, it seems to me that the 1955 number is big enough to call for attention from the Government.
What does the situation require—to use a phrase with which we used to be familiar in a well-known advertisement? There are one or two points which I should like to note before suggesting some specific things that ought to be done. The first thing that the situation requires is that the Government should recognise the importance of the problem and should look at it as an important problem. It is not simply a question of increasing the number of university places. That is a desirable thing and a major object of policy. There should be an attempt to increase the number of university places, or make other provision, in such a way as will enable all who are qualified to pursue a degree course.
One asks the obvious questions about a number left over like this. How many of them would have made a first-rate contribution as graduates to our national life? How many of them would have taken their places in the work of science and technology, which we want to increase and expand so much? To what extent with such a figure of non-admittances are pupils discouraged from staying on at school and parents and headmasters discouraged from urging them to do so? That is another element in policy which we have been trying to stress for some years.
After the Government have recognised the importance of the problem, they 1261 should consider the question of providing some information about it. It is not very satisfactory that one should be working in 1958 on figures dating back to the beginning of the 1955–56 session; and they are an estimate at that. I know the difficulty of finding the figures. I am not trying to say that figures can be provided easily. But I am asking the hon. and learned Gentleman to give his attention to the question.
In particular, I think we ought to have some information session by session if it can be made available. Is it, for instance, the case that there will be a number of qualified students not admitted in the coming academic year? The Sunday Times says emphatically, "Yes." The Observer also says "Yes." The Chancellor of the Exchequer the other day said "Yes." This is a matter of great importance, and it raises the question of what are the numbers involved and what should be done.
The Treasury ought to focus the question and analyse it and work out some method of trying to enable these students to embark on degree courses. This involves the question of how far the Treasury is responsible. Both the Chancellor and the hon. and learned Gentleman have said in effect that this is the responsibility of the universities and not of Ministers. That is all very well. I have great respect for the universities. I would not want gratuitously to criticise them. But there is not only the interest of the universities concerned here, or only the interests of the students. There is a considerable public interest.
It is a matter of public policy that qualified students should be enabled to embark on degree courses. The Government, therefore, ought to take responsibility in the matter. They can jog the elbows of the universities, they can advise the universities, they can do a great deal through the University Grants Committee. It seems to me they should accept the responsibility.
Here are one or two specific things I suggest should be done, or, in our political jargon, steps I suggest should be taken. In the first place, I think there is a problem connected with the number and size of grants. Many of these people would have attended university courses had it not been that financial considerations kept them back. I do not pursue 1262 that any further, because it is such a very obvious point.
The next point is that the inquiry which the university authorities are now conducting into the possibility of clearing arrangements seems to me essential and, if possible, should be speeded up. The lack of places in 1955 was more apparent than real. We had 2,000 to 2,500 qualified non-admittances, but we also had about 2,500 vacant places after that university session had started. The two figures do not correspond; but in all likelihood a number of the 2,000 or 2,500 could have been fitted into vacant places. How many, one does not know; possibly only one-third or one-quarter, possibly one-half or three-quarters or four-fifths. At any rate, clearing arrangements would have fitted some of them in, and that does not seem to me to be entirely a matter for the universities themselves. It is a matter also in which the public interest is deeply involved.
The third point is this. In the London area there is a good case for special clearing arrangements. Even if they could not be established nationally in time for next session. I think they could in the London area, which has a pretty complex problem, be fairly quickly established.
Fourthly, there are or have been at a number of technical colleges, particularly in the London area, degree courses which in many cases have been closed down and in other cases are running with very few students.
This is a paradoxical situation. I do not claim that the technical colleges should, as a long-term policy, run degree courses, but in the present circumstances they definitely should do so. Those which run courses now should have their facilities taken up fully. They should not be running courses with only a few students. Those colleges with experience of running courses in the past should be encouraged to run them again. The Ministry of Education is, apparently, not inclined to take that line. The Ministry got the colleges to close down some courses because they found there were not enough students. At present, the students are available, and it would seem reasonable that they should, therefore, re-open closed courses and fill up those courses which are only half full.
These are one or two practical steps which should be taken. I have tried to 1263 put the question simply, without going into all the complexities. I come back to the point which is of serious import to the nation: that all students who wish to enter university who have the qualifications to enter a degree course should find a place in such a course.
I am sorry that in his reply the other day the Chancellor of the Exchequer rather blurred the question of entrance qualifications. He is one Minister whom I would find it difficult to criticise. He is usually most helpful and obliging to the House. I cannot understand why he introduced the question of A level passes. This did not come in at all, because we had been talking on the basis of the hon. and learned Gentleman's first answer to one of my questions, which put the matter on the basis of London University passes. It seems to me that we could leave out these complexities. There are a considerable number of people who are qualified, in the sense that they have London University entrance qualifications, who are not able to embark on a degree course and who should be enabled so to embark.
§ 12.7 a.m.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. J. E. S. Simon)
The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk Burghs (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson), with his usual courtesy and good nature, apologised for keeping me up to reply to this debate. I can assure him that he need not have done so. I fully recognise the importance of this subject. I know his very great interest in it, and his knowledge of its complexities. I assure him that the Government themselves recognise the importance of the matters which he has raised. But I cannot go the whole way with him as to what is the responsibility of the Government.
I called to mind while the hon. Gentleman was speaking what Disraeli once said to the House thata university should be a place of light, of liberty and of learning.I think that liberty is a very important part of what we conceive to be the proper function of a university in our British life. Therefore, when the hon. Gentleman says, to come to a detail, that the clearing arrangements are not entirely a matter for the universities themselves and that the public is interested, although I agree that the public is interested, this should not involve the corollary that the 1264 Government should interfere. The clearing arrangements between universities are entirely a matter for the universities themselves.
I know that the hon. Gentleman does not think otherwise. But I think it worth while saying that the Government are not in a position, and nor should they be, to give orders to vice-chancellors. Nor are the vice-chancellors in a position to give orders to their universities. I know that the hon. Gentleman would not suggest otherwise, but occasionally the opposite conception tends just to colour some of his thoughts on these matters.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson
I quite agree. I do not believe that the Government should give orders to universities. But it has happened in the past. I note particularly the Government's desire that universities should double their output of scientists after the war. The universities did that. They do carry out Government policy when it is put to them.
§ Mr. Simon
I entirely agree that there should be liaison between the Government and the University Grants Committee and between the University Grants Committee and the universities themselves. A primary function of the Government, as it seems to me, and as I think the hon. Gentleman himself recognised, is to make available funds to secure such expansion in the universities as is required to produce enough graduates to fulfil the function that we think graduates should fulfil in our national life in the future. That was really the fundamental tenor of the hon. Gentleman's observations.
There has already been a very encouraging expansion. When one looks at the figures that my right hon. Friend gave on 20th February, one should not at the same time lose sight of the fact that that is the continuation of a progress which is already in train. For example, in 1953–54 the number of undergraduate students admitted was 21,153, but in October, 1957, that had risen to 27,206. That is a startling increase considering the amount of building and expansion that has been required to accommodate them. Again the full-time students in universities was 80,600 odd in 1953–54; in October, 1957, it was 94,600.
The hon. Gentleman asked me to estimate what would be the requirements looking ahead. I would not like to prophesy specifically, because I think 1265 there are certain factors which are more difficult to assess. At the moment and in the immediate future we have got the problem of the termination of National Service, which the hon. Gentleman knows has thrown a very great strain on the universities. That will solve itself, I think, in the next few years.
On the other hand, there are two factors which will operate later on. The first is that the full effect of the increase in the birth rate after the war will not be felt in the universities until about the middle of the next decade. The second—and it is this which makes it almost impossible to give any sort of accurate prophecy—is the uncertainty of the future of the present tendency of greater numbers of children to stay on at school and enter the General Certificate of Education at the advanced level. At the moment the number is increasing, and I think we all desire that it should continue to do so, but we do not know how far that tendency will continue; and, of course, that will be one of the most vital factors in the production of potential university students.
Faced nevertheless with at least the certainty that the increase in the birth rate will justify a larger university population by the mid-1960's, my right hon. Friend dealt on 20th February with the expanded university building programme, and I need not go into the details which he then set out because I know the hon. Gentleman has them very much in mind. As he said, they assume, in effect, an increase from about 90,000 students to 124,000 students. That is, I suppose, the largest increase in university building and population ever to be seen in the history of our universities.
That sum of money which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced would be available was in addition to the expenditure on the expansion of Imperial College. The hon. Member indicated that he was particularly interested in the progress of scientific education in the London area. The expansion of Imperial College, which is proceeding apace, will cost about £15 million and will finally provide for an expansion of student population from 1,650 to 3,300. That is, as I say, in addition to the programme that my right hon. Friend announced.
In addition, if the hon. Member looks in the Civil Estimates, Class IV, 12, at 1266 the University and College Estimate, he will see that 92 major building projects costing about £24½ million were all begun before 1st December, 1957. About half will be completed this year and about another quarter in 1959–60. In money value, nearly £20 million worth of this £24½ million will be completed by the end of 1958–59. I hope that this, at least, will satisfy the hon. Member that the expansion has started and is continuing and that the programme announced by my right hon. Friend is no more than the continuance of a process which is already happily in train.
The hon. Member referred particularly to the question of "clearing" arrangements. As I have emphasised, that is purely a matter for the universities. I cannot help feeling that it would be improper for my right hon. Friend or myself to interfere with matters of that sort, which are peculiarly within the cognizance of the universities.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacPherson
In the London area, in particular, there are a large number of technical colleges, many of which still run degree courses. It does not seem to me that clearing arrangements would be entirely complete or proper if they did not involve these degree courses in the technical colleges. For that reason, it does not seem to be quite correct that they should be restricted to the universities alone.
§ Mr. Simon
I was about to add, as, I think, the hon. Member knows, that the vice-chancellors have the clearing arrangements very much under review. I told the hon. Member in answer to a Parliamentary Question a short time ago that they hope to have a report issued later in the summer.
Without dealing further with that matter, perhaps I could go directly to the last point made by the hon. Member concerning the technical colleges and their degree courses. The situation is much less melancholy than the hon. Member suggested, because there are now eight designated colleges of advanced technology and 40 recognised courses for the Diploma in Technology. That is equivalent to an honours degree course, which, I think, is what the hon. Member had in mind. Some 1,360 students are taking this diploma course, and. what is important, the number of 1267 students in their first year is nearly double those in their second year. In other words, rather than a decline, there is a substantial increase. Some 740 students are in their first year. To date, a further 21 courses have been recognised for next September. That should lead to a substantially increased student intake of first-year students, possibly 50 per cent. more. I hope that if that does not fully satisfy the hon. Member, it will at least go some way to removing his misgivings.
As I say, I do not think that it would be right for me to interfere in any way with the clearing arrangements, but I will see that the vice-chancellors' atten- 1268 tion is drawn to the suggestion which the hon. Gentleman has just made, that the review of the clearing arrangements between universities should be co-ordinated with a review of the comparable arrangements for the colleges of advanced technology.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be satisfied that, so far as matters lie within the proper sphere of the Government, we are conscious of the problem involved, which he so fairly stated, and we are taking proper steps to cope with it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-one minutes past Twelve o'clock.