HC Deb 24 February 1965 vol 707 cc390-8
The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Anthony Crosland)

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement on the development of higher education.

The Government have now considered the recommendations of the Robbins Committee for the expansion of teacher-training places, the creation of new universities, and the designation of Special Institutions for Scientific and Technological Education and Research.

The Robbins Committee recommended a 10-year programme designed to provide, by 1973–74, 390,000 full-time higher education places in universities, colleges of education and technical colleges in Great Britain. The Government accept the objectives of 390,000 places in higher education by 1973–74, and of 218,000 places in universities.

The Government have now decided that 122,000 of the remaining places should be places for training teachers. This will nearly double the number of students in training. In addition, we are urgently examining all possible ways of increasing the output of teachers from existing facilities.

These measures will not only contribute significantly to the widening of educational opportunity which was promised in the Gracious Speech; they will also secure a further large increase in the output of teachers for our schools.

I am keeping the whole subject of teacher supply under close review and I look forward to receiving shortly the next report of the National Advisory Council on the Training and Supply of Teachers.

On the question of new universities, the Government have considered the advice given by the University Grants Committee, and it is now clear that the target of 218,000 university places in 1973–74 is within the capacity of existing universities and other institutions of university status.

As the House knows, the colleges of advanced technology, in England and Wales, and the Heriot Watt College, in Scotland, will be given university status and added to the University Grants Committee's list from 1st April next; and the University Grants Committee will in due course advise the Government on the means by which the Royal College of Art and the College of Aeronautics, Cranfield, should also be brought within the ambit of the Committee.

No change in these plans is involved; but apart from this and such developments as the creation of separate universities at St. Andrews and Dundee, the Government have decided that no more additional universities or accessions to university status will be needed for about 10 years, with one exception. They are actively considering the possibility of creating within that period a completely new technological university institution in the North-East.

The Government will, of course, examine well before the 10 years are up the possibility that more universities may be needed thereafter.

The Government have also considered, with the advice of the University Grants Committee and the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy, the important recommendation of the Robbins Committee that five institutions should be developed and designated as a category of superior institutions to be known as SISTERS—Special Institutions for Scientific and Technological Education and Research.

They wholly accept the principle of selective development and expansion of technological education at a high level. They consider, however, that this will be best achieved not by creating a separate category within institutions of university status, but by continuing the build-up of the three specialised institutions named by the Robbins Committee—Imperial College, London, the Manchester College of Science and Technology, and Strathclyde University. These will be given priority in the provision of finance, both capital and current, moreover, as I have said, the creation of a new technological university in the North-East is now being urgently examined.

But the Government do not accept the recommendation to select one out of the 10 colleges of advanced technology for special treatment; and they have decided, on balance, against giving any institutions a special designation as SISTERs.

The House will see that the Government accept the substance of the Robbins Committee's proposals on this matter. But, as to method, they prefer to encourage and expand the many promising developments in the technological departments of other universities, including colleges of advanced technology; and they wish to prevent the false impression arising that a first-class technological education is available only in a small handful of institutions.

The Government will keep the whole development of higher education under review, with particular reference to the need to increase the supply of scientists and technologists.

Sir Edward Boyle

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman a number of questions arising out of this long and important statement, which we should like to debate? First, on the expansion of teacher supply, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Conservative Party, having itself made plans to treble the supply of teacher-training places in 12 years, naturally welcome his decision to double the number of places in 10 years?

May I ask two questions arising from this? First, bearing in mind the pledge of the Labour Party, at the last election, to get all class sizes down to 30, is it not a fact that the expansion programme which the right hon. Gentleman has announced will mean that class sizes can be brought down to no smaller than 40, 10 years from now?

Secondly, in view of what the right hon. Gentleman said about the next Report of the National Advisory Council, and bearing in mind that the previous Government accepted the last Report of the Advisory Council in full, to expand to 80,000 by 1970, if the National Advisory Council recommend some pushing forward of this programme of 120,000, will the right hon. Gentleman accept that recommendation?

I turn to the decision about no new universities—with one reservation, which I shall come to later. We realise the right hon. Gentleman's difficulty, bearing in mind the small number of extra university places he has to play with between 1967–68 and 1973–74, but is he aware that this decision must be disappointing to a large number of regional technical colleges, in particular? Will he say what steps he is taking to strengthen the nonautomonomous sector of higher technological education by strengthening the Council for National Academic Awards, perhaps giving it more regional responsibility?

I also have one question to ask about numbers. Is it not absurd to pretend that the total number in the non-autonomous sector will be only 50,000 in the regional and area technical colleges by 1974 when those numbers have very nearly been reached already and, on the plans of the previous Government, are certain to reach about 70,000 by 1973–74?

Further—and I apologise to the House for taking rather long, but a number of points were raised in the statement—on the subject of the SISTERs, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that we agree with him in accepting the advice of the University Grants Committee and the Advisory Council, even though this decision must be very disappointing to a number of colleges of advanced technology, which hoped to be promoted?

On the question of the new technological institution in the North-East, does the right hon. Gentleman's "offer to consider" amount to an acceptance in principle of what I believe the whole House considers to be an important step?

Mr. Crosland

The right hon. Gentleman asked a rather large number of questions. I counted nine in all.

The question about a debate is one for my right hon. Friend who, I am sure, will listen sympathetically to that request.

On the question of teacher supply, for which the right hon. Gentleman claimed considerable credit for the Conservative Government, perhaps I can answer him best by quoting some figures. Taking England and Wales alone, the number of teachers now in training colleges is about 61,000. The number of teachers under the plans announced by the previous Government would have been 80,000 in 1970. Under the new plans which we are announcing now there will be 111,000 in 1973–74. This is, therefore, a very large increase indeed on the plans to which the previous Government were committed.

It is perfectly true, on the question of the size of classes, that what I have been discussing is a long-term programme for increased teacher supply. If we were to take this alone it would not get us down to the size of classes which both sides of the House would like to see, but this is only one aspect of the programme and, as I said, I am urgently considering other, shorter-term, measures to increase teacher supply long before 1970. I will be disappointed if I cannot make a statement on this during the next few weeks.

The right hon. Gentleman then asked whether I would accept the recommendations which the National Advisory Council may or may not make. I suggest that I should wait to see its Report before saying whether I am able or not to accept its recommendations. I concede the fact that the decision not to establish more new universities is disappointing. I have a constituency interest in this, like the hon. Member for Peterborough (Sir Harmar Nicholls) because there has been a lot of talk about a Lincolnshire university.

All of us want the quickest possible expansion in the shortest possible time, but the plain fact is that it costs much less to expand the number of students in the existing institutions than it does to set up altogether new ones. The pre-1960 universities are expanding much quicker than anyone expected and the new universities set up in the last few years have got off the ground, so to speak, very much faster than any of us could have expected. I am delighted that this should have happened and that is the basic reason.

I share the aims expressed by the right hon. Gentleman about technical colleges, regional colleges and all colleges of further education. I am anxious to do everything I can to increase their status and the number of students they have.

Mr. Grimond

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the decision to give high priority to the provision of teachers will be widely welcomed? If there are to be 122,000 places for teachers in 1973–74, am I right in thinking that that will leave only about 50,000 places outside universities for full-time higher education? If so, is this a diminution of the Robbins' figure?

Am I also right in thinking that, in spite of this increase, there will be a large number of children in 1973–74 who will be unable to gain further and full-time education, although they will be entitled to it by their record? In view of this, is it not a fact that we must not be complacent about these figures?

Could the right hon. Gentleman say how many places there will be for medical students? Is he aware that one of the things which is causing wide dismay is the failure to fill existing places at universities, particularly for engineering and technology students? Has the right hon. Gentleman any steps in mind to encourage sixth forms to provide more students of technology so that these university places which already exist may be filled?

Mr. Crosland

The right hon. Gentleman asked only four questions. On the first, the question of the 50,000 places, he is correct in saying that this is the Robbins' figure. What I have announced today involves no dimunition whatever from that figure of 50,000 places at colleges of further education, other than teacher training colleges and universities. He is also right in saying that all the evidence shows that even on the Robbins expansion plans, which we have accepted, there will be a considerable number of sixth-form pupils qualified for university training who will not get it under these plans. That is a serious matter indeed. When I said that I was keeping this continually in mind, it is this matter that I have most in mind.

I would need notice of the question of medical students if I am to give exact figures.

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned, finally, the very disturbing fact—which has received a great deal of Press publicity during the last few days—that even now there is a number, about 1,500, of empty science and technology places in the universities. To look at it in a more encouraging way, one could say that the universities have beaten the plans on this side of their work, but the fact of these places must be disturbing to everyone. There is no complete agreement anywhere as to the precise reason for this. My own view is that the problem probably goes back to the schools. At any rate, we have given No. 1 priority to trying to make up our minds why this is the case and what we should do about it.

Dr. Bray

Is my right hon. Friend aware that his acknowledgment of the case for a new technological university in the North-East will be widely welcomed in the House and the country? Is he further aware that this is an important and necessary step in the wider application of science in industry and in the attraction of the most able students into technology? In view of these circumstances, will he give an assurance that his Department will further the consideration and final decision on this institution with the greatest possible speed?

Mr. Crosland

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for his comments. We will certainly push on as fast as we can. Whether we may at some point have an argument with the Treasury about this is a different matter, but all that we can do we shall do.

Lady Tweedsmuir

May I put two questions to the right hon. Gentleman concerning the Scottish position? Could he give an assurance, as there is not now to be any possibility of another Scottish university—apart from those raised to the status within the next 10 years in Scotland—that on present estimates those likely to qualify will, in fact, find a place in an institution of higher education in Scotland?

Secondly, if he takes into account the very large expansion in teacher training figures which is going on now, could he break down the Scottish figures, as he did for England and Wales, and say how many more places will be available for those in teacher training, bearing in mind the raising of the school-leaving age in 1970?

Mr. Crosland

To answer the last part of the hon. Lady's question first, the additional number of places in Scotland, on the figures I announced, will be about 3,000.

To answer the first part of her remarks, I would like to give an assurance that everybody equipped for university education in Scotland, England and Wales by 1973–74 will be able to find a place. Whether this will be so, I cannot say at the moment. The encouraging trend of the last few years has meant an increase, compared with the Robbins estimate, in the number of sixth formers equipped for university education and this is the kind of thing we are considering actively now.

The reason why no university institution was announced for Scotland is because the university provision and technological education generally in Scotland has, I regret to say as an Englishman, achieved a rather higher standard than in England and Wales.

Mr. Woodburn

While it is desirable that we should expand the buildings and the scope of our universities, would my right hon. Friend ask the universities to consider the use of science to expand the utility of the existing high quality of teachers? Is it not ridiculous that the genius of teachers should be confined to a small number of students, when modern science can make their abilities available to large numbers of students? If they are to teach science in universities is it not reasonable to ask them to use science to help them to do that?

Sir Ian Orr-Ewing

Would the right hon. Gentleman say whether the programme he has announced today falls within the 4¼ per cent. expansion of the public service announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer a few days ago? Secondly, would he direct his mind not only to the supply of teachers, but to the prevention of wastage, particularly among young women teachers, which is a very serious problem, particularly as the cost of training these people is now becoming extremely high?

Mr. Crosland

The programme I have announced will have to fall within the 4¼ per cent. announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, otherwise my right hon. Friend would never have allowed me to make this statement.

The hon. Gentleman is correct in his remarks about wastage. This is really the central aspect in the question of the supply of teachers. In a sense it is more important than arguing about the number of places in teacher training colleges. I spoke of hoping that I would be able to announce a short-term programme for doing something within the next few weeks. I also hope that the question of wastage and its elimination will be the No. 1 point in the programme.

Mr. Heffer

As, apparently, there is now no possibility of a regional technical college being upgraded as a college of advanced technology in Liverpool, can the Minister say when, in the future, he thinks that there will be any possibility of a new technological college for Merseyside? This has been mooted for many years, and the Liverpool local authority has put forward a scheme to the Minister.

Mr. Crosland

I regret to say, not within the next 10 years.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. We must get on.

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