HC Deb 13 June 1966 vol 729 cc1197-208

Motion made, and Question proposed,

That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Lawson.]

11.40 p.m.

Mr. John P. Mackintosh (Berwick and East Lothian)

I want to draw attention to the financing of Scottish higher education, particularly on the technological and scientific side. This means focusing attention on the one special institution for scientific and technological education and research designated by the Robbins Committee in Scotland, the former Royal College of Science and Technology, now the University of Strathclyde.

I appreciate that on this point the recommendations of the Robbins Committee were not accepted in the letter—the Committee recommended the setting up of five such institutions—but they were taken in the spirit in the sense that the Government made a special grant of £1 million available on capital for the existing three institutions to which the Robbins Committee pointed, and Strathclyde got its fair share, one-third of this sum.

The real point that the Robbins Committee emphasised—and I think that it is still true—is that in Britain there is still a slant against science and technology; it does not have adequate prestige. The Committee put it quite strongly and said: We believe that a further striking innovation is required if this country is to demonstrate beyond all doubt that it is prepared to give to technology the prominence that the economic needs of the future will surely demand. The Robbins Committee wanted the Imperial College, London, the Manchester Institute of Science and Technology and Strathclyde, plus two more institutions, built up to the level of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or the Technical High Schools of Zurich and Delft. The Robbins Committee put its finger precisely on the point when it stated that this whole group needed financial support similar to that given to the Imperial College during the past decade. This simply has not happened. The Imperial College, London, has continued to forge ahead and Manchester has made some progress, while the third in- stituation, in Scotland, has lagged very far behind.

I am not making a purely Scottish or parochial point. These three institutions are educating 10,215 students and are supposed to be in the forefront of undergraduate training and advanced research. Therefore, Strathclyde handles a significant share of the British total. Of the 10.000 students, the 3,335 at the Imperial College, London, are financed in recurrent grant to the tune of £1,258 each per annum. The 2,473 students at the Man. chester Institute get over £931 each spent on them per annum, but the biggest number, the 4,407 students at Strathclyde, cost only £521 each per annum. I emphasise that this is not for capital grants. One might expect that land and buildings cost more in London than in Manchester or Glasgow. I am discussing recurrent grants, the money spent on paying for staff, technicians, books and laboratory equipment that has to be financed year by year.

The students who are turned out are supposed to reach the same high standard. We have the same external examiners. What we expect the staff at Strathclyde to do is to produce first-class honours students at 41 per cent. of what it costs in London and 56 per cent. of what it costs in Manchester.

Let me put these figures another way. This year, Strathclyde receives a recurrent grant of £2.3 million. If this institution was financed on the scale at present awarded to the Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, it would receive £4.1 million. If it was financed on the level of the Imperial College, London, it would receive £5.5 million.

This is not just a Scottish point, because Strathclyde takes in students from all over Britain—in fact, it has over one-third of all the students in this type of institution in Britain—but as this debate is being answered by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland I would like him to note that if the Robbins recommendation had been adopted, if Strathclyde and Manchester, but particularly Strathclyde, had been financed at the same level as the Imperial College, London, even over only three years an extra £10 million would have been spent in Scotland, and this would have had a quite significant impact on the Scottish economy.

I want to anticipate the kind of answer which the Minister may well give. He may well say that this is the responsibility purely of the University Grants Committee. I have reservations about the whole method by which the universities are financed and by which overall university policy is determined, but that is a wider point than that being discussed tonight.

Let me remind the Minister that in their statement on the Robbins Report the previous Government said that they strongly endorsed the Report's emphasis on the building up of technological universities, and responsibility for continuing that policy was accepted by the present Government. Scottish Ministers have often said that it is their responsibility and their policy to increase the number of school teachers in these subjects, and it is in this field that the greatest shortage of teachers exists.

The Prime Minister is completely committed. I recall, as I am sure we all do, his famous speech at Scarborough during the 1963 Labour Party conference when he said: We must harness science to Socialism and Socialism to science". In that speech he put the production of scientists as the first priority for a new Labour Government. He said: We are going to need a revolution in our attitude to scientific education". I hope that there will be no attempt, therefore, in the Minister's reply to say that this is not the concern of the Government.

I want to turn to the issues involved. Why should a technological university of the type of Strathclyde be so shabbily treated? I think that the answer must, in part, be seen against the background that the Scottish universities as a whole are worse off than their English or Welsh equivalents. In 1965-1966—the present year—the average recurrent grant per student to the Scottish universities is £569. In England and Wales it is £718 per student. This is a very large gap.

If one presses Ministers on this point one usually gets the reply that in Scotland degrees are often of a four-year duration whereas in England they are only three years, and so roughly the same amount is paid on a Scottish student if we multiply it by four years as is paid on an English student if that is multiplied by three years. This is not a fair argument, because Scottish students go up to university a year earlier than English students, and if we want an equivalent we must take account of the amount which the Exchequer spends on English students during the final year, the sixth form year, at school as well as the amount spent during the period at university.

It is also said that in Scottish universities there is a lower percentage of students reading for honours degrees and that these students are more expensive. I do not think that this is as true as has often been suggested, and certainly, at Strathclyde, it is the opposite of the case, because it accepts only students reading for honours degrees and those who do not want to go on transfer to the ordinary degree. Sixty-six per cent. of its graduates last year were honours graduates.

This is against a background that Strathclyde gets not only a lower recurrent grant than scientific and technological institutions in England, but a lower grant than Scottish universities and the lowest grant per student of any institution of higher education of university status in the whole United Kingdom.

If I seek an explanation for this discrepancy, I do not think that it is in either of the arguments which are put forward. I suggest that it is simply because these institutions, and particularly Strathclyde, have been cheap in the past. It is a bit hard, but what it boils down to is the old Biblical maxim: Unto everyone that hath shall be given". Those universities which have been expensive get a percentage rise and therefore, get more, and because Scottish universities have been cheap, and Strathclyde extremely cheap, they get proportionately less.

Where it runs counter to Government policy is that the Robbins Report specifically said, and both the past Government and present Governments have agreed, that we needed to break loose from this background and to give these institutions concentrating on science and technology a special boost, extra aid, and prestige, to give them the force which they lacked in our society—and not only in our society for, let us admit, within our universities system, too, these subjects and institutions are fairly lowly regarded. This does not happen except in one isolated case, that of the Imperial College.

Let us now look at some of the consequences. Strathclyde is run on a shoestring. For many departments it is hard to reduce tutorial classes to the small groups which they should be and which they are in some other universities. It does not have the same sports facilities. Not all the students can have Wednesday afternoons off, because laboratories have to run the whole time. There is no wonder that when one goes round the schools and talks to the masters that one does not find it highly commended as often as other universities to up and coming boys and girls leaving school.

Let me put these blunt facts: last year, for lack of space, Strathclyde turned aside 110 fully qualified applicants in engineering; 35 fully qualified applicants in chemistry; 16 in mathematics and physics; 114 in business and administration; 220 in the social sciences. This was after the present Prime Minister had said in 1963 that we simply could not as a nation afford to neglect the educational development of a single boy or girl.

This year, for the coming October, it has been decided that for financial reasons Strathclyde cannot expand its intake at all and yet undergraduate applications for next October are as of today up by 1,336 over last year and postgraduate applications are up by 188. The Corporation of Glasgow, last week, sent a deputation to the two universities in the city pointing out that young men and women had not got places last year and asking the universities to expand their intake. For the financial reasons which I have given, this is impossible at Strathclyde.

Let us look further afield. The biggest shortage among teachers in Scotland is of teachers of science, mathematics and technology. The Scottish Education Department's own figures show that while the number of school children sitting the higher grade examinations has gone up by 50 per cent. since 1963, the number coming forward for higher science has gone up by only 40 per cent. and the number coming forward in technology has gone up by only 13 per cent.

The reason for this is that our scientific and technological university is the poor relation of the universities and is turning out fewer people as teachers, so that the school teachers in science and technology are less well qualified and therefore the parents and children back down the line are influenced by this whole atmosphere into adopting the traditional pattern of going into the arts, the classics, the traditional subjects. In this way we are laying up trouble for ourselves, not merely now but for 25 years ahead as these children should be going through the universities into industry and research.

I appeal to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary tonight not to give the stock answers. In Scotland we have argued year after year that we want more science-based industry and more innovation. When in opposition, the leaders of my party said again and again that this must have high priority. I ask them to give it this priority now. We want to go back to the vision of the Robbins Report which on this matter was quite specific and said that there must be a judicious fostering of some institutions more than of others.

Instead, I am afraid that there has been judicious neglect of some scientific institutions more than others. I hope that we can now change that.

11.55 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Bruce Milian)

The subject which my hon. Friend the Member for Berwick and East Lothian (Mr. Mackintosh) has raised tonight is extremely important and I hope that he will accept from me at once that nothing I may say should be taken to suggest that the Government are in any way complacent about the need for expanding technological education. I do not agree with a number of things my hon. Friend said and, in particular, I thought that he rather exaggerated some of the figures which he quoted, as I hope to show in a minute. Because I do not accept the rather overdrawn picture which he has painted, it does not mean the Government do not consider this to be a very important question indeed.

If I may, on this question of figures, take two which my hon. Friend has just quoted, I think that we are all very concerned about the need to increase the number of pupils at the schools taking science subjects in the Scottish Certificate of Education. I would just say to my hon. Friend that the numbers taking the higher passes in science subjects in 1965 was about 9,800 as compared with 8,500 the previous year. These figures, of course, are not as high as we would like them to be, and, in particular, we have this very serious problem of shortage of teachers in the schools in science and mathematics, but the figures are not, I think, nearly as bleak as my hon. Friend may have suggested.

Similarly, so far as the number of qualified students who may be refused admission to Strathclyde is concerned, I do not wish to take exclusively Scottish applicants, but I think that it is well known that the total number of Scottish pupils leaving school with an attestation of fitness for Scottish universities who do not, in fact, find places is very small indeed by comparison with the kind of figures my hon. Friend has quoted.

I think that there is always a danger here if one simply quotes what is happening at one particular university without taking account, for example, of the fact that very many pupils apply for admission to a number of different universities, and there is a good deal of duplication of applications which can give rise to highly misleading statistics. Certainly, I would dispute very strongly indeed that there is anything like the large numbers my hon. Friend has mentioned turned away from Strathclyde this year without opportunity of pursuing a degree course in science or, indeed, in any other subject at some university or another.

In talking specifically about the financial allocations to the universities and in making certain comparisons between Strathclyde and other universities, my hon. Friend has raised, as he very well knows, the very important and fundamental question of the basis upon which allocations of grant to universities are made. As the House knows, allocation of funds to universities in Great Britain is made by the University Grants Committee, which is an independent body. The total amount available is, of course, decided by the Government, and it is there that the major Government decision is taken, but the allocation of the total sum, once it has been made available to the University Grants Committee, is, of course, made by the U.G.C. itself in the light of national needs which are communicated to the Committee by the Government and, of course, in the light of its own judgment about particular universities' needs and priorities. Information about allocations which are made by the Committee is generally available. It is published in the annual return of the U.G.C.

It has always been recognised that Government responsibility does not extend to individual allocations. I think that one might have a very interesting argument as to whether this is the right system, but this not the place in which to conduct that argument; for the purpose of this short debate we must take the system as it is laid down at the present time.

I am under some inhibitions in talking about detailed allocations and making the kinds of comparisons and my hon. Friend has made, because these matters are strictly for the University Grants Committee and not directly for the Government. But my hon. Friend has had the opportunity, which was facilitated by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, of discussing these matters and, in particular, the allocations to Strathclyde with the Chairman of the U.G.C. only today. Although I would not necessarily expect my hon. Friend to be satisfied completely with the results of that discussion, as he has made quite clear, I hope that he has been able to have explained to him the basis on which the U.G.C. makes its allocations.

Since my hon. Friend compared Scotland with England unfavourably, I might say that there are Scottish members on the U.G.C. Three of the 20 members are Scottish. The appointments are made in consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and officials of the Scottish Education Department attend meetings of the Committee and its sub-committees as assessors, and, of course, we receive its papers. There is no question of Scotland not being represented on the U.G.C. and we in the Scottish Office not being aware of what it is doing.

So far as recurrent grants are concerned, my hon. Friend has quoted a lumber of figures comparing Scottish universities as a whole with English universities and, in particular, comparing the annual grant allocations for recurrent grant per student made by the U.G.C. to the three leading technological universities, Strathclyde, the Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, and Imperial College, London. In those comparisons, he has drawn attention to the fact that the Strathclyde figures are very much less than the figures for the other two.

I want to say, first, that these figures ought to be treated with a certain amount of caution. There are a number of different circumstances which affect the figures. For example, they are very much affected by the student mix between one faculty and another, because some faculties are more expensive than others. Similarly, they are very much affected by the proportion of post-graduates, which varies very much from one institution to another. Scottish universities as a whole have a lower percentage of post-graduate students than English universities as a whole, though even that may be misleading because there is a tendency for postgraduates to be concentrated in particular universities like Oxford, Cambridge, and so on. But the proportion of postgraduates makes a considerable difference to those figures of annual recurrent grant per student, as the tables which were produced by the U.G.C. and published by the Estimates Committee in its recent Report on the work of the U.G.C. demonstrate.

There are also special circumstances which affect the figures, and there is one particular circumstance which affects the Strathclyde figures. My hon. Friend did not mention it, although when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science gave him an answer on these points on 4th May, he specifically drew attention to the fact that, in the year 1964-65, Strathclyde University absorbed the Scottish College of Commerce, with about 1,200 students reading non-technological subjects.

As my hon. Friend knows, many of those students were not reading subjects to degree standard. The numbers taking subjects to degree standard were only a small percentage of that total of 1,200. The effect of importing into the Strathclyde figures that very large proportion of students who are, on the whole, doing work below degree level is to reduce the recurrent grant per student very considerably. It dropped by nearly £100 between 1963-64 and 1964-65. That figure is carried into the figures for 196566 and 1966-67, and will be carried into the figures for the years ahead so long as that is one of the characteristic features of Strathclyde University. This, more than anything else, has, I think, brought the Strathclyde figures out at what is prima facie an extremely unfavourable level.

My hon. Friend said that Strathclyde, along with the Manchester Institute and the Imperial College, was one of the technological university institutions which shared in this special allocation of £1 million over the academic years 1965-66 and 1966-67. He did not suggest—and I was glad that he did not—that Strathclyde's share of that £1 million was an unfair one, because, in fact, its share amounted to £279,000, which is roughly one-third of the total sums of money which were made available.

In addition, out of the other £400,000 which was allocated by the U.G.C. to the technological departments of universities other than the three leading technological institutions, a certain amount also found its way to Scotland, so, again, I do not believe that on the basis of these figures one can suggest that there has been an unfair discrimination against Scottish universities.

With regard to capital allocations, I think that, again, on the face of it, the figures look unfavourable to Strathclyde. One of the reasons for this is that in the past much the largest concentration of Government capital allocations has been made to Imperial College. This was a deliberate policy which dates back at least to 1953, and, as my hon. Friend knows, very considerable sums of money were made available in capital expenditure to Imperial College. That money is now beginning to run out.

Leaving aside this money under the Jubilee Scheme, as it was called, the figures for Strathclyde, and, indeed, for Manchester, look rather better in comparison with Imperial College. For example, in the years between 1964 and 1970 the allocations to Strathclyde for building work are about £4¼ million, and this figure by itself is, I think, an indication of the importance which the U.G.C. attaches to Strathclyde University as a major technological institution.

The U.G.C. has just been making its quinquennial visits to universities before considering its proposals for the next quinquennium. The U.G.C. has visited Strathclyde University, and I am sure that its allocation for the next quinquennium will be made in full awareness of the university's development plans which have, of course, been explained to the U.G.C.

To sum up, I think that prima facie there is a case to be made for the kind of statements that my hon. Friend made this evening, that on the face of it the allocations to Strathclyde University are not as generous as they might be if one compares them in particular with Imperial College, London. What I have tried to show is, first, that there are a considerable number of qualifications which have to be imported into the argument. I have also tried to show that there are a number of special circumstances relating to Strathclyde, and for that matter there have been a number of special circumstances in the past relating to Imperial College, London, but I am sure that what my hon. Friend has said this evening will be noted by the U.G.C. and by everyone else.

As my hon. Friend knows, a good deal more information about expenditure on universities is now being published. Some of that has been stimulated by the extremely interesting Estimates Committee's Report which was debated in this House in January of this year. So far as the Government are concerned, working within the kind of framework of responsibility which I have mentioned, this additional information and discussion are all to the good, and I should like to assure my hon. Friend again that we attach very considerable importance to this subject, not least to the expansion of technological education in Scotland, and not least to the continued expansion and development of Strathclyde University.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

I have been disappointed in one way in my hon. Friend's reply—

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'clock on Monday evening and the debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at ten minutes past Twelve o'clock.