Huddersfield School of Architecture
Petition
11:35 pm

Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Maude.]

11:36 pm
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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

I am grateful for the privilege and opportunity to introduce the subject of the Huddersfield polytechnic school of architecture by way of an adjournment debate.

This is an appropriate but sad day on which to have the debate. Many polytechnics up and down the country have heard today of further cuts announced by the Government and the National Advisory Body for Public Sector Higher Education. This will affect educational opportunities in our country.

In March 1986, the Secretary of State for Education and Science announced his provisional decision to stop recruitment of students to the undergraduate BA architecture degree and postgraduate diploma in architecture courses at the Huddersfield polytechnic school of architecture, with effect from September 1986. The reason for the decision would make a suitable subject for a doctoral thesis for any student of modern Government processes who wished to illuminate how Government Departments should not assess evidence and make decisions.

The Department of Education and Science made it clear early in the 1980s that it wanted cuts in architectural education. In due course NAB and the University Grants Committee set up a transbinary architecture group, which was otherwise known as the Esher Committee. Its recommendations were considered further by the architectural intake working party AIWP. These are complex acronyms, but I hope that the House will bear with me.

The result was a recommendation that six schools of architecture should be lost to the country either by closure or merger. Since then, four have been deleted from the list, and two remain: Huddersfield and the North-East London polytechnic. At present, both schools are listed for closure.

To make sense of the proposals, we need to consider some history, if the House will bear with me. I remind the House that there are three weeks for appeal against the preliminary decision for closure. There have been three weeks from 11 March to appeal against the preliminary decision on closure. Hon. Members therefore have good reason to appeal on an all-party basis to the Minister to think again before an irrevocable decision is made.

It is important to consider the criteria on which Huddersfield is said to have been judged and failed—location, size, quality and cognate courses. On no reasonable basis can one say that Huddersfield polytechnic school of architecture has failed any of those criteria. In terms of location, the arguments against Huddersfield are the same as those against, for example, Manchester, Glasgow, Liverpool or Edinburgh.

A target of 150 students and 15 staff has been recommended. Huddersfielcl has 130 students on degree courses and, unlike other schools of architecture, another 70 students taking the higher national diploma for architectural technicians— 200 students in total. Also, Huddersfield has a full-time equivalent of 20 staff. In the university sector, six departments have nowhere near as many—for example, Cambridge university, with 110 such students, is much smaller.

In terms of quality, degree and honours degree status was granted by the Council for National Academic Awards in 1983. Unlike many other schools in polytechnics which have lost the ability to give an honours degree or have not yet achieved that status, in 1985 the Royal Institute of British Architects gave the maximum recognition for the longest period in its power to courses at Huddersfield polytechnic. Notes were made on the quality of the courses. Attention has been drawn to aspects of the school's work where the Government wanted to encourage study — for example, advanced work in computer applications in architecture.

In terms of cognate courses, it is true that professional architects and technicians are educated together at the Huddersfield school, which must surely be a plus. Related courses in art, design and building are run in parallel with architectural courses. The teaching staff at the polytechnic are from several departments. The architectural department is in the school of engineering. The criteria in the cognate disciplines are a model for other schools of architecture.

The decision against the Huddersfield school and NELP was the result of a long process. Before coming to a final decision, Ministers must weigh the closure of Huddersfield and NELP against the original policy objectives for pursuing cuts in architecture. We believe that those policies were wrong-headed. The thrust of the closures is to reduce expenditure on architectural education, to stabilise the size of the architectural profession, to prevent the unemployment of graduates from these schools and to protect the profession's income levels. Those criteria are hopeless. Paring the system down to two schools of architecture will not result in significant overall savings. If the Government had taken on the profession more boldly and had cut architectural education back from seven to five years, they might have done something more sensible.

Better alternatives exist in terms of reducing costs. We now know that the statistical basis for the Esher report's diagnosis of the problems was faulty. The architectural profession, rather than being stabilised, will be reduced by a third.

The report also failed to look at the impact of European Community regulations on the United Kingdom. In the United Kingdom, 95 per cent. of our architecture graduates get jobs; indeed, 100 per cent. of the graduates of the Huddersfield school get jobs in architecture. In line with the European influence on our lives, European graduates from any part of the EEC will be able to come to practise in Britain. Last year, almost 100 per cent. of the graduates of the two schools of architecture in Dublin were unemployed. If we do not have our own supply of architects, those graduates will be able to seek employment in Britain.

This policy is hardly in line with the deregulation philosophy for trades and professions to which the Government are supposed to be committed. We need more architects. Yesterday I telephoned eight architects in Yorkshire, and all were looking for architectural staff but could not find them. In West Yorkshire, Yorkshire and Humberside we desperately need more architects to rebuild the infrastructure—private and public—because it is in such a desperate state.

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Mr Richard Wainwright (Colne Valley)

In pursuance of the point which the hon. Gentleman has reached, does he agree that in West Yorkshire, in Huddersfield and in the architectural profession generally it has been well noted that in all these recent inquiries into the Huddersfield school of architecture there were only two at which the polytechnic authorities had a fair and proper chance to set forth the record of the school and its plans? In those two cases, the reputation of the school was fully vindicated and both the National Advisory Committee and RIBA have endorsed the claims for the Huddersfield polytechnic school to continue.

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Whenever the school got the opportunity to put its case to an impartial group of assessors, their assessment of the quality of the school and its importance were in favour of the continuation of the school.

Anyone who looks at the decision-making process with regard to schools of architecture will be amazed. There has been a shambles of decision-making. None of the rules of natural justice has applied in this case. The outcome borders on the irrational. There has been no sensible and fair assessment of the general objectives of Government policy in relation to schools of architecture or the fair application of the criteria originally laid down.

What makes me most cross is that the staff of the department and the students have been appallingly treated. Many young people's aspirations to become architects will be dashed by the Government's decision. The Government have given the money for next year's courses but they have said that the first-year course cannot recruit in 1986. That means that young people in Huddersfield will not have a chance to become architects. Their futures have been ruined by the dilly-dallying, shilly-shallying attitude of the Secretary of State. It is a cruel thing to do to young people on the threshold of a career.

Irrationality breeds a lack of confidence in the administration and in its decision-making. It forces institutions, faced by that type of irrational behaviour, to go in for political in-fighting and to pull weight wherever they can. That is the only reason I can find for the fact that Huddersfield and the North-East London polytechnic are the only schools of architecture to be closed. It is not on the basis of qualtiy or of any rational criteria but because they did not have friends at court or political muscle which could pull behind the scenes to keep them in business.

The House should hear the case for the Huddersfield polytechnic. The Minister still has a chance to reverse the decision and to make sure that a thriving school that does so much for the community and the nation will succeed in future.

11:49 pm
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Mr John Whitfield (Dewsbury)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) for permitting me a short space of time before my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary replies to back up the majority of the points that he has made. The hon. Gentleman packed many facts into his speech and I am sure that my hon. Friend will have taken those fully on board.

The one point that I want to make is that, although the Government, rightly, are seriously examining the number of polytechnic places which are, or ought be be, properly available throughout Britain, in the future of the Huddersfield school of architecture a rather curious process of elimination has been embarked upon. That is illustrated most clearly by the fact that the Huddersfield school of architecture has recently been granted the right to award honours degrees in architecture whereas the Leeds school of architecture, which is only just down the road for those who are not familiar with our part of the world, has recently lost that right.

My hon. Friend may rightly say that perhaps there are too many schools of architecture in the country—there are two schools in Manchester and Liverpool, and one in Huddersfield, Leeds and Hull in our part of the world. It is extraordinary, however, that of those schools the Huddersfield school of architecture should, within a short space of time of being granted the right to award honours degrees, be faced with closure.

11:51 pm
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Mr George Walden (Buckingham)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) for bringing to the attention of the House his concern over the provisional decision by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to direct that the part I course in architecture at Huddersfield polytechnic should cease to be provided. This provisional decision was relayed to the polytechnic and its maintaining authority in a letter from the Department dated 7 March 1986.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the complexities of a doctoral thesis, but I want to stress that one man's doctoral thesis is another man's scrupulously careful procedures. It is important that hon. Members fully understand the background from which this provisional conclusion has emerged.

The number of registered architects has risen over the 12 years from 1973 to 1985 by no less than 21 per cent., leading inevitably to under-employment within the profession and a resultant fall in real earnings. The quarterly statistics produced by the professional body, the Royal Institute of British Architects, show that to be the case. At the same time, as I remind hon. Members, the education and training requirement for architects prior to registration is seven years —I am glad that the hon. Gentleman alluded to that—of which five are spent in full-time study, each of them grant-aided in respect of tuition fees and maintenance from public funds. That means, if I may borrow a rather telling phrase from the Financial Times, that

three architectural students take up as much in grant as five ordinary undergraduates, a fact not well appreciated by the general public. It was against a background of excess supply that the transbinary architecture group, chaired by Lord Esher, and so known as the Esher group, was established in 1983, under the aegis of the National Advisory Body for Public Sector Higher Education and the University Grants Committee. The group reported in September 1984. The central recommendation of the Esher group was that policy should be directed to stabilise the size of the profession at the level it would reach by 1990, when the 1984 student intakes had qualified. Esher forecast that this would give a profession in the 1990s of about 31,000 architects. The fact is that since publication of the report numbers have continued to increase at a rate that was underestimated by Esher, so that the total number of architects on the statutory register maintained by the Architects Registration Council of the United Kingdom already stood at 29,692 at 31 December 1985.

The conclusions of the Esher group on the need to stabilise the size of the profession by limiting intakes to training were accepted by both the National Advisory Body and by the University Grants Committee. They have also been accepted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. Following acceptance by the NAB and the UGC of the central recommendations of the Esher report, a joint architecture intakes working party was established to consider how the reductions recommended by Esher might be implemented and to advise its parent bodies accordingly. The working party reported in August 1985.

When it considered the AIWP's proposals, the NAB board accepted the recommendation that the Huddersfield and NELP school should be closed. Subsequently, the NAB committee accepted the board's advice in respect of NELP, but recommended that an intake be maintained in 1986 at Huddersfield. It resolved, however, to review intakes at Huddersfield in the context of the NAB's 1987–88 planning exercise in the light of further consideration of the factual material. In a statement on 20 December 1985, in response to NAB's advice about academic provision and the distribution of the advance further education pool in 1986–87—I apologise for all this jargon, but I think that most hon. Members are familiar with it—my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State indicated that he could not accept the NAB's advice that the reduction in intakes to public sector part architecture courses should be accomplished solely by the closure of the NELP school. Instead, he said that he would review the position over one or two months. That is another example of the extraordinary care and scrupulousness with which the provisional decisions were taken.

In the light of that further review, my right hon. Friend reached his provisional decision that there should be no intake to the part I course at Huddersfield in 1986

The preparatory work for the review was undertaken by officials of my Department. Corrections and clarifications of the factual information before the AIWP and NAB were sought and meetings arranged between officials and representatives of both Huddersfield and NELP. Thus an opportunity was afforded to both polytechnics to comment on factual and other aspects of the reviews undertaken successively by the Esher group, the AIWP and the NAB. Thereafter, at the request of the Department, further information was submitted by both institutions. Officials reported the results of this work to my right hon. Friend.

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Mr Andrew Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

Can the Minister confirm that provisional offers have been made to students for the start of the autumn term of the 1986 course? Is it not grossly unfair to snatch away those provisional offers at this stage?

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Mr George Walden (Buckingham)

Not for the first time, the hon. Gentleman is dramatising the situation. I am describing how carefully and considerately we approached an admittg,dly difficult question, which will inevitably—I sympathise with the spirit of what the hon. Gentleman says —involve some discomfort, to put it mildly, to some students.

In the light of the work undertaken by officials, my right hon. Friend noted that the AIWP report had described the criteria adopted for the purposes of its work but had not indicated how the working party had applied those criteria to produce its recommendations involving institutional closures. As a first step, therefore, he considered whether the working party had acted reasonably in its general approach in selecting the criteria for its review and in seeking evidence from those it had approached. In the light of the available evidence, he was satisfied as to the reasonableness of the AIWP's general approach. Thereafter, he considered whether on the basis of the evidence before the working party, amended on points of fact as necessary, it would be reasonable for him to come to the same conclusion, namely, that the part I courses in architecture at Huddersfield and NELP should have zero intakes in 1986. He carefully reviewed the sources of information used by the working party and NAB, together with the corrections and clarifications reported to him by officials.

The AIWP has identified four criteria as relevant to its consideration of institutional allocations. As the hon. Member for Huddersfield said, these were size, location, quality and relationship to cognate disciplines. In practice, a fifth criterion must be added, since the working party received evidence on the resources available to architecture schools as one factor underpinning the quality of existing courses and their potential for future development and expansion.

With regard to school size, the first criterion, my right hon. Friend noted that the full-time equivalent numbers in 1984–85 undertaking architectural training at Huddersfield polytechnic were the lowest of all public sector schools regardless of whether allowance was made for overseas and full-cost students. As for location, the second criterion, Huddersfield's school is situated in one of the main concentrations of provision identified by the Esher report. In the light of provision accessible elsewhere in the region, the role of the Huddersfield school in relation to continuing professional development was also not regarded by my right hon. Friend as sufficient to exclude it from further consideration.

Satisfied that it was not unreasonable on the criteria of size and location to consider the cessation of intakes to the part I course at Huddersfield, my right hon. Friend considered the more judgmental criteria of resources, quality of work and relationship with cognate disciplines. It was noted that the polytechnic had challenged some of the judgments made by Her Majesty's Inspectorate with regard to resources available to the school, but it was considered, in any event, that the school's resources did not emerge as superior to those available to the other schools located in the area.

As to quality and relationship to cognate courses, my right hon. Friend had close regard to the advice of HMI that while all public sector architecture schools were clearly above an acceptable threshold of quality, there were perceptible differences between them which facilitated the identification, within that range, of those schools which were above and those which were below average quality. My right hon. Friend concluded, in the light of HMI advice — which remained as given to AIWP and NAB — that closure of the school at Huddersfield in the context of an overall reduction in intakes would not represent a significant loss of quality from architectural training.

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Is it not a fact that HMI has never sent an inspector who specialises in architecture to Huddersfield polytechnic? There has been no proper assessment at any time by HMI of the quality of that school.

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Mr George Walden (Buckingham)

The hon. Gentleman is casting aspersions on the work of HMI, as I understand it. May I reiterate what I said earlier on numerous occasions throughout my speech? My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made a careful review of all the steps taken before reaching his provisional decision. I think that it is important, and that it will be helpful to all hon. Members if I get the Government's view on record.

My right hon. Friend also took account of factual material bearing on quality and relationship to cognate disciplines, to which attention had been drawn by representatives of the polytechnic in its discussion with officials. In this context, the reported views of the validating body, the CNAA, and the professional body, RIBA, were noted. In the judgment of my right hon. Friend, however, these did not by themselves render unreasonable the identification of the school at Huddersfield polytechnic for a zero intake to its part I course in 1986.

It was against that background that my right hon. Friend took his provisional decision that there should be no intakes to the part 1 course at Huddersfield in 1986. I must however re-emphasise, as I have on several occasions during my speech, the essentially provisional nature of the decision, the basis of which was set out in the Department's letter of 7 March to the polytechnic's maintaining authority, which also conveyed an invitation to make further representations in the light of its contents.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Whitfield) for attending the debate, because the broader hearing the Government case has the better we like it. I can assure the hon. Member for Huddersfield, my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury and other hon. Members that my right hon. Friend will give careful consideration to whatever representations are made by the deputation that he will shortly receive from the polytechnic and the maintaining authority. He will proceed to a final decision only in the light of those representations.

It was valuable for me and for the Government to hear the views of the hon. Member for Huddersfield, and I sympathise with his concern and with the concerns of his constituents. I know that other hon. Members also have an indirect but vital interest in this matter and I was grateful to hear their comments tonight. I hope that I have stressed sufficiently in my remarks that the Government have adopted a cautious approach to this complicated problem. The European dimension raised by the hon. Member for Huddersfield introduces a further complexity into this matter.

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Mrs Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

Will my hon. Friend note that there are many students with an offer from Huddersfield who do not know where they stand at present? Will he assure us that a decision will be taken reasonably quickly so that these young people will know whether or not they have a place at Huddersfield?

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Mr George Walden (Buckingham)

I appreciate the element of uncertainty which my hon. Friend has raised and I hope that in my speech I have stressed that inevitably a balance must be struck between the need for a reasonably prompt decision on the one hand, and on the other the equally pressing need for careful review of this extremely complicated situation.

I was about to conclude my remarks by mentioning the European dimension raised by the hon. Member for Huddersfield. In this connection, it has been argued that the new directive for freer movement will facilitate a net outflow of registered architects to Europe and may therefore have the effect of reducing the number of practising architects in the United Kingdom. On the other hand, the issue of the EC directive was discussed by both the NAB board and committee, which foresaw an influx of European-trained architects into the United Kingdom, which would, of course, exacerbate the over-provision of training places already identified by the Esher group.

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

Adjourned at Six minutes past Twelve o'clock.