Higher Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th July 1963.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Frederick Willey Mr Frederick Willey , Sunderland North 12:00 am, 17th July 1963

I am taking the right hon. Gentleman's figure of 0·04 downward trend as a downward trend, but I do not accept his figure, any more than Sir Keith Murray accepted the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor in a previous debate. The figures available show a much more marked downward trend, at least for a year or two.

Let us look at the numbers. Let us take the figures produced by the A.U.T. of last year's entrants to the universities. The A.U.T. surveyed 1,362 sixth forms, and found that very nearly 5,500 sixth formers who had qualified for and had applied to go to university were denied admission. The Universities Central Council on Admissions has issued more concrete and comprehensive figures this year. We know that 50,000 young people applied. We know that they would be qualified to apply, and advised to do so by their headmasters. To them, we have to add the applicants from overseas and the Commonwealth. For them all, 27,000 places were available.

We know that the A.U.T. estimates that in 1970, the end of the Government's target, there will be 40,000 young people fully qualified but unable to obtain a place in a university. Sir Eric Ashby confirmed that this week by saying that one out of two of the young people who qualify for places will be denied them. This is the immediate problem. This is what we ought to have been told about, but we have; had no word, only obscure figures and complacency.

These two problems are inter-related and interdependent. We shall not have a response from the universities and the institutions of higher education unless they are convinced that the Government have a generous long-term plan, and that is what we have not had. We are still waiting for Robbins. We had a Government plan in 1956,in 1958, in 1960, and in 1962, but the whole time we have had uncertainty about the future because when the Government anticipated that we would have, as I have said previously in the House, an 18-plus crisis which would equal and even pale the 11-plus crisis, they set up the Robbins Committee. Robbins has been their alibi.

There is worse than that. We had the unprecedented position last year that there was an open breach between the Government and the U.G.C., which stated publicly that the Government's target would not be reached. It is true, as the Chief Secretary has told us, that we have had an increase in capital grants of 20 per cent., but let the right hon. Gentleman answer Sir William Mansfield Cooper. The time that is lost has been lost. Sir William says: …it is now too late to cope, and thousands of young people will be denied university education to which they looked forward and which they have been led to expect would be available. Let the right hon. Gentleman smugly answer those young people who have been denied university education.

This is ground which has been lost and cannot be recovered. It has affected the pace of this emergency operation. The right hon. Gentleman has done no more than make an allowance for increased costs, and even the Economist has said sourly that we are still in 1961. All that the right hon. Gentleman has done has been to restore the allocation made in 1961.

In a way, as hon. Members on both sides of the House have said, it is unfortunate that we are building new universities, because this is the least efficient use of new resources. We cannot complain of it, no more than we can complain of the three-year course in the training colleges, but we can say that the Government have been in office since 1951 and that this ought to have been done five or ten years ago. We cannot complain now of waiting for Robbins, but we ought to deny the Government the alibi which they seek. We are concerned about an emergency operation to provide places for young people who otherwise will be denied them.

In a situation like this I should have thought that personal relations between the Government and those engaged in higher education were most important. These relations have never before been in the state they are in now. We have never before had vice-chancellors stigmatising and criticising the Government, and men of the calibre of Sir William Mansfield Cooper, Sir Douglas Logan, and even Sir Keith Murray openly criticising the Government.

This is what is said in a letter I received from a spokesman of one of our universities: I should like to emphasise that I, and the overwhelming majority of my colleagues, dislike intensely the necessity for carrying on this sort of semi-political activity; we have no wish to see the universities become the subject of contention in by-election or in General Election party programmes, and it is only the mood of frustration and bitterness induced by the Treasury's attitude during the past 18 months that impels us to do it. We believe that the Government's present policy is short-sighted and ill-advised; if it is persisted in it may become disastrous; and it is for this reason that we condemn it. We should condemn and deplore it with equal vigour whatever the political complexion of the Government responsible for it. This was written after the increase which the Government gave.