Grants to Universities and Colleges (Estimates Committee's Reports)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th January 1966.

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Photo of Dr Jeremy Bray Dr Jeremy Bray , Middlesbrough West 12:00 am, 26th January 1966

As a member of the Committee which passed the comment which perhaps might have been thought to be a stricture on the Department of Education and Science, I personally am satisfied that the Secretary of State has fully earned his discharge from those strictures this afternoon in some of the very important announcements he has made particularly on the machinery of the University Grants Committee, and it is on that that I wish briefly to speak.

My right hon. Friend has said that the U.G.C. is asking its members to spend a fifth of their time on the work of the Committee. It is quite possible that rather more time would be needed initially. I wonder whether the proportions of time in the first year or two of service might come nearer to half or even full-time as the new member gets to know the university world rather better. A more important question is on the sub-committees themselves. The best model for these are the sub-committees of the science research councils, which are well regarded in the scientific world and respected for the judgments they make, even if particular scientists may not always agree with those judgments.

This is a considerable departure from the existing sub-committees of the U.G.C. The technology sub-committee has met only once a year in recent years and has a quite intractably large membership. I hope that the U.G.C. sub-committees and subject groups will be modelled on the sub-committees of the scientific research councils and will achieve equal respect. The U.G.C. would become a more effective body with properly serviced sub-committees exercising their responsibilities as the research councils do.

This would make the Vice-Chancellors' Committee an even more problem body than it is now. It has turned out to be something of a mass meeting with 40 or more Vice-Chancellors present. It has no firm decision-making function, but those who are members of it say that they feel it has an important consultative rôle and they are very unhappy about the way in which it has discharged that rôle. It will become all the more difficult if it is coping with a more highly organised U.G.C. I wonder whether it should be extended so that either it or the pyramid of which it is the head could speak more authoritatively about current views in universities. I do not see why there should not be a structure of very loose consultative committees whose job would simply be to express university opinion and in no sense to make decisions on the allocation of expenditure which is the function of the subcommittees of the U.G.C.

The only other specific point which I mention is one that I am provoked into by the specific reference by the Secretary of State to priorities on the special institutions and relocation of Brunel, Chelsea and Bristol Colleges of Advanced Technology. I notice that in the first place this will not increase the numbers of students at a time when we are having to make the most efficient use of our capital and that also they are all outside the development districts. They are, therefore, perhaps concentrating the catalytic element of industrial growth in a part of the country where for economic reasons we do not wish to see it most encouraged.

I am sure the Secretary of State realises that I have in mind the proposal for a North-East university on which the Government are reserving their opinion and which is possibly to be discussed through other channels. On the allocation of public expenditure posed by the recent White Paper on investment incentives, Tees-side will benefit to the tune of £16 million a year from the Government provision at a time when the North-East still is not able to get perhaps £2 million a year needed to launch a new technological university.

The debate today will necessarily be more on the machinery for control and machinery for administering public expenditure in the higher education field, but when we look at the development of higher education and the points referred to by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) about greater public interest in this field, it is quite clear that the public needs to consider the shape of institutions which we shall require in the late seventies and eighties when the number of university students will be increasing by 25,000 per annum. It seems that the debate about the future shape of institutions needs to start now. We have been working on this in proposals for new developments in technology very notably with reference to the C.A.T. at Bristol and also Lancaster and we have had discussion also in the North-East.

I hope very much that before long we shall have an occasion for a debate when we shall be able to pay more attention to institutions and the view of those in them not seeking to dictate from Parliament, but rather to understand and to allow the universities to feel that when we exercise our function in control of expenditure we are fully cognisant and sympathetic with the points of view within the education field itself.