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.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Alan Williams Alan Williams , Swansea West 12:00 am, 26th January 1966

It could well have an effect on the courses because it is the University of Wales which will decide whether it will be those courses which are to be available, or whether those courses which are already in existence within the college will remain. If he knows that the University of Wales will accept courses in their existing form, why has he not done anything to notify the college of this? Because the college only today is having a meeting of its own governors, and, no doubt, this information would have been highly relevant.

In this situation, where the college would be asking the university, if it comes into the university, to accept the courses already in existence in the C.A.T., he has, by precommitting the college by saying it has either to do this or it will not get university status, reduced the bargaining power of the C.A.T. in dealing with the University of Wales.

The Minister was further asked in the interview how far the decision would affect existing students. This newspaper report is readily available in the Library. I am afraid he has not answered this question, but it must be answered because the students concerned, particularly those who started in the last two or three years, were promised that if they went in for courses such as the Diploma in Technology these courses would become degrees on the college obtaining university status. Therefore, those students have joined the college on an assumption which proves not to be valid, and the college is put in the situation where, in good faith, it has invited those students to join it and has, in fact, been guilty of misleading them about the qualifications which they are likely to obtain.

I must ask the Minister several further questions, because they are very important to everyone concerned with the college. First, is he aware that the matriculation requirements of the university, the very basic qualifications for degrees, differ substantially from the current entry requirements of the Welsh College of Advanced Technology, because the college has based entry requirements upon those of London University and the new red-brick universities? Is my right hon. Friend aware that, for instance, one University of Wales requirement is one language for matriculation? So many technologists will find themselves deprived of opportunity for technological degrees simply because they do not have this language requirement at O level.

My right hon. Friend must bear in mind that students who have gone in for courses which were to become degrees will find that the courses on which they started will not obtain degree status. The University of Wales Charter has no provision for this retrospective award and yet the C.A.T. will have to conform to the University of Wales Charter. Under the Charter, retrospective degrees can only be granted to those students who have not been on a course for more than 12 months. How, then, will he cater for those students who have been on courses for two or even three years and who have made their investment in study and time and now find that they will not get the return that they were led to anticipate?

We are entitled to ask the Minister if he can assure us that retrospective provision will be made, that the University of Wales will be bound to accept the past entry requirements of the College of Advanced Technology and that the courses already under way at the C.A.T. will not be affected by his decision. If he cannot give those assurances, he should not have made a final decision, because they are imperative before a final decision can be taken.

Hon. Members on this side then asked for a Royal Commission to be appointed, and the Minister turned that down. He gave us his reasons and argued that the academic issues are already known.

It is in paragraph 685 of Robbins, though I have not the Report before me, that one sees the faults of a federal structure listed. Power tends to become concentrated at the centre, the links between colleges are too weak, and too many boards and committees have to exist to co-ordinate, rather like a poor administrative structure in a business firm, with liaison committees which distract the members who have to serve on them from their main academic function, which is to teach. Robbins goes on to point out that many delays arise because the university as such becomes the official channel through which negotiation takes place on so many points with the national system.

My right hon. Friend claims that he knows these facts, yet a commission was set up by the University of Wales which virtually corroborated that most of those points can be levelled against the existing federal University of Wales. The majority report recommended that the university should be defederated, but it was not accepted by the university and no major changes in the charter have taken place since, so that criticisms levelled at the time of the majority report must be substantially true today.

Anyone who knows the Welsh background must accept that there are many other issues involved in the future of the University of Wales. My right hon. Friend said that for that reason a Royal Commission would not be an appropriate organisation to make decisions and recommendations. If a Royal Commission is not an appropriate organisation, how can the University Grants Committee be an appropriate organisation? It will have all the shortcomings in dealing with these valued judgments in relation to nationhood that a Royal Commission would have. In fact, it would have more limitations than a Royal Commission. But since he recognises that there are these valued judgments and these Welsh nationalist considerations, he should have come to the nearest available source of guidance, namely, the Welsh back benchers. After all, we are supposed to be here because we represent Welsh opinion. Without any loss of Ministerial status, he could easily have discussed his decision with us before making any irrevocable move.

To those of us concerned about the future of the Welsh College of Advanced Technology, our first worry is that once the C.A.T. goes into the University of Wales it will never get out again in that there is no provision made for contracting out within the charter of the university. Therefore, that step should not be taken until every argument has been analysed.

Secondly, if it goes into the university the college may not be able to develop courses which differ substantially from the more formal type of academic course available at the old type of university, and it is the new type of course which is so essential to a new technological university.

Furthermore, if it is forced into the University of Wales, far from meeting the nation's need, which was said to be one of the major requirements, it could be that the C.A.T. will be denied the opportunity to meet the nation's need, because there are substantial pressures within the court of the University of Wales which say that the university has already expanded too much. They say that it should not be allowed to expand any further, and I believe that there is a motion before the next meeting of the court of governors to contain the growth of the university. We say as a nation that we need more university places and more technologists, and now we are to hand over a new technological institution to the restricted atmosphere of the court of the University of Wales.

I put forward those points because they may not have been heard by the Minister before. I do not know the source of his information, but I can assure him that much of the advice that he has received is out of touch with the feeling of Welsh back benchers. Before he divides the Welsh Labour group, I would ask him first to discuss this matter with us and, secondly, to be more flexible in his approach until he is sure that the statements he has made can be substantiated.