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 Mr Roger Cooke Mr Roger Cooke , Twickenham 12:00 am, 26th January 1966

I am pleased to hear that, because we were told that it was very expensive to cut down the period. Canterbury said that it cost £118,000.

I do not know whether the Minister dealt with industrial building techniques and Recommendation (xii). Here, again, I was concerned at the weakness of the Department's answer. We recommended: The U.G.C. should invite the National Building Agency and experienced contractors to pool all available information on industrial building techniques and to combine with them to discover which systems are suitable for the different regions, categories and conditions of individual universities. The Department replied: The professional staff of the U.G.C. already have considerable knowledge of existing systems of industrialised building and their advantages and so on, but it went on to say: However the particular problems involved in using industrialised building techniques in universities merit further investigation, and the Department of Education and Science and the U.G.C. are engaged, jointly with the authorities of the Bristol College of Science and Technology at Bath, in a piece of operational research on the modification of the CLASP system for technology buildings. I would not have thought that that went far enough. We know that the CLASP system is excellent, but will it take into account all the new ideas of industrialised building which are thrown up and exhibited every year at Crystal Palace? I hope that the Minister of State will say that this is going to be treated as a matter of urgency and that it will receive earnest attention, because, obviously, great improvements can be made. Many new methods of industrialised building have come to light within the last year or two, and great improvements can be made if they are adopted.

Lastly, I should like to say a word about the obsolescence of scientific equipment, which has been referred to once or twice already. One must admit that obsolescence is a national fault. We all love to see a machine which has run for 100 years. We are ashamed if we have to chuck it out after 10 years, although for many reasons we should perhaps do so. Perhaps I might give a homely example. A person buys a stair carpet for his home. It probably costs about £30, and will need to be replaced in about 15 years' time. He knows that the cost of replacing it might be almost double, about £60. Theoretically, he should put a penny in the box every time he goes up and down the stairs so that in, say, 15 years, there is enough money to buy a new stair carpet. But that does not happen and the U.G.C. has no penny box by which to replace its scientific machinery. Much of it is out of date.

In Recommendation (xiii) we say: The U.G.C. should undertake a survey of at least all major scientific departments in universities to determine the degree of obsolescence in equipment … The rate of obsolescence in scientific machinery at the present time is very rapid. Some people say that the rate should be about 5 per cent. per annum for the changes that one has to make in machinery in any event to keep up with modern machinery that is coming in.

Professor Swann, the Acting Principal of Edinburgh, and Mr. Stewart, the Secretary there, told us that there was no rule about obsolescence. They said "Just grab what you can from the quinquennial grant, and any grant from outside." As I understand it, there is no regular grant for obsolescence. There is a rigidity of classification between recurrent grant and capital grant, but there is no recurring annual grant for depreciation. As a business man, I felt that there was rather a lack of appreciation of this issue in the U.G.C. itself, or rather its staff was not strong enough to deal with it.

The U.G.C. does not have a cost accountant on its staff,. There is not very much technical expertise in accountancy on this side, and it ought to have more help on this issue. It used to get more help when it was under the Treasury than it does now under the D.E.S., because it sometimes had the assistance of Treasury accountants. Statisticians should be attached to the recurrent grant division of the Department, but in its reply the Department said that the working party composed of representatives of the Treasury, the D.E.S. and the U.G.C. has now made its report which is being examined. It does not say whether there will be a survey of obsolescent scientific machinery. We would like to hear the result of this examination of the working party's report. Can the Minister of State give us a little more information about that?

The things which concerned me more particularly in the report were the obsolescence of many of the buildings in the older universities, the planning of new ones, the feeling, which I am glad the Minister shares, that we should have a four-year programme, the need for re- search into industrialised building techniques—I think we need more research into that—and the obsolescence of scientific machinery. We require a survey, and we require an annual obsolescence grant to enable universities to keep ahead in this rapidly moving, changing and expanding field of scientific machinery.