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 Mr Christopher Woodhouse Mr Christopher Woodhouse , Oxford 12:00 am, 26th January 1966

I have been interested to learn from the last three speeches from the other side of the House that university troubles are not confined to any one part of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, South (Sir H. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid) and his Sub-Committee did not visit the University of Wales or the University of Glasgow, but it is clear that if they had done so they would have found themselves in even deeper water than they have found themselves in in the rest of their investigations.

I will not, for obvious reasons, say anything more about matters which have just been brought out in the debate, but they give me the cue for saying that, while I join in the congratulations which have been offered to my hon. Friend and his Sub-Committee, I feel also, after carefully reading the whole of their Report and the evidence, that one should at the same time commiserate with them. I felt, as I watched my hon. Friend grappling with the academic leviathan, that he was in rather the same position as Peer Gynt grappling with the Boyg, that shapeless, invisible, all-embracing monster in Ibsen's play.

Perhaps if I quote one short passage from that play my hon. Friend will recognise the position that he finds himself in: Backward or forward, it's just the same;In or out, there's no way through.It's there—it's here—it's all about me!I think I've got out, and I'm back in the midst of it. This feeling of helplessness grappling with invisible forces must have been particularly strong when the Sub-Committee was dealing with the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. I should have liked to congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), if he were here, on his own determined efforts as revealed in the evidence, to try to make sense of the relation between the two ancient universities and the University Grants Committee. I would remind the House and the hon. Gentleman—I hope that this may give him some encouragement—that both these ancient universities, one of whose representatives has already eloquently addressed the House, are unavoidably different for historical reasons. They are not the only ones that are unavoidably different, because, as the Report points out, the Scottish universities are also somewhat different. Both Oxford and Cambridge have been making determined efforts to modernise their own structure from within by means of what one might describe as a sort of self-appointed, quasi-Royal Commission, under Lord Bridges in the case of Cambridge and Lord Franks at Oxford.

Having mentioned those two universities, I should like briefly, in parenthesis, following upon what my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Sir H. Kerr) had to say, to deal with the slightly disagreeable criticism of the local authorities at Oxford and Cambridge implied at one or two points in my hon. Friend's Report. Paragraph 106 of the Report says: A comparison was obtained of rates with contributions from which it is clear that the universities of Oxford and Cambridge are still regarded as a source of revenue by local authorities. This point comes out even more emphatically in the tables in Appendix G, which reveal in the case of Oxford and Cambridge—and Oxford and Cambridge alone—that these local authorities make no financial contribution at all to the universities in their areas.

The implication of these two points in the Report is to overlook the fact, which is emphasised elsewhere in the Report, that, in the first place, at Oxford and Cambridge alone the colleges are distinct from the universities, and so figures relating only to the universities do not give a complete picture, and, secondly, that both the Oxford and Cambridge City Councils make what I can only describe as a large forced contribution to the colleges by way of mandatory rate relief for the reasons which my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge has already outlined and which constitutes an increasing burden on the local authorities every year. Indeed, in this respect—and in one other respect which I shall mention—the table in Appendix G is somewhat misleading. Not only does it fail to reveal the fact that the local authorities at Oxford and Cambridge have to make a financial contribution to the colleges but it also fails to reveal that sums shown in the second column as rate payments by the universities are not paid by the universities at all but are paid by the taxpayers through the University Grants Committee, whereas the forced contribution by the city councils at Oxford and Cambridge to the colleges are a real loss to the ratepayer.

In fact, the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge are the only university institutions in the country—I think that I may say this without fear of contradiction—which pay rates out of their own pockets. All the others have their rates paid for them by the U.G.C. out of the taxpayers' money. This anomaly, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, is a source of great annoyance to Oxford and Cambridge, both in the local authorities and in the colleges, and I hope that it will be removed. But, while it lasts, it is unjust to say that at Oxford and Cambridge the ratepayers make no contribution to the cost of the universities.