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 Leo Abse Mr Leo Abse , Pontypool 12:00 am, 26th January 1966

When the Secretary of State was kind enough to give way to rue earlier in the debate he said that he was not unaware that recent decisions had precipitated considerable controversy in Wales. Indeed, he would have been extraordinarily insensitive—and he is certainly not that—if he had been unaware of the deep feelings which have been aroused over the controversial issues to which my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) has referred.

In Wales, we rarely conduct our controversies in muted form. When they touch upon education, they inevitably become passionate, for in Wales education is taken very seriously indeed. It is precisely because there is such a passionate national interest in education and such a curiosity about it that nothing could be more inept than that major decisions of policy which impinge on the educational future of industrial South Wales in particular should be determined by the putting down of a Question to the Secretary of State for Education on the last day of a Parliamentary Session by the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Wales. That is just a way to prompt a controversy, for when feelings are so precipitated it is essential that a Minister taking such important decisions should be sensitive of all sections of opinion in Wales and Monmouthshire.

Indeed, the decision to which my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West referred was a decision which must be interpreted by many in Wales as discrimination against the Welsh C.A.T., for we find it is only the Welsh C.A.T. alone among all the C.A.T.s that is not to be permitted to become a separate university. This is bound to arouse considerable concern and curiosity about why such an odd decision should have been made in this curious way.

I do not by any means place all responsibility on the Secretary of State for Education. I merely complain that he has not taken account of all sections of opinion. When I search out the various statements which have been made and the interviews which have been given in the Western Mail, I search for the answers to why the C.A.T. in Wales should have this treatment as against that given to the other C.A.T.s. This is a very natural inquiry and it has certainly been made in Monmouthshire where the people in a highly industrial county are naturally profoundly concerned about the technological future of Wales and the nature and quality of technical education provided by the right hon. Gentleman both in industrial training and the schools.

The answer was disarmingly given by the Minister of State who in his interview with the Western Mail last week said that it would be a strange pattern for the Welsh C.A.T. to become a separate university while the University College was part of the federal structure. I understand that. He categorically says that that would be a strange pattern. Here lies the answer to why the present decision has been made. It is because it has been said by some that a federal university must remain and that therefore the C.A.T. cannot become a separate university, for if that were to happen the University College of South Wales and Monmouth would be placed in an impossible situation.

There are fundamental objections raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West, which are well worth repeating, about the whole concept, in any circumstances, of a federal university. They were laid down in the Robbins Report, in which it was said: Power tends to become concentrated in the centre, and the link between the central authority and the places where teaching and research are carried out become increasingly tenuous. It is a fact known only too well to the academic staffs of the colleges that it becomes necessary to set up a system of boards and committees, which consume time and distract academic staff from their primary function. To quote Robbins: Moreover, the intervention of the universities between the basic academic unit, the college, and the national system makes for delay and inhibits decision. It certainly has done so in this particular respect. Even worse, as we know from our experience in Wales, the fact that we have a federal university means that there is always a danger of the existing situation becoming ossified, that if a faculty in a college wants to develop or expand, the danger is that there are at the centre restrictions upon such an expansion, unless there is a great deal of horse-dealing between one college and another. The consequence is that when we hear of a decision like this about C.A.T.s, naturally the staff and the students of C.A.T.s are alarmed because, wanting as they do to take a lead in technological education in Wales, they realise the dangers that have come into existence, and which can be restrictive to them in consequence of having to enter into a federal structure where there will be rival faculties elsewhere, attempting to strangle the development of the Welsh C.A.T.s.

This is clear from the alarm which has been caused. Everyone hoped that out of the Welsh C.A.T.s there would come a developing education department, turning out teachers adequately trained in technical subjects. The demands of the Industrial Training Act, the acute shortage in Wales of highly qualified teachers in mathematics and science, these things emphasise the need for a training establishment in Wales where teachers of the highest technical quality may be turned out. As the Minister of State will be well aware, we have no teacher training college for technical education inside the Principality. Such training can only be obtained outside. Many of us have a concern for the future of our Wales, and we have no antagonism to the concept lying behind the views of those who oppose us. We are concerned that we shall have a Wales that will be technically in the twentieth century. Because of this we are concerned that hopes of an expansion of such a training centre in Wales will become dashed.

Let me give another example of the grave damage which can result if the Welsh C.A.T.s are forced into a federal structure. I am not unacquainted with legal education, and it has always been a matter of great dismay to me, having been born in Cardiff and lived my life in Wales, to see Welsh law students, increasingly in recent years, leaving Wales to get their education in London, Bristol and elsewhere. There is in Aberystwyth a law faculty, once of a proud lustre, which produced distinguished men, and it was one in which all Wales had a right to take a great deal of pride. If one glances at the Welsh University Calendar for 1965–66 and looks at this proud law department of Aberystwyth, we are told the name of the professor, the name of one lecturer and underneath we are told: Three to be appointed. At the time of the publication of this calendar, this was the state of the law faculty of Aberystwyth.