Higher Education

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:50 pm on 8th July 1981.

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Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North 9:50 pm, 8th July 1981

Until my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, East (Mr. Henderson) pointed out that the cuts in one year under the Labour Government amounted to more than we now propose over a period of years, one might have believed some of the Opposition statements. I remind the Opposition that in 1969 Labour Ministers set out—and this was reported in The Times—13 methods of saving money far more drastic than those that we have proposed. They included the introduction of a loan system, the idea that people should be tied to jobs when they finished their courses, and all kinds of propositions of that kind. Many present Labour Members were Members of the House, and, indeed, Ministers, at that time.

This is not a new form of rationalisation. It has been with us for a long time. The difference is that we have done something about it. The Labour Government put out a document, but, with the exception of one point, the universities have done nothing about it. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) said recently at Kent university: It was a pity that these proposals"— that is, the Labour Government's proposals— were not treated more seriously at the time. But Universities then thought that they only had to shout loud enough that they were centres of excellence and everyone would bow. Universities walked so tall that they sometimes forgot about the ground. It is important to realise that what we are now doing people have been talking about on and off for years. At least we are achieving something along the way.

We are achieving rationalisation. [Interruption.] It may worry the Opposition, but they will have to listen. This is a policy of rationalisation, not of mere cuts but of careful pruning. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) for recognising that we are using pruning shears, not nail scissors. The fact that we had a good day today with the roses growing well again shows that the pruning was worth-while.

This matter has come to a head for two reasons. First, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State said, the Government were elected to cut Government expenditure. [Interruption.] It is not a pack of lies. Labour Members should not judge these things on the basis of their own manifestos. We were elected to cut Government expenditure. At present, we are limited by the money available, and that has acted as a catalyst.

Secondly, the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) is quite right in saying that in 1982–83 there will be a peak in the number of 18-year-olds. For the next two years they will be in the universities. The number will then fall by 30 per cent. in 10 years. Unlike the Labour Government, we do not wait until there is an excess of teachers before doing anything about the situation arid then create unemployment among teachers. We have planning. The Opposition are supposed to believe in central planning, but as soon as they see any they object w it. I should have thought that they would welcome our planning.

Let us be clear about what has been done. There has been a switch from the arts to technology and science. Hon. Members may shake their heads. I shall give them the figures. In medicine, there will be an increase of 5 per cent. in three years, in dentistry an increase of 3 per cent.—so the Opposition had better keep their mouths shut for a while—in engineering and technology 2 per cent., in mathematics 3 per cent., in physical sciences 7 per cent. and in business studies 3 per cent. Those figures illustrate a switch to the sciences, technology, engineering and business studies which I am sure that hon. Members on both sides would welcome.

My hon. Friends the Members for Rugby (Mr. Pawsey) and Ripon (Dr. Hampson) said that there was no point in having half-courses in each university. Every university cannot offer every course to every student. That is the economics of Passchendaele. The way to rationalise the teaching of German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese or Spanish is to concentrate economic units in various universities. Such subjects should be moved to a university where they can be economic and taught alongside general studies.

That is a proper form of rationalisation. Minority subjects should be concentrated in a number of universities so that they can be taught in economic units to the benefit of both staff and students. We are maintaining the amount of money going to the research councils—£343 million in real terms.