Orders of the Day — Manchester (University Education)

– in the House of Commons at 1:31 am on 23rd July 1981.

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Photo of Mr Fred Silvester Mr Fred Silvester , Manchester, Withington 1:31 am, 23rd July 1981

We come now to another subject in the debate. I have deliberately sought to raise the issue of university provision in the Manchester area as a whole rather than as it affects any particular university.

There is a danger of getting matters out of perspective by concentrating on the now famous case of the University of Salford. I had the pleasure of listening to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary earlier, when he talked about the University of Aston. Therefore, I have some idea of his general views about universities of that kind. But I hope that he will regard my remarks not simply as a re-run of the earlier debate, because some of the arguments advanced then are not appropriate to the Manchester area and some of the arguments that I wish to make were not made in that debate.

I refer to the Manchester area rather than to any particular university because the Salford case has received all the limelight and the campus campaign has received publicity in the newspapers. It is not meaningful to consider the case of Salford in isolation, because university provision in the Manchester area is provided not only by the University of Salford, but by the great University of Manchester Owens, the Manchester Business School and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. Together, they form a large collection of academic expertise.

If one looks at all that provision in total, the first conclusion that must be drawn is that a great deal of nonsense is talked about the present revision. For example, I have seen some newspaper reports to the effect that we are doing down the North, which shows that such matters often attract a traditional reflex action. Let us begin by getting the position right. If one considers the proposals of the University Grants Committee for the Manchester area in total, one must accept that we have come off quite well. Two of the four expanding institutions are in Manchester. That should go clearly on the record before we go any further. An expansion of 42 per cent. in student numbers is proposed for the Manchester Business School by 1983–84, and student numbers at UMIST are to go up by 7 per cent. The University of Manchester Owens is to decline by 220, or 2 per cent., which is lower than for other universities. It is only at Salford, where the cut is 30 per cent., that the main problem has a risen. It is important to say that.

In view of local press comment, in which people have naturally concentrated on the position in relation to science and technology, it is also important to say that although there has been an overall cut of 2 per cent. in the University of Manchester, there is actually to be a small increase in the number of students reading science and technology, and in the four institutions combined the proportion devoted to those subjects will rise from 50 to 51 per cent.

I shall deal with Salford in a moment, but it is important to begin by recognising that the decisions of the UGC have in a sense been a recognition of the achievements of those other institutions.

I take, first, UMIST. I can appreciate why UMIST has done well out of the proposals. It has run itself with extremely tight financial control, and at a time when other universities have been freezing academic posts I believe that it has introduced no fewer than 10 professorships in important new subjects, such as robotics. It has a flourishing postgraduate body, comprising about one-third of the people there—the highest proportion of any university in the country—and it attracts vast quantities of research work from the councils.

As a result of that, not only is the total full-time student population of UMIST rising, but the UGC is making greater provision for part-timers and for full-time equivalent people from industry. I had not realised this before, but I was told when I was there on Wednesday that it is also getting greater capital and furniture grants than ever before.

I emphasise those points because it is important to understand that in the Manchester area the situation is not all one way. I am also building up this picture because it helps to understand the way in which the UGC is operating. UMIST has been the faculty of technology of the University of Manchester for 90 years, so its tradition is of long standing. What it has managed to achieve—and, as I have said, I regard this as remarkable in the circumstances—has been brought about against the background of Government policy on overseas students. I believe that UMIST has the highest proportion of overseas students of any university in the country. The proportion has dropped from 31 per cent. in 1979 to 29 per cent. this year, and I am told that overseas student applications for next year are 40 per cent. down, but UMIST thinks that it will just about manage.

As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, UMIST is charging very high fees to overseas students—above the Government's norm—because it says that it is so good that people should pay that. Nevertheless, one must realise what one is doing in this respect. Although I think that UMIST is very good, knows what it is doing, and will tackle the issue wisely, it estimates that by 1983–84 the proportion of overseas students could be down to 14 or 15 per cent., which is the national average. That is a shame, because for 90 years—this is not a new-fangled thing—UMIST has specifically set out to provide a high level of specialised training and has set up courses of particular importance to overseas countries. Indeed a high proportion of senior engineering academic staff in universities east of Suez, if I may loosely refer to them in that way, come from UMIST. That is a great tradition.

If the UGC is looking for centres of excellence—and the Government are supporting it in this—this is one centre of excellence that we should consider. This is not a general point about overseas students, but a point specific to UMIST and perhaps to Imperial college. Where we have deliberately set out to establish universities with a particularly skilful approach to courses of particular relevance to overseas students—and these are high-powered students, not people coming in at low grades—this should be regarded as a specialism in its own right. The Government have not done that. I should like my hon. Friend the Minister to consider that. UMIST is getting its share of the £2·8 million scheme, but that is not enough to maintain the quality of specialty that it has had.

I turn to the subject of the Manchester Business School, which does extraordinarily well in terms of income for services rendered in research and from business. It is being allowed an increase in students. My hon. Friend has been as helpful to the school as he can in other ways. I have mentioned the Manchester Business School only to give a sense of completeness. I have no complaints about it, or on its behalf. One may as well say the nice things as well as the nasty. I am pleased that the Government are supporting the school. It is not only a good business school, but does useful work with the Manpower Services Commission and with business start-ups. It is spreading its expertise around.

The University of Manchester Owens is receiving a 2 per cent. cut, which represents a drop of 220 students. It regards that as manageable. The university is a tightly run ship and has cut its costs by 6 per cent. during the last four years. No doubt it will manage well. The size of its science and technology department is being marginally increased. It is clear that it can meet the Government's criteria and that it will emerge an efficient university. It would be difficult to say that it will be better for the exercise, but it will be as good, and perhaps slimmer. Like other universities, it is trying to get itself into the right climate for the next decade.

Manchester university is so big that its features are common to many other universities. The Minister will realise that not everyone in the academic world is against his proposals. There is a strong belief that the time has come for some rationalisation of the universities. There is great good will and support for the Government in their endeavours. People are not at all unreceptive. However, there is a danger of throwing the baby out with the bath water. It is difficult to use an example, because there are so many from which to choose. However, we are asking people to go too fast to do the job properly.

The University of Manchester—I assume that the same applies to all the universities—has been asked to report by 1 January on the staff redundancies that it expects in the next two years. This morning I attended the Select Committee, and I have listened to the debates. The UGC may have been working on this idea for about 18 months, but that is not true of the universities. Last May, Manchester university was working on a proposal to cut 3 per cent. per annum. It is extremely difficult to switch suddenly to this situation. If the university has to it will report by next January on staff redundancies, but to ask it to do so is not the best way to achieve the necessary concentration on the best parts and the removal of the worst parts, which is what we all wish to achieve.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is well aware of the effect of speed. Even those who support strongly what my hon. Friend is trying to achieve, and who understand the necessity to make cuts in public expenditure, recognise that there is a dis-economy when the speed becomes too rapid. This is a matter to which I shall return in relation to Salford.

There is not the money available to enable rapid adjustments to be made. Last year, the University of Manchester spent £750,000 on health and safety measures to cover such risks as laboratories blowing up. A sum of £50,000 has been allowed in the budget for next year. It will not require many Bunsen burners to go wrong before the £50,000 is used up. There is no fat in that situation.

My remarks about Manchester Owens university are even more true when applied to Salford. I understand why the UGC made the decision about Salford. I am not one of those who criticise the UGC, nor do I believe some of the far-fetched comments about the UGC and its motivations. Such comments are not only inaccurate but, in many cases, unworthy. By comparing the institutions in the Manchester area, one can begin to see how the UGC's mind is working.

I should like to view Salford with as clear an eye as possible. It takes a lower A-level intake. It has a higher failure rate than UMIST, Manchester and quite a number of universities. It has a lower proportion of first and upper secondclass degrees. It carries out some interesting practical research for industry in such matters as tidal energy. It is also true, however, that it attracts a smaller proportion of research money, especially from research councils, than other universities. These are legitimate measures of excellence between one university and another. They lie within the criteria that the UGC apparently adopts. On that basis, one sees clearly how Salford emerges as a university that is perhaps for the chop.

It is not that the UGC specifically excludes regional considerations. I do not quarrel with that approach, except for Scotland and Wales, because people from all over the country attend our universities. In any case, Manchester, overall, has done very well. Salford is caught full blast in the traditional criteria applied by the UGC to universities. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will rightly say that he is sorry, but the UGC is set up to make the decisions, that he does not make them, and that no Government will overturn UGC decisions.

My hon. Friend has already stated in the Aston debate that the Government will not attempt to carry out the UGC's job for it, because the politicians would make a worse fist of the matter. I agree with that, even though I dislike bodies for which the Government carry the can but do not control. If my hon. Friend or I had to sit down and perform the task, we would do it worse than the UGC does. It is not true, however, to say that the Minister has no responsibility for Salford and that he can hide behind the UGC.

There are at least four ways in which the Government exercise control over UGC policy and how it affects Salford. First, the Government have a view about manpower policies. We cannot isolate the universities from that. We talk about it in all sorts of ways. We talk about the 16 to 18 age group. We talk about the schools. We talk about the universities. We talk about the youth opportunities programme. We talk about new training initiatives, and so on. We have a view about manpower policies. We say that we are deliberately trying to encourage that kind of education that is closely related to industry. We are trying to get away from the pure to the applied. That is what Finniston was all about. We talk about all those things ad nauseam.

The proof of the pudding is in the success of Salford graduates in getting jobs. We all use the Financial Times figures. They are very instructive. Salford has been fourth in the list for the last nine years. A higher proportion of Salford graduates than the national average go into employment rather than further education, and a higher proportion than the national average go into the wealth-producing sector of industry and commerce. An even higher proportion go into the high technology industries.

There are figures from Salford relating to the number of graduates who have not obtained a job after six months. For Salford's engineers the figure is 1·6 per cent.; for all other universities' engineers it is 4·6 per cent. For Salford scientists the figure is 6·9 per cent.; for all other scientists it is 9·7 per cent. For Salford's language graduates the figure is 9·7 per cent.; for all other language graduates it is 11·5 per cent.; for Salford's business graduates it is 9·1 per cent.; for all other business graduates it is 10·7 per cent.

There is one thing that is clear from the melee of statistics. It is that Salford has a very good record in getting its graduates employed, and that industry likes what Salford produces.

That is talking about the end product. The UGC is talking about the input. It is perfectly reasonable to talk about A-levels, but Salford has deliberately set out to attract students with lower A-level grades. There are probably other factors involved, but Salford has deliberately said "When we look at a student coming from the sixth form who has been studying traditional sixth form subjects, many of which are not very closely related to what industry, particularly on the technical side, requires, we look at the student and his mental outlook and attitudes, and take that into account as much as the A-level grades."

It is of great importance that we recognise that the whole ethos of Salford is different—and deliberately different, not accidentally different—from some of the other universities. It is different from UMIST, for example. It is important that the Government should know what Salford is seeking to promote.

The Government do not tell the UGC whether a particular university or faculty is doing its job well. That is the UGC's job. But it is Government's job to make sure that the UGC takes into account a criterion which it says is of great importance.

It surely cannot be a coincidence that the universities that have fared badly with the cuts are the ex-colleges of advanced technology. I know that some have fared quite well, but those that have come out at the bottom are the ones that have been following the kind of philosophy that I have mentioned. That must cause us all to pause.

Salford was an admirable college of advanced technology and was much respected in that role. Some of us believe that it should never have become a university. There is a strong argument that that was a mistake, but we are starting from where we are and not from where we would wish to be. There is a view, though it cannot be proved, that someone somewhere has made the mental decision that it was a mistake and that in due time Salford will cease to be a university. Its functions will revert to their previous role.

The relationship between polytechnics and universities must be resolved. That is a matter for the Government. Places such as Salford are being squeezed piggy-in-the-middle in the debate. The relationship must be sorted out with speed, and I do not believe that that is a job for the UGC. I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend say that he is about to publish a Green Paper. I look forward to receiving it. I hope that it will not come too late to help places such as Salford.

My third point is that even if the Government support the UGC, as they do, they have an overall responsibility to ensure that things are done with justice and openness. Whatever the UGC does, it does not convince people that the grounds on which it has made its decisions are set out clearly and rationally. The Select Committee and all the talk that we are hearing may eventually drag from the UGC not only what are its criteria they are gradually becoming clearer—but what is its total strategy?

Let us imagine ourselves in the position of those at Salford. They set out 14 years ago to establish what was thought to be a new worthwhile form of institution. They have gone about it as best they could, with much devotion and intelligence, and with some imagination and flair. They obviously have the backing of many local people and businesses. They have involved many people. They have gradually created a new institution of great value. Now its grant is to be reduced by over 40 per cent. over three years. One cannot expect people who have constructed something of that kind not to react. It is not an adaptation. It is Solomon and the child. In those circumstances, it is unreasonable to ask people to accept those decisions without knowing exactly—I mean exactly—why and what the end product will be. It is the end product that matters most of all.

The people at Salford understand that if civil engineering is the specialty somewhere and it is heavily capital-intensive, that is fine. Other specialties are set up in other places, but what is left for Salford? The UGC, for all its virtues, has not made clear in any form its strategy for the universities, where the centres of excellence are to be concentrated and where the subjects that will leave Salford will go. It is not enough for the Government to say that that is not their responsibility. The justice and the openness leave the Government with a residual responsibility that they cannot ignore.

I return to the subject of speed, which is the Government's province and not that of the UGC. Earlier this evening my hon. Friend said that he would like more time. We all agree that, economically speaking, time is not on our side. We must get on and make these adjustments as rapidly as we can.

In the debate on the Consolidated Fund Bill, we all know that hon. Members can never propose cuts in Government expenditure, because there is always a special case for keeping every item of it. I understand that. I go further and say that the universities have brought a lot of this difficulty on themselves, because they were warned long enough ago, and a lot of them decided to take no action until it became really painful.

However, there is a corollary with which my hon. Friend has to deal. I agree that the correct way to deal with this problem is to make the cuts unequally and in different proportions in order to keep the centres of excellence, but, if my hon. Friend says that, it follows that the scale and speed of change are also unequal. Whereas it may be reasonable to say to the UGC or to the university spectrum as a whole "Surely you can manage a cut of 11 per cent. by 1983–84", it is not reasonable to say to Salford "Surely you can manage 44 per cent. by 1984". It is a different order of magnitude and a totally different beast.

I ask my hon. Friend not simply to say, as he did about Aston "You are asking the Government to do the UGC's job, and we have no intention of doing that because it would be awful". I agree, but there remain residual responsibilities on the Government—and I have cited four of them, though there may be others—that have a direct bearing on these institutions. Salford does not believe that it is being treated fairly or rationally. We shall lose much of the benefit of what my hon. Friend seeks to do overall unless we can put that right.

Photo of Mr John Roper Mr John Roper , Farnworth 2:02 am, 23rd July 1981

The hon. Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) showed very clearly the importance of the complex of higher education institutions in the Greater Manchester area. The moderation with which he made the case for Salford made the case very much more effective, and I look forward, as he does, to tie Minister's reply. The hon. Member for Withington knows the problems well from his constituency experience. It contains probably the highest proportion of the students and perhaps of the staff of the University of Manchester and of University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology than any other constituency in the Greater Manchester area. He also had the opportunity this morning of hearing what transpired in the Select Committee.

I should declare an interest, because I have served for the last seven years on the court of the University of Salford and have seen a good deal of its development. When I was first appointed to the staff of Manchester university some 20 years ago, I lived in what is now the constituency of the hon. Member for Withington. Therefore, I have had some opportunity to see the development of the four institutions to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

It has been a remarkable development. There are the two old institutions which were there in 1961 and, as we were reminded, for more than a century in the case of Owens and for nearly 90 years in the case of the UMIST. We have also seen the development of the two newer institutions. Previously, the University of Salford was the college of advanced technology and before that the Salford Royal college. But they have developed in the last 20 years into bodies which have received grants from the UGC, and, as has been said, the Manchester Business School has been a remarkable success.

The University of Salford has had a remarkable growth. It benefited greatly during the past decade from the work of its former vice-chancellor, Dr. Horlock, who has come to be vice-chancellor of the Open University. The period of rapid expansion that we have seen over the past 20 years has provided many problems as well as opportunities for the universities. The point made by the hon. Gentleman about the speed of change, whether of growth or of shrinkage for the universities, is real and should not be overlooked.

As has been said, these four institutions are part of our national provision for higher education and they should be seen as part of that national network. None the less, they have a regional impact—particularly the University of Salford. Having originally been the college of advanced technology of Salford, it has always had close links with the region. Therefore, we need to look at the regional as well as the national impact of the measures that we are considering.

Leaving aside the University of Salford, the development on the south side of Manchester of the campuses of the University of Manchester, UMIST, the Manchester Business School and the Manchester polytechnic, together with associated buildings, such as the BBC's, has been one of the most remarkable transformations within the city of Manchester. Although one might criticise the architecture of some of the buildings, it has been a good development which has done a great deal of good for the city as a whole.

I should like to mention UMIST briefly before going on to the University of Salford, to which, like the hon. Member for Withington, I should like to give most attention. I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about the role of UMIST, of the University of Manchester's science and technology and electrical engineering departments and of Manchester Owens university's physics, chemistry and civil engineering departments in training people who become the professors in universities throughout the world. That cannot be underestimated It is an extraordinarily good investment by this country. There are provisions to assist students in this work, but I hope that we shall not see a continuing drop, as has been forecast, in the number of overseas students taking advantage of these courses at Owens and at UMIST.

I suppose that within the Greater Manchester area attention has been focused in the past two weeks on the proposals for the University of Salford. Cuts of 30·9 per cent. in student numbers, of 500 to 525 in the number of staff—many of them my constituents—and of 41 per cent. in the university's budget over the next three years are dramatic. There is no doubt that they have caused widespread concern—much wider than the university itself.

I have had letters from constituents who have no direct association with the university. I have had one from the area dean of Farnworth. He was called a rural dean, but he is now called an area dean because Farnworth cannot now be described as a rural deanery in any normal sense of that word. The area dean has written to me saying that he feels that this is a problem not just for the university and those who work in it, but for the wider community of Greater Manchester.

The University of Salford suggests that it has been one of the more cost-effective universities in terms of unit student costs among the technological universities. It has produced a ranking, weighting students in different ways. Among the technological universities, Salford comes out in the middle at £1,804—well below the average for the technological universities, which was £1,925, and considerably below that for all English universities at £2,029. It appears that Salford has been a fairly cost-effective university.

In trying to judge its effectiveness, one must recognise that a university has many outputs. It does not merely have the output of first degree students, although that is an important output. There is also the output of higher degree students and of research work for the research councils. In the case of Salford, perhaps more importantly, there is the close research collaboration with industry large and small. In all of these areas Salford has had a remarkable record. The first degree students have a high reputation in terms of employment. The University is fourth or fifth in the league table for employment of students. There is the interesting fact, in an area such as languages, that Salford students are trained to have a knowledge of languages that is directly applicable. There is not very much by way of literary studies, not that I am criticising such studies, but there is the practical application of languages which is why, I think, Salford students have such a high employment record.

With postgraduates from the university, one of the impressive things has been the development of sandwich courses so that people can go on with an MSc while working in industry in the North-West. Perhaps most impressive of all has been the development of research with industry in the North-West. The reaction that we have seen, particularly in the last week, from the wide range of firms in the North-West and nationally that have benefited not merely from the graduates of Salford university but from research collaboration with it shows the success that the university has had in that direction.

We should also consider the relationship that any university has with its locality. It is quite remarkable that town and gown relations, which are not always perfect, are extremely good at Salford. The leader of the Salford city council in a letter this week has said: I would like to stress the city council's view that there appears to have been a fundamental failure to appreciate the adverse effects of such grossly disproportionate cuts upon the long-term recoverability of our science-based and technological industry. One is bound to state that that alone is a cogent reason for ensuring that the continued development of a successful technological university should be maintained, so far as the national economy allows. That is an important rider. It is worthy of notice that the city of Salford has put a great deal into campaigning for the maintenance of what it believes to be its own university.

If we were to discuss, as the House may do a little later, the reasons for our economic problems, we should find a great deal of disagreement. There would be general agreement, however, that in our recovery from our present difficulties we shall need people with engineering and technological skills, the sort of people that the University of Salford has been so successful in producing.

There is considerable concern throughout the Salford area about the UGC's proposals, not merely the size of the cuts but the fact that there is a reference in the UGC letter to substantial decreases in numbers in the biological sciences and significant decreases in numbers in the physical sciences and engineering. The cuts are being made not in what might be termed the "frill" subjects but in the central subjects of a university concerned with science and technology. This is certainly felt locally to be directly contrary to the needs of industry and our economic recovery and survival.

The university has demonstrated clearly the possibilities of partnership with local industry. It has developed an industrial centre and there are plans for a science park around the university. The debate and particularly the moderate way in which the hon. Member for Withington outlined the problem have been useful in drawing attention to the problems that the university faces in the light of the sudden cut and dramatic surgery proposed by the UGC. I hope that the proposals, which are considered locally to be serious mistakes, will be reconsidered by the UGC.

I accept that the Government are not directly responsible for how money is shared out, but I hope that they will take into account what has been said by the hon. Member for Withington and will ensure that Salford people feel that their case has been fairly heard and understand why they have been singled out for what appears to them to be such unfair treatment.

We have developed in the past 15 years a useful university at Salford. It would be unfortunate if, because of a general problem of adjustments in our universities, it should be made to bear more than its fair share of the consequences of present economic difficulties. I hope that the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us what can be done to reassure those in the university who feel bruised by the recent announcement.

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North 2:17 am, 23rd July 1981

This is our second university debate tonight. The first concerned the West Midlands and now we are discussing the Manchester area. I pay tribute to the moderate way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington (Mr. Silvester) put his case. If there is a good case, one does not need to bang the table all the time. The concern felt by my hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) came out in their speeches.

I do not have to declare an interest, but I spent four years at Manchester university. Two of my degrees are from the university and one of my daughters followed me there and studied the same subjects.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Withington did not make out that the Manchester area had been badly dealt with compared with the rest of the country. That is not the case. We do not need to go through the figures, because no one has queried them, but the region that has suffered the greatest proportionate cut is the South-East. I was informed today by the UGC that the South-East faces the heaviest percentage cut.

I join in the tributes paid to UMIST, with its long history, Manchester Owens university, the business school—I met representatives of the school only two or three weeks ago to discuss bursary problems—and Salford university. The final sentence in the hon. Member for Farnworth's speech was important. Morale matters and if it were felt by the universities facing the heaviest cuts that those cuts were a preliminary to closure the effect on morale could be disastrous.

My hon. Friend mentioned the criteria used by the UGC and I shall refer to that matter later. The committee has looked at faculties in the light of national need and demand. It has not been a question of saying that certain universities must be run down as a means of facilitating their eventual closure. That was not the UGC's intention. As the hon. Member for Farnworth said, one sometimes wonders why decisions are made, and one asks questions about them. It was not a question of an attack upon universities as universities. It was a matter of rationalisation and the preservation of the best, of excellence, as against what Lord Annan called the equality of misery if everyone has an equal cut throughout the country, irrespective of meaning.

I come to the criteria and the interesting four points which were mentioned, two of which I can take a little further, and two of which I can muse about. There was the question of Government manpower planning, and the effect upon the region. The remit of the UGC is the remit of the preservation of excellence and facilities. It was not part of its criteria—as I understand it, and it certainly was not laid down by the Government— that it should have to bear in mind the effect of any of its decisions, say, on employment prospects in a particular area. It is difficult enough for the UGC to carry out its tasks without burdening it with a lot of other matters, but clearly the effect on the area, as we witnessed in the debate on Aston university, is of concern to politicians and people in the area. I do not blame the UGC for taking objective decisions-on other bases. However, it was right to raise the matter in the House.

The second point related to across the binary line. It is a matter of particular importance. In many ways, higher education in Britain has grown like Topsy. From time to time we must ask ourselves: Do we like the way that it has grown? The UGC provides us with a vehicle for control, properly used by academics in the university sector and where academic freedom is preserved. The more the Government are told that they should say this or that to the UGC, the more we lessen its academic freedom in the judgments that it makes. Obviously, opinions exist outside the UGC, and even Ministers make speeches saying that technology may be a good thing. Members of the UGC may even listen to those speeches from time to time. But the UGC, over 62 years, has built up a considerable degree of expertise in this matter.

There is no equivalent in the maintained sector. It is astonishing that there are 396 institutions, including the polytechnics, outside universities in which it is possible to get a degree. The courses have developed for different reasons in different areas. The Government believe that there is a desperate need for some vehicle in the maintained senor which could carry out the rationalisation that is carried out by the UGC in the university sector. In times of expansion it may have been simpler, but even in times of expansion it is right to know what and where to expand. Nothing would be more stupid than to close down a university faculty in one region and for another institution to start that course three or four miles away, or even several hundreds of yards away. To be fair to the maintained sector, in one or two cases a course was to start at the polytechnics, and, to and behold, there was a great demand at the university for a similar course. I shall not mention the cases, but there have been such occasions which makes one suspect that the motives for starting such courses were not purely objective intellectual motives.

As my hon. Friend said, this coming week a Green Paper will be published containing suggestions regarding what should be in the maintained sector. Once we have a body, it is particularly important that there should be a dialogue across the binary line between the maintained sector and the UGC.

My hon. Friend the Member for Withington also raised the important question of knowing the total strategy and why decisions have been made. He referred to A-level intakes, courses and research money from industry and research councils. People do not mind judgments if they know what they are about. If they do not like the judgments, they dislike them less if they know the basis on which they are made.

I have considerable sympathy with the universities about the question of speed. As I have said often, with the 30 per cent. drop in 10 years, once the fall comes after 1982–83 in the 18-year-old age group, it will be essential to have some form of rationalisation. Apart from that, like bad businesses or even in our own lives, we have to have a stocktaking and ask whether the organisation is right. It is time to take stock of our education.

The speed has been accelerated by the economic climate. The need to curtail Government expenditure has acted as a catalyst. We believe that the change must be made at speed, but it is difficult for the universities because their form of government is not geared to taking quick decisions. The universities resemble co-operative societies in the way that they have to consult groups before decisions are made. I do not intend to attack the co-operative societies or the universities. I was once a director of a co-opertive society in the Rossendale valley, in Lancashire. However, neither type of body is famous for coming to quick decisions. The Government are aware of the difficulties that they have caused.

Photo of Mr Fred Silvester Mr Fred Silvester , Manchester, Withington

The savings that the Government will make are small in relation to universities at the sharp end. Is it not possible to consider a longer time span for the larger cuts, even if the existing time span for the smaller cuts is maintained?

Photo of Dr Rhodes Boyson Dr Rhodes Boyson , Brent North

I take the point. My hon. Friend argues with such moderation that I have to be careful in my reply. He has a winning way with words. I shall try to answer him in straightforward manner.

The global sum within which the universities have to work was given to the UGC by the Government. It had to sort out that global sum. It is difficult to decide whether the changes should take place over four years of five years just because the cut is twice as high as the average cut. It is more difficult to make a big cut than a small cut. There are difficulties of adjustment, tenure, and recruitment, whether undergraduate or postgraduate. I cannot make any commitment.

I hope that some people read the reports of the debates that we have because not many are listening to it. The UGC was constrained by what the Government said. I. am aware of the great difficulty facing the institutions that have to make the heavy cuts.

I am grateful to hon. Members who have paid tribute to Manchester, which has always been a great centre of education. In the nineteenth century it was involved in political expansion. In the middle of the night, one says all kinds of things, but I have actually signed a contract, when I run loose again, to write a book, for reading here and in America, on Manchester in 1846.

Manchester has a great history, especially in working class movement, free trade, non-conformity and the many patterns of political thought and liberalism. It has four institutions that are well known in Britain and throughout the world. We should be proud of that. It is the Government's desire not to damage the higher education system, but to work within the money available and the rationalisation that is required to ensure that we move to a higher education system that will be as fitting for the 1990s as was the system for the 1950s and 1960s. With the advice given by hon. Members during the debate, I am sure that Manchester will lead the way, as it has done so often in the past.