I have endorsed the main principles in the report of the working party set up to consider the implementation of the decision to merge Aberdeen and Dundee colleges of education, including the report's recommendations for the pre-service rationalisation of community education and secondary teacher training.
Does the Minister think, in his heart of hearts, that it is nonsense geographically to link two colleges which are 60 miles apart and serve the distinctive areas of east central Scotland and northern Scotland? How does he think that the merger and the rationalisation that will take place will help educational provision in the areas concerned? Will he answer the particular worry expressed in Dundee, that there is an imbalance in the present arrangement in so far as the administration and principal are to be located principally in Aberdeen college, with Dundee reduced to a secondary status?
I cannot agree that the Dundee part of the northern college is being reduced to a secondary status. I remind him of the Scottish Tertiary Education Advisory Council report which recommended to the Government that we should end up with three non-denominational colleges. This merger is an essential part of our strategy, which we adopted to achieve rationalisation without the closure of a single site. It is important to remember that. With effort on the part of the people in Aberdeen and Dundee, the merger can be made to work. There are important educational advantages in concentrating the services on one site instead of having very small classes indeed on two sites.
Will my hon. Friend accept that many of us feel that the Government were absolutely right to take the line that they have taken? Although it may not be ideal, it is infinitely better than the line recommended by STEAC, and it was supported by the Liberal party, because the hon. Member for Gordon (Mr. Bruce) told the EIS that it was in favour of maintaining the majority of education centres in Scotland. Of course, that implied that the Liberals were prepared to close some. Will my hon. Friend also bear in mind the suggestion for a European education establishment in Dundee?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight the choices that were before the Government—the STEAC proposals to close some colleges and what we have put forward, which includes the merger of these two colleges. If and when a definite set of proposals for a European college is submitted for consideration by member states of the Community, I shall certainly wish to see Scotland's claim, including the claim by Dundee, being seriously considered.
The Minister must recognise that it is nonsense to try to suggest that two colleges that are over 60 miles apart can somehow be regarded as one. Beyond that, the secrecy and speed with which this report was cobbled together takes away any attempt by the Government to suggest that any democratic procedure was involved in the drawing up of this plan. The shambles that has resulted from the allocation of various departments to Aberdeen or to Dundee can only be the result of this nonsense of rushing through an undemocratically prepared report.
I cannot agree with the hon. Member that the report has been rushed through. The work was done on a tight time scale, but that was important because it cannot be in anybody's interest for the implementation of this merger to be drawn out unduly. The working party has demonstrated that the merger can create a new and powerful college by combining the two colleges at Aberdeen and Dundee.
Will my hon. Friend take into consideration the fact that colleges of education have a local impact, especially on curriculum development and on student teaching practice? Distance does count and has a serious impact.
I appreciate that, and that is one of the reasons why we decided to keep both colleges and not close one, or indeed both, as STEAC might have suggested if one had read it that way. We have decided to keep both colleges, and their facilities will be available for education in both Grampian and Tayside.
There will obviously be savings in some of the staffing costs. When we dispose of certain properties in the buildings which are not being used now, or will not be used in the future, that will obviously result in major savings. Above all, there are educational points to be made. Both colleges were running with extraordinarily small classes and on an extraordinarily limited coverage of the curriculum. The colleges will be greatly strengthened by concentrating their resources on one or the other in different fields.