Brain Drain

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Science – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 17th February 1987.

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Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross , Dundee West 12:00 am, 17th February 1987

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he is taking to seek to stop the brain drain from higher education institutions in the United Kingdom.

Photo of Mr George Walden Mr George Walden , Buckingham

The Government are determined to maintain healthy and successful institutions of higher education in this country. Increases totalling more than £150 million are being provided for current expenditure in 1987–88 by universities and advanced further education institutions. Further additional funding, rising to over £70 million in 1989–90 has been offered to universities once satisfactory new arrangements have been agreed covering pay structure and performance appraisal.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross , Dundee West

Has the Minister had time to study the many articles on this subject in the press and media, particularly the article in The Guardian, which highlighted the low morale among academics due to cutbacks, freezing of posts, and lack of promotion for specialists? Does he not think that that is an indictment of the Government's policy? Is he not ashamed of the rather backhanded compliment paid to us by the United States as it draws expertise in arts and social sciences from this country to the United States? Does he not agree that shortly we will need not only a save British science campaign, but a save British arts and social sciences campaign as well?

Photo of Mr George Walden Mr George Walden , Buckingham

I have done rather better than read The Guardian. I have talked to quite a few academics. They say to me in private, and some of them say in public, that the Government are doing the right thing in two major directions. The first is to recognise the inevitability of concentrating resources, particularly in science, in those departments which will become centres of excellence and well equipped. Secondly, they are wholeheartedly in favour of what the Government are trying to do in reforming the whole structure of academic salaries so as to produce a generation of scientists who will have promotion prospects and the right level of pay and who will be attracted to the new centres of excellence that we shall put in place.

Photo of Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark Mr Anthony Beaumont-Dark , Birmingham, Selly Oak

Does my hon. Friend agree that at universities such as Birmingham and Aston the brain drain will continue because they are perplexed by the fact that they are doing just what this country needs people to do, which is produce technological graduates, but their grant keeps being cut? What does one have to do to get justice? What more does one have to do to please the Government when one is doing the right thing?

Photo of Mr George Walden Mr George Walden , Buckingham

My hon. Friend talked about cuts in grant. Let me remind him of the overall facts. The money available for science in this country is being increased from three directions. First, there is an increase this year of £95 million in the funds for universities, and some of that, through the dual funding system, will go into science. Secondly, the Government are making available, conditional on restructuring, £40 million to improve the morale of scientific academics through higher pay.

Photo of Mr Dale Campbell-Savours Mr Dale Campbell-Savours , Workington

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) asked about Birmingham.

Photo of Mr George Walden Mr George Walden , Buckingham

I shall come to Birmingham if the hon. Gentleman will wait.

Thirdly, the science budget has gone up by 6·3 per cent. this year.

The point about Birmingham and Aston, which I have visited, is that they are doing excellent work, but, like other universities, they are in the middle of reforms which they recognise as necessary and we do not make the judgments on how those extra funds are delivered.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Shadow Spokesperson (Education and Employment)

Is the Under-Secretary of State aware that when he is talking to academics he should talk also to those heads of department in science and engineering subjects, who say that the morale of the profession is lower than at any time that they can remember, and that the flood of people leaving the profession is not just a matter of quantity, but of quality, because top level engineers and scientists are going to the United States? Will he do something about the overall funding of universities and departments, which has gone down and down during the past eight years? This has been happening not only during the past year, but for the past eight years. When will the Under-Secretary of State do something about morale in our universities?

Photo of Mr George Walden Mr George Walden , Buckingham

As I might have suspected, the hon. Gentleman would have done better to listen to my previous reply, which would have given him, in advance, the answer to his question. We have increased funding and we have made money available for what could be considerable increases in salaries. However, that money is conditional on certain reforms which scientists and academics know are long overdue, but which were avoided by the Labour party when it was in power.