Education Reform

Oral Answers to Questions — Education and Science – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 19th January 1988.

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Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland 12:00 am, 19th January 1988

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations he has received concerning clauses 82 to 113 of the Education Reform Bill, relating to further and higher education, as they affect Scotland.

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

Of those mentioned, only clauses 92 and 94, which deal with the new Universities Funding Council, extend to Scotland. We have received a number of representations about these provisions, though none specifically on their effect in Scotland.

Photo of Jim Wallace Jim Wallace , Orkney and Shetland

I am sure that the Minister is well aware of the distinctive and historic traditions of Scottish universities, not least their diverse courses and four-year honours degree courses. What assurances can he give Scottish universities that the Scottish committee of the UFC will have scope and independence to allow that diversity and historic tradition to continue and that they will not be brought into the role of English universities?

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

It is good to hear the hon. Gentleman marching towards the sound of gunfire with his colleagues. Let us hope that he does not end up as red meat.

The hon. Gentleman is well aware that the relationship between the Government and the universities is conducted on an arm's length principle through the University Grants Committee, and will be, in future, through the UFC. It will be for those institutions to determine their policy in the organisation of universities in Scotland, as it is throughout the rest of the country.

Photo of Mr Bill Walker Mr Bill Walker , North Tayside

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind that Scots do not take lightly the differences between our universities and those south of the border? We are proud of the four-year courses that we run in Scotland. All the evidence shows that they have been beneficial to those who have undergone the courses. More important, we should like to retain the independence that has existed in the past.

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

My hon. Friend is perfectly right about the value of Scottish universities. Indeed, three out of eight were rated above average by the UGC during recent research exercises. The Government recognise the special position of Scottish universities and their four-year courses by virtue of the fact that in Scotland one third more is spent per student than in England and Wales.

Photo of Mr Ernie Ross Mr Ernie Ross , Dundee West

The Education Reform Bill will have an effect on Scotland. What guarantee can the Minister give with regard to the discussions involving Stirling, Dundee and St. Andrew's? If one of those parties fails to agree on proposals about sharing courses, what will be the effect of the clause on funding and the taking back of funds by the UFC, and will it apply in the new circumstances?

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

The present position will continue after the Bill is enacted, assuming that it is. There will be an arm's length relationship between the Government and the universities. It is up to the UGC—in future, the UFC—to to organise provision, in agreement with the universities.

Photo of Mr Andrew Bennett Mr Andrew Bennett , Denton and Reddish

Will the Minister explain why Scottish universities have done particularly badly under this Conservative Administration? Why have Scottish universities had a cut in resources of 20 per cent. between 1983 and 1987, while the rest of United Kingdom universities have had an average cut of 12 per cent.? Under the proposed legislation, how will he ensure that Scotland is adequately represented on the university body, and how will he get co-ordination between the UFC and central institutions to ensure that higher education right across Scotland is co-ordinated?

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

The Government have agreed that there should be a Scottish committee of the UFC, and one of its tasks will be to consider co-ordination with the central institutions. I have always understood that the Labour party was a national party—or at least that it intended to continue to be so. We are pursuing a national policy, as did the Labour party when in government. The UGC applies national criteria evenly and fairly to all university institutions throughout the country.

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

How can the Minister reconcile the UGC's statement that universities should recruit 900 new members of staff per year when financial stringencies are forcing them to draw up plans for 2,500 redundancies? What is his response to Sir Alwyn Williams, the principal of Glasgow university, who last weekend spoke about the disinherited generations of the next two decades, the scholars and researchers who, under this Government, and I quote—

Photo of Margaret Ewing Margaret Ewing , Moray

Sir Alwyn Williams said that we were heading down the road to mediocrity.

Photo of Robert Jackson Robert Jackson , Wantage

In the past two years the Government have increased expenditure on universities by 18 per cent. We have specifically responded to redundancies by providing £155 million to be spent on restructuring over the next three years.