Combined Universities in Cornwall

– in the House of Lords at 3:01 pm on 2nd May 2000.

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Photo of Lord Alexander of Weedon Lord Alexander of Weedon Conservative 3:01 pm, 2nd May 2000

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether, following the European Union designation of Cornwall for Objective One funding, they will support the establishment of the Combined Universities in Cornwall by providing the necessary matching funding.

The noble Lord said:

My Lords, I beg to answer the Question--ask the Question--standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, the noble Lord might have an answer to the Question too!

We welcome the collaborative approach taken by higher and further education institutions within the Combined Universities in Cornwall initiative. I understand that the CUC partners are in consultation with the Higher Education Funding Council for England in developing their plans for a higher education hub in Falmouth or outside Falmouth linked to developments in further education colleges. Match funding from all potential sources, including the private sector, can only be properly addressed when there are fully developed project proposals.

Photo of Lord Alexander of Weedon Lord Alexander of Weedon Conservative

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for most of that Answer. My interest is as Chancellor of Exeter University--of which the admirable Camborne School of Mines is a part--and which, together with Plymouth University and the Falmouth College of Art, is a leading partner in the project. Do the Government accept that the combined universities are a core project for Objective 1 funding for Cornwall--a county which has no university--in order to "dynamise" education as a catalyst for business? In view of the last part of the Minister's Answer, do the Government recognise that a proportion of the Objective 1 funding needs to be allocated in each year of the planning period, and that it is therefore crucial that a decision by the Government on match funding is taken early, preferably in the comprehensive spending review this July?

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, I accept that Objective 1 funding for Cornwall can, and should, be used for a project of this kind. There are rules and regulations regarding the application of Objective 1 funding and some aspects of the overall proposals made by the CUC may not be eligible for Objective 1 funding; but from a general point of view, there is no reason why it should not be used, and indeed the Government welcome its use.

On the noble Lord's point about funding from elsewhere, funds may be raised from a whole range of different sources: from the private sector and from local organisations of one kind or another, as well as possibly from government. It is difficult for the Government to make any commitments until there is a carefully worked out proposal as to exactly what the capital funding in particular will amount to.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox Baroness Wilcox Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister agree that many major companies seeking to invest in the UK require a location close to an established higher education centre, in order to have access to well qualified staff and an appropriate range of people, before they will even invest? I admit to an interest as a governor of Plymouth University and as one who is hopeful about the project going forward. One difficulty already established is that, as a very poor county, Cornwall has been accorded Objective 1 status because it cannot raise funding locally. Will the Minister therefore think specially of Cornwall in this case? The county will find it very difficult to raise any private investment funding, given that it does not already have an educational establishment.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, I entirely accept that universities can have an important role in helping to provide highly skilled graduate employees for an area where the private sector may wish to invest. However, many young people go to university in an area where they have no intention of remaining. We cannot assume that all graduates from a university in any part of the country will remain there. At the same time, the Government are grateful to the University of Plymouth, Falmouth College of Art and the University of Exeter for the work that they are doing. I think that funding must be a matter for those institutions, for local interests and for the private sector, as well as for the Government. It would not be right for me to make a commitment that Cornwall should receive more favourable treatment than some other parts of the country which also do not have a local university.

Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

My Lords, why are the Government so reluctant to commit themselves to match funding for Objective 1 areas when they are ready to commit themselves to increased spending in the future for departmental areas such as health and education? Surely Objective 1 status and the money that flows from it are of value to those areas.

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, the Government do not in any way deny the value of Objective One funding for the areas that are eligible for it. However, they also believe it right that the areas concerned should attempt to raise match funding from a variety of different sources rather than automatically assuming that the money should come from the taxpayer via central government.

Photo of Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on her work in regard to Objective 1 funding and the joint university project in Cornwall. She is, of course, aware that the Open University is another growth area of which the United Kingdom has great reason to be proud. Will she support the Open University's push to assist the enlargement countries of the European Union by bringing the very real benefits of the Open University to extremely poor countries such as Romania?

Photo of Baroness Blackstone Baroness Blackstone Minister of State (Education and Employment), Department for Education and Employment

My Lords, I have long been an admirer of the work that is done by the Open University, not just in the UK but overseas. The OU has an international reputation, and it is extending its overseas work. If it can operate in countries such as Romania, where there is a desperate need for higher-quality higher education, that is all to the good, not just of the UK but of Romania.