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Higher Education and the Economy

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:04 pm on 19th April 2007.

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Photo of Lord Carey of Clifton Lord Carey of Clifton Crossbench 3:04 pm, 19th April 2007

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, for introducing this debate. We have heard from her of the outstanding contribution that universities and colleges make to the economy of our country, to say nothing of their major influence on shaping knowledge, art and culture. Britain has much to celebrate in the success of our places of higher education. Although in numerical terms a small nation, we punch above our weight and have an enviable reputation for producing scholars and scientists of extraordinary stature.

However, we cannot be complacent, as we have heard. To stay ahead in a world where knowledge rules demands investment at every level. I declare an interest as chancellor of the University of Gloucestershire, one of the youngest of the universities created since 1992, although with roots that go back to the 1830s. I am proud of what our university is achieving under the effective leadership of Professor Patricia Broadfoot. As with other newer universities, our regional links are extensive and we make a substantial contribution to the regional economy. Our university was among the first to recognise the importance of learning, living and leading in areas pertaining to environment and ecology. There is much more that I could say about our university in the West Country; we have a dedicated and able teaching staff and well motivated students. We are confident, although not complacent, about our future.

Much could be said, in a similar fashion, about other universities up and down the country. There is no need to plead the case for recognising the significant and unique role of our places of higher learning. Everyone knows that if a knowledge deficit opens up between ourselves and the powerful economies of China and India, we shall one day rue the consequences. I am sure that the Minister will assure us of the continuing and unwavering commitment of the Government to higher education, but there are two questions that I want to press. First, echoing the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, are the Government committed to sustaining the role and the future of newer universities as well as older places of learning? There is a tendency these days for some to speak of "leading" universities, by which is meant Oxbridge and research-intensive universities. Without undermining the needs of such universities, it is crucial to recognise the work of other places where the same commitment to learning goes on and where research is also maintained. One of the strengths of UK universities is their diversity, and newer universities are well known for the development of student potential as well as innovation in new subjects of study.

Secondly, the issue of funding research in newer universities has been mentioned by several noble Lords and demands re-examination. The Government's policy of concentrating the increased research funding through the science and innovation budget in a smaller number of universities has resulted in many institutions struggling to keep research going. The Minister will be aware of the Arthur D. Little report of June 2006, The Social and Economic Impact of Publicly Funded Research. It concludes with the very firm view that the research resources of our newer universities,

"constitute a national asset of enormous significance".

Can the Government assure the House that newer universities, such as Gloucestershire and Liverpool Hope, will be adequately funded to ensure that they retain and develop the research capacity that befits a higher education institution?