|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Lewis of Newnham: My Lords, perhaps I may complete this point. I hope that the present Government will consider carefully Recommendation No. 74 of the Dearing Report. If Oxbridge is diminished, I believe that it will drop out of the international league of universities. Is that really what the Government want?
Lord Dahrendorf: My Lords, we owe a great debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, for initiating the debate today. For the first time in 50 years I do not have to declare an interest in taking part in a debate on universities. I am not a student, professor, chancellor, vice-chancellor or head of house, but I have a certain amount of experience and one or two relevant memories. One vivid memory is that of the late Lord Robbins nearly 24 years ago luring me from the fleshpots of Brussels to the more frugal if also more
Alas, since then matters have changed. The second wave of expansion 20 years later was almost a copy of the continental mistake. There was expansion of the universities without adding resources or adjusting the system. Instead of differentiation, a levelling process began. It started with the classless society, introduced ironically by a Conservative government, and that classless society was applied to higher education. Instead of 45 universities 10 years ago, today 90 universities are governed by the same legislation and funding principles. There remain, to be sure, some of the justly famous old Scottish universities, the major colleges of the University of London and Oxford and Cambridge.
When, having spent 10 years as director of the LSE, I went to Oxford as warden of St. Antony's College in 1987 for another decade of academic responsibility, I had no doubt that my college was one of the world's great graduate schools of international studies which thrived on being part of one of the top 10 universities anywhere. I still have no doubt that that is the case. Such excellence is expensive. When all is said and done about the value of tutorials and the attractions of college life, the simple truth remains that Oxford and Cambridge assemble a large number of outstanding academics in an environment of discourse and exploration with a relatively small number of high quality students. Almost nowhere else in the world are the chances for students and teachers to meet and inspire each other as great as in the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge. This has to do with colleges and the value placed on teaching, but not least with numbers; that is (to use the jargon), an extremely favourable staff/student ratio.
I do not find it difficult to make the case for public support of excellence. A civilised country should be proud to have such institutions and do everything to keep them going. It was always a puzzle to me that throughout my past 20 years, first, as director of the LSE and then as warden of St. Antony's, inevitably I had to defend the places for which I was responsible to Prime Ministers and their Ministers for higher education. If an appeal to the values of a civilised country is not enough another point suggested by a lifetime of experience is that a system of higher education is as good as the best in it. Access is important. I have always defended education as a civil
Students from many continental countries come here to escape mediocrity at home. I hope that they will continue to do so, but they will continue to do so only if Oxford and Cambridge, London and the great universities of the country keep their quality. I believe that state measures to prevent colleges from raising their own revenue would be an outrage and an attack on liberty, quite apart from the implicit denial of quality. Thus, the very least that we can expect, if publicly-funded college fees have to go, is active encouragement for our great universities to charge fees which enable them to continue their quality teaching and leave enough to provide a place for those who cannot afford it. I am beginning to doubt whether in my lifetime I shall also see a government which actually express proud support for institutions like Oxford, Cambridge and other universities--institutions which when the Spice Girls have become grey panthers and the millennium dome has long been consigned to the scrapheap will still add lustre to Britain's name and spread the achievements of the country far and wide.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, that is a hard act to follow. I speak as an Oxford graduate from a state school who became principal of my college. We are debating whether the Government intend to withhold a total of £35 million of college fees annually from our two great collegiate universities. To do so will do significant damage to institutions that are universally recognised for their academic excellence and innovative research. According to the Dearing Committee, it should be assumed that legislation will prevent the charging of a top-up fee, so the choice is between huge redundancies--since the colleges pay a large percentage of the stipend of most tenured academics and the university the balance--and the immediate raising of massive further endowment.
Perhaps I may tell the House what that decision would mean for my own college, Somerville, together with at least a third of the other undergraduate colleges, the graduate colleges and the private halls. The women's and former women's colleges in particular do not have land or inherited wealth. They are young. We are only 118 years old. They have very small endowments which are dedicated entirely to specific matters: teaching, student need, research or the library. Ours is one of the best undergraduate libraries in Oxford. Their pots of gold are tiny and hard won. The college fees represent one-third of Somerville's annual income and are spent entirely on academic and academic-related stipends. The withdrawal of the fees can only lead to redundancies with their associated capital payments in academic staff because endowment money is tied. That would hit teaching, research and the supervision of graduates. Our junior research fellowships are funded by dedicated endowments. It will be said that the colleges should raise more endowment to replace the public contribution. At a rough guess Somerville alone would
If some colleges have to take the path of redundancies they would be forced to reduce their admissions to maintain the quality of teaching, and there would of course be a significant brain-drain of excellent academics. If any had to close, it is worth noting that more than 90 per cent. of undergraduates in Oxford live in college accommodation built from charitable endowment funds. College and university are so inter-dependent in terms of libraries, laboratories and teaching, that the loss of colleges would be a severe blow to the whole institution.
But what Government in their senses are going to unravel an institution such as Oxford which generated £105 million in income from research grants and contracts last year; which has long attracted major industrial support; which produces Nobel prize winners and young firms like Oxford Instruments, Oxford Molecular and Isis Innovation; which is, like Cambridge, at the forefront of the information technology revolution and attracts the best graduates from the US and Europe as well as employing more research staff than any other British university?
There are those who regard Oxford as exclusive and class-ridden. That is not true, and I can testify to the immense efforts made to attract candidates from state schools and the north, through open days, teachers' dinners, summer schools, the access scheme and, above all, the efforts of the undergraduates themselves, for they are making these efforts and always have done. With college encouragement and support, they regularly go out to schools which are not sending candidates to Oxford. Somerville has always prided itself on the high proportion of undergraduates who come from state schools, on average very nearly half; on its intake of mature students, it is one of the few colleges with a creche; and on its disabled and ethnic minorities. Time does not allow me to give figures, but they are there.
In my time as principal, one of the problems was, sadly, the dogmatic attitude of some teachers who thought that Oxford was "not for their children". That is not true either, but the prejudice is there. One of our undergraduates, who went on to get a First and a tenured academic post, was pilloried in her school by her teachers as a class traitor for trying for Oxford.
We are not fighting for those already privileged but to preserve the possibility of access to excellence of a special kind for the less privileged. Damaging the collegiate structure is putting at risk a national asset which belongs to all and which is an essential element in the diversity which the Government rightly support.
Many speakers have listed the formidable research and teaching successes. I do not propose to add to that except to remind you that 92 per cent. of the academic staff in Oxford scored five star or five in the research
I cannot believe that any Government which believe in education and in success at what is known as the cutting edge, can seriously consider damaging or destroying one of the nation's greatest assets and the envy of the world. The strikers in the 1968 students' revolution in France came to Oxford to seek support from their peers. They went away saying to the Oxford students: "You already have everything we want, but most of all you can talk to your teachers whenever you wish".
Lord Desai: My Lords, there is nothing so edifying than to listen to the rich claiming to be poor. I have had a great time. I have been unwashed by British education; I have not studied at Oxford or Cambridge or anywhere else. I have only taught at the London School of Economics. I have not heard more fallacies in my life than I have heard this afternoon.
We are talking about £35 million--the Oxford and Cambridge income is much larger--and we are told that if you take this away the entire edifice from medieval days onwards will collapse; it is so delicate. Take a penny away and they will be poor.
The reason we are discussing this matter is the Dearing Report. The Dearing Committee was appointed because, as the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, said, in the past 15 years the financing of higher education in this country has been savaged--and let us not forget which government were responsible. The people who claim elite privileges have badly treated British higher education. In my first 15 years of teaching I did not have to worry about money, even at the LSE. In the past 17 years not a day has gone by when we are not struggling every day to finance students, to think about research and worry about redundancies.
The noble Lord, Lord Baker, in a typically uncontroversial speech--probably one of the most uncontroversial speeches he will ever make in this House--used the standard argument that the wealthy use against redistribution: "We do not really have that much money. If you divide our wealth among everybody they will only get a penny each. So please do not take this seriously".
It is only £193,000 for the 93 universities. Every year, however, it is "Give me £193,000. I will be grateful. I will finance something like 20 graduate students, perhaps 30 undergraduate students. I will be able to finance maybe 10 junior lectureships at sweated wages.
A lot has been made about the excellence of the college system. I have taught in an excellent place. We do not have tutorials, and we do not do that badly. Oxford came first in the RA exercise because it conveniently omitted ten of its dead-wood persons; it only submitted 90 per cent. We submitted 98.5 per cent. at the LSE and we came second. If corrected for numbers submitted, we did better than Oxford. All that money is not producing all that is great and outstanding. It is outstanding, but we do better without that much money.
Colleges obviously duplicate costs--separate admissions, separate administrations. Small may be beautiful, but it is extremely cost ineffective. The question is, are Oxford and Cambridge worth that extra little bit? And we are talking about a little bit. We are not taking everything away--no such luck--we are talking about £35 million. If that money is taken away, would the damage be so great that Oxford and Cambridge would cease to be universities of excellence? Compare them with the London colleges which do not get that £35 million. How do we manage? We do manage, you know. Imperial College, unfortunately, has not been represented this afternoon, but it is very good in natural sciences. As far as economics is concerned, we at the LSE have more Nobel prizes than do Oxford and Cambridge; we can be excellent.
The self-indulgence of the rich Oxford and Cambridge colleges is to pretend that they should go on having privileges because they have always had them. It is not value added if you take the best students from around the world and make them slightly better. Value added is in the polytechnics, where you take people who have very little and you add a lot of value.
Nor does the access argument work. Let me put it this way. Everybody thinks that the working classes do not go to British universities because the fees are so high. That is a fallacy. Even when higher education access was free, there were no working class students in British universities. Why not? It has nothing to do with the level of fees. It has to do with the state of our secondary school education and the high leaving rate of 15 and 16 year-olds from the working classes.
The level of fees has nothing to do with access. That is a fallacious argument. If Oxford and Cambridge were to charge double fees access would not be affected as much as people predict. That is a fallacy. That will not do. I believe that the £35 million should be put up for national competition for teaching excellence--universities which have a good teaching record. We are now being valued and ranked all the time. Let the 10 best universities share the £35 million. Then let us see how Oxford and Cambridge survive. Some of the colleges may shut. Oh dear! After having argued the need for a lean and fit British industry, when we allowed all sorts of things to go to the wall, the little Oxford colleges are to be protected. How sweet! Many universities further down in the education system will
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|