THE PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

(HANSARD) in the third session of the fifty-second parliament of the united kingdom of great britain and northern ireland commencing on the seventh day of may in the forty-sixth year of the reign of

HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II

FIFTH SERIES

VOLUME DCIX THIRD VOLUME OF SESSION 1999--2000 House of Lords


31 Jan 2000 : Column 1

Monday, 31st January 2000.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the the Lord Bishop of Guildford.

Higher Education

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the Prime Minister's declaration to the United Kingdom's universities in the Romanes Lecture, delivered on 13th December 1999, that,


    "the future is as much in your hands as ours",

    foreshadows a relaxation in government controls over the higher education sector.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, in 2001-02 the Government plan to spend more than £7.5 billion on higher education. The Government believe that it is right both to uphold the academic freedom of higher education institutions to establish their own courses of study or programmes of research and to support their responsibility for managing their own affairs. However, the Government have a duty to maintain an appropriate level of control over the sector to safeguard public funds and the quality of provision.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Although spending on higher education is intended to increase the number of students--according to the Prime Minister's pledge, it is due to rise from 33 per cent of 18 year-olds to 50 per cent of 18 year-olds--what does the Minister consider to be an appropriate level of controls? The Government inherited from their

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predecessor a remarkably socialist planning version of control over higher education and secondary education; to our surprise that seems to have increased. Does not the Minister accept that it may be better now to redefine the relationship between universities and government as a public/private partnership, rather than as a socialist planning activity?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I should explain that the spending increases do not relate to the longer-term proposals put forward by the Prime Minister to increase to 50 per cent the numbers of young people going into higher education by the time they are 30, but to the present spending period.

As to the noble Lord's more general question, I am sure that he will accept that with very large sums of public money going into higher education institutions it is right that there should be some controls. It is appropriate, for example, that there should be controls over the overall number of students in higher education; it is right that the Higher Education Funding Council should exercise an appropriate element of control over issues of quality in order to ensure that the public get good value for money; and it is right also that the Higher Education Funding Council should look at issues such as performance indicators in order to give students, employers and others--who, after all, contribute to the cost of higher education--some indication of how well they are performing.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, the Romanes Lecture, from which the quotation is taken, was given in Oxford. The quoted remarks were put in the context of the duty of Oxford University in particular, and of other universities in that category of, if I may so describe them, Ivy League universities, to take as their first priority the admission of all students who were qualified and wished to come. Can the Minister give the House an idea of what kinds of qualification will be required for undergraduates at Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial College and the "academic universities", if I

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may put it like that? The emphasis of the lecture was very much on open access. Can the Minister say what qualifications will be required in future under the new Learning and Skills Bill for entry to those universities?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the new Learning and Skills Bill has nothing to do with higher education; it does not cover universities and other higher education institutions. On the more general question about the qualifications required for entry to universities, that is a matter for the universities; the Government do not lay down requirements for universities to admit students with particular levels of qualification. It is very much a matter of university autonomy.

On the issue of open access, the Government want to encourage a widening of access so that all young people, and indeed older people, who have the potential--that is absolutely vital--to benefit from higher education can do so.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, does the Minister feel that the Government's policy is designed to secure the privatisation of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge?

Baroness Blackstone: No, my Lords.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, what will happen to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales? Is it, as rumoured, to be amalgamated--certainly so far as concerns the secretariat--with the new Council for Education and Training, which was recently described as "the mother of all quangos"?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I cannot confirm the rumours to which the noble Lord referred. The Higher Education Funding Council for Wales shares offices and overheads with the Further Education Funding Council for Wales. I believe that that is likely to continue.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, in the past the Minister has been careful to say that the Bett report is not a matter for Government, but for higher education. Do the Government not realise that the key to the universities' ability to consider freely their response to the Bett report has a great deal to do with the way in which the Government fund higher education?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I readily accept what the noble Baroness has just said; that university pay--not only of academics but of all staff in universities--is a large part of universities' expenditure and, of course, the overall level of university funding will have some impact on what is paid to staff. However, as I have already said, the Government have substantially increased the funding available to higher education institutions. They will be looking in the next spending review at public

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expenditure in that area, as in many others. The Bett committee will be a factor in that spending review, but of course I cannot anticipate the outcome.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, bearing in mind the Government's commitment to increasing the intake of medical students by 1,000 new students each year, will the Government guarantee that the relevant universities will receive the resources necessary to teach that increased number of medical students?

Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords. It is, of course, the Government's intention to provide additional funding for those institutions which have been given the opportunity to increase the number of medical students in their medical schools.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Minister has used the words "appropriate controls" and "some controls" in successive answers. In other areas the Government have been pursuing deregulation, allowing the market to take up a little. Does the Minister accept that, in this case, the Government have been moving instead in the direction of further and tighter regulation?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I do not accept that. Perhaps I may take the area of quality control in teaching as an example. The Government have asked the Higher Education Funding Council and the Quality Assurance Agency to operate with a minimum amount of bureaucracy and a light touch where appropriate.

Kosovo: Chinese Reaction

2.44 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their response to the reported statement of the Chinese Government that the NATO attack on Yugoslavia showed that the alliance would not respect any country without nuclear weapons.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, NATO intervened in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in order to avert an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe in Kosovo. NATO acted in pursuit of objectives set by the UN Security Council once every reasonable opportunity of resolving the crisis by peaceful means had been exhausted. That was a unanimous decision by the 19 democracies of NATO, which received broad support in the UN Security Council. It had nothing to do with nuclear weapons.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, although it perhaps escaped her knowledge that the Chinese were expressing a view which is extremely dangerous if it is not agreed or accepted--which I understand--by Her Majesty's

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Government or by the West generally. Does the Minister not agree that the fact that such a proposition was made by a country such as China indicates a situation which must be tackled in one way or another? Will she further agree that the way to tackle the situation by international inspection, which was indicated in 1996 by the Canberra Commission--of which the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, was a member--has since been endorsed widely, including by our other military star, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall? Having regard to the strength of that opinion, will the Government take a look at it?


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