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University Finance

Volume 885: debated on Tuesday 4 February 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received about the financial difficulties now facing universities; and if he will make a statement.

I have received letters expressing appreciation of the additional grant of £15 million for the current academic year. This should relieve the immediate difficulties of the universities. I hope to announce shortly new levels of grant for the next two academic years which will take into account that the numbers of students in those years will not increase as rapidly as was expected at the beginning of the quinquennium.

In looking at the universities' problems for the remaining two years of the quinquennium, will the Government consider an improvement in the present system under which supplementation for certain of their increased current costs is very much in arrear?

The universities want me as quickly as possible to study the basic levels of grant for these two years. I cannot give any undertaking about what might be done in response to future rates of inflation?

Will my right hon. Friend say to what extent this grant falls short of the increased inflationary costs which the universities are now meeting? I get the impression that at all levels they are having to cut back in their work.

I cannot put a precise figure on this. But the universities are having to face economies as a result of the economic situation. They recognise as we all do that they cannot avoid taking their share of the burdens in the economic situation.

Did the right hon. Gentleman receive a letter of appreciation from the Vice-Chancellor of Southampton University, who reckoned that the £15 million was only about half what was required?

Without notice, I am not sure. Certainly I received a letter from the Chairman of the Vice-Chancellors' Committee on behalf of the vice-chancellors expressing their collective view that this was very welcome help in their situation.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the vice-chancellors of the universities accepted the increase in grant with resignation rather than joy? Will he in future try to let inflation run side by side with rather than get so far ahead of the increase in grant?

I agree that the mood expressed fell short of joy, although it was better than resignation. I think that the vice-chancellors were hoping for some help and were glad that it came to as much as £15 million, but that still leaves them with severe difficulties. I think many of us feel that some universities—I say this with caution—could do more to improve their efficiency. For many years the ratio of lecturers to students in some universities has been and is overgenerous. In deciding priorities within the education system I have had regard to other parts of the system which have been existing more austerely and severely than universities. Nevertheless, the universities have problems and we have done something to try to alleviate the immediate critical situation.