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Schools And Universities (Liaison)

Volume 893: debated on Tuesday 17 June 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he is satisfied with the present arrangements for liaison between schools and universities.

There is close and systematic contact between university bodies and those representing the schools, but I am always ready to look at suggestions for improving present arrangements.

Does my right hon. Friend accept that such liaison in Scotland is made more difficult by the fact that the schools and universities are dealt with by different Government Departments? Will my right hon. Friend comment on recent suggestions that better liaison could exist between schools, universities and Scottish colleges of further education if governmental responsibility for implementing a fully comprehensive system of Scottish education, whether at school or at post-school level, were included in the devolution plans?

It is a little too early to come to any final and firm conclusions on my hon. Friend's proposition. Because of the valuable interchange of students between Scottish, Welsh and English universities, I should need a lot of persuading before accepting that it would be desirable to have separate university systems.

In considering any proposals on the future of Scottish universities, will the right hon. Gentleman take account of the near-unanimous view of the Scottish universities that they wish to continue to operate under his Department?

Will the Secretary of State accept that there is a desperate need for a link between secondary and tertiary levels of education in Scotland? I accept that the right hon. Gentleman has had other responsibilities in the past few years, but is he aware how much first-year courses at Scottish universities militate against Scottish students? For example, does he know that in 1973–74 at St. Andrew's University 30 per cent. of first-year Scottish students failed that course, whereas only 4 per cent. of the GCE-qualified students failed it? The system needs urgent revision, so that Scottish students do not suffer from that situation.

The organisation of schools in Scotland is not within my responsibility. If I were to seek to take a close interest in them, the first people to complain would be the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends. I shall convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the concern that has been expressed, and if, through the University Grants Committee and the Vice-Chancellors Committee—both of which have special links with the schools—it is possible to improve the arrangements—nothing is perfect—we shall be anxious and willing to consider any positive suggestions.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the additional tier of education has been interposing itself between the schools and universities? Is he aware that there are about 50 sixth form colleges now in existence, and that this is a major educational innovation, with considerable implications? Will my right hon. Friend prepare a report on the working of the sixth form colleges and have it published as soon as possible?

I think that it would be rather a tall order to prepare a report of that kind. I shall certainly consider my hon. Friend's suggestion, but it is really much more a question of the way in which comprehensive education is organised within certain areas.