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Education (Lancashire)

Volume 932: debated on Monday 16 May 1977

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Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[ Mr. Snape.]

11.17 p.m.

The development of a healthy, further and higher education provision is clearly essential for the economic, social and cultural well-being of the North-West Region. Prior to local government reorganisation, the local authorities in the area were attempting to maximise developments in their areas, and since reorganisation, in Lancashire in particular, there have been increased opportunities for rationalisation and a comprehensive system of further and higher education, which I am sure my hon. Friend the Minister of State will recognise as being in accord with the Labour Party's Green Paper on adult education.

At the core of the developments in Central and West Lancashire, in which there are several institutions of further and higher education, stands the Preston Polytechnic. Within the area there are the W. R. Tuson College of Further Education, the Blackpool College of Technology and Art, Lytham St. Annes College of Further Education, Leyland Motors Technical College, and the Edgehill College of Further Education.

I am concerned specifically about the polytechnic and its vital rôle as the centre of this system of further and higher education within the area. The polytechnic is responsible for generating new educational opportunities in its own right, and in playing a facilitating and coordinating rôle in respect of various developments in other centres.

The Preston Polytechnic was the last of 30 polytechnics to be designated, and some of its problems have stemmed from that fact. Nevertheless, it is true that there are three sectors in which significant progress has been made. Student enrolment has risen dramatically and further increases can be predicted effectively on the basis of the way in which existing courses have been formulated and developed. The number of CNAA approved degree courses has risen significantly. Originally there was only one such designated course, but now there are 14 certificate, diploma and professional courses of various types. The polytechnic has acted as a focus for numerous developments involving other institutions.

In looking at the whole problem we must bear in mind the difficulties existing in terms of provision within the polytechnics for the overall population. It is significant that in the North-West there are three polytechnics—one at Liverpool, one at Manchester and one at Preston—covering a population of 1,194,000. In the Greater London area, with a population of 1,070,000—slightly lower than that of the North-West—there are eight polytechnics.

It was the tail-end emergence of the polytechnic at Preston—just before the 1973 moratorium on public building programmes which halted the development of the campus—and its subsequent problem that arose from the high alumina concrete difficulties that should earn it preferential treatment.

The achievement of the polytechnic should not obscure the fact that the appropriate measures of support and priority have not been forthcoming. There are two instances of this. The first relates to teacher-training proposals, and the second relates to capital building programme allocations. The Minister will recall that not long ago a deputation visited him, comprising all parties on the Lancashire County Council and some Members of Parliament. We presented a number of arguments about teacher training and the rôle that the polytechnic had played.

I do not wish to recapitulate all those arguments, but I shall remind the Minister of certain things. We demonstrated the importance of a polytechnic's in-service teacher education provision, and we proved that the in-service needs of Lancashire could not be met by any other agency. We showed that the polytechnic had already merged creatively and successfully with the two colleges of education at Poulton and Chorley, taking a reduction equivalent to the closure of one of these colleges in the process. We detailed the progress made towards integration of the Bachelor of Education course with other courses in the polytechnic. The polytechnic meets all the criteria established by the Minister's own Advisory Committee on the Supply and Training of Teachers.

I have no doubt that the Minister will be actively reconsidering those proposals. I hope that, while it may not be possible for him to give any information tonight, at any rate the matter is still open and the teacher education programme within the polytechnic will be retained.

I do not wish to labour the matter, but I should like to point out that teacher- training education considerations cannot be isolated from consideration of other types of education. This is our view in Lancashire, and I believe that it is also the view of the Government. Preston Polytechnic is essential and administratively viable without teacher-training education. There should be no doubt about that. The question of closing the polytechnic does not arise.

The proposals made for Preston Polytechnic, apart from being inappropriate from the teacher-training point of view, ignore their possible effect on the general development of the polytechnic. As I have said, the institution began life late. It had all types of difficulties to contend with. The Department aided and abetted its development, the final decision on which was taken only two years ago, although there have been certain setbacks in the building programme.

The polytechnic was designated and substantial building work was required. It had been approved by the Department but was effectively cancelled by the moratorium on building which began in December 1973. The programme has been restored at a much reduced level. Indeed, the only new buildings under construction now are the students' union block, the library and residential places for about 150 students—the only students' residential buildings in Preston.

The polytechnic has been given priority by the local authority in major building submissions, but the authority is also engaged in building the other major college of further education in Preston, the W. R. Tuson College, and the rate at which submissions have been made for the polytechnic have not been satisfactory from the polytechnic's point of view. We now have a situation in which the authority has proposed further buildings, only to have the proposals rejected by the Department.

The particular problem with which I am concerned involves the art and design building. There is also under-provision of students' residential facilities in Preston, and there can be no doubt about the urgent need for the inclusion of further residential blocks in the building programme.

The art and design department—which, incidentally, has a more vocational programme than most people realise—deals, among other things, with a BA graphics course and a BA fashion course. It can operate only because the polytechnic acquired the premises of Lancaster College of Art when it merged with the nearby further education college two years ago. The department is split between two campuses 20 miles apart. The claim of the art and design department to be included in the building programme is incontrovertible. The academic departments of the polytechnic are possible only because of the acquisition of leased properties, and there are various problems that arise from that.

I want quickly, in the time available, to turn to the Lancastrian School of Management. This has been a particularly good piece of work because—and I may mention him personally—the dean of this faculty has put in a tremendous amount of effort in trying to get management education on its feet in this area.

The Minister will recall that the regional management centre was set up by the joint activities of St. Helens College of Technology and the Liverpool Polytechnic. There have been growing pains during its development and politics have played a part, both at local authority level and within the two institutions, but the RMC has failed to establish the network of management education within Lancashire that was anticipated when it was set up.

The LSM has been attempting, in cooperation with various colleges in the area, to fill the vacuum created by the inactivity, in the industrial sense, of the regional management centre. Various discussions have taken place between the LSM and RMC. In November last year the Minister was kind enough to see a deputation from the area with a number of hon. Members and representatives from the LSM at which some of the problems were put to him for consideration. My hon. Friend indicated that there was a case for reappraisal of the constitution of the RMC.

Various meetings have taken place since then, and on 22nd April there was a joint meeting between representatives of the RMC and the LSM at which a resolution was agreed which indicated that Liverpool, St. Helens, the LSM, Manchester and Cheshire would try to establish a constitution to provide for equal partnership from the education authorities and management schools within the centre's area. This suggests that we may be on the brink of developments. Can the Minister throw any more light on this?

I understand that the Secretary of State has referred recently to 40 per cent. increases in students' fees. This has been applied to an extent within the Lancashire educational institutions, but the Preston area, and particularly the polytechnic, is so affected by the increases that fees for a three-session course have increased by more than 100 per cent. while fees for a four-session course show a 156 per cent. increase on those charged this year. It is implied that these increases represent the policy of the Secretary of State. There are regional variations within Manchester and other parts of Lancashire, and the Minister will know that the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education is seeking to apply sanctions in an attempt to get a reversal of this policy.

I could go on and talk about public expenditure cuts, block grants, teachers' jobs and various other much-needed resources in eduction, but my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers), who is also concerned with the problem, wishes to supplement my views briefly.

11.34 p.m.

I shall be brief. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) for allowing me to take part in this debate. I shall concentrate on the Chorley campus, which is a sector of the Preston Polytechnic.

This college has a catchment area of 2,500 square miles and covers remote areas of East Lancashire almost as far as Burnley; yet everyone who uses it can reach the college within 40 minutes on the good public transport and motorway services. Taking this college away would leave a great hole in education in Lancashire.

My final point is that we provided at Chorley good in-service training for those intending to teach the disabled. This was a new service which did not previously belong to education. I would hate to see it neglected as a consequence of cut-backs in teacher training provision.

I conclude by expressing the hope that my hon. Friend will take due note of my comments.

11.35 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South (Mr. Thorne) for the full account he has given of the problems of higher and further education in Central and West Lancashire. Before I deal with the specific points that he raised, I would say that my hon. Friends who are present in the Chamber tonight—my hon. Friends the Members for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) and for Rossendale (Mr. Noble), as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Mr. Atkins) and his colleague from Preston, South—are regular visitors to my Department as members of one delegation or another concerned with education in Lancashire. That is rightly so, because Lancashire has for centuries had a very proud record in its concern about the provision of higher and further education.

My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South was in particular referring to the polytechnic in Preston on a number of counts, and I hope to be able, in the limited time available, to deal with the specific points that he made.

One thing that puzzles me a little concerns a question of numeracy. My hon. Friend said that there were three polytechnics for 1,194,000 people in the North-West area as against eight polytechnics for, I think he said, 1,070,000 people in the Greater London area. I am aware of the tremendous decline in population that has taken place in Greater London, but I had not realised—and I do not think that my hon. Friend meant it—that it had declined so much. Perhaps it is about 11 million. I do not think that it can be 1 million for the Greater London area.

The point I was making about the population concerned the school population, not overall population.

I shall discuss the matter with my hon. Friend, but I think that even on the basis of school population he is out by a large factor. However, I take his point. He made the point that I frequently made as a Back Bencher about the neglect of provision in the North-West as compared with the South-East.

Preston Polytechnic is a first-rate polytechnic. It was the last of 30 polytechnic and led to some difficulties, not least with regard to the building programme.

My hon. Friend mentioned various proposals that have been before the Lancashire County Council, which is the local education authority responsible for the area in which Preston Polytechnic is situated. My Department invites bids from local authorities each year for building projects costing £50,000 or more for inclusion in the following year's major building starts programme for higher and further education. The Lancashire local education authority requested the inclusion of three projects, all in Preston, for the 1977–78 building programme—a communal block with catering facilities for the W. R. Tuson College—a tertiary college, one of the few in the country, of which Lancashire should be proud—a hostel block for 150 students for the polytechnic, and a major new art and design block also for the polytechnic.

As a consequence of the measures announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in July and December 1976, there had to be some reductions in that programme. In the circumstances, and bearing in mind the Government's priority and my party's priority for projects in the non-advanced further education sector for the 16–19 age group, it was possible to include only the W. R. Tuson project in the 1977–78 building programme, at an estimated cost of £345,000. I recognise the importance of the two polytechnic projects and the need in particular to bring the department of art and design to the proposed new building on the Preston site. Assuming that submissions are made by the Lancashire education authority, we shall be considering those projects again for any future programmes. Unfortunately, because of the economic situation it was impossible to include them at present. I shall bear in mind what my hon. Friend has said.

My hon. Friend also referred to teacher training at Preston Polytechnic. He argued vigorously tonight, as he did previously with his hon. Friends when he brought a deputation to see me at the beginning of February, against the proposal to cease initial teacher training at Preston Polytechnic. The reason for that proposal—I emphasise that it is a proposal and not a decision, and that I bore very much in mind what my hon. Friend, his colleagues and representatives of the Lancashire education authority said to me—is the enormous decline in the birth rate that will take place during the 1980s. It would be madness to pursue a policy whereby we were training teachers for certain unemployment during that time.

My hon. Friend may wonder—I should undoubtedly do so in his position—whether the North-West in general has its fair share of teacher-training places. It may well seem odd that we should be proposing to take teacher training away from a polytechnic when it is the Government's policy to integrate teacher training and teacher education with other forms of higher education. Furthermore, the colleges that merged with the polytechnic have a good record in providing for mature students and a successful BEd. course. However, we cannot look at individual instances totally in isolation. We have to take into account the other provision in the county, and, more important, in the region, including—this is a very important factor in the North-West—the large number of voluntary colleges provided by the Churches.

In drawing up our proposals we did not follow slavishly an allocation of the 45,000 places available in strict proportion to the prospective school population. The number of places provided for the North-West Region is 7,150 against a strict arithmetical allocation of 6,310 places. For Lancashire the proposal will give 1,415 teacher training places, about 200 more that a strict arithmetical calculation according to the school population

I am sorry, I cannot give way.

I want to turn to a subject that I know is dear to the heart of my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, South—namely, the Lancastrian School of Management. Quite rightly, my hon. Friend referred to this school. He and some of his colleagues came to see me in a deputation to discuss arrangements between Liverpool and Manchester and the Lancastrian School to get matters on a more equitable basis than I think is true at present. As my hon. Friend has said, the regional centre of management for the North-West was based on the St. Helens College of Technology and Liverpool Polytechnic, but there are clear signs that the level of co-operation between the centre and the other providers of management education in the area—for example, the Lancastrian School of Management—could be improved considerably.

As my hon. Friend has said, there was a meeting on 22nd April. As a result, it was agreed that there should be one centre for the North-West and that there should be fair and equal participation, especially in respect of the excellent school of management at present centred on Preston and in respect of the School of Management in the Lancashire area. I know that further meetings are to take place about a new constitution. It is right that there should be a new constitution. I have written many letters to the existing providers of management education in the North-West. Because this involves my own region, I should be prepared to assist further—not only the Lancastrian School but Manchester, Liverpool and St. Helens—in establishing and reinforcing one of the best schools of management in the United Kingdom. I apologise for having to be so brief on that important subject.

My hon. Friend also referred to student fees. I think that he was talking about non-vocational fees, because a scale has been laid down for polytechnic and university fees. My hon. Friend quoted percentages. He used the figure of 40 per cent. It is always difficult to deal with percentages as one must know of what the figure is a percentage.

Local authorities have complete discretion about the amount of fees. If the fees were previously low by comparison with other authorities and there was an enormous percentage increase, it need not follow that there was an enormous increase in money terms. I shall examine the figures to see whether Lancashire is out of step with other authorities in the level of increases in the non-vocational fees that they charge. I shall take full account of what my hon. Friend has said.

I cannot give the House any information about whether Preston will be included in the proposed closures. I have a number of other colleges to see. I shall take into account all that has been said when making these decisions. The final decision will be made next month. No longer should colleges have to wait endlessly to know about their future. I shall take note of what has been said.

On some of the points, because of the limited time available, I have not been able to answer.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at thirteen minutes to Twelve o'clock.