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Skill Provision And Professional Training

Volume 976: debated on Tuesday 18 December 1979

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what estimate he has made on the effects on skill provision and the training of professional engineers, mathematicians, and scientists of the Government's cuts in expenditure on education.

I apologise for the somewhat lengthy answer that I shall give. The Government recognise the vital importance of skill training in these areas. My Department, with support from industry, has encouraged a number of initiatives designed to make engineering training more attractive and more relevant to industrial needs. These initiatives include the national engineering scholarship scheme, funded jointly by Government and industry; the development of enhanced engineering courses in eight universities and two polytechnics and the various collaborative schemes operated by the Science Research Council such as the teaching company scheme and the collaborative awards in science and engineering.

Has the hon. Gentleman read Her Majesty's inspectors' secondary school survey, which indicated that there is already a shortage of books for many essential courses? Does he accept the widely held view in further and higher education that the cuts will devastate skilled provision and produce an enormous problem in industry in a few years' time because of the shortage of trained scientists and engineers?

Nobody should under-estimate the trend of the past 10 to 15 years in the United Kingdom. As a result of the report, a number of initiatives and inquiries have been set up to find out how the problem can best be resolved. I do not under-estimate the difficulties that face the country in this matter. My right hon. and learned Friend intends to try to resolve the problem and to restore a proper balance for the first time in the better part of two decades.

Will my hon. Friend consider increasing incentives still further to study science, technology and engineering by increasing the grants available to students of those subjects while at the same time making up the money by reducing grants for students who wish to study subjects such as sociology and other subjects that are favoured by Opposition Members?

The result of the initiatives that were launched in recent years is precisely to do that. The initiatives make money available for students studying those subjects. If it were pos- sible to expand that, it would have to be against the level of public expenditure for the next two years. The initiatives launched by industry, the CBI, the TUC and a number of organisations have been taken with a full understanding of the problems that face the country. Many initiatives were taken by the previous Administration, and we shall continue along those lines as fast as possible.

Is the Minister aware that at the University of Strathclyde the provision of scientists, mathematicians and engineers will be seriously affected by his decision on overseas students? Is he further aware that for every three overseas students who do not come into the country because of the increased fees, one lecturer will be declared redundant? That means that eight students from this country will not be able to receive the training that they require. Does he realise that the bulk of overseas students at Strathclyde are in the departments that have been referred to?

That is pure speculation and the House cannot place any credence on the hon. Gentleman's remarks.