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Newbattle Abbey College

Volume 124: debated on Friday 18 December 1987

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what was the period and terms of the review of the status of Newbattle Abbey college; and what consultations took place.

The justification for continued Government support for Newbattle Abbey college, as for all non-departmental public bodies, is reviewed from time to time in the light of changing circumstances, and my Department's knowledge of current educational developments. No specific external consultation took place.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland what help he envisages his Department giving to Newbattle Abbey college in its consideration of the implications of its withdrawal of grant.

Officials of the Scottish Education Department are ready to discuss the implications with the board of governors or the trustees of the college, but it will be for the Newbattle interests to identify areas where they think the Department can help.

To ask the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the withdrawal of grant from Newbattle Abbey college.

Following a review of the case for continued financial support for the college from the Scottish Education Department, an official of the Department wrote to the chairman of the board of governors on 10 December 1987 advising him of the intention to withdraw grant with effect from the end of the academic year 1988–89. The following is the text of the letter:

The Secretary of State has been reviewing the case for continued support for Newbattle Abbey College through grants from the Scottish Education Department and I am writing to give notice that he intends to withdraw the grant with effect from the end of academic year 1988–89.
In reaching conclusions as a result of this review, the Secretary of State has taken into account the opportunities which now exist for adults to obtain qualifications for entry to higher education. In contrast to the time when Government support for Newbattle was first introduced, there are now many more opportunities available for mature students to gain qualifications enabling them to participate in higher education. For example, most adults have reasonable access to further education colleges and, in many areas, schools where they may acquire, on a full or part-time basis, entrance qualifications to higher education institutions; and the Open College with its blend of broadcasting and the more traditional methods of learning, should increase opportunities for access to vocational education and training. In addition, the Open University offers adults without formal qualifications the chance to proceed direct to part-time degree courses if they wish to do so and finally, the Universities and Central Institutions are showing increasing readiness to admit to degree courses mature students without normal entry requirements, as part of their policy of widening access. Indeed, latest statistics show that in 1985–86, there were about 6,000 mature entrants to higher education in Scotland—almost a of the total. With these developments, together with the much more widespread use of distance learning methods, it is no longer evident that the residential environment of Newbattle is as necessary for mature entrants to higher education as it once was nor is it evident that the residential opportunity is now widely sought after by students from all over Scotland. I understand that typically some 30 per cent. of Diploma students come from England and the great majority of the remainder from Lothian or elsewhere in the Central belt. All of these factors reduce the case for continued Government support for the adult education provision at Newbattle Abbey College.
Against this background, the Secretary of State has to consider whether the taxpayers' money provided for Newbattle can be justified in the light of the other demands on the resources available for education in Scotland. The centre piece of the Newbattle programme is the 2-year Diploma in Liberal Studies, taken by some 30–40 students per year. Since 1979, the grant made available for Newbattle has increased from £162,000 to £359,000 in the 1986–87 financial year; an increase in real terms of 33 per cent. In addition, the Scottish Education Department has provided annually substantial sums for student tuition and residential fees; these came to approximately £100,000 in the 1986–87 financial year. For the future, the College's own estimates suggest that running costs are likely to continue to rise well in excess of the current inflation rate and further substantial capital sums will be required to maintain the College buildings in an adequate state of repair if it is to continue in its present role.
The Secretary of State believes that he has a duty to ensure that public funds are used to best effect and he doubts whether that is now the case at Newbattle, as circumstances have changed over the years. He has therefore asked me to give you notice of his intention to withdraw Government support for the College at the end of the 1988–89 academic year. This will allow students who entered the College in the current session to complete their 2-year diploma courses. The Secretary of State has asked me to emphasise that the funds released by withdrawal of support from the College in 1989 will be devoted to encouraging wider access to further and higher education in Scotland in ways more relevant to current needs.
The Secretary of State appreciates that this news will come as great disappointment to the Board of Governors and to the staff. He has therefore also asked me to assure you that his decision should not in any sense be regarded as an adverse reflection on the achievements of Newbattle over the last 50 years; if is rather recognition that the College's job has largely been done and the opportunities now widely available in the Scottish education system for encouraging access to higher education have greatly diminshed the demand, and need, for the services now offered by the College in its current form.
Finally, I should emphasise that if the Governors so wish, the Department's officials would be very glad to assit in every way possible with their consideration of the implications of withdrawal of grant.
No doubt there will be public interest in the contents of this letter. I will arrange for it to be released to the Press tomorrow afternoon, once you have had time to tell the Governing Body, staff and students of its content.
I have sent a copy of this letter to each of the Trustees of the College.