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Funding Councils

Volume 129: debated on Tuesday 15 March 1988

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will take steps to ensure that women are represented on (a) the Universities Funding Council and (b) the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council.

The desirability of securing a reasonable proportion of women members is certainly a factor that my right hon. Friend will be considering in making appointments to the higher education funding councils.

I am glad to hear that reply. At the moment the proportion of undergraduates who are women is encouragingly high, but does the Minister accept that the presence of women on the funding councils would help to secure a better representation of women undergraduates on the courses on which, up to now, they have been very much under-represented?

Members will be appointed for their individual contributions and not because they belong to any particular representative group. It is upon that basis that my right hon. Friend will be making his recommendations.

Will my hon. Friend ensure that colleges with a religious basis, such as St. Martin's in my constituency, are enabled, within the fund, to maintain their ethos and religious basis?

We are extremely concerned to ensure that voluntary colleges will have representation that will reflect their wishes and encapsulate what they want within those colleges.

As 44 per cent. of all students in full-time higher education now are women, surely it would be more representative if the Minister agreed that half the membership of the funding councils should be women, so that their interests are properly represented?

No, that would be quite improper. It is absolutely essential that the membership of the funding councils should comprise people who are best qualified to be representatives. If those people happen to be women—certainly my right hon. Friend will be anxious to ensure that there is proper representation of women on the funding councils—that will be most satisfactory from all our points of view.

Does my hon. Friend owe her position on the Front Bench to her ability, or to the fact that she is a woman? If the former, will she make sure that, when she appoints people to the funding councils, they also owe their positions to ability, irrespective of gender?