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Binary Divide

Volume 204: debated on Tuesday 25 February 1992

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To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will make a statement on the consequences for research funding of ending the binary divide.

The new framework for higher education will require funding for basic and strategic research in each subject to be allocated selectively to high-quality departments. All institutions will be free to compete for selective research funding.

I am grateful to the Minister, but is there not a danger that there could be an unfair distribution of funding research between the new universities, which will be formed from polytechnics, and the traditional universities? Is there not concern that there could be inequity in the distribution of research funding to Welsh and English institutions? What will the Minister do to ensure that Wales gets a fair deal in research?

The Government's policy remains as set out in the White Paper on higher education. Funding will be based on an assessment of individual departments. Some departments in an institution will do well, while others will do less well, according to the assessment of their research quality. But institutions right across the new unified higher education sector will be free to compete on fair terms, and the same will apply in Wales.

Does my hon. Friend accept that universities with a strong research base need fear nothing from the end of the binary divide? Does he further accept that the Universities Funding Council has acknowledged the excellence of research at Lancaster university by giving it a 10·9 per cent. increase in funding for the coming year?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for those remarks. The Universities Funding Council is carrying out the policy, in response to the White Paper, of distributing funding according to assessments of research quality department by department. I share my hon. Friend's pleasure and offer my congratulations to Lancaster university on achieving a 10·9 per cent. increase in research funding for the forthcoming year.

Does the Minister appreciate that, with the phasing out of the student-related element of university research funding, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals is actively canvassing the introduction of top-up fees? I understand that Birmingham university council is due to consider the matter tomorrow. Will the Government take action to stop the charging of top-up fees, or will they allow universities to go down the road of pay-as-you-learn?

I should have hoped that the hon. Gentleman would respect the principle of academic autonomy. He cannot have it both ways. He cannot profess, as he likes to do, his respect for the autonomy of academic institutions and at the same time seek to limit their management discretion. I emphasise that we believe, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has said, that top-up fees should be unnecessary because we have planned, and continue to plan, to provide sufficient public funding to support the expansion of high-quality teaching in our universities. Moreover, we regard such fees as undesirable because we are keen that there should be no avoidable barriers to access on the part of people who have not traditionally had the opportunity to go into higher education.