Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 178 - 179)



  Q178  Chairman: Howard and John, welcome again; we face each other once more. Thank you for coming. You have been sitting through the other session so you have a flavour of the mood we are in! Two of us here are gearing up to talk to the Prime Minister tomorrow morning in a select committee as well. You announced a number of measures to help protect struggling departments recently. How do you square this with the policy of non-intervention that we have been hearing about in decisions of individual universities? Is there a contradiction in this whole process of helping out?

  Sir Howard Newby: Can I say, Chairman, first that it is good to see you looking so fit and well and on form—and that is not flannelling you, that is a very sincere comment from me. It is really good to see you. There is a judgment call here, is there not? Are we prepared to see the provision of some subjects completely eliminated from this country because there are absolutely no students who want to be taught it; or are we going to say we should in some cases at least intervene in order to preserve national capacity in provision of those subjects because one never knows of the circumstances in which they will be needed. Traditionally, the English Funding Council has approached that by saying, "in some cases we will periodically look at a list of what we call minority subjects, subjects for which the demand from students is less than 100 nationally, and we will take a view on whether we think there is a case in the national interest to sustain provision of those subjects, even though very few students want them."

  Q179  Chairman: What guides you in making those decisions? Is it the actual jobs that they are going to get? You must agree that there is no use educating people unless there are jobs connected somewhere, either directly with the subject or indirectly. It seems to be nonsense not to have that kind of analysis.

  Sir Howard Newby: So far that has not been the case, no. The subjects we have supported through our minority subjects programme—the argument really has been one of maintaining strategic capacity nationally. Even if there were no students who wanted to learn them, and even if they were not getting jobs afterwards, we still feel in the long run there is a case for sustaining in this country some capacity. The vast majority of these subjects are what we call exotic languages, although they do include some science and technology subjects—paper-making technology for example, and shoe and leather technology have been two in particular, where we simply felt that it is in the national interest to take a long-term view and sustain capacity, even in the absence of student demand.

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