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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I can certainly give an undertaking that we will look at those particular bottle-necks. However, I have to point out to the noble Lord that we must consider the bottle-neck that would be created in the centre of London if we were to encourage traffic to come all the way in. Noble Lords are most interested in what we can do to alleviate the situation outside this House, in the squares about which we are all concerned. If all we do is provide wonderful roads right into the centre of London and thereby encourage people to use their cars in order to get here, we shall not be able to solve the traffic problems in the capital.

Business of the House: Debates this Day

3.19 p.m.

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of the Lord Beloff set down for today shall be limited to four hours and that in the name of the Baroness Carnegy of Lour to two hours.--(Lord Richard.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Oxford and Cambridge Universities

3.20 p.m.

Lord Beloff rose to call attention to the case for safeguarding the future of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall allow for the movement of lemmings in both directions.

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Beloff: My Lords, I begin by thanking the many noble Lords who have been good enough to put their names down for today's debate. I also thank the authorities who have enabled us to have a four-hour debate so that noble Lords' contributions will not be too limited. The House will look forward in particular to the two maiden speeches that we are to hear. We shall hear the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely whose presence, along with a number of other figures from Cambridge, means that I do not need to mention Cambridge again in the course of my remarks!

I wish particularly and personally to welcome the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking. I say "personally" because we were pupils of the same schoolmaster. I hasten to add that I was a pupil at the beginning of that schoolmaster's career whereas the noble Lord, Lord Baker, was a pupil at the end of that schoolmaster's career. The main objective in life of that schoolmaster, who was a considerable scholar, was to ensure that the boys in his care attained places at either Oxford or Cambridge. I say that because it is relevant to one of the features of the debate about the two universities; namely, the worry about whether access is wide enough. The example I have mentioned, and others I know of, show that the decision that is taken by a young person to apply to a particular university will depend more than anything on the advice he receives from whoever has taught him at the pre-university stage.

Both universities have made enormous efforts to change their patterns of admission, their examinations, their interviews and so forth, in order to make entry easier for people from schools which have not hitherto been providers of applicants. However, there is a limit to what can be done in that direction. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Plant, will be able to give us more detail on this. I know that many colleges send people out to schools, or bring school-children into the colleges, in order to encourage them. But if, as one hears occasionally, school-children are positively discouraged by certain schoolteachers, the chance of their getting to Oxford or Cambridge is limited.

Everyone declares an interest nowadays, even non-financial ones. I shall not depart from the pattern. I have an interest to declare. As an undergraduate I became a member of the University of Oxford 65 years ago. Sixty-five years is, I believe, the utmost limit of the life of the millennium dome, which puts the matter into perspective. But in the life of the University of Oxford 65 years is almost nothing when one thinks in terms of centuries.

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Those 65 years have seen major changes. Some of them, I believe, were changes for the better, but others which I shall not mention, I was critical of at the time. They can be summarised in two broad bands. First, the university has become much more conscious of the role and position of the natural sciences, and particularly medicine. It is, after all--as it was not 65 years ago--a recognised centre of medical excellence throughout the world. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, will confirm that when he speaks. I merely remind noble Lords that the curative properties of penicillin were first tried by a team from the University of Oxford in the local hospital. Everyone who has benefited from treatment with antibiotics over the past half century is, whether he knows it or not, a direct beneficiary of the University of Oxford.

The second great change is the development of graduate studies and, with them, research in a number of fields, some of them already traditional in the university, such as archaeology and languages, some of them relatively new, and many of them with an important international aspect. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, who has recently retired from heading one of the two most important new graduate colleges--where, if I may say so, I was in at the beginning--will tell us more about that important aspect of the university's new life.

This is a constantly changing scene. I do not imagine that anyone taking part in this debate imagines that there will be no further change. What we are concerned with, as I understand it, is the need to safeguard the future of these two universities. What are the arguments for safeguarding them? The primary argument must be that in an age of competition it is important that any part of our national heritage which directly contributes to the standing of this country in the arts and the sciences is maintained. It is not difficult to find evidence for the fact that both these universities contribute in major ways.

It is also clearly important that we should consider what are the elements that attract bright young people to these universities and which retain bright scholars who might otherwise be tempted by the greater material rewards available to them across the Atlantic. One of those, I believe--this will no doubt be talked about by other speakers in this debate--to be the collegiate system. That is unique. Tutorials are part of the collegiate system, but you could have--and some institutions do have--tutorials without a collegiate system. The collegiate system which brings together both people at the beginning of their careers and hardened scholars--if one can put it like that--in a personal tutorial relationship is, I believe, the principal attraction, and the principal reason the universities retain this attraction.

One does not need to look far for examples of the attraction. The President of the United States of America and his current ambassador to the Court of St. James are both former Rhodes scholars; so, I believe, is a certain judge in Massachusetts who has managed to hit our headlines in recent days. We attract a lot of people.

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The system is extraordinarily efficient--and this is where comparisons with other systems become inevitable. Its efficiency can be measured in a variety of ways. It is efficient in the sense that a very high proportion of students--far higher than in any other British university, let alone continental European universities, where most students never take a degree--take the degree which they came up to read. That means that the effort that is put into teaching them is not wasted. The comparison could be made in the job market at various levels; it could be made in all kinds of ways. But fundamentally, the system is efficient and cost-effective. That does not mean that it is not expensive. Indeed, much of the current interest arises from the problem caused by its expense, or the public share of that expense, to those examining the budget for higher education, which is under very considerable strain.

It is difficult, and it would be wrong, to make comparisons between universities in a single country. They have, or should have, their own methods and aspirations. However, there are some important cross-national comparisons which can be put in very crude terms. If we take France as an example (and we are always told that things are done better in France) the amount of money spent by the French state on each student attending the grande ecole--the ecole polytechnique, the ecole normale, and so on, which correspond roughly in their purpose and ethos to Oxford and Cambridge--is three times the amount that is spent on students in French universities. That is a far bigger differential than even the college fees add to the difference between expenditure on Oxford and expenditure on other British universities.

If we take, again, the institutions with which Oxford and Cambridge are most properly to be compared, the great research universities of the United States--Harvard, Yale and Princeton--the cost of sending a student to one of those institutions is something like three times the cost of educating someone in Oxford or Cambridge. Even if we allow for the greater wealth of the United States and other factors we still arrive at the fact that we seem to be able to do, on less, what Harvard, Yale and Princeton do admirably, on more.

To return to my point about the effectiveness of the college tutorial system, one comparison that can be made is that tutorial teaching in Oxford is still done by mature scholars. I remember as a schoolboy coming up in 1932 and discovering to my astonishment that the people whose books I had been asked to read at school were actual, living people, walking in the streets and sometimes condescending to give me a tutorial, to take me for a walk, or whatever the customary method of tutorial instruction was in those days; whereas, as we know, in the United States a great deal of that kind of teaching at undergraduate level is done by graduate students. That is a method which, on the whole, we ought not to welcome as a possible result of cutting down on college income. That is perhaps the most striking difference. Perhaps I may ram it home by means of an anecdote. Many years ago I was a colleague of Albert Einstein. We were both members of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. A number of hopeful

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mothers sent their offspring to Princeton University--a different institution, a great one--in the hope that they would be tutored in their mathematical studies by Albert Einstein. I do not say that everyone who comes to Oxford is tutored by the equivalent of Einstein; but at least they receive tuition on which they can rely.

What has brought this matter to a head is clearly the controversy about college fees. Fees to colleges have always been paid. They date back to the foundation of colleges. Most colleges include the payment of fees by categories of students in their foundation documents. From decade to decade, and century to century, efforts have had to be made to see that whatever assistance was available for students should go to make sure that the payment of fees did not impede attendance by people from non-noble or non-gentry families. If we turn to the Oxford of the 17th century, a period of great growth before the decadence for which Gibbon's account is noted, we find exactly the same controversies in relation to fees as exist now--except that it was then charitable foundations for livery companies and not public money that was involved.

It is clearly not possible to change the system overnight. One has to realise that, if the subsidy for college fees were to be abolished over a year or so, it would mean a number of colleges going bankrupt and others being forced to part with members of staff; it would mean that places would have to be filled by those who could afford, out of their pockets or their parents' pockets, to pay the fees. The effect would be contrary to that which the proponents of this change seem to envisage.

Nor is it possible, as some people occasionally think, to meet the difficulty by the redistribution of money between colleges. It is true that some colleges are wealthy by comparison with others; but they are often obliged to spend their income on particular aspects. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, who will speak in the debate, will be aware that a great deal of Christ Church's money goes to the upkeep of his splendid cathedral, its services and its choir. That cannot be transferred, let us say, to a college such as Mansfield, of which I am an honorary fellow, which lives entirely on what it receives from the students whom it educates.

There are schemes by which, gradually, capital is being moved from richer to poorer colleges. However, that is a long drawn out process and we are talking not about capital but about income. Most people know the difference. I am not sure that everyone does, but most do. That is not a way out.

It is probable--here I speak not as the voice of the university, which I know is very divided on this matter--that in the long run, when there is a total recosting of the financing of British higher education--as it were, the post-Dearing years--Oxford and Cambridge will be obliged to rely more and more on private funds, whether through benefactions, endowment or the payment of higher fees, compensated for, as is done in American universities, by a generous scholarship system. I do not regard that as outrageous. All I think one can say this afternoon is that, if that is to be the future, time is needed to prepare for it. A sudden

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upheaval, which would bankrupt a number of colleges, is no way to prepare for the future. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.

3.40 p.m.

Lord Plant of Highfield: My Lords, first I must declare a direct interest as Master of St. Catherine's College in the University of Oxford. I wondered whether it was appropriate for me to speak in the debate in the light of that interest but I thought it might be useful for someone at the sharp end of these issues to comment upon them.

It seems to me that there are two principles to be considered here. The first is that differential funding needs to be publicly justified and periodically reviewed, and I am sure that the Government are right to do that. Secondly, if there is to be differential public funding, there should be the highest degree of equality of opportunity to secure access to the benefits of such funding.

Before discussing the issues in terms of those two points, I should like to put the issue of college fees in context. I have to speak of Oxford but I am sure that most of what I say applies equally to Cambridge. In Oxford, college fees provide over 50 per cent. of the income for 18 colleges. In some cases that rises to 70 per cent. or more. There is no doubt that terminating the government payment of fees is a very serious matter which bears on the survival of some colleges in Oxford, and I am sure that the same is true for Cambridge.

What is the defence for differential funding? First, there is no doubt that Oxford and Cambridge are world-class universities in research terms. That is not to deny that there are others in the United Kingdom. That judgment is not based on Oxbridge self-regard or self-congratulation but on the funding council's own research assessment exercise which found that 92 per cent. of all academic full-time staff in Oxford were in the highest grade departments--that is to say, 5 or 5*.

The critic of college fees will say that, while that is true, it is wholly irrelevant because Oxford and Cambridge receive extra money from HEFCE because of their research excellence; college fees, in contrast, are about teaching. That is, however, a fallacy. Research in Oxford and Cambridge is embedded in a collegiate structure which is bound to be more expensive and will not survive if college fees disappear.

There are close links between college structure and research performance. Posts are jointly funded between the university and the colleges and involve shared facilities. Colleges pay a percentage of the cost of lecturers of various kinds in the university. In the case of CUF lecturers, colleges pay 60 per cent. of the cost of 400 academic posts and 16 per cent. of the costs of other university lecturers. Colleges fund research fellowships, junior research fellowships, graduate studentships and graduate scholarships from their own income. Those commitments to research will decline or disappear if fees are not to be reimbursed to colleges. In addition, colleges provide research funds for their own fellows, which in turn sustains or enhances the world-class performance of the universities. Colleges

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also play a significant role in providing facilities for visiting researchers from the United Kingdom and overseas to enable them to pursue their research. There is an intimate relationship between the research performance of Oxbridge and the collegiate system.

In addition, there is a defence to be made--as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, has done--of the college tutorial structure. I would not want to say that the tutorial system is the only excellent way of teaching undergraduates since that would be a denial of my own teaching experience in other universities over 27 years. Nevertheless, I believe it produces a high standard and a very challenging academic environment which fits neatly into the Dearing Committee's concern for diversity. It obviously attracts high-calibre applicants in that our average A-level score of 29 points compares with an average of 18.8 points elsewhere. We have, as the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said, a very low drop-out rate. We have a very good employment record, with only 2.6 per cent. of graduates unemployed six months after graduation compared to the national average of 8 per cent. Of the university professors listed in Who's Who, 67 per cent. were educated at Oxford or Cambridge. If I may be parochial for a moment to illustrate the benefits of the tutorial system--for which I do not make wholly exclusive claims--my own college, founded in 1962, has produced three Nobel prize winners and 12 Fellows of the Royal Society among its alumni. That is a fairly decent result for a young college based upon the tutorial system. Overall, in terms of both teaching and research, Oxford offers a very good public/private partnership: the Government put in £19 million in fees and the colleges contribute £43 million to academic purposes.

What will happen if the Government decide not to reimburse fees? I think it would be a very naive view to suggest that colleges would carry on more or less as before. By and large, individual colleges at the lower end of the scale do not have the resources to increase their income to the extent that would be necessary. My own college would have to produce about £900,000 a year more. It cannot do that by taking more overseas students; it cannot do it by increasing conference attendance; it certainly cannot do it by increasing its endowment, which would have to double the size achieved over 35 years.

Where is the money to come from? The only way in which colleges as individual institutions could cover the costs would be to continue to charge fees to undergraduates even when they were no longer reimbursed by the state. I believe that that policy would be little short of disastrous in terms of access and it would be a very odd outcome for the Government that I support to produce. It has been suggested that the Government are contemplating legislation to prevent colleges from continuing to charge fees, which they have in many cases charged for centuries and which, as I understand it, they have a common law right to do as chartered corporations. I should like to ask my noble friend specifically whether she is contemplating introducing legislation to prevent colleges from charging fees. Like the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I do not believe that there is a pot of gold in Oxford to rescue

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the poorer colleges. The endowments for colleges were declared to HEFCE in the recent negotiations with them, and the university and the colleges have offered an independent audit of the endowment structure in Oxford to show that there is no such pot of gold.

I believe that any alternative to the existing system will make Oxford more socially exclusive. I am passionately concerned with equality of opportunity. I was brought up in a poor area; I failed my 11-plus; and I went to a secondary modern school. It was only because I lived in the 1960s, when there were plenty of opportunities available, that I was able to go to university and eventually make an academic career for myself. Any alternative to the existing system will cause Oxford and Cambridge to embody a denial of greater equality of access. The existing fees should be retained but they should be dependent upon Oxford and Cambridge, showing by a report to the funding council or the Department for Education and Employment that they are doing all that they can to increase access for the poorest groups of students.

3.48 p.m.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I look forward warmly to the maiden speeches of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely and the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking. I also look forward warmly to the speech of my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead. The chancellorship of Oxford is an institution about a generation older than Parliament. It would not be easy to rank the chancellors in order of merit; but, were it possible to draw up a short list of chancellors since Robert Grosseteste, I think my noble friend would be high on the list.

Like others, I must declare a variety of interests, all of them non-pecuniary save for my ordinary and regular salary. I am a graduate of the University of Oxford; I am an honorary fellow of Merton, my old college, an honour in which I take great pride; I am a professor at King's College, London, and would not wish to imply by anything I say that my colleagues' standards in teaching and research are in any way lower than those at Oxford. My noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire, of the London School of Economics, is unable to take part in the debate because he is travelling to a meeting in Luxembourg, but he asked me to ensure that that message was heard from both sides of the Aldwych. I have also taught at Yale which, by any calculation, is Oxford's equal in standards of teaching and research. But despite attempts to create it, it does not have the Oxford college tutorial system and that makes a very considerable difference.

Sir Ron Dearing's tests for a higher level of provision for particular places are, first, an approved difference in the provision of education and, secondly, good use of resources. By "good use" Sir Ron, as I understand it, means value for money in comparative terms. Those are fair tests. It is my contention that Oxford and Cambridge pass them, but it is no part of the wording of this Motion to assert that nobody else passes them. The key difference as regards Oxford and Cambridge is the residential college system. Other places have colleges; other places, including my own college, have tutorials.

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What is unique is the combination of the two: the teaching inside the residential community which means that a better undergraduate education is provided irrespective of the quality of the teaching, because not all education happens inside tutorials or lectures. Education happens, as it did in Plato's Republic, whenever two or three people are gathered together with a glass of wine or a cup of coffee or whatever other liquid seems congruous. Education happens in conversation.

In Oxford and Cambridge we have universities uniquely run according to the principle of subsidiarity--decisions are taken at the lowest possible suitable level. That is a good principle. Its excellence shows in the decisions taken inside the university appointments. It creates cross-subject communities. People often complain about the division of departments. My son, when he was three, used to refer to the "history compartment". I fear he was not quite as wrong as I would have liked to think. But in Oxford and Cambridge this does not happen. People regularly sit down to talk every day with people concerned with other subjects and from other countries. One of the biggest differences between Oxford and Yale is that Oxford is a genuinely international community. I never got over the shock at Yale academic ceremonies of watching a national flag flying. It seemed to me remarkably like a contradiction in terms. And when I go and address a meeting in Sri Lanka and find that the man in the chair, the chairman of the Sri Lanka Bar Council, is the man whom I used to address as "Mr. President, sir" in the union when I was an undergraduate, I feel that my point is confirmed.

Also, of course, there is a vital interest here in research. The tutorial system takes a great deal of time, and although my experience is like that of the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, I was taught by those who had written the books. I was also taught by younger people, many of whom are now fellows of the British Academy. This was not second-rate teaching. The junior research fellowships in Oxford and Cambridge are something in which I believe there is a national interest. They are vital to a system of preferment in just the same way, if the right reverend Prelates will forgive me, as curacies are to the Church, because the best livings do not become vacant when the best candidates are ready for them.

Were the junior research fellowships to disappear, it would be necessary to double the number of British Academy post-doctoral fellows, at the very least, and that would be a considerable extra charge on public funds.

Some say that the argument I have been putting forward is elitist. I think they should think through that argument. Nobody, so far as I know, is recommending a universal system of higher education up to the age of 21. We agree that there must be selection. Nobody, so far as I know, is suggesting that that selection should be done on anything other than merit. So if you defend those two propositions are you in any position to condemn elitism?

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A year ago we were talking vigorously about the need to encourage better competitors in the Olympics. The talk was all about encouraging gold medallists. There was no provision for extending training facilities to everyone at every standard. If gold medallists, why are Nobel prize winners any different?

3.55 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ely: My Lords, I should like my first words in this House to be those of gratitude to the staff who have organised as friendly a welcome to a new boy as could possibly be imagined. When I hear the phrase "the right reverend Prelate", I still look round to see who is being addressed.

Participation in this debate is mandatory for someone who has spent the major part of his life in universities, and who for 19 years both learnt and taught in the University of Cambridge. Bishops of Ely are bound to confess a personal interest in view of the fact that ex-officio they hold visitorships in three of these colleges.

When I was a young don it was often said in the college that one had to be on one's guard against episcopal interference. Indeed, when a row broke out, I was assured by an older colleague that the mere threat of referring the matter to the visitor was sufficient to bring the fellows to their senses. I am happy to say that so far that unflattering maxim has remained true in my own case.

If I were to make a very brief and conventionally uncontroversial intervention in this important debate, I should like to draw upon my experience of having left the University of Cambridge for a chair in the University of Durham where I spent 11 very happy years. That journey taught me a great deal about the contrasts and comparisons between universities and it forced me to confront, in a rather sharp and personal way, the inequality of provision, especially at the collegiate level.

I left a St. John's College, which had a new building built, thanks to a wonderful benefaction, to several times UGC specifications, and I joined, in the University of Durham, a St. John's College where there was anxious debate about whether the college could afford new duvet covers.

My faith has a good deal to say on the subject of envy but during those 11 years, which became increasingly challenging as the university reforms of the early '80s took effect, I might have been forgiven for casting envious eyes at the funding arrangements further south.

In the faculty in Durham of which I was a member we actually did teach in small groups, and shortly after I left in the mid-80s that had to be abandoned because of the pressures of numbers. But in Cambridge, with the added protection of the college fee, that was and is still possible.

In singling out one or more institutions for special praise, one of course appears to be dispraising others. In my case I would find that quite simply impossible, all the more so because there are two universities in Cambridge which is also host to one of the sites of the Anglia Polytechnic University. I have learnt to respect,

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very deeply, the work of those who teach and encourage students not of top flight ability, or who take risks with people from unconventional backgrounds. There are simply too many places of excellence in the universities of this country for anyone to imagine that medieval foundations, centuries long benefaction, and a tradition of autonomy were the necessary conditions for first-rate achievement.

It is from that standpoint that I would like to pay my own tribute to the institutions of proven excellence which are the subject of our debate this afternoon. I would like to single out in particular, as other speakers have done, the contribution made by the colleges in particular, which my predecessors in the see took such pains to found and to endow. Were they places of backward-looking complacency, they would of course be quite indefensible. But in my experience they deploy their autonomy and their resources, in the main, responsibly and imaginatively.

I should like to refer especially to the encouragement the colleges are able to give to younger scholars on the brink of academic careers, in those very uncertain years between the completion of a Ph.D and taking their first academic appointment. The colleges compete vigorously with each other to attract and nurture the best talent they can find, and they offer them vital opportunities for small group teaching as well as support in research, scholarship and publication.

No former fellow of a Cambridge college or a visitor is likely to be unaware or completely innocent of at least two other of the deadly sins, those of pride and gluttony. But there are ways in which a traditional institution can be reminded, chivvied and goaded into virtuous behaviour; and continuous innovation has, as a matter of fact, been a characteristic of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. I am very proud that one of my predecessors saw fit to confer the title of "Universitas" on the society of scholars who fled from Oxford, for very good reasons, in the 13th century; and that another founded the first college in Cambridge later in that century, pro utilitate rei publice.

The test of the public good must surely be the key to this important debate. My hope would be that an appropriately non-partisan way can be found in the current review so that excellence can be encouraged to the benefit of the whole higher education system.

4.2 p.m.

Lord Porter of Luddenham: My Lords, the whole House will wish to join me in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely on his memorable maiden speech. As a Cambridge graduate and don himself, his eloquence and his wise words speak volumes for the excellence of his university and college. We look forward to hearing them often in this House.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, for initiating this debate, which offers the opportunity to me and, I am sure, many others here, to express our gratitude to the schools and universities, and the teachers in them, who played such an important part in our lives.

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In my case this was not only Oxbridge. I graduated from the University of Leeds and have attended in various capacities other universities in this country and in the United States. I am deeply indebted to all of them. However, the benefit that I gained from my nine years in Cambridge, immediately after the war, as a student and later as a young don, stands out as the greatest good fortune in my life.

As has been emphasised many times, two of the special qualities of education at Oxbridge are the colleges and their associated tutorial and supervision systems. These do add to the cost of students' fees but the extra cost is very small compared with the value added. It would be a niggling false economy to eliminate a system that has proved itself such a success, provided always that we do our best to ensure that extra public funding for special education goes to the people most likely to contribute to the future of their university and the world, whether they are at Oxbridge or not.

The smaller unit of the college makes it possible for a member to participate in a very wide range of academic, social and sporting activities. In this respect the colleges provide a healthy antidote to the elitism of the big blues of the university teams while offering the opportunity for those with special talents in any field, probably unrecognised talents, to discover their potential.

In the academic sphere the college tutorial system was where I first obtained a real understanding of science, in a manner which is not always recognised as one of the virtues of the system. Education is a two-way process in which the teacher often learns as much as the taught.

The system would be even more expensive, or probably impossible, without employing research students and junior dons to carry out the supervision. Here I differ slightly perhaps from the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. In my case I gave six tutorials a week, for six years, with one or two students at a time. It was the hardest school of learning I ever entered, and undoubtedly the best.

Does the system work, and is it worth the expense? When our descendants in the next millennium are asked what permanent contributions did our 20th century generation make to the history of mankind, it will be difficult to find anything that surpasses the advances such as those in medicine referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, or in the physical and biological sciences, such as those that have flourished, and flourish still, in Cambridge. Nothing compares with the development of particle and nuclear physics at the Cavendish laboratory in the first half of this century, beginning exactly 100 years ago with J.J. Thomson's discovery of the electron. In the second half of this century, nothing compares with the development of molecular biology, which owed so much to Lawrence Bragg and his refugee collaborator Max Perutz, again at the Cavendish laboratory, and their colleagues Crick and Watson of the genetic code, Fred Sanger, who won two Nobel prizes, and the many who followed.

What is the explanation of this phenomenal success at Cambridge? It is that excellence breeds excellence. No one questions the need for centres of excellence in

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sport, music and the arts and few would wish to level out our sports teams by setting aside our fastest sprinters until the slow ones catch up. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, referred to this factor in another way. The encouragement of excellence in the sciences, and their applications, is at the heart of national achievement not only of our culture but of our health and wealth. If a precious asset such as Cambridge science is lost, it may never be recovered.

4.8 p.m.

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, it is a great honour for me to be making my first speech in your Lordships' House, and particularly on a Motion moved by my noble friend Lord Beloff. As he said, we were both taught by the same history teacher. That teacher was a good deal more successful in instilling scholarly academic excellence in my noble friend than in me. I am particularly glad to be speaking on the question of Oxford and Cambridge fees.

Perhaps I may begin by saying that in 1988 it fell to me to bring before both Houses of Parliament what was then a very controversial education Bill. Fortunately, it is not controversial now. The different parties in our country have accepted virtually all the parts of it. That I welcome because I think that, on the whole, if one could drain party politics out of education, there would be a great benefit.

That government had a large majority in the Commons, as this Government have a large majority in the Commons, and so one had no trouble getting the Bill through the House of Commons. The trouble was this House. I spent a great deal of time down this end of the corridor, particularly on the matters of higher education. I think it is fair to say that the only major changes in that Bill came about as a result of the debates and the views expressed in this House. So I hope that the noble Baroness will be as sympathetic and responsive as I was all those years ago because the collective wisdom in this House in higher education, some of which has already been displayed this afternoon, is remarkable and much better than in the House of Commons.

In a way I am surprised that this issue has become so prominent. The Dearing Report had 93 recommendations. This was not a particularly important recommendation from the Dearing Report. The Funding Council is asked by that report to address 19 different matters and suddenly this matter is catapulted to the head of the queue and one begins to wonder why. I suspect that it is probably because of the Treasury. It has an eagle eye for picking pockets and this is quite a good pocket to pick (£35 million) particularly when the head of the Treasury, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has made some quite strong and adverse comments about Oxford and Cambridge. I am rather surprised that such a politician would do that. An equivalent politician in America would never criticise Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Chicago or Stanford. The land of the brave and the free has no trouble with elitism. The sum of £35 million sounds a lot of money, but in relation to the full expenditure on higher education in our country each year, which is £10

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billion, it represents 0.35 per cent. If one were to spread £35 million of college fees around the 181 institutions of higher education in our country, each would get £193,000.

It would tax the imagination of even the most dedicated egalitarian to believe that by giving a new university £193,000 one would transfer it by that act alone into a world-class institution. It would take much more; many years and many decades. So I hope that that will not happen. The latest proposal that has been leaked is that the money will not be spread so widely over the 181 institutions, but that a fund will be set up to which other institutions can bid for teaching excellence. I am not against that; it would be an admirable idea, but not at the expense of Oxford and Cambridge. I believe that teaching excellence should be recognised. There are other universities in our country which are world-class apart from Oxford and Cambridge. There are different departments in some other universities which are world-class. They should bid for it. I say to the noble Baroness that if she is going to set up such a scheme she should be very patient because a scheme to assess research excellence, which is much more objective, has taken nearly 10 years to settle down. If she were to devise a scheme which was to be very subjective as to which university taught better than another, she would have to make it very robust to sustain the bickering and in-fighting at which all universities excel. I have no doubt that the college fees should remain with Oxford and Cambridge.

Some mention has been made of the difficulties of the smaller colleges. I believe that some would become insolvent and some would go bankrupt. Again, I would not wish that on the noble Baroness. I had to deal with a university which almost went bankrupt. I can tell her that it is a very messy affair and that it is much more expensive at the end than at the beginning. So I encourage her not to pursue a policy which would lead to that.

I believe that on the whole it would be better to leave well alone. Oxford and Cambridge are both widening access the entire time. I was the first member of my family to go to university and I went to Oxford. Since then access has been much wider and both universities are extending access each year. Therefore, I hope that the Government will rethink this policy.

At the moment they are setting great store on new Britain. It is a new approach. They are positioning Britain as a young, dynamic country. I find it a little strange that in this great desire to reposition Britain we are going to make ourselves the home of tobacco-sponsored Formula One racing while undermining Oxford and Cambridge.

Finally, I say this. If the Government decide to persist in this policy and they take away college fees from the colleges at Oxford and Cambridge, they will have to provide some means for the colleges to raise that money themselves. Natural justice surely will lead us to accept that if one denies or takes away from an institution a certain amount of money to which it has been entitled, one should not deny it the chance by legislation to raise the money in other ways. It is like making someone

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walk the plank and then introducing legislation that they should not be thrown a lifeline. I am not particularly advocating top-up fees. In fact, as the noble Lord, Lord Plant, said, that would make Oxford even more elitist, as it were. But that may well be the policy that the colleges will have to follow. I say to the noble Baroness that the colleges are old corporate institutions and have rights which go back a long way. To take away their right to charge fees, particularly when the Government are incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into our own domestic legislation, will lead the Government into something of a mess. I hope very much that the Government will take cognisance of what has been said in this debate this afternoon and decide that, as we are fortunate enough in having great institutions like Oxford and Cambridge, built up by centuries of devotion and scholarship, we should not harm them. You do not improve the worst by hitting at the best.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, on behalf of the whole House may I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on a brilliant maiden speech. I would of course have expected no less from someone who has occupied so many of the senior offices of state and who has even given his name to a day. Training days for staff in all our state schools are invariably known now as "Baker Days". So we look forward to hearing a great deal more from the Lord with a day to his name.

I now propose to do something that I have never done in your Lordships' House before. I propose to make a short speech slowly. Each Oxford and Cambridge college is autonomous. That is recognised by HEFCE's refusal to give full weight in the research assessment exercise to college-based researchers who were not also university employees. That was treating them like convicts in Dartmoor required to sew mailbags for nothing. But even if colleges themselves cease to receive money from the state, either through fees or otherwise, they will continue to benefit from the funds which the state provides to their two universities. Even apart from the payments for the services which a college provides for the university, most of the earned income of a typical college fellow is provided by the university. Colleges will therefore remain accountable to the country for their policies and in particular for their admissions policies.

Both Oxford and Cambridge admit more undergraduates from the independent sector than from the state sector, yet even among the school leavers with three "A"s at A-level, there are many more from the state sector than from the independent sector. Oxbridge colleges argue that they can only admit those who apply to them and many of the best students from state schools do not apply. That is true. The usual reason for that is that they believe that Oxbridge would not welcome them. Colleges must therefore make a greater effort to attract such students even if it means admitting fewer of those students who are photographed each summer staggering out of their final examinations clutching their Moet et Chandon or their Veuve Cliquot.

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The cost of college fees at Oxford and Cambridge is presumably now a charge on the overall higher education budget and thus the fees are in direct competition with the other needs of higher education. It is therefore logical to place on the Higher Education Funding Council the responsibility for taking account of the collegiate structures of these two universities, whether through the college fees or otherwise. That would involve adding to the existing block grant to that council the £35 million which college fees currently cost.

The University Grants Committee was set up after the First World War to ensure that while the government provided financial support to the university system, Ministers could not show favouritism between one university and another. In the legislation which transformed the UGC first into the UFC and then into the three higher education funding councils, one consistent theme has been that Ministers must not influence the distribution of block grant to individual universities. Indeed, their general power to give directions to the funding council specifically excludes any power to give directions about the level of funding of any individual university. That is a matter for the funding councils--and for the funding councils alone. Ministers can properly be concerned with the mode by which the two collegiate universities are funded, although I believe that even that would be better left to the funding council.

My noble friend the Minister responsible for higher education has asked the Higher Education Funding Council for England to report to her on the future funding of Oxford and Cambridge. It is hard to believe that that is simply idle curiosity. There is widespread concern that she may be about to breach the spirit of the legislation and perhaps even the letter of it. This House is entitled to expect from her an assurance that she will not seek to influence in any way the decisions of the funding council about the grants to individual universities, whether Oxford, Cambridge or any other.

4.21 p.m.

Lord Lewis of Newnham: My Lords, I must first congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely and the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking, on their maiden speeches. From today's performance, we can clearly look forward with considerable expectations to their contributions in future.

Before discussing the topic under consideration, I fear that I must declare an interest. I have been the head of a Cambridge college for the past 23 years and a professor of chemistry at Cambridge for 25 years. My college, which is the most recent foundation in Cambridge, would certainly fall into the so-called "poor" class of college and we are heavily dependent on college fees to maintain teaching and research programmes. Like the noble Lord, Lord Porter of Luddenham, I have had experience of teaching at other universities. I have taught at five other universities in this country. I am not a graduate of either Oxford or Cambridge. As a chemist, I have had the opportunity to visit at least 35 chemistry departments as an external

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adviser, so I think that I can speak with a certain degree of expertise at least with regard to chemistry in this country.

What worries me in part about today's debate is that terrible misconceptions occur with regard to what really happens at Oxford and Cambridge. Indeed, those misconceptions almost verge on myths. Perhaps I may quote Claude Bernard:

    "It is what we think we know that keeps us from knowing".

I am afraid that, in many instances, that is one of the problems facing us today.

I should like to become domestic and to focus my remarks on two areas: the relationship between the colleges and the position of postgraduate courses in the university at both the teaching and the research degree level--it is extremely easy to say that the colleges have little influence in that area--and on the position of overseas students, which has not yet been touched on in your Lordships' debate.

I turn first to the situation with regard to chemistry. The chemistry department in Cambridge is arguably one of the top three or four chemistry departments in the world. I am sure that others may disagree. When we make comparisons, it is with places such as Harvard, Berkeley and other such institutions. One of the strengths within the department is its close relationship with other science departments in the university and the degree of interdisciplinary work that is being carried out. The college system is one of the most effective mechanisms for facilitating interaction between the various workers. I have a group that works in part in chemistry and in part at the Cavendish physics laboratory on a topic. The generation of such interaction was very much due to collegiate sources.

Perhaps I should emphasise that in my other universities it was often difficult to interact with other departments. Indeed, professorial standing was required before I was allowed into other departments. That makes the possibility of discussion extremely difficult for young junior members of staff. Many university departments--although not all, by any means--are independent and often verge on being isolated empires. In Oxbridge, the collegiate system provides an effective mechanism to overcome that isolationism.

It is important to appreciate that today major advances in the sciences are occurring at the interface between different disciplines. In Cambridge that is not a new phenomenon, as the noble Lord, Lord Porter, explained. Perhaps I may repeat one of his examples and refer to the solving of the DNA problem by Watson and Crick--a problem of biology which was solved in the department of physics. That is a typical example of how the collegiate system works, with its facility for undergraduate teaching and awards of fellowships. That is not an insignificant point. There are about 300 research fellowships in the university, with another 150 associated stipends coming from the colleges.

I turn now to the important matter of overseas students. I must again declare an interest in as much as I am the executive chairman of the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust and the Cambridge Overseas

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Trust. Those committees are responsible for helping with the funding of students who come to Cambridge from overseas. Their guiding light is Dr. Anil Seal, who has made a major contribution to the university by operating the programme.

The university receives about 9,500 applications per year for research or higher degrees through its Board of Graduate Studies, of which between 5,500 and 6,000--that is, two-thirds--come from overseas students. In total, about 2,500 are admitted each year. I do not want to confuse the matter with figures, but seek to give an indication of the highly selective operation that applies. The standard is normally very high and we have some extremely good students. Last year, excluding the European scene and the Ukraine and Russia, participants came from about 85 different countries. That is not an insignificant representation. About 750 of those applicants were able to obtain some partial funding with the aid of Dr. Seal. That money is often obtained via the college system--not all of it, but certainly a significant amount. The ORS award scheme is a mechanism whereby the Government have agreed to pay the difference between the fee for overseas students and that for UK students. We have about 175 such awards. In 1993 there were about 320, but that number has been reduced to reflect government funding policy and is based on a quota system. Therefore, we now doubly need to earn more money to try to find the extra money for such students.

The success of the university in attracting overseas students is of considerable importance. The spheres of influence of overseas students will spread for many years to come. I believe that that is of major importance for this country. The two main areas of attraction for them are Oxbridge, if I may use the generic term, and London.

Finally--I hope that your Lordships will excuse me for taking a little longer than is allowed--perhaps I may point out that the position with regard to college fees is not a new one. We have been discussing this for the past 20 years in various--

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