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Lord Annan: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that there is one difference between Oxford and Cambridge and the civic universities? It is that the civic universities have a post of senior lectureship which does not exist at Oxford or Cambridge. If there were to be a redistribution, I hope that the noble Lord would agree that the post of senior lectureship should be abolished.

Lord Desai: My Lords, I might like to agree with the noble Lord. If we have to go into the differences, there are many more differences that I should like to abolish, including the high table and free dinners, but I cannot go into that.

4.52 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, like other noble Lords I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his balanced and humorous maiden speech. He came to the Bench of Bishops after a distinguished academic career, and it is good that we shall now have the benefit of his judicious mind in this House. I should like also to express my appreciation for the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Baker of Dorking. With his long experience of public life, he clearly has a great deal to offer to the House.

Like other noble Lords, I have close connections with both Oxford and Cambridge, but my relationship to the University of London is no less close or fond. Furthermore, within the Diocese of Oxford there are six universities, not just one, all of which matter. I am concerned with higher education as a whole, and do not believe that maintaining the particular excellence of Oxford and Cambridge should detract from, or be seen to detract from, the distinctive ethos and excellence of those other universities.

My first concern, if the extra money that Oxford and Cambridge at present receive is taken away or drastically reduced, is that inevitably they will become the preserve of the wealthy. I listened with great attention to the noble Lord, Lord Desai. The arguments he put forward have to be attended to carefully. He seemed to imply that if that money were taken away Oxford and Cambridge would collapse or a good number of colleges would collapse. That is not true. What will happen is that sooner or later they will be allowed to charge more, and they will merely become a club for the wealthy. That would mean excluding those other students who are there now on academic ability alone, because their parents would not be able to afford to pay that extra.

It would be sad if, as a result of government legislation, Oxford and Cambridge became a club for the relatively well off, with all that that would imply for future jobs and careers, an accentuation of the worst kind of elitism.

Then there is the college system. Students in London often have to make a long journey from halls of residence and digs. Colleges at Oxford and Cambridge

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are situated at the heart of the university: indeed, they are the heart of the university. Those colleges seek to be places of genuine community, not just providers of accommodation. Cardinal Newman's vision in The Idea of a University is as important today as when it was first formulated. That vision is of people of different academic disciplines interacting with one another, learning to live with one another, that their minds and capacity to make sound judgment might be trained and prepared for a whole range of future contexts.

Colleges provide an environment in which students studying different subjects can discuss easily with one another and their teachers in a community of learning. As the Dearing Report put it:

    "We do not believe that students will in the future see themselves simply as customers of higher education but as members of a learning community".

That is an ideal for all universities, but it already exists at Oxford and Cambridge, and we should do nothing to destroy something so fundamental to the learning process and the future good of the country. Again, to quote Dearing, that personal contact between teachers and students, as well as between students themselves:

    "gives a vitality, originality and excitement that cannot be provided by machine based learning, however excellent".

The second aspect of the collegiate system that I should like to emphasise--it is not one that has been touched on previously--is the opportunities that it provides to contribute to the wider community. Staff do that, and so do the students. In Oxford, undergraduates can go to places such as Blackbird Leas to help in literacy programmes. They can become involved with housing and homeless issues. Of course students everywhere can do that, and many do, but in a college, being of the nature of a community, it is possible to build up an ethos in which wider concerns become part of the very air that people breathe. It is not just a question of good dinners.

For 800 years the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge were primarily training grounds for the Anglican clergy and for Anglican laymen to serve the state. That is no longer so of course, but wider concerns, very often encouraged by the college chaplain, remain a part of that milieu.

I end with the point with which I began--there are different kinds of excellence. We do not serve those other kinds by weakening the distinctive quality which Oxford and Cambridge have to offer: that distinctive quality integrally related to the college system. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, suggested that the money saved by that £35 million could purchase a certain number of junior lecturers or research students. I should like to bet that were that £35 million taken away it would not be redistributed in such a way. All of us, whichever universities we represent, should be fighting together to improve the quality of university education as a whole in this country. We should stand together on that. We do not serve the cause of all other universities by thinking that Oxford and Cambridge can lose with impunity £35 million. It would be a highly retrograde step if, in the future, those colleges could be afforded only by the wealthy.

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I hope that a way can be found of safeguarding those universities, and what they offer, on the basis of academic ability alone.

Lord St. John of Fawsley: My Lords, before the right reverend Prelate finishes, does he accept that were there a Bishop of Cambridge, which, unfortunately, there is not yet, he would agree with every word of what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has said?

5 p.m.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I echo the congratulations which many of your Lordships have given to the two maiden speakers, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely and my noble friend Lord Baker. I also express my gratitude and that of the whole House to my noble friend Lord Beloff for having raised the subject at this time, before the Government's intentions reach concrete form. As yet, there have been only rude and rough warning noises off stage which are a cause of concern. Of course, people make strange speeches on windy days at the seaside in October, but the attitude of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at Brighton appeared to give cause for concern.

Your Lordships may be aware--I was not until recently--of a gem of a remark made by no less a person than the chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council. He said that colleges must learn,

    "to migrate to a lower resource level".

It is sad to think that anyone who is remotely connected with education would lower himself to using such appalling language. I believe that what he was saying can be translated into two sentences: first, "You can't have the money you need.", and, secondly, "Mediocrity is acceptable; excellence is beyond us".

It has rightly been said that colleges are not mere halls of residence; they are places and institutions of teaching in which people grow up and receive all kinds of unknown and almost intangible benefits. It seems to me that they seek to provide the best for those whom a rigorous system of selection has indicated as being the best. That is said to be elitism. It seems to me that a nation which does not have an elite--and I do not refer to an elite of birth--and is unable to develop one will be very much the poorer for it. Perhaps without causing the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, any great offence I may say that from listening to her speak, observing the way in which she bears herself and the authority which she has developed she is obviously a member of the elite, although one which has surprisingly strayed.

There are those who believe not only in fairness in the sense of equality for all, but who wish to go further and to have absolute equality in that if a good thing is not available to everyone nobody shall have it. Procrustes would seem to be an excellent leader for such people. Your Lordships will recall that amiable gentleman, a brigand of ancient Greece, who possessed a bed. He made a practice of kidnapping people. Those who were too long for the bed were cut down to size and those who were too short were stretched until they achieved the necessary dimensions.

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I wish to be reasonably careful in what I say. I have heard from sources both in Oxford and Cambridge that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is not regarded as an impartial judge in these matters; that on too many occasions she has declared her own hostility to Oxford and Cambridge and to the colleges therein. I hope that in winding up she will say that she has none of those feelings and I will gladly accept that denial.

Oxford and Cambridge colleges are not halls of residence, nor are they centres of wealth and privilege, despite what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and others. Some of them are very poor and I propose to conclude my remarks by quoting from a letter which I received from the Master of Fitzwilliam College, one of the poorer colleges of Cambridge. He pointed out that 70 per cent. of its students come from the state sector and that college fees amount to 40 per cent. of its income. He gave the interesting fact that 800 people were interviewed for 135 places for October this year. No government money goes to upkeep, maintenance or improvement of the buildings. That does not indicate any great excessive privilege.

I wish to quote two sentences from the master's letter. First, he stated:

    "We consider our students excellent, also they are an elite, but an academic elite, not a social elite as often implied by that much abused word.".

The second sentence states:

    "It is my belief that the Oxford and Cambridge colleges provide a unique and superlative tutorial system which, together with learning opportunities supplied in the two Universities, provide the best education available in the UK and, arguably, in the world".

I earnestly hope that the Government will not allow themselves to be swayed by the understandable prejudices and meannesses of those who would seek to take the guts out of venerable but useful and valuable institutions, which are the envy of the world. If they do so, they will be much blamed for a very long time to come.

5.6 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, I usually enjoy very much the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, but I regret his personal attack on my noble friend the Minister, who has a reputation for looking at issues objectively. The issue that we are debating today is important and I hope that all of us can subscribe to the sentiment of safeguarding the future of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. But the debate must also be about diversity, quality and, I suggest, equity.

Diversity has been one of the strengths of our higher education system and one which I hope will continue. But there are a number of factors in that diversity. The collegiate system, with its individual tutorials, is one; no doubt the oldest and most valued, especially by those who have benefited from it. Others have developed in more recent times, but are no less valuable for that. As the higher education sector has expanded more centres of excellence have emerged, as was said by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely in his most thoughtful and welcome maiden speech.

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Some universities have specialised and excelled in particular subjects in both teaching and research, without the resources of Oxford and Cambridge. There has been emphasis on new technologies by the former CATs; innovation in new subjects of real relevance to today's world; and widening links abroad--Oxford and Cambridge are by no means the only universities which have important links abroad--either by students coming here or by taking our higher education system to other countries. There have been strengthened links with industry in general and with particular companies.

Most universities have their own strengths and specialities which are perceived by students in making their choice of institution, sometimes to the surprise of their parents. In all that, the strengths of Oxford and Cambridge are apparent in both research and in the best of the teaching in those institutions. They stand high by international standards of excellence and bring a prestige which reflects on the system as a whole.

Therefore, the question is: how can we safeguard that situation without prejudicing the fairness, universality and equity of the funding system? In putting their case, advocates of Oxford and Cambridge say that £35 million is minuscule when compared with the total HE budget. Equally, it is minuscule when compared with the collective wealth of those two universities. Or, to put the matter in another way, it is equal, for example, to the total income from funding council grants for 1995-96 to the University of Durham, which also has a collegiate system.

I know that not all colleges are wealthy, especially the women's colleges, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, reminded us. But we are discussing universities as an entity, and surely there is a responsibility on the central body to assist those which are not so wealthy. I was glad to learn from the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in his opening remarks, that steps are being taken to do that. But in the light of that and in the light of the decline in the unit of resource by something like 40 per cent. and the pending introduction of the £1,000 student tuition fee, the claims of Oxford and Cambridge must be balanced.

Dearing was aware of the complexity of the situation and recommended that the position of the two universities be reviewed by HEFCE in the light of the two principles set out in recommendation No. 74. The Government have done that, and in a press release dated 5th November, the funding council also signalled that,

    "it would wish to consider, as one of its new initiatives, introducing a premium for teaching quality. This would be applied across the higher education sector in England, benefiting the two universities and other institutions offering excellent provision.".

That might go some way--I do not suggest it would go the whole way--to help to safeguard the position of Oxford and Cambridge and, at the same time, would address an important measure of quality in our system. The noble Lord, Lord Baker, whose maiden speech was robust and perhaps a little controversial, indicated that there could be problems in establishing an effective system of measuring quality. That may be so, but it is essential that we introduce such a system as soon as possible and all the partners in the higher education system are wedded to that concept.

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Therefore, I hope that when the funding council brings its advice in the very near future, it will be possible to resolve the position of Oxford and Cambridge without breaking the principle of equity but without destroying the quality of those two universities.

5.14 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Beloff for providing us with this opportunity to debate the future of the universities at Oxford and Cambridge. We have been privileged to hear two outstanding maiden speeches today.

Like other noble Lords, I must declare a personal interest both as graduate of the University of Cambridge and an honorary fellow of my old college, Girton, and now as president of Lucy Cavendish College in the University of Cambridge. Unlike some of my noble friends, I have total confidence that this Government, and in particular the Minister, are committed to sustaining excellence wherever it is found. The Minister's previous distinguished record in higher education puts that beyond doubt.

I see today in the newspapers headlines about the Oxbridge gold-plated towers. That is not the experience of my college. Lucy Cavendish College is dedicated wholly to increasing access for mature women. It was founded in 1965 and by a happy stroke of timing, it received its Royal Charter from Her Majesty yesterday, thus replacing the college of the noble Lord, Lord Lewis, as Cambridge's newest college. It has by far the single largest concentration of mature women within the university and that makes it an irreverent, vibrant and exciting place to work. We have no high table; the fellows are called by their first names and are indistinguishable in age from the students.

The students come from a variety of backgrounds and each has a powerful story to tell. It is an unusual woman who, at the age of 30, 40 or 50, can match the intellectual speech and academic sharpness of the bright and high-achieving 18 year-olds who make up the majority of student entrants to Cambridge. Persuading such women that they can hold their own in Cambridge and providing them with the confidence and support necessary for them to succeed is the job which the college admissions tutor, directors of studies and college lecturers perform with great skill and commitment every working day.

I should like to tell your Lordships the story of some of those students. The first is one of our first-year entrants this autumn. She is a woman in her late twenties who ran away from an abusing father when she was 16. She lived homeless on the streets of Liverpool for some years until the day when, in her own words, she felt there must be more to life. She enrolled in a sixth form college to take A-levels and worked in the evenings to make enough money for private tutoring to help her catch up.

As it so happened, the private tutor she found was a Cambridge graduate who quickly recognised her unusual intelligence and advised her that she should try

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for a place at Cambridge. He told her that Lucy Cavendish was a college for mature women like herself. However, she then consulted her sixth-form tutor who said, "Cambridge, that is a place for snobs and rich kids. Give me a match and I'll burn the place down tomorrow". She returned to her tutor in great distress and said, "I don't think I could possibly fit in there. I am a scouser off the streets and my teacher tells me that Cambridge is for snobs and rich kids". Her tutor said, "Cambridge isn't like that any more. Go to Lucy Cavendish and see for yourself". She did; we offered her a place; she achieved three "A" grades at A-level; and I have every confidence that she will be an outstanding success in her career.

Another student came to us from the Armed Forces. She too was told by her friends, "Cambridge is a place for officers. You are only of the ranks. They will never take you and if they do, you will never fit in". She was recently able to tell a group of those same friends, "There is no elitism here. The only elitism is of highly motivated and intelligent women determined to succeed".

A third student is now in the second year of her law degree. She says of her own experience, "I had lived and worked in Cambridge for several years in different jobs until I realised it was time to settle down and find a real career. I went to further education college and took two A-levels and achieved an A grade in them both. That gave me the courage to apply to Cambridge even though, as a mature, black woman, wanting to become a barrister, I knew the going would be tough. The workload is huge and challenging but I say to myself, 'If I can cope with the work here, I can cope with anything'" and, my Lords, she is coping very well indeed.

The last student that I should like to tell your Lordships about is now studying for her Ph.D at Lucy Cavendish, having come to us four-and-a-half years ago to start her undergraduate degree. Our cockney sparrow, as she calls herself, lived all her life in the East End of London. She had worked for several years as a barmaid before she felt that she would like to take her newly discovered love of English literature into a more formal framework. She also registered at a further education college, taking three A-levels in one year and achieving three A grades, from a standing start with no formal O-levels or GCSEs in the whole of her previous life.

Again, in her own words she says, "My partner drove me up to an open day at Lucy Cavendish and I fell in love both with Cambridge and with the college which accepted mature women from any kind of background". That cockney sparrow achieved a Cambridge First and intends now, when she has finished her Ph.D, to pursue a full-time academic career.

I am proud of these women and proud of their achievements. I am also proud that Cambridge University has a place for them, and for a college like Lucy Cavendish. It distresses me greatly when I hear people say that Cambridge is only for the privileged, or the rich. It is of course elite in the sense that it accepts only the very bright and very motivated: but intellect and motivation are not the preserve of any one social class; we prove that every day.

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I feel very privileged to be president of a college which succeeds in attracting, supporting, teaching and retraining women of the magnificent quality, humour, wit and courage which our students manifest in all aspects of their lives. Many of them are coping with family commitments of young children or elderly parents; many of them have mortgaged their homes, sold their cars, cashed in their insurance policies, borrowed from family and friends, in order to come to Cambridge to study there. The world would be a very much poorer place without them. Many have gone on to resounding success in business and in public life: all have gone forward into much changed careers and lives, providing themselves, their families, and this country with an intellectual wealth without which no civilised country could survive.

I have tried to give brief pen portraits of four Cambridge undergraduates who are personally known to me, and who form part of the fabric of Cambridge life. There is still an uninformed minority of critics who, like the sixth-form teacher of my first student, might say, "Give me a match and I'll burn the place down". But such people do not speak for anything except their own unhappy envy and resentment. The reality of Cambridge lies in the experience of students such as those I have described and hundreds of their fellows who have found, as one of my students said to me only the other day, that,

    "everybody can fit in here, provided they have the brains--and the sense to use them".

5.20 p.m.

Lord Weidenfeld: My Lords, I should like to speak briefly about a factor of growing importance to university finance--private sponsorship and, particularly, foreign sponsorship. The collegiate tradition and the tutorial system of Oxford and Cambridge are not only a determining attraction for many overseas students, they are also particularly interesting to foreign sponsors, the private sector, business companies, foundations and foreign governments.

I speak with some experience because during the past six or seven years I have been closely involved with the Oxford Development Programme, keeping in continuous contact with European and especially German benefactors. As one rather munificent foreign supporter of Oxford put it rather robustly, perhaps even indelicately:

    "We want to pay for our young people to have the benefit of a highly individual education that differs from our own impersonal knowledge factories".

He had in mind extended classrooms, the fact that students do not meet their teachers and that, at best, they learn to accumulate knowledge, not to argue in dissent or to discuss issues with their teachers. Those perceptions are borne out by the steep rise in applications and entries to Oxford. Applications from Germany and France have jumped by 50 per cent. in the past five years. In the current academic year there are now 354 students from Germany, a figure that is only exceeded by students from the United States.

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The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, mentioned cost effectiveness in his comparison of international costing. Oxford is not only less than half as expensive as MIT, Harvard or Stanford, but France, with its endorsement of intellectual meritocratic elitism, is much more generous than we are. The idea of more private universities springing up in places like Italy, Spain or even Germany is a very interesting new phenomenon. As the noble Lord, Lord Dahrendorf, put it, there is a feeling of a downward spiralling of intellectual standards in the state-run universities.

It is generally recognised that the considerable intellectual resources of Oxford and Cambridge allow for a flexibility and variety of courses, curricular and extra-curricular, which benefit mid-career students and appeal to multinational corporations and foreign governments. A hampering and restricting of the methods of teaching of Oxford and Cambridge would not necessarily benefit other British universities so far as concerns private and foreign sponsors. It would most likely head them off into other directions abroad.

As a world class university in the lingua franca, overseas students, especially from the Far East, regard Oxford as a gateway to a wider Europe. It is noteworthy that Oxford, which has traditionally focused its efforts on the English-speaking world, has now opened itself up to a wider preoccupation with European postgraduate studies. It would be the height of paradox if we were now to jeopardise or at best reduce the status of Oxford and Cambridge as European world-class universities at the very time when our government make a strong claim to a leading role in Europe, a role which they can only justify by demonstrably backing academic centres of excellence.

5.25 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede: My Lords, I should like, first, to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, for giving us the opportunity to debate the funding of Oxford and Cambridge. The issue is that students at Oxford and Cambridge receive just under 50 per cent. more than average students at other universities. That is a big differential and is what we are really discussing this afternoon. It would have been quite wrong if the Government had not arranged for the review. After all, it was recommended in the Dearing Report and I believe it is an issue which should be addressed most thoroughly.

Special pleading is never an attractive argument, although we have heard some very eloquent special pleading today. I recognise much of what the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, said. In particular, I recognise much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said in her speech. It so happens that a friend of mine has just gone to her college as a mature student and I hope that she will make the best of the facilities available to her.

I speak as one of the very few speakers in today's debate who has no association with either Oxford or Cambridge. I went to red brick universities, including Imperial College, to which someone referred earlier. Nevertheless, I can say quite honestly that some of my closest friends did go to Oxford and Cambridge. I say

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in all humility that I do recognise that they are of the higher standard; indeed, they are now making very distinguished contributions in their chosen professions. I took it upon myself to talk to many of my friends about their experiences at Oxford and Cambridge. To be honest, they defended the extra cash available to the universities, but they defended far more vigorously the tutorial system through which they had been educated. They were a little more reticent about defending the money.

The gist of what I want to say is simply that I wish to remind noble Lords that there are other elite institutions that can surpass Oxford and Cambridge in what they actually produce as opposed to what they actually cost. I believe that it is absolutely right that the HEFCE should reflect that in the recommendations that it makes. I must say that I was most attracted to the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Desai that the top 10 universities should compete for the £38 million. That seems to me to be fair.

What I really want to talk about is my perspective as an employer. I spend quite a lot of my time interviewing people. As I have said in previous debates in this House, I am an engineer and a manager in a small oil company. I recruit engineers, geologists and, occasionally, accountants to work as expatriates in Russia. I tend to look for people with about 15 years' experience. Just between noble Lords and myself, I can say that we pay them about £100,000 a year. So we can reasonably expect to attract top quality candidates.

I spent this morning looking through the files of the CVs that I have received over the past four years. So far as concerns accountants, there is a complete spread with only a few from Oxford. If there is any preference, it tends to be towards the Scottish universities; indeed, we do seem to get quite a lot of accountants from them. As regards engineers, Imperial College comes top of the league quite easily. We have also had a number of applicants from Cambridge and also from Heriot-Watt and Leeds. It is not surprising that those universities are strongly represented because they have good mineral departments. I have to admit that I have never received a CV from an Oxford-educated engineer. I do not know where they all go, perhaps they all become accountants. They certainly do not apply to my firm for a job.

As regards geologists, Imperial again is well represented. Oxford and Cambridge are also well represented but, funnily enough, Kingston Polytechnic is also well represented. That polytechnic has a strong geology course. A couple of our current employees have taken that course. We have just recruited a sedimentologist from Birkbeck College. He managed to overcome much strong competition as a result of that sedimentology course. His qualifications were exactly what we were looking for.

As an employer I recognise that there are elite institutions and I believe that there is a compelling argument for preferential funding for them. There are some 10 or a dozen elite institutions. I spoke to my manager about this matter today. He used to be the chief

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engineer at Shell which, of course, is one of the largest recruiters in Britain. He told me that when he was chief engineer at Shell it recruited from about 12 universities across Britain, although he added that that might have changed in recent years. Oxford and Cambridge were included, of course, in those 12 universities, but Shell tried to recruit from a far wider net.

It is absolutely right that the HEFCE should recognise this breadth of excellence in our universities and should fund that accordingly. Special pleading is not the right way to proceed. Excellence needs to be demonstrated. I have no doubt that Oxbridge can demonstrate its excellence.

5.31 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, first I wish to thank my noble friend Lord Beloff for introducing this debate on the future of Oxford and Cambridge. As an Emeritus professor of the University of Cambridge and an Emeritus fellow of one of the graduate colleges of Cambridge, I feel it would be rather presumptuous of me to claim that Oxford and Cambridge are superior to the rest of the universities in this country. Enough people have already done that this afternoon and have made comparisons, some of which have been objective and some of which have been subjective.

Many of the objections to the system at Oxford and Cambridge are the fruit of a complete misunderstanding or a lack of understanding of the collegiate system in these two universities. Sometimes it is difficult to understand what goes on in the university system when one is within it, let alone without it. I particularly wish to address an issue raised in the Dearing Report. Recommendation No. 74 asks: do college fees represent a good use of resources? A corollary to that is: would their elimination be detrimental to the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge? In particular I wish to refer to medical and veterinary education in the University of Cambridge. I have 15 years' experience of these subjects in an Ivy League university in North America and some 20 years in Cambridge.

As regards access to Cambridge, admissions are through the various colleges. It is a multi-portal system of entry compared with the single portal entry system of almost everywhere else that I know of. I have often been asked: how can you tolerate not being in charge of admissions to your school or department? However, it works well and certainly guards against narrow selection procedures that may be subtly introduced through the one portal system of entry. In Cambridge the ratio of independent school students to state school students in medicine is 50:50. In the veterinary course the ratio is 60:40 in favour of state school students.

However, these figures hide facts about the entry of mature students. My noble friend Lady Perry mentioned those students. Quite a number of students who apply to the graduate colleges are not part of the national assessment whether they come from the state or maintained system. Some make quite heroic efforts to gain entry to the University of Cambridge through a college and most usually show great distinction

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thereafter in their studies. They are provided with a second chance, having failed initially, to enter the colleges directly from school.

An overpowering influence and attribute of the multi-portal system to my mind is that the newly admitted student mixes immediately with people from many other disciplines. He mixes with philosophers, natural scientists, engineers and the like. He also mixes not only with junior members of the college but also senior members, right up to the master or the president. Such students participate in college society and activities, possibly at a level of achievement well below that demanded by the university teams or societies. The college system also enables a student to change his or her mind as regards the course that was initially undertaken. A number of people switch from natural sciences to medicine and from medicine to other subjects. That usually occurs in the first year but it also occurs in other years too. The completion rate of courses in Cambridge is high. In medicine and in veterinary medicine it is 98 per cent. People drop out usually only for medical reasons or simply because an individual has decided that a course is not for him or her.

My final comments concern the graduate colleges which were established largely after the Second World War to attend to the needs of graduate students and mature students. They cater for a substantial number of overseas graduate students, as well as home based students. They provide accommodation, study facilities, computer terminals and the rest for 52 weeks a year. They rely particularly on fees for about 50 per cent. of their income. Because they are recent foundations they have little endowment and because of the 52 weeks a year commitment to graduate students they have little opportunity to mount commercial enterprises such as conferences, as the other, older undergraduate colleges do.

I return to the question of Recommendation No. 74: are college fees a good use of resources? To my mind the answer must be unequivocally, "Yes, they are". Their abolition would do some colleges, particularly the graduate colleges, great harm. I echo the observation of my noble friend Lord Beloff that if Oxford and Cambridge have to go in the direction of increased private funding, with its obvious and well stated danger, it must be well supported by scholarship and sufficient time must be allowed to bring that about.

5.38 p.m.

Lord Gibson: My Lords, I suppose it is not strictly necessary to declare a non-pecuniary interest. I do so only because I want to acknowledge my debt to Oxford, and it gives me great pleasure to do so. I graduated at Magdalen in the 1930s. I am an honorary fellow of the college which gives me huge pleasure. I am the father of four sons who all graduated from Magdalen. Therefore noble Lords could be forgiven for thinking that I am in any way parti pris as regards the subject we are discussing today. I have no academic experience or particular qualifications to speak today. I can echo only what other noble Lords have said and give that my support. I shall do so as briefly as possible as I can introduce no new points.

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Apart from the quality of the Oxford and Cambridge colleges as historic places--that historic fabric is, of course, extremely expensive to maintain--I feel (like nearly all noble Lords who have spoken so far this afternoon) that the college and tutorial experience is a unique one for undergraduates. It is certainly not the only way to educate the ablest; but it is a very good way simply because, at its best, it stretches students as perhaps no other system can. And, as was repeatedly said, college life is an education in itself.

The system is, no doubt, too expensive to be extended to all universities--even assuming that all universities would want it. Do we therefore think that what is available to only a few, most of whom are already advantaged in other ways, should be destroyed if it cannot be made available to all? Should public funds be distributed on so inequitable a basis?

As the noble Lord, Lord Beloff reminded us, France has a clear-cut reply to such a question. The noble Lord reminded us that it funds the grande ecole at three times the level of other schools. It does so because it believes that it needs an elite.

If the collegiate system is threatened, how much does that threaten the future of Oxford and Cambridge? Does their future depend on the collegiate and tutorial system? I suppose that, ultimately, good universities would emerge at Oxford and Cambridge after the destruction of their present mode of operation. However, for all the reasons so eloquently stated, I should regard such destruction, and the consequent change in the character of Oxbridge, as a humiliating national loss--even worse than the loss of one of our London opera houses, which now seems to be contemplated. The noble Lord, Lord Porter, said that no one questioned the need for artistic excellence. I assure the noble Lord that there are people who question it every day when it is paid for out of public funds. However, that is not the subject of our debate.

The loss of the special character of Oxbridge seems quite unnecessary. Surely we should try to find a fairer way to finance the retention of the system that has given Oxford and Cambridge their character and made them the national assets that they undoubtedly are. That can be done if all universities are allowed to determine their own fee and scholarship levels and charge in the way that Oxford and Cambridge always have. Why should the basic government subsidy not be available to all universities on the basis of that freedom? If the college and tutorial systems are essential to the function and character of Oxbridge, I have no doubt that the colleges could find the extra money that is needed to sustain them, given time and the freedom to charge.

Time is of the essence; it is crucial. If change is to come about, it must be introduced gradually. Although I realise that this view may not meet with favour in every quarter, it might be best to freeze the top-up grant at its present level and let time and inflation erode it gradually, as they have eroded the value of government grants in so many other areas. At 3 per cent. per annum, it would be gone in a generation. If that is too long for the egalitarians, let us agree a shorter period with the universities so that they can plan ahead to adapt and replace the top-up money.

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If we want to ensure that what Oxford and Cambridge have to offer is available more widely to the population as a whole, surely that objective can be secured by a system of loans at inexpensive rates, as suggested by Professor Eric Ash in yesterday's Times. In short, they need time to adjust and freedom to charge extra for the extra that they offer. That is what Oxbridge needs, and what I hope it will be granted.

5.44 p.m.

Lord Winston: My Lords, we are all deeply grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, for introducing this important debate. It has been of a high standard, if, inevitably, somewhat repetitive. I attended the same school as the noble Lord, as did the noble Lord, Lord Baker. I suspect that I did not have the same history master for several reasons--one of which was undoubtedly the fact that I was in a less able stream than either the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, or the noble Lord, Lord Baker, whose maiden speech we greatly enjoyed. I must declare an interest in that I have spent 25 years in higher education or research, all of which was conducted outside Oxbridge. I come from one of those other institutions referred to--at least, I now come from one of them; namely, the Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine.

Some years ago I was approached by either Oxford or Cambridge to throw my hat into the ring and apply for a chair. I considered the matter and decided that the university was arcane, inbred, self-satisfied, smug and no real place for me. After some 10 minutes, I decided not to send in my CV. The truth is, I suspected I should probably not be considered for the job anyway.

But that outside impression of Oxbridge is a very false one, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, so eloquently testified. We are talking about truly outstanding institutions which are models of university education, not merely in this country but throughout the world. If you visit Cambridge in Massachusetts, you are struck by the fact that there has been an attempt to model it on another Cambridge, closer to home--albeit somewhat colder, at least at this time of year. On virtually every assessment, both universities have a rating that is consistently excellent. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, in his criticism of the HEFCE ratings. They are not totally adequate, but they are the best that we can do. They are, after all, produced on an independent assessment, examining excellence throughout all universities. Quite how one establishes one's reputation as regards HEFCE may well vary. One can legitimately select what one wants to represent, as all institutions will have to do in order to receive their very high rating. Imperial College needs Oxford and Cambridge just so that from time to time we can say, "Look, we actually beat them and got a five-star rating in medicine".

One point that was not mentioned is that Oxford and Cambridge contribute in a very real way to higher education outside, and that is very important. They are a paradigm, a model. The method of thinking that is bred in Cambridge and Oxford is very special. We apply

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that model and try to achieve the same method with postgraduate students in my own institution. We attempt, in a very small way in one course that I run, to imitate the tutorial system. It is a very poor second best; nevertheless, it tries to some extent to model itself on the Oxbridge system.

Another point not previously mentioned is that academic institutions are extremely fragile and, as a result, when they are threatened, it has a very serious effect on the whole ethos--all the relationships within those institutions. In my time I have been in two institutions that were threatened and I have seen the serious effect on every aspect of the work: research, teaching and recruitment. If we are to examine the role and funding of Oxford and Cambridge, it is important to do it very carefully and with extreme caution. If there is a need for redistribution, which has yet to be proved, it has to be examined over a period of time. It should not be done suddenly.

We in this country believe implicitly in selectivity. It is the very core of our economic arguments. Our economy cannot be internationally competitive unless we continue to educate on a selective basis. Of course we want to be an equal society; of course we need to have that morality. But, in the long term, we must concern ourselves with the idea that we might damage something which, in turn, could damage our national economy.

One of the questions that must be asked is: would a greater spread of the £38 million through more institutions undoubtedly benefit the education system as a whole? That has to be proved. Until we can clearly demonstrate that, we must be very cautious about damaging those institutions--as they undoubtedly would be damaged if the status quo were to be disturbed.

I joined the Labour Party because I believe in a fair society. But a fair society does not mean that people are equal in every respect. I deprecate the rather personal remarks made to the Minister, a person whom I deeply respect and who has a most difficult job. She is trying to protect our higher education and to arrive at solutions to extremely complex problems. She is particularly able and highly intelligent--qualities which are the very essence of our education system. We select people for institutions and for other situations. Things are not entirely equal. In our efforts to be fair, we must not level down; we must find ways of levelling up in our education system. If this small sum of money is to be redistributed, we must ask ourselves whether we can demonstrate that it would serve to level up the system. Before we do that, we need to evaluate the evidence extremely carefully.

5.51 p.m.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I agree with much of the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Winston, particularly his remark about the demoralising effect on a big university like Oxford or Cambridge that such a retrenchment--even if it is only £18 million for one university and £19 million for the other--would have on the affairs and running of those universities, possibly quite out of proportion to the size of the cut.

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Perhaps I may quote from a letter which I received from the president of my old college at Oxford:

    "An internationally respected standard would be destroyed spectacularly--to the loss of our universities as a whole. Colleges which survived would have to retrench on research fellows and grants, thus removing a nursery of national and international academic talent".

This is perhaps particularly the noble Lord's point:

    "Oxford and Cambridge would be too 'overfull of self affairs' of the utmost urgency not to say too demoralised by widespread sackings, to play any part in the Secretary of State's educational strategies for our country".

There is a danger that those results could flow from a decision to cut back on the share of public funding that goes to college fees.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, and my noble friend and past colleague, Lord Baker of Dorking, I too went to Magdalen College, Oxford. Rather like my noble friend Lord Beloff, my family's connection with Magdalen stretches over 80 years, from 1910 to 1990, three generations and six members of the family having gone there. One was killed in the First World War, one obtained a First and another rowed for two years in the Oxford boat.

During that time Oxford underwent the kind of change that my noble friend Lord Beloff spoke of. When my elder uncle was there before the First World War it was certainly not incumbent on him to take a degree. The president of the college at the time was one Sir Herbert Warren. The Japanese ambassador approached him to see whether the college would be a suitable home for the son of the Japanese Emperor but was rather unimpressed by the amount of attention he was given by Sir Herbert, and said: "You do realise that in Japan the Emperor's son is regarded as the son of God?" Sir Herbert Warren replied: "We are quite accustomed to having distinguished undergraduates at Magdalen".

By the time my youngest daughter went to Magdalen, she had to work hard to get there; she worked hard to get a 2:1 in languages, and when she left she was lucky enough to obtain fairly quickly a job with an international pharmaceutical company. She is now--perhaps slightly to her father's worry--working in television. I believe that shows, in a family context, the change that the college underwent in those years.

At this stage in this very interesting debate, I, like many others, face a dilemma. Those of us who went to Oxbridge want to see our colleges grow and prosper. In that context I pay enormous tribute to the present president of Magdalen, Tony Smith, for what he has done to raise money for new buildings, such as the Grove buildings in the deer park. But equally--and one feels this very strongly, listening to the debate--we want to share the privilege of the superb education that we enjoyed with as many as possible who would benefit from that kind of education. I stress the word "benefit". It would be a great mistake if Oxbridge were to lower their standards to make themselves more accessible.

Equally, we see the problems of other universities. I am sure that noble Lords will have seen the letters in The Times yesterday from the noble Lord, Lord Rix, chancellor of the University of East London, and Professor George Wedell, professor emeritus at the

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University of Manchester, pointing out fairly succinctly how much their universities would be helped if some of the £35 million available to Oxbridge were instead to be made available to them.

Sussex University is on my doorstep; I am on its court. Its treasurer tells me that the university has a fund to help undergraduates in great financial difficulty and that at present there are so many calls on it that the average grant is of £10.

To try to solve the problems by removing the £35 million which the Government pays for university fees is like trying to move a mountain by moving a mouse. Dearing points out that the higher education budget will be underfunded by £350 million next year and possibly by £565 million the following year. Getting at Oxbridge in the way that has been suggested would not solve that problem.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Gibson, I suggest that other routes could be looked at. First, in the noble Lord's words, the colleges should have the freedom to charge extra. It would be wholly ridiculous if they were not given permission to top up fees.

Secondly, Oxbridge students are clearly very employable. Perhaps additional loan facilities could be made available to them at low interest rates which could be made possible by a guarantee from the university.

Thirdly, colleges could look at their methods. This is indeed a non-academic walking where angels fear to tread. Perhaps it is not necessary for every college to have quite so many tutors for every subject as they do at present.

Finally, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, that we need to look at the tax rules and make it more effective and easier for those who have a lot of money to give it to the university or college of their choice. We must all be struck by the ability of American universities, orchestras and theatres to raise substantial sums of money from the private sector. As Minister for the Arts, I was always conscious of how tremendously difficult our tax system was in that respect. I hope that the Government will look at that situation and improve it.

I very much want to see the best of both worlds for Oxford and Cambridge. I do not think we shall achieve that by removing the support for fees.

5.58 p.m.

Baroness David: My Lords, I too must declare an interest, not as an academic but as a graduate of Cambridge and an honorary fellow of Newnham College, one of the three remaining single-sex colleges, Lucy Cavendish, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, spoke, being another. I am therefore particularly interested in the situation of women at the university, which has changed dramatically during the past 25 years. There are now 7,087 women students at Cambridge--44 per cent. of the student population. In 1972-73 there were 1,823--16.2 per cent. of the total. That is a remarkable statistic and a remarkable improvement. It was then that the men's colleges, led by King's College, began to take in women students.

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I should like to comment on the vital issue of access to Cambridge. The Government are absolutely right to argue that everyone who has the talent to succeed at our best universities should have access to them, irrespective of their parents' financial means. That is not just the Government's position, it is the fundamental proposition underlying the admissions policies of the colleges in Cambridge. But the Cambridge colleges understand that they face a considerable problem given the high proportion of Cambridge students who were educated at independent schools. It is a myth that Cambridge students are all public school students. Forty-eight per cent. are from the state sector, 44 per cent. from the independent sector, the remaining 8 per cent. comprising overseas students and a few others. Oxford is much the same.

I want to ask my noble friend a question: would she confirm that the university with the highest proportion of British students who have been educated at independent schools is not Oxford, is not Cambridge, but the London School of Economics? I would be grateful if she would confirm that in her reply. I should make clear that this is not to criticise the LSE. The point is that the LSE is a totally meritocratic organisation admitting students on the basis of their A-level performance, and the best private schools are very good indeed at producing good A-level performance. But the LSE has limited resources to devote to interviewing students, to seek out those who have been less well prepared but have the ability, the potential, to compete for a place. That is probably why the proportion of privately educated students is higher than that of Cambridge, which interviews all students.

It is important to remember that independent schools have changed considerably in the past 20 years. Many offer academic scholarships to the most able students in the state schools, and the assisted places scheme, now mercifully being phased out, has meant that many more of the brightest students from the maintained sector have moved to independent schools. Remember, too, that 20 per cent. of sixth-formers in the whole country are at those independent schools. They start with a great advantage.

As my noble friend is, I am sure, aware, the major problem in ensuring access to Cambridge is persuading children from poorer backgrounds to apply. That is why the Cambridge colleges make strenuous efforts to encourage applicants from schools which have never sent pupils to Cambridge before, particularly by means of the Target Schools Scheme. I know that my own college, Newnham, organises visits not only by the staff, but by students, to schools. The students can explain better to sixth-formers what it is like to be at Cambridge and reassure them about the reception they would have and the help they would get. The college has open days when pupils can come to the college so that they can see the set-up, meet staff and students and learn about what the work and the life would be like. Teachers are invited to the college, sometimes for an evening, often for several days. The difficulty is often to persuade girls

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from families where no member of the family has ever gone to university before. Their confidence needs to be built up.

The principal of Newnham told me of a visit she made to a school in Clacton quite recently where the head of the lower-sixth told her how glad he was that she had come because the head of the school particularly discouraged girls from applying.

The fear of accumulating debt has to be dispelled. Girls are often uncertain and worried about their ability to repay. This is the case particularly if they may be involved in the longer courses--medicine or architecture, for instance--and this applies to women more than to men as their jobs are often less well paid and their careers may be interrupted by bringing up children.

In 1990 the Group To Encourage Ethnic Minorities, GEEMA, was established by a group of admission tutors and the black caucus students. It has been successful. In 1995 GEEMA received a gold award for innovation from the British Diversity Awards.

In the light of all these efforts, will the Minister accept that Cambridge University is open to everyone who has the talent to secure a place? The problem is to ensure that everyone who has the talent applies to Cambridge in the first place.

6.4 p.m.

The Earl of Carlisle: My Lords, it is a pleasure, as always, to follow the noble Baroness, Lady David. I entirely agree with her points about what I would call student loans and the difficulty of repaying once one has completed one's graduation.

We owe the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, a great debt. I owe him a personal debt. I was an undergraduate at Balliol College, Oxford in 1968, at a time of student unrest. I was the holder of the university cadetship which at that time meant that the Ministry of Defence paid my tuition fees, my accommodation fees, and of course one had to serve eight years in Her Majesty's Armed Forces after graduation. That was fair.

During those years of student unrest the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, was the Gladstone Professor of Government. Lord Beloff, and his colleague, Professor Sir Michael Howard, held a seminar in All Souls College for graduates. He allowed any interested undergraduate to come and listen to the guest speakers discussing matters of international affairs and strategic studies. That, I suggest, is a very good example beyond the tutorial system where Oxford excelled. Ten years later it was necessary for me to take the staff college exam. I retained the notes that I took at the two professors' seminars and I owe them a debt as I passed the exam.

As I have said, I declare an interest in that I am a history graduate of Oxford University, but before I go further, I should like also to congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely on his excellent maiden speech. He is a walking example of an Oxford graduate going to another university and then coming back and teaching in Oxford or elsewhere. There is an enormous interchange between all the universities. They

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cross-fertilise each other, and although I believe it was necessary to have this debate, please let us not isolate Oxford and Cambridge, excellent as they may be; all other universities have much to contribute.

I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, went on to become the first vice-chancellor of the University of Buckingham, the Open University, from 1968 to 1970 where people from all walks of life, adult students, were able to obtain degrees. I recall, I think it was in Mr. Ben Pimlott's biography of the late Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, that towards the end of his life Lord Wilson said that his greatest achievement was founding the Open University. It would be a remarkable irony if Lord Wilson's successor in another place, the right honourable Member for Sedgefield, was responsible--and his government were responsible--for lowering the standards of university education which his predecessor, Lord Wilson of Rievaulx, did so much to raise.

What should we do at Oxford and Cambridge? I should like to pay tribute to two chancellors: one here today and one, alas, now dead. Between 1960 and today the two Chancellors of Oxford University have travelled round the world, long past the years of retirement, begging for money. That is a noble cause; but how sad that it has been necessary. I do not know exactly how many funds they have raised from the rest of the world but that money spent in Oxford, if it had not been raised from the rest of the world, would have been a charge on Her Majesty's Government, I suggest. Perhaps the noble Baroness will recall that former Governments and the Government today have had a let-off, and £35 million is a small sum compared with what has been raised abroad.

There is, I fear, a lot of ill-will in Oxford. On Armistice Sunday I went to a church in Balliol College. Afterwards there was a Christian fellowship meeting. There were 50 to 70 undergraduates there. They came from all over Britain and from abroad. I asked them what effect the reduction of the £35 million grant might have on them as individuals. The third year undergraduates said, "We are sorry because it will affect the second and first year undergraduates". The second year undergraduates said, "If it comes into effect, some of us will have to forsake our studies". The first year undergraduates, who had worked so hard to get there, said that many of them would probably have to give up their studies.

My noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead has a predecessor, who was a Member of this House for 43 years. I shall offer advice to the noble Baroness which he always gave. I am of course referring to the Duke of Wellington, who never went to university. He said, "If I want to know what is going on on the other side of the hill, I get on my horse and I go and see". I do not suggest that the noble Baroness should mount a horse and charge off to Oxford or Cambridge, but perhaps she might board her ministerial car and go and talk not only to the dons but also to those undergraduates who will be affected by her legislation.

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6.11 p.m.

Lord Cooke of Thorndon: My Lords, it is 47 years since I went up to Cambridge from New Zealand as a research student in law and began an association which has held me in thrall ever afterwards, although my home has been in New Zealand. Most happily the association has extended to Oxford also, and, although perhaps historically more "Camford" than "Oxbridge", my loyalties would be well satisfied if every boat race were tied.

Spontaneously, and quite unsolicited, I am impelled to express a fear to your Lordships. If government funding of college fees for home students goes, the effect on college revenues will carry a serious knock-on risk for overseas students. Beyond question, the college system is the main attraction of Oxbridge for them. Take it away and most of the more gifted overseas postgraduate students will think first of North American universities.

No doubt overseas students from more affluent homes can afford the £15,000 a year which Oxbridge may cost. But academic promise and wealth do not go hand in hand. Lord Rutherford, often called the greatest experimental scientist of the century, was born to modest circumstances in rural New Zealand, one of a family of 12 children. When the news came of a scholarship that would take him to Cambridge, he was digging potatoes. "I shall never dig another", he said.

College scholarships or bursary assistance are often a necessity and always a draw card for overseas students. In the last academic year the Vinerian Prize at Oxford for the top BCL graduate was won by a young woman from the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. The top graduate in the corresponding Cambridge course, the LL.M, was a young woman from the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Long may the link flourish.

I respectfully entreat the Government not to do anything that, by sapping the finances of Oxbridge colleges, will imperil the Rutherford factor.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have not been encouraged by what I have heard in the debate from those who have advocated the merits of Oxbridge but who have not at any stage indicated the extent to which change is necessarily in the air with regard to higher education and how Oxbridge ought to play its part. This debate, after all, has been triggered off by one recommendation out of 93 in the major inquiry into higher education represented by the Dearing Report, and a sentence of some 100 words out of a report of many thousands of words about the state of our higher education system and how it will meet the challenges of the future.

The Minister and the Government have the responsibility of seeing that higher education responds to the needs of our wider society and they are already involved in a process, one which was established by the previous Administration, of significant radical change. That is what our society has demanded. We have doubled the percentage of people in higher education in

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the past decade. The present Government intend, quite rightly, to raise the cap on present student numbers in order to encourage more to attend our higher education institutions. They are doing so because we all know that our society can only survive, our economy can only prosper and the goods for our communities can only be provided--these are social, cultural and economic factors--if we are able to compete in the wider world. Highly trained, highly skilled and highly educated men and women will be needed. That is the challenge, and the different sectors of higher education have had to respond to it.

There has been a massive increase in the number of part-time students participating in higher education and a 40 per cent. reduction in the unit of resource. That is what other institutions are having to respond to in order to sustain their commitment to the necessary expansion of higher education opportunities.

The Government are proposing to introduce tuition fees for higher education students. Everyone in the Chamber will recognise that, all things being equal, if higher education could be afforded in any other way, the Government would not pursue that proposal. If all those sacrifices are being demanded by our society of all those who are going to participate in higher education, how is it suggested today that Oxford and Cambridge should make no contribution whatever? What contribution is being asked? I shall tell the House what Dearing actually suggested:

    "We recommend to the Government that variations in the levels of public funding for teaching outside modest margins should occur only where there is an approved difference in the provision or where society, through the Secretary of State or his or her agents, concludes after examining an exceptionally high level of funding that, in relation to other funding needs in HE, it represents a good use of resources".

That is exactly the point. What is being defended today is an exceptionally high level of resource allocation--40 per cent. for each and every student. In circumstances where many noble Lords speaking today have said that they are not casting aspersions on others in higher education and that they are aware of the excellent teaching going on elsewhere in the system, let us state that the excellent teaching in so many institutions is being provided under a unit of resource substantially below that which is available at Oxford and Cambridge.

Of course it is right that the Government should ask these questions and that HEFCE should be empowered to make some examination of the comparative advantages of such an allocation of resource. That is what has to be defended today. All of us would recognise that increment of advantage that may accrue from one-to-one tuition whether one speaks about primary school children, secondary education, further or higher education. Who would not see the value of one-to-one education or one-to-one teaching? But it cannot be afforded across all the other sectors of education. However, it is surely right at this stage that we ask the questions and look at the objective basis on which this allocation occurs.

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It will not do just to talk in terms of past history and how these issues have developed. We now have a modern world which is making demands on our ageing institutions. They are not just demands. There is a wider community which has such a stake in the opportunities that have to be developed in higher education. Of course that community is going to make demands on any government that takes office. I emphasise that it is necessary for the evaluation to take place.

I also emphasise that if the wider community is to give any advantage to Oxford and Cambridge and their teaching--perhaps persuaded by some of the arguments that have been put today, but not to the extent that they have been put through special pleading in my view--and that society is to sustain the commitment, the universities have to demonstrate greater equity in the opportunities of access to them.

What is the basis on which, still at this stage, nearly 50 per cent. of students at the two older universities come from the private sector? What is being measured there? Is it not conceivable that people from deprived backgrounds who get three A-levels, with limited resources at their disposal and with teachers who have never been anywhere near Oxbridge and may not be overwhelmingly well qualified, may have achieved more than those students who have three A-levels from some of the most privileged and private institutions in the country with the vast resources that they command? On what basis should we seek further additional opportunity and public resources to be vouchsafed to those who have had all the privileges in the past? That is against the obvious background that people talk where their money goes. We know why people are prepared to spend £12,000 a year on private education. It is significantly because it increases the opportunities for their children.

If we are to evaluate the position clearly and effectively we must recognise that there is an obligation on Oxford and Cambridge to respond to the necessary evaluation, in common with all other ageing institutions, of the effectiveness of their teaching. It is a question of whether that mark-up is justified. The Minister should be encouraged in pursuing that route and in addition the older universities should recognise that if they are to sustain public confidence in their roles they need to broaden their access and to see that equity obtains there also.

6.23 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Hillhead: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, has spoken very eloquently. He is right to say that the question should be asked and it is also right that the answer should be listened to. In the limited time at my disposal I shall endeavour to give replies at any rate to some of the questions. I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely and the noble Lord, Lord Baker, on two outstanding maiden speeches.

I must obviously begin by declaring a very strong interest as Chancellor of Oxford. From that fact there arises a thought which may not be familiar to your Lordships. Sometimes--and it happened quite often this

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afternoon--Oxford is portrayed as a citadel of privileged exclusivity. I suppose that the Chancellorship is the greatest honour that the university can bestow. It is certainly the greatest honour that I have ever received. It is granted rather democratically. Ten thousand graduates voted in the election in 1987. There were three candidates and it so happens that of those three not a single one came from a really privileged school. Sir Edward Heath and I came from the most humble schools and the noble Lord, Lord Blake, came from an historic city grammar school. We were all products of the Oxford of the 1930s, let alone the Oxford of the post-war era. If Oxford is guilty of elitism--I do not know how one can have academic excellence without some form of elitism--it is a very open elitism.

We have heard a certain amount this afternoon of the phrase "world-class university", which I fear is becoming a little hackneyed. I wish that we could think of a better phrase. Also, it is not totally precise. Few would lay down with absolute certainty what was in and what was out. But few in the academic communities across the world would dispute that the total number, on the strictest criteria, is not more than eight or 10. In addition, few would dispute that in this double handful there is included Oxford and Cambridge and probably all the rest are in the United States. It would be a substantial pity for this country and for the world balance if every world-class university were to be in a single country, the United States of America.

Any university on the European continent would find it very hard to qualify for a number of reasons. First, in Germany the most serious research is done in special institutes. Secondly, in France the grandes ecoles cream off the brightest students. The other reason why they would find it difficult to qualify and perhaps the most important--and it was certainly touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, to whom we are grateful for this debate--is the vast, impersonal size of many of the European big city universities. That means a minimum contact between students and academic staff, one direct consequence of which is that there is a high, and in many cases a frighteningly high, drop-out rate. If the main scholastic activity is to sit at the back of a large lecture hall and take notes, it is only too likely to occur to some that no one will much notice if one is no longer there. The essence of the Oxbridge pattern is the tutorial and collegiate system which is a very good prophylactic against that.

As a result, our drop-out rate is not much more than one quarter of even the UK average let alone the general European average. Furthermore, the emphasis of the tutorial collegiate system on talking, arguing and writing rather than on just listening and taking notes interspersed with some reading, is also good at producing finished products with initiative and interest in general ideas. Even at the most utilitarian level that shows itself in the Oxford graduate unemployment rate which, as has also been mentioned, is no more than one-third of the national university average.

For a university to possess world status I suggest that there are three tests that must be passed. The first test is whether its undergraduate teaching produces large numbers of alumni who make significant contributions

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to the life of the nation and in our case at least, to the life and the governing of a great many other nations as well. The second test is whether it has good graduate schools and the third, but certainly not the least, concerns the quality of its research. To be a full university it must also cover the waterfront.

The institution, Imperial College, which educated the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, is, within its field, an example of excellence. The LSE is also a remarkable institution, too. But they do not cover the waterfront. Therefore they cannot stand equal to the greatest American universities. Oxford and Cambridge do. I obviously know more about Oxford than Cambridge. They are equally good by all these criteria. For instance, Oxford is a first-rate undergraduate university and better in many ways in that field than Harvard. However, it is not nearly as major, and perhaps not as good, with regard to graduate studies. It scores very highly in research, having in the past 50 years greatly widened its scope so that it is now, in contrast to the 100 years up to 1940, just as strong a scientific university as Cambridge--and possibly even stronger medically, but I would not want to get into an argument about that.

The quality of the physical surroundings also contributes to drawing power--another element in world status. Oxford is obviously well blessed in this respect, which means that many renowned scholars come, or return, to us at salaries much lower than those they have achieved or could achieve elsewhere. However, the enticement of such surroundings has its dangers as well as its advantages. Apart from the cost of keeping up the ambience--it would be a national disgrace if it were not maintained--there is the danger that Oxford's buildings could become intellectually empty shells, falling behind the more modern universities in the same country. Indeed, that may have happened to Salamanca in Spain and to Coimbra in Portugal. Oxford's architectural splendour would then become a faded mockery.

If I have a worst case nightmare for Oxford, it is to see it as a run-of-the-mill university, as just one of a "south Midlands group" of England's universities, rattling around in surroundings that are too grand for it, and which happens to have old and inconvenient buildings whose useful life might be thought to be running out. I fear Cambridge being in an equivalent position in East Anglia. I cannot believe that anyone who has spoken in this debate would wish to see that happen to those two great national institutions. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, whose style today I found slightly less generous than normal, perhaps came the nearest to saying that. The nightmare that I have described is emphatically not the style today. Those who doubt that should ask the other world-class universities which recognise Oxford and Cambridge as their co-equals.

Perhaps at this stage I may point out what we are up against financially when maintaining ourselves in that league even without any further financial cuts. Harvard--Yale, Stanford and Princeton, and many others, are not all that far behind--has an endowment of 9 billion US dollars and raises an additional 1 billion dollars each year. In Oxford, where we blazed a

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cisatlantic trail in the raising of private money, we raised £360 million--or half a billion US dollars--over six years by a great effort. Incidentally, when we set out on that course we were given absolute assurances by the previous government--I think that this Government should continue to give those undertakings--that money so raised would not count against us.

Britain, as a medium-sized country without too many recent successes to its credit, is peculiarly lucky to possess one-quarter of the small number of outstanding world universities. Deliberately--or even inadvertently--to throw away that asset would be a perverse act of national self-immolation. It would be regarded as on the borders of national sanity by countries which, as I discovered in China last winter, long to have a world-class university but do not know how to create one and hope that Oxford may be able to advise them in that direction.

The net cost to the Exchequer of Oxford colleges is £19 million. It is strongly my view--not only as Chancellor of Oxford, but also as a former stony-hearted Chancellor of the Exchequer who nevertheless financed the beginning of the Open University which is not wholly dedicated to elitism--that this is a worthwhile and wholly justifiable national investment.

It is not my purpose to suggest that everything is perfect in our ancient universities. We need to improve the organisation of our graduate studies. There could be greater financial transparency--although we have gone quite a long way in that direction recently. Above all, we need and want to improve access from state schools. One can exaggerate the extent to which people from non-state schools do too well at Oxford and Cambridge as opposed to anywhere else. There are more old Etonians at Edinburgh than at Oxford at present. I am not sure whether there are not more at Bristol also, but I am not quite sure of that fact. There are certainly a great number. Nevertheless, we want to improve access--not by discriminating against individuals of equal quality and promise, but by encouraging state schools and by improving our liaison with them, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, put it so clearly, so that we get rid of the inhibitions which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, mentioned, prevent many people who could greatly benefit from Oxford from applying.

All that can and will be done but, for God's sake, do not let the advent of this Government, dedicated as they say to education, be marked by inflicting grave damage on two of the institutions which have given Britain a great part of its educational fame and respect throughout the world.

6.36 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Beloff for giving the House the opportunity to discuss this important and well focused Motion. I congratulate my noble friend also on the way in which he opened the debate. I join other noble Lords in congratulating most warmly the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ely, my diocese, and my noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking on their two outstanding maiden speeches.

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It will not be possible for me to improve on the speeches that have preceded me today, particularly that from the present Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead--

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