Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Northbourne: A disaster.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, that is a disaster, as my noble friend Lord Northbourne points out.

24 Apr 2002 : Column 289

I request the patience of noble Lords while I recall a visit to a project run by Centrepoint three years ago. I wanted to make that visit because I had been told by outreach workers—those who work directly with young rough sleepers on the street—that it had an outstanding reputation for holding on to the most challenging clients. The building and garden were a shambles but young people were clearly attached to the staff and their home. One young Irishman who I met had been from hostel to street countless times before arriving at Buffy House, but he had spent several months in that setting. A young woman talked proudly of her involvement with a project run by the Prince's Trust. Another female resident had scars on her wrists from previous self-harm, but she was later to win a commission from a City firm to provide artwork for its foyer.

There was plenty with which to find fault. I have already mentioned the state of the home. Those young people still had a very long way to go and their passage was most uncertain. What was perhaps most remarkable about Buffy House was that in that setting, in which workers cared for the most troubled young people who presented themselves at Centrepoint, its workers had the lowest rate of sickness leave in the whole of the Centrepoint organisation.

Why was that? What made it different? The manager was very clear in her mind about what singled out her and her team. For several years, she and her staff had been supported each week by an outside consultant. Each week, the staff, as a group, had had the opportunity to speak with a psychotherapist about their experience of the young people. One consequence of that was that the staff thought carefully about every aspect of their work with the children. Every occasion was seized to learn more about their young people and their practice with them.

Another consequence was that staff were spurred to take studies in that area of work. The manager had entered residential work with those difficult children with no qualifications, as 80 per cent of such carers did previously. Several years later, she had a masters degree in that field. The other staff member who was present that evening was taking a course of study at the Tavistock Clinic.

In that microcosm, which had many of the ingredients that are associated with good residential care for looked-after children, the staff had a shared philosophy about what they did. They were well supported, they experienced continued professional development and they had a remarkable leader. She was available to them and the clients on the telephone at all times and she radiated confidence and self-assurance.

I turn to the broader context. In his Budget, the Chancellor made available an increase for social services. For the first time in a Budget, he singled out social services and he regretted their past neglect. The Government's "quality protects" money is being used to train residential care staff up to national vocational qualification level 3. That is most welcome, although one must remember that "quality protects" funding runs out in one or two years.

24 Apr 2002 : Column 290

However, to make a real difference to the educational prospects of looked-after children in those settings, much more needs to be done to support their carers, particularly those who work with the most troubled children. I look forward to the publication later this year of the Social Exclusion Unit's report on looked-after children and education. I hope that it will look closely at the training, support and development of care staff who work with children in residential settings. I trust that there will be an opportunity for us to debate its findings on the Floor of the House.

Last night, I encountered two young women—refugees at a Centrepoint hostel. The 18 year-old West African helped me—she gave me advice on my English language. We discussed "The Merchant of Venice" and she quoted Portia. The Kurdish woman explained to me what the "lexis of the semantic field of young women" meant.

In other countries, being taken into care can mean rescue from poverty and provides the opportunity of a first-rate education. Refugees often teach us the value of a good education when one has experienced trauma and been uprooted. We should do far more to make the protection of a good education available to our looked-after children. Integral to that is to provide support for the carers of those children.

5.48 p.m.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, this debate on resources for education is certainly timely. My noble friend Lord Dearing is to be congratulated on providing an opportunity to review, in the run up to July's Comprehensive Spending Review, the adequacy—or, as I would argue, the inadequacy—of the resources that we in this country devote to education.

When the Government were first elected to office in 1997, it was on the platform, as a number of noble Lords have reminded them, of "education, education, education". Since then, much has been done and substantial additional resources have been provided to improve the first two legs of that tripod—primary and secondary education. However, much less has been done, and far fewer resources provided, for the essential third leg—higher education—which has become the orphan of the group.

I therefore make no apology for devoting my contribution to the higher education sector, in which I declare an interest as Pro-Chancellor of the University of Birmingham. That is not to suggest that the Government have been backward in setting extremely ambitious targets for higher education. Many of them are highly laudable targets, which the universities would wish to achieve—to extend higher education to half of the population, to increase the numbers qualifying in the medical profession and many other such targets. Nor have the Government been backward in piling on universities additional bureaucratic burdens, requiring the allocation of scarce resources.

However, when it comes to providing resources, the story is a little different. Then, it is all a question of efficiency savings and of reductions in the provisions

24 Apr 2002 : Column 291

per head of the student population. As an example, I cite—several other noble Lords have mentioned this—the recently completed research assessment exercise. This complex and laborious process, demanding a substantial allocation of staff resources, revealed that our universities were delivering a world-class performance with major improvements, confirmed by systematic international verification during the period under review.

But what was the reward when resources came to be allocated? The smallish top, five-star, category maintained its funding in real terms—I repeat: it maintained its funding; there was no increase—while the second, third and fourth categories, which were by far the largest groups, saw their funding reduced by 15, 35 and 65 per cent respectively. Anyone below that was cut off with nothing at all. That is hardly a major incentive for the next research assessment.

But, rather than looking back, let us look ahead and try to identify what resources will be required if we—that is, the universities and the Government—are to have any hope at all of achieving and delivering the ambitious targets that we have set for ourselves.

First, there is the target of achieving a 50 per cent participation rate in higher education by 2010. I know that some people question that target and doubt the desirability of having such a high proportion of the population receiving a university education. I am not among them myself. I feel that a Britain which is to hold its own in a knowledge-based world and which is to offer its citizens careers genuinely open to their talents needs to stretch for a target of that nature. But that means providing 30,000 additional student places every year from now to 2010 at a recurrent annual cost of £420 million per year. And it will almost certainly also require an access premium of 20 per cent in addition to the full unit of funding if we are to fulfil the objective of inclusiveness and recruit students disproportionately from those sectors of society which have not hitherto traditionally benefited from higher education. That would cost another £65 million per year.

Then there is the urgent need to increase investment in health education provision if the ever-more pressing demands of the National Health Service are to be met. We should have no illusions about that. As another noble Lord reminded the House, it takes a considerable period of time to train health professionals. If we do not provide the resources now, we shall not have the doctors, nurses and others when they are needed and all the resources being allocated to the National Health Service will be to no avail. There will be a minimum of £60 million of recurrent funding for that requirement.

Thirdly, if we cannot modernise pay structures and enhance staff management and training, we shall simply not be able to recruit and retain the staff that universities need in order to have top-quality establishments. I do not imagine that anyone who has spent even a few hours in one of our universities can believe that our academics are overpaid or that the resources available for the management of them are

24 Apr 2002 : Column 292

adequate. To achieve something like a satisfactory basis for the future in that respect would require £1,225 million of recurrent expenditure.

Fourthly, if the academic staff and the students are to be capable of developing to their full potential, there must be a massive investment in teaching, learning and research infrastructure. Plenty of serious analysis has been done by independent consultants, and figures of £6.56 billion for the period up to 2005-06 for teaching and learning infrastructure and £1.7 billion for research infrastructure have been identified.

I am very well aware that all that adds up to a substantial quantum—some £9.94 billion over the next three-year period, to be exact—and that there are plenty of competing bids from other parts of the public services, including from other parts of the educational sector itself. But it is frankly not serious to pour huge resources into primary and secondary education and then to neglect higher education. And it is not serious to set the universities hugely ambitious targets knowing that they do not have the resources to achieve them.

I know that the Minister did not greatly appreciate it when, some weeks ago, I described such an approach as "feckless". But that, I am afraid, is what it is. What is surely needed is for the Government to sit down with the universities to work out together what their targets and objectives are, how much achieving them will cost and where the resources are to be found. I hope very much that the Minister will be able to say that that is what is now going to be done before decisions are reached on the Comprehensive Spending Review.

What we have in higher education, ineluctably, is a public/private partnership. In other sectors, such as transport, the debate may rage as to whether or not that is a good approach. But for higher education there is simply no alternative. No university—not even the most ancient and prestigious among them—can survive without substantial public support.

But the Government cannot deliver on their objectives for higher education without the willing and effective contribution of a huge network of independent and autonomous institutions which are determined to maintain high standards and provide excellence. For any such partnership to succeed, there must be adequate investment. The Government can quite reasonably look to the universities to stimulate more investment from their links with industry and from their alumni through development campaigns and to be more efficient about the way that they allocate and spend the resources. The universities are doing all that to the best of their ability.

But there is no way in which those private sector resources will see the universities through; nor will student fees, which are, in any case, being reviewed by the Government, and I do not imagine that the Minister will astonish us by telling us that they are going to be increased. Therefore, one comes back to the question of investment by the public sector—the heart of this debate.

24 Apr 2002 : Column 293

I hope that the Government will not overlook in their deliberations the key role which higher education plays as one of Britain's largest and most dynamic service industries. The advantages that can accrue to the United Kingdom incorporated from our use of what is now the global language of higher education and research are large and growing. But those advantages will not simply drop into our lap. They will need to be won by continued excellence and competitivity. There are plenty of others out there competing for them, not only in fellow English-speaking countries, such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, but more widely. Twelve per cent of our student population and 39 per cent of full-time postgraduates come from overseas.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page