13 DECEMBER 1963, Page 6

Two Ministers . . .

By HELEN GARDNER* N discussion of the Robbins Report public 'opinion has rightly fastened on the question of what is the appropriate machinery of govern- ment for the system of higher education as a key question. It would, I think, have done so even if this had not been the one, point on which a member of the committee has made a note of reservation. The question is so important that, speaking for myself, although I shared the general regret that Mr. Shearman found himself unable to agree here with his colleagues, I thought it an advantage that the report contained his note of dissent. The case for a single Minister of Edu- cation, responsible by means of two subordinate Ministers of State for the universities through a Grants Commission on the one hand and for the schools and further education on the other, could not have been put more moderately and persuasively. I am glad that the public has before it in a slide document both the arguments that convinced the majority of the committee and the arguments that were rejected. Since the committee published its report, its recommendation that there should be two Ministers (a Minister of Arts and Science responsible for the universities and for the Research Councils and a Minister of Education responsible for the school system and for further education outside the universities) has been echoed by the recommendation of the Trend Committee. I wish to argue that the case for a single Minister of Education, though at first sight attractive and apparently logical, is based on fallacies and that it proposes 'an administrative pattern that does not correspond to the actualities of higher education.

Both those who argue for a single Minister and those who argue for two are agreed, to quote Mr. Shearman, that a Grants Commission on the lines of the present University Grants Committee is a 'keystone of academic freedom.' That is to say, both sides agree that a university is a different kind of animal from a school or an institution Df further education and that its proper functioning requires so high a degree of immunity from government control ag to make a quite different administrative system appropriate for universities. from that which is appropriate for a school system. This is common ground.

It is also common ground that the universities cannot flourish without the schools or the schools without the universities and that much more intimate relations between the schools and universities than have existed in the recent past are necessary. It is also agreed that the relations between the universities and the whole area of further education ought to be much closer.

The notion that these objectives would be furthered by the creation of a single Minister responsible for the two different systems administered by his Ministers of State (one responsible for the universities and the other for the schools and further education) is an illusion. The same consultative organs would be required whether there were one Minister, with two sub- ordinates, or two Ministers. The same co- ordinating committees would have to be set up. There would be no more effective unity under one Minister than under two. The good working of the various organs of consultation has nothing to do with whether they are placed under one supreme umbrella or not; it depends on good will and the recognition of common interests by both parties. It can no more be brought about by the presence of a single Minister at the apex of the two systems than Miss Havisham could by saying 'Play, boy, play' make poor Pip play.

A second argument for a single Minister is that he would be able to speak in the Cabinet for education as a whole and press its claim on

the national resources against the claims of, for instance, housing, transport, the health service, etc. Whether one Minister putting the case for two systems in his care would secure a larger slice of cake than would fall to two Ministers each putting his own is anybody's guess. The fear that lies behind this argument is that if there were two Ministers, the Minister of Arts and Science would be regarded as the senior Minister and would have a seat in the Cabinet. He could there press the claim of higher education and research, and the claim of the school system would be neglected. This argument assumes a conflict of interests between the two systems. If there is such conflict, it would surely be better that it should be fought at Cabinet level or by means of a Cabinet Committee than that it should be settled within the walls of a single Ministry.. 'What is feared,' says Mr. Shearman, 'is that each [Minister] will be fighting for his own hand and both may suffer.' It is just as possible that each might do better. There is a much more real danger to be feared: that if there is conflict it will be concealed behind a compromise. Neither side will have put its case to the Cabinet, to Parliament,and through Parliament tcythe nation.

The most serious flaw in the case for a single Minister is that it ignores what has been granted once the principle that the universities should be administered by means of a Grants Commission is conceded : that the universities are not a superior form of school with some research added on. There is and ought to be a real solution of continuity between school education and university education, different from the break between primary and secondary education or between education in the middle school and in the sixth form. The boy or girl who comes up to the university enters a new world. They have come to an institution that has other ends than their education, and the education that they receive from the university derives its value from this fact. The principle of 'continuity' on which Mr. Shearman lays stress is a false principle. In many cases a great deal of help and encourage- ment is needed if the step from the world of school to the world of the university is to be made; but the reason why we heard so much in our evidence of the difficulties of 'first-generation students' in their first year at the university is that the step is a big one. If the university is a true university it ought to be.

On the basis of a false principle, and in pursuit of a unity of feeling and sentiment that cannot be imposed by any form of administration, the contenders for a single Minister of Education are arguing for an administrative pattern that ignores, and by ignoring threatens to damage, existing and essential unities. The most important is the unity of a university. They propose a pattern by which a single institution must look in two directions when framing its policies: to the .Grants Commission, functioning under a Minister of Education, in its capacity as an edu- cational institution; to Research Councils under a Minister of Research and Technology in its capacity as a centre of research. I do not see how any university can so distinguish between its functions.

Again it may be very desirable that there * Member of the Robbins Committee.

should be more 'positive encouragement' for members of staff to move from one educational institution to another, and it is certainly desirable that a sense of common purpose should inspire the whole teaching profession. But it is not merely desirable but absolutely essential that there should be the closest possible links, and inter- change and sharing of personnel, between the universities and other institutions of higher learn- ing and research. The 'unity of knowledge' (of the world of scholarship and research) is a fact, not an aspiration. The same people will be found naturally in universities, on research councils, on the councils of learned societies, and on advisory committees. They pass, without need of en- couragement, from service in one kind of institu- tion to service in another. The merit of the administrative pattern proposed by the Robbins and the Trend Committees is that it is baSed on the nature of universities and on the natural affinities of the universities with other auto- nomous State-supported institutions and activities.

It has the further merit that it accepts the facts of history, by which Scotland has evolved an educational system distinct from that of England and Wales. Such is the power inherent in the university ideal that the Scottish universities, in spite of a different university tradition of which Scotland is justly proud, have felt able to accept so far Cie same system of administration as the universities of England and Wales. As it is in- conceivable that the Scottish universities would accept being placed under a Minister of Educa- tion, it is proposed that they should be cut off from other British universities and the responsi- bility for them should be given to the Secretary of State for Scotland. Here is a third actual unity that is to be destroyed : the unity of British universities.

There is one final consideration. The success of the whole programme of expansion in higher education rests on the universities. They are being asked to accept a fresh great expansion on the basis of the already unprecedented expansion of the last twenty years. They are asked to rethink undergraduate courses, to devise new forms of post-graduate studies, to take a great measure of responsibility in solving the crucial problem of how we are to attract and train teachers we must have for our schools, and, at the same time, they are to remain the heart and soul of the national effort in research. Is it not good practical politics to suggest, when so much is demanded and when everything depends on the energy, enthusiasm, imagination and good will that the universities bring to the solution of the problems they are set, that their views as to what administrative system will best enable them to fulfil their role should weigh very heavily? Although I have met a certain number of individual university teachers who have been swayed by generous feelings to- wards the proposal for a single Minister of Education, 1 have met hardly anyone concerned with the shaping and direction of university policy who does not regard this propo'Sal as un- acceptable. The evidence that the Robbins Com- mittee received on this point was unequivocal. If we really believe in academic freedom we must listen to the voice of the universities when they tell us what system they believe will best safe- guard their independence and enable them to

fulfil what they conceive as their true function.