25 OCTOBER 1963, Page 3


To adapt Dr. Johnson's phrase, if a man 1 has six months to rule it will concentrate the mind wonderfully. In fact the Govern- ment, for all the recent turmoil, is well placed for a strong finish. The Newsom Report last week, the Robbins Report this week and the coming Buchanan Report on traffic in towns are all material for bold legislation. It will be interesting to see how Labour, having already rejected Beeching, are going to react to such further measures of modernisation and change.

No point in urging the Tories to act upon Robbins. We know that they will act upon it. We know that if they failed to do so, they would not only lose the election but deserve to lose it. Labour may reflect wryly that the Robbins Report is Taylor-made for legislation. It is an indictment neither of our present pattern of higher education nor of the Government's part in this. Those dreary statistics showing Britain at the foot of the educational league are convincingly shown to be a misrepresentation. The ratio of staff to pupils in British institutions' is extremely high. So is the standard achieved. And equally encouraging is the growing number of students actually residing in their university. It is true that the Government's record bears one major blemish, the rejection of the estimates of the University Grants Committee last year. The Report is right to stress the harmful effects of this. Yet there is already evidence that the lapse was temporary. Acceptance not only of Robbins's major proposals, but also of the warning that existing universities must be assured that more money will be continually forthcoming for expansion, will do much to repair the damage. One of the Report's most striking features is its confirmation, on the evidence of recent expansion, that standards of achievement need not suffer. (More need not mean worse, after all.) In fact standards are rising, and the Committee shows that there are enormous resources of talent still to be tapped even among children from middle-class homes, let alone those of working-class backgrounds. Though inevit- ably less so than Newsom, the Robbins Report is a powerful social document. In elevating the status of the teachers' training colleges and recommending the strengthen- ing of their courses, it fully recognises the prime need to create more teachers at all levels. We may hope that its proposal that academic salaries be made comparable with those of other professions will one day be applied in the schools as well.

The Report's great virtue is in its comprehensiveness—from the elevation of the Colleges of Advanced Technology to its proposals for new modern language courses; from the call for six more new universities to the demand for Schools of Business Management.

It is only after unreservedly welcoming the whole that we question some of the individual proposals. The suggestion that Oxford and Cambridge should be turned over entirely to post-graduates is dismissed too summarily, and against much of the evidence of the rest of the Report. If more and more people are indeed going to be thinking in terms of a first then a second degree, and if one of the basic aims of existing universities is to provide teachers for the new ones, then there is a strong case for alldwing Oxlit'idge to cater for this. It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Com- mittee has dodgedthe Oxbridge issue on the assumption that there is only a minor difference between it and other institutions. This is not so. Oxbridge differs from other universities in the greater amount of money spent on its undergraduates, in the sort of life they lead, and in the conservatism of some of its courses, and it is significant that its public school intake is again rising. The Report makes a similar evasion in its dis- missal of the Sixth Form College : at least in rural areas, where the provision of day schools with a wide range of courses is impossible, the need for this is pressing.

The minority report on the subject of a Ministry of Higher Education is valuable— Mr. Shearman's case that co-ordination is essential and responsibility should thus go to the existing Ministry of Education is a strong one. But the most likely candidate for the job, Lord Hailsham, is already in the Cabinet. His other duties would leave him little time, even if he were tempted, for unnecessary interference with the expanded University Grants Committee. This con- siderably weakens one of Mr. Shearman's major objections. Here is a Report full of sound principles and recommendations that can be accepted at once. It does not preclude the need for further research and experiment, but it is both a justification of and encouragement to government policies. The Prime Minister could harilly have had a better start.