25 OCTOBER 1963, Page 9

The Robbins Report


WHEN Lord Robbins's appointment was first announced there were many who feared the consequences. In economics he could hardly be said to be in the van of progress. As a public figure connected with institutions of unimpeach- able probity he seemed a possible candidate for the author of a report lauding the value of the British way in academic life—restricted numbers, 'high standards,' secrecy about policy and no central responsibility. Yet a radical streak runs through Lord Robbins. Despite his noble mien and his coronet, he remains at heart a product of an Ealing grammar school. He is passionately loyal to the LSE and to his more radical colleagues there. The line of questioning he adopted when the inquiry began soon showed that on the central issue there need have been no doubts. Lord Robbins was an expansionist. The appointment of Claus Moser as his statistical ad- viser was a sure sign that cool analysis of the facts would win. A tripling of enrolments in just over twenty years is what the evidence has always suggested. Lord Taylor was denounced as a mad- man for saying so. Lord Robbins is just as mad because his figures are the same, only more wrapped up.

The facts and figures in the Robbins Report make it a great State paper. Let that be said at once. Lord Robbins is an admirer of the classical economists; in his Report he has re- stored the nineteenth-century tradition of full and adequate investigation of social questions as a basis for policy. He has reversed Vaizey's Law, that nowadays more and more is spent with less and less information available to the public.

Having assembled the data, it was impossible not to be an expansionist. I will reiterate the case. First, the number of children born recently is greater than it has been. Even Mr. Amis has contributed to the population explosion. Second, the improvement of the primary and secondary schools has allowed 'many able people who for- merly left school at fourteen or fifteen to carry on to eighteen. The number of able people is far greater than was once thought because— whether or not some intelligence is innate— academic interests and success (in every sense) are highly correlated with parental and educa- tional background. It is about twenty times more likely that the children of the higher professional classes will enter higher education than the children of the unskilled manual workers. A good home and a good school really do seem to make intelligence grow. I state this as an incontro- vertible fact—and Lord Robbins's data spell it out in some detail—a tripling of enrolments in the next twenty-odd years is to be expected. Seven hundred thousand students will be up in the mid-eighties. This means continuous expan- sion for the foreseeable future.

There are two other reasons why higher edu- cation is expanding. The need for highly educated and well-trained people is growing exponentially. There are over five times as many teachers in training as before the war. If you want your children to have a decent education you have to have enough trained teachers. That means you cannot restrict the number of people who are to be trained-- you must get as many as possible. The same applies to engineers, social workers— all the dozens and dozens of kinds of highly qualified people upon whom contemporary society and the economy depend.

The content of more and more jobs has become complex; it can often be acquired --in part, at least—only at some post-secondary institution. This is a universal trend. A great deal of the Report's emphasis on post-graduate education relies on this. Yet its proposals for controlling the professions' own examinations arc weak. It is upon this sort of analysis that the case for ex- pansion rests. The only possible arguments against it are of two kinds. One is—back to the conditions of 1935, with children in classes of fifty, a school-leaving age of fifteen, mass poverty and so on. The other is--we so value the uni- versities as at present set up that all the expansion will take place outside them. (The third argu- ment, that there are insufficient able people to benefit from education, is just wrong. There is no evidence to support it at all, except Mr. Amis's judgments of his pupils at Swansea. The Report is rightly critical of the weaker Arts courses.) The serious question faced by the Robbins Committee, once they had agreed on expansion, was where to put what Stuart McClure calls the green baize door' between universities and the rest. On the Taylor Committee we wrestled with this question, and came to the conclusion that the Americans were broadly right. Any division is likely to be arbitrary. It cannot be based on any universal principle because the divide be- tween universities and the rest is drawn on accidental historical grounds and on no others. History is not a reason lightly to be dismissed, except by pointing out that the universities have changed again and again since 1945. and always in. the direction of incorporating more and more, This trend could be reversed, but with the utmost difficulty, and to what purpose?

For this reason, Robbins's proposal to raise the CATs to university status (there are excep- tions—Imperial College may federate with LSE, and Loughborough with its training college) is to be welcomed. So is the proposal for teacher- training colleges to be made bigger, and for them to become integral parts of Colleges of Edu- cation—able to get degrees for their students, and linked organically with the universities in a way that (to be frank) they are not at present. Some might grow into universities. As training colleges are the chief education institutions for girls, they are extremely important—as well as for other reasons.

Thus the pattern that the Committee has adopted is in most respects similar to that pro- posed by the Taylor Committee. There will be a diversity of universities. To those at present existing and being" brought into existence, the Committee would add a further six, plus the CATs, plus an entirely new technological uni- versity, as one of the special five new techno- logical institutes. The proposal to create five special institutes of world status is imaginative and bold. It would be a splendid arrangement if they were to be built around some of the government research establishments, to make use of their equipment and their very large pool of talented scientists, many of whom arc thwarted by their lack of opportunities to teach.

The proposals to link the schools and the uni- versities by a joint council probably do not go far enough. It will be widely agreed that the heart of the matter is that the present scramble for places puts the universities in a buyers' mar- ket, and that they have recklessly misused their power to enforce narrow requirements and de- mand outrageously high grades at 'A' level. This will not survive the expansion. But there surely needs to be a reconsideration of what the place of the sixth form is (Crowther was deplorably bad on this). I agree with Robbins that junior colleges are not a very good idea; but the demand for them reflects at least as much the dissatis- faction with sixth forms as with honours courses in universities. The technical colleges (especially

he doesn't win at Kinross, we might not be recallf'd be/ore the Christmas recess.'

for girls) fulfil a role in this respect—half sixth form, half college—which is significant as an indication of what people may really want.

This criticism of the Report (and it can be partly answered, I must admit—Lord Robbins's supple mind has forestalled most criticism) is an indication of a further dilemma that faces any- body making recommendations about higher education. Teacher training is extremely impor- tant in two respects. It is a big sector of higher education—the main form of higher education for girls. But the teacher-training colleges also supply the schools with teachers. And as Newsom showed last week, the calibre of primary and secondary modern teacherS really does matter, more perhaps than anything else in education at the moment. Now, as the teachers' colleges move more fully into the mainstream of higher edu- cation (as they should), they will tend to get separated from the schools. This was one of the reasons why the Taylor Committee favoured the Ministry of Education as the responsible Minis- try for higher education. The other reason is that advanced by Mr. Shearman in his note of dissent. A special Ministry for higher education will pos- sibly put education proper out of the Cabinet. This seemed to us a false step.

Yet the arguments are very evenly balanced. If—as all accept—the University Grants Com- mittee in its present form must go, as it is under- staffed, and the responsibility for this vital sector (in every sense) must be a Ministerial responsi- bility, then a safeguard must be created for all those freedoms which are so easily lost. A Grants Commission seems appropriate, to cover all higher education, with an adequate staff-(especi- ally on the statistical side), and giving grants much as the present UGC does. Robbins, how- ever, fudges one vital issue. Nobody really worries about the accountability of universities in the financial sense (they could never waste as much as the Defence Departments if they tried). The essential point is that a periodic full Report by the Commission to Parliament is neces- sary if public and parliamentary debate is to be adequate about the issues that really matter. At present the UGC operates in a hole-and-corner manner which pleases the academic establish- ment and has led to the chaos which required the appointment of the Robbins Committee.

Who is the Committee to report to? A Minister of Arts and Science is suggested. That is to say —Dick Crossman or Quintin Hogg, plus the Arts Council. Obviously it will depend on what the Prime Minister at the time thinks about the question. Nobody outside the Cabinet can pos- sibly judge what is right. Personally, I agree with Shearman on the evidence so far presented that the Ministry of Education is better. But I agree with Robbins that regional committees would not work, on the analogy of the Health Ser- vice; though it is difficult to see how a vast programme of expansion can be run purely from Whitehall.

Labour asked for a crash programme. This Report endorses the request. It is a devastating criticism of Henry Brooke's and Lord Hailsham's cuts of last year. Gaitskell's last great speech on education is vindicated. In 1967-68 there will be 25,000 places too few in the universities. So the implementation of Robbins (or Taylor) will take place in an atmosphere of crisis, a crisis stemming from bad planning. The Taylor Report wanted to use this period as a time of take-off. It seems to me that Robbins has not fully grasped this opportunity. A tremendous amount could be done which—far from being makeshift— would be radical and exciting. A final criticism might be that Robbins has not been imaginative enough in adult education and the use of tht. mass media. But that would be to carp. This is great Report and its immediate implementatioi in full would be the nearest thing to a commit. ment to a truly humanistic democratic societ■ that this country has ever made. Everything that modern education means stands or falls by tha: fact.