Eternal struggle for expansion

January 6, 1995

There were two education ministers in the Conservative Cabinet -- and the senior of them was not prepared to contemplate a higher education policy not endorsed by the University Grants Committee.

By themselves those two facts from the newly-released 1964 Cabinet papers indicate a rather different world from now. But some phenomena are recognisable -- debate over university expansion, how to accommodate and pay for it, and whether standards were falling.

In 1964, the only likely paymaster was the Treasury -- and that too fulfilled its unchanging role as sceptical scrutineer of claims on the national purse. Leading education's bid for more cash was Quintin Hogg (now Lord Hailsham), who started the year as minister of science, but in April became the first secretary of state in the newly-created Department of Education and Science, with education minister Edward Boyle retaining cabinet rank as minister of state.

Sir Alec Douglas Home, prime minister, told the Cabinet in January that the universities wanted a separate higher education ministry but "some notable individuals have dissented" and "there is considerable opposition to the idea of a separate ministry for the education elite". The universities lost, but were winning on other fronts as the Government pushed for expansion from 124,000 students to 170,000, plus ,000 in new and upgraded institutions, by the 1967/68 academic year.

Mr Hogg reported in March that while it had been thought that an extra Pounds 33.5 million of capital funding would be sufficient to accommodate expansion, universities had submitted expansion bids amounting to about Pounds 100 million and the University Grants Committee now thought Pounds 58.5 million would be needed. The Government could not renege on its numbers commitment and should find the money: "The alternative is to announce a programme of university development which is not backed by the UGC. I am sure the Cabinet cannot contemplate this."

The Treasury conceded an extra Pounds 15 million in January, but dug in its heels over a further Pounds 10 million. John Boyd-Carpenter, chief secretary to the Treasury, argued that insufficient evidence had been provided for the claim and in particular there was no proof of the "temporary sacrifice of standards" or "crowding up" envisaged during the period of rapid expansion.

With positions entrenched, mediation was provided by an ad hoc committee chaired by home secretary Henry Brooke, whose son Peter would become junior higher education minister in the 1980s. It settled on an extra Pounds 6 million and called for a "strengthening of the organisation of the University Grants Committee".

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