Mrs Thatcher says selection for secondary education is decreasing rapidly, but there may be reversals
Government against student loan scheme
The Government does not intend to introduce any plan for loans to undergraduates, Mrs. Thatcher, Secretary of State for Education and Science, said yesterday.
In an interview with The Times, the first since the recent review of government expenditure, she said she thought the Open University ought to admit students under 21; that she had no plan to reopen the direct-grant school list; that she was surprised by the reaction to her circular 10/70; and that she thought non-selective secondary education was coming with increasing speed.
But she thought some non-selective areas might revert to selection.
On the recent cuts in the education budget, which were less severe than many people had feared, she said: “Shall we just say I got my own way in the end. I think it is up to every Minister to battle for his or her department.
“I was quite determined to keep my pledge, which on the whole was to spend more on the primary school sector. Educationally I had virtually no cuts to offer, and I stuck to that.”
Education expenditure would continue to rise in almost every sector—at least for the present—and that included higher education. She did not plan to try to save money with a system of student loans.
“I have not thought of introducing undergraduate student loans. I think it would have the effect of reducing people's chance of coming to university where they came from parents whose incomes were fairly well down the line.”
But, she said, she had not given any undertaking on postgraduate loans and “We shall be looking at that” .
There was not the urgency to make decisions on the next quinquennium that some people might think, because universities were still collecting material for their claims. She did not foresee the creation of any more universities in the next five years.
“There will be a very considerable growth in the further education and polytechnic sector” , she said. “The expectation is that there will be an increase in the demand for higher education and an increase in the supply.”
“The extent of the increase and the distribution of it have not yet been decided.” Asked if the options therefore were still open, she said: “Yes, this is one of the objects of the recent planning paper” .
She emphasized her support of the polytechnics, which, she hoped, would stay separate from the universities and follow a philosophy of their own. “Part of our problem is to get the polytechnics better known among teachers in schools, and to get their degrees and products better known to industrialists.”
On the Open University, which is not allowed to admit students under the age of 21, she said: “I do not see for the life of me why, supposing a person leaves school and determines to go into a job straight away and after 18 months rather wishes he had thought of taking a degree, he should not be treated just as equally as someone else when applying for an Open University course.
“A lot of people under 21, I should have thought, would be highly suitable people because there would be that much less of a gap between leaving school and starting learning again.
“What you have got are young people who perhaps have not been accepted for universities or polytechnics—now if they are still keen to take a degree, I would like Open University courses to be just as open to them as to other people.”
Though a keen supporter of the direct grant schools she said: “I have no plan to reopen the list immediately. I am in consultation with the direct-grant committee about arrangements for existing direct-grant schools and I would rather get that sorted out before really closely considering the other question.”
She had been surprised by the reaction to her circular 10/70 which ended five years of Labour pressure on local authorities to reorganize secondary education on comprehensive lines. She had issued the circular “because I was under a direct pledge to do so given by both my predecessor, Edward Boyle, and by the Prime Minister, Mr. Heath.
“Had I been in fact imposing extra restraints on someone I should have expected an absolute furore, but I was not stopping anyone from doing anything, nor was I changing the law.” She had not consulted any of the teachers' organizations because “you do not consult on a direct pledge just to withdraw something” .
“I take it as my duty to carry out the manifesto. One has no credibility as a politician whatsoever unless one does.”
As for non-selective education: “I think it is coming with increasing speed. I do not accept that it will stop there; that is to say that non-selective education is not the last word in education.
“I believe that in many areas it is a stage we shall only go through; some will stop there, some will go on to something different. I fully expect that there will be a system of some selective schools again. I do not accept that any stage in education will stop there; and this is one reason why I am absolutely determined not to impose one system and none other.”
Asked whether she was enjoying the job, Mrs. Thatcher said: “Tremendously.” She had no desire at all, she said, to be the first woman Prime Minister. “I hope to be here at the next election and if possible after it.”