Too much popular hostility towards higher education

The issue of student unrest at universities, including Liverpool, is raised in this House of Commons exchange, reported in The Times today:

Sir Gerald Nabarro (Worcestershire, South, C) asked whether the Secretary of State for Education and Science would introduce legislation to enable university authorities to recruit and maintain with support from public funds their own police and security forces in the interests of law and order, and as insurance against further destruction of public property.

Mr Fowler, Minister of State (The Wrekin, Lab).-No. It is for the universities to make appropriate arrangements to protect their property, but 1 would not regard the setting up of their own police forces as appropriate. (Cheers.)

Sir G Nabarro – What steps is the Minister of State proposing to take to protect public property in the event of riotous or insubordinate behaviour, such as when the students at Warwick and Oxford took possession of public property, badly damaged it and cocked a snook at the police ? What is then to happen? Is he disclaiming Ministerial responsibility ?

Mr Fowler -That question is based on a misapprehension. University property is not public property, it belongs to the uni- versity. I have no power to intervene in the affairs of individual universities nor would I regard the growth of private police forces in this country as desirable. (Labour cheers.)

Mr Heffer (Liverpool, Walton, Lab) – There is a great deal of hysterical nonsense coming from the Opposition about this. I visited Liverpool University’s senate building following a sit-in. There was little damage done and in the main the students acted responsibly. Is it not scandal that the Conservative-controlled Liverpool City Council suggested that grants should be removed from students who became involved in sit-ins or actions of that kind ?

Mr Fowler -I would not want to appear to condone activities of some minority groups in universities. There is no excuse for breaking and entering and flout- ing the law of the land. On the other hand, it is a great mistake to exaggerate what has happened because all the publicity which results from this exaggeration arguably incites larger groups to take a similar course of action.

Mr Doughty (Surrey, East, C) – Will he consult the Law Officers of the Crown to provide legislation so that police can deal with this malicious trespass ? If a new offence was made of malicious trespass when students misbehave in this way, the police would be in a position to restore law and order. People are thoroughly fed up with paying rates and taxes which are misspent by students in this way. (Opposition cheers.)

Mr Fowler -I too regard it as serious that there is at the moment perhaps more popular hostility to higher education than I can remember. Much of it stems from the activities of small minorities, but I still think it is a profound mistake to exaggerate it. […]

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Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

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