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Higher Education

Volume 612: debated on Tuesday 28 June 2016

The higher education and research White Paper, and now the Bill before Parliament, set out the steps that we are taking to raise the quality of higher education and to help ensure that all students get the teaching experience that they expect and the employment outcomes that they expect from their time at university.

The University of Winchester is exceptionally strong in degree apprenticeships. It performs consistently well in student satisfaction surveys and regularly tops 90% in graduate prospects figures. Does the Minister agree that these are all key drivers for young people in deciding to make what is a significant investment in higher education, and that Winchester seems well placed for that?

The University of Winchester is leading the way in degree apprenticeships, as in so many other areas. I was delighted, on Friday, to meet its excellent vice-chancellor, Professor Joy Carter, and I will meet her again shortly. Winchester is a good example of a university whose students have excellent satisfaction ratings and excellent employment outcomes, with 95% going on to employment, graduate employment or further study in a very short time.

The University of Sussex down in Brighton gets £9 million of funding from the European Union. The leave campaign was very clear that that funding would be replaced by British Government funding after Brexit. Will the Minister get to his feet and guarantee that that funding will continue? If not, will he bring his brother down to Brighton to explain directly to students why the door of education is going to be slammed in their faces?

This Government, more than any other, understand the importance of science funding. That is why we have protected science spending until the end of the Parliament—a decade of real-terms protection. Our universities and institutes can continue today to apply for EU competitive funding streams under Horizon 2020, and I am sure they will continue to be successful in the future.[Official Report, 5 July 2016, Vol. 612, c. 4MC.]

I praise the Catapult programme run by the Department, but can the Minister give us any indication of the opportunities for it to be rolled out more widely and to be available to people in areas such as Northern Ireland?

Certainly. In our manifesto we committed to rolling out our very successful catapult network, which provides shared facilities that companies, on their own, could not afford to construct. That enables our businesses to maximise the value of research coming out of our university system. In this Parliament, we have already delivered new catapults at Alderley Park in Cheshire and in Cambridge, with the precision medicine catapult. This is an expanding and very successful network, and it will continue to be so.

The Minister’s higher education White Paper rightly bangs on about how important high-level skills are, but the imminent skills White Paper is not even part of his new Higher Education and Research Bill. With those who teach, manage and work in HE fearful of the consequences of Brexit, should he not be prioritising skills strategies for both our community-based and internationally focused universities and using FE colleges as key HE providers? Why is he instead gambling the bank on allowing unknown, brand-new providers to get degree-awarding powers from day one—probationary degrees from probationary providers—risking our universities’ brand reputation overseas, as well as jobs and productivity at home?

I am working closely with my colleague the Skills Minister, whose forthcoming White Paper will have many of the answers to the questions the hon. Gentleman has posed. We are surprised by the tone of scepticism about the potential for new higher education providers to lift quality and enhance the range of high-quality higher education on offer in this country. I am afraid, though, that that is of a piece with the Labour party’s previous opposition to the conversion of polytechnics and to new universities in the 1960s.