Committee (5th Day) (Continued)
Debate on Amendment 187 resumed
My Lords, to pick up on the recently finished speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, I thoroughly agree with the three main points she made. First, producing a mixed indicator, as the Government propose, would not be useful to students or others looking at the quality of a university or a course. It would be like composing a meal out of mincemeat, cornflakes and cleaning fluid. Each of those things is useful in its own right, but mix them together and they have no function. Keep them separate, as the noble Baroness advocated, and you get some very useful data on which students can judge in their own terms the quality of a university.
Secondly, let these things be criterion-referenced. We have a real problem at the moment in GCSE—we are saying that every child should get English and Maths, but we are making that impossible, because we make these exams harder as students do better. About 30% are required to fail in order to meet the requirements of Ofqual. We have to be careful about this when we are looking at a bronze, silver or gold indicator. If we do not make these indicators criterion-referenced, we are saying that, whatever happens— however well our universities do—we will always call 20% of them bronze. In other words, we will put them into an international students’ “avoid at all costs” category. That seems a really harmful thing to do. If these criteria mean anything —if there is a meaning to any of the elements going into the TEF—we should be able to say, “We want you to hit 60%.” Why not? Why do the criteria have to be relative? They do not mean anything as relative criteria. They must have absolute meanings and they must be absolute targets.
Thirdly, this really adds up. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, made it clear that gold, silver and bronze indicators—this big step change between the three grades —are not suited to a collection of imprecise measures. You do not know whether an institution that you have placed towards the bottom of silver is actually bronze or, worse, whether something in bronze is actually in the middle of silver. It is not that exact. You have to do what the Government do elsewhere in education statistics—for example, in value added on schools—which is, yes, to publish a value, but publish a margin of error too. That way, people get to learn that you might be saying: “This is actually 957 on your scale of 1,000, but the error margin is somewhere between 900 and 1,010.” You get used to the imprecision, to understand that this is not precise, so you can put a proper value on the information you are being given.
My Lords, I am speaking to the proposal, in the name of my noble friend Lord Stevenson, that Clause 25 should not stand part of the Bill.
That clause refers to the Office for Students taking over HEFCE’s current administrative responsibilities to deliver the TEF on behalf of the Secretary of State. I say in passing how disappointed I am that so many in your Lordships’ House, whom I thought would come to hear this debate on TEF metrics, have now departed. Perhaps that was not the reason they were here after all. Those of us who are ploughing through the Bill until all hours of the night realise that this is an important topic. The fact that we have had so many speakers on it is a clear reflection of that.
As the Minister will be aware, there is widespread concern across the sector at the use of proxy metrics, including statistics on graduate earnings, in an exercise that was supposed to be about teaching quality. On the face of it, there is some logic to the metrics. It is difficult to imagine an excellent course, the teaching, support and assessment for which the students think are rubbish, and that a large proportion of the students do not complete; or that hardly anyone who completes it manages to find employment or get a place on a postgraduate course.
Where metrics are used, they have to be much more securely evidence-based than those suggested. Last week in Committee, our Amendments 196 and 198 would have obliged the Office for Students to assess the evidence that any proposed metric for assessing teaching quality is actually correlated to teaching quality, and ensured that, prior to making that assessment, the OfS consulted those who know first-hand what is needed to measure teaching quality: academic staff and students. The Minister did not comment on that point, so it remains one on which I should like to hear his opinion. The importance of ensuring the statistics used are reliable and evidence-based cannot be overstated. They must earn and retain the confidence of the higher education sector—and that involves academics, students and administrators.
In her Amendment 201, the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, seeks to ensure the quality of the statistics used by the OfS, and this should be a basic requirement. I support my noble friend Lord Lipsey in questioning the validity and value of the National Student Survey. The survey merely asks students about their perceptions of teaching at their institution. By definition, these perceptions are subjective and cannot involve comparing institutions. I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, said, when he suggested that similar institutions could be compared in terms of their ethnic make-up and students’ economic background. That kind of benchmarking sounds improbable at best because, even if suitable comparators could be found, the question is, how would the outcome be weighted?
It sounds as though gold, silver and bronze categories would be created before the metrics had even been measured. As I said, that sounds improbable to me, and I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, that benchmarking is surely not the answer. Linking institutions’ reputations to student satisfaction is likely to encourage academics to mark more generously and, perhaps, even avoid designing difficult, more challenging courses.
With academics increasingly held accountable for students’ learning outcomes, students’ sense of responsibility for their own learning—something I thought was a core aspect of higher education—will surely diminish. We are now entering an era where students dissatisfied with their grades can sue their universities. Improbable as that sounds, only last week the High Court ruled that Oxford University had a case to answer, in response to a former student who alleged that what he termed “boring” and “appallingly bad” teaching cost him a first-class degree and the opportunity of higher earnings.
This may be the shape of things to come. Last year, nearly 2,000 complaints were made by students to the higher education Ombudsman, often concerning contested degree results. Nearly a quarter were upheld, which led to universities being ordered to pay almost £500,000 in compensation. Does anyone seriously believe that the introduction of the TEF metrics will lead to a reduction in such complaints?
Metrics used to form university rankings are likely to reveal more about the history and prestige of those institutions than the quality of teaching that students experience there. The Office for National Statistics report, on the basis of which the TEF is being taken forward, made it clear that they were told which metrics to evaluate, leading to the conclusion that these metrics were selected simply because the data were available to produce them. It is widely acknowledged that students’ experience in their first year is key in shaping what they gain from their time at university, yet the focus of the proposed metrics, of course, is mainly on students’ experiences in their final year and after graduation.
The ONS report was clear that the differences between institutions’ scores on the metrics tend to be narrow and not significant. So the majority of the judgment about who is designated gold, silver or bronze will actually be based on the additional evidence provided by institutions. In other words, an exercise that is supposedly metrics-driven will in fact be decided largely by the TEF panels, which is, by any other description, peer review.
Although the Minister spoke last week about how the TEF would develop to measure performance at departmental level, the ONS report suggested that the data underpinning the metrics would not be robust enough to support a future subject-level TEF. Perhaps the Minister can clarify why he believes that this will not be the case—the quality of courses in a single university tend to be as variable as the quality of courses between institutions. As I said in Committee last week, this would also mean that students’ fees were not directly related to the quality of the course they were studying. A student at a university rated gold or silver would be asked to pay an enhanced tuition fee, even if their course at that university was actually below standard—a fact that was disguised in the institution’s overall rating.
Learning gain—or value added—has been suggested as an alternative, perhaps better, measure of teaching quality and is being explored in other countries. At a basic level, this measure looks at the relationship between the qualifications and skills level a student has when starting their degree programme, compared to when they finish—in other words, a proper, reliable means of assessing what someone has gained from their course of study.
The BIS Select Committee report on the TEF metrics published last year recommended that priority should be given to the establishment of potentially viable metrics relating to learning gain. I hope the Minister will have something positive to say on that today, or, failing that, on Report. We do not believe that the metrics as currently proposed are fit for purpose; more importantly, nor do many of those within the sector who will be directly involved with the TEF. That should be a matter of some concern for the Minister, for his colleague the Minister for Universities and Science, and indeed for the Government as a whole.
My Lords, when we last met, and as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, said, we had a useful and wide-ranging debate on the TEF, and I value a further debate on this important subject.
The Conservative manifesto committed that we will,
“introduce a framework to recognise universities offering the highest teaching quality”.
During last Wednesday’s debate, I was pleased that, as the noble Lord, Lord Watson, noted, all noble Lords who spoke were in favour of improving teaching quality and of having a teaching excellence framework in some form.
Before discussing the specific issues raised today, I should like to clear up what appear to be some misapprehensions about how the TEF will operate. Before doing so, I should say that I will write to the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, who raised a number of detailed points. I think it is best if I address those specific points in another letter. I should reassure noble Lords that I have just signed a letter relating to our previous day in Committee, and that should arrive on their doorsteps shortly.
It is important that when we discuss the TEF we do so in the context of the framework that has been set out, in detail, by the Government. To be clear, this framework has been designed over the past year and a half with the sector, through two consultations, and using the input of experts such as HESA and the ONS.
First, the TEF is not only—not even primarily—about the NSS, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, acknowledges. The NSS is just one of three principal sources of metrics data being used, and we have explicitly said that the NSS metrics are the least important.
Secondly, the TEF is about much more than metrics. Providers submit additional evidence alongside their metrics, and this evidence will be given significant weight by the panel. The work of the panel will be driven as much by judgment as by metrics, ensuring that the distinctive character of institutions, as well as the diversity of missions and approaches across the sector, are recognised in the ratings awarded. Furthermore, final decisions on TEF ratings will be taken by a peer review panel, not by Ministers or civil servants.
We also consider it vital that judgments are based on a combination of core metrics, with additional and qualitative evidence, wedded together by expert peer judgment. It is for providers to determine what and how to teach, and excellent teaching can take many forms. However, great-quality teaching, defined broadly, increases the likelihood of good outcomes. In our consultation, over 70% of those who responded welcomed our approach to contextualising the data and provider submission.
I reassure noble Lords that we are not naive about the use of metrics. Chris Husbands, the TEF chair, has noted that the approach that the TEF takes is realistic about the difficulty of assessing teaching quality. He said:
“It does not pretend to be a direct audit of the quality of teaching. Instead, it uses a range of evidence to construct a framework within which to make an assessment—looking at a range of data on teaching quality, learning environments and student outcomes”.
Turning to Amendments 187, 197 and 190, that is why the development of the TEF, including metrics, is a phased process of development. Our consultation on the metrics included a table of the potential unintended consequences and our proposed mitigations. We will continue to collaborate and work with the sector to make further improvements, learning lessons from the initial, trial year. The aim is to instil and gain the confidence of the sector, and I believe we have made a very positive start. As Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of Universities UK, said:
“The government’s response to the Teaching Excellence Framework consultation demonstrates that it has consulted and listened to the university sector”.
I am concerned that some of the amendments in this group add a level of process which could reduce the incentive to make further changes to the scheme or the metrics by requiring that they are laid before Parliament as they change. This reduction in flexibility is not required by other schemes supported by many noble Lords, such as the research excellence framework.
I now turn to amendments to prohibit the use of the National Student Survey. We are listening carefully to concerns on the NSS, but we cannot ignore the only credible, widely used metric that captures students’ views. We are not using the general satisfaction ratings in the TEF; rather, we are using specific questions related to teaching quality. My noble friend Lord Willetts highlighted that point. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, acknowledges, we recognise the limitations of the NSS and have taken steps to mitigate these, including directing TEF assessors not to overweight the three NSS-based metrics and making them aware that NSS scores can be inversely correlated with stretch and rigour. Looking at three years-worth of data will mitigate concerns about the effects on small providers. It will also help to address the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, about spikes created by a non-response. The need for care when interpreting results for small providers has been drawn to the attention of the TEF assessors. However, overall the panel will be encouraged in its assessment to reward and recognise quality wherever it finds it, without being bound by guideline distributions of gold, silver and bronze.
On the standards that the OfS will apply in using statistics, I reassure noble Lords that the statistics and metrics are, and will continue to be, published—as are details such as where statistics have been combined to create indicators—without legislative duties forcing this, as the underlying purpose of the TEF is to provide students with better information about their chosen providers.
I hope that this debate has been of some use to noble Lords and that it has provided some reassurance about our collaborative approach to metrics and assessment. However, in wishing to attract participants to the TEF, it is not in our interest to impose metrics that lack credibility or to see information handled other than with the highest standards of professionalism. I believe we have already put suitable mitigations in place, without legislation, to ensure that that is the case.
The TEF addresses an unacceptable information gap in the provision of higher education, using clear ratings to inform students and incentivise excellence. It will support the propagation of good practice across the sector without stifling innovation. It will also provide clear benefits to UK businesses by ensuring that graduates enter the workplace with the skills and knowledge that can be provided only by excellent teaching.
I should like to address some points—raised notably by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and my noble friend Lord Lucas—that focused on the gold, silver and bronze ratings. The general gist of the noble Baroness’s question was whether the bronze rating would be considered less valuable. As I said in the previous debate, the TEF ratings assess the quality of teaching over and above the high-quality baseline that we expect providers to attain. Even to be able to apply for the TEF, providers must have passed this baseline—and, by the way, many do not. However, we are not complacent about the risk of miscommunication, and we are working very closely with the British Council and others to ensure that the TEF ratings are communicated effectively internationally, emphasising the high overall quality of the UK provision. We will have a joint communication plan with them in place by the time the TEF ratings are published.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, asked how often the assessment would take place. I think the implication of her question was: if a provider happened to be rated as bronze, how long would it be before that rating could change? I reassure her that a TEF lasts for three years but providers can reapply the following year if they are unhappy with their award and can be reassessed. I hope that provides some reassurance on this matter, not only for the noble Baroness but for the Committee.
My noble friend Lord Lucas, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, spoke about percentages, the implication being that there were quotas. I reassure them that, when it comes to the spread of how providers are rated, there is no quota. For example, the 20% figure that was mentioned is not a quota. It would be up to the assessors to decide what percentages of bronze, silver and gold would be awarded. Benchmarking has the support of the sector and I would be concerned about removing this contextualisation, with the disadvantages that could have. For example, providers that take a large number of students with low prior attainment might be disadvantaged. I should like to focus on this point in my next letter to clear up any misconceptions.
With that, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his Amendment 187.
My Lords, the Minister said there are no quotas, but unless my memory fails me, when we discussed the TEF, he said he thought that gold and bronze would have roughly 20% each and the rest would be what he termed “in the middle”. I understand that they are not firm quotas, but it seems that the Government have a fairly clear idea of what they expect the outcome to be.
I will have to check Hansard, but I believe I was speaking about the current system and how it is working now. I should stress that there is no quota and it could well be that these percentages are different when operated under the TEF. There is no particular expectation. I believe I was answering the question about how it might be likely to be very different.
I thank the Minister for answering my third question, but I had two other questions specifically on the measurement of teaching quality. Can the Minister answer them in his next letter, which we are so eagerly awaiting?
Yes, of course. I reassure the noble Baroness that I will add her points and I will look at Hansard again closely on the issues that she has raised and address them.
Would the Minister be kind enough to ask his staff to include me in his letters? Although I have not spoken in this debate, I would be very grateful if he could include me in the communication.
That is easy to answer and of course I will include the noble Lord in my reply.
Can my noble friend briefly tell us what one calls a university not rated as gold, silver or bronze? What category is it in? How do you define it? Is it “tin”? Is it “unsatisfactory”? How do you describe it?
I will include my noble friend in my letter and I will clarify that. The TEF is voluntary, so there will probably be some providers who are outside the TEF. I will follow that up and write a full letter that will include my noble friend.
On this same point, what has caused the problem is the Minister saying last Wednesday that,
“a bronze award is clearly seen as a badge of high quality, just as it will be in the TEF”.—[Official Report, 18/1/17; col. 276.]
Following on from my noble friend’s question, would it be helpful to the Government and the Minister if we were to table an amendment on Report to insert some grades below the bronze level?
I answer my noble friend by saying that much of this has been addressed in all the consultations that have taken place. We believe that we have come up with the right approach. The consultation included a number of ways in which the ratings could be used and we have come up with this approach. One idea proposed a rating system with 10 criteria and another proposed four. We believe that this is the right approach, having consulted the sector.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this very good debate. I also thank noble Lords who resisted taking part, because I will not be terribly late for my favourite event of the year, the Gold Medal Showcase at Trinity Laban, where our musicians compete at a level you would not believe if you were not in the room.
First, I want to refer back to the debate that I was having with the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, where there was a contribution from my noble friend Lady Blackstone. It became practically academic at one point and I am reminded of Henry Kissinger’s remarks about why academics’ debates generate so much heat. The answer is because there is so little at stake. There is much more at stake in this one than in that one but, being of an academic disposition, as is the noble Lord, Lord Willets, I did want to refresh my memory of the ONS report. He pointed out that the quote I used included the word “raw”. He used that to suggest that it was not as critical as I thought. However, the ONS said it straight; it said that “the differences between institutions at the overall level are small and are not significant”. No doubt we can debate further in the common room afterwards.
This debate about the ONS and the RSS, seems to lend powerful force to some of the amendments in my grouping this afternoon. One of them calls for a statistical inquiry into the validity of the NSS and the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, and I could spend happy hours giving evidence to the statistical inquiry. In the end, this is not a matter of opinion on whether it is a good survey, it is a matter of fact. Facts need to be established and we should not be moving into a lower world where expert opinion no longer counts. That is the route to the forms of degeneration we are seeing throughout the world.
If I might be allowed one more minute, I should like to address the remarks of the Minister. We have been listening to the Minister throughout this debate and I have found his remarks this evening very helpful. Indeed, he made two crucial and valuable points. First, he made it perfectly clear that the submissions made by institutions—I hope I am summarising correctly—and the general case that their teaching is good, is more important than the metric based on the NSS. This is of great importance and deals substantially with many of the fears that have been bugging me. It is very easy for numbers to trump words, because they seem concrete, real and true and words can seem less so, but what he has said—I am sure the panel will take it very seriously—is an extraordinarily important breakthrough.
I am also glad about what the Minister said—though he was a little elliptical—about the distribution of awards between gold, silver and bronze. It will be very helpful if the number of institutions that fall into the bronze category is smaller than has sometimes been suggested and is confined to those institutions where there are well-attested problems. We do not want a fifth of our universities categorised as bronze, shunned by students in later years and deprived of the extra resources they need to improve their performance. If a few outliers are so categorised, so be it. That may be necessary for a successful TEF, but it is important that the numbers be kept down and I took the Minister to hint that they were.
There is one more thing that I would have liked him to say—and I do not mean in my fantasy world, where everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, and I said was made real. I would have liked him to say that, in view of the concerns about the soundness of the TEF, we are going to postpone—not end—the link between the TEF and fees, but there are some weeks between now and Report. There is some time for bodies such as the ONS to reflect on our debate this evening and perhaps give us further advice on their opinions of the metrics. There is also some time for Ministers to understand that, when they show flexibility on how this policy should be implemented, it is not weakness; it is strength, because it will lead to a stronger TEF that works in a way that every noble Lord who has spoken wants it to work. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 187 withdrawn.
Amendments 188 to 198 not moved.
Clause 25 agreed.
Amendments 199 to 201 not moved.
Clause 26: Performance of assessment functions by a designated body
Amendment 201A not moved.
Clause 26 agreed.
Schedule 4: Assessing higher education: designated body
Amendments 202 to 206 not moved.
207: Schedule 4, page 81, line 42, at end insert “and that no class of registered higher education providers is unrepresented, and that all individual registered higher education providers have had a voice in who is chosen to be representative of them,”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 207 I shall speak to the other amendments in the group. The amendment covers a point I have made before—that it is essential that the whole sector should be represented in these organisations, not just the bits that the old universities like.
Amendment 392 would extend the Secretary of State’s access to information to anything they may be required or interested to know under any enactment, rather than just under the Bill.
Amendment 395 would appoint HESA—I suspect it is HESA being talked about at this point—to take an interest in people who intend to become students, not just people who become students, because a lot of the data they produce will be used to inform people as to whether to pursue a course, which is not really of much interest to those who have already taken that decision. It is important that HESA should focus on the students-to-be as much as on people who are already students.
Amendment 400 is an alternative to Amendment 207. I do not blame the current HESA regarding the provisions of Amendment 401. It is a trap that UCAS has fallen into of putting money and its constituent institutions ahead of the interests of students. This is a difficult thing with all such bodies, such as Ordnance Survey and others: the money tends to become the focus of what they are doing. It needs government to pull them back to focus on the interests of the country as a whole and, in this case, of students in particular. As long as the Office for Students has power to keep a body on the straight and narrow in this regard, I shall be quite satisfied that the Bill does not need this additional wording.
The anti-competitive conditions in Amendment 403 again look at the way UCAS has become a constraint on the way individual universities reflect students. Anti-competitive behaviour should always be subject to the very closest scrutiny by government to justify it. I would like to know that the OfS can keep its eye on that.
Amendment 407 goes with Amendment 395. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for drawing attention to a range of concerns relating to how the designated bodies will operate. I offer my assurance that we share the intention that legislation must support these bodies to be responsive to the needs of current and prospective students, and representative of the whole sector. I am happy to discuss these amendments further when we meet—although, given my state of health, I quite understand if he wishes to postpone that pleasure.
The role of the designated data body is to provide reliable and robust data on the sector for students, prospective students, the OfS and the sector itself. It will gather and make available source data, but it will not to be the sole source of information. The designated body functions most closely resemble those currently carried out by the Higher Education Statistics Agency—a sector-owned body that collects and publishes official data on higher education. I should clarify that the role currently under discussion is not related to the current role of UCAS. The designated body functions do not extend to running an admissions service. I reassure my noble friend that it is absolutely the Government’s intention that the interests of prospective students will be taken into account in the new system. The Bill already allows for this.
Amendments 398, 401 and 403 would create additional conditions for the designated data body to put the interests of students above that of higher education institutions and the commercial interest, and to ensure that data collection is not anti-competitive. The Government support the broad thrust and intent of the amendments, but believe that the current drafting is sufficient. The new data body will have a duty to consider what would be helpful to students and prospective students. However, it would not be in the spirit of co-regulation to direct the order of interests of the body.
I assure my noble friend that there is no intention to give the designated body a monopoly over data publication. We have a wide range of organisations involved in providing information for students, including specialist careers advice services aimed at mature students and career changes. We would not want any reduction in this choice for prospective students. While the Bill gives the designated body the right to receive information from providers, it does not give the body any right to prevent providers sharing those data with other organisations.
On Amendments 207 and 400, the Bill already requires that the persons who determine the strategic priorities of the designated data and quality bodies represent a broad range of registered higher education providers. The quality and data bodies are designed to be independent of government, so it would not be right to prescribe the make-up of a board in the way these amendments do. Rather, the bodies should have the ability to take a view on the mix of skills they require for the challenges they face.
The Government have confidence that they have the right balance here. In these circumstances, I therefore ask my noble friend to withdraw Amendment 207.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the answer my noble friend has given me and for her offer of further conversations if there is anything, on reflection, I think she has not covered completely. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 207 withdrawn.
Amendments 208 and 209 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendment 210 not moved.
Amendment 211 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 212 to 213A not moved.
Schedule 4 agreed.
Clause 27: Power of designated body to charge fees
Amendments 214 and 215 not moved.
216: Clause 27, page 17, line 22, leave out subsection (3) and insert—
“( ) The amount of a fee payable under subsection (2)(a) by an institution or provider— (a) must be calculated by reference to costs incurred by the designated body in the performance by the body of functions under section 23(1) in relation to the institution or provider, and(b) may not be calculated by reference to costs incurred by the designated body in the performance of any other functions or in relation to a different institution or provider.”
My Lords, I speak on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf of Dulwich, who is unwell. She does not intend to move this amendment and Amendment 217 but—if I have permission to add one sentence—they are about the costs of the regulatory structure. The same wording arises later in the Bill on the Office for Students. We will have a chance to discuss this on Amendments 420, 421 and 423.
Amendment 216 not moved.
Amendments 217 and 217A not moved.
Clause 27 agreed.
Clause 28: Power to approve an access and participation plan
Amendments 218 to 225 not moved.
Clause 28 agreed.
Clauses 29 and 30 agreed.
Clause 31: Content of a plan: equality of opportunity
226: Clause 31, page 19, line 22, at end insert—
“( ) In preparing, revising or implementing the provisions of a plan which relate to equality of opportunity, the governing body may take regular advice from bodies representing minorities nominated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, about appropriate steps to improve ethnic and gender diversity representation and representation of an appropriate range of disability groups.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 226 and speaking to the other amendments in this group in my name and those of my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I draw the Committee’s attention to matters to do with disability. There is not much in the Bill focused on this, except for access. When we talk about access, getting those with disabilities through the university system must be a fairly high priority, as they are a large group. Indeed, it is reckoned that 20% of the school population have a special educational need, many caused by a disability. So to draw a little attention to it is justifiable at this point.
I feel a little mean bringing this again to the Minister but we are still waiting for guidance about what universities are supposed to do about their changed and enhanced responsibility for dealing with those with disabilities. I am sure most of the Committee will have heard my speech on this on a previous day, but we have a major shift in that responsibility. Effectively, there are four bands reckoned to be a disability, although we cannot discuss it that clearly at the moment. Those in the first two are now the responsibility of universities. The guidance which was supposed to tell universities what those duties are and what is supposed to happen has still to be published, and we are now into the second term of the new regime. Indeed, when I asked a Written Question on this three months ago, the Minister said they were waiting to get the thing published. It is not his responsibility but I am afraid the person with the ball gets the tackle; it is just the way it falls. We need some guidance about what the Government’s thinking is, so a series of probing amendments is appropriate at this point.
The amendments are really attempts to extract information. At the heart of Amendment 226 is an attempt to find out what is going to happen. I do not defend the wording that closely; at this stage the debate is more important than the actual wording of the amendment. Amendment 227 looks to a precedent set within the rest of the education sector and brought forward in regulations last year, when the initial teacher training facility accepted that it must take on a higher degree of knowledge and expertise in dealing with special educational needs. The vast majority of the students who go into our university sector will come through the school system. If you have a degree of teaching, preparation and help for them at one level, merely dumping them out at the other side is something that we should not be doing, particularly as the university is supposed to be picking up this activity. Okay, it is only the bands judged to be of less severity, but if the lecturers—those doing the teaching at higher, university level—do not have some knowledge, they are going to make mistakes in their job of implementing this. The school system has proven to us that it is quite possible to have a duty and insufficient knowledge to carry it out. Let us avoid that here; let us get something in place.
The last of the amendments in my name, although the wording may not be the most elegant ever produced, is Amendment 235, inspired by the fact that we can make mistakes when implementing across the board in those various bits of the education sector as a whole and we can make changes or create systems which have perverse incentives in them. It is probably now appropriate for me to refer to my declaration of interests. I am president of the British Dyslexia Association, I am dyslexic myself and I also have a financial interest as chairman of the company Microlink. It was decided that in order to get DSA for technical support in computing, you have to come up with a £200 initial contribution. Evidence shows that this has led to a situation where, despite having a high number of identifications, we have lower take-up rates. This affects people who have been identified as needing help to get good degrees, or even to complete their degree: they need technical support so they do not have an unfair disadvantage, usually help in word processing and in assimilating information. You now have to pay for technical packages which are out there and have been out there for many years, and people are not taking them up. The £200 may not seem a lot to us, but at the initial part of a course it seems to act as a disincentive. There are students who will not achieve at a maximum level and are at higher risk of failing the course—probably the worst result, all round—because of this.
The Student Loans Company has an increasing role to play in administering this. I suggest we look at something like working this £200 into the student loan debt. We have something specific from the dyslexia world. The Committee may not be aware that if you have had an assessment as a dyslexic before you are 16, you have to have another one—this is only for dyslexia; it is very specific—to make sure you are entitled to this support. No other disability has this: I am under the impression that no other disability group has to do this again. Why does this matter? Because it costs £500. Effectively, dyslexic students will have a £700 up-front fee to make sure they get the help they are entitled to, that will enable them to complete their degree and mean that they are more employable in later life, when we actually have a duty to educate them and get them there in the first place. This is a ridiculous perverse incentive and it should be removed. I may have sprung this on the Minister, but the timing on this issue meant that I could not get a briefing to him in time, but I hope that the Government will start to address issues such as this.
That is one group where there are perverse incentives built in by historical cock-up. Surely we have a duty to start looking at this in the round. We have a situation where an entire section of the population does not know what is going to happen and we have not started to address some of the historical anomalies that are out there. Surely we should be doing slightly more. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is attached to the amendments submitted by my noble friend and I have one that I believe complements his amendments. I remind your Lordships’ House of the amendment on the role of the Director for Fair Access and Participation, when we were debating—and I used as an illustration—the responsibility of the director for ensuring that the responsibilities regarding disabled students were being appropriately delivered by institutions.
It is worth reminding ourselves, going back nearly two years to when the Government began their consultation on the cutting of funding for disabled students’ allowance and transferring some of the funding to institutions, that at the time this was heralded a great thing for better targeting disabled student support. Many of the specialist organisations that work with disabled students provided evidence to the contrary at that consultation. The National Deaf Children’s Society gave a case study of Isla, a young woman at the University of Edinburgh who asked the disability office repeatedly before she arrived for support. The case study says:
“She arrived early for lectures and asked tutors to wear the loop-system microphone, but found that microphones rarely worked or tutors forgot to use them. In a laboratory session she asked to be allowed to sit near the front so she could lipread, but the tutor was not supportive”.
“She said to me, ‘Well, you’ll just have to sit through it for this tutorial, this lab, but for the next time I’ll have you down the front’. Next time I went in, she still hadn’t changed it. I was raging. I was like really angry”.
The case study continues:
“As time went by, Isla realised that she was missing out on most of the content of her course. She dropped out at Christmas”.
“We had a couple of big papers coming up. I had started them. I had no idea where I was going with it. I e-mailed my tutor and said, ‘Look, I’m not coming back. I can’t. I can’t hear anybody, so I can’t’. He said, ‘I’m sorry to hear that’. That was it”.
That may be one example but I know from my time working in an institution some years ago that a lecturer refused to wear a microphone so a deaf student could hear, on the grounds that she might record the lecture and so infringe his personal copyright. I am pleased to say that the university dealt with that matter expeditiously. Putting the responsibilities on universities and reducing funding cause problems. That is why I support the comments made by my noble friend that we are now two terms into the new system and there is no clear guidance for institutions. That is deplorable and lies at the hands of the Government.
I want to go back a step from that to our responsibilities as a state. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is very clear about the responsibilities that we have as a state and as education institutions to provide support for students. It notes a:
“Lack of disaggregated data and research (both of which are necessary for accountability and programme development), which impedes the development of effective policies and interventions to promote inclusive and quality education”.
It also notes that there are:
“Inappropriate and inadequate funding mechanisms to provide incentives and reasonable accommodations for the inclusion of students with disabilities, interministerial coordination, support and sustainability”.
I worry that we are moving into that world at the moment where we do not quite know what is going on between institutions and the department. But the department has already handed over the responsibility for the support of disabled students to institutions.
The convention goes on to say at paragraph 12(i):
“Monitoring: as a continuing process, inclusive education must be monitored and evaluated on a regular basis to ensure that neither segregation nor integration are taking place, either formally or informally”.
Isla’s story is segregation writ large. Later on the convention talks about implementation at a national level. This is the responsibility of the Government, even if they choose to devolve the power down. Paragraph 63(d) speaks of:
“A guarantee for students with and without disabilities to the same right to access inclusive learning opportunities within the general education system and, for individual learners, to the necessary support services at all levels”.
Paragraph 63(g) speaks of:
“The introduction of accessible monitoring mechanisms to ensure the implementation of policies and the provision of the requisite investment”.
Finally, on my personal favourite topic of training, paragraph 73 says:
“Authorities at all levels must have the capacity, commitment and resources to implement laws, policies and programmes to support inclusive education. States parties must ensure the development and delivery of training to inform all relevant authorities of their responsibilities under the law and to increase understanding of the rights of persons with disabilities”.
With the introduction of the new system, there are some real concerns among student assessors about the arrangements for professionals under the new quality assurance framework for the non-medical helper support funded through the DSA. Higher education providers are reporting that it can be difficult to find interpreters for sign language due to the new requirement for freelancers and agencies to have to register with the DSA-QAG. This is an important issue and we are already getting comments, such as this anonymous quotation from a discussion forum of student assessors trying to help deaf students before Christmas:
“Already running into problems finding support that meets QAG requirements – I’m already starting to draw a blank for some students who need e.g. specialist note-taker, language support tutor as agencies – despite listing this in their range of support on the QAG site – are saying they can’t recruit people who meet the required qualifications (as set by QAG). Anyone else having this problem? Any possible solutions on the horizon??”.
The silence from the department is deafening. Unfortunately, the impact for students in our system means that it is not working. That is why I repeat my earlier statement, when we discussed the role of the Director for Fair Access and Participation, that there must be a specific role for monitoring support for students with disabilities. These are probing amendments, but they pick up the point about monitoring and evaluation to ensure that our students are not deserted by this nation state in contravention of the United Nations convention.
My Lords, I support these amendments and would like to speak briefly about the very important points that have been made. For a number of years I chaired the disability and additional needs committee at Loughborough University, and was very aware of the importance of adequate support for disabled students and how difficult it is when that support starts breaking down. I am very out of touch with it now but I was shocked by what was said about the guidance, and I hope that the Minister will be able to give a firm assurance that there will be no further delay in issuing that guidance.
I have a broader point to make about equal opportunities, as some of these amendments go beyond disability. The staff body is as important as the student body. I am prompted to say that by a report, which I think I read last week, about the complete absence of senior black staff in universities. If there are no senior staff and very few lecturing staff, and all the black members of staff are cleaners or porters, what kind of signal does that send to young black people who might be thinking of going to university, if they see those institutions as purely white ones? When we talk about equality of opportunity and access for students, we must bear in mind what is being done in relation to staff in the examples and role models that are being provided.
My Lords, the amendment is asking the bodies concerned to seek advice from the commission and those who advise that tells them it would be good to do it this way. Because of its permissive nature, I hope the Minister will see this as helping. As somebody from a minority ethnic group, I have always benefited from the human rights commission. The advice that I have just mentioned is not intrusive; it is a good thing. Universities should hold before themselves, in all their aspects, a mirror, to see whether their leadership, in different places, reflects the nature of the university. Noble Lords know that the Church of England has finally overcome the question of women as bishops in the representative route, but we still have a big job in terms of minority ethnic bodies. Given what was said in the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, I feel it is quite appropriate. However good they are, institutions need to be aware that, within their set-up, they could unwittingly be discriminating against people. The amendment, which is permissive and not difficult, simply asks for bodies to give advice to improve gender diversity as well as ethnic groups. I hope we all would say that that is good advice.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this interesting debate. The metaphor of holding up a mirror to current practice and making sure that what is reflected is not a distortion of what is happening on the ground is very powerful. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, has done excellent work in this area and is an inspiration to us in insisting that we look at these points and think harder about how policies are going to be developed and how monitoring and training will support them. We owe him a great debt of thanks.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, took the argument away from the specific question of what is happening in the Office for Students and how things should be done, and looked at it in the context of our responsibilities under the UN convention. That is very important. In reading out her quotation, she pointed out that the UN does not have a problem with “must”. Our parliamentary draftsmen shy away from “must” and always insist on “may”. The convention clearly says “must”, so there are is no way of ducking this responsibility. The Government are responsible for policy, monitoring, training, funding and development; for ensuring that the project is capable of reflecting correctly what we do; for ensuring that there are none of the perverse incentives to which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred; and for ensuring that we can operate in an appropriate way for a civilised society, caring for all students and making sure that access is available to all.
Our Amendment 236 is of the “change ‘may’ to ‘must’” type. I thought that, as I was not getting very far with “must”, I should try “should”, but the intention is exactly the same. This is something the OfS should—that is, must—do. It should not just identify; it should also give advice on good practice. If we do not work together, we will never achieve this aim.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for raising important issues relating to access and participation plans and disability. This Government are deeply committed to equality of opportunity, and I agree with many of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. That is why Clause 2 introduces a duty on the OfS to consider equality of opportunity in connection with access and participation in higher education. This applies to all groups of students. No such duty applied to HEFCE.
In order to be approved, access and participation plans will need to contain provisions to promote equality of opportunity. This makes clear our commitment to this important consideration. Questions were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, about where we are on guidance on disabilities. I hope noble Lords have read my letter of 18 January, but I confirm, as I confirmed in that letter, that I expect this guidance, for which noble Lords have been waiting for some time, to be published imminently. I also reiterate my offer to meet the noble Lord to discuss this issue further.
Amendment 226, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, seeks to specify that governing bodies of institutions may take advice from bodies nominated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in developing the content of their access and participation plans. I support the intention here. We expect higher education providers to consult to help ensure that their access and participation plans are robust. I listened carefully to the sobering anecdote about a student experience from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. This is the very issue for which we are seeking solutions. We are in agreement about that. Indeed, OFFA currently sets out its expectation that universities consult students in preparing access agreements, and we anticipate that this will continue for access and participation plans. Given the autonomy of institutions and the wide-ranging support already available—for example, the Equality Challenge Unit supports the sector to advance equality and diversity for staff and students—I believe it is unnecessary to place this requirement in the Bill.
Amendment 228, proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, seeks to include providing training for staff in awareness and understanding of all commonly occurring disabilities. Ensuring a fair environment and complying with the law are matters which providers need to address in meeting their obligations under the Equality Act 2010. This amendment would mean including a level of detail not consistent with the other, broader provisions and may overlook other underrepresented groups. For these reasons, I believe this amendment is unnecessary.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, proposed Amendment 229, which would mean that provisions requiring institutions to specify the support and advice they provide for students with disabilities may be contained in regulations about the content of an access and participation plan. We absolutely agree with the principle behind this amendment. The Equality Act 2010 imposes a duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled persons, which includes an expectation to consider anticipatory adjustments. In addition, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has a supporting role in providing advice and guidance, publishing information and undertaking research. Given the wider context, this amendment would introduce a level of detail into the Bill that is inconsistent with the other broader measures. It may also risk being seen to overlook other underrepresented and disadvantaged groups.
The new clause proposed in Amendment 235, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, would require the OfS every two years to commission a review of the support for students with disabilities or specific cultural needs. This is an interesting proposal, and I remind the noble Lord and noble Baroness that the Bill will require the OfS to produce an annual report covering its delivery against all its functions. Critically, this includes the duty regarding equality of opportunity set out in Clause 2.
Will the Minister clarify what is meant in Amendment 235 by “cultural needs”? I understand religious needs, but I cannot think of any cultural needs that have to be attended to. We certainly do not want to see universities providing, for example, gender segregation.
It is a generic term. In my next letter, I will address that point. I am certain that it requires a proper and full answer.
Amendment 236 seeks to ensure that the OfS “should” identify good practice and give advice to higher education providers. Let me reassure the noble Lord that we expect this to be a key function of the OfS. HEFCE and OFFA already do this as part of their existing roles, and we expect that will continue in future. We believe that the Bill as drafted will deliver the policy intent on the issues raised, so these amendments are unnecessary. I appreciate the fact that noble Lords have raised these issues, and I ask the noble Lord to withdraw Amendment 226.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York for pulling me up and reminding me about a bit of the amendment that I wrote myself, so I should have referred to it. I am glad to hear that the guidance is coming out. I have not received the letter yet, but it does not really matter. The fact that the guidance is coming is good. The fact that we have been waiting for it for this long is not. We are going to get it half way through an academic year, and in the vast majority of cases it will not be possible to implement it until next year. In certain cases, we are not preparing but patching up. We need to look at some of these issues in more detail. In fairness to the Minister, he was hearing about some of the specific points for the first time today. I look forward to arranging a meeting to see how this issue is progressing. I hope that bouncing between the Minister’s incredibly busy diary and my diary will be slightly more successful.
There are groups who do not know what is going to happen. They have been let down and have bad practices. I hope we can have clarifying amendments at the next stage, rather than confrontational ones, so we can find out exactly what is going to happen. At the moment, we are repairing trust and making sure this works slightly better—in a way we all thought the law was supposed to be working.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can I clarify a slight misconception? The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, asked a question about cultural needs, which I attempted to address. In fact, it was the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, who raised the concept of cultural needs, not the Government. I am very happy to discuss this with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, outside the Chamber.
I think it was actually in my amendment. I am not wedded to this. It was a probing amendment. If the Minister does not like those terms, it does not matter to me at all. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 226 withdrawn.
Amendments 227 to 229B not moved.
230: Clause 31, page 19, line 43, at end insert—
“( ) requiring the governing body of an institution to take, or secure the taking of, measures to enable students to undertake courses on a part-time basis where appropriate.”
My Lords, I think we can be brief on this one. It is a continuation of the debate that started two or three days ago to try to put flesh on the bones of the ideal which the Government say they have—and we certainly share—which is that higher education in future should be less regimented and less dominated by the three-year traditional degree taken full-time by students who come straight from school. We should try to open up the provision that is available in higher education, and made by higher education providers, to ensure that equal parity is given to those who wish to study part time, and in particular mature students who very often need to be more flexible in what they do. At the moment, they are disappearing too fast from the statistics, and we need to try and get them back.
This issue has been raised before in terms of the hierarchy of government policy in relation to the Office for Students, and is now down at the level of access and participation plans. The amendments seek to ensure that the governing bodies of institutions can and will take measures to enable flexible provision and allow students to undertake part-time courses, particularly to suit those who may be mature. I beg leave to move.
My Lords, I have tabled Amendment 237 in this group, which complements the words of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. With the collapse in part-time student numbers, this would ensure that the Office for Students has a duty to ensure that equality of opportunity is not neglected for those whose only opportunity to study is via part-time provision and at a later stage in life. It would also provide an assessment as to whether the Government’s new initiatives, such as the extension of maintenance loans to part-time students, are having the desired effect of boosting current numbers.
We remain concerned throughout the Bill that the opportunities for mature and part-time students should not be neglected. Putting them in the Bill will ensure that their contribution to higher education is fully considered.
My Lords, the Government agree that part-time education, distance learning and adult education bring enormous benefits to individuals, the economy and employers. Our reforms to part- time learning, advanced learner loans and degree apprenticeships are opening up significant opportunities for mature students to learn.
As part of the Bill, the OfS must have regard to the need to promote greater choice and opportunities for students, and to encourage competition between providers where it is in the interests of students and employers. By allowing new providers into the system, prospective students can expect greater choice of HE provision, including modes of provision, such as part-time and distance learning, which can increase opportunities for mature learners.
As was noted during our debate on 11 January, we know that in 2014-15, 56% of students at new providers designated for Student Loans Company support were over the age of 25, compared to 23% at traditional higher education providers. This is alongside the other practical support that the Government are already giving for part-time students, including providing tuition fee loans where previously they were not available. We have recently completed a consultation on providing, for the first time ever, part-time maintenance loans and we are now considering options.
I understand the sentiment behind Amendments 230, 232 and 237. The Government agree that it is very important for the OfS to have regard to the need to promote choice and opportunities for all students, including those who wish to study part time or are mature learners. Our approach is designed so that providers and the OfS can respond to changing demands and circumstances.
Currently, the Secretary of State issues guidance to the Director of Fair Access on widening participation. In the latest guidance, issued in February 2016, we asked the director to provide a renewed focus on part-time study, for example by including good practice on this in his guidance to institutions. In future, the Secretary of State will be able, through Clause 2 of the Bill, to issue guidance to the OfS. We would envisage that the Secretary of State will continue to issue guidance on priorities in the area of widening participation. This approach through guidance is more flexible and ensures that the OfS can respond to emerging issues and priorities. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister—I am sorry she is struggling to get through. It calls, I think, for an early night. We should make sure that she gets tucked up in bed with a good scotch—I perhaps should not say these things—in order that she recovers and comes back on Wednesday in good form. I listened to her very carefully and think she has reached out to us on this point. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 230 withdrawn.
Amendment 231 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 232 and 233 not moved.
Clause 31 agreed.
Clause 32 agreed.
Clause 33: Review of decisions on approval or variation
Amendment 234 not moved.
Clause 33 agreed.
Amendment 235 not moved.
Clause 34: Advice on good practice
Amendment 236 not moved.
Clause 34 agreed.
Clause 35 agreed.
Clause 36: Power of Secretary of State to require a report
Amendments 236A to 237 not moved.
Clause 36 agreed.
Clauses 37 to 39 agreed.
Amendment 238 not moved.
Amendments 239 and 240 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 40: Authorisation to grant degrees etc
241: Clause 40, page 23, line 6, leave out paragraph (b)
My Lords, in moving these government amendments, I look forward to potentially hearing contributions from the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Stevenson, about the amendments that they have proposed in this group. However, I believe the amendments we have tabled will have a similar effect to that which their amendments seek to achieve. The Bill is not as clear as it could be on exactly what types of providers can apply for what type of degree-awarding powers, and what awards this then entitles them to make. I believe this is why noble Lords tabled Amendments 242 and 243.
The simplest way of dealing with the issues at play here is for me to explain the purpose of the government amendments. We listened carefully to the discussions in the other place and, as the Minister for Universities and Science promised, we have reflected on and re-examined how Clause 40 may have been read as impacting on the further education sector. Although there are over 30 government amendments in this group, most of them are consequential and there are really just two main areas that we seek to address. First, we want to remove any doubt that institutions within the further education sector can continue to apply for powers to award foundation, taught and research degrees. We believe that the amendment to Clause 40(1)—whereby what was subsection (1)(b) has been removed—will achieve this. Under that amendment, the definition in Clause 40(3) of a “taught award” clarifies that this may include a foundation degree. Removing what was Clause 40(1)(b) should help to remove any impression that providers in the further education sector that obtained powers under this route could not go on to obtain powers also to award higher-level degrees. As before, a further education provider must also be a registered higher education provider before it can apply for authorisation to grant awards under Clause 40.
Secondly, these amendments should remove any doubt over which providers can award foundation degrees. While we wish to retain the current position where only higher education providers that are also further education providers may apply for powers to solely award foundation degrees, it should nevertheless continue to be the case that institutions that can award taught degrees should also be able to award foundation degrees. It remains the Government’s policy that a provider that wishes to be authorised to award foundation degrees only should be required to provide a satisfactory progression statement. We believe it is important that the provider in question can demonstrate that it has in place clear progression routes for learners wishing to proceed to a course of higher-level study on completion of the foundation degree. The amendment to Clause 43 is therefore to ensure that, were a variation of a provider’s powers to result in it being left with the powers to award only a foundation degree, that provider would need to be able to satisfy the Bill’s requirements in respect of a progression statement. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments. I am speaking to Amendment 243 in this group. We welcome the government amendments. I agree very much that there needs to be clarity. There is a need to ensure that certain procedures within the Bill are applied fairly and proportionately and accommodate smaller providers of higher education such as further education colleges. It is also the case that the recently published BEIS post-16 skills plan includes proposals for colleges to make their own technical education awards, and it is important that there is joined-up thinking in this area. Unlike universities, colleges that offer foundation degrees are currently unable to provide both a foundation degree and a certificate of higher education to provide a flexible level 4 qualification option for students. The amendment would remedy this.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing his raft of amendments. He is right that on the area we are talking about we meet in the middle. I am glad that his amendments, which outnumber ours by about 100 to one, were tabled, because what we had tabled would certainly not have been sufficient to achieve what he has outlined.
It is good that this is being done in pursuit of a vision of higher education provision that is inclusive rather than exclusive and which is open to many institutions to offer the various types of degrees and qualifications that they think is appropriate, with the aim, as picked up today in earlier amendments, that other modes of study, such as full-time and block release, are not excluded in any tally. With that will come the responsibility to ensure an effective credit accumulation system that allows those who have credits banked in the various styles and approaches that different institutions have to cash them in, as it were, against other higher education provision, to ensure that they arrive at a satisfactory conclusion with the degree that they have been studying for through this flexible route.
I have three worries that I wonder if the Minister could respond to in the short time available before we must break for the dinner business. Maybe this will mean that yet another letter will emerge from this process, and I have no objection to that. The first is that we have heard announcements today about various different types of institution that will focus on technology and technological achievement. These are to be welcomed, but it is not clear that provision has been made for that in the Bill. The Minister may not have been able to adapt the thinking announced today into the mode that would apply to the Bill, but I would be grateful if he could confirm whether or not it is the Government’s intention to try to bring forward anything that might be a consequence of the proposals made today. I agree that we are in a three-month consultation period but the Bill will last a lot longer, and there may not be another higher education or even further education Bill along in the next year or two. It would be a pity to miss the bus, as it were, on this occasion, so some clarification at least about the thinking would be helpful. We would certainly wish to work with the Minister if there were some suggestions about changing the framework here, although maybe he will be able to confirm that that is not the case.
Secondly, the question about who has what powers to do what is confusing. I want to assert what I think is the intention behind this term, and if the Minister is able to confirm it then so much the better. I also have a question embedded in this, which is where I will end. The intention of these amendments, as it was in our proposals as discussed in Amendments 242 and 256A, is twofold. First, it is to remove any doubt that institutions in the FE sector can apply the powers to grant taught and research degrees in addition to foundation degrees, as in the current system. Secondly, it is also to remove any doubt that institutions that are not in the FE sector, and which have been granted degree-awarding powers, can also award foundation degrees—in other words, institutions can provide the whole suite of qualifications.
However, it also seems to be the case that the Government are trying to say that only an institution in the FE sector can apply for the powers to award just foundation degrees, which seems perverse. If the Government accept my opening premise that we are trying to open up the system to make it more flexible, why is it only in the FE sector that you can find these foundation degrees? Is there something special about them that restricts Oxford University, Edinburgh or anyone else with the ambition and the wish to try to make as seamless a proposal for students wishing to enter university as possible to be prohibited from offering a foundation degree because they are not in the FE sector? That seems odd and slightly against what the Minister was saying as he introduced the amendment.
There seems to be a proposition buried in the amendments: that we are opening up everyone to offer the sort of courses that allow any student—full-time, part-time or mature, of any persuasion, type or arrangement—who wishes to come forward for degrees to be able to do so in the way that has the fewest institutional barriers. This particular restriction, that only FE providers can offer foundation degrees if that is all they want to offer, seems to go against that. I look forward to hearing from the Minister.
My Lords, I am beginning to feel like a broken record but I am still very unclear on what an “English higher education provider” is. I understand that it is meant to be an inclusive category, and that may have its merits. I have now read the Introduction to the Higher Education Market Entry Reforms—which I find a slightly angled title, let us say—and the factsheet on degree-awarding powers.
To put it very simply, I am still not clear what there is to prevent entryism into this market by institutions that we would not normally think of as higher education providers or teachers. I shall give some examples. I have hesitated to do so far thus far because one does not wish to spoil the cheerfulness that attends the thought of new providers. However, let us imagine that a large-scale publisher—this is not at all an implausible way of expanding—sets up a wholly-owned subsidiary that offers degrees in England. I do not mean degrees in publishing but, rather, degrees of various sorts, as is profitable. Are they able to become an English higher education provider by that route?
Let us be a little more far-fetched. Suppose the Communist Party of China thought, “A bilingual university in London to which we can send people and where we will have very good access for our highly intelligent and well-trained academics would be an extremely good thing”. It too would then be providing higher education in England. Because in each case the institution is a wholly owned subsidiary, its students would qualify to receive tuition grants. However, I am not clear whether, if such institutions go bankrupt and the parent company is outwith the jurisdiction, there is any chance of recovering the assets of the one-time university.
Finally, let us imagine that it is neither of the above, but so-called Islamic State that seeks to set up a university. That might rather appeal to it. What is to prevent that? We need to know about the governance of these institutions. The fact that they are providing education in England just tells us that this is one of their markets; it does not tell us about the standard of governance.
The noble Baroness is campaigning vigorously and with her usual persistence on a very interesting point. The letter dated 23 January that was delivered just as we were sitting down to enjoy ourselves this afternoon—I think we are going to have to start numbering them so we can keep track of which letter is which—has a little section on this, to which I think she was referring. Can the Minister possibly explain what this means?
“It is the Government’s policy that a provider that has a physical presence in England, and that is delivering courses in England, can be an English higher education provider even if it is delivering other courses in another country, provided that its activities are principally carried on in England. There has never been an agreed measure for identifying where the majority of a provider’s activity might be. But there are a number of sensible measures (or combinations of sensible measures) that should make it reasonably clear, including the number of students studying courses in each country, and/or where the provider has its administrative centre(s)”.
With the greatest respect to the Minister, this is just throwing more marbles on to the road for our poor horses to trip up and fall over on. I am not going to quote the stuff about massive open online courses, which has been raised by the noble Baroness and is an issue, because that is completely bonkers.
I appreciate the contributions from noble Lords in the very short debate after I introduced the government amendments. As we are now proposing that a foundation degree award is covered by the definition of a taught award in Clause 40(3), this puts holders of foundation degree-awarding powers in the same position as holders of taught degree-awarding powers—which I assume was the intent behind noble Lords’ amendments. In addition, we plan to set out in guidance the relationship between degree-awarding powers and powers to award other higher education awards such as certificates of higher education. I hope that this will help to further clarify the position for providers. We anticipate that this guidance will be subject to consultation. I do not wish to dwell on Amendment 256A any further, as we have covered the argument in our discussions on the previous group, where I trust that my noble friend Lady Goldie offered some reassurance.
However, I will address a small number of the points raised. The noble Lord, Lord Storey, raised some issues about the post-16 skills plan and how this joins up with our proposed reforms. I confirm that we are carrying out two reform programmes, in higher education and technical education at the same time, which he is probably aware of and which gives us the best opportunity to ensure that they are complementary and for young people to benefit from the changes as soon as possible. This is not about diverting people from academic education into technical education or vice versa; we simply want everyone who can benefit from a tertiary education—whatever that might be and whatever their talents lead them to—to have the chance to do so.
I will address the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. One point focused on the clarifications of our framework in relation to these amendments, while another was on the responsibility of powers. I think it is best to write a letter on that. I was interested in the points raised about entryism by the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, particularly on the position of overseas providers who might want to come in. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, has received the letter I have just written, in which I thought that we had addressed those issues, but I suggest that we have a meeting with the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, and indeed any other noble Lord who might wish to join in, to offer full and final clarification.
Amendment 241 agreed.
Amendments 242 and 243 not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.35 pm.