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Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Act 2022 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2024

Volume 837: debated on Tuesday 19 March 2024

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Act 2022 (Consequential Amendments) Order 2024.

My Lords, I declare my business interests in Wales as set out in the register. The draft order we are considering will make changes to UK legislation arising from the establishment of the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research in Wales under powers in the Senedd’s Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Act 2022. The 2022 Act provided for the establishment of the new Commission for Tertiary Education and Research, which I will hereafter refer to as the commission. The commission will be the regulatory body responsible for the funding, oversight and regulation of tertiary education and research in Wales. The 2022 Act also provides for the dissolution of the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, which is the existing regulatory body for higher education funding in Wales. I will hereafter refer to this body as HEFCW.

The Welsh Government have announced that the commission will become operational in August 2024, and that HEFCW will be dissolved at the same time. The amendments to various pieces of UK legislation in this order, many of which replace reference to HEFCW with “the commission”, are therefore needed in advance of this change taking effect. Article 2 of the draft order amends the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975 so that members of the commission in receipt of remuneration will be disqualified from membership of the House of Commons in the same way that members of HEFCW are currently.

Article 3 replaces references to HEFCW and the Welsh Ministers with the commission in Section 82 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. This section makes provision about the assessment of maintaining academic standards in higher education institutions in Scotland and Wales.

Article 4 amends Schedule 1 to the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which lists public authorities for the purposes of that Act. Once it comes into force, the 2022 Senedd Act will repeal Section 62 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. Section 62 is referred to in Schedule 1 to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in order to define institutions in the Welsh higher education sector within scope of the 2000 Act. Given the repeal, Article 4 replaces this cross-reference with an equivalent definition, ensuring that there is no material change to the institutions in the Welsh higher education sector subject to the 2000 Act.

Article 4 of the draft Order also amends Part 6 of Schedule 1 to the Freedom of Information Act 2000 by adding the commission to the list of public authorities for the purposes of that Act and removing the reference to HEFCW from the list.

Article 5 amends Section 32 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, which makes provision about monitoring the performance of further and higher education bodies in discharging their duty to prevent people being drawn into terrorism. In line with Section 32 of the 2015 Act, the Home Secretary has delegated this monitoring function to HEFCW in relation to higher and further education in Wales. Our amendment will allow this function to be delegated to the commission in the same way once HEFCW is dissolved. The Home Office and Welsh Government are working closely together to ensure that the function is delegated to the commission from the date on which it becomes operational.

Finally, Article 6 updates the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, ensuring that the commission is able to enter into joint working arrangements with education and research bodies across the UK, including UKRI and the Office for Students, as HEFCW can currently.

I welcome the establishment of the commission and hope that it will have a positive impact on the tertiary education and research sector in Wales. I am pleased in particular that this draft Order will support collaboration and joint working between the commission and its counterparts in other UK nations, supporting the continuous improvement of the education and research sectors in Wales and more widely across the UK. I commend this draft Order to the Committee and I beg to move.

My Lords, the Order is consequential on the Welsh Government’s Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Act 2022 which changed the way post-16 education and training is to be funded and regulated in Wales. The Act itself dissolves the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, or HEFCW, and creates the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research, the CTER—I wish we could find a little name for that—which becomes fully operational in August this year.

Currently, HEFCW has responsibility only for higher education, and the Welsh Government are responsible for the remaining areas within the sector. Under CTER, or the commission, higher education will join further education, LA-maintained school sixth forms, apprenticeships, adult community learning and research and innovation to form a new commission. It will have a budget of around £800 million, which will be one of the highest allocated budgets to an arm’s length body in Wales. The new commission will therefore be responsible for the whole of the tertiary research sector and for the funding, oversight and regulation of all post-l6 education and training.

Having worked in both the secondary and lifelong learning sectors, I am fully in favour of the Act and its intention of bringing all parts of the sector together. For too long it seems that HEFCW was required to operate at arm’s length from the rest of the sector. Its inclusion in the commission will bring the benefit of its knowledge and expertise, which will be invaluable. I understood that the commission would be operational by April this year, but it now appears that it is unlikely to be so until August. Could the noble Lord explain the delay? Perhaps it is unfair to ask that question, because it is not his responsibility, and it would be more appropriately aimed at a Welsh Minister, but perhaps he could hazard an answer.

I welcome the names of those who have already been announced as members of the new commission and am extremely pleased that two members of the present HEFCW are to be among them. They will bring their extensive knowledge of the HE sector to their posts, together with their commitment to the Open University, which will be included in this scheme. I understand that the commission will consist of 17 members and additional associate members representing the education workforce and learners. I hope that this will include experts from the careers and guidance sector. During my time as vocational co-ordinator, I found their input invaluable for both myself and for students.

The SI itself deals with various amendments to pieces of UK legislation that are needed before the change to the commission and the dissolution of HEFCW can fully take place. I commend those who drafted the Explanatory Memorandum for the clarity of their language and their organisation of this document. I found Section 7 of the document to be very useful. The policy background section has been divided into subsections entitled:

“What is being done and why? … What did any law do before the changes to be made by this instrument? … Why is it being changed?” … “What will it now do?”

That was very effective. It leads the reader through the rather complicated process of removing references to HEFCW in, for example, the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, and the insertion of the reference to

“any member of the Commission”

in its place. It follows the same process for the replacement of references to HEFCW in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 and the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, as the noble Lord detailed in his opening speech, which I will not repeat.

The Liberal Democrats support the Welsh Government’s changes to the tertiary education and research sector in Wales, and welcome this statutory instrument which inserts the consequential changes into UK law.

My Lords, this statutory instrument is laid because of the passage of the Tertiary Education and Research (Wales) Act 2022 in the Senedd. It will replace references in reserved UK legislation to the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales with the new Commission for Tertiary Education and Research and make technical amendments in relation to provisions that are being repealed as a consequence of the Act. It forms part of the delivery of Welsh Labour’s manifesto commitment on tertiary education and renews the 30 year-old system, which predates devolution, under which tertiary education is currently organised and funded.

As noted by the Minister, the commission becomes operational on 1 August 2024 and will, for the first time, take a coherent and system-wide view of tertiary education, bringing together under one area of responsibility the funding, oversight, quality and regulation of higher and further education, local authority-maintained school sixth forms, apprenticeships, adult community learning and responsibility for research and innovation.

The Welsh Government are implementing the main recommendations of the independent Hazelkorn review, which noted the confusion and complexity of the sector in Wales, and the lack of a system-wide strategic view and collaboration, as well as incoherent learner pathways. I am pleased to confirm that the architect of much of the marketised reforms to tertiary education in England, the noble Lord, Lord Johnson of Marylebone, when Minister for Universities, similarly backed this idea. He called it a

“joined-up system of regulation and funding for all post-16 education”

for England, deriding what he called a

“bewildering array of regulatory and funding bodies”.—[Official Report, 15/6/21; col. 1813.]

Where Welsh Labour leads, one hopes that Government Ministers will follow.

The Welsh Government have introduced the young person’s guarantee of education, training or work for all 16 to 24 year-olds. This new system will create the conditions for a highly skilled society, with equality of opportunity and a civic mission at its heart. Its strategic duties will also include contributing to a sustainable and innovative economy, crucial for a UK Labour Government to deliver their plan to make Wales a green energy superpower, investing in the industries and jobs of the future.

As it makes only minor and technical legislative amendments, we are content to support this SI. I would, however, ask the Minister to check with his officials whether the department has notified Welsh Government officials that this order has been laid.

In conclusion, I take this opportunity to record my immense thanks to our outgoing First Minister of Wales, the right honourable Mark Drakeford MS, who will submit his resignation to His Majesty the King this evening. He led Wales with distinction though some of the most difficult times in its history, and brought a calm and intelligent response to the Covid crisis that consumed so much of public life, alongside dealing with many other major and significant matters. Diolch am bopeth, Mark.

I also congratulate the incoming First Minister, Vaughan Gething MS, on winning the leadership contest, and wish him the very best for his new responsibilities. I look forward to working closely with him as the shadow spokesperson for Wales in the House of Lords in the times ahead.

My Lords, I thank both noble Baronesses for their valuable contributions to this short and very interesting debate this afternoon. As has been explained, this order provides for a number of consequential changes to UK law necessary ahead of the Commission for Tertiary Education and Research becoming operational in August.

I will respond to some of the points raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asked whether the Welsh Government had been informed and consulted. Absolutely, yes—Wales Office officials notified their counterparts in the Welsh Government shortly after the order was laid. Wales Office and Welsh Government officials, as well as colleagues from other UK departments, have worked closely together throughout the preparation of this order.

The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, talked about the remit that the commission will have and how spending will be allocated. As she hinted, that would be a decision for the Welsh Government on how they spend their money—but it gives me an opportunity to say that a record block grant of £18 billion has been provided to the Welsh Government, and through the block grant the Welsh Government are receiving £120 of Barnett-based funding for every £100 per person of equivalent UK spending in England. The Welsh Government budget for 2024-25 for those areas in which the commission will be responsible is around £900 million, with the commission receiving the appropriate proportion of this funding in line with it becoming operational part-way through the funding year. This will ensure that the Welsh Government are well funded to improve tertiary education. However, as I said, it is for the Welsh Government to decide how to spend this funding in devolved areas, in line with their own priorities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, talked about the timing of this SI. The Act was passed in the Senedd in 2022 but the provisions in it, under which the commission will become operational and HEFCW will be dissolved, do not come into force until August 2024. That is why this SI is being laid now; the key principle underlining it was to avoid as much disruption as possible in the transition from HEFCW to the commission, minimising disruption to the sector and, most importantly, to learners. August is the end of the academic year, with the new academic year starting in September, so I hope this will allay that concern.

I think I have answered the questions on funding, consultation with the Welsh Government and timing but, if I have omitted anything, I ask noble Lords to please let me know. On that basis, I commend this SI to the Committee.

Motion agreed.