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House of Commons Hansard

Higher Education and Research Bill

21 November 2016
Volume 617

    Consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee

  • Members will note that I have, unusually, selected some starred amendments. I have done so in the circumstances applying to this particular Bill—the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh), following his point of order on this matter, will be conversant with the issues—because the deadline for tabling amendments had already passed when today’s business was announced last week. In those circumstances, it seemed to me sensible and helpful to the House to proceed in this way.

    New Clause 1

    Duty to monitor and report on financial sustainability

    “(1) The OfS must monitor the financial sustainability of the following registered higher education providers—

    (a) those who are funded wholly or partly by a grant, loan or other payment from the OfS under section 37 or 38 (financial support for providers),

    (b) those who are not so funded but are eligible to receive such funding under section 37 or 38, and

    (c) those who provide higher education courses which are designated for the purposes of section 22 of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 (financial support for students) by or under regulations made under that section.

    (2) The OfS must include in its annual report a financial sustainability summary for the financial year to which the report relates.

    (3) “A financial sustainability summary” for a financial year is a summary of conclusions drawn by the OfS for that year, from its monitoring under subsection (1), regarding relevant patterns, trends or other matters which it has identified.

    (4) Patterns, trends or other matters are “relevant” if—

    (a) they relate to the financial sustainability of some or all of the registered higher education providers monitored under subsection (1), and

    (b) the OfS considers that they are appropriate to be brought to the attention of the Secretary of State.

    (5) In this section—

    “annual report” means the annual report under paragraph 13 of Schedule1;

    “financial year” has the same meaning as in that Schedule (see paragraph 12(6)).”—(Joseph Johnson.)

    This new clause, which is for insertion after clause 61, requires the OfS to monitor the financial sustainability of registered higher education providers who are in receipt of, or eligible for, certain kinds of public funding. It requires the OfS to include in its annual report a summary of conclusions which it draws from that monitoring regarding patterns, trends or other matters which it has identified relating to the financial sustainability of some or all of the providers monitored and which it considers are appropriate to be brought to the attention of the Secretary of State.

    Brought up, and read the First time.

  • I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    New clause 4—Committee on Degree Awarding Powers and University Title

    “(1) The OfS must establish a committee called the “Committee on Degree Awarding Powers and University Title”.

    (2) The function of the Committee is to provide advice to the OfS on—

    (a) the general exercise of its functions under sections 40, 42, 43 and 53 of this Act, and section 77 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992;

    (b) particular uses of its powers under section 40(1) of this Act; and

    (c) particular uses of its powers under section 77 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.

    (3) The OfS must seek the advice of the Committee before—

    (a) authorising a registered higher education provider or qualifying further education provider to grant taught awards, research awards or foundation degrees under section 40(1) of this Act;

    (b) varying any authorisation made under section 40(1) of this Act so as to authorise a registered higher education provider or qualifying further education provider to grant a category of award or degree that, prior to the variation of the authorisation, it was not authorised to grant; and

    (c) providing consent under section 77 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 for an education institution or body corporate to change its names so as to include the word “university” in the name of the institution or body corporate.

    (4) The OfS must also seek the advice of UKRI before authorising a registered higher education provider or qualifying further education provider to grant research awards under section 40(1) of this Act.

    (5) The OfS does not need to seek the advice of the Committee before—

    (a) revoking an authorisation to grant taught awards, research awards or foundation degrees; or

    (b) varying any authorisation to grant taught awards, research awards, or foundation degrees so as to revoke the authorisation of a registered higher education provider or qualifying further education provider to grant a category of award that, prior to the variation of the authorisation, it was authorised to grant.

    (6) Subsection (4) applies whether the authorisation being revoked or varied was given—

    (a) by an order made under section 40(1) of this Act;

    (b) by or under any Act of Parliament, other than under section 40(1) of this Act; or

    (c) by Royal Charter.

    (7) In providing its advice to the OfS, the Committee must in particular consider the need for students, employers and the public to have confidence in the higher education system and the awards which are granted by it.

    (8) The OfS must have regard to the advice given to it by the Committee on both the general exercise of its functions referred to in subsection (2) and any particular uses of its powers referred to in subsection (3).

    (9) The majority of the members of the Committee must be individuals who appear to the OfS to have experience of providing higher education on behalf of an English higher education provider or being responsible for the provision of higher education by such a provider.

    (10) In appointing members of the Committee who meet these criteria, the OfS must have regard to the desirability of their being currently engaged at the time of their appointment in the provision of higher education or in being responsible for such provision.

    (11) The majority of the members of the Committee must be individuals who are not members of the OfS.

    (12) Schedule 1 applies to the Committee on Degree Awarding Powers and University Title as it applies to committees established under paragraph 8 of that Schedule.”

    This new clause would create a committee of the OfS which fulfils much the same functions as the current Advisory Committee on Degree Awarding Powers.

    New clause 7—Automatic review of authorisation

    “(1) The OfS must consider whether to vary or revoke an authorisation given under section 40(1) if—

    (a) the ownership of the registered provider is transferred,

    (b) the owner of the registered provider has restrictions placed on its degree-awarding powers in relation to another registered provider under its control or ownership, or

    (c) for any other reason considered to be in the interest of students enrolled at the institution or the public.

    (2) A decision taken under sub-section (1) to vary or revoke an authorisation shall be carried out in accordance with section 43.”

    This new clause would ensure that a review of a provider’s degree awarding power would be triggered if the ownership of a provider changes, if the owner of the registered provider faces restrictions to its degree awarding powers in another jurisdiction or if the OfS deems a review necessary to protect students or the wider public interest.

    New clause 9—OfS report: international students

    “(1) The OfS shall, in accordance with information received under paragraph 8(1)(ba), produce an annual report for the Secretary of State on—

    (a) EU (excluding from the UK), and

    (b) non- EU

    students enrolled with English higher education providers.

    (2) A report under subsection (1) must include an assessment of—

    (a) the number of international students, and

    (b) the financial contribution of international students to English Higher Education providers.

    (3) The Secretary of State shall lay the report produced under subsection (1) before each House of Parliament.”

    New clause 12—Prohibition: use of quality of higher education when determining a visa application

    “An assessment made of the quality rating of a higher education provider in the United Kingdom under section 25 of this Act may not be used when assessing a person’s eligibility for leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom under Part 1 of the Immigration Act 1971.”

    New clause 14—Post Study Work Visa: evaluation

    “(1) Within six months of this Act coming into force, UKRI must commission an independent evaluation of the matters under subsection (1B) and shall lay the report before the House of Commons.

    (1B) The evaluation under subsection (1A) must assess—

    (a) the effect of the absence of post study work visas for persons graduating from higher education institutions in the United Kingdom on—

    (i) the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the higher education sector, and

    (ii) the UK economy, and

    (b) how post study work visa arrangements might operate in the UK, including an estimate of their effect on—

    (i) the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the higher education sector, and

    (ii) the UK economy.”

    This new clause would require UKRI to commission research on the effects of the absence of arrangements for post study work visas and assess how such arrangements could operate in the UK and their effect on the higher education sector and the UK economy.

    New clause 15—Standing Commission on the integration of higher education and lifelong learning

    “(1) The Secretary of State shall establish a Standing Commission on the integration of Higher Education and Lifelong Learning.

    (2) The terms of reference of the Commission shall include the following purposes—

    (a) to report on progress being made in respect of the opportunities available to individuals, employers and communities to integrate higher education with lifelong learning in England;

    (b) to consider the potential to update and review the range of higher education qualifications available for mature students at all registered higher education providers;

    (c) to evaluate current funding systems for registered higher education providers with respect to the opportunities available to individuals, employers and communities to integrate higher education with life-long learning, in England;

    (d) to examine and report on the introduction of personal learning accounts to be used for higher education—

    (i) funded on the contributory principle from employers, individuals and structures of devolved local and national government; and

    (ii) on the arrangements that will operate to facilitate input from corporate or trade union bodies, which can be used to support lifelong learning and adult education;

    (e) to examine and report on the potential to develop education and skills accounts (ESAs), including the possibility of a single lifetime higher education entitlement; and

    (f) to examine and report on the establishment of a national credit rating, accumulation and transfer system as a mechanism to improve flexible learning in further and higher education, including for mature students, and on the feasibility of a digital credit system, which could also facilitate where appropriate the integration of work-based learning and higher education.

    (3) The Commission will make the following reports on the matters set out at subsection (2) to be laid before Parliament—

    (a) within 12 months of its establishment; and

    (b) thereafter annually.

    (4) When the report in respect of ESAs required at subsection (2)(e) has been made, the Secretary of State may authorise the OfS to work with higher education providers, employers and financial institutions to develop a framework for ESAs.”

    New clause 16—Migration Statistics: students

    “When the Secretary of State publishes statistics on the immigration of people to the United Kingdom, the relevant publication must provide—

    (a) the figures net and gross of those people who are students studying in the UK, or

    (b) a note indicating how many students included in the total immigration figures are students studying in the UK.”

    Government amendment 1.

    Amendment 51, in clause 5, page 4, line 9, at end insert—

    “(1A) Subject to subsection (1C), initial registration conditions of all providers under paragraph (1)(a) must include a requirement that every provider—

    (a) provides all eligible students with the opportunity to opt in to be added to the electoral register through the process of enrolling with that provider, and

    (b) enter into a data sharing agreement with the local electoral registration officer to add those students to the electoral register.

    (1B) For the purposes of subsection (1A)—

    (a) a “data sharing agreement” is an agreement between the higher education provider and their local authority whereby the provider shares—

    (i) the name,

    (ii) address,

    (iii) nationality,

    (iv) date of birth, and

    (v) national insurance data of all eligible students enrolling and/or enrolled with the provider who opt in within the meaning of subsection (2A)(a);

    (b) “eligible” means those persons who are—

    (i) entitled to vote in accordance with section 1 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, and

    (ii) a resident in the same local authority as the higher education provider.

    (1C) Subsection (1A) does not apply to the Open University and other distance learning institutions.”

    This amendment would ensure that the OfS includes as a registration condition for higher education providers the integration of electoral registration into the student enrolment process. Distance-learning providers are exempt.

    Amendment 37, page 4, line 17, after “providers” insert “, staff and students”.

    This amendment would ensure consultation with bodies representing higher education staff and students.

    Amendment 52, in clause 8, page 5, line 35, at end insert—

    “(ba) a condition that requires the governing body of the provider to provide the OfS with information on the number of international students enrolled on a higher education course at that institution and the fees charged to those students,”

    Amendment 38, page 5, line 39, at end insert—

    “and

    (d) an access and participation plan condition, as defined in section 12.”

    This amendment would make access and participation plans mandatory for all higher education providers.

    Government amendment 2.

    Amendment 39, in clause 9, page 6, line 13, at end insert—

    “(iv) age band,

    (ii) people with disabilities, and

    (iii) care leavers.”

    This amendment would include the number of people with disabilities and care leavers, as well as the age of applicants, in the published number of applications.

    Government amendments 3 and 4.

    Amendment 46, in clause 25, page 15, line 25, at beginning insert “Subject to subsection (7),”.

    See the explanatory statement for amendment 47.

    Amendment 49, page 15, line 32, at end insert—

    “(1A) The scheme established under subsection (1) shall have two ratings—

    (a) meets expectations, and

    (b) fails to meet expectations.

    (1B) Each year, after the scheme established under subsection (1) comes into force the OfS must lay a report before Parliament on the number of international students—

    (a) applying to, and

    (b) enrolled

    at the Higher Education Providers that have applied for a rating within the meaning of subsection (1).”

    This amendment provides for a pass/fail only Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) rating, and requires the OfS to report on the number of international students applying to and attending Higher Education providers each year from the coming into force of the TEF.

    Amendment 47, page 16, line 23, at end insert—

    “(7) No arrangements for a scheme shall be made under subsection (1) unless a draft of the scheme has been laid before and approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.”

    This amendment and amendment 46 would ensure TEF measures were subject to scrutiny by, and approval of, both Houses of Parliament.

    Amendment 50, page 16, line 23, at end insert—

    “(7) In making arrangements under sub-section (1), the OfS must make an assessment of—

    (a) the evidence that any proposed metric for assessing teaching quality is correlated to teaching quality, and

    (b) the potential unintended consequences that could arise from implementing the scheme including proposals on how such risks can be mitigated.

    (8) Prior to making an assessment under subsection (7) the OfS must consult—

    (a) bodies representing the interests of academic staff employed at English higher education providers,

    (b) bodies representing the interests of students enrolled on higher education courses, and

    (c) such other persons as the OfS considers appropriate.

    (9) The assessments made under subsection (7) must be published.”

    This amendment would require an assessment of the evidence of the reliability of the TEF metrics to be made and for the assessment to be published.

    Government amendments 5 to 11.

    Amendment 40, in clause 40, page 23, line 22, at end insert—

    “(c) the OfS is assured that the provider is able to maintain the required standards of a UK degree for the duration of the authorisation; and

    (d) the OfS is assured that the provider operates in students’ and the public interests.”

    This amendment requires the OfS to be assured about the maintenance of standards and about students’ and the public interest before issuing authorisation to grant degrees.

    Amendment 41, page 23, line 47, at end insert—

    “(9A) In making any orders under this section, and sections 41, 42 and 43, the OfS must have due regard to the need to maintain confidence in the higher education sector, and in the awards which they collectively grant, among students, employers, and the wider public.”

    This amendment would ensure that the granting and removal of degree awarding powers would be linked to a need to maintain confidence in the sector, and with a view to preserving its excellent reputation.

    Amendment 58, in clause 51, page 31, line 41, at end insert—

    “(A2) The power described in subsection (A1) may be exercised so as to include the word “university” in the name of the institution only if the institution can demonstrate that—

    (a) it offers access to a range of cultural activities, including, but not restricted to—

    (i) the opportunity to undertake sport and recreation, and

    (ii) the opportunity to access a range of student societies and organisations,

    (b) it provides students support and wellbeing services including specialist learning support,

    (c) it provides opportunities for volunteering,

    (d) it provides the opportunity to join a students’ union, and

    (e) it plays a positive civic role.”

    Government amendments 12, 13, 18 and 19.

    Amendment 36, in schedule 1, page 69, line 37, at end insert—

    “(h) being an employee of a higher education provider, particularly in the capacity of teaching or researching.”

    This amendment would ensure the Secretary of State had regard for the experience of higher education employees, teaching or research staff.

    Amendment 48, page 69, line 37, at end insert—

    “(h) representing or promoting the interests of employees in higher education establishments.”

    This amendment requires that at least one of the ordinary members of the OfS has experience of representing or promoting the interests of employees in higher education.

    Government amendments 21 to 34.

  • New clause 1 relates to the Office for Students, which is central to the Bill and has quality, student choice, equality of opportunity and value for money at its core. Through the creation of the independent OFS, the Bill will join up the currently fragmented regulation of the sector—essential to ensure that students are protected, and that students and the taxpayer receive good value for money from the system. The Bill will boost social mobility and promote opportunity for all. It will drive up innovation, diversity, quality and capacity in our world-class higher education sector, while protecting academic freedom and institutional autonomy. The Bill will also create UK Research and Innovation, a new body with strategic vision for research and innovation in the UK.

    I am pleased that the Bill received such thorough scrutiny in Committee. I have reflected on the points made by Opposition Members and I am pleased to present some important amendments today. We made it clear in our White Paper that the OFS will have responsibility for oversight of the financial health of the sector, and will monitor the sustainability of individual institutions. It is absolutely essential that all providers who are eligible to receive some form of public funding have sustainable finances to ensure value for students and taxpayers.

    We have listened to stakeholder evidence and to the Committee debates. Stakeholders including Universities UK consider the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s holistic oversight of the health of the sector to be an essential part of the regulator’s role. I understand the importance of this oversight in maintaining confidence in the sector and preserving its world-class reputation. The stakeholders share the desire to make our policy intention in the White Paper explicit in legislation. This role will include financial oversight of all the institutions’ activities, spanning teaching and research.

  • I understand the need for monitoring the financial sustainability of organisations, but the new clause does not say what actions will result if some of them are found to be financially unsustainable. Would my hon. Friend comment on that?

  • The duty of the Office for Students will be to ensure that it is monitoring effectively the overall financial health of the sector in such a way that it is able to inform the Secretary of State, so that the Government can take appropriate actions. It will not be the role of the Office for Students to bail out struggling institutions—if there are any such institutions. These are private and autonomous bodies, and it is important that the discipline of the marketplace acts on them. It will be the role of the OFS to assist them in transitioning towards viable business plans so that they can continue to provide high-quality education to their students in the medium and long term.

    New clause 1 introduces a statutory duty for the OFS to monitor and report on the financial sustainability of all registered HE providers in England which are in receipt of or eligible for OFS funding or tuition fee loans.

  • Will the regulator have the power to ensure that there are good industrial relations within our universities? There is certainly a problem with industrial relations at Coventry University, particularly as regards subcontractors.

  • Higher education institutions are private and autonomous bodies that are self-organising. It is of course important that they provide a framework of governance that enables students to learn well in their institutions, and I am sure that that will include a healthy dialogue with their staff and employees. It is not for the Government to mandate particular forms of relations, given that these institutions are private and autonomous.

    In performing its role, the OFS will have a clear picture of the number of international students and the income they bring—just as HEFCE currently does. I therefore do not agree that there is a need for an additional duty for the OFS to report on international students, as amendment 52 and new clause 9, tabled by the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh), would require.

    Similarly, I do not believe that the Bill is an appropriate vehicle for a requirement for the commissioning of research on post-work study, as proposed by the hon. Members for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin). The Bill focuses on the creation of the necessary structures that will oversee higher education and research funding for many years to come, and a short-term piece of research on an element of migration policy is not consistent with the scope and functions of UK Research and Innovation.

  • The Minister clearly does not believe that the Bill is the right vehicle for the issues under consideration, but does he understand why Members would pick this vehicle? His Department understands the importance of international students to UK higher education, and the Treasury understands their role, so why do the Home Office and the Prime Minister not understand it? Does the Minister not realise that, like him, we will be banging our heads against a brick wall at the Home Office?

  • The Home Secretary has said that in the coming weeks we will consult on a non-European economic area migration route that will benefit international students who want to come and study at our world-class institutions, and I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to wait until we see the details of that consultation before jumping to any conclusions.

  • The Minister referred to “an element”. The post-study work visa is not just the subject of “an element” of concern to universities in Scotland; it is of major concern, especially given that what the Home Office has proposed is a tiny and completely unrepresentative pilot. This is a matter of great importance to the university sector.

  • Indeed. The Government fully agree with the hon. Gentleman that international students bring a lot to our higher education system. They bring income, valued diversity, and many other benefits to our universities. We welcome them, and we have a warm and welcoming regime to accommodate them.

    Let me now deal with Government amendments 1, 12 and 13. Academic freedom and institutional autonomy are keystones of our higher education system, and the Bill introduces additional protections in that area. In his evidence to the Bill Committee, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said that he particularly liked the implicit and explicit recognition of autonomy in the Bill. However, I wanted to make absolutely clear how important it is for the Government to protect institutional autonomy, which is why I proposed a further group of amendments to strengthen the protections even more.

    I recognise the concerns expressed in Committee and in stakeholder evidence that allowing the Secretary of State to give guidance relating to particular courses might be perceived as leaving the door open to guidance calling specifically for the opening or closing of particular courses. One of the real strengths of our higher education system is diversity and the ability of institutions to determine their own missions, either as multidisciplinary institutions or as institutions specialising in particular areas such as the performing arts or theology. To avoid any confusion, I proposed the amendments to add an additional layer of reassurance regarding the protections given to institutional autonomy. They make it clear that the Secretary of State cannot give guidance to, or impose terms and conditions or directions on, the OFS which would require it to make providers offer, or stop offering, particular courses.

    Our reforms place students at the heart of higher education regulation. I agree with Labour Members that it is important to build the student perspective into the OFS. Government amendment 21 clarifies beyond doubt that at least one member of the OFS board must have experience of representing or promoting the interests of individual students or students generally.

    Labour Members tabled amendments 36 and 48, which relate to higher education staff representation. We share the view that the OFS board should benefit from the experience of HE staff. However, the Bill already requires the Secretary of State to have regard to appointing board members with experience of the broad range of different types of English providers in the sector. We are therefore confident that a number of OFS board members will be, or will have been, employed by HE providers, and we do not believe that we need to make an additional requirement in legislation.

    Students make significant investments in their higher education choices, and it is right for them to be aware of what would happen if their course, campus or institution were to close. That is what Government amendment 4 will achieve. We expect all providers to make contingency plans to guard against the risk that courses cannot be delivered as agreed. The requirement for providers to produce student protection plans would be a condition of regulation. I listened to points made in Committee, and have reflected on the need to strengthen the power of the OFS to ensure that there is transparency in student protection measures, and that is exactly what the amendment does. It enables the OFS to require providers not only to develop student protection plans but to publish them, and we would expect providers to bring them to students’ attention.

    The Government believe in opportunity for all and through the Bill we are delivering on that. We believe that transparency is one of the best tools we have when it comes to widening participation. Universities have made progress but the transparency duty will shine a spotlight on those institutions that need to go further. That is why I am pleased to propose amendments 2 and 3, which change the language in the Bill to make it clearer that the OFS can ask HE providers to publish and share with the OFS the number of applications, offers, acceptances and completion rates for students, each broken down by ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic background.

    The Bill will also give the OFS the power to operate the teaching excellence framework. Thirty years of the research excellence framework and its predecessors have made the UK’s research the envy of the world but, without an equivalent focus on excellence in teaching, the incentives on universities have become distorted.

  • The Minister mentioned the TEF and the REF. Does he agree that the REF took several years to bed down and to become a measure of research, and that a lot of institutions feel that the TEF is being rushed through, particularly the link between teaching excellence and fees? I have been emailed by the University of West London, which has asked me strongly to oppose that. The TEF will be done on an institution-by-institution basis, not, like the REF, by department. Courses can vary widely in quality. Will he think again in relation to those points?

  • The TEF is not being rushed; it is being piloted for the first two years. Awards will not be differentiated until 2019-20, with effect from the 2019-20 academic year. That is a significant period for the reforms to bed in. The university sector has welcomed the link to fees. Universities UK has recognised that there is a need for such a link and that we need to fund on the basis of quality as well as quantity. There is no attempt by the sector to separate the link.

  • I applaud the Minister’s view that we should focus on quality in the sector, rather than just volume, which is one of the problems that has beset the higher education sector in the past 20 or so years. Is there any international parallel for the OFS? Does such a body exist in Canada, Australia or other big global higher education sectors? Are we taking a lead, or following elements of what has happened elsewhere?

  • I thank my right hon. Friend for his helpful intervention. We have studied regulatory systems around the world in drawing up our proposals for the OFS. Our system is in line with several in the Anglophone countries that have moved towards a market-based system in which the student is the primary funder of his or her higher education experience. It is therefore incumbent on us to put in place a system of regulation that recognises that we are moving away from the classic funder model of regulation that was put in place by the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, which created the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

    New clause 12 and amendment 47 seem to misunderstand the aim of the TEF. Changing the ratings, as proposed by amendment 49, would fundamentally undermine the purpose of the TEF by preventing students from being able to determine which providers are offering the best teaching and achieving the best outcomes. Amendments 46 and 47 would stifle the healthy development of the TEF, and amendment 50 ignores the reasoned and consultative approach that we have taken and will continue to take in developing the metrics.

    Let me set out the reasons why amendments tabled by Opposition Members on our plans for degree-awarding powers are unnecessary—namely, new clauses 4 and 7, and amendments 40 and 41. Our reforms will ensure that students can choose from a wider range of high-quality institutions. If the higher education provider can demonstrate their ability to deliver high-quality provision, we want to make it easier for it to start awarding its own degrees, rather than needing to have degrees for its courses awarded by a competing incumbent. We intend to keep the processes on scrutiny of applications for degree-awarding powers, which have worked well so far, broadly as they are. That includes retaining an element of independent peer review for degree-awarding powers applications. Setting this out in legislation, as new clause 4 suggests, would tie this to a static process which would be inflexible. We intend to consult on detailed circumstances where degree-awarding powers and university title might be revoked, including changes of ownership, so there is no need for new clause 7. As for amendments 40 and 41, I can reassure Members that we will, as now, ensure that the very high standards providers must meet to make such awards will be retained. We are streamlining processes, not lowering standards, and these amendments are therefore unnecessary.

    The hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) has proposed amendment 58 on the criteria an institution should demonstrate in order to be granted university title. None of these are current criteria. Like now, we intend to set out the detailed criteria and processes for gaining university title in guidance, not in legislation.

    This group also includes some technical amendments to ensure that the legislation delivers the policy intent set out in our White Paper. I know Opposition Members will be keen to talk about the amendments they have tabled, and I look forward to responding to any further points raised.

  • I rise to speak on new clause 7 and amendments 49 to 51, which are in my name. New clause 7 and amendments 50 and 51 cover ground we discussed at length in Committee so I will refer briefly to those points then talk a little longer on amendment 49.

    New clause 7 provides for automatic review of degree-awarding powers where ownership of a university changes. This is rooted in experience of the sort of system the Minister is seeking to create in the United States, where a number of institutions with a reasonably well-established reputation changed ownership and fundamentally changed the product and service delivered to students. We need to learn from the mistakes made in the States by ensuring that, should we find ourselves in this new terrain with institutions in this country with degree-awarding powers changing ownership, that should automatically trigger a review of their status. I would welcome some reassurance from the Minister on how he intends to deal with that issue, if not through this new clause. Otherwise we could find ourselves in the same situation as the States, and not only have the reputation of the sector damaged, but students let down and still carrying a fee-debt. So this is a crucial issue that we need some clarification on.

    Amendment 51 covers terrain I have discussed with the Minister on a number of occasions. It simply seeks to require universities to introduce the integrated student enrolment system with voter registration, which is recommended by Universities UK, supported by the Cabinet Office and was originally and very successfully piloted by—I have to get this reference in—the University of Sheffield.

    The Minister and I share a common objective of trying to improve the levels of voter registration among students. This has been a demonstrably effective way of doing that where we rolled it out not only as a pilot in Sheffield, with the support of the Cabinet Office, but in other universities—Cardiff, de Montfort and many others, which have gone on to introduce it. This seems like a good opportunity, as we are looking at the registration requirements of universities, to roll it out across the country to achieve objectives we both share.

    I have discussed this with the Minister and also his colleague from the Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore). There was due to be a roundtable at which we were going to discuss it further tomorrow, but that has been cancelled and kicked into the long grass of sometime in the new year, I was told last week. Given the shared objectives in this area, I would like to hear from the Minister why we cannot simply use this opportunity to get this matter sorted out.

    Amendment 50 reflects concern over the reliability of the metrics used to measure teaching excellence. I emphasise, as I did many times in Committee, that we all welcome the Government’s focus on teaching excellence, and we can all work effectively together on the principle of the teaching excellence framework. However, the metrics on employment outcomes, on retention and on the national student satisfaction survey have been identified by the Government themselves as a proxy for teaching excellence.

    The amendment simply seeks to add to the Bill a requirement that the metrics used by the Government to determine teaching quality should have a demonstrable link to teaching excellence. This was the unanimous recommendation of the then Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, of which I was a member. We all agree that employment outcomes do not necessarily demonstrate teaching excellence. There are also enormous regional variations in employment outcomes and salary levels. The Minister will know that someone who comes from the right family and goes to the right school and university could have an awful teaching experience but still get a decent job. The converse is also true. People who do not come from the right family and who do not go to what many see as the right university could have an excellent teaching experience but not command such high salary levels. So employment outcomes are a crude and almost perverse proxy measure of teaching excellence. I would therefore welcome the Minister’s observations on why this simple amendment to introduce a demonstrable link between the metrics and teaching excellence would not strengthen the Bill and will not be accepted by the Government.

  • Should the demonstrable link involve a recognition of the experience and qualifications of lecturers? What does my hon. Friend have in mind when it comes to proving that teaching quality exists?

  • Measuring teaching quality is difficult, but if we are going to do it, and if we are going to link fee increases to it, we should do it well rather than badly. For example, the Higher Education Funding Council for England is piloting some work on value added to determine how it can be demonstrated that good teaching has contributed to students’ learning outcomes during a particular period. That is the kind of research we should be looking at before we rush into establishing a teaching excellence framework that might end up measuring everything but teaching excellence.

  • Does the hon. Gentleman therefore agree with Professor Jack Dowie’s view that the teaching excellence framework measures what it measures but does not measure the quality of teaching excellence?

  • The hon. Gentleman has expressed my concern exactly. This is the reason behind my amendment. There should be agreement across the House that the teaching excellence framework should measure the quality of teaching. That does not seem controversial to me, and I am therefore disappointed that the Government were unable to accept the unanimous recommendation of the BIS Committee. I want to press the Minister further today to find out his reasoning for this.

    Amendment 49 raises new concerns that became clear only as the Bill progressed through Committee. It is apparently the Government’s intention—although I recognise that it might not be the Minister’s wish—to link the visa regime for international students to quality measures. There are Members present on both sides of the House who share my concern, so let me put it in context. The Minister will agree that international students are hugely beneficial to this country and to our universities. They enrich the learning environment of our campuses. In an even smaller world, in which we need to understand each other better than ever, it is a huge advantage for British students to learn in our classrooms and laboratories alongside students from around the world. International students add hugely to our universities’ research capacity, also strengthening local businesses, as I know from my experience in Sheffield.

    We should add to that the huge benefits of the lasting relationships that we build with those who study here. According to the Higher Education Policy Institute, 55 world leaders from 51 countries studied here. That leads to the sort of soft power that is the envy of other countries—political influence, commercial contracts, and so on.

  • I am loth to interrupt my hon. Friend because he is in full flow and making a powerful point, but does he agree that the Bill was conceived before Brexit and that the world has changed since then? I am holding a Westminster Hall debate on this subject on Wednesday and have received emails from academics and students from all over the country saying that this entire thing should be scrapped because the context is so different and everything has changed for higher education since the decision on 23 June.

  • I look forward to joining my hon. Friend in Westminster Hall on Wednesday, because she makes a valid point—one that a number of us made in Committee. This pre-Brexit vision should have been parked and rethought as a result of the decision on 23 June because the challenge facing our universities is fundamentally different and of enormous proportions. We need to reconsider the proposals.

  • On that point, many mainland European universities now offer courses in English. Our leaving the European Union will significantly disadvantage British universities in attracting foreign students, because degrees in some European countries are now offered in English, not necessarily in French, German or the native language.

  • My hon. Friend highlights a new dimension to the challenge facing our universities as a result of Brexit. My wider point about international students existed before 23 June, but we now face a situation in which the 185,000 international students, of some 500,000, from EU countries may no longer choose to come here. However—this is crucial in relation to my hon. Friend’s intervention—30% of the non-EU students who were polled before 23 June said that the UK would be a less attractive destination if we chose to leave the European Union. Our competitors in Europe, adding to the competition that we already get from Australia, Canada and the United States, are seizing the opportunity to teach English-language courses, which will become very attractive.

  • Coventry has two universities. A big concern following Brexit is that international students, in particular from countries such as India, are now looking at north America, given the difficulty they will have in coming to this country when they are treated as immigrants. They should be removed from immigration figures, because the benefits amount to just under £10 billion coming into this country. I hope the Government are taking that seriously.

  • Order. The hon. Gentleman is certainly testing my patience. It is one thing to come in and then ask a question, but it is another thing to stretch it into a speech. The hon. Member for Sheffield Central is being generous with interventions, but we do not want to get into a Brexit debate.

  • Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I appreciate the intervention of my hon. Friend, because he is a strong champion of the two universities in Coventry and he makes, on every occasion, this strong point about the importance of international students. He is right. Many universities around the country will be in crisis if there is a significant drop in the number of international students. It will mean not only that their incomes will drop, but that many of their postgraduate taught courses, which are viable only because of the levels of income that are brought through our international students, will cease to be viable, cease to exist and cease to be available for UK students. It is a hugely important issue.

  • The hon. Gentleman will know that I entirely accept his last point about a number of these postgraduate courses. In an ideal world, as he knows, I would not have students in the immigration figures, but we are where we are and they will remain in those figures. Surely one of the lessons of Brexit is that this issue is of massive concern to many of our fellow countrymen. Therefore, it is incumbent on universities to ensure that we get high-quality students from abroad, and that is really the focus of what the Government are trying to achieve here. We need to ensure that those students who come here are the crème de la crème and will add the sort of experience to which he referred earlier in his contribution. By having a group of high-quality students, we will command the confidence of the public that we are getting only the brightest and the best, rather than a volume operation in our universities.

  • I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He and I have worked closely on a number of these issues, and we do agree that international students should be taken out of net migration targets. On the point that he raises, I disagree with him. I know that we would come together in saying that our universities are a great British export industry, but I am genuinely puzzled why the Government do not see them as an industry in other terms. We do not put in measures to seek to discourage the automobile industry from selling cars; we try to encourage it to sell more cars. Similarly, on the point that he raises, we do not say, “Well, we just want you to sell Rolls-Royce cars. We don’t want you to sell Minis.” It is nonsense economically for our country and for the local economies that we all represent. That is the nub of the problem.

    The right hon. Gentleman talks about the way in which these issues are viewed by the public. International students are not viewed as a threat or as an issue on which the Government should be taking action. A recent poll showed that 75% of people wanted to see the numbers of international students either stay the same or go up, but the Government strategy, as he knows, is moving us in the other direction.

    The Home Secretary, albeit against her will, made a speech to the Conservative party conference in which she put international students at the centre of her plans to cut migration—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that she was wrong to do that. She introduced a new tool, to which he has alluded, with which she planned to do it. It is by linking visa approval to the quality of courses. We need to reflect on that, because it is a very significant development, as we now have a policy objective of reducing international students—the Government did it by default in the previous Parliament.

  • The hon. Gentleman should remind himself that international student applications have gone up 14%.

  • Well, I would be interested to hear the Minister intervene again and say over what period, because he will know that, over last Parliament, the numbers flatlined and we lost market share.

  • The answer is since 2010.

  • We will probably disagree on those figures. I think I have heard the Minister say previously—if it was not him then it was his predecessors and previous Immigration Ministers—that there was no damage from the measures that were taken in the last Parliament, because numbers flatlined. From my point of view, flatlining in a growing market is a defeat. We would not say that the world is buying 20% or 30% more cars, but the great news is that our exports are flatlining. It does not make sense. However, I am sure the Minister will agree that international students are an extremely good thing for our economy. It is therefore deeply worrying that the Home Secretary put international students at the centre of her plans to cut migration.

  • I strongly agree with everything that my hon. Friend is saying. Can he imagine a scenario where higher education institutions are recruiting UK students on to courses, but sending a message to people from overseas that the courses are not good enough for them? What conclusion will UK students draw? If the courses are not good enough for international students, surely they are not good enough for home students.

  • My hon. Friend makes the point that I was about to make. If we were looking at a teaching excellence framework in parallel with our competitors around the world, and if we were together saying that we think the world market in international education needs such a tool and that in that world market it would be helpful to have institutions ranked as gold, silver and bronze, that would be one thing; but for us unilaterally to declare to the world that we are differentiating our institutions and saying that a good two thirds of them, perhaps, are less good than others, that can do nothing other than damage our ability to recruit international students and to earn the money that we do from them, as well as the jobs and support for our economy that that brings.

  • Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there may be not just reputational damage at home, but consequences abroad? My own university, Bangor, takes a large number of Chinese students, but its good name in Bangor enables it to have a site in China and a very successful operation there. There would be reputational damage of that sort as well.

  • The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is not just the recruitment of students but the brand strength of UK universities, which is extraordinarily high, that is put at risk by the measure.

    Last week in Westminster Hall I sought assurances from the Immigration Minister as to whether it is the Home Office’s intention to use the teaching excellence framework measurement of quality as a basis for its visa regime in an attempt to cut down the number of international students. I got no reassurance. I gave the Minister a couple of opportunities to say that the Government did not intend to use the TEF for that purpose and he failed to do so.

    The amendment says that until we are clear about the Government’s intention in relation to differentiation by gold, silver and bronze grading, and following a proper economic impact assessment of what that might mean for our universities, we should not seek to differentiate the teaching excellence framework in this way and we should simply have meeting expectations or not meeting expectations ratings. I accept that it is not the Minister’s intention to damage our universities by the introduction of this differentiation, but it could be the unintended consequence of the actions of the Home Office, so we need reassurance on the issue.

    As we have heard, these are challenging times for our country. Charting our post-Brexit place in the world will be a big job. We need to win friends, not alienate them. The prime ministerial trade mission to India recently demonstrated that many of those friends will put access to our universities at the heart of any discussion of our future relationship, even on the issue of trade. We will not be able to separate those. We cannot afford to put the sector and the export earnings that we get from international students at risk in this way. I therefore ask the Minister to think again.

  • I rise to speak to new clause 14 on post-study work visa evaluation, and I reserve the right to push it to a vote, if required.

    The SNP continues to press for the reintroduction of the post-study work visa. The new clause would ensure we had an evaluation of how the absence of this key visa has affected the UK economy and how a new visa may be implemented.

    As we have heard, the post-study work visa is an important lever for attracting the best international student talent. There is consensus in Scotland among business, education and every political party represented at Holyrood that we need a return of the post-study route to allow these talented students to remain and to contribute to the Scottish economy.

    The outcome of the EU referendum makes it even more important that the UK Government honours the recommendation in the Smith report to explore a potential post-study work route to ensure that Scotland continues to attract and retain talent from around the world. The longer we wait for the Government to move on this, the more damage is being done socially and economically.

    The current post-study work offer is not adequate for Scotland. We have offered to discuss the reasons behind that with UK Ministers and Home Office officials, but, disappointingly, UK Ministers appear to rule out a return of the post-study work visa— without meeting Scottish Ministers or the cross-party steering group that has been set up at Holyrood.

    The current immigration policy poses a significant risk to Scottish universities. Data published in January show that Scotland saw a 2% increase in international entrants in the academic year 2014-15, compared with the previous year. On the face of it, that may appear positive, but by comparison, from 2013-14 to 2014-15 the number of international students entering higher education in the United States increased by 10%. Rather than being able to take advantage of this growth sector and use it to create economic growth locally, our numbers are expected to remain stagnant, which is simply not good enough.

    The Home Office released details of a low-risk tier 4 pilot in July this year, which was—maybe “welcomed” is not the correct word—viewed with some interest. However, we are troubled that it was introduced without any consultation with the Scottish Government, Scottish institutions or, indeed, institutions from across the UK. Universities Scotland said:

    “we’re disappointed that the opportunity of the pilot has been framed so narrowly to only four universities none of which are in Scotland. We’d argue that a broader pilot, involving a wider group of institutions, would have provided more meaningful lessons from which to build.”

  • The hon. Lady has made a strong case for why she feels post-study work visas should be reintroduced. Does she accept that one of the main reasons for a clampdown by the UK Government is that a number of people come in on these visas and then simply go to ground, and they cannot be removed from this country even though they are here only on a student visa? In making the case that these visas should be reintroduced, will she tell us a little about the further obligations she thinks should be on the universities granting them? They surely cannot simply get students in, take the money and then wash their hands of any responsibility.

  • Certain rogue institutions—particularly private FE colleges—have in the past not complied with visa regulations, but there is little evidence that the HE institutions in the scope of this Bill have any record of non-compliance, so I do not accept the points the right hon. Gentleman makes.

  • In last week’s Westminster Hall debate, I specifically challenged the Home Office Minister to name any institutions in Scotland that could be said to fall into the behavioural category the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) suggested, and he said he could not name one.

  • The 19 higher education institutes in Scotland have a strong record in attracting international students and a strong record of compliance, so I agree 100% with my hon. Friend.

  • The Scottish Affairs Committee has been looking at some of the issues that the hon. Lady has mentioned, and we found evidence that the Government need to look at the situation in Scotland differently from that in the rest of the country. Scotland has a declining population, so we have to find an anchor to keep the talent in Scotland to develop the Scottish economy.

  • I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is well documented that in Scotland our issue is emigration, not immigration, so this is a key lever for allowing us to trigger economic growth in Scotland and something that would make a massive difference to our local economy.

  • Will the hon. Lady give way?

  • No—I have given way enough for the moment.

    Last month, Professor Timothy O’Shea, the principal of Edinburgh University, addressed the Scottish Affairs Committee and warned that future restrictions on free movement would have a damaging impact on the sector. He said:

    “Yesterday the Prime Minister said helpfully that perhaps a special relationship might be necessary for workers in the City, for the car industry. But God help me if the City and the car industry deserve a special deal, then the universities...they are more dependent on the mobility of highly skilled labour than any other sector.”

    As we move towards Brexit, we have the potential for a much wider pool of international students who may wish to come to study in our universities, and we need to think very seriously about the visa solution for that. For example, there is the situation of Ireland. Under the Ireland Act 1949, Ireland is stated not to be a foreign country. What special arrangements will be in place for Irish students who want to come and study in our institutions?

    I want briefly to discuss the amendments tabled by the hon. Members for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden), for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) that deal with their concerns about the proposed metrics in the teaching excellence framework. There was much discussion in Committee about this. As the hon. Member for Sheffield Central said, there is concern that the metrics being used give no indication of the quality of teaching. In Committee we mentioned the Scottish enhancement-led approach, which is a far more thorough and possibly better method of determining quality. Apparently, however, the metrics proposed by the Government are being pushed ahead with. We are happy to support the amendments tabled by Labour Members.

    Amendment 51 would require automatic voter registration in universities. That looks like an extremely innovative idea—and for once, I have to admit, it has not come from Scotland. Perhaps we can start to consider it in Scotland.

    We are short of time and there are later amendments that my hon. Friends are keen to press, so I conclude by saying that we will support the amendments I have mentioned and that I hope we can have some movement on new clause 14.

  • I want to speak to new clause 16, which draws on some of the points that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) made in relation to amendment 49. In essence, the new clause seeks to remove students from the net migration figures. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister whether the Government have that on their agenda.

    I also want to comment on how damaging it would be for the university sector if the number of international students that can be recruited in any one institution is related to the traffic light system in the TEF.

    As we know, international students are important not only to higher education but to our economy. The contribution of international students to UK GDP is almost certainly in excess of £10 billion, and they support about 170,000 full-time equivalent jobs. Many of the students go on to do postgraduate work, and they are involved with and drive forward world-leading research and innovation in this country. They are therefore very much to be commended and supported.

    While international students are in this country, they not only get to know the UK but develop an affinity with it. They develop links with staff, and they contribute massively to soft diplomacy, as we have already heard. It cannot be overemphasised that they improve Britain’s standing in the world, so it is very important that the Government do not put the recruitment of international students at risk. Once they are in this country, such students also enrich our society and contribute to its diversity. I know that from my Durham constituency, where international students very much add to the whole cultural experience of the local population.

  • I concur with my hon. Friend on the contribution of international students and the very good experience they get. My local university, the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, has many thousands of foreign students, who very much enrich the city and bring it to life. Once they leave the UK and go back to their countries of origin, these students become some of our best ambassadors and, whether they go into industry or government, their experience in the UK always makes them very positive about the future.

  • My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The Government should take on board his point about that ambassadorial role.

    We can only be bewildered at the mixed messages the Government are giving international students. One message is coming from the Department for Education, another from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and another from the Home Office. I do not yet know whether the Department for International Trade has a view on international students, but, if it does not, it really ought to. Its view should be one of promoting an important industry, as hon. Members have said clearly this afternoon.

    Instead of supporting an increase in the number of international students, the Home Office seems to be giving the message that we need to reduce the numbers, and that is having an effect. The figures I have for the number of international students and the trend are very different from those read out by the Minister. It appears that the number of new entrants has fallen by 2.8%. Indeed, one study has put the reduction as high as 5%. The Minister must know that the British Council has stated that the UK is beginning to lose market share to our competitors. Again, the Government should be very concerned about that.

    New clause 16 also seeks to find out whether the Minister or the Home Office has any notion of introducing a system in which the number of international students that any institution can recruit is linked to what happens to it in the TEF and, in particular, to where it is in the traffic light system. To give the Minister an example, if the institution is given a gold rating, there may be no cap whatsoever on the number of international students that it can recruit, but if it gets a bronze rating—oh, dear—a cap might be put on the number of students it can recruit. To use the automobile analogy that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central used earlier, that is like telling Nissan, “You can sell as many cars as you like,” while telling Vauxhall, “We’re going to put one of your hands behind your back and limit the number of cars you can sell.” That is clearly nonsense. We need definite reassurances from the Minister that the Bill will not be used to link the TEF to the number of international students that can be recruited.

  • Given that the Government are supposed to believe in markets, it is bizarre that, when Times Education Higher produces university rankings across the world, they should choose to intervene and say which students should go where when students clearly have a choice in a market-based system.

  • My hon. Friend makes an important point. International students are central to the business model of every higher education institution in the country. In addition to the possible reputational damage that could be done to our universities, we do not want a message to go out that international students are not welcome. The Minister, the Home Office and other Departments could deal with that by saying that students are temporary visitors, which is what our international competitors do in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. That means removing students from the net migration statistics, which would be a very simple thing for the Government to do, and I hope that the Minister will tell us that he is going to do that. We should be ambitious for our universities. We should enable them to grow, particularly in international markets such as Canada, Australia and other countries, and not limit their international potential.

    As the Minister will know, he has a mandate to do that. A recent ComRes study—my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central mentioned this—showed that 75% of people who expressed a view would like to see the same number or more international students in the UK. The poll also revealed that the overwhelming majority of the British public think that international students should be able to stay and work in the UK for a period of time. A very clear case has been made and I hope that the Minister will respond positively.

    The Minister has referred to amendment 58. There is huge concern in the higher education sector about enabling bodies to call themselves universities even when they do not provide the range of student services and support that most of us would expect from a university. The reason that there is no particular guidance is that we have not needed it. Most of this country’s universities provide a system of student support and access to sport and recreational opportunities. They also provide wellbeing services and volunteering opportunities, enable students to join a students’ union, and play an important civic role.

    The reason that I tabled amendment 58 is that the Bill will allow a series of higher education institutions to call themselves universities even though we as yet have no idea whether they will have to offer a range of basic services to students. Will they be able to join a students’ union and sports clubs? Will they play an important role in the local community, as is the case with existing universities? Will they have an important role in the local economy? We have heard nothing yet from the Minister except that there will be some guidance, so I am minded to press amendment 58 to a vote. I would like to hear from the Minister what will be in the guidance about how we describe universities, what the Minister’s understanding of a university is and when the guidance will be made available. In particular, will it be available before the Bill is considered in the other place?

  • A university is an establishment where higher-level study, education and research are done. It is not somewhere where one would necessarily avail oneself of volunteering experiences, for example, or of the other things that the hon. Lady has listed. I contend that as we move into longer lifespans within which we may take degrees at different times, we may be looking merely to access a degree to enhance our careers rather than making it part of our lifestyle.

  • The hon. Lady was on the Committee, and I am sure that she will recall that the things in the amendment are in addition to what we might call the core business of a university, which is to enable people to study for a higher-level qualification. The amendment is designed to ensure that we do not get a whole series of institutions that can use the title of university but that offer only a single course of study and a single qualification, because we think that that will dumb down the sector not only for UK students but, in particular, for international students. The hon. Lady will know that the sector is a highly competitive one internationally, and we want to ensure that our universities compete with the best in the world.

    We have huge concerns about allowing an institution to say that it is a university when it does not have to provide any access to sports, recreation, cultural activities, volunteering opportunities, work-based learning experience or any of the other things that our universities do right across the piece. I hope that the hon. Lady is as proud as I am that our universities do so.

  • I concur, up to a point. I am hugely proud of universities, and I am hugely proud of what they deliver into our economies. But I would also argue that we have other great institutions; BT in Suffolk, for example, hopes to have a specific degree around research, learning and so on, and such things should be enabled for a future workforce that is fit for purpose. They should not just be wiped away because an institution does not offer the chance to play five-a-side football.

  • I, too, think that BT has a number of strengths as a company, but it is yet to be determined whether it is very good at running a university. We will only know that in due course. If BT runs a university, I want to ensure that it is a university as we would commonly understand it, not simply a company that offers a degree course.

  • The hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) picked out the issue of five-a-side football, but does my hon. Friend acknowledge that there is a wider issue? This is the first major Bill on higher education for a generation, and it provides an opportunity to extend university title quite widely. Is not the nub of the problem the fact that no attempt is made to define what a university is?

  • I concur exactly with my hon. Friend. In Committee, the Minister said that he was setting

    “a high bar that only high-quality providers will be able to meet.”––[Official Report, Higher Education and Research Public Bill Committee, 11 October 2016; c. 410.]

    Unfortunately, at this point in time we have absolutely no idea what is meant by that high bar. I am hoping we will hear from the Minister exactly what he means by a university and what will be in the guidance, and that the quality and breadth of offer of our universities will be protected and will not be got rid of by this Government.

  • I am grateful to colleagues for raising so many points that came up in Committee which particularly exercised me with regard to part 1 of the Bill. Because of the shortness of time, I will restrict my remarks to two issues concerning students and staff in higher education.

    I welcome Government amendment 21 on student representation on the board of the Office for Students and the fact that the Minister has listened to the huge number of representations he has received from members of the Bill Committee, from student unions and from higher education sector leaders, who really value the contribution students make and want to see students on the board. It would have been perverse to have a regulator whose purpose was to protect the interests of students and that had the word “students” on its door and headed paper but did not have students around the table on its board. I am glad the Minister has moved on that particular point.

    As the Bill progresses to the other place, I hope the Minister might consider moving further on the issue of student representation. In Committee we raised the issue of having student representation on the board of the designated quality provider and in drawing up the quality code, and also ensuring that students have representation in what, as my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) pointed out, could be a wide range of private providers. Whether an institution is a traditional university, a modern university or one of the new private providers, it is absolutely crucial that students’ rights are protected and their voice is represented at the top of the institution.

    I also ask the Minister to address how he sees the issue of student representation playing out on the board of the Office for Students. The wording in Government amendment 21 is not quite what I proposed in Committee —that was slightly more prescriptive, specifying that the representative should be either a student, a sabbatical officer of a students union or an officer of the National Union of Students. I am slightly cautious about the amendment the Secretary of State has tabled, because we could define someone with “experience of representing … students” quite loosely. For example, a number of Members of this House, myself included, have experience of representing students, but I am sure that we would not expect to find ourselves, years later, on the board of the OFS. Perhaps the Minister will sketch out what that representation might look like.

  • Will the hon. Gentleman define what he considers a typical student to be, so that I can gauge his idea of someone who could represent, for example, me—I went to college as a mature student—or a lifelong learner, or whatever? We must not be too tight with the definition. The wording in the amendment gives us scope to have a looser definition and might be more appropriate.

  • I certainly do not think that we will be able to find a typical student to sit on the board of the OFS because, as others have said from their perspectives, no such thing exists. That leads me on to where I wanted to direct the Minister, in as far as I can. We should value the skills and expertise that representatives of students develop through their roles in student unions, precisely because there is no such thing as a typical student or a typical student experience. We should value and champion the role that the officers of student unions play in developing their skills and experience as representatives to make sure that student unions champion the broad diversity of students at their institutions; whether students are full time or part time, or are doing part of a course on a credit-based approach, whether they are living at home and commuting to university or have moved away from home, there are a wide range of student experiences. The challenge for anyone who seeks to be a representative is to make sure that they genuinely draw on that broad range of experiences, just as we have to as constituency MPs.

    I hope that, when the Minister appoints one of these representatives, he appoints one who is a students union sabbatical officer, for example, because we are lucky in this country to have a means by which students can develop a good base of skills and expertise. Many of the country’s leading chief executives of voluntary sector organisations have been students union sabbatical officers, as have many Members of Parliament and people in all sorts of professions, because the experience and skill sets that it gives them are genuinely valuable beyond the scope of representing students during their time at university. I hope that that is the sort of person the Minister has in mind and that we will not drag people back from beyond to dust themselves off from retirement.

  • Although I agree with everything that my hon. Friend is saying, I think that the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill) was perhaps referring to distance learning students, mature students and people who follow a less usual course to obtain qualifications. Certainly, when I have met the presidents of my students union over the years, they have been sympathetic to the needs of such students. Will my hon. Friend perhaps address the hon. Lady’s point?

  • I absolutely agree with that point, which brings me back to the skills and expertise that student union sabbatical officers develop in that role. The Open University students association or Birkbeck students union are institutions almost entirely dedicated to part-time students, people from non-traditional routes and people who often work alongside their studies who have returned to learning later on in life. It is important that that broad range of experience and perspective is represented on the board of the Office for Students. I hope that the Minister will appoint someone to that position who can represent the broad interests of students.

    I want now to deal with staff. I should probably declare that I am a member of the trade union Unison, which represents a number of staff in higher education, and I should draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests on that point, too. Amendment 48 picks up the theme that I have been discussing—student representation on the board of the Office for Students—and makes the case for having staff on that board.

    Staff are absolutely crucial to the success of our higher education sector, whether they are academic staff directly engaged in teaching and learning or the wide range of support staff, whose contribution to the student experience is often unheralded. Thinking back to my student experience, the first member of staff I spoke to at my university was not an academic; it was Gina Vivian-Neal in the admissions office. When I was at university, I spoke to staff such as Bill Simmonett, who was involved in catering and conferencing, because of my role as the students union entertainments officer. When I had a particularly small room in my second year and a larger one became available, Sue Jeffries made a substantial difference to my learning environment. Margaret Hay, who, I believe, recently retired from her role in the tutorial office, was absolutely central to the experience and welfare and care of students.

    Bearing in mind what other hon. Members have said about the role that international staff play in our institutions, it is important that people on the board of the Office for Students have experience of representing the interests of staff. Many of our trade union colleagues, particularly in the University and College Union, have made a powerful case about the impact that the casualisation of contracts, for example, is having on our ability to recruit and retain good staff and their ability to deliver a good student experience.

    Other trade unions, such as Unison and Unite, represent those staff who, while perhaps not directly engaged in teaching, often provide essential support functions that can make the difference between an excellent or a poor student experience. I hope that their voice and interests are represented on the board of the Office for Students. Given where we have taken our country in the debate about our ability to attract and retain excellent staff from around the world, we could leave ourselves in a vulnerable position in a sector such as ours that is so world-leading in its performance and reach, and we need to champion and protect the interests of staff.

    I hope that the Minister will take those points on board. I thank him for the movement that he has shown since the Bill Committee. I had almost given up hope by the end of the Committee that we would see much progress, but, to give him credit, he has moved. I hope that he will listen to the points that we make today, and perhaps they can be addressed in the other place.

  • I apologise to members of the Public Bill Committee: I did not make the cut, so they have the advantage over me, but I assure them that I read the entire transcript, cover to cover, in one fell swoop—and riveting reading it was.

    New clauses 9 and 12 deal with overseas students. The Minister tried to suggest that they would widen the scope of the Bill, but the new clauses, like Labour’s amendments, are in order, and we get very few opportunities to talk about this issue. The key point is that overseas students are very much part of the viability of the university sector, and if the Bill is about anything, it is about the viability of the university sector. We are in a brave new world, post-Brexit, and universities clearly wanted a very different outcome. I have been to many events where the Minister has tried, valiantly, to reassure a traumatised sector. It is easy to see why the sector needs reassuring: the loss of good students; the loss of opportunities for UK students; and the severe outcomes for the research sector. I recently polled a range of vice-chancellors and found that 86% of them thought that the impact of Brexit on their research programmes would be severe. The impacts are financial, cultural and academic—in the sense that it could lead to the collapse of undergraduate courses—and the impact on the research conducted by universities will be profound.

    Some things are certainly true—the Minister repeats them from time to time—and nothing changes in the short term. As other Ministers have said to me, we had international students before we were ever in the EU and when Erasmus was thought to be a Dutch humanist, rather than an EU programme, but EU membership makes it a whole lot easier for British universities, and there has been a big increase in their number for as long as we have been in the EU. There is a case for following the numbers, therefore, and that is all new clause 9 endeavours to do. Numbers affect viability, and if the OFS does not do it on an independent basis, who will?

    New clause 12 deals with something equally worrying, and something alluded to by the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield): nonsensically, we include student numbers in net immigration stats, but the Government—certainly in the form of the Minister—welcome international students. I have heard him on many occasions, at many events, say how welcoming we are supposed to be to international students. As has been established through polling, the public also welcome international students, even when worried, at the same time, about immigration in general. Including them in the net immigration statistics, therefore, is clearly a nonsense.

    What really worries the Government is when higher education is used as a stepping stone to employment and residence. This clearly bothers the Home Office. The hon. Member for Sheffield Central has already talked about the Home Secretary’s comments, which I found worrying, but also worrying is the suggestion from the Prime Minister’s senior adviser—regarded as her brain—that the Government’s post-qualification leave to remain should depend on whether someone qualified at a Russell Group university. This is obviously silly because the Russell Group is essentially a self-selecting group and slightly snobbish.

    Another way of doing it, as suggested in last week’s Westminster Hall debate, is to depend on the teaching excellence framework of a student’s institution. In my view, that would be sillier, because the teaching excellence framework is in its infancy and not suited to the task, because not all universities buy into it anyway and because an individual’s ability and utility cannot be predicated simply on the institution he or she attends. Few of us would like to be judged by the quality of the teaching we have received. Actually, surviving poor teaching is a considerable and entirely marketable skill; it is slightly easier to profit from good teaching. There are good and valuable courses in institutions that may well pan out with a poor teaching excellence framework in general. This will clearly affect the ability of some institutions to attract overseas students, and valuable courses will collapse as a result—certainly many valuable courses in the capital. Further, if overseas applicants concentrate their applications on universities with good TEFs, it could make it more difficult for UK students to access them. Universities might, in despair, simply shun the TEF if it is used for those purposes.

    The list goes on. Welding together Home Office policy and education policy seldom works, but we should clear this up. The Minister has an opportunity to do so from the Dispatch Box later, but so far the Government view and the Government take on this issue has been less than clear. That is certainly the case when it comes to the Home Office. Last week in Westminster Hall, the Home Office had an opportunity to say, “Categorically, this is not going to happen,” but we do not know categorically whether it will or not.

    I may not get support for my amendment, and I would be happy to support other amendments that travel in the same direction. This issue, however, will not go away because it is important to the sector.

  • I rise to speak to our amendments, but also to comment on others, including the Minister’s new clause 1. Let me start with that and the Minister’s other remarks to make a general observation.

    Of course we welcome the move to include a student representative on the body, as has been described. I have to say, however, that it is relatively thin gruel by comparison with the range of positive amendments that would involve employees and students in respect of some of the key issues that the OFS will have to face, some of which we debated in Committee. If the Government want to calm suspicions about the OFS, they need to do more to ensure that as a body, it has sufficient powers directly defined in the Bill. I have always said that we have to work on the assumption that we will have the worst and the naughtiest Secretaries of State, not necessarily the best ones and not necessarily the best Minister with responsibility for universities. That means that we need to build things directly on the face of the Bill. We have not had the ability to do that, and it is not helpful that the ability to tease out these issues should be confined to one day’s discussion of 113 clauses and 12 schedules. Other Members who might have been able to attend today know perfectly well that many of the issues that need to be discussed will have to be dealt with in the other place.

    Let me begin by speaking briefly to our amendments, particularly those relating to staff and student involvement. Amendment 37 deals with consultation regarding ongoing registration conditions. It might sound very techy, and I know that there is some consultation with bodies or informal groups representing HE staff and students at the moment. Some of the new providers that the Minister wants to see coming into the marketplace may be relatively small, and may have relatively informal groupings, so it is important that the position of their staff and students is taken into account.

    Let me move on to amendments 36 and 48. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) has already mentioned the latter. The Government must get into the right mind-set with HE and realise that it is not all simply about vice-chancellors, however excellent they are. It is not simply about business managers either, however excellent they are. It is about the support staff, who live in the local communities where the universities are situated; and it is also about excellent teaching, social mobility and student choice. Sometimes cleaning staff can be the first point of contact for live-in students who face isolation and need someone to talk to. The Government need a cultural step-change in the way they address these issues, and should not put some of these groups in as an afterthought. We believe that these modest amendments would take us down that route.

    In Committee, we talked a great deal about the whole issue of social mobility. The Minister waxed lyrical on the subject—genuinely, I believe—but those who want to walk the walk must do something about putting the beef on to the talk. That is why we tabled amendment 38, which

    “would make access and participation plans mandatory for all higher education providers.”

    The Government have plenty of angles on the Bill, but two that are raised continually are competition and consumers’ rights. In fact, competition must go hand in hand with consumers’ rights. I am perfectly happy for the pool of new providers to be expanded—I spent 20 years working for an organisation, the Open University, which was once a new provider—but I am anxious to ensure that, if there is to be a competitive market, providers bring to the table a proper sense of the responsibilities that they will have to meet. That is why it is so important to ensure that an access and participation plan is at the heart of what the new providers do. There may be circumstances in which the numbers that that produces are relatively modest, but if the Government want the process to go ahead, providers must accept those responsibilities.

    It is in the same spirit of inclusion that we tabled amendment 39, which

    “would include the number of people with disabilities and care leavers, as well as the age of applicants, in the published number of applications.”

    A number of Members have emphasised the importance of the issue of mature and older students, and indeed part-time students, about which I shall say more when I talk about new clause 15. Amendment 39 demonstrates that emphasis. If we want to have realistic expectations of where those groups are going and know what the Government need to do—and this has already been raised by several Members in the context of international students—we must have that evidence, and the amendment stresses the need to broaden the parameters.

    New clause 4, which would establish a “Committee on Degree Awarding Powers and University Title”, is actually modelled on provisions in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, which we want to passport into this Bill. The Government, rather curiously, do not want such a committee, although one might have thought that they would welcome a backstop. After all, we know that Ministers are bedding down, inevitably slowly, in a new Department with further and higher education responsibilities. Again, the Government cannot be surprised if people think that they want as little outside scrutiny of the new providers as possible.

    New clause 4—which, I might point out to the Minister, is supported by all the university groups that have spoken to us—was tabled because, as the Bill stands, the OFS could revoke degree-awarding powers or university title without consulting a committee. The current arrangements for conferring degree-awarding powers require HEFCE to seek the advice of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education—the Minister made great play of that—but it is vital for the OFS to seek advice from a designated quality body prior to any conferring of degree-awarding powers and/or university title.

    Amendments 40 and 41 are designed to underline points that were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) in a hugely important intervention about her own amendment 58. We need to shine a light on and distinguish between broad-based new providers and those that could go for opportunist, fast-buck courses, or those that are inefficiently structured or financed to do the things that my hon. Friend talked about. As she and others have said, there is huge concern in the HE sector about single-course universities. What has not been mentioned much—we talked about it in Committee—is the huge amount of public money that will go into those new providers, providing they jump through the hoops that the Government are putting in front of them. We contend that those hoops are inadequate. Because of that, we want to press the matter further. Amendment 40 requires the OFS to be assured about the maintenance of standards, students and the public interest before issuing authorisation to grant a degree. That is important. I give notice that we will press amendment 40 to a vote. Whatever the outcome, I assure the Minister that the issue is unlikely to go away and that he and his team will face further questions on it after the matter goes to the other place.

  • I have spoken against something that the Government want to do. I want to speak now about new clause 15, which would set up a standing commission on the integration of higher education and lifelong learning, and to thank the Minister for the small but important movement there has begun to be in the Government on that issue and on the issue of part-time loans, which is being looked at and is an important part of that process. We should look—we discussed this at great length in Committee, so I will not go through all the statistics—at the dire situation that adult learners have been in since 2010 and the way in which so many of those learners have been disadvantaged, when we should be arranging for them to be reskilled and retrained to meet our economic and social objectives in the 21st century.

    In a speech in the House of Lords, Lord Rees said that we needed to have a revolution in the way in which we formalise the system to more readily allow for transfers between institutions and between part-time and full-time study. The demand for part-time and distance learning will grow, speeded of course by the high fees now imposed on students at traditional residential university. Lord Rees, a former president of the Royal Society, is absolutely right. The time for action is now. That is why the Labour party and the Labour Front-Bench team have tabled that significant new clause. The standing commission on the integration of higher education and lifelong learning would set the course that was originally laid out by David Blunkett in “The Learning Age” Green Paper in 1998. That issue has been sadly side-lined until now, but lifelong learning and higher education are not a nice optional extra. They are fundamental to our economic productivity, to competing in a post-Brexit world, to our social cohesion, to rebuilding a belief in the value and dignity of work and to offering personal and practical fulfilment to ordinary working people and their families, opening doors to them—often opportunities have evolved for the middle classes and professional people —rather than their being stuck on the first rung of the ladder. That is what we want to do. We want to think about how we deliver these things locally and nationally.

    We are not claiming that the structure that we want to put in the Bill is perfect. We have taken wide soundings from all sorts of groups—city and guilds, Unionlearn, the Open University, the Learning and Work Institute—and considered our own thoughts on these matters. I say to the Minister, “Go away, look at the new clause, which would do some of the things that you are talking about in terms of social mobility, and take it on board.” If the Government do not take it on board, we will do so; we will take it through to the House of Lords, we will take it out into the country, and we will put this issue of proper lifelong learning in higher and further education right at the top of the agenda.

    On our amendments 46 and 47, much of what I would have said about why we need in particular to make sure the TEF is taken out of the hands of Whitehall and put far more centrally into the hands of Parliament has been illustrated in the excellent speech this afternoon from my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham) with his interventions, the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and others. We do not trust the Government with the TEF as it is because they have demonstrated ever since they introduced this Bill that whenever they had an opportunity to do something to keep control of the process and try and get things through that would not require legislation in detail, they have turned to the TEF as an automatic link with raising tuition fees. The Home Office has turned to the TEF, too, and is currently holding a sword of Damocles over the Government and all of us on the issue of international students. They have not turned to putting on the face of the Bill in any shape or form whether the TEF is going to be done on the basis of a whole university or school or subject area, and we have also heard from my hon. Friends of the many significant issues around the metrics in this area. It is a question of confidence and trust and parliamentary scrutiny, and that scrutiny is being denied under the present process.

    My hon. Friends are right to say the vast majority of people in this country do not regard students as migrants, yet we could have a situation, as we have heard with the gold, silver and bronze issue, where these things are smuggled in, with dire consequences for our social cohesion, economic productivity and so many of the things we will need post-Brexit.

    This move is vehemently opposed by the sector, and the Government seem to have managed to achieve an extraordinary conjunction in the way they brought the TEF forward by having annoyed and alarmed virtually every sector of the university world, whether it be the people employed in universities, those who study in them, those who manage them, the vice-chancellors who are at the head of them, or indeed their relatives, families and everybody else, who are now worried. We had a discussion about this in Committee, and the Minister talked about my views in I think about 2002 on teaching excellence. I have not changed my views on the importance of teaching excellence and a teaching excellence framework, but the teaching excellence framework which started out in this Bill as bad enough has now been malformed and deformed by the way in which it has been used, and is threatened to be used, to be not simply something that is completely useless but something that could be an absolute danger in all the ways I have described, right at the heart of our university system.

    We had to use some ingenuity to get even a discussion of the TEF in respect of the Bill, so cleverly had the Government gone about trying to keep it off the face of the Bill, but I am sure those issues around the TEF will be returned to, and with some significance and in no short order, when it goes to the other place. I therefore want to again place it on record that we will be pressing our amendment 47 on the need for these measures to be continually subject to scrutiny by, and approval of, both Houses of Parliament to a vote.

  • This has been a good debate and I am glad to have the chance to respond to some of the points made. Many points were made this afternoon, and I will not be able to address all of them, but I will do my best.

    The hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) spoke passionately about amendment 51. We debated it in Committee, as he mentioned. He met my colleague, the Minister for the constitution, my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Chris Skidmore), after the Bill Committee, and we also met my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Ben Howlett), who is not in the Chamber at present, to discuss this issue. That is because we share the hon. Gentleman’s aim of increasing the number of younger people registered to vote. We demonstrated our commitment to that cause by supporting, and contributing financially to, the pilot project at the University of Sheffield, in the city he represents. That is why when we met him we undertook to encourage take-up of the initiative by other institutions by writing to describe the outcome of the pilot to vice-chancellors. We also agreed that he should attend a formal roundtable meeting on student registration, and the Minister for the constitution promised to consider other ways registration could be increased. I regret that owing to a scheduling issue with one of the external stakeholders—not the Minister—we were unable to hold the meeting as planned, and we are actively looking to rearrange it, to fulfil the commitment we made to the hon. Gentleman at that meeting following the Bill Committee.

    Amendment 37 seeks to widen the base of those the Office for Students should consult before it determines or changes the initial and ongoing registration conditions, to include staff and students as well as those representing the interests of English higher education providers. The Office for Students will take the views of students into account in all of its activities. It will consult on the initial and ongoing registration conditions as part of its wider consultation on the regulatory framework. Clause 68 makes it clear that bodies representing the interests of students, and other such persons it considers appropriate, as well as bodies representing the interests of English higher education providers, should be involved in that consultation. It is my clear expectation that the Office for Students will strongly encourage providers to engage with and consult their key stakeholders, including staff and students, as a matter of good practice. The Office for Students itself will always listen to representations from students and staff if it thinks that that would add value. The amendment is therefore unnecessary.

    Hon. Members made a number of points on new clause 9 and amendment 52 relating to international students. I recognise that the number of international students our higher education system attracts and the income they provide are key issues for the sector, so I understand the motivation behind this amendment. However, I do not believe that the Bill is the appropriate vehicle for commissioning annual reports on the number of international students in UK higher education institutions and their economic impact. As I have set out, Government new clause 1 requires the Office for Students to monitor and report on the financial health of the English higher education sector in the round. To do that, the Office for Students will have a very clear picture of the number of international students and the income they bring, as the recent Higher Education Funding Council for England report did. In addition, clause 8(1)(b) requires all registered providers to give the Office for Students the information it needs to perform its functions. That will allow the Office for Students to gather information on international student numbers and income in the context of its duty to monitor financial health. In effect, new clause 1 and clause 8(1)(b) already achieve the policy intent of the amendments.

    A wide range of information is also already in the public domain. The Higher Education Statistics Agency, for instance, already collects and publishes data on international students. Further to that, the Department for Education will shortly be publishing statistics on the value of education exports. As I mentioned to the hon. Member for Sheffield Central, the Home Office also publishes data, and its data show there has been a 14% increase in the number of international students coming to study in the UK since 2010.

    Regarding new clause 14, I thank hon. Members for bringing this issue back to the House after it was raised in Committee, but I still do not believe that this Bill is the appropriate vehicle for commissioning research into post-study work. The Bill is focused on creating the structures needed to oversee higher education and research funding for many years to come. The scope of what this amendment proposes—a short-term piece of research on an element of migration policy—is not consistent with the scope and functions of UK Research and Innovation.

  • The UK has an excellent offer for overseas students who graduate in the UK. International graduates can remain in the UK to work following their studies by switching to several existing visa routes, including tier 2 skilled worker visas. There is no cap on the number of students who can switch to a tier 2 skilled worker visa. Home Office figures show that, under our current provisions, more than 6,000 international students switched from a tier 4 to a tier 2 visa in the UK in 2015, up from 5,500 in 2014 and from around 4,000 in 2013. Britain remains the second most popular destination in the world for international students after the United States.

    We have heard a lot of debate on the teaching excellence framework, and I will now respond to some of the points raised. First, on the question of the TEF and migration, I urge Opposition Members carefully to calm down and consider the Home Secretary’s party conference speech. We want our universities to continue to attract genuine students from around the world. We have no plans to introduce any cap on the number of non-EU students who can come to the UK to study. No decisions have been made on tailoring or differentiating non-EU student migration rules on the basis of the quality of the higher education institution, or on how that might be achieved. As the Home Secretary announced in her speech, we will shortly be seeking views on the study immigration route, and we encourage all interested parties to participate to ensure that every point of view is heard. New clause 12 is therefore unnecessary and premature, as the Government intend to seek views on the matter.

  • I entirely accept the Minister’s bona fides and commitments on this issue, but is it true that Home Office officials accompanying the Prime Minister on her visit to India were openly talking to people about using the bronze element of the TEF as a way of reducing the migration numbers for students?

  • The visit to India, which I was honoured to be part of, was a big success in that it gave us numerous opportunities to reiterate our strong message that we welcome genuine students. There is no limit on the number of genuine students who can come and study at our world-class institutions, and there is no better place than the UK to receive a higher education. We want to see more such students coming to study here.

  • I assure the Minister that we are very calm about this issue, but he could calm us further by explaining what the Home Secretary meant when she talked about the use of quality in relation to the visa system, and in particular when she said that she would be

    “looking at tougher rules for students on lower quality courses.”

    What does that mean?

  • High-quality institutions are compliant institutions. We want compliance to be a strong feature of our system. It is important that the sector should do all it can to be compliant with Home Office regulations. The ability to bring students in on tier 4 visas is a privilege, not a right, and it comes with an obligation to ensure that students who come to this country to study follow the terms of their visas. The sector should welcome that because it wants a high-quality system of international study. The Government will be bringing forward a consultation paper in the coming weeks that will enable everyone across the sector, including the hon. Gentleman, to contribute their views on how best this can be achieved.

  • The Minister talks about compliance. Why did the Home Secretary not talk about compliance? She talked about

    “tougher rules for students on lower quality courses”,

    but there was nothing about compliance. What did she mean by that?

  • If the hon. Gentleman reads the Home Secretary’s speech carefully, he will see that she did mention compliance. She mentioned compliance and quality. High-quality institutions are compliant institutions; they are one and the same.

  • High-quality institutions could offer poor-quality courses, just as institutions with a bronze rating could offer extremely high-quality courses. How is the distinction going to be made?

  • I urge the hon. Lady to wait for the consultation document. She will be able to assess the Government’s proposals in due course when the Home Office is ready to publish them.

    Amendments 46 and 47 would require greater parliamentary scrutiny of the TEF, but I do not believe that the content of the amendments is either necessary or proportionate. As I have said, the development of the TEF has been, and will continue to be, an iterative process—as the research excellence framework was before it. Requiring Parliament to agree each and every change to the framework would stifle its healthy development. The REF scheme is not subject to that level of oversight by Parliament, and nor should it be.

    Hon. Members have talked about the “gold”, “silver” and “bronze” descriptors as though they were new inventions from this Government. They are in fact familiar to the sector through their use in other areas. Such terminology is already used, for example, in the Athena SWAN awards and by Investors in People in many universities. In every case, bronze is still recognised as a high-quality award, while gold is reserved for the highest quality.

    Amendment 49 would not add any value to the TEF framework that we have developed. Changing the TEF ratings would fundamentally undermine the purpose of the TEF by preventing students from being able to determine which providers were offering the best teaching and achieving the best outcomes. It would simply allow for a pass/fail assessment. The teaching excellence framework assesses excellence over and above a baseline assessment of quality, and our proposed descriptors will allow students, parents, schools and employers to distinguish clearly between providers. We have consulted on the proposed metrics and considered the evidence, and we still feel that these metrics represent the best measurements for assessing teaching. They are widely used across the sector.

    Turning to amendment 50, we have consulted extensively on the metrics, as I have said, and made significant improvements. Setting out the requirement to consult in legislation would be unnecessarily burdensome. We have taken, and will continue to take, a reasoned approach to the metrics. Given the co-regulatory approach I have described, we would expect the OFS to take a similar approach.

    I shall now address the points made on degree-awarding powers and university title. Let me be clear that only those providers that can prove they can meet the high standards associated with the values and reputation of the English HE system can obtain degree awarding powers. If a higher education provider can demonstrate their ability to deliver high-quality provision, we want to make it easier for them to start awarding their own degrees, rather than needing to have the degrees for their courses awarded by a competing incumbent. Maddalaine Ansell, the chief executive of the University Alliance, has said:

    “These plans strike a healthy balance between protecting the quality and global reputation of our country’s universities, whilst also encouraging innovation.”

  • The Minister might wish to comment specifically on new clause 4, but will he tell us why the Government are so reluctant to allow a process that has served the HE sector well since 1992 to be read across into the new arrangements for the OFS? I refer to the degree-awarding powers committee proposed in the new clause.

  • In relation to new clause 4, we intend to keep the processes relating to the scrutiny of applications for degree-awarding powers—which have worked well to date—broadly as they are. That includes retaining an element of independent peer review for degree-awarding powers applications. I said as much in Committee. The processes are not currently set out in legislation to avoid being tied to a static process, and we intend to keep it that way. We have published a technical note on market entry and quality assurance that sets out more detail on the operation of the quality threshold.

    Turning to new clause 7, our policy is that degree-awarding powers cannot be transferred or sold for commercial purposes, and we do not see that changing. If the holder of degree-awarding powers were involved in a change of ownership, or if complex group ownerships change, the provider would be expected to inform the OFS and to demonstrate that it remained the same cohesive academic community that was awarded degree-awarding powers and that it continued to meet the criteria for university title. We intend to consult on the detailed circumstances for when degree-awarding powers and university title might be revoked, including instances of changes of ownership, so there is no need for this new clause.

    Turning to amendments 40 and 41, the OFS is already required under clause 2 to have regard to the need to promote quality when carrying out its functions. The OFS will therefore have regard to the need to promote quality when authorising providers to grant degrees. I reassure Members that we will, as now, ensure that the high standards that providers must meet in order to be able to make such awards are retained. One of the key criteria for obtaining degree-awarding powers is the ability to set and maintain academic standards, and we expect that to continue. As now, we want all criteria to set a high bar, and we plan to set them out in departmental guidance to which the OFS must have regard. The amendments are therefore unnecessary.

  • Will the Minister give the House some idea of when that guidance might be available?

  • We plan to put out guidance in the coming months. The hon. Lady will be the first to receive it when it is ready.

    Turning to amendment 58, we are absolutely committed to protecting the quality and reputation of our universities. We are not changing the core concept of what a university is and are not planning any wide-ranging changes to the criteria for university title. As now, we want only those providers with full degree-awarding powers to be eligible. Students make the choice where to study based on many factors—not only the qualification they will receive, but the cultural and social opportunities—and one size does not fit all. As independent and autonomous organisations, higher education providers are best placed to decide what experiences they want to offer to students and the local community. Like now, we intend to set out the detailed criteria and processes for gaining university title in guidance, not in legislation. We plan to consult on the detail prior to publication.

    Several interesting points have been made in the debate on this group of amendments. Let me conclude by thanking hon. Members for their responses to the amendments that we have brought forward to enshrine the OFS’s duty to monitor and report on financial sustainability, to ensure there is always an OFS board member to represent or promote the student interest, to promote institutional autonomy further, and to compel providers to publish student protection plans.

  • I think the Minister is coming to his peroration, so I just wondered whether he will be able to make any comment on new clause 15 and lifelong learning.

  • I touched on that at the start of my remarks. The Opposition proposed a commission for lifelong learning in new clause 15. The Government are obviously strongly committed to lifelong education, in which the Secretary of State and I have taken a close interest. Studying part-time and later in life brings enormous benefits for individuals, employers and the general economy. Alongside our higher education reforms, we are reforming further education, including implementing the skills plan that was published earlier this year and through the recent introduction of the Technical and Further Education Bill, which had its Second Reading last week.

    As the hon. Member for Blackpool South is well aware, the Government committed in the last Budget to review the gaps and support for lifetime learning, including part-time flexible study. That review is ongoing. Higher education already offers flexible options for the thousands of mature students who want to study each year. In addition, much work is under way to expand access to lifelong learning through a variety of routes to suit learners. I am confident that those reforms, like others in the Bill, will continue to have a positive impact on learning—lifelong or otherwise.

    Question put and agreed to.

    New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 2

    Student support: restricted modification of repayment terms

    “(1) Section 22 of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 (power to give financial support to students) is amended in accordance with subsections (2) to (4).

    (2) In subsection (2)(g) at the beginning insert ‘Subject to subsections (3)(A) and (3)(B),’.

    (3) In subsection (2)(g) leave out from ‘section’ to the end of subsection (2)(g).

    (4) After subsection (3) insert—

    ‘(3A) Other than in accordance with subsection (3B), no provision may be made under subsection (2)(g) relating to the repayment of a loan that has been made available under this section once the parties to that loan (including the borrower) have agreed the terms and conditions of repayment, including during—

    (a) the period of enrolment on a course specified under subsection (1)(a) or (1)(b), and

    (b) the period of repayment.

    (3B) Any modification to any requirement or other provision relating to the repayment of a loan made available under this section and during the periods specified in subsection (3A) shall only be made if approved by an independent panel.

    (3C) The independent panel shall approve modifications under subsection (3B) if such modifications meet conditions to be determined by the panel.

    (3D) The approval conditions under subsection (3C) must include that—

    (a) the modification is subject to consultation with representatives of the borrowers,

    (b) the majority of the representative group consider the modification to be favourable to the majority of students and graduates who have entered loans, and

    (c) there is evidence that those on low incomes will be protected.

    (3E) The independent panel shall consist of three people appointed by the Secretary of State, who (between them) must have experience of—

    (a) consumer protection,

    (b) loan modification and mediation,

    (c) the higher education sector, and

    (d) student finance.’”—(Wes Streeting.)

    Brought up, and read the First time.

  • I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    New clause 3—Student loans: regulation

    “(1) Any loan granted under section 22(1) of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, (“student loans”) irrespective of the date on which the loan was granted, shall be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.

    (2) Any person responsible for arranging, administering or managing, or offering or agreeing to manage, student loans shall be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.”

    New clause 5—Revocation of the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015

    “The Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 (Statutory Instrument No. 1951/ 2015) are revoked.”

    This new clause would revoke the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, which moved support for students from a system of maintenance grants to loans.

    New clause 6—Higher Education loans: restrictions on modification of repayment conditions

    “(1) A loan made by the Secretary of State to eligible students in connection with their undertaking a higher education course or further education course under the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 shall—

    (a) not be subject to changes in repayment conditions retroactively without agreement from both Houses of Parliament;

    (b) not be subject to changes in repayment conditions in the event of the loan being sold to private concerns, unless these changes are made to all loans, in the manner prescribed above;

    (c) be subject to beneficial changes, principally to the repayment threshold, in line with average earnings.

    (2) In section 8 of the Sale of Student Loans Act 2008, for subsection (1) substitute—

    ‘(1) Loans made in accordance with regulations under section 22 of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 (c. 30) are to be regulated by the Consumer Credit Act 1974 (c. 39).’”

    This new clause would ensure no retroactive changes could be made to student loan repayment conditions without agreement from both Houses of Parliament.

    New clause 8—Access to support for students recognised as needing protection

    “(1) Within six months from the day on which this Act comes into force, the Secretary of State must, by regulations made under the Higher Education Act 2004 and the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998,make provision for financial support for higher education courses offered to students with certain immigration statuses.

    (2) The regulations specified in sub-section (1) must include, but shall not be restricted to—

    (a) provision for persons who have been brought to the UK under the Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation Scheme, or any equivalent scheme, and their family members to access student loans on the same basis as refugees recognised in-country, and

    (b) provision for persons who have claimed asylum and been granted a form of leave to remain in the UK to be eligible for—

    (i) home fees for a higher education course if they have been ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom and Islands since being granted leave, and

    (ii) student loans for a higher education course, if—

    (a) they have been ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom and Islands since being granted leave, and

    (b) are ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom and Islands on the first day of the first academic term of that course.

    (3) In this section—

    ‘home fees’ means fees for a higher education course charged to persons considered as ‘qualifying persons’ under regulations made under the Higher Education Act 2004;

    ‘student loans’ means loans made to students in connection with their undertaking of a higher education course under the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998.”

    This new clause would allow all refugees resettled to the UK, as well as people seeking asylum granted forms of leave other than refugee status, to access student finance and home fees.

    New clause 10—Student support: requirement to assess repayment terms

    “(1) The Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 is amended as follows.

    (2) In Section 22 (new arrangements for giving financial support to students)—

    (a) in subsection (3)(b), after “and” insert “subject to subsection (3A)”

    (b) after subsection (3) insert—

    ‘(3A) Regulations under subsection (3)(b) must include a level of earnings below which a person shall not be required to make repayments of such a loan.’

    (3) After Section 22 insert—

    ‘(22A) Duty to assess consumer prices in determining terms for loan repayments

    (1) In relation to regulations made under section 22(3A) the Secretary of State must, for each tax year, review UK consumer price inflation for the period since the last review under this sub-section.

    (2) If the review concludes that consumer prices for the previous tax year have increased, the Secretary of State shall, by order, amend the level of earnings specified in regulations made under sub-section 22(3A) by the same percentage increase as consumer price inflation determined under sub-section (1).

    (3) If the Secretary of State is not required to make an order under this section, the Secretary of State shall lay before each House of Parliament a report explaining the reasons for arriving at that determination.

    (4) For the purpose of this section—

    ‘consumer prices’ means the Consumer Price Index;

    ‘consumer price inflation’ refers to the annual assessment made by the Office for National Statistics in the UK consumer price inflation Statistical bulletin.’”

    Government amendments 14 to 16 and 20.

  • I am grateful for the opportunity to move new clause 2 and to speak to the other new clauses concerning student finance.

    Millions of people across the UK have been mis-sold loans and will end up paying thousands of pounds more than expected as a result. The perpetrator of the mis-selling scandal is not an unscrupulous high street bank or a payday lender; it is our own Government. The victims are current students and graduates who were sold student loans on the basis of false assumptions and broken promises.

    For the vast majority of students in England and the rest of the United Kingdom, Government-backed loans are an essential source of financial support to cover the cost of their tuition fees and the substantial costs associated with their studies, such as the rising cost of university accommodation, food and subsistence, course materials, and making the most of their student experience. In England, students are able to take out a tuition fee loan of up to £9,000 a year and an additional maintenance loan to cover living costs of up to £11,000 a year. As a result, English students now graduate with the highest levels of debt in the western world. Following the Government’s decision to axe non-repayable student grants for the poorest students, those from lowest-income households, scandalously, graduate with the most debt. It is a terrible iniquity in the system and one that I am glad to see the Opposition Front-Bench team addressing this afternoon.

    Many students will not have forgotten that the decision to scrap student grants was not taken in this House, but down the corridor and up the stairs through a statutory instrument in a Committee of which most people have never heard. That is not how the Government should take major decisions on student finance. Students and their families were sold loans on the basis of a series of simple promises from Ministers: loans will be repaid only once students have left university; they will be repaid only after graduates start earning over £21,000 a year; graduates will repay 9% of everything earned above £21,000 a year; and the £21,000 figure will be uprated each year in line with average earnings from April 2017.

    Around this time last year, however, buried in the fine print of the previous Chancellor’s autumn statement was an announcement that the repayment threshold will remain frozen at £21,000. As a result, graduates will end up paying more each month and thousands of pounds more over the 30-year lifetime of their loans. Worst of all, the change will affect not only future students, who can consciously decide to sign up to those repayment conditions, but thousands of existing students and graduates who took out their loans in good faith on the promise that the repayment threshold would increase from 2017. Not only does that retrospective change fly in the face of the principles of good governance, but it is deeply regressive. It is estimated that around half of graduates will never pay off their loans before their debts are written off by the Government. Such graduates, by definition on lower and middle incomes, will end up paying back thousands more over the lifetime of their loan, whereas the richest graduates will be able to repay their debts more quickly and accrue less interest.

    Financial experts and advisers are rightly furious. In an astonishing performance in a Bill Committee evidence session, Money Saving Expert’s Martin Lewis described the Government’s decision to break their commitment to students as “abominable and disgraceful”. The Government will argue that the small print of student finance regulations makes the change entirely permissible and reasonable, but as Martin Lewis told the Committee:

    “Looking at students as consumers, if they had borrowed money from a commercial lender, the Financial Conduct Authority would have struck out in a second the idea that, five years after announcing that the repayment threshold would go up from £21,000 in April 2017 with average earnings, that would be frozen.”––[Official Report, Higher Education and Research Public Bill Committee, 6 September 2016; c. 38, Q55.]

    It is important to bear it in mind that the Government’s promise to students and applicants was not just in the marketing material of Government and of universities, which understandably assumed that the commitments would be lasting, but written in black and white by the former higher education Minister, now Lord Willetts. Having worked with Lord Willetts over a number of years, I have no doubt that he made that undertaking in good faith. He could not have possibly known that a future Chancellor, or a future Government, would not only break that commitment, but apply the change retrospectively.

    Banks would not get away with mis-selling on this scale, and neither should our Government. I have teamed up with Martin Lewis to put forward amendments to the Bill. The amendments, which I am delighted to say have cross-party support, will prevent Ministers from making retrospective changes to student loans that would penalise existing students and graduates.

    New clause 2 would put in place some architecture through the appointment of three independent advisers, who would look carefully at any proposals that, retroactively, make changes to student loan repayment conditions. They would apply a number of tests: is it to the benefit of the majority of graduates; do the Government believe that to be the case as a result of consultation; have the Government made a case that the proposal would be progressive in effect; and would it help some of the most disadvantaged students or graduates? If those conditions are passed, the Government might be able to proceed, because, clearly, this House would not want to prevent the Government from making positive changes that would benefit graduates. What those tests would do is prevent Ministers from behaving as the previous Chancellor did, which was to make changes in the small print of the autumn statement and apply them retrospectively after commitments have been made in good faith.

    New clause 3 would also bring student loans within the scope of the Financial Conduct Authority. Despite the existence of an independent student loans company, Ministers have still found ways to flout regulations for the benefit of the Treasury and to the detriment of students and graduates, which is really quite appalling.

  • My hon. Friend is making an extremely powerful case. Does he not think that, had this happened in another context, the behaviour might have been described as fraudulent?

  • I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, which is why the student loans system should be brought within the scope of the Financial Conduct Authority. Had a high street bank or a payday lender behaved in such a way, there would be outrage everywhere, including in this House. The Financial Conduct Authority would mount an investigation. The Treasury Committee, of which I am a member, would ask questions. It seems that a Chancellor can just decide to save a few quid in the autumn statement and make retrospective changes that would penalise existing students and graduates.

    This is an issue not just of fairness and equity for existing borrowers, but fundamentally of trust. What is to stop future Governments making changes further down the line about all manner of things, including interest rates, repayment periods, tapers and thresholds? On that basis, how can current or prospective students have confidence that promises being made today will be kept tomorrow? To be honest, this is a very personal issue for me. Some years ago, Martin Lewis, from Money Saving Expert, and I agreed to work with the coalition Government on an independent taskforce on student finance information. Martin was invited to take part because of his widespread reputation as one of the most trusted people in the country when it comes to financial advice and saving consumers money. It was felt, quite rightly by Lord Willetts— then the higher education Minister—that Martin would be an independent voice on those matters and someone whom people could trust. Martin then asked me to work with him as his deputy, with Lord Willetts’ agreement, on the basis that I had recently completed my term as president of the National Union of Students.

    Although I opposed the decisions that had been taken by successive Governments around higher education funding and student finance, I believed that it was critical to take part. I thought it would be appalling if a single student was deterred from applying to university on the basis of misunderstanding the information. If students look at the information and the student finance system and decide to make a different choice, that is for them, but I thought that it would be a travesty if a single student was deterred on the basis of misunderstanding and misinformation.

    We went round the country visiting schools, colleges and universities and we appeared in the media, promoting the Government system—not on its merit, but on the facts of the system. We served what I thought was an important public duty and purpose, but we were misled—inadvertently—which means that we therefore misled students and graduates up and down the country. We told them that the repayment threshold would go up in line with earnings from April 2017; that is what we were told by Ministers at the time. That is what students, teachers, parents, family members and advisers were also led to believe.

    The Government need to reflect very carefully on what message it would send to each of those groups if future Governments can come along and retrospectively change the system to suit the Treasury. It is a terrible, terrible precedent that undermines trust not just in the student finance system, but in politics as a whole. We are not so far from a general election, or indeed from a referendum campaign, to know that trust in politics in this country is at rock bottom. People do not trust politics and they do not trust politicians. From my experience of this place in the past 18 months, I can say that, for all our disagreements, I have great pride in our political system and in the way in which it works. However, when it comes to decisions such as these, I completely understand why politicians are held in such low regard. On too many occasions, politicians have said one thing and done another. On higher education and student finance, politicians have said one thing and done another. Since the coalition Government put their reforms through, with cross-party agreement and with—to be fair to them —concessions to the Liberal Democrats in government, every single concession has been undone. Student grants have been scrapped. The emphasis on widening participation in a number of respects is now weaker. Now we find that many of the actual repayment conditions, which the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr Clegg) would argue were some of the more progressive elements of the system, are also being undone. This is an issue about trust not just in the student finance system, but fundamentally in politics as a whole. Martin Lewis says:

    “If you sign a contract, both sides should keep to it. If you advertise a loan, the lender should be held to the terms it was sold under.”

    It is a total disgrace that, although the UK is well regarded around the world for its excellent laws and regulatory environment, there seems to be one exception, which is student loan contracts. That is why I hope that, this week before this change kicks in, the new Chancellor will take the opportunity to reverse the decision in his autumn statement. The Chancellor and the Prime Minister could go some way to rebuilding trust in politics. I also urge the Government to support new clauses 2, 3 and 6, which would ensure that no Government could be tempted to behave in this way again. It is scandalous and unjustifiable and it sets a very dangerous precedent. That is why I hope that we will see some progress on this today.

  • When we reformed student finance in 2011, we put in place a system designed to make higher education accessible to all. It is working well: total funding for the sector has increased and it is forecast to reach £31 billion by 2017-18. It is vital to our future economic success that higher education remains sustainably funded.

    Last year, the current Leader of the Opposition announced that he was keen to scrap tuition fees. Senior Labour party figures have criticised that, saying that it was not a credible promise to make, with Lord Mandelson, among others, noting that Labour had

    “to be honest about the cost of providing higher education.”

    Of course, it was not just Lord Mandelson. The former shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, went further when he noted that his party’s failure to identify a sustainable funding mechanism was a “blot on Labour’s copybook”.

  • The Opposition need to explain how they would fund their alternatives. The Labour party has said that scrapping tuition fees and restoring maintenance grants would cost £10 billion. At a conservative estimate, this would cost £40 billion over a five-year Parliament. Not allowing high-quality institutions to increase their fees by inflation would deprive the sector of a further £3 billion by the end of this Parliament, but Labour would like to go further still. Increasing the repayment threshold for post-2012 student loans by average earnings would cost more than £6 billion by the end of this Parliament. Uprating it for all loans would cost over £7 billion. Where is all this money going to come from?

    By contrast, the OECD has praised our student loan system that this Government introduced in England. It said that we are

    “one of the few countries to have figured out a sustainable approach to higher education finance”.

  • The Minister is talking about the affordability and sustainability of systems. Does he acknowledge that when the proposals to change the student funding system were put to this House back in 2012, it was on the understanding from his predecessor, Lord Willetts, that the resource and budgeting charge—the uncollectable level of student debt—would be at around 28%? That prediction was rubbished by many experts in the sector and from the Opposition Benches, and gradually, over the lifetime of the Parliament, the percentage went up into the 30s and the 40s, to the point where it became unsustainable. The unsustainability of the system that the Government created was then dealt with by imposing that burden on students by varying the charges and the deal on student loans in the way that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) described.

  • Short interventions, please.

  • The estimation of the RAB charge is still broadly in that ballpark, with the current estimate being between 20% and 25%, so it is not substantially different.

    On new clause 2, the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) suggested that an independent panel should approve any changes to terms and conditions for student loans. However, the key terms and conditions governing repayment of the loan are set out in regulations made under section 22 of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998. The repayment regulations are subject to scrutiny under the negative procedure, which allows Parliament to call a debate on any amendments. It is right that Parliament, rather than an unelected panel, should continue to have the final say on the loan terms and conditions.

  • I anticipated that the Minister would point out how permissive the terms and conditions were, which is why I suggested that student loans should be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. The sad truth is that I agree with him. As new clause 6 suggests, Members of both Houses should have a role in shaping the terms and conditions, but Ministers, whether in the Treasury or the Department for Education, have shown that they cannot be trusted to keep to their word. That is the indictment and that is why the amendment was tabled.

  • The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Financial Conduct Authority. I remind him that it was under the Labour Government that Parliament was invited to confirm, as it did, that student loans were exempt from regulation under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 when the then Labour Government passed the Sale of Student Loans Act 2008. The hon. Gentleman should look back at his own party’s record on the issue.

    New clause 3 proposes that student loans should be regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. I share the hon. Gentleman’s desire to ensure that students are protected, but student loans are not like the commercial loans of the sort regulated by the FCA. They are not run for profit and are available to all, irrespective of their financial history. Repayments depend on income and the interest rate charged on them is limited by legislation. The loans are written off after 30 years with no detriment to the borrower. By contrast, lenders regulated by the FCA are obliged to assess the credit-worthiness of all their borrowers, and the affordability and suitability of the loan product for each borrower. Were the FCA to regulate student loans, that could affect the ability of some students to obtain them.

  • It would be perfectly possible for the FCA to regulate within the scope of the student finance system. The Minister talks about the suitability of borrowers; I am talking about the suitability of lenders to keep their word. I am not asking for the FCA to regulate students. I am asking for the FCA to regulate Ministers, who cannot be trusted.

  • The key terms and conditions are set out in legislation—it is the law that binds us—and are subject to the scrutiny and oversight of Parliament. FCA regulation is therefore unnecessary, as students are already protected. Our system allows the Government, through these subsidised loans, to make a conscious investment in the skills base of our country. I should have thought that Labour Members would welcome that.

    New clause 5 would revoke the 2015 student support regulations. These regulations replaced maintenance grants with loans, which increased support for students on the lowest incomes by over 10%. Revoking these regulations would reduce the support available for students from some of the most disadvantaged backgrounds, while costing the taxpayer over £2.5 billion per year. Opposition scaremongering about this policy risks deterring students from attending university. The sustainable system that we have put in place has enabled us to remove the cap on student numbers and offer more support for living costs than ever before.

    New clauses 6 and 10 would require the repayment threshold for all income-contingent student loans to increase in line with either earnings or prices. Loan repayments continue to be based on the ability to pay, and graduates earning less than £21,000 were not affected by the threshold freeze. Those who benefit from a university education are likely to go on to earn more than taxpayers who do not go to university, so it is only fair that graduates should contribute to the cost of their education. Uprating the repayment threshold for all income-contingent student loans, as new clause 6 proposes, would cost about £5 billion in the first year due to a reduction in the value of the loan book. Thereafter, it would increase the resource account and budgeting charge by about 7%.

  • Is that £5 billion a capital estimate of the value of the loan book or is it the annual running cost?

  • That represents a decrease in the capital value of the loan book.

    The cost of uprating by the consumer prices index, as new clause 10 proposes, would be less, but still significant. These costs would need to be paid for by taxpayers, many of whom will be earning less than the graduates who would benefit from the threshold increase.

    New clause 10 relates to access to support for students recognised as needing protection. This is an important issue which was raised by the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) in Committee, and is already addressed, as we have discussed, within the student support regulations. I am pleased to say that those who come to this country and obtain international protection are already able to access student support. Our regulations have for some time included provision for those granted refugee status or humanitarian protection, and their family members.

    Those persons entering the UK under the Syrian vulnerable persons relocation scheme, and granted humanitarian protection, will be eligible, like UK nationals, to obtain student support and home-fee status after only three years’ residence in the UK. Persons on the programme are not precluded from applying for refugee status if they consider that they meet the criteria. Those with refugee status are uniquely allowed to access student support immediately, a privilege not afforded to UK nationals or those granted other forms of leave. There is a distinction in international law between such status and that of those in need of humanitarian protection.

    Recently the Supreme Court upheld the Government’s policy of requiring most persons, including UK citizens, to be ordinarily lawfully resident in the UK for at least three years immediately prior to starting their course in order to be eligible for student support. The amendment would allow people who may subsequently be required to leave the country to access taxpayer funding for their study.

    The last group of amendments includes some technical Government amendments relating to alternative student finance. Unless hon. Members show an interest in them, I will move on to my conclusion.

    This Government are committed to a sustainable and fair student funding system. We are seeing more people going to university than ever before, and record numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our funding system has enabled us to lift the cap on student numbers and, with it, the cap on aspiration that it represented. I hope the Opposition can see that if their amendments were not pressed, the student funding regime would remain sustainable, working in the best interests of students and taxpayers.

  • The Minister briefly addressed new clause 8, although in anticipating it, he understated and, to some degree, misrepresented the actual position. Let me therefore explain the new clause, for which I think there is support on both sides of the House—I think there was some discomfort on the Government Benches in Committee when it was voted down.

    New clause 8 would allow all refugees resettled to the UK, as well as those young people who, having made an application for asylum, are granted a form of leave other than refugee status, to access student finance and home fees. It would be of particular benefit to Syrian refugees resettled to the UK under the Government’s own policy, so it is perhaps not surprising that there is support for it on both sides of the House. Only small numbers of people would be affected, but as those of us who have dealt with such cases know, it would have a huge impact for the individuals.

    Let me explain the context. Currently, individuals with refugee status can access student finance and qualify for home-fee status from the moment they are awarded their protection. That is where the Minister was economical with the truth in his comments about the new clause, because those with a slightly different status—that of humanitarian protection—are treated differently: they have to be able to show that they have been ordinarily resident for at least three years at the start of the academic year to be able to receive financial support.

    The group most affected by that different definition are those Syrian refugees currently being resettled to the UK under the vulnerable persons resettlement programme, as they are granted not refugee status but humanitarian protection. The result is that a young Syrian refugee who arrives in the UK today would not qualify for student finance until the start of the academic year in 2020. The only exception is if they are resettled to Scotland, where the Scottish Government—I commend them for this—have introduced a special fee status for resettled Syrians, allowing them immediate access to student finance.

    Subsection 2(a) would ensure that all resettled refugees, no matter what status they are given, and no matter where they live in the UK, could access student support immediately. Subsection 2(b) would make student finance available for those who are granted humanitarian protection after making an application for asylum. As set out in the immigration rules, humanitarian protection is granted to people who face a real risk of suffering harm if they return to their home country. That includes the risk of facing the death penalty, torture or inhumane treatment, or their lives being at risk owing to armed conflict. Now, the future of those who are granted humanitarian protection after applying for asylum is clearly in the UK. If their future is here, they should be enabled to build their lives here. They should be allowed to access university education not simply to build their lives but to contribute fully to our society.

    Subsection 2(b) would also provide access to student finance and home-fee status for people who have applied for asylum and then been granted another form of immigration leave. Again, in these cases, the Government have accepted that the immediate future of these individuals is in the UK, so they should be given every opportunity to contribute and develop, yet they face significant hurdles in doing so. The reason is that, in 2012, the last Government changed the rules so potential university students in this situation could no longer access student finance. They would also have been reclassified as international students, meaning they would face higher fees.

    Unsurprisingly, the Supreme Court found that the Government’s rules were discriminatory. I realise the Government have not been doing very well in the courts recently, but this is a slightly earlier case—the Tigere case. As a result of the Supreme Court ruling against the Government, the Government changed the rules and introduced the new criterion of long residence. What that means is that young people who have gone through the asylum process—including children who arrived as unaccompanied asylum-seeking children—and who are unlikely to meet the long residence criterion, will have to watch their school peers go off to university, leaving them behind.

  • I have a constituent in just that position. They went through school, they did well, they were ready to go to university and they had a university place secured, but they were told that they had not yet met the residency requirements. They are going to be sitting around for another year or two, waiting until they do meet the residency requirement. That is a waste of their time, a waste of their potential and a waste of everybody else’s time. That is the perverse situation we are in, isn’t it?

  • My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Not only is this a waste for the individual, but we as a society are cutting off our nose to spite our face. It is a waste of potential for all of us, when we could benefit from that person’s higher education.

    New clause 8 is not about creating special circumstances for refugees—the Minister falsely contrasted the position on refugees, humanitarian protection and UK students—and others who have arrived in the UK seeking asylum. Instead, it is about removing the existing barriers preventing young people who came to the UK seeking protection, and who are capable of attending university, from fulfilling their potential, so I urge him to think again.

  • I rise to add a brief footnote to new clause 10, which is in my name, and to say things that other people in the room possibly cannot say.

    Liberal Democrats hesitate, for some reason, to talk about university fees. I have no particular embarrassment—I voted against top-up fees under Labour, and I voted against the increases under the coalition. In both cases, though, I made dire predictions about take-up, which certainly were not fulfilled, and take-up in both cases carried on. Unfortunately, I was right in my predictions about the political consequences of breaking our contract with the electorate. I believe we were tricked into that by a very clever Chancellor, and there was very little saving in the end to the Exchequer, contrary to what some of my colleagues supposed at the time.

    It was a painful process, and the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), who introduced this section of the debate, pointed out that it involved a certain number of concessions to the Liberal Democrats. What we are looking at now is the elimination bit by bit, piece by piece of those concessions, starting with grants and moving on to access and so on. So the policy has clearly worsened, and what we have currently, with the raising of the threshold, is nothing short of a scandal. A contract has been broken; there has been a one-sided redefinition of the terms of the loan. In any other context, as Martin Lewis quite correctly said, that would lead to legal action. The only reason legal action is not possible in this case is the small print, which, as far as most undergraduates are concerned, was very, very small indeed.

    New clause 10 is simply an attempt to avoid a repetition of that bad situation by defining a minimum level of earnings and a mechanism for adjusting it in a rational, open way. It would avoid partiality, exploitation, misunderstanding and—the hon. Gentleman mentioned this briefly—the lack of trust, which is absolutely crucial. That, surely, is the way to go.

  • I rise to speak to Labour’s new clause 5, which would revoke the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, which moved support for students from a system of maintenance grants to loans. I also rise to speak to Labour’s new clause 6, which follows on from the excellent speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) on new clauses 2 and 3.

    At a time when the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission reported only last week that our nation is facing a crisis in social mobility, it is a travesty that I have to stand here today to talk about the problems caused by scrapping maintenance grants and replacing them with a further loan, disproportionately affecting students who come from a low-income background. As this House knows, students in the UK already face the highest levels of student debt in any European country. Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that the average student in the UK will leave university saddled with £44,000-worth of debt, and the Sutton Trust has suggested that the figure could go even higher. This figure is only the average; for students from low-income backgrounds, it will be much higher, and these changes will make it higher still.

    Labour Members have pledged to bring back the maintenance grant. My hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), in the Bill Committee and recently at the Labour party’s north-west conference, gave powerful testimony as to why that is. It is not just because we cannot afford to lose these people from our economic process, or just because it will help to aid social mobility generally; it is because by doing so we will empower hundreds of thousands of people who will otherwise lose their life chances, or be in danger of that, under this process. There were half a million students in the last year before the Government scrapped the grant, many of whom were in higher education in further education colleges. If a significant number of those students do not take out loans because, for a variety of reasons, they do not wish to do so or are unable to do so, we will increase still further the progressive weakening that this Government have put on to the higher education and FE sector, which is currently servicing some 34,000 students who got the grant in the last year before the Government scrapped it, including a significant number of people in my own constituency pursuing higher education at the excellent Blackpool and The Fylde College.

    The Government—I give credit to them for it—have put into the Bill the ability for FE colleges to have their own degree-awarding powers, and Blackpool and The Fylde College is one of those, but it is rather perverse then to introduce something that will weaken the support for such colleges. The Government seem not to think in holistic terms about further education. Taking people in higher education in further education colleges out of the equation will weaken the economic and social base of those colleges. The Government do not give anywhere near enough attention to that.

  • Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

  • Will the hon. Gentleman allude to how Labour intends to pay for all these benefits, because I think I am right in saying that it was to be via corporation tax?

  • The hon. Lady must be a mind reader because I am just coming to on that issue.

    Bringing back the maintenance grant would help to enable over half a million students from low and middle-income backgrounds to go on to higher education. Rumour has it that in the autumn statement this coming Wednesday, the Chancellor is set to announce a further cut in corporation tax, helping only those at the top. We are asking the Government to reconsider this position. Our policy, which has been costed, of bringing back grants would be the equivalent of a rise of less than 1% in corporation tax. Do the Government not believe that this rise would be more beneficial to our nation as a whole—

  • Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

  • No, I will not—the hon. Lady has had one go. Let me proceed because we do not have a lot of time.

    Do the Government not believe that that rise would be more beneficial to our nation as a whole than pushing ahead with a policy that benefits only a relatively small number of large corporations, and not even a big range? If the Government are serious about supporting social mobility, they need to do something about it. The Minister, in a rather Panglossian way, went on about all the terrible things that were predicted when loans were introduced not having come to pass, but that is actually not true, or certainly not true across the board. We have seen what a disaster the introduction of advanced learning loans for level 3 was for over-24-year-olds. Only 50% of the £300 million that was allocated for them was taken up, and that money has been sent straight back to the Treasury. Now, unabashed, the Government want to serve up the same recipe to 19 to 24-year-olds.

    “Nudge” has been a fashionable word in the Conservative party in recent years—indeed, Lord Willetts wrote quite a lot about it—but it is possible to nudge people away from things as well as towards them. As the Minister well knows, the quality impact assessment on grants and loans let the cat out of the bag on the difficulties that would be faced by all the groups who desperately need access to higher education, such as women, disabled people, people from the black and minority ethnic communities, and care leavers. No wonder Ministers were so keen to bury this issue in a Delegated Legislation Committee. It took our efforts in bringing it to an Opposition day debate at the beginning of the year to have a decent debate on it.

    The Government need to think again on this. I give notice that we will press our new clause 5 to a vote.

  • Will the hon. Gentleman give way for two seconds?

  • For two seconds, yes.

  • How does the hon. Gentleman explain the fact that covering the figure of £12 billion would mean a rise in corporation tax of between 4% and 5% rather than the 1% that he stated? Surely we need business and industry to be making money in order to create the jobs and opportunities for students once they leave education.

  • That was a hell of a lot more than two seconds, but I forgive the hon. Lady. We need to look at this issue in the context of our proposal, to which I have already alluded.

    New clause 6 deals with yet another regressive policy that has been highlighted during the passage of this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North spoke about some of the significant issues in this regard. The students affected will end up having to pay more than they were loaned as a greater proportion of their income. To those who have, more will be given, because they can pay their loans back more speedily; from those who have not, more will be taken. The Government seem to have been disregarding in their education policy the fact that there is a regional and demographic dimension to this as well. Constituents of mine taking up a graduate job in the past 12 months will have had a more reasonable ability to hit a threshold that was supposed to be uprated on a regular basis. Students in parts of the country where starting incomes for graduates are much lower than in London and the south-east will be particularly badly hit by this proposal.

  • Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the situation he describes particularly hits students in places like Northern Ireland where starting salaries are much lower? Does he also accept that the Minister’s point about the affordability of this is a red herring, because when the loans were sold to students, surely the cost of raising the thresholds was taken into consideration? The Government cannot now go back and say, “We want to rewrite the rules.”

  • The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, as he is to make that point about the situation for students in Northern Ireland. When we discussed this matter in the Opposition day debate and again in Committee, we made the point that students in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland—the students of all of the devolved Administrations—would be affected by this process. It is nonsense for the Government to say that this will not make any difference. The Minister said to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) that the RAB charge was now okay, but as my hon. Friend said, it is only okay because this Government—the Minister and the rest of his colleagues—have created a Frankenstein’s monster that is going to cause problems for so many thousands of students.

  • I cannot better the powerful speech that Martin Lewis made when he came to give evidence to the Committee. The Minister may feel that new clause 6 is unnecessary because his Government would never renege on their promises to students or retrospectively change the terms of a loan agreement. Unfortunately, they have already done so once. We would prefer both Houses of Parliament to look at this when such changes are made by the Government. We therefore want the Government to respond on new clause 6, and if my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North pushes new clause 2 to a vote, we will support him. We give the Government fair warning that, whatever the result of the vote in the House tonight, I am sure this subject will get a very strong airing in the House of Lords, because it is economically, morally and socially indefensible.

    Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

    Division 87

    21 November 2016

    The House divided:

    Ayes: 180
    Noes: 278

    Question accordingly negatived.

    View Details

    New Clause 5

    Revocation of the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015

    “The Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015 (Statutory Instrument No. 1951/ 2015) are revoked.”—(Gordon Marsden.)

    This new clause would revoke the Education (Student Support) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, which moved support for students from a system of maintenance grants to loans.

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

    Division 88

    21 November 2016

    The House divided:

    Ayes: 181
    Noes: 278

    Question accordingly negatived.

    View Details

    New Clause 11

    UKRI report: international specialist employees

    “(1) Within six months of section 84 of this Act coming into force, and every year thereafter, UKRI shall report to the Secretary of State on—

    (a) EU (excluding from the UK), and

    (b) non-EU

    specialist employees employed by UKRI and English higher education providers.

    (2) For the purposes of this section “specialist employee”—

    (a) in relation to a Council, has the same meaning as in section 88(3), and

    (b) in relation to an English higher education provider, means the academic staff of the institution.

    (3) Should any report made under subsection (1) identify a decrease in the number of international specialist employees since the previous report was produced, the Secretary of State must make an assessment of the impact of such a reduction on UKRI’s ability to deliver its functions under section 86 of this Act.

    (4) The Secretary of State shall lay any report produced under this section before each House of Parliament.”—(John Pugh.)

    Brought up, and read the First time.

  • I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Amendment 57, in clause 40, page 24, line 13, at end insert—

    “(13) Before authorising any provider to grant research awards, the OfS must consult with—

    (a) UKRI, including Research England,

    (b) the appropriate National Academies and learned societies, and

    (c) such other persons as the OfS considers appropriate.”

    Amendment 53, in clause 85, page 54, leave out line 19.

    This amendment, together with amendment 54, would keep Innovate UK as a separate organisation to UK Research and Innovation.

    Government amendment 17, in clause 86, page 55, line 3, at end insert—

    “( ) The functions conferred by subsection (1)(a) to (e) include, in particular, power to encourage and support the provision of postgraduate training in science, technology, humanities and new ideas.”

    This amendment makes clear that the functions of UKRI under clause 86(1)(a) to (e) include the power to encourage and support the provision of postgraduate training in science, technology, humanities and new ideas.

    Amendment (a) to Government amendment 17, after “humanities” insert “, social sciences”.

    Amendment 54, page 56, line 30, leave out clause 89.

    See explanatory statement for Amendment 52.

    Amendment 42, in clause 90, page 57, line 21, after “appropriate” insert

    “including relevant bodies in the devolved administrations”.

    This amendment allows Research England to coordinate with its devolved counterparts.

    Amendment 55, in clause 94, page 58, line 38, at end insert—

    “(1A) In making grants to UKRI under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must specify the separate allocation of funding to be made by UKRI to—

    (a) functions exercisable by the Councils mentioned in section 88(1) pursuant to arrangements under that section,

    (b) functions exercisable by Innovate UK pursuant to arrangements under section 89, and

    (c) functions exercisable by Research England pursuant to arrangements under section 90.

    (1B) No variation may be made to the allocation of funding specified by the Secretary of State in subsection (1A) unless each House of Parliament has passed a resolution approving any such variation and has the consent of the devolved administrations.”

    This amendment would ensure there would be separate financial allocations to the Research Councils (collectively), Innovate UK, and Research England.

    Amendment 56, in clause 95, page 59, line 45, at end insert—

    “(6) In giving direction to UKRI, the Secretary of State must act in the best interests of all constituent parts of the United Kingdom and, before giving such direction, must consult on research and innovation policies and their priorities with the following—

    (a) the Scottish Government,

    (b) the Welsh Government, and

    (c) the Northern Ireland Executive.

    (7) Before giving any direction to UKRI under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must seek agreement to the terms of that direction from—

    (a) the Scottish Government,

    (b) the Welsh Government, and

    (c) the Northern Ireland Executive.”

    This amendment would place a duty on the Secretary of State such that before giving directions to the UKRI in regards to research priorities, the Secretary of State must consult the devolved administrations.

    Amendment 43, in clause 105, page 63, line 23, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

    This amendment would ensure cooperation and information sharing between the OfS and UKRI.

    Amendment 44, page 63, line 24, after “functions” insert—

    “(1A) The OfS and UKRI must cooperate with one another on—

    (a) the health of disciplines,

    (b) awarding of research degrees,

    (c) post-graduate training,

    (d) shared facilities,

    (e) knowledge exchange and

    (f) skills development”.

    This amendment sets out where UKRI and the OfS must cooperate on issues at the interface between teaching and research.

    Amendment 45, page 63, line 25, leave out subsection (2).

    This amendment would ensure cooperation and information sharing between the OfS and UKRI.

    Government amendment 35.

    Amendment 59, in schedule 9, page 101, line 20, at end insert—

    “(9) A joint committee is to be established by UKRI and OfS, which must—

    (a) consist of representatives of both UKRI and OfS, and

    (b) produce an annual report on the health of the higher education sector.

    (10) The report must make an assessment of—

    (a) the strength of the sector,

    (b) work undertaken to improve equality of opportunity,

    (c) the strength of separate disciplines,

    (d) the availability of research funding,

    (e) the awarding of research degrees,

    (f) the quality of post-graduate training,

    (g) access to shared facilities,

    (h) the effectiveness of knowledge exchange,

    (i) skills development, and

    (j) measures taken to act in the public interest.”

  • It might be helpful if I refreshed hon. Members’ memories about what new clause 11 contains, so that we know what we are talking about. It states:

    “Within six months of section 84 of this Act coming into force, and every year thereafter, UKRI shall report to the Secretary of State on—

    (a) EU (excluding from the UK), and

    (b) non-EU

    specialist employees employed by UKRI and English higher education providers.”

    It contains the critical subsection (3), which states:

    “Should any report made under subsection (1) identify a decrease in the number of international specialist employees since the previous report was produced, the Secretary of State must make an assessment of the impact of such a reduction on UKRI’s ability to deliver its functions under section 86 of this Act.”

    We all accept that universities have major anxiety about research funding post Brexit, simply because while we are in the EU there is a huge net benefit to the UK, in cash and personnel terms—in all terms—in key subjects such as science and medicine in particular. The Government are doing their best to pour oil on troubled waters with various reassuring mantras. They say that there is no change yet—well, we know that—and that there will be vigilance about what the EU is up to so that it does not cut us out of projects we ought to be involved in; there are vague promises of future largesse, with hopes of continuity, and statements that there are always prospects beyond the EU.

    Sadly, none of that is working particularly well. Anxiety in the university sector is as emphatic as it was to begin with. We are not simply talking about money; we are talking about people. That is what new clause 11 is principally about. In some universities the number of foreign nationals working as lecturers and specialist employees is as high as 30%. That contrasts markedly with French universities and many other continental universities. It is a feature of the British university scene that makes it very different and very desirable.

    Recognising that universities were worried about this issue, we asked vice-chancellors through a survey exactly what their views were and how concerned they were. I am happy to share the full results of that survey with any Member who expresses an interest. One question we asked was:

    “Are you worried that the uncertainty regarding research grants and the future of EU academics could have a negative impact on standards at UK universities?”

    Some 73% said yes. We also asked:

    “Do you agree that it is necessary to maintain freedom of movement between the UK and the EU to protect research funding, the right to reside and work of EU academic staff and the right of all UK and EU students to study anywhere in the EU?”

    It was a slightly inelegant question, but Members get the gist. The answer was that 83% said that yes, freedom of movement was crucial.

    In the process of conducting the survey, I got a phone call from a vice-chancellor who spoke with a more anecdotal and personal view about his own university. He told me of the difficulties academics were currently facing in planning their future, thinking ahead, considering what they would do about their families—young academics, in particular—and wondering where their future lay. Like a lot of people planning their lives, they wanted a bit of certainty and security. Towards the end of the conversation he made what I thought was a very shocking confession. I had conducted the conversation on the assumption—my assumption, from his impeccable English —that he himself was English. I have probably given the game away, but it turned out that he was Belgian, and shared all the concerns that he was voicing on behalf of his colleagues.

    This is a personal issue for a lot of valuable and skilled people, some of whom are already facing, unbelievable though this is, an increase in prejudice and, sadly, something that amounts at times to hate crime on their university campuses. If those skilled contributors go, some courses simply will not happen, because we need those people—that is why we got them in the first place—and some will worsen; university life will itself worsen.

    The Minister is a very civilised man, who I am sure wants a diverse university sector and wants the best of EU talent to stay here, and to continue to come here. He would not welcome an exodus. He speaks fluent French, so has a true continental mindset, although it may not be encouraging to describe him as having that at this stage in the Government’s deliberations. I am sure he would welcome an early warning of any kind of exodus, and any kind of problem with or diminution of the involvement of international lecturers in our universities. The new clause would simply give him that.

  • I will speak to amendments 55 and 56. I will start with amendment 56, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin).

    The proposals in the Bill to reform the UK research councils have implications for higher education in Scotland, and we have concerns about the potential consequences for Scotland’s research base. The SNP tabled an amendment in Committee that sought to ensure representation on the UKRI board of people with relevant experience of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland higher education sectors, as well as an understanding of the research and innovation policy context and landscape across the whole of the UK. We withdrew the amendment but reserved the right to bring it back on Report. That is what we are doing now.

    We are pleased that the Government listened to the Scottish National party’s concerns in Committee and have tabled their own measure on this issue, Government amendment 36. However, although we welcome their acknowledgement of the need for the board of UKRI to include experience of the devolved Administrations, it is disappointing to note that amendment 36 requires experience of only one of those Administrations. That does not allow for the proper consideration of all devolved Administrations and their policy priorities within UKRI.

    UKRI must have an understanding of the whole UK research and innovation landscape and must act in the interests of all devolved Administrations. That is why we have tabled amendment 56. What we have in front of us in Government amendment 36 does not adequately address our concerns and those of stakeholders, including Universities Scotland, Universities Wales, Queen’s University Belfast, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, NUS Scotland, the University and College Union Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Our amendment is not partisan, but draws on a whole sector of university opinion throughout Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and has the full support of the Scottish Government.

    The UK Government said that they would introduce a Higher Education and Research Bill that included measures set out in Paul Nurse’s review of the research councils. Our amendment would ensure the Bill matched what Sir Paul Nurse noted in his review, that

    “there is a need to solicit and respond to distinct research priorities and evidence requirements identified by the devolved administrations”.

    The Bill as it stands does not meet the overarching principles of the Nurse review, as the governance of UK Research and Innovation is accountable only to the UK Government, with principally English interests. We believe that the governance of UKRI needs to reflect the priorities of each of the Governments within the UK; if it does not, there could be a lack of consideration of Government priorities and research needs in Scotland and other devolved nations among the decision-making bodies of the research councils and of Innovate UK.

  • I back the hon. Lady’s points, and note that Welsh universities have particular priorities when it comes to research, not least the very low level of funding that they get, which is probably around 2%—a figure that contrasts with the fact that we are 5% of the UK population. Irrespective of the Haldane principle, that is a specific concern in Wales.

  • I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. Scotland does very well out of the research councils, because there is a large research body in Scotland and the research environment is vibrant across our 19 higher education institutes.

    We want the Secretary of State and the UK Government to consult Scottish Ministers and their equivalents in the other devolved Administrations before approving UKRI’s research and innovation strategy. How else can we be certain that the new body set up in the Bill will be used in the best interests of the whole of the UK and is not simply focused on English-only priorities?

    The Scottish National party is proud of our HE sector and acknowledges that it is valuable to ensure Scotland’s cultural, social and economic sectors prosper. It is worth over £6 billion to our economy, and we must ensure that this continues. The Bill has the potential to harm Scotland’s world-renowned research. The Minister and this Government need to ensure that devolved Administrations have an equal say and that their voice is heard within UKRI to ensure that the Bill will be of no detriment to any part of the UK.

    Amendment 55 deals with funding. The integrity of the dual support financial system must be protected, and the Bill does not go far enough to do that. We need to be sure that the balanced funding principle is clearly defined in the Bill to ensure that the integrity of the financial system set up within cross-border higher education sectors continues. Any flow of funds between reserved and devolved budgets needs to be clearly defined, and the Bill does not address how the balance of funding allocated through competitive funding streams will be supported. There is a serious worry that Research England funding could be taken from the UK-wide pot, of which Scotland’s and other devolved Administrations’ HE institutes rightly receive a share. If that pot were to diminish, it would be to the detriment of the Scottish HE sector and, indeed, those of Wales and Northern Ireland.

    We are already seeing uncertainty about funding for our HE sector, thanks to the reckless gamble over Brexit. Is it right now that we should deprive our HE institutes by taking UK funding away from them, too? Many stakeholders in Scotland are concerned about the potential hazard that will be placed in their way because of the funding structure. Amendment 55 would ensure separate funding allocations for the research councils, Innovate UK and Research England.

    Although Scotland performs well, as I have already mentioned, in attracting funding from Research Councils UK for grants, studentships and fellowships, Scotland does less well in infrastructure spending for research and currently only attracts 5% of UK spending. As with many things, a lot of this spending is concentrated on the south-east of England, and we want UKRI to have a full overview of research infrastructure across the UK.

    We are very concerned that that clause 94 will allow the Secretary of State to alter the balance of funding between the research councils. Any grant to UKRI is ultimately research project funding, which should be competitively available throughout the UK. It is therefore necessary to have transparency about what goes to UKRI and what goes to Research England, given that that body will distribute funds for research infrastructure that is available only to English institutions.

    We are extremely concerned that no provision in the Bill will ensure that the Secretary of State cannot give directions to UKRI to move funds in-year on its own initiative between constituent parts. If, for whatever reason, funds had to be moved by the Secretary of State between research councils and Research England or Innovate UK, this must happen only if the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations give consent.

    This SNP amendment would ensure that fairness and transparency are at the forefront of reserved funding allocation to UKRI and the allocation to Research England, while ensuring that the balanced funding principle is measured in relation to the proportion of funding allocated by the Secretary of State for reserved and for devolved England-only funding and providing clarity about when that might not be achieved.

  • I thank honourable colleagues for their enthusiastic support for our world-class research and innovation system. UKRI will be a strong and unified voice, championing research and innovation nationally and internationally. It will support fundamental and strategic research, drive forward multi and inter-disciplinary research, support business-led innovation and help to promote business links with publicly funded research.

    UKRI will build on the great work already being undertaken by our research and innovation bodies and maximise the benefit to the UK of a Government investment of over £6 billion a year. That is why the Prime Minister this morning announced that, by the end of this Parliament, we will invest an additional £2 billion in research and development, including through a new industrial strategy challenge fund, led by Innovate UK, by our world-class research councils and, once established, by UKRI. This is clear testament to how UKRI can help to deliver greater outcomes for the research and innovation communities and for the whole UK.

  • UKRI will, of course, need insight not just into the research environment, but into innovation strengths and the business needs of the entire UK. We recognise the importance of UKRI board members having the appropriate experience to fulfil these important roles. Government amendment 35 will ensure that, when making these key appointments, the Secretary of State will have regard to the importance of the board having experience of the research and innovation systems in one or more of the devolved Administrations.

    Amendment 42 would require Research England to consult the devolved funding bodies, when an equivalent requirement would not exist for them to consult Research England. I would highlight instead the new clause that I introduced in Committee, which will ensure that Research England can work with its devolved equivalents, as the Higher Education Funding Council for England does now. It is important that that joint working continues, and the provision in the Bill will enable that.

    Turning to amendments 53 and 54, research and innovation must be joined up at the heart of our industrial strategy. Incorporating Innovate UK will bring benefits to businesses, researchers and the whole UK. It will help businesses identify possible research partners and mean that research outputs are better aligned with their needs. Researchers will benefit from greater exposure to business and commercialisation expertise, and it will deliver a more strategic, agile and impactful approach across UKRI’s portfolio.

    As UKRI chair, John Kingman, has highlighted,

    “it would be a huge mistake, and a backward step, to set up UKRI with the innovation mission left elsewhere. The big challenges facing our country require more and better co-ordination and partnership between our great research base, Innovate UK and the business community, not less.”

    And stakeholders recognise the potential here, too. The CBI has said:

    “The latest proposals for integrating Innovate UK within UKRI should support valuable synergies between different aspects of the UK’s science and innovation communities. Bringing Innovate UK’s business-facing perspective into UKRI can bring strategic advantages and should be used to build partnerships, creating the best conditions for fast growing, dynamic businesses to thrive.”

    Let me reassure the House, however, that I recognise the importance of Innovate UK maintaining its business-facing focus. That is why the Bill will protect Innovate UK’s distinctive focus and autonomy in the delivery of its functions. Innovate UK will continue to develop new projects and programmes, working with companies to de-risk, enable and support innovation that will grow the UK economy. Furthermore, it will retain its separate budget, set out via a grant letter from the Secretary of State.

    The Secretary of State will appoint both academic and business representatives to the UKRI board, including a member to lead in promoting and championing innovation and business interests.

    To realise our potential fully, we need to respond to a changing world, to anticipate future requirements and to ensure we have the structures in place to exploit the knowledge and expertise we have for the benefit of the whole country. The way to do this most effectively is to bring Innovate UK into UKRI. It is important that we deliver the flexibility and agility that the new structure for our research and innovation landscape will provide.

    Turning to amendment 55, the Government have already committed to setting out separate funding streams for each council. The funding streams will be established in the annual grant letter. It is important that UKRI retains some flexibility to manage its funds to meet immediate financial pressures, to ensure best value from its resources and to meet the aspirations for seamless administration of multi and inter-disciplinary research and joint research and innovation projects. Small-scale, practical and mutually agreed virement is essential for any organisation that is managing a large portfolio of innovative, complex projects. This would allow UKRI’s councils to adapt to changes in project timing or to shift small amounts of funding to a lead council to support an interdisciplinary project in response to creative ideas from the community. I can also reassure hon. Members that the Secretary of State would not agree to UKRI viring money in such a way as to result in a net change in Research England’s hypothecated budget over a spending review period. This will be made clear in guidance to UKRI.

    On amendment 56, I would like to take this opportunity to be very clear that UK-wide research and innovation funding, as conducted through the research councils and Innovate UK, are reserved issues and will continue to be so after transition to UKRI. It is already the Secretary of State’s duty, as it is mine, to work for the interests of the whole of the UK. Similarly, it is the responsibility of the research councils and Innovate UK to operate on an equal basis across the UK. Primarily, this is achieved by funding projects selected through open competition on the basis of excellence. The fact that they do so effectively is widely recognised in the research and innovation communities, as recognised by the former vice-chancellor of the University of Dundee, Sir Alan Langlands, in the evidence he gave last month to the Public Bill Committee. The research community functions remarkably well across the UK political landscape, not least because the UK Government and the devolved Administrations work together to make it do so. We would not seek to bind UKRI into a restrictive process of consultation, as proposed in this amendment.

  • I am sure that the record will show whether the Minister said earlier, in respect of Government amendment 35, that membership would include at least one person or more with relevant experience in relation to at least one of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Is it “one person” with relevant experience or “one person or more”?

  • It will be at least one person with experience of one or more of the devolved Administrations. To be absolutely explicit, the Government have tabled an amendment that places a duty on the Secretary of State to have regard to the desirability of having at least once such member. For the individual councils, we think it right that UKRI be free to appoint the very best people for these roles, and we expect it to appoint candidates with the highest levels of relevant skills and experience from a diverse range of backgrounds, both nationally and internationally.

    On new clause 11, I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) that there must be proper monitoring of the international diversity of the research sector workforce. We already take this very seriously and collect and discuss such data, but let me reiterate the Government’s position on the importance of international researchers. As I have said, we remain fully open to scientists and researchers from across the EU, and we hugely value the contribution of EU and international staff. There has been no change to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK or of UK citizens in the EU, as a result of the referendum. As the Prime Minister said in her letter copied to Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, only five days after she came into office:

    “Our research base is enriched by the best minds from Europe and around the world – providing reassurance to these individuals and to UK researchers working in Europe will be a priority for the Government.”

  • The Minister has articulated exactly the sentiments shared by Opposition Members—for us, too, this issue is a priority—but does he not recognise that in reality the Government are failing in that objective? Around the country, we are receiving reports of EU academics saying, “Our future isn’t here, because we haven’t had the reassurances we need.”

  • There is no higher authority in the Government than the Prime Minister, and we have heard from her that it is absolutely our intention to provide the reassurance that EU scientists and researchers working in this country want and need. The Brexit Secretary has given similar assurances and reminded EU nationals living and working in the UK that those who have been here for five years are already entitled to indefinite leave to remain—I understand from his figures that that relates to about 80% of the group concerned—and that those who have been here for six years are entitled to apply for dual nationality. We want brilliant researchers from other European countries to continue to enrich our universities and student experience, and we have every expectation that they will be able to do so, as long as UK nationals in other EU countries receive reciprocal rights in those countries.

  • Does the Minister appreciate that such statements are cold comfort to people in that position and that we need far greater certainty to make sure that our higher education institutions can flourish as they should?

  • We as a Government can only reiterate that we fully appreciate and value their presence in our institutions. We welcome them and think their work crucial, and we want them to stay and to continue doing that work. We cannot be more categorical than that.

    On amendments 43, 44, 45, 57 and 59, I absolutely agree that co-operation between the OFS and UKRI is critical. Clauses 105 and 106 provide for this. It is counterproductive, however, either to restrict the areas or to be too prescriptive about how and where UKRI and the OFS should work together through legislation as required by these amendments. We have recently set out in a factsheet published on 15 November further details of where we expect both bodies to work together. One key area explained in the factsheet where we believe that the OFS and UKRI should work in close co-operation is in the assessment of applications for research degree awarding powers. The provisions in the Bill will facilitate this.

    Another important area of joint working between UKRI and the OFS is postgraduate training. In turning, therefore, to amendment 17, I would like to thank the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) for raising this important issue in Committee. While the functions of UKRI, as drafted in the Bill, do enable this, the Government have tabled the amendment to provide absolute clarity that UKRI will continue to support postgraduate training. The hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) has proposed an amendment to our amendment to ensure that it includes “social sciences”. I can assure her that this is already the case, because clause 104 ensures that all references to science or the humanities include social science and the arts. Our support for postgraduate training will be across the spectrum of disciplines. The OFS will be responsible for protecting the interests of all students, including all postgraduate students. The two bodies will work together and share understanding to support their respective functions, and the Bill makes clear provision for this.

    I hope that hon. Members recognise the considerable progress made in ensuring that the Bill meets the needs of the research and innovation communities. I believe that UKRI will catalyse a more strategic, agile and interdisciplinary approach to addressing global challenges and developing the UK’s research and innovation capability. This is fundamental to strengthening UK competitiveness as part of the new industrial strategy. I therefore ask hon. Members not to press their amendments.

  • Our amendments 43 to 45 are on collaboration between the OFS and UKRI. I will come to those and the Minister’s comments on them in a moment, but shall start with amendment 42.

    Amendment 42 would allow Research England to co-ordinate with its devolved counterparts. Labour considers this an important principle to establish in the Bill. The Committee did not include members from Wales or, obviously, from Northern Ireland, yet, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, universities and higher education institutions will be significantly affected by the process. They will also be affected if the process with the new bodies is not universally seen, at this important time for our university system, to be fair in sharing out its attentions. Not to consider including such provisions in the Bill is a great mistake. Surely we should consider those interests when setting up a new research body.

    This is highly relevant to the future of those research bodies. The Minister will be well aware that research bodies are generally still not entirely mollified by the various blandishments and reassurances given, particularly on the role of research councils. I am sure he will hear more about that when the Bill goes to the other place. While we have not pressed further any of the amendments that were proposed in Committee, because of time pressures, I assure him that our noble Friends in another place will want to scrutinise in detail what he has said and what he is planning to do.

    These are not arcane arguments about technical details. One of the problems the Government face is that they have overlooked a vital factor. There is little sense of what the knock-on effects of all this will be on the importance of what I describe as the brand UK plc in HE—particularly so, in view of the further uncertainties that have arisen since the advent of Brexit. I am not the only person to make that observation; other commentators and academics have also done so.

  • HE providers across England and the devolved nations are internationally competitive because there is a trusted UK brand. If we are to maintain a trusted UK brand, it is important that all the integral parts of the UK feel that they have a say at the table. If they do not feel that and there is disgruntlement and dissension, at a time when the UK Government need to do all they can in the Brexit negotiations to safeguard that UK brand, there will be a weak link. There needs to be a proper UK-wide strategy to safeguard the positions of our researchers, as the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh) mentioned.

    Amendments 55 and 56, tabled by SNP Members, provide a valuable service to the Government by waking them up to some of the implications of having a body—albeit not one that they might wish for—that appears to be too Anglocentric. Reference was made to the amendment tabled in Committee that would have given the devolved nations more input. The Welsh Government in particular are concerned that Government amendment 45, which is the UK Government’s response to the amendment tabled in Committee, will not be adequate. Their view is very simple: Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, although they have some similarities—in that they are not English—are not a homogenous group of countries. They have very different histories, interests and experiences of HE and research and innovation, which needs to be reflected in the architecture.

    The Minister is at his most emollient this evening, on the back of the announcement today of a £2 billion industrial strategy fund, which is going to turbo-charge the future for UKRI, so that it can power away and all the rest of it. The truth of the matter—and the Minister knows it—is that the architecture that will need to be constructed and consolidated in UKRI, with Innovate UK, the research councils, the devolved Administrations and so on, is complex. It is going to take time to develop.

  • On the subject of Northern Ireland, the Minister will know that Queen’s University Belfast has an extensive partnership with companies and other universities across the whole of the United Kingdom, and we are all proud to be British in relation to that. With that in mind, I am wondering what consideration the hon. Gentleman feels this Government should give to Queen’s University, particularly for its innovative medical investigations to find new cures for cancer, diabetes, chest, heart and stroke illnesses and such like?

  • I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. It would, of course, be invidious for me to single out Queen’s University over and above others—if I did, my postbag would no doubt be full—but he is absolutely right to champion what it is doing. There is an important point, which I am not sure the Government have entirely grasped. The research done at Queen’s and other universities and HE institutions under the devolved Administrations does not depend only on whether the Government get a good Brexit settlement with the European Union; it depends on maintaining the trust and support of those EU nations that we will rely on to get that sort of investment for clinical trials. For example, a lot of charities—the Minister will be aware of this because they made representations to his Department—particularly those relating to heart disease and cancer, are concerned that if we do not get a decent settlement, the problems of getting field trials in Francophone Africa or Lusophone South America will become more and more complicated because we rely on those researchers and the good offices of our EU counterparts in those countries. I do not think that the Government are taking anywhere near enough notice of that particular issue.

    As I said, the architecture is complex, and it is crucial to get it right. Although the Minister may think that some of these amendments are nit-picking and do not need to be on the face of the Bill, as I said to him throughout our discussions in Committee, I think he neglects the importance of sending a signal to the devolved Administrations and others that their interests are going to be represented. That is why these amendments were tabled.

    Our amendments 43, 44 and 45 would ensure that there is co-operation and information sharing between the OFS and UKRI. The Minister obviously knows that UKRI and Innovate UK have historically done different things. Again, he is at pains to try to reassure us that all we will get under the new structure is the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, we sometimes end up getting the worst of both worlds. I was struck, particularly during evidence sessions in Committee, by the fact that certain concerns remain—amendment 53, tabled by the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh), is also relevant here. The chief executive of Innovate UK outlined his concerns in Committee about whether Innovate UK and the Department that supports it will be sufficiently fleet of foot to do the sort of innovative things in finance and everything else that they have so far been very good at. This is not to say that the architecture cannot work; it is just saying that the Minister and his officials need to think rather harder about the how the process will go forward.

    There is also, of course, the broader issue in part 3 that the process of separating teaching and research—and in this context, the Research England body is relevant—will mean that issues and activities at the interface of teaching and research, such as the health of disciplines, the awarding of research degrees, post-grad training and sharing of facilities, might not be effectively identified and supported.

  • My hon. Friend will appreciate that a number of institutions are concerned—I suspect he was about to make this point—about this gap between teaching and research. I was quite surprised when my University of Cambridge told me that 89% of people who are involved in teaching at the university are also involved in research. That integration between the two is absolutely essential, yet it seems to be what is missing in some people’s eyes from the Bill. I believe that this is the force of the amendment that my hon. Friend is proposing.

  • I was going to say that my hon. Friend, as the MP for Cambridge, is at the cutting-edge, or certainly at the coal face, of this particular issue. I know it is important to Cambridge University and indeed to Oxford University, whose vice-chancellor has expressed similar concerns. This is not the Minister’s fault, but it is unfortunate that at the time this comes through, we will have had the machinery of government changes in terms of the Department for Education and the new expanded Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Time alone will tell what the benefits of that are—I think there might be a number of them—but there could be problems in the short term. With the best will in the world, that bedding-down process between the two Departments—I know the Minister has a foot in both camps, so I hope he will be able to help—is going to be a real concern.

    We have talked about the OFS and UKRI co-operating on the health of disciplines and so on. Our amendment proposes a mechanism by which this collaboration could be achieved. The Royal Society, as I am sure the Minister is aware, has suggested that a committee on teaching and research should be established. The Wellcome institute, with which I am sure Members are familiar, has also offered its thoughts. Teaching and research are intrinsically linked, but that intrinsic link would be lost from higher education if the bond between them were broken.

    Clause 105 sets out the interactions between the OFS and UKRI, but we wanted to strengthen that co-operation by replacing the word “may”—no disrespect to the Prime Minister—with “must”. In parliamentary and governmental terms, “must” is a great deal more useful than “may”. The Royal Society of Chemistry has said:

    “In many HE Institutions we see positive interactions between teaching and research responsibilities…There is a risk that the separation of teaching and research in the new HE architecture will mean that the benefits of research informing teaching and learning practices could be lost.”

    No one is suggesting that that would be done deliberately, but it could happen. The society has also said:

    “The current draft of the Bill allows for information sharing between the OfS and UKRI. It does not, however, require their cooperation unless directed by the Secretary of State”.

    Other learned bodies and societies have contacted me, and fellow members of the Committee, to make similar points.

    The Minister referred to the guidance paper that he has issued. I thank him for that paper, which provides some further clarity, but it has come very late in the day. I wonder whether it was issued with an eye to the passing interest in the other place, to which the Bill is shortly to be committed, rather than with the aim of keeping us happy down here, but it is useful nevertheless. At the end of the day, however, it still does not establish an obligation or mechanism for co-operation; that is left to the whim of an individual Secretary of State or universities Minister.

    As I have said, the issue is made more pressing by the new machinery of government structure and the responsibilities shared by the two Departments. Who knows what will happen in the future? The Minister may be looking forward to a long period as the universities Minister, but at some point, no doubt, he will go onward and upward, and there is no guarantee that his successor, in this or any future Government, will also share responsibilities with BEIS.

    For all those reasons, we are suggesting that the Bill be amended to provide that the OFS and UKRI must co-operate without having to be required to do so by the Secretary of State. If SNP Members choose to press their amendments, we will support them.

  • I wish to speak about amendments 57 and 59, and amendment (a) to Government amendment 17.

    In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden) and I said that the OFS should not have sole power and control over authorisations of research awards, and that UKRI and other bodies should be involved in authorising degrees. I argued that there were two major problems with giving the OFS sole power to award research degrees. First, it would not allow any research funding bodies, or indeed any other relevant agencies, to take part in the process of deciding whether to grant an institution powers to award research degrees. That is problematic, because granting research degree-awarding powers without reference to other bodies diminishes the level of expertise in the decision-making process.

    Secondly, as UKRI, Research England, and the national academies and learned societies have responsibilities for providing research funding, it would surely be a major error not to consider what role they would have in the granting of research degree-awarding powers, or the effect that it could have on their funding decisions. That is particularly important given the concerns that many organisations have about giving away degree-awarding powers. For example, the University and College Union is worried about the impact of removing a minimum period before institutions are allowed to apply for full degree-awarding powers. At a time when many groups fear that the restrictions on degree-awarding powers are being watered down, we should be ensuring that organisations such as UKRI are scrutinising the decisions made by the OFS.

  • The Minister did respond to some of my concerns about the OFS working alone. He said:

    “One key area in which the OFS and UKRI should work in close co-operation is the assessment of applications for research degree-awarding powers, and the provisions in clause 103 will facilitate that.”

    I appreciate that clause 105—which clause 103 has become—allows the OFS and the UKRI to work together, but the purpose of my amendment is not just to allow them to work together, but to ensure that they do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South has just made that point. The fact that the two institutions are allowed to work together does not mean that they will.

    The Minister said:

    “The Secretary of State will have powers to require that co-operation to take place if it does not do so of its own accord.” ––[Official Report, Higher Education and Research Public Bill Committee, 11 October 2016; c. 372.]

    Why should not the organisations be required to co-operate at the outset, rather than the Government’s saying that they can work together, waiting until they do not work together, and then seeking to intervene?

  • UKRI and the OFS are under an obligation to act efficiently and effectively, and to deliver value for money. That will inevitably mean that when collaboration would deliver those objectives, they will also be under an obligation to work together.

  • That seems a bit convoluted.

    A number of universities are still raising issues. We have just heard from the University of Cambridge, which says that

    “the Bill itself does not contain any specific duty on the OfS to consult with UKRI towards the award of research DAPs. We believe that this should be specifically provided for in the Bill.”

    I agree. I think that we would all like the Minister to include a specific requirement for the OFS to consult the UKRI and other bodies before granting degree-awarding powers. That, we think, would be a major step towards ensuring that decisions are effective and appropriate.

    Amendment 59 suggests that one way of ensuring that the OFS and UKRI work together would be to establish a joint committee consisting of representatives of both organisations and requiring them to produce an annual report on the health of the higher education sector. They would have to report on, for instance, post-graduate training, research funding, shared facilities, skills development, and the strength of the sector. The amendment is intended to obtain—even at this late stage—a bit more information from the Minister about how he envisages the two organisations working together, and, in particular, how he will ensure that there is holistic oversight. That issue arose again and again in Committee. There was widespread concern, expressed in our amendments, that the split into two organisations would lose some of what HEFCE had provided for the sector. This amendment suggests just one way in which the two could be made to work together more effectively; there are others.

    The Minister has provided us—rather late in the day—with framework documents that help to establish how the Government envisage collaboration between the organisations, and I thank him for that. I found it interesting reading. I hope that the Minister appreciates that I read the document immediately. It sets out a number of things that the OFS and UKRI may do. It says, for example, that the OFS and UKRI may co-operate with one another in exercising any of their functions and that the OFS may provide information to the UKRI. I just reiterate the point—why not just say “must” or “shall” where appropriate, and then we are all absolutely clear that those two organisations have to work together in a particular way?

    I want to emphasise one thing about the amendment. At the end of it, it says that the UKRI and the OFS should have to publish a report on

    “measures taken to act in the public interest.”

    I am not going to go through again all the things we would expect to see from two organisations working in the public interest, but it would be helpful to have some understanding from the Minister about how the UKRI and the OFS are going to comment and report on the public interest as expressed by institutions and the work that they are carrying out.

    On amendment (a) to Government amendment 17, the Minister is right that clause 104 says that the social sciences should be covered by the term “sciences” and arts by the term “humanities”. I tabled amendment (a) so that I could ask why, as only a few additional words would have to be added, “social sciences” cannot be added to the provision. We will all remember that arts is covered by humanities and social sciences by sciences because we are considering the Bill, but once the list is out there will be a danger of both the arts and social sciences falling out of everyone’s memory. I make a plea to the Minister: may we have the words “arts” and “social sciences” added to the provision?

  • I hope not to detain the House for terribly long, but I would like to make several points. The Minister said in relation to our amendment 55, “The Secretary of State would not agree to the varying of money”. That strikes me as the nub of the problem. Although the Minister is someone who I know to be honourable, absolutely committed to the university sector and assiduous in his work—he has listened to us, hence the modest changes he has made, which are welcome—he will not be there forever and in future we may get someone with much less stable characteristics, like his brother, for example. Can you imagine the havoc that could be wreaked if his brother were to replace him? Therefore, we need to ensure that some of the requirements are enshrined in statute.

    When we look at the needs of the different Administrations, we see that there is a great difference between the needs of the economies in Wales, in Northern Ireland and in Scotland and the needs in England, particularly the south of England. I have had the great pleasure of working in Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University at different times, as well as in many Scottish universities and a few in England. The differences can be profound.

    Take one of the universities in Scotland—the University of the Highlands and Islands, a multi-campus university that has grown out of the college sector and has research interests that are not shared by any other university in the UK. The same is true of Ulster University and, I am sure, although it is many years since I was there, Bangor University. There is a great variation is research interest. More than that, there is a profound difference economically, to which they have to respond. Their interests diverge in many ways. We only need to look at the debate about exiting the EU in Scotland, where 62% voted to stay. We and others are working hard to have as close a relationship as possible with the EU and all that that would bring. Look at the debate taking place in other parts of the UK, where precisely the opposite view is being taken. That will have profound economic consequences that need to be reflected, and they will not be unless there is proper consultation with the devolved bodies.

    The Minister talked about bringing together, which I would welcome, research, innovation, the academic community and the business community and all that that involves. In the vast majority of cases, I would agree with him, but let me put in a word of caution. Some years ago, when I was chair of the joint departmental research ethics committee at the University of Stirling, we were faced with a situation where research programmes into smoking were being challenged by business, which was trying to get access through legal means to the original data that the academics had used, so that the tobacco companies could twist them for their own interests. Therefore, it is not always the case that there is a coincidence between academic and business interests. That is another reason why there needs to be much greater co-operation. The devolved Government in Scotland would have been much more sensitive to that matter than any other part of the UK.

  • Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Queen’s University Belfast—I must declare an interest; I graduated there—has a particular interest in precision medicine and has been trying to get funding from Innovate UK to pursue a particular project, but it is in direct competition with a university in Britain? However, Queen’s has a particular expertise in that area.

  • I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I was not aware of that, but she raises a situation where surely it would make sense for there to be co-operation and co-ordination to understand the different economic and medical interests that exist.

    I appeal to the Government: it is not too late to think and to improve the Bill. I ask the Minister to think about those points again.

  • As my hon. Friend has mentioned, many people working in higher education in Scotland are very worried about these reforms and I do not blame them. The Brexit mess is already causing tremendous uncertainty over future research funding and international collaboration. We need to make certain that changes to governance do not put even more blocks on the road.

    As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) said, the Scottish Affairs Committee recently had the privilege of taking evidence from Sir Tim O’Shea, the Principal of the University of Edinburgh. He was clear about the probable damage that Brexit would do to universities in Scotland and in other parts of the UK if a deal were not reached similar to the deal that the Prime Minister floated for the City of London. The Scottish research industry secured some €217 million from Horizon 2020 up to February 2016. That is 11.6% of total UK funding. Access to that funding will be lost unless agreement is reached between the UK and the EU, and that will necessitate the UK putting the money into the research pot in the first place.

    Of perhaps more direct concern for the business in front of us, however, and a major concern about these reforms in Scotland, is that research councils will be sucked up into the new UKRI along with Research England, meaning the research funding pot for the UK could be too closely entwined with England’s funding council. We need clear lines and full transparency between UKRI and Research England. Scotland’s universities currently perform very well in attracting funding from research councils for grants, studentships and fellowships; we cannot allow the system to be skewed to their disadvantage, and we certainly look forward to seeing the Government guidance on this.

    We also need more than lip service to be paid to consulting devolved Administrations. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Funding Council need input into those decisions, as do the Welsh and Northern Ireland Administrations, so that their voices and priorities are not drowned out.

    The Scottish research industry has different priorities from the rest of the UK, and there is a concern that this will be missed from a UK-wide research body. For example, Scottish institutions have been pioneers in research collaborations since the first research pools were formed in 2004. These are often in smaller, less research-intensive institutions, and there is a worry that the new criteria could leave such smaller pockets of excellence locked out of funding. In light of this, Government amendment 35 simply does not go far enough in assuaging the very real concerns that have been voiced long and loud by the Scottish higher education sector. To only

    “have regard to the desirability of the members including at least one person with relevant experience in relation to at least one of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland”

    is simply not good enough. That is hardly a cast-iron assurance that the new structure will not affect our research priorities or damage our research funding.

    These changes will affect Scotland. We will be keeping a close eye on their effects, and we can be sure Scottish universities will take full advantage of any edges they can find.

    One final point: one likely consequence of the Bill, in its current state at least, is that Scottish universities will become far clearer in their national and international branding.

  • I do not propose to press my new clause to a vote.

    Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

    New Clause 14

    Post Study Work Visa: evaluation

    ‘(1A) Within six months of this Act coming into force, UKRI must commission an independent evaluation of the matters under subsection (1B) and shall lay the report before the House of Commons.

    (1B) The evaluation under subsection (1A) must assess—

    (a) the effect of the absence of post study work visas for persons graduating from higher education institutions in the United Kingdom on—

    (i) the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the higher education sector, and

    (ii) the UK economy, and

    (b) how post study work visa arrangements might operate in the UK, including an estimate of their effect on—

    (i) the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the higher education sector, and

    (ii) the UK economy.”

    This new clause would require UKRI to commission research on the effects of the absence of arrangements for post study work visas and assess how such arrangements could operate in the UK and their effect on the higher education sector and the UK economy.(Carol Monaghan.)

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

  • Division 89

    21 November 2016

    The House divided:

    Ayes: 211
    Noes: 280

    Question accordingly negatived.

    View Details

    Clause 2

    General duties

    Amendment made: 1, page 2, line 28, at end insert—

    “( ) Guidance framed by reference to a particular course of study must not guide the OfS to perform a function in a way which prohibits or requires the provision of a particular course of study.”.—(Joseph Johnson.)

    This amendment prevents guidance given by the Secretary of State, which is framed by reference to a particular course of study, guiding the OfS to perform a function in a way which prohibits or requires the provision of a particular course. Amendments 12 and 13 place corresponding restrictions on the Secretary of State’s power to impose terms and conditions of a grant to the OfS under clause 67, or to give directions under clause 70, which are framed by reference to a particular course.

    Clause 9

    Mandatory transparency condition for certain providers

    Amendments made: 2, page 6, leave out lines 10 to 13.

    This amendment is consequential on amendment 3.

    Amendment 3, page 6, line 18, at the end insert—

    “( ) The information which the OfS may request in relation to the numbers mentioned in subsection (2) includes those numbers by reference to one or more of the following—

    (a) the gender of the individuals to which they relate;

    (b) their ethnicity;

    (c) their socio-economic background.”.—(Joseph Johnson.)

    This amendment ensures that a registered higher education provider may be required by the OfS to provide and publish information in relation to the number of offers given and accepted, and the number of students who complete their courses (in addition to the applications received) by reference to the gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background of the individuals concerned.

    Clause 13

    Other initial and ongoing registration conditions

    Amendment made: 4, page 8, line 17, after “plan”, insert “and to publish it”.—(Joseph Johnson.)

    This amendment makes clear that the OfS may impose a registration condition requiring a provider to publish a student protection plan.

    Clause 25

    Rating the quality of, and the standards applied to, higher education

    Amendment proposed: 47, page 16, line 23, at end insert—

    “(7) No arrangements for a scheme shall be made under subsection (1) unless a draft of the scheme has been laid before and approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.”.—(Gordon Marsden.)

    This amendment and amendment 46 would ensure TEF measures were subject to scrutiny by, and approval of, both Houses of Parliament.

    Question put, That the amendment be made.

    Division 90

    21 November 2016

    The House divided:

    Ayes: 216
    Noes: 277

    Question accordingly negatived.

    View Details

    Clause 27

    Power of designated body to charge fees

    Amendments made: 5, page 17, line 7, at end insert—

    “(za) charge an institution a fee for any activity undertaken, or service provided, by the body in the performance by it of functions under section 23(1) (power to assess quality and standards) in relation to the institution,”

    Clause 27(2) enables a body designated to perform the assessment functions of the OfS under clause 23 to charge a fee for activities undertaken or services provided by the body in the performance by it of functions under clause 23(2). This amendment and amendment 7 extend that power to include functions under clause 23(1) too.

    Amendment 6, page 17, line 9, leave out from “body” to end of line 12 and insert

    “in the performance by it of functions under section 23(2)(a) (duty to assess to determine if initial registration condition relating to quality or standards is met) in relation to the institution, and”.

    This amendment clarifies the drafting of clause 27(2)(a) to make clear that the power is to charge a fee for activities undertaken or services provided by the designated body in the performance by it of functions under clause 23(2)(a) in relation to an institution regardless of whether the assessment in question of the institution is being carried out by the body.

    Amendment 7, page 17, line 17, at end insert—

    “( ) The amount of a fee payable under subsection (2)(za) by an institution may 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 a different institution or of its general functions.

    ( ) The total fees payable under subsection (2)(za) must not exceed in any period of 12 months the total costs incurred by the body in that period in the performance by the body of its functions under section 23(1) and of its general functions.”

    See the explanatory statement for amendment 5.

    Amendment 8, page 17, line 18, leave out “or provider”.

    This amendment removes some unnecessary wording from clause 27(3).

    Amendment 9, page 17, line 23, leave out paragraph (b).

    This amendment removes some unnecessary wording from clause 27(3) - having set out in that provision how the fees may be calculated, it is implicit that they may not be calculated by reference to functions other than those mentioned. That is consistent with clause 27(5).

    Amendment 10, page 17, line 27, leave out “the functions” and insert “its functions”.

    This amendment and amendment 11 make clear that the limit on fees imposed by clause 27(4) and (6) includes costs incurred by the body in the performance by it of all of its functions under clause 23(2)(a) or (b) (as the case may be) and not just the functions under those provisions in relation to which the fee was charged.

    Amendment 11, page 17, line 35, leave out “the functions” and insert “its functions”.—(Joseph Johnson.)

    See the explanatory statement for amendment 10.

    Clause 40

    Authorisation to grant degrees etc

    Amendment proposed: 40, page 23, line 22, at end insert—

    “(c) the OfS is assured that the provider is able to maintain the required standards of a UK degree for the duration of the authorisation; and

    (d) the OfS is assured that the provider operates in students’ and the public interests.” —(Gordon Marsden.)

    This amendment requires the OfS to be assured about the maintenance of standards and about students’ and the public interest before issuing authorisation to grant degrees.

    Question put, That the amendment be made.

    Division 91

    21 November 2016

    The House divided:

    Ayes: 212
    Noes: 281

    Question accordingly negatived.

    View Details

    Proceedings interrupted (Order, 19 July.)

    The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).

    Clause 67

    Grants from the Secretary of State

    Amendment made: 12, page 41, line 41, at end insert—

    “( ) Terms and conditions under subsection (1) framed by reference to a particular course of study must not require the OfS to perform a function in a way which prohibits or requires the provision of a particular course of study.”—(Joseph Johnson.)

    See the explanatory statement for amendment 1.

    Clause 70

    Secretary of State’s power to give directions

    Amendment made: 13, page 44, line 8, at end insert—

    “( ) Directions under subsection (1) framed by reference to a particular course of study must not direct the OfS to perform a function in a way which prohibits or requires the provision of a particular course of study.”—(Joseph Johnson.)

    See the explanatory statement for amendment 1.

    Clause 79

    Power to make alternative payments

    Amendments made: 14, page 50, line 23, leave out “Secretary of State’s opinion” and insert

    “opinion of the person making the regulations concerned”.

    This amendment reflects the fact that the Welsh Ministers will have the function of making regulations for alternative payments in relation to Wales.

    Amendment 15, page 50, line 34, leave out “and (f)” and insert “to (h)”.

    This amendment provides that the Secretary of State has the function in relation to Wales (instead of the Welsh Ministers) of making provision in regulations about the effect, in relation to the alternative payment regime, of a person entering an individual voluntary arrangement.

    Amendment 16, page 50, line 37, leave out subsection (10).—(Joseph Johnson.)

    This amendment leaves out an unnecessary provision.

    Clause 86

    UK research and innovation functions

    Amendment made: 17, page 55, line 3, at end insert—

    “( ) The functions conferred by subsection (1)(a) to (e) include, in particular, power to encourage and support the provision of postgraduate training in science, technology, humanities and new ideas.”—(Joseph Johnson.)

    This amendment makes clear that the functions of UKRI under clause 86(1)(a) to (e) include the power to encourage and support the provision of postgraduate training in science, technology, humanities and new ideas.

    Clause 95

    Secretary of State’s power to give directions to UKRI

    Amendment proposed: 56, page 59, line 45, at end insert—

    “(6) In giving direction to UKRI, the Secretary of State must act in the best interests of all constituent parts of the United Kingdom and, before giving such direction, must consult on research and innovation policies and their priorities with the following—

    (a) the Scottish Government,

    (b) the Welsh Government, and

    (c) the Northern Ireland Executive.

    (7) Before giving any direction to UKRI under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must seek agreement to the terms of that direction from—

    (a) the Scottish Government,

    (b) the Welsh Government, and

    (c) the Northern Ireland Executive.”—(Carol Monaghan.)

    This amendment would place a duty on the Secretary of State such that before giving directions to the UKRI in regards to research priorities, the Secretary of State must consult the devolved administrations.

    Question put, That the amendment be made.

    Division 92

    21 November 2016

    The House divided:

    Ayes: 217
    Noes: 275

    Question accordingly negatived.

    View Details

    Clause 112

    Regulations

    Amendments made: 18, page 66, line 23, leave out “or repeals” and insert “, repeals or revokes”.

    This is a minor and technical amendment which ensures that clause 112(2)(f) refers to the revocation of a provision of a Royal Charter (rather than to the repeal of the provision) - revocation being the appropriate terminology in the case of a Royal Charter.

    Amendment 19, page 66, line 34, after “provision”, insert

    “, and

    ( ) include provision framed by reference to matters determined or published by the OfS.”—(Joseph Johnson.)

    This amendment ensures that regulations under the Bill may be framed by reference to matters determined or published by the OfS - for example, by reference to the part of the register in which an English higher education provider is registered.

    Clause 116

    Extent

    Amendment made: 20, page 67, line 26, at end insert—

    “( ) Section 79(9)—

    (a) so far as it relates to section 22(4B)(e) of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998, also extends to Scotland and Northern Ireland;

    (b) so far as it relates to section 22(4B)(f), (g) and (h) of that Act, also extends to Northern Ireland.”—(Joseph Johnson.)

    This minor and technical amendment gives clause 79(9) (which, as amended by amendment 15, relates to new section 22(4B)(e), (f), (g) and (h) of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998) the same extent as the provisions to which it relates (see clause 116(4)).

    Schedule 1

    The Office for Students

    Amendments made: 21, page 69, line 37, at end insert—

    “( ) But at least one of the ordinary members must have experience of representing or promoting the interests of individual students, or students generally, on higher education courses provided by higher education providers.”

    This amendment requires that at least one of the ordinary members of the OfS has experience of representing or promoting the interests of students in higher education.

    Amendment 22, page 71, line 2, leave out “, allowances and expenses”.

    This amendment removes an unnecessary reference in paragraph 6(1) of Schedule 1 to allowances and expenses for members of the OfS as they are covered in paragraph 6(2).

    Amendment 23, page 71, line 18, leave out “, allowances and expenses”.

    This amendment is consequential on amendment 24.

    Amendment 24, page 71, line 20, at end insert—

    “( ) The OfS must pay, or make provision for paying, to or in respect of a person who is an employee of the OfS, such sums as the OfS may determine with the approval of the Secretary of State in respect of allowances or expenses.”

    This amendment makes the duty to pay allowances and expenses to OfS’s employees consistent with the power to pay such allowances and expenses to former employees inserted by amendment 25.

    Amendment 25, page 71, line 20, at end insert—

    “( ) The OfS may pay, or make provision for paying—

    (a) to or in respect of a person who is or has been an employee of the OfS, such sums as the OfS may determine with the approval of the Secretary of State in respect of pensions or gratuities, and

    (b) to or in respect of a person who has been an employee of the OfS, such sums as the OfS may determine with the approval of the Secretary of State in respect of allowances or expenses.”—(Joseph Johnson.)

    This amendment makes clear that the OfS has power, subject to approval by the Secretary of State, to make pension provision for its employees and former employees other than under the Superannuation Act 1972 (as provided for in paragraph 7(4) of Schedule 1), to pay them gratuities and to pay former employees allowances or expenses. The power in relation to non-civil service pensions is intended to be used in relation to staff transferring to the OfS.

    Schedule 4

    Assessing higher education: designated body

    Amendments made: 26, page 79, line 6, leave out paragraph 1.

    See explanatory statement for amendment 28.

    Amendment 27, page 79, line 13, leave out from beginning to “consult” in line 14 and insert “The OfS may”.

    See the explanatory statement for amendment 28.

    Amendment 28, page 79, line 31, leave out sub-paragraphs (4) and (5) and insert—

    “Recommendation

    2A (1) This paragraph applies where the OfS has consulted in accordance with paragraph 2.

    (2) The OfS must consider whether there is a body that is suitable to perform the assessment functions.

    (3) If the OfS considers that there is only one body that is suitable to perform the assessment functions, the OfS must recommend that body to be designated to perform those functions.

    (4) If the OfS considers that there is more than one body that is suitable to perform the assessment functions, the OfS must recommend the most appropriate body to be designated to perform those functions.

    (5) ‘The most appropriate body’ means, out of those bodies, the body whose designation the OfS considers would be most appropriate for securing the effective assessment of the quality of, and the standards applied to, higher education provided by English higher education providers.

    (6) If the OfS considers that there is no body that is suitable to perform the assessment functions, the OfS may not recommend a body to be designated to perform those functions.

    (7) The OfS must—

    (a) notify the Secretary of State of its recommendation or that no recommendation is made, and

    (b) publish that notification.”

    This amendment and amendments 26 and 27 make changes to clarify when and how the OfS may recommend to the Secretary of State that a body is suitable to be designated to perform the assessment functions. The new paragraph 2A replaces paragraphs 1 and 2(4) and (5) of Schedule 4.

    Amendment 29, page 79, line 37, leave out “paragraphs 1 and 2” and insert “paragraph 2A”.—(Joseph Johnson.)

    This amendment is consequential on amendments 26 and 28.

    Schedule 6

    English higher education information: designated body

    Amendments made: 30, page 88, line 22, leave out paragraph 1.

    See the explanatory statement for amendment 32.

    Amendment 31, page 88, line 27, leave out from beginning to “consult” in line 28 and insert “The OfS may”.

    See the explanatory statement for amendment 32.

    Amendment 32, page 89, line 5, leave out sub-paragraphs (4) and (5) and insert—

    “Recommendation

    2A (1) This paragraph applies where the OfS has consulted in accordance with paragraph 2.

    (2) The OfS must consider whether there is a body that is suitable to be designated under this Schedule.

    (3) If the OfS considers that there is only one body that is suitable to be designated under this Schedule, the OfS must recommend the designation of that body under this Schedule.

    (4) If the OfS considers that there is more than one body that is suitable to be designated under this Schedule, the OfS must recommend the designation under this Schedule of whichever one of those bodies it considers appropriate.

    (5) If the OfS considers that there is no body that is suitable to be designated under this Schedule, the OfS may not recommend the designation of a body under this Schedule.

    (6) The OfS must—

    (a) notify the Secretary of State of its recommendation or that no recommendation is made, and

    (b) publish that notification.”

    This amendment and amendments 30 and 31 make changes to clarify when and how the OfS may recommend to the Secretary of State that a body should be designated under Schedule 6. The new paragraph 2A replaces paragraphs 1 and 2(4) and (5) of Schedule 6.

    Amendment 33, page 89, line 11, leave out “paragraphs 1 and 2” and insert “paragraph 2A”.

    This amendment is consequential on amendments 30 and 32.

    Amendment 34, page 89, line 14, after “body”, insert

    “for the purposes of section 59”.—(Joseph Johnson.)

    This amendment is consequential on amendment 30.

    Schedule 9

    United Kingdom Research and Innovation

    Amendment made: 35, page 98, line 39, at end insert—

    “( ) The Secretary of State must, in appointing the members of UKRI, have regard to the desirability of the members including at least one person with relevant experience in relation to at least one of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

    ( ) ‘Relevant experience’ means experience of one or more of the following—

    (a) research into science, technology, humanities or new ideas;

    (b) the development or exploitation of science, technology, new ideas or advancements in humanities;

    (c) industrial, commercial or financial matters or the practice of any profession.”—(Joseph Johnson.)

    This amendment requires the Secretary of State, when appointing members of UKRI, to have regard to the desirability of at least one of the members having relevant experience in relation to at least one of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. “Relevant experience” is defined in the amendment.

  • Our consideration having been completed, I will now suspend the House for no more than five minutes in order to make a decision about certification. The Division bells will be rung two minutes before the House resumes. Following my certification, the Government will table the appropriate consent motions. Copies of the consent motions will be available shortly in the Vote Office and will be distributed by the Doorkeepers.

  • Sitting suspended.

    On resuming

  • I can now inform the House of my decision about certification. For the purposes of Standing Order No. 83L(2), I have certified clause 81 of the Higher Education and Research Bill as relating exclusively to England and Wales and within devolved legislative competence; and clause 56 and schedule 5 as relating exclusively to England and within devolved legislative competence. Under paragraphs (4) and (5) of Standing Order No. 83L, I have also certified the following amendments as relating exclusively to England: amendments 109, and 243 to 245 made in Public Bill Committee to clause 80 of the Bill as introduced (Bill 4), now clause 81 of the Bill as amended in the Public Bill Committee (Bill 78). Copies of my certificate are available in the Vote Office.

    Under Standing Order No. 83M, consent motions are therefore required for the Bill to proceed. Does the Minister intend to move the consent motions?

  • indicated assent.

    The House forthwith resolved itself into the Legislative Grand Committee (England and Wales) (Standing Order No. 83M).

    [Natasha Engel in the Chair]

    Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83E),

    That the Committee consents to the following certified clause of the Higher Education and Research Bill:

    Clauses and schedules certified under Standing Order 83L(2) as relating exclusively to England and Wales and being within devolved competence

    Clause 81 of the Bill (Bill 78)—(Joseph Johnson.)

    Question agreed to.

    The House forthwith resolved itself into the Legislative Grand Committee (England) (Standing Order No. 83M(4)(d)).

    Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83M(4)(d)),

    That the Committee consents to the following certified clauses and schedules of the Higher Education and Research Bill and certified amendments made by the House to the Bill:

    Clauses and schedules certified under Standing Order No. 83L(2) as relating exclusively to England and being within devolved legislative competence

    Clause 56 of and Schedule 5 to the Bill (Bill 78);

    Amendments certified under Standing Order No. 83L(4) as relating exclusively to England

    Amendments 109, 243, 244 and 245 made in the Public Bill Committee to clause 80 of the Bill as introduced (Bill 4), which is Clause 81 of the Bill as amended in the Public Bill Committee (Bill 78)—(Joseph Johnson.)

    Question agreed to.

    The occupant of the Chair left the Chair to report the decisions of the Committees (Standing Order No. 83M(6)).

    The Speaker resumed the Chair; decisions reported.

    Third Reading

    Queen’s consent signified.

  • I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

    Let me first convey my thanks to those from all parts of the House and those outside who have given their time and expertise to help to strengthen and improve this important and much needed Bill. We have been listening carefully to all the points made during the debates on the Bill, and I am pleased that the Bill has received such thorough scrutiny in this House.

    We are reforming the complicated and outdated regulatory landscape. We are giving students more choice, driving up quality and ensuring our world-class research and innovation sector can maintain its standing in these ever more challenging times.

    As we have heard from those in the sector, our reforms will make a real difference. I remind the House why the Bill is so important and so firmly in the national interest. The current regulation of the system reflects a bygone era of grant funding, elite access and student number controls. Things have moved on and we must catch up. We are therefore putting in place the robust regulatory framework that is needed. It joins up the regulation of the market and will give us a “best in class” regulatory system. This is essential to ensure that students are protected and that students and the taxpayer receive good value for money from the system.

    The Bill will also create a level playing field, making it easier for new providers to enter, but only if they can demonstrate the potential to deliver high-quality provision. New universities will drive more diversity and innovation and more choice for students; elicit competitive pressure to drive up quality; and provide employers with more of the skills our economy needs. Nowhere has this been better demonstrated than by the announcement last month that Sir James Dyson, one of this country’s greatest inventors, is creating a new Dyson Institute of Technology. Dyson intends to take advantage of our planned reforms to give high-quality institutions a direct route to degree-awarding powers and university status in their own right. It will equip students and future employees with the skills that will be vital to the growth and productivity of our economy.

    We have seen recently that new providers, such as the Dyson Institute, can be recognised as some of the most respected within the sector. The University of Buckingham was ranked first for teaching quality in The Times Good University Guide for 2015-16, while the University of Law, which became a university only in 2012, was joint first for overall student satisfaction in this year’s national student survey.

    Our reforms to our research system, which draw on the Nurse review, have also been widely welcomed. As Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, recently commented in Nature:

    “UK Research and Innovation…will boost cooperation among the research councils; allow a more flexible, interdisciplinary approach to global challenges; and position research at the heart of a new industrial strategy”,

    just as Sir Paul Nurse envisaged in the review we are now implementing.

    Those are just a few of the important aspects of our reforms, but as we arrive at the final stage of the Bill’s passage through this House, before its transfer to the other place, I want to take this opportunity to explain how the Government have listened and how the Bill has changed since it was first introduced. Our reforms place students at the heart of higher education regulation. I have always been clear that experience of representing or promoting the interests of students is a key criterion in appointing the board of the new market regulator, the Office for Students, but we heard concerns that that was not sufficient, so we have strengthened our proposals. Through amendments agreed today, we will ensure that the OFS always has a board member with experience of representing or promoting the interests of students.

    We have also listened carefully to university representative bodies. Institutional autonomy has been the foundation of the success of our higher education system. Through the Bill we are fully committed to recognising the fundamental and ongoing importance of academic freedom. To that end, the Bill creates numerous and robust safeguards ensuring protection of academic freedom and institutional autonomy at all times. Today, I have clarified in the Bill our clear intention that the Government, when giving guidance or directions to the OFS, or setting conditions of grant framed by reference to particular courses of study, will not have the ability to compel the OFS to perform any of its functions in a way that prohibits or requires the provision of particular courses. Many people told me that they wanted the OFS to take more of a role in monitoring the financial sustainability of the sector, working closely with UKRI as needed, to protect and enhance its reputation. We are enshrining that duty in law through the amendment agreed today.

    The Bill is not just about reforming how we will regulate higher education institutions; we are also creating a body to strengthen the UK’s world-class capabilities in research and innovation. UKRI has a UK-wide remit. As I explained in Committee, to deliver that and our overall integrated and strategic ambitions for the new body, UKRI must have a proper understanding of the systems operating in all parts of the UK, and I am pleased we have agreed an amendment that will ensure that. We have also responded to the community’s feedback in recognising the important role that UKRI will play in supporting postgraduate training working together with the OFS.

    The Government remain committed to ensuring that our higher education sector retains its international standing. The reforms in the Bill are crucial in enabling us to do so. I am grateful to the hon. Members for taking the time to scrutinise and contribute to this important Bill, and I commend it to the House.

  • I associate myself with the Minister’s thanks to all who have contributed to the Bill, most especially to my hon. Friends who served in such a sterling fashion on the Public Bill Committee. We have also had a huge number of responses, as the Minister said, from the university sector and indeed other sectors, which underlines the importance of getting a Bill such as this one right.

    The Minister said, no doubt feeling released from the scrutiny of this House, that we were escaping a bygone era, but more than once during the previous course of the Bill and again this afternoon, I got a sense of 20th-century déjà vu in respect of a naive belief in unproven and unregulated competition. It seemed that nothing had changed since 23 June, whereas of course, everything has changed.

    The aspect that we criticised most as the Bill was taken forward is that we have seen no sense of adjusting to the realities of Brexit, and no indication that it might have been sensible to have paused and reflected on what structural change, particularly regarding the new providers, might do for our higher education sector—not just in England, but across the whole of the United Kingdom.

    The Government could have given pre-legislative scrutiny to this Bill; but they did not. They could have conceded, frankly, far more than they did in Committee. SNP Members as well as Labour Members put forward positive suggestions, but very few of them were taken into account. I welcome what the Minister said about students, but to be honest, I have to say to the Minister that this is a pretty poor start at this stage.

    What is happening? The Government are not looking beyond Horizon 2020; they are not looking beyond the European structural and investment funding, and the £2 million that the Minister trumpeted today for the industrial strategy will not go too far in dealing with the immense problems we are going to have to face out of Brexit. Too often, when the Government had the opportunity to reach out in Committee, we got civil service boilerplate.

    I went back and looked at what I said on Second Reading, and to be honest, I cannot see much of a need to change what I said then. I said:

    “Instead of looking at urgently needed and constructive ways of reducing the financial fees burden on our students, the Government have produced mechanisms which dodge Parliament’s ability to judge and regulate them.”

    We have talked about that again today. I continued:

    “Instead of strengthening and shoring up our universities and higher and further education at a most critical time, they risk seriously undermining them by obsessively pursuing a market ideology. Instead of presenting analysis in the wake of Brexit, offering relief, assurances and strategies to safeguard both research excellence in our traditional and modern universities and the involvement of higher education in the local communities and economies that they serve, the Government have presented no answers to the urgent threats”.—[Official Report, 19 July 2016; Vol. 613, c. 728.]

    As a result, as I indicated this afternoon, the Government have managed to alienate diverse groups of people. In the process, they have treated lightly in the Bill issues such as academic autonomy. They have missed opportunities to be forward thinking.

    I have already mentioned the throwback to the 20th century in the naive way in which the Minister seemed to believe in terms such as competition. If I did not know the Minister better, I might have thought that he was a disciple of Ayn Rand and wanted to go back to the 1950s. Nowhere in the Bill are there adequate protections for students or for existing institutions. The Bill does nothing to support them in that way. In the process, as I have said, the Government have tried to do everything to avoid scrutiny of their new institutions by the House in the future. That will come back to bite them when the first of these innovations goes wrong.

    We did manage to prise one thing out of the Minister in Committee. We expressed concern about rogue providers, and asked who would bear the costs of the OFS. We obtained some snapshots from a technical paper which showed that, increasingly, the costs would be covered by higher education providers; and who will provide the money for the HE providers? The students: the same students who have been double-crossed over the threshold by the Government—the same Government who have jeopardised the life chances of tens of thousands of young people by scrapping maintenance grants and replacing them with loans which they may or may not take up, and the same Government who have moved too slowly, too feebly, to address issues of reskilling and higher education which affect people throughout their lives and which we have done our best to bring to the fore in this Bill.

    The Government have done too little, too late. I would have genuinely liked to come to the House today and say that we were satisfied with what the Minister had said and with the changes that he had made, but I am afraid that we cannot be satisfied at this stage. The Government have left an enormous number of question marks for the other place, which must carry out due diligence. I believe that the other place will do that, but the Bill, as it stands, represents a lost opportunity. It has failed in its overarching aims for social mobility, and that is why, with regret, we cannot support it and will vote against Third Reading tonight.

  • Let me begin by associating myself with what was said by the Minister and the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden) in thanking those who were involved in the preparation of the Bill, and all the stakeholders who have provided input for the Bill and supplied excellent briefings throughout its passage.

    Despite the raciness of the Bill, we still have concerns about many aspects of it, some of which affect Scotland directly. Although Scottish higher education providers will not be bound to participate in the teaching excellence framework, it is feared that Scottish universities that do not participate will be disadvantaged when it comes to attracting international students, who are a crucial source of funding for all higher education institutions. That is compounded by the Government’s refusal to reinstate post-study work visas, despite calls from HE institutions throughout the United Kingdom, as well as business leaders and all political parties in Scotland. Now Brexit has been added to the mix, along with the reputational damage that it has done to UK higher education internationally. There are serious issues in the sphere of higher education, and we should be addressing them before we proceed with the Bill.

  • My hon. Friend is making very clear why so much of the Bill is important to our constituents in Scotland, and not least to the University of Glasgow, which is in my constituency. Does she share my concern about the fact that what we witnessed a few moments ago in the Grand Legislative Committee procedure makes a mockery of the scrutiny that ought to be given to clauses that affect England and Wales in particular? Does she also agree that if there is an answer to the West Lothian question, the current “English votes for English laws” procedures certainly are not it?

  • I am not sure who those procedures served, but I cannot imagine that they served the people of England particularly well.

    The establishment of UKRI without a proper devolved voice—a voice that would understand the distinct nature of Scotland’s research landscape—could lead to a lack of consideration among the decision-making bodies of the research councils and Innovate UK of Government priorities and research needs in Scotland and other devolved nations. We welcome the Government’s movement on that in their amendment, but it simply does not go far enough or offer the guarantee we sought.

    Scotland is already disadvantaged in terms of infrastructure spend for research—it currently attracts only about 5% of UK spending. Therefore, to prevent further leakage of funding or continued disparities, the firewall between the HEFCE and the rest of the UKRI must be in place. That would ensure not only that funding followed excellence but that the vibrant research community in all devolved nations continued to flourish.

    Like the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden), SNP Members have concerns and are not able to support the Bill’s passage tonight.

  • I rise to echo some of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden) from the Front Bench. We can agree with some of the Bill. I do not think any Labour Member has a problem in principle with putting a teaching excellence framework in place. We think that it is a necessary corrective for many of our institutions to ensure that teaching gets the same level of applause as research currently does. However, even though we are on Third Reading, we do not have enough information about how the TEF will work in practice and whether it will measure teaching quality, or use proxy measures. We know that the metrics still have to be sorted. From now on, we will have to rely on the other place to scrutinise that matter and the issue of how the traffic light system will come into operation and whether it will be used in any way for the recruitment of students, particularly international students.

    Other issues remain unresolved relating to the quality of new entrants, what they will do and the services they will provide to students in addition to their degree course. There are issues to be resolved about how UKRI and the OFS will provide holistic oversight to the sector and work together. There are issues about how higher education relates to the needs of part-time and mature students. There are a number of unanswered questions, which Members in the other place will have to examine in more detail, as they will student finance and the increasing demands that are being imposed in that regard. As my hon. Friend said, another issue is how all this is going to make sense to universities in the context of Brexit. Therefore, we are handing over to the other place quite a list of challenges, and I wish it well in further scrutinising the Bill.

    Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

  • Division 93

    21 November 2016

    The House divided:

    Ayes: 279
    Noes: 214

    Jeff Smith

    View Details

    Question accordingly agreed to.

    Bill read the Third time and passed.