Consideration of Lords amendments
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendments 23, 138 and 139. If agreed by the House, I will cause an appropriate entry to be made in the Journal. I also remind the House that certain of the motions relating to the Lords amendments will be certified as relating exclusively to England and Wales, as set out on the selection paper. If the House divides on any certified motion, a double majority will be required for the motion to be passed. I also alert Members to the fact that an additional paper has been published today containing three additional motions to disagree to Lords amendments 183, 184 and 185. I am sure that the Minister will explain this further to the House. The first motion to be taken is to disagree with the Lords in their amendment 1, with which it will be convenient to consider the other motions and amendments as on the selection paper. I call the Minister to move to disagree with Lords amendment 1.
I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Government amendments (a) to (d) in lieu of Lords amendment 1.
Lords amendments 2 to 11.
Lords amendment 12, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 209, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 210, and Government motion to disagree.
Government amendments (a) to (g) in lieu of Lords amendments 12, 209 and 210.
Lords amendments 13 and 14.
Lords amendment 15, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu.
Lords amendments 16 to 22.
Lords amendment 23, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) to (c) in lieu.
Lords amendments 24 to 70.
Lords amendment 71, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendment (a) in lieu.
Lords amendments 72 to 77.
Lords amendment 78, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 106, and Government motion to disagree.
Government amendments (a) to (h) in lieu of Lords amendments 78 and 106.
Lords amendments 79 to 105.
Lords amendments 107 to 155.
Lords amendment 156, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendments (a) to (c) in lieu.
Lords amendments 157 to 182.
Lords amendment 183, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 184, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendment 185, and Government motion to disagree.
Lords amendments 186 to 208.
Lords amendments 211 to 244.
The Higher Education and Research Bill sets out the most significant legislative reforms of the sector for 25 years. The world of higher education has changed fundamentally since the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, leaving a regulatory system that is complex, fragmented and out of date. The sector has consistently called for new legislation to update the regulatory framework and just yesterday the two main sector groups, Universities UK and GuildHE, reiterated their full support for this important legislation.
Given its scale and importance, this Bill has understandably received robust and constructive debate as it has progressed through this House and the other place. I would like to put on record my thanks to all Members and noble Lords who have engaged with it during the process, throughout which we have listened, reflected and responded. This group includes no fewer than 240 amendments agreed in the other place which strengthen and improve the drafting of the Bill. They cover a range of issues including institutional autonomy, the inclusion of collaboration and diversity of provision in the Office for Students’ duties, student transfer and accelerated degrees. The other place also agreed amendments to strengthen the research provisions in the Bill, including putting the Haldane principle into legislation for the very first time. Today, I am pleased to show once again that we are willing to engage and respond. I hope that hon. Members will bear with me if I speak at some length: there are many important points that I would like to set out clearly.
Turning first to Lords amendment 1, we listened carefully to the debate in the other place about the role and functions of universities. At its heart was the importance of protecting institutional autonomy, which we fully support. We responded to this with a significant package of amendments designed to provide robust and meaningful protection of institutional autonomy across the whole of the Bill, which I was pleased to see receive support from all parties. On the definition of a university, in a limited sense a university can be described as predominantly a degree-level provider with awarding powers. If we want a broader definition, we can say that a university is also expected to be an institution that brings together a body of scholars to form a cohesive and self-critical academic community to provide excellent learning opportunities for people. We expect teaching at such an institution to be informed by a combination of research, scholarship and professional practice. To distinguish it from what we conventionally understand a school’s role to be, we can say that a university is a place where students are developing higher analytical capacities: critical thinking, curiosity about the world and higher levels of abstract capacity in their analysis.
Further, the strength of the university sector is based on its diversity and we should continue to recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach is not in the interests of students or of wider society. In particular, small and specialist providers that support, for example, the creative arts, theology and agriculture have allowed more students with highly specialised career aims the opportunity to study at a university. Indeed, as we have said in our White Paper and throughout the passage of the Bill, the diversity of the sector and opportunities for students have grown as a result of the important changes introduced by the previous Labour Government in 2004, including the lifting of the requirement for universities to have students in five subject areas and to award research degrees. No one would want, and we would not expect, to go back on the specific changes that the party opposite made.
To protect the use of university title, we have tabled amendments (a) to (d) to Lords amendment 1 to ensure that before allowing the use of that title, the Office for Students must have regard to factors in guidance given by the Secretary of State, and that before giving the guidance, the Secretary of State must consult relevant bodies and persons. This consultation will be full and broad. It will reference processes and practice overseas, for example in Australia, and provide an opportunity to consider a broad range of factors before granting university title. Those factors might include a track record of excellent teaching; sustained scholarship; cohesive academic communities; interdisciplinary approaches; supportive learning infrastructures; the dissemination of knowledge; the public-facing role of universities; academic freedom and freedom of speech; and wider support for students and pastoral care.
In the other place, we tabled an amendment based on a proposal from Baroness Wolf requiring the Office for Students to take expert advice from a relevant body on quality and standards before granting, varying, or revoking degree-awarding powers. I can confirm that the role of the relevant body will be similar to that of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education’s advisory committee on degree-awarding powers, and the system we are putting in place will build on the QAA’s valuable work over the years.
Amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 71 further strengthens that provision. Specifically, the amendment makes it clear that, if there is not a designated quality body to perform the role, the committee that the OFS must establish to perform it must feature a majority of members who are not members of the OFS. Further, in appointing those members, the OFS must consider the requirement that the committee’s advice be informed by the interests listed in the proposed new clause, which will ensure that the advice is impartial and informed. The amendment also makes it clear that the advice must include a view on whether the provider under consideration can maintain quality and standards, and it requires the OFS to notify the Secretary of State as soon as possible after it grants degree-awarding powers to a provider that has not previously delivered a degree course under a validation arrangement.
I also confirm that I expect the Secretary of State’s guidance to the OFS on DAPs to continue to require that a provider’s eligibility be reviewed if there is a change in its circumstances, such as a merger or a change of ownership. The OFS has powers under the Bill to remove DAPs from a provider where there are concerns as to the quality or standards of its higher education provision following such a change. We expect the OFS to seek advice from the relevant body on any such quality concerns before taking the step of revocation.
In the other place we made amendments providing additional safeguards on the revocation of DAPs and university title, recognising that those are last-resort powers. Amendments were also made relating to appeals against such decisions. Amendments (a) to (h) in lieu of Lords amendments 78 and 106 achieve the same aims as the Lords amendments but will align the wording more closely with terminology used elsewhere in legislation. The amendments allow an appeal on unlimited grounds, and permit the First-tier Tribunal to retake any decision of the OFS to revoke DAPs or university title.
Over the course of the Bill’s passage we have seen complete consensus in both Houses on the importance of teaching in higher education. We have always been a world leader in our approach to higher education in this country, but we cannot and should not be complacent. The teaching excellence framework offers us the opportunity to safeguard the UK’s best teaching and to raise standards across the sector. For the TEF to work properly, however, there must be reputational and financial incentives behind it. We propose to disagree with Lords amendments 12 and 23, which would render the TEF unworkable.
Almost 300 providers took part in the first round of assessments, and we have received vocal support for the TEF from the major sector representatives. The sector has voted with its feet and has demonstrated real confidence in the framework. It would not be appropriate to stop or fundamentally alter the TEF now.
I hear what the Minister is saying about the TEF, but does he accept that, although there might be widespread consent across the sector for a TEF-type exercise, the sector is not happy about the traffic light system and wants to see the review he is establishing?
I thank the hon. Lady for raising that point, which enables me to discuss the amendment that the Government have tabled precisely to address those concerns.
I am pleased to present to the House a series of amendments that demonstrate our continued commitment to developing the teaching excellence framework iteratively and carefully. We have consulted widely on the TEF, and we want to continue drawing on the best expertise as we develop this important scheme. That is why I am pleased to have tabled amendment (c) in lieu of Lords amendment 23, as it requires the Secretary of State to commission an independent review of the TEF within one year of the TEF clause being commenced. Crucially, the amendment requires the Secretary of State to lay the report before Parliament, ensuring parliamentary accountability for the framework as it moves forward.
The report must cover many aspects that have concerned Members of this House and the other place, including whether the metrics used are fit for use in the TEF; whether the names of the ratings, to which the hon. Lady alluded, are appropriate for use in the TEF; the impact of the TEF on the ability of providers to carry out their research, teaching and other functions; and an assessment of whether the scheme is, all things considered, in the public interest. I am happy to confirm that the Secretary of State will take account of the review and, if he or she considers it appropriate, will provide guidance to the OFS accordingly, including on any changes to the scheme that the review suggests might be needed, whether in relation to the metrics or any of the other items the review will look at.
We have also heard concerns about the impact of the link between TEF and fees. We recognise the important role of Parliament in setting fee caps. That is why I am also pleased to propose amendments (a) to (g) in lieu of amendments 12, 209 and 210, which amend the parliamentary procedure required to alter fee limit amounts, to ensure that any regulations that would raise fees would be subject, as a minimum, to the affirmative procedure. That provides a greater level of parliamentary oversight on fees than the measures originally put in place under the Labour Government in 2004. I have also today brought forward a further motion to disagree with Lords amendments 183 to 185, which are no longer required as a consequence of these amendments. That is a purely technical change as a result of the wider set of amendments regarding fee amounts.
Furthermore, today’s amendments demonstrate our commitment to a considered roll-out of differentiated fees. Amendments in lieu (c ) and (d) will delay the link between differentiated TEF ratings and tuition fee caps, so that this will not come in for more than three years, with the first year of differentiated fees as a result of TEF ratings being no earlier than the academic year beginning autumn 2020.
If I have understood it correctly, the linking of the TEF and the fee level is just being postponed, and these things are not being completely decoupled. I wonder whether the Minister might be able to provide reassurance to the University of West London in my constituency, which has 17,000 students who are worried about this. They like Lords amendment 156, which relates to international students, and fear that they are going to go completely bankrupt if things are not kept as they are in the Lords amendment.
I can reassure the hon. Lady that we are committed to ensuring that universities are able to increase their fees in line with inflation, provided they can demonstrate that they are delivering high-quality outcomes through the TEF. We are going to be introducing this scheme gradually and we are not going to be differentiating according to the fee uplift that institutions are able to get before the academic year starting August 2020; until that point there will be no differentiation of fee uplift based on performance in the TEF.
This means that differentiated fees will not be introduced until after the independent review has reported to the Secretary of State and to Parliament. Until that point all English providers participating in the TEF will receive the full inflationary uplift. It will be up to devolved Administrations, as before, to determine whether they are content for their institutions to participate in the TEF and what impact participation may have on their fees. I can confirm today that the ratings awarded under the TEF this year will not be used to determine differentiated fees, unless a provider actively chooses not to re-enter the TEF after the independent review. In practice, this means that this year’s ratings will only count towards differentiated fees if, after the review, a provider does not ask for a fresh assessment before their next one is due—that is an opportunity that will be open to all participants.
Before moving on to our other amendments, I would like to reiterate our commitment that the TEF will evolve to assess the quality of teaching at subject level, as well as institutional level. We recognise that subject-level assessments are more challenging, which is why I have already announced an extension to the roll-out of subject-level TEF pilots, with an additional year of piloting. This follows the best practice demonstrated in the research excellence framework, and means the first subject-level assessments will not take place until spring 2020.
In both this House and the other place, we have heard compelling arguments about the importance of student electoral registration. I commend the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) for his passionate work on that issue. Having worked closely with my hon. Friend the Minister for the Constitution, I am pleased to propose Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendment 15. Our amendments will improve the electoral registration of students by permitting the Office for Students to impose a condition of registration on higher education providers that requires their governing bodies to take steps specified by the OFS to facilitate co-operation with electoral registration officers in England. The amendments place that requirement firmly within the new higher education regulatory framework while, equally importantly, maintaining unaltered the statutory roles and responsibilities of EROs for ensuring the accuracy of the electoral register. The provisions will complement EROs’ existing powers.
In implementing the condition, the OFS will be obliged to have regard to ministerial guidance issued under the general duties clause, which will lay out what the Government expect in relation to the electoral registration condition, alongside expectations about other functions of the OFS. There are many excellent examples from across the sector of methods of encouraging students to join the electoral register, including the models put in place by the University of Sheffield—in the constituency of the hon. Member for Sheffield Central—that provide an example of good practice.
Through the Government’s amendments, the OFS will have a specific power to impose an electoral registration condition to deal with HE providers that are not doing enough to co-operate with electoral administrators. When a condition is imposed, it takes effect as a requirement—it will oblige action to be taken. The clear aim is for the OFS to look across the sector and, when needed, ensure that necessary action is taken. The condition can require particular steps to be taken so that higher education providers work with EROs to facilitate registration. As with any registration condition, non-compliance is enforceable, including through OFS sanctions.
I thank the Minister for his comments on the work that we have done on this issue. The Cabinet Office has been extremely helpful from the very start in supporting the initiative with the University of Sheffield. Nevertheless, does the Minister recognise that the critical game-changer is the seamless integration of electoral registration and student enrolment? When other universities—not only Sheffield—have taken that up, they have seen levels of registration that the simple promotion of the voter registration portal, or giving direction towards it, have not succeeded in achieving. In monitoring the effectiveness of the Government’s proposals, will the Minister look at effective outputs? If universities’ outputs through methods of co-operation with electoral registration officers do not deliver the sort of 70% mark that integrated systems have delivered, will he expect them to be pushed in that direction by the Office for Students?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his continued and thoughtful engagement with this issue. We look forward to continuing to work with him as we develop the guidance that will be given to the OFS. As we have said previously, we do not expect that there will be a one-size-fits-all approach. We need an approach that recognises the particular circumstances at different institutions. We look forward to continuing to engage closely with the hon. Gentleman in the coming weeks and months, subject to the results on 8 June.
It is vital for this country that we have a healthy democracy that works for everyone. The Government share the aim of increasing the number of students and young people who are registered to vote. It is vital that the views of students and young people are taken into account in the democratic process, and our amendments will help to deliver that.
Last but by no means least, amendments (a) to (c) in lieu of Lords amendment 156 relate to international students. I reiterate that the Government value and welcome international students who come to study in the UK. We recognise that they enhance our educational institutions, both financially and culturally, enrich the experience of domestic students, and become important ambassadors for the UK in later life. It is for those reasons that we have no plan to limit the number of genuine international students who can come to study in the United Kingdom. I need to be very clear that that commitment applies to all institutions. We have no intention of limiting any institution’s ability to recruit genuine international students. We have no plans to cap the number of genuine students who can come to the UK to study, or to limit an institution’s ability to recruit genuine international students based on its TEF rating or on any other basis.
Can the Minister explain the logic of including in a statistic which the Government wish to limit a statistic that they have no desire to limit?
I can reassure my hon. Friend that this Government welcome international students, who deliver huge value to our institutions, our economy and our learning environment. However, it is also important to recognise that the independent Office for National Statistics classifies students as part of migration. The ONS has an independent status and it applies that definition accordingly. It is appropriate that the matter is treated in the way that it is at present in our immigration system.
I thank the Minister for these amendments, as they reflect very well what the Education Committee said in its recent report on the university sector and implications of leaving the European Union. I, like the Minister, believe that it is important to ensure that our sector—this very important sector—is attractive abroad.
Indeed. No one would disagree with that. It is good news that the UK continues to be a highly attractive place in which international students can come to study. Numbers of international students are running at record highs, and we have more than 170,000 non-EU entrants to UK higher education institutions for the sixth year running. The latest Home Office visa data show that, since 2011, university-sponsored visa applications have risen by around 10%.
I will take one more intervention—[Interruption.] I will take two more interventions on this subject.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but he is being rather selective with the statistics, because the UK is losing market share across the world when it comes to international students. In fact, the Higher Education Statistics Agency shows that the UK has seen a reduction of more than 50% in students coming to the UK from India. More than half of international students in the UK say that they do not feel welcome. Does he recognise the scale of that problem?
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is being selective. I can easily point to the 8% increase in visas from Chinese nationals in 2016. Overall, if we look at the numbers since 2011, visa applications are up by 10%, but let us not get distracted further. I will take a further intervention and then I shall move on.
My hon. Friend has been a great advocate on this issue for a long time. I personally thank him for delivering these amendments. Given that there will be a new duty on institutions to give out their numbers of international students, what will happen to institutions that, for any reason, do not give that information to HESA under the terms of the enforcement powers?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. We would expect all higher education providers on the OFS register to be compliant with the duties and conditions imposed on them. If they are not, the OFS has a range of regulatory tools at its disposal to deal with such eventualities.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
For the last time.
I thank the Minister for giving way. I understand his discomfort on the issue. He talked about numbers, but does he not recognise that in the latest year for which numbers are available—2014-15—new enrolments of international students fell by 3%, so he cannot say that the numbers are going up?
We can certainly say that visa applications have risen by around 10% since 2011, although there might be fluctuations from year to year. That has been the case for many periods in the history of international students coming to study in this country. There has not been a story of continued growth; there have been ups and downs. Since 2010, which is a longer timeframe, we have seen applications up by around 10%.
Lords amendment 156 could do real damage. For example, it would prevent international students being treated as long-term migrants. The internationally recognised definition of a long-term migrant is anyone moving countries for a period of more than a year. If we were not able to apply to international students the key features of our work immigration regime, such as the need to obtain a time-limited visa that specifies the terms on which the migrant can come and a requirement to return home upon expiry of the visa, that could undermine our whole student migration system. I cannot advise the House to agree to that amendment.
Secondly, the Lords amendment would prohibit any change to the future student migration regime that could be interpreted as more restrictive than that in force when the Bill is passed. Any future changes—even minor technical changes—would require fresh primary legislation rather than being made by immigration rules laid before Parliament. I do not believe that that would be sensible or helpful, particularly given how crowded the forthcoming legislative programme is likely to be.
That said, I recognise the strength of feeling on the issue, so I am pleased to ask the House to support amendments (a) to (c) in lieu of Lords amendment 156. The Bill already creates for the first time a requirement for information on higher education providers to be published. It also puts in place a statutory duty to consider what would be helpful to students on higher education courses here, prospective students and higher education providers. Our amendments expressly extend that important new duty to cover what information would be useful to current or prospective international students in higher education and to the providers that recruit them or are thinking of doing so. They will also specifically require a consideration of the publication of international student numbers. All this is designed to help to ensure that as much information as possible is available about the UK’s offer to international students. We have a good story to tell and the Government are keen to ensure that it is told.
The Bill is long overdue. It will streamline the higher education system’s regulatory architecture. It will give students more choice and opportunity. It will strengthen our world-class research and innovation capabilities, and it will enhance the competitiveness and productivity of our economy. I thank all Members for their constructive engagement throughout the Bill’s passage.
It is a great pleasure and privilege to speak on these amendments this afternoon. I join the Minister in thanking the various teams of drafters and Clerks for all the work they have done. He and I have had some intense discussions in the past three to four days, and they must have put great pressure on the Clerks to produce the substantial amendments that are before us today. I want to give special thanks to the Public Bill Office. Most people who have been in opposition, of whatever party, know that it is very much, in terms of resources, a David and Goliath process and we are enormously grateful for the professional work of the Public Bill Office in assisting us.
I want to place on record, because we are talking about Lords amendments, my gratitude and that of many in the House for the robust exercise by the House of Lords of its historic privilege, which is to revise, to remind and to warn. It has done all three things with this raft of amendments, which, combined with the intense pressure that was applied across the sector by numerous groups, the work that we have put in and the Minister’s co-operation in recent days, has brought us to where we are today.
I am sorry that the Minister, in his measured presentation, did not find time to talk about the contribution of the people who work in universities. Their contribution is just as important as that of students and teachers, because without them we would not have universities or other higher education institutions. I place on the record also my thanks to the various sector groups who have assisted us: the National Union of Students, which delivered thoughtful and trenchant critiques that helped us get to where we are today, as did the other unions involved—the University and College Union and Unison—and the Council for British Universities, as well as the whole range of universities, modern and traditional. I must not forget the submissions from the further education sector and the Association of Colleges, because as I frequently remind the Minister, 12% and rising of higher education in this country is provided by further education colleges.
This process has been about the dialogue with university vice-chancellors and junior lecturers. We are in a much better place because of the specialist critique and the Lords amendments that the Minister has accepted on UK Research and Innovation, and on research. As the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) is in the Chamber, I pay tribute to her and her team for the points they made about the importance of the devolved Administrations.
Let us turn to the amendments that the Government wish to remove; I was going to say “tamper with”, but that would be churlish. The Government’s concession on university title is welcome and necessary, and, my goodness, it has been a long time coming. From the beginning, there have been strong concerns about this across the sector from people who work within it—people concerned about the nature of their employment and about the quality of their teaching—and, as I have said, from the students who increasingly have to pay more and more.
We should not forget that the Bill is being wound up in the context of a world-class university sector that is now facing all the challenges of Brexit that have not been not included in the Bill in any shape or form. We have to protect our world-renowned brand of universities in as many ways as possible, so we are content that the Government have now committed to holding this full and wide-ranging consultation on university title. As the Minister said, once that consultation has finished, as a result of the discussions that we have had with him, the Secretary of State will have to issue guidance to the Office for Students on the criteria to be applied when awarding university title, to which the OFS must have regard.
My hon. Friend is making a strong case. I agree that it is good that the Government have recognised the challenge to university reputation that could come from the extension of university title without safeguards in place. Does he agree that the Government’s proposals are a watering down of Lords amendment 1 and that it will be necessary to look carefully at the guidance in due course to ensure that it adequately protects university title?
My hon. Friend, the esteemed chair of the all-party parliamentary university group, is absolutely right. She makes precisely the same point that so many people want to make to the Government. Edmund Burke famously said that the price of liberty was eternal vigilance. Well, the price of extracting these concessions from the Government today—if, by any chance, they get back into office after 8 June—will be at least very severe, if not eternal, scrutiny. Whatever the situation is, not just in the House but outside it, that scrutiny has to happen.
The agreed process is not a tick-box one, but one where there must be a big conversation. My hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods), for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) and for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) and all sorts of other people have made this point. I pay tribute to Baroness Brown for pursuing the matter. I hope that the penny has finally dropped for the Government. As MillionPlus said,
“strong safeguards need to be put in place to ensure that any body that is awarded degree awarding powers…has met the criteria to do so, and will not put student interest at risk, or potentially damage the hard earned reputation of the entire higher education sector in the UK.”
That is why it is so important that the Government commit to that full and wide-ranging consultation.
I am pleased that the Minister has confirmed, as we discussed, that the consultation will look at international examples, such as Australia, in granting university title. It is crucial that the Government look at the range the Minister talked about: excellent teaching, sustained scholarship, cohesive academic community, learning infrastructure, knowledge exchange and—often forgotten—pastoral care, with universities actually supporting students to learn and not simply be part of some vague online community. As Research Fortnight said last year,
“the title of university needs to be seen as a privilege…not an automatic entitlement”.
That is why this consultation and the subsequent guidance are so important, with the market being open to new entrants, and that is why we will continue to press Ministers on this issue.
Let me move on to the granting of degree-awarding powers. As we have said from the beginning of proceedings on the Bill, that is at its heart significantly about trust, or the lack of it, and that was nobly elaborated and strengthened by the amendment tabled in the other place by Baroness Wolf, who is a fantastic advocate for the HE and FE sectors and who knows of what she speaks, which is why the Government have had to move on this issue. We have said right from the beginning that the Government need to make things very clear to allay some of the concerns that we, along with a number of people across the sector and the noble Baroness and others in the other House, have had about the principle of independence. Giving providers the option from day one to build up degree-awarding powers is potentially dangerous, and we are potentially taking a gamble on probationary degrees from probationary providers.
I do not want to reopen the debate we had on this in Committee, and I want to say very strongly that we are not against private providers or new providers as such, but the premise must be to strengthen the public sector and to ensure that new providers can demonstrate that they provide high-quality education—including robust governance that maintains academic quality, protects the student interest and has a demonstrable track record of delivering higher-quality education—before they are granted degree-awarding powers.
We know only too well from the issues that have arisen in the United States with private providers, from the criticisms Baroness Wolf has levelled at a similar process in Australia and from the issues involving BPP and the Apollo group three or four years ago why the safeguards being put into the Bill are entirely necessary. The Council for the Defence of British Universities said exactly that in its submissions.
We are therefore pleased that a significant degree of scrutiny will now be put in place and that, when granting, varying or revoking degree-awarding powers, the OFS must be advised by the independent designated quality body—the Government have conceded that—on a provider’s ability to provide and maintain HE provision of an appropriate quality and standard. It is crucial that there is a traffic light, if I can dare to use that expression, saying “Caution” and providing a guarantee of the process. It is important that the OFS is advised in the way I have described; after all, in the first few years of its existence, it will—whether we take the term neutrally or not—be a creature of the Government, but one that is on probation and on trial.
There are known quantities in this process, which is why I was pleased to hear the Minister praise the QAA for what it has done, but, as he said, things change with time. That is why we had to press the Government so hard to come forward with a new mechanism if the QAA were no longer to be the appropriate body. That is reiterated in the concession of an automatic review by the designated quality body if there is a change of ownership or a merger at a university. We know what can happen, just as people in the sector know—the people employed there and the people being taught in inferior conditions because of what has happened in the past. We therefore need these steps, alongside a consultation and guidance on university title, to protect our brand of HE providers.
This is about not just the letter but the spirit of these proposals, and that is reiterated by the automatic review, which will prevent university title and degree-awarding powers being purchased without the protections of quality assurance. We remain concerned that, should no independent designated quality body exist, the OFS must set up an independent specific committee. We were determined to encourage the Government to take that fall-back position. Their concession of an independent specific committee with a majority of members with no previous involvement with the OFS is crucial. It is also crucial that this body remains independent of Government and of the OFS, for the reasons that I have described.
I want to move on to the teaching excellence framework, and Lords amendment 23 and the amendments that the Government have tabled in lieu. The Minister said that the importance of teaching excellence was accepted across the House. Indeed, who would be against teaching excellence? However, the devil is always in the detail. In this case, the detail is that it took nearly six years to take through the research excellence framework process. We are therefore wise to think and to pause, particularly on the potential to differentiate fee levels at higher education institutions, which has been a major concern for many across the sector. We have expressed serious fears from the start, not least in the context of the ridiculously titled “gold, silver and bronze” scheme, which was no doubt dreamed up in the Minister’s office by someone in a post-Olympics euphoria back in the autumn.
People are concerned that any sort of link is bound to affect student decision making adversely, particularly in deterring students from low-income families from applying. Those concerns have been expressed right across the sector, from unions such as the UCU and Unison to a number of other groups. The Minister quotes somewhat selectively on occasion the groups that he wishes to quote, but I can assure him that a number of universities and university groups, including some of our most revered and aged, remain concerned about this. That is why it is crucial that the Government put in place a legislative commitment to a full independent review before the TEF could be used to differentiate fees and why it is right that that has been accepted and aided by the work that the Lords has put in. It gives us a different direction of travel from the rubber-stamping technocracy the Government previously had in mind for us.
The Government’s agenda on higher education has consistently hit students hard, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds. As we have always said, we will do everything in our power to resist the TEF being used as a Trojan horse for the escalation of fees. We know from the Sutton Trust and from the various surveys about the daunting mountain of debt that is being imposed on students as a result of how this Government and their predecessor have gone forward on this: what an impediment to their hopes and dreams. Now that inflation is leaping, post-Brexit, to the sorts of levels that will bring in increases in future, we are right to be concerned that there should be a proper process in how we take this forward.
Along with the unions involved and many others in the sector, we feel very strongly about any sort of link that affects student decision making adversely—particularly, as I say, with regard to low-income families. The NUS and the UCU have strong concerns that the TEF would create a high-stakes, multi-tiered system and increase pressures on teachers, as well as incentivising universities to cut teaching in subjects that score less well. Sally Hunt, the general secretary of UCU, said last December:
“If the Government really wants to improve teaching quality, it”
“needs to think…about whether staff are supported”
“to deliver their best teaching.”
It is therefore vital that the Government have now finally, on the back of the strength of the concerns of our colleagues and the people who really know what is going on in the sector, found the courage to put in place a legislative commitment to a full independent review before the TEF could be used for differentiating fees.
I was grateful to the Minister for spelling out so clearly the chronology of that process, because it is not simply about the extra year, but about the process itself. We would have preferred—and we will still campaign for—the link between the TEF and the fees to be removed altogether, but we know that we have entered a process where we have to do the best we can with this Bill.
A full independent review would give us much more capacity to challenge any issues. It is clear that the review would cover specific areas, including whether the process by which ratings are determined is appropriate for use by the scheme; the names, which the Minister has referred to; the scheme’s impact on the ability of providers; and an assessment of whether it is in the public interest. A good, strong independent reviewer would dig those things out, and then the Government, whoever they are, will be held to account.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the review is welcome but that it would have been really good to hear the Minister say this afternoon that he would definitely want to act on its outcome, not simply ignore it, which could happen in the future?
My hon. Friend knows that I cannot be responsible for the Minister’s mood music. I can only respond to what he has committed to do in the Bill, and its commitment to an independent review is very important. A whole raft of people, not just the Lords, are concerned. The combined efforts of an outside challenge, the wisdom of the Lords, who constrained the Minister by inserting the original amendment, and our determination have resulted in welcome concessions.
To reiterate what I said in my speech, I am happy to confirm that the Secretary of State will take account of the review and, if he or she considers it appropriate, will provide guidance to the OFS accordingly, including on any changes to the scheme that the review suggests are needed, whether they be in relation to the metrics or any of the other items that the review will look at.
I am grateful to the Minister for that important clarification. It is also important that all fee regulations under the Bill that were previously subject to negative procedure will now be subject to affirmative procedure. That puts daylight on issues related to rocketing fees, and I believe that it will be entirely possible that the Secretary of State, whoever it will be, will have to listen to a dogged independent statutory review that says, “This ain’t working. Either it won’t ever work, or it certainly won’t work for the time being.” It is in all of our interests to make sure that that statutory review is as potent as we wish it to be.
I welcome the Government’s electoral registration amendment, which strengthens the current position to some extent. We would have preferred a full commitment to ensuring block registration, but nevertheless we wholeheartedly welcome anything that will facilitate greater student interest in and awareness of political affairs. I pay tribute to the fantastic work of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central and to the pilot work undertaken at the University of Sheffield and the University of Bath. I also praise my fellow member of the Bill Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North, and my hon. Friends the Members for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq) and for West Bromwich West (Mr Bailey), all of whom have concerns about students and feel very strongly about the matter. It is important to note that we are not just relying on nudges. The Minister was kind enough to refer to the involvement of the Cabinet Office in this regard, and there will be specific powers to impose an electoral registration commitment to deal with HE providers not doing enough.
Finally, let me turn to the amendments on international students. I praise and welcome the doggedness with which Lord Hannay pursued this matter with the coalition that worked across Parliament to insert the original amendment. I hoped and thought that the strength of that coalition might have moved the Government, but unfortunately it is not a question of the warm words, values and welcomes which the Minister talked about and to which, I am sure, he signs up—he was a dedicated remainer before the election. Unfortunately, he has a Prime Minister who has been at best curmudgeonly and at worst obstructive on this issue. The sharp questions from the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) and the contribution of the Chair of the Select Committee on Education, the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), show where we are on this matter.
At a time when Brexit is throwing up fresh problems for the higher education sector, the Government’s stance is threatening both the sector and our reputation worldwide. Those new issues are about whether we will be able to stay in Erasmus or get funding for beyond Horizon 2020, and about European structural funding, but the university and HE sector has enough to contend with without having a Prime Minister who appears to wrinkle her nose and, sometimes, attach manacles to her colleagues in Cabinet every time they suggest a different path.
My hon. Friend is making compelling points. In Northern Ireland there are two universities, Queen’s University, Belfast and the Ulster University. They both rely on Erasmus and European social funds to develop cross-border educational research programmes with higher education institutions in the Republic of Ireland. The impact of Brexit in the context of this debate is therefore particularly important to us; does he agree with me on that?
I absolutely agree. My hon. Friend makes a further point about the Government’s still having a long way to go in understanding and realising what that international sector is all about. That is why it is so disappointing that the Minister will not go further—in fact, the truth is that he cannot go further. He and his colleagues have been sat on from a great height by No. 10 and by the Home Office. That is the reality. The Tory party and its members are split down the middle on this issue. It is an unedifying shambles that the hon. Member for Southport (John Pugh), who is retiring, presciently commented on in The Times today. It is a shambles that Labour, in government, would have no part in.
During this election campaign, we will continue to press for the removal of students from net migration statistics for public policy purposes, and although I genuinely welcome the new designated body that the Minister has talked about, the truth is exactly as the hon. Member for Bedford said: it leaves the Minister without a visible means of support in delivering the objective that he will no doubt fervently wish could be delivered under that process.
The problems and weaknesses of the Bill have been substantial, not least as regards the wilful obtuseness of the Government to do anything to make a pre-Brexit Bill—conceived when the Minister and the Government at the time assumed that Brexit would fall—fit for a post-Brexit world. They could have put it out to pre-legislative scrutiny, but they did not. They could have paused it. That was quite rightly argued for by the University and College Union, the Council for the Defence of British Universities and others, including distinguished figures across the sector and in this House, not least the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright)—but they did not.
It has been left to us—by us, I mean not just the Labour party, but the other opposition parties in this House and in the House of Lords—to make the arguments in this place. A concerted effort has been made by cross-Benchers, Lib Dem peers, the noble Lord Hannay and the small but important group of Conservative peers, including Lord Patten, who have wrinkled their noses at, and fought ferociously against, the technocratic complexities and central dictation in the Bill. Those things risk blunting the creativity and dynamism of our HE sector, whether delivered at an old university such as Oxford or Cambridge, at the many dynamic new universities which MillionPlus celebrated at its 25th anniversary last night, or in the further education sector. I pay tribute to the Government for extending HE awarding powers to the FE sector, not least because my college, Blackpool Fylde College, will be one of the first to benefit.
The Americans have a saying that goes something like, “When you get lemons, you have to try to make lemonade,” and that is what we have all tried to do. We have tried to make a flawed Bill better fit for purpose, and to help, not hinder, the dynamism that I have talked about. We have had a decent thrash at it; without that decent thrash and the work of the House of Lords, I think it would have been a very poor Bill indeed.
You will be pleased to know, Madam Deputy Speaker, that my remarks in this debate will be short. I think all hon. Members have something else to do right now.
I have championed universities for the last six years, and I have debated with many different Members from across the House. In the last two years, it has been a great privilege to be vice-chair of the all-party group on students, together with my friend the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield). I wish him every success, and I hope to be able to join him in continuing to represent students in Parliament after 8 June. I have 23,000 students in my constituency, spread across two universities: Bath Spa University and the University of Bath. Both universities have a large complement of international students, who are absolutely vital. We have had debates in this place for years about how much they contribute to our local and national economies.
I am pleased that the Bill has been introduced. The student community and the higher education sector as a whole have called for such legislation since 2011, when Lord Willetts introduced new law in this area, and I hope that this Bill will receive Royal Assent later today. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for all his work on the Bill. He has been a great champion of the higher education sector and international students, and the Bill is testament to all his work.
I turn quickly to Lords amendment 156 and Government amendments (a), (b) and (c) in lieu. As has been said, it is incredibly welcome that the Minister and the Department for Education have listened to a campaign group of MPs and placed on the Higher Education Statistics Agency, or the designated body, a duty to report on the number of international students. That makes a massive difference, and it represents a significant change in the Government’s tone. I thank the Minister for listening to us and delivering that amendment.
I want to give a bit of a shout-out to Members who have made a big contribution to the campaign, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Twickenham (Dr Mathias), for Eastbourne (Caroline Ansell), for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond), for Cheadle (Mary Robinson) and for Bedford (Richard Fuller), and my right hon. Friends the Members for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) and for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry). They are great champions for their student communities and for international students. I pay tribute to Opposition colleagues who have also championed that case.
I am delighted that the Department for Education has produced the amendment. If the outcome of the election on 8 June is favourable, I guarantee not only to the Government but to my constituents that I will continue—in collaboration with Universities UK, the Russell Group and MillionPlus—to make the case for taking international students out of the overall immigration figures. It is very peculiar that they are still included. If I am around after 8 June, as I hope to be, I will make such representations along with colleagues. I hope that they will all be re-elected, too, so that we can make this final carve-out in the interests of my constituents, students, international students and the UK’s reputation overseas. I wish everybody a huge amount of luck in the forthcoming general election.
Last July, when the Bill was first brought to the House, I spoke about the issue of pushing ahead with it following the Brexit vote and questioned whether the time was right for this particular Bill. There are still some issues, including those raised by the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden), with regard to Brexit, and I will come on to them in a little while. I pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for his tenacity, and for collaborating with those from across the House on all aspects of the Bill. I also pay tribute to the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation for the huge amount of work that he has done on the Bill.
We welcome Government assurances that the decision about whether Scottish higher education participates in the TEF will remain in the hands of the Scottish Government. That was one of our key asks, and it is very important to us. There should not be any system that is detrimental to Scotland’s world-renowned higher education sector, which is currently worth over £6 billion annually to our economy.
The hon. Lady will be well aware that Northern Ireland, where both education and higher education are devolved, does not have any political authority at the moment due to the lack of political institutions being up and running. That is particularly damaging for us, with Brexit looming, because our universities rely on EU migrants both for their teaching and student populations. Does she agree that the resolution of both issues is needed to ensure that further and higher education continue to be the pumps that fuel the local economy?
SNP Members have of course been consistent in our calls for EU workers and EU students, both in universities and in our local communities, to be given the assurances they need. This is not about them getting assurances that they are allowed to stay; it is about them getting assurances that they are welcome to stay and that we appreciate the contribution they make.
We agree with subsection (4) in Lords amendment 23 that any assessment system should not be used to create a single composite ranking of higher education providers, which would skew prospective students’ opinions about whether to attend a particular institution. Scottish higher education already has its own quality assessment process, which includes inputs not just from students, but from teaching professionals across the sector. The enhancement-led institutional review is highly regarded, and we would not want a UK-wide system to replace or threaten Scotland’s current system. The UK Government do not have any jurisdiction over the Scottish HE sector, and therefore the Secretary of State alone should not be creating an assessment system for Scottish education. We are looking for assurances that the Scottish Government will be allowed to play a full part in the development of any system that could be made to apply, without full consultation, to higher education in Scotland.
On Lords amendment 156, it is positive to hear the Government reiterating their commitment that there are no limits on international student numbers. However, the Government’s amendments in lieu, which place a duty on higher education institutions to publish information relating to international students, do not go far enough to allow this sector to thrive. Current immigration policy poses a significant risk to Scottish universities, and we are losing out to key competitors in attracting international students.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her hard work on the Bill. Picking up on what she said about Scottish universities, Heriot-Watt University in my constituency, which has an outstanding international reputation, particularly in the fields of science and technology, recently announced cuts and redundancies. It specifically cited the Brexit effect, the Government’s immigration policies and the Government’s messaging on immigration. Does she agree that without Lords amendment 156, UK universities will continue to suffer adverse effects as a result of Brexit, the Government’s immigration policy, the ridiculous inclusion of international students in the net migration figures and the lack of protection for university staff from the strict immigration controls?
My hon. and learned Friend speaks passionately about her constituency and Heriot-Watt University, but the picture she has painted of Heriot-Watt could be applied to any of our universities. They are all feeling those effects very strongly at the moment. This is not so much the case with established professors, but students and early career researchers are extremely mobile. When they move, we could potentially lose our position in the university world rankings.
Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that Scotland saw a 2% increase in non-EU international entrants in the academic year 2014-15, compared with 2013-14. There was an increase in the number of entrants from some countries, including India, Pakistan and Nigeria. Although we welcome those slight increases, there remains a significant fall in the number of entrants from those countries since the academic year 2010-11. The number of Indian students has fallen by 59% since 2011, which is causing devastation across the sector. By comparison, between 2012-13 and 2013-14, the number of international students in higher education in Canada increased by 11%. It is able to capitalise on this market, which we are failing to do.
I visited Canada recently with a parliamentary delegation from the Scottish National party. Does my hon. Friend agree that Canada’s immigration policies, which encourage people to come to Canada and stay to contribute to the Canadian economy, could be a great model for the UK, rather than the very narrow path that the Government are intent on going down?
Absolutely. The UK is becoming an increasingly hostile environment for international students and they are being enticed to competitor countries with the promise of a more attractive route to post-study work options.
In Scotland, international students make an important contribution to the economy. The UK Government have focused their migration policy on control, rather than having effective policies that allow for flexibility and support in the area of migration. The loss of the post-study work visa is a blow to many students, but also to our local economy, which is missing out on those skilled people.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way and apologise for coming in during her speech. International students are worth something like £7 billion to the economy. We have two very successful universities in Coventry and Warwick.
In Scotland, the value is estimated to be £1 billion annually, so it is very significant. That is something we need to consider. There are not only benefits to our economy, but benefits to our community, such as the diversity that international students bring.
We call on the UK Government to take international students out of the net migration target. We look forward to seeing that in the next Queen’s speech. As the UK leaves the EU, I assume that EU students will be classified as international students. The effects of Brexit on Scotland’s world-class universities and research institutes cannot be ignored. If we do not get the immigration policy right, long-term damage will be done to our vital HE sector and the wider economy. As was pointed out earlier by my friend the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), we need guarantees for EU nationals, both those working in higher education and prospective students at our universities.
Our problem in Scotland has always been emigration, not immigration. It is time for the Government to face the facts and take international students out of the net migration target. We need skilled people, and I hope very much that the Government will take a serious look at Scotland’s needs when considering future immigration policies. It is great to see that the Minister for Immigration is present; I hope that he has listened to some of the points that have been made today by Members on both sides of the House.
I understand that Lords amendments 229 to 240, which relate to schedule 9, have not been selected for debate, but I hope that the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, if he is re-elected—or, indeed, the Department for Education—will clarify the role of UK Research and Innovation’s executive committee and its impact on research priorities. We will seek assurances that the committee will not prove detrimental to Scottish institutions by removing funding streams or allowing a large number of research priorities—and, therefore, funding—to stay in England.
SNP Members tabled a number of amendments in Committee and on Report. In particular, we wanted the devolved nations to be represented on the board of the UKRI to ensure that consideration would be given to research priorities throughout the United Kingdom. When we return, we will seek clarification on the composition of the board and assurances about the impartiality of board members.
Higher education is at a crossroads, and the United Kingdom is at a crossroads. I hope the path that we choose to take, both today and in the weeks, months and years to come, will protect this vital sector of the Scottish and the UK economies. It is important to all our futures that we get it right.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan). She made a number of points of principle with which I have a great deal of sympathy, especially about the long-term indications for our getting immigration policy right for our institutes of higher education.
Let me take this opportunity to praise my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation. In the best of circumstances, this Bill would have required deft handling, compassion, understanding and compromise to resolve the issues in not just this House but the other place. Moreover, given the truncated procedure that has become necessary, the fact that we have reached this point is, I think, due to my hon. Friend’s significant abilities and dexterity in the management of different interests.
It is also a great pleasure to see that my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration is in the Chamber—I can be nicer to him today. I will say of him that he is a true man of Yorkshire. I know that the principles of securing our borders and ensuring that the systems work effectively is at the core of everything that he has done as Immigration Minister, and those two great points of view have come together in amendments (a) to (c) in lieu of Lords amendment 156.
I support the Government amendments, because although I personally believe, like the hon. Member for Glasgow North West, that the long-term goal should be to exclude student numbers from the immigration statistics, I also think that we need precision first. The truth is that many of our immigration statistics are represented on sample sets. Information about immigration may be available to the Home Office in very specific circumstances, but out there in the great blue yonder—trust me, it is a great blue yonder—there will be a lot of misunderstanding about what immigration really is.
People have a very sensitive understanding of different types of immigration. We should not treat immigration as a single clump, because that is not how the population think of it. People understand that it can be good for the country, particularly when it comes to the transfer of skills and the transfer of people who will contribute in the long term to the economic vitality of our country. In that context, I think that the Government’s proposal is worthy of support, because it will establish a structure within which we can secure precision and that will be understood not only by the Government, but by the institutes of higher education. I think that that would provide a firmer basis for the future direction of the control of student immigration numbers that we seek.
I agree with most of what the hon. Gentleman has said, but including student numbers in the statistics totally distorts the true immigration figures. People therefore get the wrong impression about immigration, and that causes confusion.
The hon. Gentleman is both right and wrong. It is a bit of a stretch to say that the student numbers distort the overall immigration numbers, because the net implication of student migration is quite small, but his comment about the signal that this sends takes us to the point. As I said in an intervention on the Minister, there is a conundrum—an illogical position—when we include within a number that we wish to control a number that we do not wish to control. That epitomises the tension that exists as we wrestle with the way in which we communicate our message about immigration. What the British public want, of course, is a Government who are prepared and able to control migration in total, as this Government are, but I would hope that the Government also want to send a signal to the rest of the world that we are open for people to come here and study hard at our universities. While student numbers are included in the immigration statistics, the problem for our institutions of higher learning is that instead of having a green light, they have, at best, an amber light. They are always going to be looking over their shoulder and trying to work out if they are pushing things too far or have really kept themselves within the goal of the Government. At some point—practically speaking in the next Parliament, when the institution frameworks that the Government are putting in place have had time to bed in—we should look again at taking out the student numbers, because ultimately they should not be in the immigration figures. However, this proposal is a good way of getting precision for now.
The second reason why this compromise is important is perhaps more of a point of philosophy about the Conservative party. The party is at its best when it looks towards the light. In politics there are things that inspire us and move us forward, and there are things that make us fearful and cautious. That light can be on issues of trade and enterprise, of acceptance of culture and diversity, or of research and learning.
The Conservative party must ensure that it will be pointing towards the light in the next few years. By the very nature of the name of our party—Conservative—we do not always get there first, but it is surely to the benefit of our country as a whole that we always have a positive view about what our country represents. We are a beacon for many around the world who are finding that their freedoms—perhaps their social freedoms or their freedom of expression—are restricted, so there is a responsibility on our party to look at the issue, particularly in relation to our world-class universities, and to say that the next Conservative Administration will be looking towards the light and making ourselves an open and international country, because that is where the best interests of our country lie.
I am delighted to be in the Chamber for the conclusion of proceedings on the Higher Education and Research Bill, having been involved in the Public Bill Committee. We might not be entirely confident about the contents of the Bill, but we can say with absolute confidence that it is in a better shape than it would have been were it not for that Committee and the Bill’s consideration in the other place.
I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Shakira Martin on her election as president of the National Union of Students. The NUS and students unions can be proud of their contribution to the debate about the Bill, and the Bill is better for it.
In considering the Bill, I have taken a particular interest in the question of student voice and student representation. That issue is close to my heart, and it is particularly important in the light of where higher education finds itself today. We have not addressed in this debate the fact that UK universities are now the most expensive in the world. Students at UK universities are graduating with higher levels of debt than those anywhere else in the world. It is a disgrace that in the past two years we have seen maintenance grants for the poorest students abolished and the scrapping of the NHS bursary to support student nurses, midwives and allied health professionals. We have also seen a nosedive in the number of students applying to study nursing. Thanks to the decisions taken by this Government, many people who are working in our national health service—and in other areas, including our universities—are wondering whether the UK is really the place for them to work, even though they make an extraordinary contribution to our civic, economic, social and political life.
As we enter the election process, I hope that we will bear in mind the proposals made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield). It is a constant source of frustration to me that although young people often have more at stake in an election or referendum than anyone else, because they are the people who are stuck with the consequences for the longest period of time, they are the least likely to turn out and vote. My message to them, as they look at what Conservative-led Governments have done over the past seven years, is that their future is on the ballot paper. We have seen a trebling of university tuition fees, and the abolition of grants for the poorest students and of the education maintenance allowance, which supported the poorest students through sixth form and college. Those are not policies that champion the ambitions and aspirations of young people in this country, but policies that seek to cap those aspirations.
International students make an enormous social and academic contribution to our universities, as well as an enormous economic contribution, generating some £26 billion for our economy. They also provide long-term soft power benefits to the UK. It is unfair to criticise the Minister in this regard, but it is a constant source of astonishment to me that, despite all that, we have a Prime Minister who is so short-sighted and narrow-minded in her world view that she cannot see either the short-term or long-term benefits of welcoming people from across the world to work and study in our universities. If she had understood that, she would have not only followed the advice of Ministers around her Cabinet table and Opposition MPs, but listened to public opinion, because the majority of members of the public understand the contribution that international students and staff make to our universities. I do not know why the Prime Minister does not understand it.
I very much look forward to debating such issues over the next six weeks. I hope that every young person in this country, whoever they choose to cast their vote for, will recognise that when young people do not turn out to vote and make their voice heard, other people will make decisions for them, and those decisions are often not in their interests. Every young voter in this country should bear that in mind on 8 June.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, although I regret the fact that this Bill has been caught in the wash-up, because we would have had a better and more structured opportunity to discuss these Lords amendments if we had had more time. I pay tribute to the many Members of the other place who have contributed so much during their consideration of the Bill.
I welcome a number of the concessions that the Government have made, especially by accepting an independent review of the teaching excellence framework, although big questions remain about the metrics and the process involved. In previous debates, people have often cited the research excellence framework as a model for the TEF, saying that if that model worked for research, there was no reason why it should not work for teaching. That principle is right, but it took many years to develop the REF into its current form. A real fear was expressed in Committee, as well as in the Chamber, that we were rushing into a TEF in a way that could create unintended consequences. The idea of an independent review and the way in which that has been framed are welcome.
I am grateful for the concessions that were made in the Lords on strengthening the role of the Director of Fair Access, which I talked about in Committee. I am also grateful to the Home Secretary for responding to points that we discussed in Committee about extending to refugees who had been granted humanitarian protection the opportunity to access higher education as though they had been granted refugee status. I recognise that that the group does not capture everyone, but it was a significant move by the Home Secretary.
On voter registration, in which I have become boringly engaged over many years—
I thank the hon. Gentleman for disagreeing with me. This measure is a step in the right direction, but we will find that it will not go far enough unless we embed electoral registration seamlessly within university enrolment procedures. For many reasons, I hope we can continue to work on that together in the next Parliament.
I welcome the strengthening of provisions on degree-awarding powers, but I retain one concern—the Minister might wish to cover this either in an intervention or in his concluding remarks—about the transfer of ownership. I heard his comment that the Office for Students will be expected to review degree-awarding powers when there is a transfer of ownership, but I am concerned about the nature of that review if ownership is transferred to an organisation that has no track record as a provider. In those circumstances, will we effectively press the reset button and have a comprehensive review as if we were talking about a new provider? I would be grateful if the Minister responded to that point.
Having said all that, I am bitterly disappointed that there has been insufficient movement on the issue of international students, and I say that as co-chair of the all-party group on international students—I share that job with Lord Bilimoria. My disappointment is evidently shared by Conservative Members. In his typically incisive way, the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller), who was a great colleague on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, put his finger on the contradiction in the Government’s current position very effectively. I was pleased to hear his subsequent contribution on the issue.
The hon. Member for Bath (Ben Howlett) has been a great colleague during his short time in Parliament so far, and I have been delighted to work with him on the all-party group. He has been a great advocate for higher education and students, and he has done sterling work on championing the cause of international students.
My concern and disappointment cross the House, and I know that the Minister will share my disappointment —he is not alone. From what we hear, the majority of the Cabinet share my disappointment. It is No. 10 that is saying no. Frankly, this is madness. The Government are shooting themselves in the foot. Just when we need to be building on our country’s success, the Government are torpedoing it.
Lords amendment 156 was thoughtfully drafted by Lord Hannay, who made it clear that it would take international students out of consideration as long-term migrants for public policy purposes. The Minister said that we have to count international students. The Government often cite the United States, where the Census Bureau counts international students, but the Department of Homeland Security, which is responsible for public policy on migration, does not treat them as migrants. That is the model we are looking for, and it is the model embedded in Lords amendment 156. If the amendment were agreed to, it would enable growth, generate earnings and create jobs in towns and cities across the country. The regional dimension is important, because the distribution of our universities across the regions and nations of the United Kingdom means that when universities succeed, that success is shared, quite uniquely, across the country.
We do not want to reduce the debate about international students to simple economics. International students enrich the learning environment of our campuses.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that these international students add to the scholarly, research and investigative processes undertaken by universities in terms of academic freedom and the richness of our society?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She pre-empts me perfectly, because that was the point I was coming to. We are talking not simply about an extraordinary opportunity in an ever-smaller world for UK students to learn and study alongside those from many other countries, but about the contribution to research. I see that not only from our universities, but from my local businesses that benefit in Sheffield, and it is of huge importance.
To that list we should add the enormous benefits of the lasting relationships we build with those who study in this country. Last year I was talking to the high commissioner of a country that is one of our major trading partners and an important ally. He said to me, “Do you realise that more than half our Cabinet were educated at UK universities?” According to the Higher Education Policy Institute, 55 world leaders from 51 countries studied here. That is the sort of soft power that other countries would die for—political influence and commercial contracts based on the affection that people feel around the world because of their experience of studying in the UK.
All those things are in addition to economic benefits—almost £11 billion of export earnings. One would imagine that the Government would be celebrating that great British success and trying to make it stronger, but that is not the case. Throughout the last Parliament, to growing concern, the Government undermined our ability to keep up on international student recruitment. The Minister contests that claim and says that the numbers have stayed broadly level. I agree that largely they did—they dip off, and I will return to that point—but staying level in a growing market represents a failure. Holding level is not good enough when it means that we are reducing our market share, to the benefit of our competitors. As I said earlier, in 2014-15, the latest year for which numbers are available, new international student enrolments fell by 3%. He says that these things go up and down, but we can contrast that figure with the position in the United States, which has the biggest share of international students and where enrolments increased by 7%. The situation also contrasts with what is happening in Australia, where enrolments increased by 35%. Seeing our weakness, it put in place a strategy that was deliberately designed to take students from the UK. Canada is also planning to double its numbers, all at our expense.
Throughout the last Parliament, new measures introduced by the Government made the UK a less attractive destination. Those measures were put in place to help the Government to hit their net migration targets, and this is why the point made by the hon. Member for Bedford is so relevant. The problem is that the Government view international students as part of the migration debate, but that is not how the public see them. As he said, polls show that 75% of the public want international student numbers to stay the same or go up. It is also not the way this place sees them, because in the last Parliament an unprecedented five Select Committees of the House of Commons and the House of Lords called for change and for taking international students out of the net migration targets. These are challenging times for our country as we chart our course in the post-Brexit world. We need to win friends, not alienate them. As the Prime Minister’s trade mission to India last year demonstrated, many of those friends will put access to our universities at the heart of their discussion about our future trading relationships. We need to build on our successful sectors.
In terms of export earnings, universities are a huge success, but that is put at risk by Brexit. This is about not just the 125,000 EU students who are here, but the 30% of non-EU students who said that the UK would be a less attractive destination if we left the EU. We face losing up to half our international students if we do not get this right, and that will have an impact on the economy of every town and city across the country that has a university. As the Minister knows, it puts at risk critical courses, particularly in STEM subjects at a postgraduate taught level, which depend on numbers of international students.
A sensible Government and Prime Minister would look at those facts and say, “How can we strengthen our appeal to international students?” While our competitors are doing just that by developing recruitment strategies to win more students, the Prime Minister is saying no. There is no other sector in our economy that the Government would treat this way. The die is cast for this Bill but, as the hon. Member for Bath said, Members on both sides of the House will ensure that this issue will return in the next Parliament. Ultimately, common sense will prevail.
With the leave of the House, I wish to say a few words of thanks to Members and others for their contribution to the development of the Bill and, most pertinently for this afternoon’s purposes, for the insightful points made during this debate. We have heard agreement that the Bill is an important one that has been carefully developed through dialogue on the Floor of the House, in Committee and in the other place, as well as through the extensive consultations dating back to the initial Green Paper in November 2015. It has benefited tremendously from thoughtful input from experts, reviews and independent reports. It was introduced right at the beginning of this parliamentary Session—perhaps even on its very first day—and it will still be going strong on its last day, so it is fair to say that no opportunity to scrutinise it has been missed. I am pleased that both sides of the House recognise that today’s amendments will strengthen the legislation still further.
I shall address briefly some of the questions asked during the debate. The hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) asked about the role of the independent review with respect to the TEF. The independent reviewer will consider the devolved Administration providers as part of the review. The Bill will allow the devolved Administrations to continue to decide whether they wish to allow their providers to participate. She also asked about UKRI’s executive committee. As UKRI is established, we will work closely with the devolved Administrations to ensure that the UK’s research and innovation base remains one of the most productive in the world. I can confirm that we amended the Bill on Report to require the Secretary of State to have regard to experience of working in the devolved Administrations when appointing the UKRI board. The executive committee is, though, an internal management committee for UKRI.
The hon. Lady also asked about post-study work for international students, a subject on which many Members focused. I reiterate that there is no limit to the number of international students graduating from UK universities who can move into skilled jobs in the UK. They do not count against the tier-2 limit and, actually, numbers have been rising year on year for the past three years.
The hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) asked about the transfer of ownership of degree-awarding powers. The answer is that, yes, should a provider with no track record buy a provider with degree-awarding powers, a full review of the provider’s continuing eligibility for degree-awarding powers would be undertaken.
I thank the Members who have given such time and so much energy during the many hours of debate we have had. I particularly thank the members of the public Bill Committee, which sat in the autumn, and pay tribute to the Opposition Members involved, especially the hon. Member for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden).
The Minister will recognise that on such occasions certain things have to be said, and said forcefully, but I put on record how courteous he has been to me and the rest of our team.
I am grateful for that. It has been a pleasure to work with the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues, including the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner). I also pay tribute to the devolved Administrations who have played a full part in the scrutiny of this Bill, especially the members of the Scottish National party, including the hon. Member for Glasgow North West who has been tireless in her scrutiny of the measures.
The other place has excelled itself, with extensive and very thoughtful debate on this legislation. I thank all those who have given their time and energy to this Bill, including the very large number of highly distinguished academics, former Ministers and those who have extensive experience of the university and research sectors in the other place. Their passion for the sector has been clear to all those who have followed these proceedings.
I also add my thanks to those more widely in the sector, including the two main representative bodies, Universities UK and GuildHE, which have given their time in abundance to ensure that the sector’s views have been fully heard and understood and reflected in this legislation. That explains why they have repeatedly expressed their support for passing this Bill into legislation.
There is absolute agreement on the importance of our world class HE sector and our globally leading research. I am pleased that we in this House have agreed a Bill that finally fits this important sector for the 21st century, putting students, choice, value for money and global competitiveness centre stage.
Lords amendment 1 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) to (d) made in lieu of Lords amendment 1.
Lords amendments 2 to 11 agreed to.
Lords amendments 12, 209 and 210 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) to (g) made in lieu of Lords amendments 12, 209 and 210.
Lords amendments 13 and 14 agreed to.
Lords amendment 15 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) and (b) made in lieu of Lords amendment 15.
Lords amendments 16 to 22 agreed to.
Lords amendment 23 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) to (c) made in lieu of Lords amendment 23.
Lords amendments 24 to 70 agreed to.
Lords amendment 71 disagreed to.
Government amendment (a) made in lieu of Lords amendment 71.
Lords amendments 72 to 77 agreed to.
Lords amendments 78 and 106 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) to (h) made in lieu of Lords amendments 78 and 106.
Lords amendments 79 to 105 and 107 to 155 agreed to, with Commons financial privilege waived in respect of Lords amendments 138 and 139.
Lords amendment 156 disagreed to.
Government amendments (a) to (c) made in lieu of Lords amendment 156.
Lords amendments 157 to 182 agreed to.
Lords amendments 183 to 185 disagreed to.
Lords amendments 186 to 208 and 211 to 244 agreed to.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H(2)), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments 183 to 185.
That Jo Churchill, Chris Heaton-Harris, Joseph Johnson, Gordon Marsden, Carol Monaghan, Wendy Morton and Karl Turner be members of the Committee.
That Joseph Johnson be the Chair of the Committee.
That three be the quorum of the Committee.
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Andrew Griffiths.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reasons to be reported and communicated to the Lords.