Commons Reason and Amendments
That this House do not insist on its Amendment 1 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D in lieu.
Commons Amendments in lieu
1A: Page 32, line 18, at end insert—
“( ) After subsection (3) insert—
“(3A) In exercising its power to give consent under subsection (A1), the Office for Students must have regard to factors set out in guidance given by the Secretary of State.
(3B) Before giving guidance under subsection (3A), the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) bodies representing the interests of English higher education providers,
(b) bodies representing the interests of students on higher education courses provided by English higher education providers, and
(c) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.””
1B: Page 32, line 21, leave out from beginning to end of line 23 and insert—
“(5) In this section, “English higher education provider”, “higher education course” and “registered higher education provider” have the same meanings as in Part 1 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (see sections 77 and 79 of that Act).”
1C: Page 33, line 7, at end insert—
“(5ZA) In exercising its power to give approval under subsection (A1) or (2), the Office for Students must have regard to factors set out in guidance given by the Secretary of State.
(5ZB) Before giving guidance under subsection (5ZA), the Secretary of State must consult—
(a) bodies representing the interests of English higher education providers,
(b) bodies representing the interests of students on higher education courses provided by English higher education providers, and
(c) such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.””
1D: Page 33, line 18, at end insert—
“( ) In subsection (7), before the definition of “relevant institution” insert—
““English higher education provider” and “higher education course” have the same meaning as in Part 1 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 (see section 77 of that Act);”
My Lords, I say at the outset that I am pleased to return to the Higher Education and Research Bill, which has been strengthened in this House by the attention and expertise shown by noble Lords.
I turn first to Amendments 1A, 1B, 1C and 1D. There has been much debate and discussion in your Lordships’ House about the importance of continuing to protect both institutional autonomy and use of the term “university”. In particular, the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Kerslake, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Wolf, Lady Brown and Lady Garden, spoke eloquently at the Bill’s Committee stage about the importance of ensuring that there is proper protection in place. As a result, your Lordships agreed Amendment 1. We agree with many of the sentiments behind that amendment. To continue to protect institutional autonomy, we responded with a significant package of amendments at Lords Report stage designed to provide robust and meaningful protection of this important principle, so vital to the success of our higher education sector. Today, the Government propose further amendments in lieu of Amendment 1 to continue to protect the value and reputation of university title. I am pleased to report that these amendments were agreed yesterday in the other place.
Our amendments in lieu ensure that before permitting the use of university title, the Office for Students must have regard to factors in guidance given by the Secretary of State. Further to that, before giving the guidance, the Secretary of State must consult bodies that represent higher education providers and students, and any other appropriate person. This will ensure that the guidance is correctly focused. I reassure noble Lords that this consultation will be full and broad. It will reference processes and practice overseas—for example, in Australia—and provide an opportunity to look at a broad range of factors to consider before granting university title. This may include factors such as: track record in excellent teaching; sustained scholarship; cohesive academic communities; interdisciplinary approaches; supportive learning infrastructures; dissemination of knowledge; the public-facing role of universities; academic freedom and freedom of speech; and wider support for students and pastoral care.
These factors chime with the comments on the definition of a university made by my honourable friend the Minister in the other place. He has said previously that,
“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”,
the majority of whom are studying to degree level or above. He said also that:
“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”.—[Official Report, 26/4/17; col. 1159.]
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 wider society. In particular, for example, small and specialist providers that support the creative arts, theology and agriculture have allowed more students with highly specialised career aims the opportunity to study at a university. As we 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 Labour Government in 2004; namely, the lifting of the requirement for universities to have students in five subject areas and award research degrees. We would not expect to go back on the specific changes that the party opposite made.
I thank noble Lords again for their constructive engagement and consideration of the teaching excellence framework. In particular, I pay tribute to the noble Lords, Lord Kerslake and Lord Blunkett, for the time and energy that they have personally put into this issue. We all agree that students deserve high-quality teaching and need access to clear and comparable information as they make one of the most important decisions of their lives so far.
The crux of our debate has always focused on the operation of the TEF. A TEF that has no reputational or financial incentives would not focus university attention on teaching or help students to make better choices. That is why we are proposing to remove the two amendments that this House previously voted in, which would render the TEF unworkable. Nevertheless, it was clear from our previous debate that noble Lords remained concerned about the operation of the TEF and the link between the TEF and fees. The Government have listened to and reflected on the concerns raised in this House. I am delighted to be able to put before the House a set of amendments which, I believe, directly address the most fundamental concerns raised during our previous debates.
I am pleased to endorse Amendment 23C in lieu of Lords Amendment 23, which requires the Secretary of State to commission an independent review of the TEF within one year of the TEF clause commencing. Crucially, the amendment requires the Secretary of State to lay this report before Parliament. This will ensure greater parliamentary accountability for the framework as it moves forward. The report itself must cover many of the 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 are appropriate for use in the TEF; the impact of the TEF on the ability of providers to carry out their research and teaching and other functions; and an assessment of whether the scheme is, all things considered, in the public interest.
I am happy to repeat the commitment made in the other place 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 this be in relation to the metrics or any of the other items that the review will look at.
We have also heard concerns about the impact of the link between the TEF and fees. We recognise the important role of Parliament in setting fee caps. That is why I am also pleased to seek the House’s support for our Amendments 12A, 12B, 12F and 12G, which amend the parliamentary procedure required to alter fee limit amounts to ensure that any regulations that raised fees would be subject, as a minimum, to the affirmative procedure. This provides a greater level of parliamentary oversight than the legislation currently in place. Furthermore, these amendments demonstrate our commitment to a considered rollout of differentiated fees.
Amendments 12C and 12D in lieu will delay the link between differentiated TEF ratings and tuition fee caps so that this will not be introduced for over three years, with the first year of differentiated fees as a result of TEF ratings being no earlier than the academic year beginning in the autumn of 2020. I should like to clarify that point as I know that it is slightly complex. Until August 2020, there will be no differentiation of fee uplift based on performance in the TEF—in other words, a provider’s fee cap will not differ according to the different ratings they might be awarded. These amendments mean that, until that point, all English providers participating in the TEF will receive the full inflationary uplift regardless of their rating. As before, it will be up to the devolved Administrations to determine whether they are content for their institutions to participate in the TEF and what impact participation might have on their fees. In practice, that means that differentiated fees will not be introduced until after the independent review has reported to the Secretary of State and Parliament.
I would like to reassure this House today by repeating the commitment made yesterday in the other place by the Minister for Universities that the ratings awarded 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. Therefore, this year’s ratings will count towards differentiated fees only if, after the review, a provider does not ask for a fresh assessment before their next one is due—an opportunity that will be open to all participants.
Before moving to our other amendments, I reiterate to the House that we remain committed to ensuring that the TEF will evolve to assess the quality of teaching at subject level, as well as at institutional level. I know that many noble Lords feel very strongly, as we do, that the move to subject level needs to happen as soon as possible. However, we recognise that subject-level assessments are more challenging, and that is why the Government have previously announced an extension to the rollout of subject-level TEF, with an additional year of piloting. This follows the best practice demonstrated in the research excellence framework and means that the first subject-level assessments will not take place until spring 2020. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to speak to the government amendments to the Bill in lieu of Lords Amendment 1, which defined the functions of a university, essentially protecting the use of university title by describing the characteristics of an organisation which could be granted such title.
The several purposes of that amendment included protecting university autonomy; ensuring that institutions able to call themselves universities are engaged in scholarship that both informs and forms an important part of student learning; ensuring that learning takes place in an environment where disciplines meet and meld; and ensuring that universities recognise the special place they hold in society by contributing to our society not only by teaching and disseminating knowledge but by, for example, partnering with charities, schools, colleges and local and regional initiatives to deliver a benefit well beyond their immediate staff and students. International research clearly demonstrates the impact that engaged universities can have on local communities and economic growth. Many other countries—including, for example, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, the Canadian provinces, Germany, Spain and India—have a definition of a university, or its functions and activities, in legislation. So an overarching objective of the Lords amendment was to protect the reputation of universities is this country, going beyond the situation in the Bill where the OfS might consent to the institution’s use of university title if that institution were a registered higher education provider. That would communicate to the world, which is particularly important at a time when we are leaving the EU, that our higher education system is open for expansion and innovation, but that university title in England is not given easily. It would tell potential students about the sort of institution and learning environment they should expect from a university, and it will encourage new entrants to the sector to see that obtaining university title is an important and aspirational achievement.
I appreciate that the Government have worked with my noble friend Lord Kerslake and others to ensure that university autonomy is now a strong and positive feature of the Bill, but I am disappointed that the Government have not accepted the argument for a definition of the key functions of a university in the Bill. However, I am reassured that the government amendments in the other place, in lieu of the Lords amendment, require the OfS to have regard to factors set out in guidance by the Secretary of State when awarding university title and I am pleased that the Secretary of State will consult on those factors.
Indeed, I strongly welcome the comments by the Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation in the other place yesterday, which the noble Viscount repeated, about the consultation being “full and broad” and about the type of factors that would be included in that consultation. I agree that this approach can deliver both widely supported and strong guidance for the OfS on the criteria for the award for university title, so I record my thanks to the Ministers and their team and I put one final question to the noble Viscount today.
In the week that we have heard that China has sent senior government officials into its leading universities because of concerns over government criticism and westernisation, does he not think it would have sent a great message for us to have been positively encouraging, if not insisting, that our universities act as,
“critics of government and the conscience of society”,
as the Lords amendment also suggested?
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the board of governors of Sheffield Hallam University. I also record that the vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam, Chris Husbands, has been leading work on the implementation of the teaching excellence framework on behalf of the Government.
It falls to me to lead the response on this set of government amendments in Motions B and D, but it is important to say that this part of the Bill has been subject to many contributions during our debates. From the start, it has been clear that there is general support for the Government’s desire to raise the profile and importance accorded to teaching in our universities. That has not been a point of issue. There has also been a general understanding that fees will, over time, need to rise with inflation.
The concerns have been with the Government’s approach to introducing the TEF and the link being made between the TEF and increases in fees—in particular, that the TEF was being introduced with undue haste, that the gold, silver and bronze rankings being put forward were both inappropriate and potentially damaging to the sector, and that the TEF was not the right basis for allowing differential fee increases. The amendments now put forward by the Government in place of our amendments go a considerable way to addressing those strong concerns.
As the noble Viscount said, the review will be independently led and must cover: the process by which the ratings are determined; whether the metrics are fit for purpose; whether the classifications awarded are appropriate; the impact of the scheme on higher education providers, and whether the TEF is in the public interest. By any measure, that is a comprehensive review. We will all await the outcome with interest. It is essential that any future Secretary of State takes full account of its findings and recommendations.
All of the above tests are important, but I place particular emphasis on the review of the rankings and the public interest test. In this context, there is one point I should like the Minister to clarify—I have notified his office in advance of the question I wish to raise. I will be grateful if the Minister could confirm that it will be open to the review to say that we shall either stay within the current rankings, propose an alternative set of rankings, or conclude that ranking of universities of any sort is simply not appropriate in what is a very diverse sector. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
The ability to differentiate fee increases linked to the TEF has not been removed from the Bill, as we proposed, but the Government’s amendment will delay any differentiation until at least the academic year 2020-21. As the Minister said, this will allow time for the review to be completed and its conclusions properly considered. In the meantime, existing universities involved in the process will get the full inflationary uplift—something all sides of the House supported. This is a significant and welcome movement by the Government and I know it has not been lightly conceded.
There remains the issue of publication of the results of the trial TEF assessment process. I understand, although it would be helpful for the Minister to confirm, that these results will not now be published until after the election and a new ministerial team is in place. I hope that that new ministerial team will consider very carefully how publication should be handled, particularly given that the TEF will be subject to a wide-ranging review.
I said in Committee that I could not think of anyone better placed to lead the work on the TEF than Chris Husbands. That firmly remains my view. He and his fellow assessors have applied themselves diligently and fairly to the task they were given. The fault here, I fear, lay in the way they were commissioned by the Government to undertake their task. The independent review and the delay will provide an opportunity to get this right. In particular, I think the gold, silver and bronze rankings are not long for this world. I hope that what comes out will be a much more sophisticated and evidence-based approach linked to subjects, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett—there is a Sheffield theme here today.
Finally, as I am unlikely to speak again in the debate, I pay tribute to Peers on this side of the House for their valiant work in reviewing and amending this Bill; to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, for their terrific work; and to Jo Johnson and the Minister in this House for being willing to listen and to respond to our concerns. That is what this House should be about. This is still not the Bill that we might have wanted, but it is considerably improved from when it came into this House. I hope that there will be no further Bills on higher education for a considerable period and that the sector will be given the chance to have the stability it needs to do what it does best: to represent the interests of this country.
My Lords, I share some of the disappointment expressed by my noble friend Lady Brown about the definition of a university, but I take great comfort from a significant step forward which may have escaped the attention of some members of the public. I am extremely grateful to both the Minister in the other place, Jo Johnson, and the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, for having listened to those who have expressed significant concern about the inroads into freedom of speech in our universities and the growth of the most unpleasant racism expressed in the widespread extent of anti-Semitic activity.
I am sure that all Members of the House will support me in expressing gratitude to the two Ministers for having understood that and addressed it, albeit off the face of the Bill. Universities’ obligations relating to freedom of speech have been extended and all universities have been reminded by Jo Johnson of the definition of anti-Semitism that has been adopted internationally. That is a great step forward towards repairing the reputation of our universities, which has suffered internally if not internationally.
I also take some comfort from the fact that the last president of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, has not been re-elected—in part, I believe, because some consider that some of her remarks have been racist. I believe that we are moving into a new era as far as that is concerned.
I also take this opportunity of saluting Sir Eric Pickles, the Government’s envoy for post-Holocaust issues, who joined in the fight to preserve freedom of speech and to stop anti-Semitism. This is very good news. We will miss him sorely.
Finally, it has been evident in the discussions about this Bill just how much expertise there is in this House, especially on these Benches, on higher education. Chancellors, vice-chancellors, administrators and professors have all joined in and we have eventually been listened to. That goes to establish the value of the expertise accumulated in this House. Some of it may be very elderly, but there is a great deal of expertise in higher education, and it has in the end shone through.
My Lords, I draw attention to my declaration of interests in the register. It is not my intention to repeat the excellent contributions that have already been made, but I want to put on record my commendation for Chris Husbands, the vice-chancellor of what some unwisely call the university in which I am involved “the other university in Sheffield”. Chris Husbands’ work is of an excellent quality and I hope that we will be able to build on it in the years to come.
However, I will repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, said in relation to what happens after the general election and ensuring that nothing is done, particularly in relation to the evaluation and the ratings, that damages in any way the enormous contribution of the higher education sector in this country both to the well-being of students and to our economy and our standing in the world. There can be no doubt after the considerable debates that we have had that there is a deep commitment on the part of the Minister in this House to improving teaching and to recognising the critical role of the teaching excellence framework in ensuring that comparator with the research excellence framework.
It is worth putting on the record at this very late stage that there is still a major tendency to value what will pull in major grants for research, even when the research may be of doubtful value, rather than to balance the commitment to high-quality teaching and learning with the REF. That is why I have expressed to Jo Johnson, the Minister in the Commons, what I repeat today, which is my support for the endeavour to put teaching very much at the top of the agenda.
I commend the Government on having listened. This Bill has been an exemplar of how we can work across the political divide both in this House and beyond. I will refer now to speculation in the more reliable media. I hope that no one will be punished in any way for having been prepared to listen and to debate. The idea that a Minister should not be able to express a view internally within the Government is a disgrace. I do not wish to bring in party political matters, but I know that some MPs are thought to call the Prime Minister “Mummy”. I remember Mummy telling me that she had heard me once, heard me twice and did not want to hear me again—but you cannot conduct government on that basis. Therefore whatever happens on 8 June, I hope that we will move forward on the understanding that a spirit of co-operation creates better legislation that is more easily implementable and which receives a wider welcome than would otherwise be the case, and thus achieves its objective.
I thank the noble Viscount the Minister for repeating the words of Jo Johnson in relation to the move as rapidly as possible to subject rather than institutional comparators. This is an important part of what we were debating on what was Amendment 72, which morphed into Amendment 23 and is back with us in a different form today.
I also want to say, as a new Member of this House, how impressed I have been by the Cross-Bench contributions. I will echo the commendations made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, rather than go through them again. Ministers and civil servants on this Bill have shown that they are of the highest possible calibre by being prepared to listen and respond, and I thank them for that.
My Lords, perhaps I may associate these Benches with the eloquent words we have already heard. It is inevitable that there will be a measure of disappointment that not all of your Lordships’ wisdom has been accepted unequivocally by the other House—but I think we can all agree that we have made immense strides in this Bill, and we are deeply appreciative of the way in which Ministers have listened and come forward with proposals. Perhaps I may pick up one thing about which we are particularly pleased, which is that there will be a delay in implementing this while a review is carried out. Some really key measures set out in the Bill need more reflection to see whether they are actually the right path to tread, so we appreciate the fact that the delay has been built in. Again, we appreciate the measures that the Government have taken to come towards us on these issues.
My Lords, first, I should declare an interest as a full-time Academic Council member of King’s College, London. I had not expected to speak in this part of the debate and I am afraid that I will be speaking again later. But, since I am on my feet, I would like to say that I agree with all noble Lords who have expressed their appreciation of how the Government have listened to opinions and to the House generally. I, too, feel that we have come a long way. In this context, I will bring back a couple of points that were made in the earlier debates by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and I in the context of amendments that we had tabled. Since the noble Duke is unable to be here today, I will make them briefly on behalf of us both.
Along with almost all noble Lords here, we strongly welcome the delay in implementing the link with fees—here I endorse the remarks of my noble friend Lord Kerslake. I am delighted to hear that we are moving quickly towards a position where we will have subject-level rather than institution-level assessments. However, one reason we became so concerned about the TEF is that putting a label on an institution is potentially very damaging to it.
One thing that has been rather an eye-opener for me is the extent to which—perhaps inevitably and as someone who teaches public management I should not be surprised—the “sector” is, in the view of the Government, the organised universities and Universities UK, and how few good mechanisms there are for the Bill team and the department to get the voices of students, as opposed to occasionally that of the National Union of Students. Students have been desperately concerned about this, because they are in a world where they pay fees and where the reputation of their institutions is so important. They have been worried about and deeply opposed to anything that puts a single label on them. This single national ranking caused many of us concern.
I will say a couple of things that I hope the incoming Secretary of State will bear in mind. First, as others have alluded to, we have a pilot going on and a system of grades that is out there. I fully understand that that is under way and there are enormous lessons to be learned from it. However, I hope very much that, after the election, whoever the Government may be will think hard about how they use that information, how they publish it, and whether they are in any sense obliged to come forward with the type of single-rank national league table that has caused so much anxiety to students. That is of great concern and it is hard to see how it serves the purpose, also expressed in the current Conservative manifesto, of preserving the reputation of our great university sector.
The other thing, on which I do not have any particular inspiration but about which I would love the incoming Government to think, is how to widen out their contacts with not just the organised sector and Universities UK but the academics and students who are really what the sector is about. We have great universities not because we have activist managerial vice-chancellors but because they are autonomous in large measure internally as well as vis-à-vis the state. That has been of real concern to me. Since we are going to have an Office for Students, it would be very good if, post the election, we could make it genuinely an office for students.
My Lords, this is a very big Bill. I share the feeling of the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, that perhaps this subject is one we will not see again for some time to come and so ought to enjoy what we are seeing now. The train passes slowly, but it is a very important one and we should pay regard to it.
We should also bear in mind that the Bill attracted more than 700 amendments and resulted in, at our last count this morning, 31 major concessions made by the Government to the voices raised, in the other place and particularly in here, in relation to some of the issues we heard about today. The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, was right to reflect on the fact that what we have in front of us today, although really important, is the end of the process, not the whole of it. We should not forget that within the list of concessions—“concessions” gives the wrong sense; I mean the things that moved in the Bill—there are important aspects. There is not just freedom of speech, which she mentioned and which is of course tremendously important, but also measures that will improve collaboration within the sector, that will help reverse the decline in part-time students, that will assist mature students who wish to come back, and that pave the way for more work to be done on credit transfer and flexible courses. These are all really important changes to the infrastructure of our higher education system and will make it better. They have not been picked up today because they were dealt with earlier in the process, but they should not be forgotten as they are important.
We have also heard nothing today about UKRI and the developments made in that whole area, which is to change radically the consensus on operating within science and research more generally that has gone on for nearly 30 years in one form or another. It is important that we also reflect that those changes went through after debate and discussion—and some minor adjustments but not many—primarily because there was an effort to make sure that the words used to describe the change were understood properly. A lot of time was spent in going round talking to people and making sure they were happy with that. That was a good thing. Indeed, this whole process, as has been touched on already by a number of noble Lords, is an example of what this House is good at but should be more widely developed within our political debates and discussions: that there is room for civilised debate and discussion about every issue. It does not have to be party-political, as my noble friend Lord Blunkett said. It can be small-p political. It can be aimed at trying to arrive at a better overall solution, and I am sure that what we are achieving today has ticked the box in all these areas.
I am grateful to the Minister for spending time introducing the four Motions, having been warned earlier not to spend so much time on his feet at the Dispatch Box and to write to us. But the time for letters has ended and therefore it was necessary for him to go through that process. We have all benefited from that because these words are important in understanding the changes that have been made at relatively high speed over the past few days to get the Bill to a point where it could pass through both Houses. I am grateful to him for that. These words are important. As far as I could tell, they were exactly the same as those used in the other place. A close reading of Hansard will probably be required, but I am pretty confident that the sensibility there is enough to make sure that we are in the right place on this.
On the definition of a university, I have confidence that what is now in the statute will get us to a point, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, said, which will allow us to have a better understanding of what constitutes a university, which will be of benefit to us, both internally in the UK but also, importantly, abroad.
The TEF has been the main concern, and the issues were well brought out by the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake. It is important that we pick out of the flurry of amendments we have here that the net effect is that Parliament retains a lock on how the TEF will be developed, and on the design and implementation of the processes that will accompany it. That is really important. That is partly because of the way in which the review will work and will report back on that, and partly because of the change to affirmative resolution for the regulations necessary for this. That is good and I welcome it.
A number of noble Lords have mentioned the focus that may be behind the changes to come in TEF in relation to subject and course-level issues. I ask the Minister to reflect a little bit on that, if he is able to. I do not think this is an either/or. At least, I do not suppose that is the intention behind it, although I think the consensus view here is that the less that can be said about an institutional measure and the more that can be said about what is actually going on in the courses and subjects that are taught in universities, the better that will be. Perhaps he would like to confirm that that is, at least in part, where the Government are trying to get to. I think that would take a lot of heat out of some of the issues that remain in this area.
On the publication of the pilot results, which the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, raised, and was also touched on by my noble friend Lord Blunkett and the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, there are questions about that and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. It seems to me, reflecting on the issues that we have in front of us, that when you are committing under statute to carry out a review of this whole issue—digging up the drains, examining how these things are put together, what the structure and the architecture are, and reflecting on how it is presented and how it appears in public—it would be injudicious to make too much of an issue about the publication of the pilots, which are only pilots, which we all know are done on imperfect information and will not be the way that this thing runs in the long run. It would be helpful if there was anything that the Minister could say on this point.
There is a fourth Motion before us, which I think is a technical one. It was not referred to very much by the Minister but it is consequential to amendments to change to affirmative resolution and affects the rather narrow issue of accelerated degrees, where an institution wishes to complete in a shorter period of time than is conventionally the case the course or degree that it is teaching, and it will be possible for it to raise fees to compensate for that. This is probably a good thing, but perhaps the Minister could confirm that these consequential amendments do not affect the good, although limited, progress we are making on trying to make a more flexible system available in higher education, which will encourage people to come in and take parts of courses, go out and do some work, and come back again. All the flexibility that goes with credit transfer and flexible courses should not be debarred simply because the course fee structures are inflexible.
My Lords, I would like to make a few brief comments in response to the contributors to this short debate. I agree with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, about the spirit in which the Bill has been taken through this House and with pretty well everything he said about that.
I start by addressing some points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, particularly about protecting university title. I thank noble Lords once again for their active engagement in new Clause 1, and particularly the noble Baroness for making strong arguments for the need to protect the value of university title. We recognise the need for strong protections, which is reflected in our amendment in lieu. She also asked about universities acting as critics, by giving critiques of government. I think there was a mention of China in her question. I agree that universities and their staff must have proper freedoms to question and test received wisdom and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, which is why we have ensured that these continue to be enshrined in legislation under the public interest governance conditions, which the OfS will be empowered to impose on any registered providers as it considers appropriate. This is an important point to re-emphasise at this late stage in the Bill, and I thank the noble Baroness for that.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, for his warm words on the progress that has been made by this House on the TEF. To respond directly to him and to reassure the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, asked whether I could confirm that the independent review will be open to recommending the existing rankings, a completely different set of rankings or no system of ranking at all. I am pleased to give noble Lords and this House the categorical answer that, yes, the independent reviewer is required by our amendment to consider the names of the ratings as part of its review and whether those names are appropriate. The reviewer is also required to consider whether the scheme is in the public interest and any other matters which he or she thinks are relevant. The independent reviewer would therefore indeed be free to recommend the matters the noble Lords described. I hope that that categorical reassurance answers their question.
The noble Lords, Lord Kerslake and Lord Blunkett, asked me to confirm that the trial results of the TEF will not be published until after the election. Yes, I can again confirm that the Higher Education Funding Council for England will publish this year’s TEF results after the general election on 8 June.
I say thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for her kind comments about the very important issue of freedom of speech and, more generally, for the considerable personal contribution that she has made on these issues.
Moving on to courses, which I think were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, I would like to say that it is absolutely desirable to move towards the assessment of courses. As we know, when students look at which universities to go to, they look—or perhaps, thinking about my own children, they should look—at which courses are most suitable for them rather than necessarily which institutions are. That is a very desirable way forward. It is necessary to have the full spotlight on the institutions themselves, which I think was the gist of the noble Lord’s question. That is very much in the spirit of what we aim to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, praised Chris Husbands, and I agree that he has made a significant contribution towards the TEF, and continues to do so. I thank the noble Lord as well for his contribution to this debate and for his praise for the TEF chair.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, raised some points about not publishing the results of this year’s ratings. I point out to her that the first TEF assessments are well under way and that almost 300 providers—I think it is actually 299—have opted to participate, fully aware that by participating they would receive a rating. I should just make it clear that they will be published, given the point that she raised.
I would like to cover one final point, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson. He asked that the changes should not affect the ability for flexible learning and I can confirm to him that they do not. We agree with him about the importance of flexible learning. With that, I beg to move.
Motion A agreed.
That this House do not insist on its Amendments 12, 209 and 210 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 12A, 12B, 12C, 12D, 12E, 12F and 12G in lieu
Commons Amendments in lieu
12A: Page 67, line 12, at end insert—
“(g) regulations under paragraph 2 or 3 of Schedule 2 (regulations prescribing the higher amount, basic amount or floor amount), except regulations to which paragraph 4(2)(b) of that Schedule applies (regulations increasing the higher amount to an amount greater than that required to maintain its value in real terms).”
12B: Page 67, line 16, leave out from “4(2)(b)” to end of line 17 and insert “of that Schedule applies (regulations increasing the higher amount to an amount greater than that required to maintain its value in real terms).”
12C: Page 76, line 36, at end insert—
“( ) But any amount determined as “the sub-level amount” for a description of provider by virtue of sub-paragraph (6A) must be equal to the higher amount where—
(a) the description is of providers who have a rating given to them in accordance with arrangements under section 25, and
(b) the amount is in respect of an academic year which begins before 1 August 2020.”
12D: Page 77, line 23, at end insert—
“( ) But any amount determined as “the sub-level amount” for a description of provider by virtue of sub-quotegraph (5A) must be equal to the basic amount where—
(a) the description is of providers who have a rating given to them in accordance with arrangements under section 25, and
(b) the amount is in respect of an academic year which begins before 1 August 2020.”
12E: Page 77, line 29, at end insert—
3A (1) The power for regulations to prescribe different amounts for different cases or purposes by virtue of section 113(5)(a) includes power for regulations under paragraph 2 or 3 to prescribe different amounts as the higher amount, basic amount and floor amount in the case of an accelerated course.
(2) An “accelerated course” means a higher education course where the number of academic years applicable to the course is at least one fewer than would normally be the case for that course or a course of equivalent content leading to the grant of the same or an equivalent academic award.”
12F Page 78, line 8, leave out from beginning to end of line 19
12G: Page 78, line 20, leave out “(3)(a) and (4)(a)”
Motion B agreed.
That this House do not insist on its Amendment 15 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 15A and 15B in lieu.
Commons Amendments in lieu
15A Page 8, line 26, at end insert—
“(f) a condition requiring the governing body of the provider to take such steps as the OfS considers appropriate for facilitating cooperation between the provider and one or more electoral registration officers in England for the purpose of enabling the electoral registration of students who are on higher education courses provided by the provider.”
15B: Page 8, line 32, at end insert—
“( ) For the purposes of subsection (1)(f)—
“electoral registration officer in England” means a registration officer appointed under section 8(2) of the Representation of the People Act 1983;
“the electoral registration of students” means the registration of students on a register of electors maintained by such an officer under section 9 of that Act.”
My Lords, turning to appeals against revocation of degree-awarding powers and university title, we introduced amendments during the passage of the Bill in this House which provide additional safeguards around the revocation of degree-awarding powers and university title by clearly setting out when the OfS can use these powers. This was in recognition that these are last-resort powers. Amendments were also passed relating to appeals against such decisions.
On Report in this House, the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and others advanced compelling arguments about the need for strong appeals provisions in cases where the OfS decides to revoke a provider’s degree-awarding powers or university title, including permitting the First-tier Tribunal to retake the decision.
We agree that the OfS’s powers in this respect need to be subject to the right safeguards. I am therefore pleased to say that the other place has agreed our amendments in lieu, Amendments 78A to 78H. They achieve the same aims as Lords Amendments 78 and 106 but align the wording more closely with that 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 degree-awarding powers or university title. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, and all the members of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee for the time, energy and expertise they have put into the scrutiny of this Bill.
In both this House and the other place we have heard powerful and convincing arguments about the importance of student electoral registration. I commend the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Garden, and other noble Lords who have spoken eloquently and persuasively on this issue. We all agree that participation in the democratic process by all parts of society is vital for a healthy democracy.
We have thought carefully about the issues raised in this House and in the other place. As a consequence, in place of the amendment passed on this issue on Report, I am pleased to invite this House to agree Amendments 15A and 15B in lieu, which will improve the electoral registration of students. The amendments do this by permitting the OfS to impose a condition of registration upon higher education providers which will require their governing bodies to take steps specified by the OfS to facilitate co-operation with electoral registration officers—EROs—in England. The amendment places this requirement firmly within the new higher education regulatory framework while, equally importantly, maintaining unaltered the statutory roles and responsibilities of EROs to ensure the accuracy of the electoral register. These amendments will complement the existing powers of EROs.
In implementing this condition, the OfS will be obliged to have regard to ministerial guidance issued under the general duties clause of the Bill. This will lay out what the Government expect in relation to the electoral registration condition alongside expectations about other functions of the OfS. In using the term “co-operation” in the amendment, we anticipate that the ministerial guidance will state that, as part of this co-operation, the OfS should require providers to facilitate student electoral registration. We also anticipate that the guidance will state that providers are to co-operate with EROs who make requests for information under the existing powers they possess for the purposes of maintaining the accuracy of electoral registers.
There are many excellent examples across the sector of methods to encourage students to join the electoral register, including models put in place by the University of Sheffield and Cardiff University which provide examples of good practice. I take this opportunity to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for championing this issue and to recognise the work that she, and others, have taken forward on registration at the University of Bath.
Through our amendments, the OfS will have a specific power to impose an electoral registration condition to deal with higher education providers that are not doing enough to co-operate with electoral administrators. Where imposed, a condition 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, where needed, ensure that necessary action is taken. The condition can then require particular steps to be taken so that higher education providers work with EROs to facilitate registration. Non-compliance, as with any registration condition, is enforceable, including through OfS sanctions. I reiterate our commitment that the ability for students to register to vote should be as broad and strong as possible.
To conclude, the Government fully share the aim of increasing the number of students and young people registered to vote. We agree with noble Lords that it is vital that we have a healthy democracy that works for everyone, and that the views of students and young people are reflected in a democratic process. I firmly believe that these amendments will help achieve this goal and I beg to move the Motion.
My Lords, I will speak very briefly to Motion F. The original Bill produced an appeal system that was far too narrow, and the amendment that I and my noble friend Lord Lisvane proposed suggested that it should be wider. We used words which were reflective of advocacy rather than law, and argued that the ground of appeal should be on the basis that the decision was wrong. That view appealed to this House. We have reconsidered it and discussed it with the Secretary of State and the Minister. The amendment now proposed by the Government makes much better law and, given that, I support it.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. I am very grateful to the Government for tabling Commons Amendments 15A and 15B and put on record my specific thanks to the Ministers—the honourable Jo Johnson and Chris Skidmore—along with their officials, for their time and willingness to find a compromise following the adoption by the House of my amendment on Report. This issue has been the subject of powerful advocacy by my honourable friend Paul Blomfield MP, who has done much work on the registration of students to vote, and by organisations such as Bite The Ballot and by the APPG on Democratic Participation.
The voice and views of the Association of Electoral Administrators was extremely helpful in supporting my case, and I have to say that the chief executive John Turner expressed some surprise that the Minister suggested on Report that the association did not take a positive view. UUK has been helpful to me personally, although it is divided on the issue. I trust that it will now do everything possible to ensure that all universities comply with this new obligation at the earliest opportunity.
I well understand that we all have the same aim: to enable the greatest number of students to register to vote and thus shape the future of this country so that it works for young people. It will probably not be possible for ministerial guidance to be published before the enrolment of students this autumn, so I hope that the Minister in office, whoever it is, will draw the attention of higher education institutions to the numerous examples of best practice that exist, including those cited by the Minister today. I am very proud of what Bath has done in these endeavours. I am grateful to the Minister for suggesting what will be in the guidance, which is very welcome, but could he say when the guidance is likely to be published and when the Government, if they are a Conservative Government, might expect higher education institutions to comply with the new obligation? Although we might not have another general election for perhaps five years, there will be local government elections in England in May 2018 and my fervent hope is that all HE institutions will have a system in place by then.
I reiterate my thanks and look forward to working with the next Government to ensure that the maximum number of students register to vote so that not only their voices are heard but their views are expressed in the ballot box, thus enabling them to exert maximum influence, as they should, in the democratic life of this country.
As I will not speak again on this Bill, I wish to say that I too think the way in which all Benches have co-operated and collaborated on it has been extraordinary and very welcome. To be partisan for a moment, great thanks go to my noble friend Lord Stevenson and the support he has received from Molly Critchley. I understand that my noble friend is shortly to step down from the Front Bench. He has done the most superb job, not just for the Labour Benches but for the House as a whole, and I look forward to working with him on the Back Benches.
Having been a staunch supporter of the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and indeed of trying to engage young people in the importance of voting in elections—I think this is a valuable step in enabling them to get involved at university level—I am grateful for the amendment that has come in from the Government. As we are trying to involve young people in voting, would it not be wonderful if we could now think of lowering the voting age to 16 to enable more of them to do so?
My Lords, the amendment in this Motion regarding the appeals system is greatly improved, as my noble and learned friend Lord Judge has said. I am delighted that this has happened because it is of vital importance in relation to the very serious matters that the Office for Students has the power to deal with. I thank the Ministers who have been involved. I include in this particular thanks to my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, for reasons that I shall explain in a moment, and the Minister in the Commons for the very kind way in which various reactions of mine to this extremely important Bill have been handled.
I want to mention a particular matter that does not arise especially under this Motion but, from my point of view, is rather important. When the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, raised the issue of the new power to search the headquarters of higher education providers, she indicated that it was something that the higher education providers anticipated with a degree of apprehension. In response to that, my noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie read out from Schedule 5 the statutory requirements before such a warrant could be granted. I have listened to a lot of the Bill without particularly talking myself, but on that occasion it occurred to me that one of the assurances the academic community was entitled to get was that those restrictions, which are quite powerful and important, would definitely be the subject of consideration by the magistrate. I suggested that the magistrate should sign a document to that effect. I got a letter almost immediately, which is still on the website, to say that such a thing was unheard of.
It is 20 years since I handed over with confidence my responsibilities for this part of what is now the Ministry of Justice to my successor, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, so it is a very long time since I dealt with this particular matter directly. Still, when I got that response, I thought, “Well, in that case the thing to do is to alter the words of the warrant to make it clear that the warrant’s signature carries that with it”. That was objected to for all sorts of reasons, as your Lordships may remember, and some of them were addressed by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham on Report. I felt rather strongly about it, as he recognised, and he kindly said the Government would consider it further before Report, giving me an opportunity, which otherwise I would not have had, to raise the matter on Report.
I was still very insistent on this, because I could not see any objection to it. I am particularly obliged to the Minister in the Commons, Mr Johnson, for arranging at the last minute for me to have a chance to deal directly with the Ministry of Justice, from which the objections to my amendments were coming. That afternoon, I was able to meet the official in that part of the Ministry of Justice for which, as I said, long ago I had responsibility. He eventually told me that in fact, the procedure for dealing with warrants had now been altered by order of the Lord Chief Justice, particularly in criminal cases so that, at the end of the application for the warrant—strangely enough—there is a place for the magistrate to indicate whether he or she agrees that the warrant should be granted and, if so, what the reasons are for that decision. He said that he thought that this was probably general practice in relation to warrants in the magistrates’ court—because this is not a criminal warrant under the Bill. My noble friend Lord Younger of Leckie said that that was the position when the Motion was moved on Third Reading.
I therefore express my gratitude to the Minister and the Bill team from the Department for Education for their kind treatment of me in connection with this and other matters. It is important that where a Ministry other than that directly responsible for a Bill gives advice to block an amendment from someone who, after all, was thought of as a government supporter, it should be blocked in a way that depends on Ministers’ expertise. With respect to Mr Johnson’s great variety of eminence, he would not be particularly interested in the magistrates’ courts procedure for warrants, so it is really nothing to do with him. Similarly, for my noble friends Lord Young of Cookham and Lord Younger of Leckie, it is a damaging way of damaging your colleagues without much apparent responsibility. I therefore qualify my thanks for the work that has been done behind the scenes here, modified by that matter, for which the Ministers responsible for the Bill have the right for me to make it clear that it was nothing to do with them; it was from a source for which they have only the responsibility of being in the one Government.
My Lords, I was not going to intervene on this point because the case for accepting the amendments in lieu has been made very strongly by both the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and my noble friend Lady Royall, but that little vignette from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, put me in mind of two things that I thought it might be useful to share with the House. First, the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, has been very active on the Bill on a particular narrow issue. As a result, I have got to know him a bit better. He kindly shared with me a speech that he gave recently at a meeting of a rather arcane group of people who seem to be interested in administrative law—the noble and learned Lord probably goes to their meetings every week, but it is the first time I had ever heard of it. They obviously debate serious and important issues. His address was about the quality of legislation going through your Lordships’ House. I recommend it to all noble Lords who been involved in this process, because I observe a little of what the noble and learned Lord described. When the annals of this Parliament are written up, I hope that there will be space for this little vignette of persistence over every other aspect of life, which has resulted in a terrific result. He did not quite give the nuance that I thought that he was going to end up with—and I wanted to share that with the House. There were not many of us there late at night at Third Reading when this matter was finally resolved, but it is worth bearing in mind.
The noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, makes the point that, very often in considering legislation, a mentality sets in in the Bill team that is called the “tyranny of the Bill”—an article of faith that the Bill must be right, because the people who have put it together have spent most of their professional lives working on this piece of legislation. In the case of higher education, they have probably waited a generation to get a higher education Bill together. They are not going to give up a comma, let alone a word or a phrase, without considerable resistance. He praised avidly legislators in both Houses getting round that. I mention that point only because, as we have found a lot of times, the results that we are seeing today were not always there; it did not always feel as if we were working in a spirit of co-operation, trying to get the best legislation. Perhaps I should not have said it, but I meant it at the time. It certainly did not feel like that on day 1 in Committee, when there was every opportunity to compromise on a particular issue and the Minister, when offered the chance to take away an issue and look at it again, spent about three-quarters of an hour, it seemed to me, finding every conceivable reason for saying no. I do not think that that was to the benefit of the Bill in the long run—but we have got over that.
The point that the noble and learned Lord was making was that he was blocked at every attempt to get this very sensible measure through—a measure on which, although he was too kind to say it, he knew a lot more than anybody else on the planet. They still said that he was wrong, but he persisted and got it to the point when it was finally agreed, but agreed in a slightly craven way—that is the point that I want to make. The Front Bench still resisted the need to amend the Bill to reflect the noble and learned Lord’s position, but it found an administrative convenience that allowed it to happen anyway. I am not sure that that is the best way to make legislation, but I shall leave that thought with noble Lords.
My Lords, I want to make a few brief comments in response to the contributions to this debate. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for his kind comments in supporting the government amendments. We welcome his support and thank him and the noble Lord, Lord Lisvane, for his work and engagement on this issue. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for her persistence and passionate commitment to the cause of student electoral registration, including at her own university, the University of Bath. She asked me when the guidance on student electoral registration would be published. I reassure her that ministerial guidance to the OfS will be issued alongside or shortly after the OfS is established. The OfS’s guidance to providers will be issued in mid-2018, in preparation for the move to the new regulatory framework. The sector will have the opportunity to express its views on the regulatory framework during the public consultation in the autumn of this year.
I listened carefully to the comments of my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay. I thank him for his time and expertise and his engagement in the Bill. He referred specifically to the matter of the warrants. I apologise for any misunderstandings that arose through the process. Rather than being drawn into a further debate on the matter, I hope that he understands that, although it was somewhat protracted, we got there in the end, as they say.
Motion C agreed.
That this House do not insist on its Amendment 23 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 23A, 23B and 23C in lieu.
Commons Amendments in lieu
23A: Page 16, line 14, leave out subsection (5)
23B: Page 16, line 15, leave out subsection (6)
23C: Page 16, line 23, at end insert the following new Clause—
“Report on operation of section 25 schemes
(1) Before the end of the initial period, the Secretary of State must appoint a suitable independent person for the purpose of preparing a report under this section.
(2) A person is “independent” for this purpose if the person—
(a) is not, and has never been, a member or employee of the OfS, and
(b) is not a servant or agent of the Crown.
(3) A person is “suitable” for this purpose if the person—
(a) has experience of providing higher education on behalf of, or being responsible for the provision of higher education by, a higher education provider, and
(b) appears to the Secretary of State to be a person who would command the confidence of registered higher education providers.
(4) As soon as possible after the end of the initial period, the appointed person—
(a) must prepare a report about the operation during that period of the section 25 scheme or schemes which were in operation for the whole or a part of that period, and
(b) must send the report to the Secretary of State.
(5) The report must cover the following in the case of each scheme—
(a) the process by which ratings are determined under the scheme and the sources of statistical information used in that process,
(b) whether that process, and those sources of statistical information, are fit for use for the purpose of determining ratings under the scheme,
(c) the names of the ratings under the scheme and whether those names are appropriate,
(d) the impact of the scheme on the ability of higher education providers to which the scheme applies to carry out their functions (including in particular their functions relating to teaching and research),
(e) an assessment of whether the scheme is in the public interest, and
(f) any other matters that the appointed person considers relevant. (6) The Secretary of State must lay the report before Parliament.
(7) In this section—
“the initial period” means the period of one year beginning with the date on which section 25 comes into force;
“section 25 scheme” means a scheme to give ratings in accordance with arrangements made under that section.”
Motion D agreed.
That this House do not insist on its Amendment 71 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 71A in lieu.
Commons Amendment in lieu
71A: Page 25, line 39, at end insert the following new Clauses—
“Grant, variation or revocation of authorisation: advice on quality etc
(1) The OfS must request advice from the relevant body regarding the quality of, and the standards applied to, higher education provided by a provider before making—
(a) an order under section 40(1) authorising the provider to grant taught awards or research awards,
(b) a further order under section 40(1)—
(i) varying an authorisation given to the provider by a previous order under section 40(1), or
(ii) revoking such an authorisation on the ground that condition B in section 42(4) is satisfied, or
(c) an order under section 43(1)—
(i) varying an authorisation given to the provider, as described in that provision, to grant taught awards or research awards, or
(ii) revoking such an authorisation on the ground that condition B in section 43(4A) is satisfied.
(2) Where the OfS requests advice under subsection (1), the relevant body must provide it.
(3) The advice provided under subsection (2) must include the relevant body’s view as to whether the provider has the ability—
(a) to provide, and maintain the provision of, higher education of an appropriate quality, and
(b) to apply, and maintain the application of, appropriate standards to that higher education.
(4) The advice provided by the relevant body under subsection (2) must be informed by the views of persons who (between them) have experience of—
(a) providing higher education on behalf of, or being responsible for the provision of higher education by—
(i) an English higher education provider which is neither authorised to grant taught awards nor authorised to grant research awards,
(ii) an English further education provider, and
(iii) an English higher education provider which is within neither sub-paragraph (i) nor sub-paragraph (ii),
(b) representing or promoting the interests of individual students, or students generally, on higher education courses provided by higher education providers,
(c) employing graduates of higher education courses provided by higher education providers,
(d) research into science, technology, humanities or new ideas, and
(e) encouraging competition in industry or another sector of society.
(5) Where the order authorises the provider to grant research awards or varies or revokes such an authorisation, the advice provided by the relevant body under subsection (2) must also be informed by the views of UKRI.
(6) Subsections (4) and (5) do not prevent the advice given by the relevant body under subsection (2) also being informed by the views of others.
(7) The OfS must have regard to advice provided to it by the relevant body under subsection (2) in deciding whether to make the order.
(8) But that does not prevent the OfS having regard to advice from others regarding quality or standards.
(9) Where the order varies or revokes an authorisation, the advice under subsection (1) may be requested before or after the governing body of the provider is notified under section 44 of the OfS’s intention to make the order.
(10) Where there are one or more sector-recognised standards— (a) for the purposes of subsections (1) and (8)—
(i) the advice regarding the standards applied must be advice regarding the standards applied in respect of matters for which there are sector-recognised standards, and
(ii) that advice must be regarding those standards as assessed against sector-recognised standards, and
(b) “appropriate standards” in subsection (3) means sector-recognised standards.
(11) In this section “the relevant body” means— (a) the designated assessment body, or
(b) if there is no such body, a committee which the OfS must establish under paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 for the purpose of performing the functions of the relevant body under this section.
(12) Where the OfS is required to establish a committee for the purpose mentioned in subsection (11)(b)—
(a) the majority of members of the committee must be individuals who are not members of the OfS, and
(b) in appointing members of the committee, the OfS must have regard to the need for the advice provided by the committee to meet the requirements of subsections (4) and (where applicable) (5).
(13) In this section—
“designated assessment body” means a body for the time being designated under Schedule 4;
“humanities” and “science” have the same meaning as in Part 3 (see section 105).
Grant of authorisation: notification of new providers
(1) The OfS must, as soon as possible after it has been made, notify the Secretary of State if it makes an order under section 40(1) authorising the provider to grant taught awards, where the provider has not previously operated under validation arrangements.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), a provider has previously operated under validation arrangements if, at any time before the date when the order is made—
(a) a student at the provider has been granted a taught award by another provider or the OfS, under validation arrangements between the provider and the other provider or the OfS, or
(b) the provider has granted a taught award on behalf of another provider or the OfS, under validation arrangements between the provider and the other provider or the OfS.
(3) In this section “validation arrangements” means—
(a) arrangements between one English higher education provider and another English higher education provider under which the first provider—
(i) grants a taught award to a person who is a student at the other provider, or
(ii) authorises the other provider to grant a taught award on behalf of the first provider, or
(b) arrangements between the OfS and a registered higher education provider under which the OfS—
(i) grants a taught award to a person who is a student at the provider, or
(ii) authorises the provider to grant a taught award on behalf of the OfS.”
My Lords, our reforms are designed to make it simpler for high-quality providers to enter the higher education market, contribute to greater student choice, and ensure that our higher education sector remains innovative and can respond to changing economic demands. However, we have been clear that encouraging new providers cannot come at the price of lowering the quality bar for obtaining degree-awarding powers. We are absolutely committed to protecting the value of English degrees and, throughout the passage of the Bill, we have added to the legislative protections to achieve this.
At Report in this House, we tabled an amendment, based on a proposal from the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, requiring the OfS to request expert advice from a “relevant body” on quality and standards before granting or varying degree-awarding powers, or revoking them on grounds of the quality or standard of provision. The role of the “relevant body” would be similar to that of the QAA’s ACDAP, and the system that we are putting in place will build on the valuable work that the QAA has been doing over the years. Our amendments further strengthen this requirement for expert advice. In particular, this amendment makes clear that if there is not a designated quality body to carry out the role, the committee that the OfS must establish to carry it out must feature a majority of members who are not members of the OfS. Additionally, in appointing those members, the OfS must consider the requirement that advice be informed by the interests listed in the clause. This will ensure that the advice is impartial and well informed. This amendment also makes it clear that the advice must include a view on whether the provider under consideration can maintain quality and standards. In line with the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, it requires the OfS to notify the Secretary of State as soon as possible after it grants degree-awarding powers to a provider who has not previously delivered a degree course under a validation arrangement.
Let me be clear that, as is already the case, I expect the Secretary of State’s guidance to the OfS on degree-awarding powers to continue to require that a provider’s eligibility be reviewed if there is any change in its circumstances, such as a merger or a change of ownership. The OfS has powers under the Bill to remove degree-awarding powers from a provider when there are concerns as to the quality or standards of its higher education provision following such a change. I can confirm that we expect the OfS to seek advice from the relevant body on any such quality concerns before taking the step of revocation. I beg to move.
First, I take the opportunity to thank the Minister in this House and the Minister for Higher Education very sincerely for listening so carefully and patiently to the arguments that I and many others put forward on these issues. I follow other noble Lords in saying that, while this has been a grind, it has also been something on which all parts of the House have found a great deal to discuss and agree. In that sense, it has been perhaps not enjoyable but certainly an educational and ultimately a positive process. I repeat that I appreciate the time that everybody in the Lords has put into this, and I very much appreciate the time put in by Ministers and the enormous work put in by the Bill team.
I am very happy to see the clause moving towards the statute book, but it seems to be slightly ill understood perhaps outside this Chamber and certainly outside this building. It might be worth my while reiterating what I think is important about it, and I would be grateful if the Minister would let me and the House know if he disagrees with anything that I am just about to say.
One of the major reasons why the Bill is so important is that it sets out what is happening in the sector, quite possibly for decades to come. That is why we have to take account of both whether it can provide innovation and new ideas and allow the sector to move and whether it can provide guarantees of quality and standards and protect students, many of whom take out large loans, and the whole country against what is always possible: that some institutions and people will not have the interests of the country and the sector at heart. Innovation is a very important part of it.
I also take this opportunity to welcome in this House the fact that the Government have recently given some money to the new model university that is being established in Herefordshire, which is enormously important because of the role it will play in helping to develop engineering skills and in working with small businesses and supply chains. It is the sort of institution that we need many more of, and I am really pleased that the Government have given their support.
It is worth remembering that one thing that has bothered us very much in thinking about how this Bill should go forward is our knowledge that it is only too easy to create a situation in which institutions arise and gain access to public funds but whose existence is very hard to justify and that can do enormous harm. It is not just this country—the United States has given us the largest and most catastrophic bankruptcies, leaving students stranded—but it is, after all, not very long ago that the Home Office moved to investigate and shut down higher education institutions in this country that were, not to put too fine a point on it, fraudulent.
This part of the Bill has always been enormously important. I am extremely happy, because it seems that this new clause will institute a quality assurance process that focuses the attention of the Office for Students on a number of critical issues when it is granting or varying awarding powers, and clarifies the importance of independent advice from outside an institution. This is always important, because an institution creates its own understandings and inevitably becomes defensive against the world. The potential strengthening and improvement of the advice that the OfS will get from outside, which will build on the QAA but will potentially be more independent and therefore both add an additional safeguard and add substantively to the process, is very welcome.
This clause also clarifies for the general public the way in which the Government envisage new institutions coming through. They clearly envisage two pathways. Many people will come through validation, a process that itself has grown up over the years with remarkably little scrutiny, but if an institution is to get degree-awarding powers from day 1, this is something of which the Secretary of State must be aware. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, pointed out in earlier debates that anything that goes wrong tends to land on the Secretary of State’s desk anyway. What seems to be important here is that we have an extra element not just of formal accountability but one that will bring into the process both a clear ability for the Secretary of State to create a new institution that has degree-awarding powers, because that is seen as something of which they are capable from day 1, and something to make the process public and one that cannot slide through unobserved.
This is an area in which we have made enormous progress. Perhaps all this would have happened anyway, but I am extremely happy to see it in the Bill. I finish by expressing my gratitude once again to everybody who has worked on the Bill and listened to our concerns and my appreciation of all the comments, information and hard work that colleagues on all Benches of the House have put into it. I welcome this amendment.
My Lords, I speak very briefly just to endorse everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, has said. On behalf of the House generally I want to thank her for all the hard work and effort that she has put into securing these changes. It is fair to say that this part of the Bill, in its original form, was the one that gave cause to a great deal of worry, and for me personally the most worry of all because in my view it threatened the reputation of higher education not only in this country but overseas. With this amendment, we are now in a much better place.
The only thing that I ask is that there be some monitoring of how it works in practice. It is very important that there should be some evaluation to make absolutely clear to the higher education sector as a whole, and to those who might want to enter it, that there will be rigorous tests of both quality and standards before any institution can have degree-awarding powers and access to grants and loans through the system of financial support that we have. Having said that, however, I am really grateful to the Government and to the Minister for bringing forward this amendment. It is a huge improvement to the Bill compared to what we had originally.
My Lords, I intervene very briefly to say that, at the end of the deliberations on this Bill, and on this important aspect of the Bill, we have ended up with a more rigorous, more transparent and more demanding regime for alternative providers in higher education than we have ever had before. I regretted that it was not possible to get legislation during the previous Parliament that would have gone alongside the initiatives that we took on alternative providers, but we certainly have a very significant regulatory regime in place now.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, has been one of the people pressing for this, but I just question one point that she made in her otherwise admirable remarks. She said that the Home Office had closed down lots of higher education institutions because they were bogus and did not meet proper standards. I think they were colleges, which is an unregistered name—you can call yourself a college—and there were people who were getting into Britain saying that they were going to study at colleges. There has always been a regime for validating degree-awarding powers and, of course, for getting the university title. I think it would be very dangerous in this House if we were to get the idea that there had been lots of bogus higher education institutions, which I do not think has been case; the problem was colleges. Even there, the Home Office occasionally got overexuberant—at least one college that had won the Queen’s award for export was subsequently closed down—but it was essentially trying to stop people coming to study for a vocational qualification in a college environment.
Setting that specific point aside, we now have a very rigorous regime and I hope that we will now see practised the spirit of what the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, said; we need innovation in higher education in this country. Although it is great when existing providers innovate, we know that in many sectors the best way to get innovation is for new people to come in and do things differently. I hope we can all agree that, especially with this regime in place, we can give a very warm welcome to new higher education institutions and new universities in this country.
My Lords, we agree on these Benches that as a result of the work that has been done we have a much better regulatory framework. Rigorous tests for degree-awarding powers are important. I was very much taken with the Minister’s comment that there should be no lowering of quality in protecting the value of university degrees. There are private providers, and the majority of private colleges do a fantastic job, but let us not kid ourselves: there are still some private colleges—and I would use the term “bogus colleges”—that with these new powers and regulations will not carry on letting down the quality of our university degrees and will not let down university students. It cannot be right, for example, that a student is enrolled to do a degree course that is validated by one of our universities but for which the only requirement is one GCSE. That cannot be right in our higher education system. These new powers will, as a result of what the Minister said, ensure that we can be proud of all our private providers.
My Lords, I echo much of what has been said already, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, who has been a stalwart in fighting this corner. We have supported her all the way on it and I am very glad that we have reached the point where I think we are all happy with where we have got to.
The main focus of the amendments that were laid in Committee and on Report, and those that have been now been presented in lieu by the Government, are about the ongoing arrangements in universities and higher-education providers in order to provide degree-level qualifications. The particularly narrow issue of what happens when an existing provider is taken over, whether by merger, purchase or otherwise, still needs a bit of care and concern, because there is fear within the sector that this might well become a feature, perhaps an unwelcome feature, of what we are doing. We are not against new institutions; we have always said that we will support those, but we want them to be proper institutions that are properly validated, with good procedures and processes in place. We would welcome that. However, where there may be a commercial imperative rather than an academic imperative to acquire a body, could the Minister comment on what he anticipates the arrangement will be should that merger or takeover be in play?
My Lords, I echo the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, for making such strong and passionate arguments on the need to safeguard the quality of English degrees, and for her engagement in the Bill’s passage overall, which I may not have said so far. I agree with her on the importance of diversity and innovation in the sector. I agree that new providers such as the New Model in Technology and Engineering will serve the interests of students and wider society well.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and the noble Lord, Lord Storey, made an important point about quality of standards, which has been a theme throughout the Bill. I agree with them that we must maintain quality and standards in the sector. The Bill is designed to do just that. Our amendment further strengthens the Bill’s provisions in that respect, and I hope the House is now behind it.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, at the very end of his brief comments, asked about change of circumstances—in other words, what would happen if a degree-awarding power’s holder was sold to someone with no experience, and whether there would be a full review. If the degree-awarding power’s holder was sold to a body with no track record, we would expect the eligibility to hold degree-awarding powers to continue, but it would be subject to a full review. Therefore, that review would be implicit.
I finish by thanking my noble friend Lord Willetts for his expert contributions and engagement throughout the Bill’s passage. The Bill builds on his work as Minister and the proposals in his original 2011 White Paper, Students at the Heart of the System.
Motion E agreed.
That this House do not insist on its Amendments 78 and 106 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 78A, 78B, 78C, 78D, 78E, 78F, 78G and 78H in lieu.
Commons Amendments in lieu
78A: Page 26, line 33, at end insert—
“(1A) On an appeal under subsection (1)(a) against a decision to revoke an authorisation, the Tribunal—
(a) must consider afresh the decision appealed against, and
(b) may take into account evidence that was not available to the OfS.”
78B: Page 26, line 34, after “appeal” insert “under subsection (1), other than an appeal against a decision to revoke an authorisation,”
78C: Page 26, line 38, after “appeal” insert “under subsection (1)”
78D: Page 26, line 42, at end insert—
“(4) In the case of an appeal under subsection (1)(a) against a decision to revoke an authorisation, the Tribunal also has power to substitute for the decision any other decision that the OfS could have made.
(5) An appeal under subsection (1)(a) against a decision to revoke an authorisation may include an appeal against the decision mentioned in subsection (1)(b) regarding the date when the revocation takes effect; and in the case of such an appeal, references in subsections (1A), (3) and (4) to the decision appealed against are to be read accordingly.”
78E: Page 35, line 5, at end insert—
“(1A) On an appeal under subsection (1)(a), the Tribunal—
(a) must consider afresh the decision appealed against, and
(b) may take into account evidence that was not available to the OfS.”
78F: Page 35, line 6, after “appeal” insert “under subsection (1)(b)”
78G: Page 35, line 10, after “appeal” insert “under subsection (1)”
78H: Page 35, line 14, at end insert—
“(4) In the case of an appeal under subsection (1)(a), the Tribunal also has power to substitute for the decision any other decision that the OfS could have made.
(5) An appeal under subsection (1)(a) against a decision to revoke an approval may include an appeal against the decision mentioned in subsection (1)(b) regarding the date when the revocation takes effect; and in the case of such an appeal references in subsections (1A), (3) and (4) to the decision appealed against are to be read accordingly.”
Motion F agreed.
That this House do not insist on its Amendment 156 and do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 156A, 156B and 156C in lieu.
Commons Amendments in lieu
156A: Page 37, line 20, at end insert—
“(5A) The consideration under subsection (5) of what would be helpful to those described in paragraphs (a) to (c) of that subsection must include a consideration of what would be helpful to—
(a) international students on higher education courses provided by registered higher education providers;
(b) people thinking about undertaking such courses who would be international students on such courses;
(c) registered higher education providers who recruit, or are thinking about recruiting, people who would be international students on such courses.
(5B) When the designated body or the OfS determines what is appropriate for the purposes of subsection (1), it must, in particular, consider whether information about the numbers of international students on higher education courses provided by registered higher education providers would be appropriate information.”
156B: Page 37, line 22, leave out “subsection (5)” and insert “subsections (5) to (5B)”
156C: Page 37, line 44, after “provider” insert “; “international student” means a person—
(a) who is not within any description of persons prescribed under section 1 of the Education (Fees and Awards) Act
1983 (charging of higher fees in case of students without prescribed connection with the UK) for the purposes of subsection (1) or (2) of that section, and
(b) whose presence in the United Kingdom, and undertaking of the higher education course in question, are not in breach of primary or secondary legislation relating to immigration.”
My Lords, I welcome this chance to discuss once more international students, an issue on which we have heard some of the most passionate debates in this House. I begin by saying, unequivocally, that the Government welcome genuine international students who come to study in the United Kingdom. They enhance our educational institutions both financially and culturally, they enrich the experience of domestic students and they become important ambassadors for the United Kingdom in later life. For these reasons, we have no plans to target or reduce the scale of student migration to the United Kingdom. As I have said before—and as the House will have heard—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 any other basis. That being so, I do not believe that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is desirable.
None the less, the discussion in this House on this issue has provided us with an important opportunity to reflect on the message we send out to the world about the welcome that international students receive when they apply to study in the UK. We want to promote this offer and ensure that it is understood and communicated. I should like to set out what the new duty is. First, the duty will extend the information publication duty on the designated data body or the Office for Students so that it explicitly covers consideration of what information would be helpful to current or prospective international students and the registered higher education providers that recruit them, or are thinking of doing so.
Secondly, the new duty will also specifically require consideration of publication of information on international student numbers. This goes further than ever before to ensure that international students get the information they need about our offer. Alongside this, we believe that we need a campaign to raise awareness. That is why, in tandem, we are refreshing our international engagement strategy. We will seek sector representatives’ views on a draft narrative, which we will be disseminating through the FCO’s Global Britain channels, our embassies overseas and through the British Council, as well as universities themselves. This will ensure that the right messages get to the right places. We have a good story to tell, and we are keen that it is told. Not only that but we are committed to ensuring that the UK remains one of the best places in the world for research and innovation. I assure noble Lords that UK Research and Innovation will continue to fund an extensive range of international collaborations, directly facilitating partnerships between UK research establishments and their international counterparts. We expect the UKRI board members, and UKRI itself, to take a clear role in promoting UK science and fostering collaboration internationally, and we have already included the need to take an international perspective in the job specification of the UKRI board, which is currently being recruited. To underline this, I confirm that we will ask UKRI to set out in its annual report what work it has undertaken to foster and support such collaborations. I beg to move.
My Lords, first, I respond to the Minister’s opening statement on this Motion. I thank him for some of the things he said that picked up one or two of the themes in the amendment which he proposes should be rejected. It is a great pity that they are not in the Bill but he made some helpful remarks.
The Government’s amendment that is being moved shows yet again that we are slightly at cross purposes over this issue. This is not a statistical matter. Of course, statistics enter into it but it is not basically a statistical matter. It is about the public policy purposes we take with regard to overseas students. Therefore, even the suggested improved ways of statistically analysing overseas students do not address what my amendment was meant to address. I hope the Minister will forgive me for not saying anything more about his amendment, to which I have no objection at all, but which I do not think answers the problems addressed by my amendment and the amendment tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Royall and Lady Garden, and the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, the main thrust of which would have been to bring to an end what I regard as an aberrant practice of treating overseas higher education students for public policy purposes as long-term migrants. That, alas, will continue. That amendment was carried in this House last month by a majority of 94 drawn from all groups in this House. Therefore, I am afraid that I speak with deep regret, tinged with some bitterness, at the summary rejection of that amendment.
If the Bill before us had followed a normal course, I believe, although of course I cannot prove it, that a reasonable compromise would have been reached either in the other place, where there was substantial support for the amendment, or through a negotiation between the two Houses. The wash-up process, which we are busy completing, brought to a premature end any such possibilities. The fact that the Government felt it necessary to state that if this amendment was not dropped they would kill the whole Bill, sheds a pretty odd light on their priorities and their intransigence. Altogether, this is a rather shabby business.
Ceasing to treat overseas higher education students for public policy purposes as long-term migrants is not only a rational choice, and one which the chief competitors of this country in the market for overseas students—namely, the US, Australia and Canada—have already adopted, it also has a wide degree of cross-party support from a whole series of parliamentary Select Committees in both Houses, most recently just this week from the Education Committee in the other place. A recent survey by Universities UK shows that a large majority of those polled do not regard overseas students as economic migrants and do not consider that they contribute to the immigration problems which are the focus of so much public debate at this stage in this country. The fall in the number of overseas applications we are seeing at the moment amply demonstrates how we are already losing market share and undermining the future validity of a crucial part of our society and our economy—our universities. This morning I listened with great interest to the Foreign Secretary replying to a question on this on the “Today” programme. He made most of the points I have just made, so I have no quarrel with what he said, merely with what the Government are doing. A bad choice has been made, and no convincing rationale for making that choice has been forthcoming from the Government.
The problem will not go away, and the rejection will not mean the end of the story. This system of treating students as economic migrants will continue to inflict damage on our universities and on our future soft power assets in the decades ahead. We will certainly need to return to this issue when the Government bring forward, as they have stated they will in their White Paper on the great repeal Bill, post-Brexit immigration legislation. I conclude with the hope that a period of reflection will bring wise counsel as well as the realisation that pyrrhic victories, of which this is one, are of a kind that we in this country could do well without.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, on the energy he has put into this issue during the process of scrutinising the Bill. The debates we have had on it have made it absolutely clear that on all sides of the House we strongly support legitimate overseas students coming to Britain to study, because it enhances the academic experience of British students, it is good for the overseas students, and it is a great British export.
What the Minister said in signalling again that the policy remains to attract legitimate overseas students was rather more welcome than the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, accepted, although I fully realise why he made the observations that he did. He says that statistics are not the crucial issue and statistics are less important than policy. However, the point we heard a moment ago from the Minister about this new exercise on statistics has considerable potential value. Aside from all the general arguments, one of the frustrations about this debate is a genuine empirical disagreement about how many students from abroad overstay in this country. A lot of the debate and attitudes in Whitehall are shaped by a view that we have a problem of a lot of overstayers. If there is such a problem, we need to tighten the regime. If, however, there is not a problem of overstayers, and it can be established authoritatively that there is not, that would be a significant contribution to the debate.
The statistics at the moment are very unreliable. If someone comes here to study and tells someone doing one of the surveys that they are here to study, stays on and works for a time, then leaves, answering the question, “What have you been doing?”, with, “I’ve been working”, they count as a leaving worker, not as a leaving student. If someone comes here to study, thinking that they will be here for more than a year, but end up leaving Britain after being here for 11 months—many master’s courses are advertised as a year long but you can complete them in 11 months—they do not count as one of those one-year students departing. There are lots of problems like this in the statistics, which have proved a bane in the debate about overseas students and their numbers. I very much hope that the important initiative which the Minister announced today, which was discussed in the other House yesterday, will enable us to get to the bottom of those types of empirical questions. That would be an important contribution to the debate, and I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that those type of questions will be within the scope of this exercise and that we will learn more about it.
I also hope, thinking of all the time that we have spent on attracting overseas students to this country, that we might briefly remind the Government of the importance of encouraging British students to study abroad. Of course, dare one say it, if they were to study abroad for more than a year, it would reduce net migration—not that that is the most important reason for promoting it. However, when one looks at half a million students coming from abroad to study in Britain and 30,000 British students going to study abroad, especially if we are to be a dynamic global presence, even post Brexit, we need to do better at promoting and encouraging British students to go abroad. One way to do that is to make it easier for them to take out loans to finance their study abroad. I hope that we will look at that.
Finally, as this will be my last intervention on the Bill, I congratulate the ministerial team that has successfully brought the Bill to a conclusion. My noble friend Lord Younger has been courteous throughout this debate, and Jo Johnson has been extraordinarily diligent in spending time in this Chamber observing our debates. This is a substantial piece of legislation. We only legislate on higher education once a generation, and this legislation finally puts in place a regulatory regime that matches the realities of higher education in Britain. We could not have carried on with the old grant-giving body being a kind of informal regulator, using its power of the purse to regulate the sector. This is a much better, more lucid, more transparent and more rule-based system.
In our debates in this House, on all sides, it has been clear that we care passionately about the autonomy of higher education institutions and universities, and the provisions, including the new ones we have debated today, enhance that autonomy. Looking back on this debate, one of my regrets is that while we have tended to look at this from an English perspective, from the conversations I have with vice-chancellors, it is clear to me where the biggest threats to autonomy in our universities lie, and it is not in England. The relationship between the Scottish Government and their universities is far more intrusive and overbearing than anything that would be acceptable in England. We have sometimes had an English Minister with English teaching responsibilities facing challenges about autonomy for which he is not responsible. I hope that in the future we will be avid in securing, scrutinising and protecting the autonomy of Scottish universities, which matters enormously in Scotland and more widely. Therefore, we have a better regulatory regime, we have spoken up for autonomy, and, significantly, the focus on teaching has reminded us of the importance of the educational experience in university. After so much attention has been given to research over the years, it is excellent that we have spent so much of our time focusing on teaching.
I therefore thank the Ministers, and I thank their Bill team for the way in which it has engaged with many of us as we have had questions to make sense of specific proposals and try to engage with them. Indeed, this has been a cross-party debate. We have had excellent interventions from experts on the Cross Benches, people who work in and understand higher education, which has enormously enhanced our debate. We have heard from the Opposition Benches—I agree that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, made an important contribution from the Opposition Front Bench—and from the Lib Dem Benches. Occasionally I had to remind myself that we had worked on this together in coalition and that some of the measures that were now proving so controversial could trace their origins to a Government in whom there was even a Secretary of State I worked with who belonged to a certain party opposite. However, all parties have worked together on this, and we can be proud of the Bill that is now going forward.
My Lords, I echo much of what the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, said, but I want to start with the reference that the Prime Minister made to the “unelected House of Lords” when she announced the election. This unelected House is at its best when it does what it has done with this Bill. It is probably one of the most amended Bills in the history of Parliament, with more than 500 amendments, and that is because of the expertise that exists across the board in this House—a breadth and depth of expertise that no other Chamber in the world comes anywhere close to by a factor of maybe 10. A former Universities Minister has just spoken and we have heard from chancellors and vice-chancellors of universities, former vice-chancellors of universities such as Cambridge and the heads of Oxbridge colleges—and I could go on. Where in the world would you get that? We have had it with this Bill.
I thank the Minister, the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, for having always been polite and decent, and for having listened. We may not be where a lot of us want to be, but the Government have listened and there has been a lot of movement. I, too, acknowledge the commitment of the Minister, Jo Johnson. I have never seen a Minister so assiduous in attending the stages of a Bill in the way that he has with this one, and it shows visibly that he is listening. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for the initiative that he has taken on this amendment. He is a former pro-chancellor of the University of Birmingham, where today I am proud to be chancellor.
Normally, you are not meant to repeat things at various stages of a Bill—you cannot make another Second Reading speech later on. However, in this case new information and new reports have been coming out at every stage. For example, the UUK report suddenly revealed that the contribution of international students is much higher than we had ever thought. Figures of £13 billion or £14 billion were quoted, but the figure is actually £26 billion a year. That is new information to add to what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, was trying to do with this amendment. On top of that, we have had, hot off the press, the Education Committee’s report entitled Exiting the EU: Challenges and Opportunities for Higher Education, dated 25 April.
Before I go any further, there is a unanimous consensus around the country—let alone in this House, where we won this amendment by close to 100 votes—that international students should not be included in the net migration figures. The National Union of Students has stated:
“We are concerned that—as long as international students are included within net migration statistics—policies that adversely impact international students owing to the Government’s desire to reduce levels of immigration will only exacerbate”.
It also said:
“The Government’s abject failure to offer anything substantial on removing international students from net migration targets is”,
in its words,
“outrageous. There is immense support for doing so, from cross-party parliamentarians, from UK students and from the general public. It is unacceptable that the government continues to ignore this support”.
I come to the House of Commons Education Committee’s report, which no one has spoken about and which has just been published—on 25 April. It contains a whole section on international students and the migration target. It says very clearly that the 100,000 target still exists, yet we all know that the latest figure for overall net migration is 273,000. The excuse that the Government give every time we challenge them to remove international students from the net migration figures is that the UN rules mean that we have to include them and treat them as immigrants—and those are indeed the UN rules.
The Government’s other answer is always, “There is no cap on the number of international students. Any number is welcome”. However, the danger lies in the perception that is created by continuing to include them in the figure and treat them as immigrants. The Home Secretary at the Conservative Party conference spoke about possibly reducing the number of international students. That is scary—and it is a message that goes to the outside world. The Commons Education Committee said the majority of its written evidence and witnesses at its meetings were very clear that international students should be removed from the net migration target, which would,
“help offset risks to higher education from leaving the EU”.
“Our evidence was unanimous in saying that international students were a positive force”,
for education, contributing £25.8 billion a year and creating more than 200,000 jobs, and contributing to the richness of our universities, as well as to the UK’s soft power.
There has been poll after poll on this issue. After the referendum, a ComRes poll said that only 24% of the public thought that international students were immigrants, and there was only a 2% difference between those who voted to leave, at 25%, and those who voted to remain, at 23%. So whether they are Brexiteers or remainers, people do not think that international students are immigrants. The report points out:
“71% said they would support policies to boost growth by increasing overseas students”.
Our competitor countries have targets to increase the number of international students. The demand from countries such as India for studying abroad is increasing by 8% a year, yet an NUS poll found that slightly over half of overseas students thought that the British Government were either not welcoming or not welcoming at all to international students. There are half as many Indian students in 2015 compared with the number in 2010. Yet in countries such as Australia, Canada and Germany the number is growing by 8% a year.
Can the Minister please answer this question? When the UK’s main competitors for international students—the United States, Canada and Australia—all categorise international students as temporary migrants rather than permanent immigrants, why can we not do the same? What are we scared of? The noble Lords, Lord Willetts and Lord Hannay, and the Minister spoke of statistics. What statistics? The statistics are bogus because they are based on the International Passenger Survey. Some estimates suggest that 90,000 international students overstay; others put the figure at 40,000. Yet the Times has reported that there is a Home Office-commissioned report that shows that only 1% of international students overstay their visas—only 1,500. But this report has not been released. Can the Minister tell us why?
The figures in the report are supposedly based on the Government’s new exit checks. I have been a lone voice in this Parliament and I feel like a lone voice in this country in asking the Government to bring back physical, visible exit checks at all our ports, airports and borders. Tony Blair, when he was Prime Minister, took them away in 1998. That was negligent from a security point of view, negligent from an illegal immigration point of view, and negligent from the point of view of being able to count the number of international students coming in and out of this country. Every passport, EU and non-EU, should be scanned when people enter the country, and every passport, EU and non-EU, should be scanned when people leave the country. If that happened, we would know the correct statistics. Why can the Government not implement this straight away?
In conclusion, the committee said:
“Over the last few years, six parliamentary committees have recommended the removal of students from the net migration target”,
and opinions have been expressed at the highest level. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, spoke about Boris Johnson. I believe that even the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, agrees that international students should not be treated as immigrants and should be removed from the net migration figures.
Margaret Thatcher was famous as the lady who was “not for turning”. The Prime Minister, by continually saying that there would be no election until 2020, is, I think, “for turning”. So why is she not listening to us? It is such a disappointment. It is ruining the reputation of our country, our universities and our economy—and perception becomes reality. This provision did not need to be in the Bill. The Government and the Prime Minister can still act unilaterally and remove international students from the net migration figures. I remind the Prime Minister and the Government of the maxim that it is better to fail doing the right thing than to succeed doing the wrong thing.
My Lords, I will not attempt to emulate the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, by making a Fourth Reading speech, but I will make a couple of brief points. I strongly supported the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, when he introduced his amendment and have spoken many times on this subject in your Lordships’ House. I deeply regret that the Government have not felt able to accept the amendment and commend it to the other place. I echo everything that has been said about the understanding and capacity for listening both of my noble friend Lord Younger, the Minister in your Lordships’ House, and Mr Jo Johnson, but it is a pity that an opportunity has been lost. I am sure that we will return to this subject, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, possibly in a future immigration Bill.
Although I welcome what the Minister said today and what is in the Commons amendment before us, it does not go far enough. There will be real interest in how the Government are able to produce good statistics. It is 35 years ago almost to the day when a famous BBC reporter in the Falklands said, “I counted them all out, and I counted them all back”. We must start doing that with students, and indeed with all immigrants. However, we must not do anything that damages our reputation—however gently—as a place where students at undergraduate and post-graduate level from all over the world can feel welcome. The more we can do to achieve that welcome the better, and we must do everything we possibly can to make sure that there are no implicit deterrents. I am sorry that after a very good morning where the Government have made some very real concessions, for which we are all extremely grateful, the concession on this particular subject is not as great as it should be. I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench will take note of that and that we will come back before too long with a reinforced Government Front Bench and a new determination to accept the logic of the Hannay amendment.
My Lords, from these Benches we strongly support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, just said. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, reminded us of the heady days of coalition when I was his opposite number in this House. I remember the debates that went on between the Secretary of State for BIS and the Home Secretary on this topic: the noble Lord could never get any movement on seeing the illogicality.
What baffles many of us is that the Government reiterate that there is no cap on genuine international students, but then they say, “But we will count them as migrants and we are determined to reduce the number of migrants”. It is incomprehensible that the Government cannot see how very unwelcoming it is to put those things together in sequence. We find it completely baffling that we are not getting any movement on this. We recognise that this issue is probably outside the departmental brief of the Minister, but I echo what has been said already: we hope that very soon there will be movement on this. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, always speaks with great passion and eloquence on this topic, backed with evidence and facts.
This is probably the last time that I shall speak on the Bill, so I reiterate the very sincere thanks to the Minister, the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, and Minister Jo Johnson, to the Bill team and to other colleagues who have been so helpful to us on what has turned out to be a very long and drawn-out discussion on the Bill. The amendments that have come through today have already improved it again. As I said before, it would obviously have been lovely if all our amendments had been accepted, but we recognise that we have actually done a very good job in making this Bill a whole lot better than it was before.
I echo the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, who led a collaboration of the engaged on these issues, made up of Members from these Benches, his Benches, the Cross Benches and occasionally some noble Lords on the Conservative Benches, to try to ensure that we could get the very best possible out of this Bill. I also thank my noble friend Lord Storey, who has been a tower of strength throughout. We have made this Bill much better than when it reached us and I am grateful to the Minister for helping that to happen.
My Lords, in relation to what the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said about the Prime Minister’s remarks on calling the election, I am relying only on my memory but I do not think that she said “the unelected House of Lords”. She referred to unelected Lords who had made it clear that everything they could do to stop Brexit would be done—it was something like that. I do not think that she was referring to the House of Lords as a whole, because apart from anything else it would not fit the description.
I also support what my noble friend Lord Willetts said. He knows much more about the atmosphere in Whitehall now than I do, and he said he hoped that the research promoted in this might well have a good effect in that direction.
Finally, I agree with what has been said about the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara. I hope that he will enjoy the freedom of not being on the Front Bench. I want to thank all his colleagues on the Front Bench and those on the Front Bench of the Liberal Party and on the Cross Benches for their help with some of my efforts. I have enjoyed their co-operation and for that I am very grateful.
My Lords, the Prime Minister referred to us all as saboteurs more than anything else, which might be a compliment in some ways. We might reflect on that as we go forward.
We must accept that we have made no progress at all on this section of the Bill. It would probably be wrong of me to give too much detail about what happens in a wash-up session. Very few people are privileged to attend them, and I was there only for a small part of it. The rest of the time I was left hanging on a mobile phone in a remote area in which it did not work very well, and I got more and more frustrated about my inability to have any influence in some of the debates. However, one would have hoped that a majority of 94, and the arguments that we have heard rehearsed again today, would have led at least to a discussion about the way forward on this complex and rather annoying area that we seem unable to bring into focus.
In fact, I understand that it was made clear at the very start that the Minister concerned was unable to discuss any concessions in this area: it was ruled off the table from the beginning. In that sense, it plays a little into the conversation that we had earlier: that there is something dysfunctional about Whitehall on cross-cutting issues. We all know the wicket issues that are difficult and that nobody wants to play on. No Minister will take full responsibility for them and unless they get prime ministerial push—and a lot more besides, because Prime Ministers are not always as powerful as public misconceptions would have it—they will not make the progress necessary to achieve something that is genuinely about the whole of government. A hole has been created in this area and we have, I am afraid, fallen into it. Added to that is what appears to be an uncanny ability of the current Prime Minister to exercise control in a fairly remote part of the Government.
I have two other things to say before we hear from the Minister as he winds this Bill up. The first concerns a little of what the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, said and what was said around the House. We need to use the fact that we have been rebuffed again on this issue to try to get the case right. That would be a good thing to do. Although the statistics are important, I will focus not just on them, because it might be a little ambitious to think that we will get a counting-in and counting-out method just because there is a problem in this area. The real issue is: who actually controls the entry of students to our universities? The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, said that at the end of the Bill we would probably have the best-regulated sector in the UK and possibly in the world. But should we not be trusting our higher education institutions to get on with the job and to recruit the best people they think can benefit from an education here?
The truth is that this is all second-guessed by the Home Office, which has its own teams of people who interview the students nominated by the institutions. They set the quota levels, which are said to be unlimited but are in practice set and increased only on application, and they change the quotas available to every institution if they feel that an institution is making mistakes in the people it recruits. This is not just about the point of entry. What happens to these students after they have left the responsibility of the institutions? When they go out into the wider world if they are able to get a job, or even if they disappear from the statistics, somehow the original institution that brought them in is responsible for them. That seems a double penalty, both for what they are doing and for future recruitment issues. All this has to be picked up and looked at. It is not a good system.
A pilot scheme is ongoing that affects masters courses, not undergraduate courses—deliberately chosen so that the results will be available earlier. Therefore, there is some hope that we might use that system to drive through a different approach to this, so that trusted institutions that are well regulated under a new system that has the support of both Houses can make the decisions necessary to recruit the right students. Those students will benefit from our system and can then fulfil their soft power responsibilities, duties and activities before going back, creating economic activity before they do so and being good citizens here and in the world. Currently, we have failed completely. I really regret that. I have bitterness and regret as much as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and I share his pain, but we must move on from here. The issue must not go away; it is too important for the economic future of our country, for the institutions concerned which need these students if they are to be successful and make progress, and for the individuals who are getting the benefit of the education here. I hope we will make progress urgently on the disaster that we now face.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, spoke after my initial remarks. I understand that the noble Lord and others continue to hold strong views on this matter of international students. I am very aware of that, but I also appreciate his understanding of the current rapid process that is necessary and needed to move forward with cross-party agreement on this Bill, which he and the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, alluded to.
To give some brief concluding remarks on the Bill, we have had an extremely rich and detailed debate on it over the last weeks and months. As the Minister in the other place noted, this House has contributed immeasurably to the Bill. Noble Lords’ deep interest and expertise in these matters has been very clear through not just the record number of amendments tabled, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and others, but the quality of the debate. The Government have reflected deeply on these points throughout the process. I hope the House understands that now, including on the most recent amendments. The voice of the sector has also been heard loud and clear throughout the process, and I am glad that Universities UK and GuildHE were able to give their support to the package of amendments tabled in the other place at the start of this week.
I recommend without reservation that noble Lords support this Bill. As my noble friend Lord Willetts said, it represents the most important legislation for the sector in 25 years and will set the framework for our world-class higher education sector and globally leading research base to continue to thrive in the 21st century. I beg to move.
Motion G agreed.
That this House do not insist on its Amendment 183, 184 and 185, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 183A.
183A: Because Lords Amendments 183, 184 and 185 are unnecessary in light of Amendments 12A and 12B.
Motion H agreed.