Skip to main content

Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill

Volume 832: debated on Tuesday 12 September 2023

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, I would like to express to your Lordships how delighted I am that the Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill is finalising its passage through this House. This Bill is a significant moment in transforming access to post-18 education and skills as the next step toward the introduction of the lifelong loan entitlement.

I thank noble Lords for their valuable scrutiny and input throughout the Bill’s passage in this place. I express my particular thanks to Members on the Front Benches, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Twycross, Lady Wilcox of Newport, Lady Thornton and Lady Garden of Frognal, and the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Addington, for their positive engagement and overall support for the principles behind the Bill, as well as for their thoughtful scrutiny and constructive contributions. The debates have been engaging and we have benefited significantly from the deep expertise in this House.

I pay particular thanks to those former Education Ministers and Secretaries of State who provided us with their insight. They include the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and my noble friends Lord Willetts and Lord Johnson of Marylebone.

I thank the many other noble Lords who took part in the debates and who have a wealth of knowledge across higher and further education, including honorary fellows, visiting professors and members of many of this country’s brilliant universities and colleges. I am also grateful to those leaders in universities and colleges who shared their insights with me about the potential for the Bill, the learning from the pilots and what is needed to make the Bill have a material impact once it becomes law.

Our debates in this House have brought to light a number of areas in which we are all united. It is clear that we are aligned in our desire to create an efficient and flexible system, bring higher education and further education closer together, and make it easier for people to get the skills they need which could transform their lives—whether that might be studying flexibly, training part-time when working, or undertaking a short course more suited to their circumstances.

I reiterate the significance of the Bill and the LLE in driving a transformative impact on post-18 education. The LLE will become the route for people who require student finance for levels 4 to 6 study across higher and further education. In introducing the LLE, we want to do as much as possible to make it accessible and affordable for the most disadvantaged. The Government are committed to the delivery of this programme from 2025 and are working closely with partners and the wider sector to make this happen.

In relation to the specific points raised on Report, I again reassure noble Lords that this Government are committed to monitoring the impact of these measures on the transformation of student finance under the LLE. I also reiterate that the Government do not intend to change the number of learning hours in a credit unless standards in the sector change. Learning hours are, and should continue to be, based on sector-led standards. Finally, I assure your Lordships that the Government remain committed to delivering an alternative student finance product compatible with Islamic finance principles as soon as operationally possible after 2025, and we will provide a further update later this year.

I extend my thanks to the team of officials at the Department for Education, in the Bill team so ably led by Charlotte Rushworth, in the LLE policy team, our legal advisers, analysts and all officials involved in preparing this Bill for introduction for their support, not least from my private office, in engaging fully with your Lordships’ scrutiny. I would also like to recognise the clerks and officials in Parliament for their diligent work in supporting the Bill’s passage through this place. In particular, my thanks go to the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, for her vision in the development of this policy.

While the Bill is the culmination of a large amount of work over a number of years, it is also the foundation of much work that is still to come. I look forward to continuing to discuss these important issues with your Lordships in future. There is no one in this House, or in the other place, who would disagree with the principles behind this programme, and, regardless of Governments to come, that is something we should continue to work with and build upon.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her constructive engagement on this Bill and for briefing Members at an early stage, along with the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Rainow, and the right honourable Member for Harlow. I also thank the Bill team. Labour supports the Bill’s aim; we support the idea that people can access funding to undertake the learning they need throughout their career. With people undertaking portfolio careers and with continual changes in technology and society, it is no longer the case that what you learn through a traditional three-year degree course is all that you will need in your work for the next 45 years or so.

We had a number of interesting, if concise, debates as the Bill passed its various stages. The Bill is quite limited in scope and Labour still believes that there could have been scope for setting out a more formal review process on a number of its aspects. This would, not least, have helped to safeguard against unintended consequences, whether around distance and flexible learning or employers making a proper contribution to staff development.

There are a number of potential negative impacts on people who are less able to move to study or who are less able to study full-time because of caring responsibilities. From what the noble Baroness said, we hope and believe that the Government intend to monitor and review the lifelong loan entitlement as it is established and rolled out, to make sure that its promise and potential are fulfilled, and especially to ensure that every person in England can have their own promise and potential fulfilled.

I thank the team in the Labour group office, particularly Clare Scally, as well as my Front-Bench colleagues and mentors—my noble friends Lady Wilcox and Lady Thornton. Their patience and kindness in imparting their own lifelong learning and talking me, a relatively new member of the Labour Front-Bench team, through the process of the passage of the Bill has been hugely appreciated.

My Lords, I apologise profusely to the House for arriving after the Minister started speaking; business moved much more quickly than I expected.

From these Benches, I thank the Minister and the Bill team very much for all their work on the Bill. We remain concerned about how many adults will wish to take on debt in order to improve their learning, and we look forward to hearing updates from the Minister about how many people have done so. From these Benches, we feel that grants would be a much more effective way of persuading adults to learn. But, of course, we are all totally in favour of lifelong learning, and we wish the Bill well.

My Lords, as many of you will know, the number 1 recommendation of the Augar review of post-18 education and funding was for this sort of reform. As someone who was a member of that review and who has spent a considerable part of the last three and a half years on secondment to government to work on the Augar review proposals, among other things, I take this opportunity to thank everyone involved.

I have been jinxed: I have not managed to contribute to any of the fine and informative debates that have taken place on this. They have highlighted some of the challenges that lie ahead. I am enormously encouraged by the cross-party support for the principle of a funding system that genuinely takes us forward into not just the 21st century but a future where post-compulsory lifelong learning is the rule, not the exception. We now have an opportunity to build on this.

I thank everyone involved in the drafting and passing of the Bill—although we have not quite passed it yet. I particularly put on record my appreciation of the work put in by a large number of officials who have worked enormously hard on this—on teasing out the policy implications and on minimising the amount that had to be put into primary legislation. I thank them and the Minister for her support. It is a little miraculous that we have moved from a major recommendation in 2019 to putting this reform on its way to implementation in 2023. So, on behalf of the Augar review team—and, I think, all the future students of this country—I thank everyone involved in this reform.

Bill passed.