Higher Education Bill
Baroness Ashton of Upholland (Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Sure Start, Early Years and Childcare), Department for Education and Skills; Labour)
My Lords, when we debated part-time provision on Report, the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, said that he knew of no issue that attracted more solid consensus than the need to do something for part-timers. Many noble Lords have spoken on the issue on Report and during previous stages at the Bill. Sadly, there is not time to do them all credit. I shall mention a few and hope that others will forgive me.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said that there was a need for the director to take account of access to part-time education. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth said that there needs to be a signal in the Bill to recognise an important growth area and a fact of modern life. The noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, reminded us that the director needs to see the effects of the new system in an holistic manner. The noble Lord, Lord Rix, and the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, have been passionate throughout the Bill's progress in arguing the case for part-time students. My noble friend Lady Blackstone said that it was important not to pass a Bill that neglects to recognise the existence of part-time higher education and that the director had a duty to consider both kinds of students. As she reminded the House, part-time students make up 40 per cent of the student population.
I agree with those sentiments, and we have listened and responded. I agreed on Report to return with two amendments, which I have now tabled in my name for your Lordships' consideration. Amendment No. 3 explicitly extends to part-time higher education the role given to the director on Report of spreading good practice. Like my noble friend Lady Warwick, I have every expectation that many institutions will include part-time provision in their access plans. It is therefore eminently sensible for the director to consider the good work that they are doing and encourage good practice.
In considering good practice, the director will consider the whole range of what institutions are doing through their access plans in respect of part-time study: outreach to ensure that potential students are aware of the part-time options available; ways in which institutions provide financial support for part-time students; and information on the range of financial support available to them. I believe that that will be a very positive move to help institutions and their part-time students.
Amendment No. 4 confers on the director a duty to perform his functions in such a way as to promote and safeguard equality of opportunity in connection with access to higher education, including part-time education, in so far as his functions are exercisable in relation to it. On Report, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, tabled an amendment with similar intentions, which I could not accept because of a technicality. I was, however, glad that she had tabled it and accepted the principle behind it.
Although the director will focus principally on full-time students, because it is those fees that the director will regulate, I agree that his remit should extend to part-time students. Many institutions will want to include their study in their plans. This amendment makes clear that the director will take an interest in what institutions are doing to encourage students in both full-time and part-time education.
The amendments put a clear signal on the face of the Bill that part-time education matters, and its importance should be reflected in the role of the Director of Fair Access. I beg to move.