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“(1) The OfS must monitor the financial sustainability of the following registered higher education providers—
(a) those who are funded wholly or partly by a grant, loan or other payment from the OfS under section 37 or 38 (financial support for providers),
(b) those who are not so funded but are eligible to receive such funding under section 37 or 38, and
(c) those who provide higher education courses which are designated for the purposes of section 22 of the Teaching and Higher Education Act 1998 (financial support for students) by or under regulations made under that section.
(2) The OfS must include in its annual report a financial sustainability summary for the financial year to which the report relates.
(3) “A financial sustainability summary” for a financial year is a summary of conclusions drawn by the OfS for that year, from its monitoring under subsection (1), regarding relevant patterns, trends or other matters which it has identified.
(4) Patterns, trends or other matters are “relevant” if—
(a) they relate to the financial sustainability of some or all of the registered higher education providers monitored under subsection (1), and
(b) the OfS considers that they are appropriate to be brought to the attention of the Secretary of State.
(5) In this section—
“annual report” means the annual report under paragraph 13 of Schedule1;
“financial year” has the same meaning as in that Schedule (see paragraph 12(6)).”—(Joseph Johnson.)
This new clause, which is for insertion after clause 61, requires the OfS to monitor the financial sustainability of registered higher education providers who are in receipt of, or eligible for, certain kinds of public funding. It requires the OfS to include in its annual report a summary of conclusions which it draws from that monitoring regarding patterns, trends or other matters which it has identified relating to the financial sustainability of some or all of the providers monitored and which it considers are appropriate to be brought to the attention of the Secretary of State.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 4—Committee on Degree Awarding Powers and University Title—
“(1) The OfS must establish a committee called the “Committee on Degree Awarding Powers and University Title”.
(2) The function of the Committee is to provide advice to the OfS on—
(a) the general exercise of its functions under sections 40, 42, 43 and 53 of this Act, and section 77 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992;
(b) particular uses of its powers under section 40(1) of this Act; and
(c) particular uses of its powers under section 77 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992.
(3) The OfS must seek the advice of the Committee before—
(a) authorising a registered higher education provider or qualifying further education provider to grant taught awards, research awards or foundation degrees under section 40(1) of this Act;
(b) varying any authorisation made under section 40(1) of this Act so as to authorise a registered higher education provider or qualifying further education provider to grant a category of award or degree that, prior to the variation of the authorisation, it was not authorised to grant; and
(c) providing consent under section 77 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 for an education institution or body corporate to change its names so as to include the word “university” in the name of the institution or body corporate.
(4) The OfS must also seek the advice of UKRI before authorising a registered higher education provider or qualifying further education provider to grant research awards under section 40(1) of this Act.
(5) The OfS does not need to seek the advice of the Committee before—
(a) revoking an authorisation to grant taught awards, research awards or foundation degrees; or
(b) varying any authorisation to grant taught awards, research awards, or foundation degrees so as to revoke the authorisation of a registered higher education provider or qualifying further education provider to grant a category of award that, prior to the variation of the authorisation, it was authorised to grant.
(6) Subsection (4) applies whether the authorisation being revoked or varied was given—
(a) by an order made under section 40(1) of this Act;
(b) by or under any Act of Parliament, other than under section 40(1) of this Act; or
(c) by Royal Charter.
(7) In providing its advice to the OfS, the Committee must in particular consider the need for students, employers and the public to have confidence in the higher education system and the awards which are granted by it.
(8) The OfS must have regard to the advice given to it by the Committee on both the general exercise of its functions referred to in subsection (2) and any particular uses of its powers referred to in subsection (3).
(9) The majority of the members of the Committee must be individuals who appear to the OfS to have experience of providing higher education on behalf of an English higher education provider or being responsible for the provision of higher education by such a provider.
(10) In appointing members of the Committee who meet these criteria, the OfS must have regard to the desirability of their being currently engaged at the time of their appointment in the provision of higher education or in being responsible for such provision.
(11) The majority of the members of the Committee must be individuals who are not members of the OfS.
(12) Schedule 1 applies to the Committee on Degree Awarding Powers and University Title as it applies to committees established under paragraph 8 of that Schedule.”
This new clause would create a committee of the OfS which fulfils much the same functions as the current Advisory Committee on Degree Awarding Powers.
New clause 7—Automatic review of authorisation—
“(1) The OfS must consider whether to vary or revoke an authorisation given under section 40(1) if—
(a) the ownership of the registered provider is transferred,
(b) the owner of the registered provider has restrictions placed on its degree-awarding powers in relation to another registered provider under its control or ownership, or
(c) for any other reason considered to be in the interest of students enrolled at the institution or the public.
(2) A decision taken under sub-section (1) to vary or revoke an authorisation shall be carried out in accordance with section 43.”
This new clause would ensure that a review of a provider’s degree awarding power would be triggered if the ownership of a provider changes, if the owner of the registered provider faces restrictions to its degree awarding powers in another jurisdiction or if the OfS deems a review necessary to protect students or the wider public interest.
New clause 9—OfS report: international students—
“(1) The OfS shall, in accordance with information received under paragraph 8(1)(ba), produce an annual report for the Secretary of State on—
(a) EU (excluding from the UK), and
(b) non- EU students enrolled with English higher education providers.
(2) A report under subsection (1) must include an assessment of—
(a) the number of international students, and
(b) the financial contribution of international students to English Higher Education providers.
New clause 12—Prohibition: use of quality of higher education when determining a visa application—
“An assessment made of the quality rating of a higher education provider in the United Kingdom under section 25 of this Act may not be used when assessing a person’s eligibility for leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom under Part 1 of the Immigration Act 1971.”
New clause 14—Post Study Work Visa: evaluation—
“(1) Within six months of this Act coming into force, UKRI must commission an independent evaluation of the matters under subsection (1B) and shall lay the report before the House of Commons.
(1B) The evaluation under subsection (1A) must assess—
(a) the effect of the absence of post study work visas for persons graduating from higher education institutions in the United Kingdom on—
(i) the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the higher education sector, and
(ii) the UK economy, and
(b) how post study work visa arrangements might operate in the UK, including an estimate of their effect on—
(i) the economy, efficiency and effectiveness of the higher education sector, and
(ii) the UK economy.”
This new clause would require UKRI to commission research on the effects of the absence of arrangements for post study work visas and assess how such arrangements could operate in the UK and their effect on the higher education sector and the UK economy.
New clause 15—Standing Commission on the integration of higher education and lifelong learning—
(2) The terms of reference of the Commission shall include the following purposes—
(a) to report on progress being made in respect of the opportunities available to individuals, employers and communities to integrate higher education with lifelong learning in England;
(b) to consider the potential to update and review the range of higher education qualifications available for mature students at all registered higher education providers;
(c) to evaluate current funding systems for registered higher education providers with respect to the opportunities available to individuals, employers and communities to integrate higher education with life-long learning, in England;
(d) to examine and report on the introduction of personal learning accounts to be used for higher education—
(i) funded on the contributory principle from employers, individuals and structures of devolved local and national government; and
(ii) on the arrangements that will operate to facilitate input from corporate or trade union bodies, which can be used to support lifelong learning and adult education;
(e) to examine and report on the potential to develop education and skills accounts (ESAs), including the possibility of a single lifetime higher education entitlement; and
(f) to examine and report on the establishment of a national credit rating, accumulation and transfer system as a mechanism to improve flexible learning in further and higher education, including for mature students, and on the feasibility of a digital credit system, which could also facilitate where appropriate the integration of work-based learning and higher education.
(3) The Commission will make the following reports on the matters set out at subsection (2) to be laid before Parliament—
(a) within 12 months of its establishment; and
(b) thereafter annually.
(4) When the report in respect of ESAs required at subsection (2)(e) has been made, the Secretary of State may authorise the OfS to work with higher education providers, employers and financial institutions to develop a framework for ESAs.”
New clause 16—Migration Statistics: students—
“When the Secretary of State publishes statistics on the immigration of people to the United Kingdom, the relevant publication must provide—
(a) the figures net and gross of those people who are students studying in the UK, or
(b) a note indicating how many students included in the total immigration figures are students studying in the UK.”
Government amendment 1.
Amendment 51, in clause 5, page 4, line 9, at end insert—
“(1A) Subject to subsection (1C), initial registration conditions of all providers under paragraph (1)(a) must include a requirement that every provider—
(a) provides all eligible students with the opportunity to opt in to be added to the electoral register through the process of enrolling with that provider, and
(b) enter into a data sharing agreement with the local electoral registration officer to add those students to the electoral register.
(1B) For the purposes of subsection (1A)—
(a) a “data sharing agreement” is an agreement between the higher education provider and their local authority whereby the provider shares—
(i) the name,
(iv) date of birth, and
(v) national insurance data of all eligible students enrolling and/or enrolled with the provider who opt in within the meaning of subsection (2A)(a);
(b) “eligible” means those persons who are—
(i) entitled to vote in accordance with section 1 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, and
(ii) a resident in the same local authority as the higher education provider.
(1C) Subsection (1A) does not apply to the Open University and other distance learning institutions.”
This amendment would ensure that the OfS includes as a registration condition for higher education providers the integration of electoral registration into the student enrolment process. Distance-learning providers are exempt.
Amendment 37, page 4, line 17, after “providers” insert “, staff and students”.
This amendment would ensure consultation with bodies representing higher education staff and students.
Amendment 52, in clause 8, page 5, line 35, at end insert—
“(ba) a condition that requires the governing body of the provider to provide the OfS with information on the number of international students enrolled on a higher education course at that institution and the fees charged to those students,”
Amendment 38, page 5, line 39, at end insert—
(d) an access and participation plan condition, as defined in section 12.”
This amendment would make access and participation plans mandatory for all higher education providers.
Government amendment 2.
Amendment 39, in clause 9, page 6, line 13, at end insert—
“(iv) age band,
(ii) people with disabilities, and
(iii) care leavers.”
This amendment would include the number of people with disabilities and care leavers, as well as the age of applicants, in the published number of applications.
Government amendments 3 and 4.
Amendment 46, in clause 25, page 15, line 25, at beginning insert “Subject to subsection (7),”.
See the explanatory statement for amendment 47.
Amendment 49, page 15, line 32, at end insert—
“(1A) The scheme established under subsection (1) shall have two ratings—
(a) meets expectations, and
(b) fails to meet expectations.
(1B) Each year, after the scheme established under subsection (1) comes into force the OfS must lay a report before Parliament on the number of international students—
(a) applying to, and
(b) enrolled at the Higher Education Providers that have applied for a rating within the meaning of subsection (1).”
This amendment provides for a pass/fail only Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) rating, and requires the OfS to report on the number of international students applying to and attending Higher Education providers each year from the coming into force of the TEF.
Amendment 47, page 16, line 23, at end insert—
“(7) No arrangements for a scheme shall be made under subsection (1) unless a draft of the scheme has been laid before and approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.”
This amendment and amendment 46 would ensure TEF measures were subject to scrutiny by, and approval of, both Houses of Parliament.
Amendment 50, page 16, line 23, at end insert—
“(7) In making arrangements under sub-section (1), the OfS must make an assessment of—
(a) the evidence that any proposed metric for assessing teaching quality is correlated to teaching quality, and
(b) the potential unintended consequences that could arise from implementing the scheme including proposals on how such risks can be mitigated.
(8) Prior to making an assessment under subsection (7) the OfS must consult—
(a) bodies representing the interests of academic staff employed at English higher education providers,
(b) bodies representing the interests of students enrolled on higher education courses, and
(c) such other persons as the OfS considers appropriate.
(9) The assessments made under subsection (7) must be published.”
This amendment would require an assessment of the evidence of the reliability of the TEF metrics to be made and for the assessment to be published.
Government amendments 5 to 11.
Amendment 40, in clause 40, page 23, line 22, at end insert—
“(c) the OfS is assured that the provider is able to maintain the required standards of a UK degree for the duration of the authorisation; and
(d) the OfS is assured that the provider operates in students’ and the public interests.”
This amendment requires the OfS to be assured about the maintenance of standards and about students’ and the public interest before issuing authorisation to grant degrees.
Amendment 41, page 23, line 47, at end insert—
“(9A) In making any orders under this section, and sections 41, 42 and 43, the OfS must have due regard to the need to maintain confidence in the higher education sector, and in the awards which they collectively grant, among students, employers, and the wider public.”
This amendment would ensure that the granting and removal of degree awarding powers would be linked to a need to maintain confidence in the sector, and with a view to preserving its excellent reputation.
Amendment 58, in clause 51, page 31, line 41, at end insert—
(a) it offers access to a range of cultural activities, including, but not restricted to—
(i) the opportunity to undertake sport and recreation, and
(ii) the opportunity to access a range of student societies and organisations,
(b) it provides students support and wellbeing services including specialist learning support,
(c) it provides opportunities for volunteering,
(d) it provides the opportunity to join a students’ union, and
(e) it plays a positive civic role.”
Government amendments 12, 13, 18 and 19.
Amendment 36, in schedule 1, page 69, line 37, at end insert—
“(h) being an employee of a higher education provider, particularly in the capacity of teaching or researching.”
This amendment would ensure the Secretary of State had regard for the experience of higher education employees, teaching or research staff.
Amendment 48, page 69, line 37, at end insert—
“(h) representing or promoting the interests of employees in higher education establishments.”
This amendment requires that at least one of the ordinary members of the OfS has experience of representing or promoting the interests of employees in higher education.
Government amendments 21 to 34.
New clause 1 relates to the Office for Students, which is central to the Bill and has quality, student choice, equality of opportunity and value for money at its core. Through the creation of the independent OFS, the Bill will join up the currently fragmented regulation of the sector—essential to ensure that students are protected, and that students and the taxpayer receive good value for money from the system. The Bill will boost social mobility and promote opportunity for all. It will drive up innovation, diversity, quality and capacity in our world-class higher education sector, while protecting academic freedom and institutional autonomy. The Bill will also create UK Research and Innovation, a new body with strategic vision for research and innovation in the UK.
I am pleased that the Bill received such thorough scrutiny in Committee. I have reflected on the points made by Opposition Members and I am pleased to present some important amendments today. We made clear in our White Paper that the OFS will have responsibility for oversight of the financial health of the sector, and will monitor the sustainability of individual institutions. It is absolutely essential that all providers who are eligible to receive some form of public funding have sustainable finances to ensure value for students and taxpayers.
We have listened to stakeholder evidence and to the Committee debates. Stakeholders including Universities UK consider the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s holistic oversight of the health of the sector to be an essential part of the regulator’s role. I understand the importance of this oversight in maintaining confidence in the sector and preserving its world-class reputation. The stakeholders share the desire to make our policy intention in the White Paper explicit in legislation. This role will include financial oversight of all the institutions’ activities, spanning teaching and research.
The duty of the Office for Students will be to ensure that it is monitoring effectively the overall financial health of the sector in such a way that it is able to inform the Secretary of State, so that the Government can take appropriate actions. It will not be the role of the Office for Students to bail out struggling institutions—if there are any such institutions. These are private and autonomous bodies, and it is important that the discipline of the marketplace acts on them. It will be the role of the OFS to assist them in transitioning towards viable business plans so that they can continue to provide high-quality education to their students in the medium and long term.
New clause 1 introduces a statutory duty for the OFS to monitor and report on the financial sustainability of all registered HE providers in England which are in receipt of or eligible for OFS funding or tuition fee loans.
Higher education institutions are private and autonomous bodies that are self-organising. It is of course important that they provide a framework of governance that enables students to learn well in their institutions, and I am sure that that will include a healthy dialogue with their staff and employees. It is not for the Government to mandate particular forms of relations, given that these institutions are private and autonomous.
In performing its role, the OFS will have a clear picture of the number of international students and the income they bring—just as HEFCE currently does. I therefore do not agree with the need for an additional duty for the OFS to report on international students, as amendment 52 and new clause 9, tabled by John Pugh, would require.
Similarly, I do not believe that the Bill is an appropriate vehicle for a requirement for the commissioning of research on post-work study, as proposed by the hon. Members for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) and for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin). The Bill focuses on the creation of the necessary structures that will oversee higher education and research funding for many years to come, and a short-term piece of research on an element of migration policy is not consistent with the scope and functions of UK Research and Innovation.
The Minister clearly does not believe that the Bill is the right vehicle for the issues under consideration, but does he understand why Members would pick this vehicle? His Department understands the importance of international students to UK higher education, and the Treasury understands their role, so why do the Home Office and the Prime Minister not understand it? Does the Minister not realise that, like him, we will be banging our heads against a brick wall at the Home Office?
The Home Secretary has said that in the coming weeks we will consult on a non-European economic area migration route that will benefit international students who want to come and study at our world-class institutions, and I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to wait until we see the details of that consultation before jumping to any conclusions.
The Minister referred to “an element”. The post-study work visa is not just the subject of “an element” of concern to universities in Scotland; it is of major concern, especially given that what the Home Office has proposed is a tiny and completely unrepresentative pilot. This is a matter of great importance to the university sector.
Indeed. The Government fully agree with the hon. Gentleman that international students bring a lot to our higher education system. They bring income, valued diversity, and many other benefits to our universities. We welcome them, and we have a warm and welcoming regime to accommodate them.
Let me now deal with Government amendments 1, 12 and 13. Academic freedom and institutional autonomy are keystones of our higher education system, and the Bill introduces additional protections in that area. In his evidence to the Bill Committee, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge, said that he particularly liked the implicit and explicit recognition of autonomy in the Bill. However, I wanted to make absolutely clear how important it is for the Government to protect institutional autonomy, which is why I proposed a further group of amendments to strengthen the protections even more.
I recognise the concerns expressed in Committee and in stakeholder evidence that allowing the Secretary of State to give guidance relating to particular courses might be perceived as leaving the door open to guidance calling specifically for the opening or closing of particular courses. One of the real strengths of our higher education system is diversity and the ability of institutions to determine their own missions, either as multidisciplinary institutions or as institutions specialising in particular areas such as the performing arts or theology. To avoid any confusion, I proposed the amendments to add an additional layer of reassurance regarding the protections given to institutional autonomy. They make clear that the Secretary of State cannot give guidance to, or impose terms and conditions or directions on, the OFS which would require it to make providers offer, or stop offering, particular courses.
Our reforms place students at the heart of higher education regulation. I agree with Labour Members that it is important to build the student perspective into the OFS. Government amendment 21 clarifies beyond doubt that at least one member of the OFS board must have experience of representing or promoting the interests of individual students or students generally.
Labour Members tabled amendments 36 and 48, which relate to higher education staff representation. We share the view that the OFS board should benefit from the experience of HE staff. However, the Bill already requires the Secretary of State to have regard to appointing board members with experience of the broad range of different types of English providers in the sector. We are therefore confident that a number of OFS board members will be, or will have been, employed by HE providers, and we do not believe that we need to make an additional requirement in legislation.
Students make significant investments in their higher education choices, and it is right for them to be aware of what would happen if their course, campus or institution were to close. That is what Government amendment 4 will achieve. We expect all providers to make contingency plans to guard against the risk that courses cannot be delivered as agreed. The requirement for providers to produce student protection plans would be a condition of regulation. I listened to points made in Committee, and have reflected on the need to strengthen the power of the OFS to ensure that there is transparency in student protection measures, and that is exactly what the amendment does. It enables the OFS to require providers not only to develop student protection plans but to publish them, and we would expect providers to bring them to students’ attention.
The Government believe in opportunity for all and through the Bill we are delivering on that. We believe that transparency is one of the best tools we have when it comes to widening participation. Universities have made progress but the transparency duty will shine a spotlight on those institutions that need to go further. That is why I am pleased to propose amendments 2 and 3, which change the language in the Bill to make it clearer that the OFS can ask HE providers to publish and share with the OFS the number of applications, offers, acceptances and completion rates for students, each broken down by ethnicity, gender and socioeconomic background.
The Bill will also give the OFS the power to operate the teaching excellence framework. Thirty years of the research excellence framework and its predecessors have made the UK’s research the envy of the world but, without an equivalent focus on excellence in teaching, the incentives on universities have become distorted.
The Minister mentioned the TEF and the REF. Does he agree that the REF took several years to bed down and to become a measure of research, and that a lot of institutions feel that the TEF is being rushed through, particularly the link between teaching excellence and fees? I have been emailed by the University of West London, which has asked me strongly to oppose that. The TEF will be done on an institution-by-institution basis, not, like REF, by department. Courses can vary widely in quality. Will he think again in relation to those points?
The TEF is not being rushed; it is being piloted for the first two years. Awards will not be differentiated until 2019-20, with effect from the 2019-20 academic year. That is a significant period for the reforms to bed in. The university sector has welcomed the link to fees. Universities UK has recognised that there is a need for such a link and that we need to fund on the basis of quality as well as quantity. There is no attempt by the sector to separate the link.
I applaud the Minister’s view that we should focus on quality in the sector, rather than just volume, which is one of the problems that has beset the higher education sector in the past 20 or so years. Is there any international parallel for the OFS? Does such a body exist in Canada, Australia or other big global higher education sectors? Are we taking a lead, or following elements of what has happened elsewhere?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his helpful intervention. We have studied regulatory systems around the world in drawing up our proposals for the OFS. Our system is in line with several in the Anglophone countries that have moved towards a market-based system in which the student is the primary funder of his or her higher education experience. It is therefore incumbent on us to put in place a system of regulation that recognises that we are moving away from the classic funder model of regulation that was put in place by the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, which created the Higher Education Funding Council for England.
New clause 12 and amendment 47 seem to misunderstand the aim of the TEF. Changing the ratings, as proposed by amendment 49, would fundamentally undermine the purpose of the TEF by preventing students from being able to determine which providers are offering the best teaching and achieving the best outcomes. Amendments 46 and 47 would stifle the healthy development of the TEF, and amendment 50 ignores the reasoned and consultative approach that we have taken and will continue to take in developing the metrics.
Let me set out the reasons why amendments tabled by Opposition Members on our plans for degree-awarding powers are unnecessary—namely, new clauses 4 and 7, and amendments 40 and 41. Our reforms will ensure that students can choose from a wider range of high-quality institutions. If the higher education provider can demonstrate their ability to deliver high-quality provision, we want to make it easier for it to start awarding its own degrees, rather than needing to have degrees for its courses awarded by a competing incumbent. We intend to keep the processes on scrutiny of applications for degree-awarding powers, which have worked well so far, broadly as they are. That includes retaining an element of independent peer review for degree-awarding powers applications. Setting this out in legislation, as new clause 4 suggests, would tie this to a static process which would be inflexible. We intend to consult on detailed circumstances where degree-awarding powers and university title might be revoked, including changes of ownership, so there is no need for new clause 7. As for amendments 40 and 41, I can reassure Members that we will, as now, ensure that the very high standards providers must meet to make such awards will be retained. We are streamlining processes, not lowering standards, and these amendments are therefore unnecessary.
Dr Blackman-Woods has proposed amendment 58 on the criteria an institution should demonstrate in order to be granted university title. None of these are current criteria. Like now we intend to set out the detailed criteria and processes for gaining university title in guidance, not in legislation.
This group also includes some technical amendments to ensure that the legislation delivers the policy intent set out in our White Paper. I know Opposition Members will be keen to talk about the amendments they have tabled, and I look forward to responding to any further points raised.
I rise to speak on new clause 7 and amendments 49 to 51, which are in my name. New clause 7 and amendments 50 and 51 cover ground we discussed at length in Committee so I will refer briefly to those points then talk a little longer on amendment 49.
New clause 7 provides for automatic review of degree-awarding powers where ownership of a university changes. This is rooted in experience of the sort of system the Minister is seeking to create in the United States, where a number of institutions with a reasonably well-established reputation changed ownership and fundamentally changed the product and service delivered to students. We need to learn from the mistakes made in the States by ensuring that, should we find ourselves in this new terrain with institutions in this country with degree-awarding powers changing ownership, that should automatically trigger a review of their status. I would welcome some reassurance from the Minister on how he intends to deal with that issue, if not through this new clause. Otherwise we could find ourselves in the same situation as the States, and not only have the reputation of the sector damaged, but students being let down and still carrying a fee-debt. So this is a crucial issue that we need some clarification on.
Amendment 51 covers terrain I have discussed with the Minister on a number of occasions. It simply seeks to require universities to introduce the integrated student enrolment system with voter registration, which is recommended by Universities UK, supported by the Cabinet Office and was originally and very successfully piloted by—I have to get this reference in—the University of Sheffield.
The Minister and I share a common objective of trying to improve the levels of voter registration among students. This has been a demonstrably effective way of doing that where we rolled it out not only as a pilot in Sheffield, with the support of the Cabinet Office, but in other universities—Cardiff, de Montfort and many others, which have gone on to introduce it. This seems like a good opportunity, as we are looking at the registration requirements of universities, to roll it out across the country to achieve objectives we both share.
I have discussed this with the Minister and also his colleague from the Cabinet Office, Chris Skidmore. There was due to be a roundtable at which we were going to discuss it further tomorrow, but that has been cancelled and kicked into the long grass of sometime in the new year, I was told last week. Given the shared objectives in this area, I would like to hear from the Minister why we cannot simply use this opportunity to get this matter sorted out.
Amendment 50 reflects concern over the reliability of the metrics used to measure teaching excellence. I emphasise, as I did many times in Committee, that we all welcome the Government’s focus on teaching excellence, and we can all work effectively together on the principle of the teaching excellence framework. However, the metrics on employment outcomes, on retention and on the national student satisfaction survey have been identified by the Government themselves as a proxy for teaching excellence.
The amendment simply seeks to add to the Bill a requirement that the metrics used by the Government to determine teaching quality should have a demonstrable link to teaching excellence. This was the unanimous recommendation of the then Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, of which I was then a member. We all agree that employment outcomes do not necessarily demonstrate teaching excellence. There are also enormous regional variations in employment outcomes and salary levels. The Minister will know that someone who comes from the right family and goes to the right school and university could have an awful teaching experience but still get a decent job. The converse is also true. People who do not come from the right family and who do not go to what many see as the right university could have an excellent teaching experience but not command such high salary levels. So employment outcomes are a crude and almost perverse proxy measure of teaching excellence. I would therefore welcome the Minister’s observations on why this simple amendment to introduce a demonstrable link between the metrics and teaching excellence would not strengthen the Bill and will not be accepted by the Government.
Should the demonstrable link involve a recognition of the experience and qualifications of lecturers? What does my hon. Friend have in mind when it comes to proving that teaching quality exists?
Measuring teaching quality is difficult, but if we are going to do it, and if we are going to link fee increases to it, we should do it well rather than badly. For example, the Higher Education Funding Council for England is piloting some work on value added to determine how it can be demonstrated that good teaching has contributed to students’ learning outcomes during a particular period. That is the kind of research we should be looking at before we rush into establishing a teaching excellence framework that might end up measuring everything but teaching excellence.
Does the hon. Gentleman therefore agree with Professor Jack Dowie’s view that the teaching excellence framework measures what it measures but does not measure the quality of teaching excellence?
The hon. Gentleman has expressed my concern exactly. This is the reason behind my amendment. There should be agreement across the House that the teaching excellence framework should measure the quality of teaching. That does not seem controversial to me, and I am therefore disappointed that the Government were unable to accept the unanimous recommendation of the BIS Committee. I want to press the Minister further today to find out his reasoning for this.
Amendment 49 raises new concerns that became clear only as the Bill progressed through Committee. It is apparently the Government’s intention—although I recognise that it might not be the Minister’s wish—to link the visa regime for international students to quality measures. There are Members present on both sides of the House who share my concern, so let me put it into context. The Minister will agree that international students are hugely beneficial to this country and to our universities. They enrich the learning environment of our campuses. In an even smaller world, in which we need to understand each other better than ever, it is a huge advantage for British students to learn in our classrooms and laboratories alongside students from around the world. International students add hugely to our universities’ research capacity, also strengthening local businesses, as I know from my experience in Sheffield.
We should add to that the huge benefits of the lasting relationships that we build with those who study here. According to the Higher Education Policy Institute, 55 world leaders from 51 countries studied here. That leads to the sort of soft power that is the envy of other countries—political influence, commercial contracts, and so on.
I am loth to interrupt my hon. Friend because he is in full flow and making a powerful point, but does he agree that the Bill was conceived before Brexit and that the world has changed since then? I am holding a Westminster Hall debate on this subject on Wednesday and have received emails from academics and students from all over country saying that this entire thing should be scrapped because the context is so different and everything has changed for higher education since the decision on
I look forward to joining my hon. Friend in Westminster Hall on Wednesday, because she makes a valid point—one that a number of us made in Committee. This pre-Brexit vision should have been parked and rethought as a result of the decision on
On that point, many mainland European universities now offer courses in English. Our leaving the European Union will significantly disadvantage British universities in attracting foreign students, because degrees in some European countries are now offered in English, not necessarily in French, German or the native language.
My hon. Friend highlights a new dimension to the challenge facing our universities as a result of Brexit. My wider point about international students existed before
Coventry has two universities. A big concern following Brexit is that international students, in particular from countries such as India, are now looking at north America given the difficulty they will have in coming to this country when they are treated as immigrants. They should be removed from immigration figures, because the benefits amount to just under £10 billion coming into this country. I hope the Government are taking that seriously.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is certainly testing my patience. It is one thing to come in and then ask a question, but it is another thing to stretch it into a speech. The hon. Member for Sheffield Central is being generous with interventions, but we do not want to get into a Brexit debate.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I appreciate the intervention of my hon. Friend, because he is a strong champion of the two universities in Coventry and he makes, on every occasion, this strong point about the importance of international students. He is right. Many universities around the country will be in crisis if there is a significant drop in the number of international students. It will mean not only that their incomes will drop, but that many of their postgraduate taught courses, which are viable only because of the levels of income that are brought through our international students, will cease to be viable, cease to exist and cease to be available for UK students. It is a hugely important issue.
The hon. Gentleman will know that I entirely accept his last point about a number of these postgraduate courses. In an ideal world, as he knows, I would not have students in the immigration figures, but we are where we are and they will remain in those figures. Surely one of the lessons of Brexit is that this issue is of massive concern to many of our fellow countrymen. Therefore, it is incumbent on universities to ensure that we get high-quality students from abroad, and that is really the focus of what the Government are trying to achieve here. We need to ensure that those students who come here are the crème de la crème and will add the sort of experience to which he referred earlier in his contribution. By having a group of high-quality students, we will command the confidence of the public that we are getting only the brightest and the best, rather than a volume operation in our universities.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He and I have worked closely on a number of these issues, and we do agree that international students should be taken out of net migration targets. On the point that he raises, I disagree with him. I know that we would come together in saying that our universities are a great British export industry, but I am genuinely puzzled why the Government do not see them as an industry in other terms. We do not put in measures to seek to discourage the automobile industry from selling cars; we try to encourage it to sell more cars. Similarly, on the point that he raises, we do not say, “Well, we just want you to sell Rolls-Royce cars. We don’t want you to sell Minis.” It is nonsense economically for our country and for the local economies that we all represent. That is the nub of the problem.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about the way in which these issues are viewed by the public. International students are not viewed as a threat or as an issue on which the Government should be taking action. A recent poll showed that 75% of people wanted to see the numbers of international students either stay the same or go up, but the Government strategy, as he knows, is moving us in the other direction.
The Home Secretary, albeit against her will, made a speech to the Conservative party conference in which she put international students at the centre of her plans to cut migration—I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will agree that she was wrong to do that. She introduced a new tool, to which he has alluded, with which she planned to do it. It is by linking visa approval to the quality of courses. We need to reflect on that, because it is a very significant development, as we now have a policy objective of reducing international students—the Government did it by default in the previous Parliament.
The hon. Gentleman should remind himself that international student applications have gone up 14%.
Well, I would be interested for the Minister to intervene again and say over what period, because he will know that, over the period of the last Parliament, the numbers flatlined and that we lost market share.
The answer is since 2010.
We will probably disagree on those figures. I think I have heard the Minister say previously—if it was not him then it was his predecessors and previous immigration Ministers—that there was no damage from the measures that were taken in the last Parliament, because numbers flatlined. From my point of view, flatlining in a growing market is a defeat. We would not say that the world is buying 20% or 30% more cars, but the great news is that our exports are flatlining. It does not make sense. However, I am sure the Minister will agree that international students are an extremely good thing for our economy. It is therefore deeply worrying that the Home Secretary put international students at the centre of her plans to cut migration.
I strongly agree with everything that my hon. Friend is saying. Can he imagine a scenario where higher education institutions are recruiting UK students on to courses, but sending a message to people from overseas that the courses are not good enough for them? What conclusion will UK students draw? If the courses are not good enough for international students, surely they are not good enough for home students.
My hon. Friend makes the point that I was about to make. If we were looking at a teaching excellence framework in parallel with our competitors around the world, and if we were together saying that we think the world market in international education needs such a tool and that in that world market it would be helpful to have institutions ranked as gold, silver and bronze, that would be one thing, but for us unilaterally to declare to the world that we are differentiating our institutions and saying that a good two thirds of them, perhaps, are less good than others, can do nothing other than damage our ability to recruit international students and to earn the money that we do from them, as well as the jobs and support for our economy that that brings.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there may be not just reputational damage at home, but consequences abroad? My own university, Bangor, takes a large number of Chinese students, but its good name in Bangor enables it to have a site in China and a very successful operation there. There would be reputational damage of that sort as well.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. It is not just the recruitment of students but the brand strength of UK universities, which is extraordinarily high, that is put at risk by the measure.
Last week in Westminster Hall I sought assurances from the Immigration Minister as to whether it is the Home Office’s intention to use the teaching excellence framework measurement of quality as a basis for its visa regime in an attempt to cut down the number of international students. I got no reassurance. I gave the Minister a couple of opportunities to say that the Government did not intend to use the TEF for that purpose and he failed to do so.
The amendment says that until we are clear about the Government’s intention in relation to differentiation by gold, silver and bronze grading, and following a proper economic impact assessment of what that might mean for our universities, we should not seek to differentiate the teaching excellence framework in this way and we should simply have meeting expectations or not meeting expectations ratings. I accept that it is not the Minister’s intention to damage our universities by the introduction of this differentiation, but it could be the unintended consequence of the actions of the Home Office, so we need reassurance on the issue.
As we have heard, these are challenging times for our country. Charting our post-Brexit place in the world will be a big job. We need to win friends, not alienate them. The Prime Ministerial trade mission to India recently demonstrated that many of those friends will put access to our universities at the heart of any discussion of our future relationship, even on the issue of trade. We will not be able to separate those. We cannot afford to put the sector and the export earnings that we get from international students at risk in this way. I therefore ask the Minister to think again.
I rise to speak to new clause 14 on post-study work visa evaluation, and I reserve the right to push it to a vote, if required.
The SNP continues to press for the reintroduction of the post-study work visa. The new clause would ensure we had an evaluation of how the absence of this key visa has affected the UK economy and how a new visa may be implemented.
As we have heard, the post-study work visa is an important lever for attracting the best international student talent. There is consensus in Scotland among business, education and every political party represented at Holyrood that we need a return of the post-study route to allow these talented students to remain and to contribute to the Scottish economy.
The outcome of the EU referendum makes it even more important that the UK Government honours the recommendation in the Smith report to explore a potential post-study work route to ensure that Scotland continues to attract and retain talent from around the world. The longer we wait for the Government to move on this, the more damage is being done socially and economically.
The current post-study work offer is not adequate for Scotland. We have offered to discuss the reasons behind that with UK Ministers and Home Office officials, but, disappointingly, UK Ministers appear to rule out a return of the post-study work visa— without meeting Scottish Ministers or the cross-party steering group that has been set up at Holyrood.
The current immigration policy poses a significant risk to Scottish universities. Data published in January show that Scotland saw a 2% increase in international entrants in the academic year 2014-15, compared with the previous year. On the face of it, that may appear positive, but by comparison, from 2013-14 to 2014-15 the number of international students entering higher education in the United States increased by 10%. Rather than being able to take advantage of this growth sector and use it to create economic growth locally, our numbers are expected to remain stagnant, which is simply not good enough.
The Home Office released details of a low-risk tier 4 pilot in July this year, which was—maybe “welcomed” is not the correct word—viewed with some interest. However, we are troubled that it was introduced without any consultation with the Scottish Government, Scottish institutions or, indeed, institutions from across the UK. Universities Scotland said:
“we’re disappointed that the opportunity of the pilot has been framed so narrowly to only four universities none of which are in Scotland. We’d argue that a broader pilot, involving a wider group of institutions, would have provided more meaningful lessons from which to build.”
The hon. Lady has made a strong case for why she feels post-study work visas should be reintroduced. Does she accept that one of the main reasons for a clampdown by the UK Government is that a number of people come in on these visas and then simply go to ground, and they cannot be removed from this country even though they are here only on a student visa? In making the case that these visas should be reintroduced, will she tell us a little about the further obligations she thinks should be on the universities granting them? They surely cannot simply get students in, take the money and then wash their hands of any responsibility.
Certain rogue institutions—particularly private FE colleges—have in the past not complied with visa regulations, but there is little evidence that the HE institutions in the scope of this Bill have any record of non-compliance, so I do not accept the points the right hon. Gentleman makes.
The 19 higher education institutes in Scotland have a strong record in attracting international students and a strong record of compliance, so I agree 100% with my hon. Friend.
The Scottish Affairs Committee has been looking at some of the issues that the hon. Lady has mentioned, and we found evidence that the Government need to look at the situation in Scotland differently from that in the rest of the country. Scotland has a declining population, so we have to find an anchor to keep the talent in Scotland to develop the Scottish economy.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is well documented that in Scotland our issue is emigration, not immigration, so this is a key lever for allowing us to trigger economic growth in Scotland and something that would make a massive difference to our local economy.
No—I have given way enough for the moment.
Last month, Professor Timothy O’Shea, the principal of Edinburgh University, addressed the Scottish Affairs Committee and warned that future restrictions on free movement would have a damaging impact on the sector. He said:
“Yesterday the Prime Minister said helpfully that perhaps a special relationship might be necessary for workers in the City, for the car industry. But God help me if the City and the car industry deserve a special deal, then the universities...they are more dependent on the mobility of highly skilled labour than any other sector.”
As we move towards Brexit, we have the potential for a much wider pool of international students who may wish to come to study in our universities, and we need to think very seriously about the visa solution for that. For example, there is the situation of Ireland. Under the Ireland Act 1949, Ireland is stated not to be a foreign country. What special arrangements will be in place for Irish students who want to come and study in our institutions?
I want briefly to discuss the amendments tabled by the hon. Members for Blackpool South (Gordon Marsden), for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner) and for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) that deal with their concerns about the proposed metrics in the teaching excellence framework. There was much discussion in Committee about this. As the hon. Member for Sheffield Central said, there is concern that the metrics being used give no indication of the quality of teaching. In Committee we mentioned the Scottish enhancement-led approach, which is a far more thorough and possibly better method of determining quality. Apparently, however, the metrics proposed by the Government are being pushed ahead with. We are happy to support the amendments tabled by Labour Members.
Amendment 51 would require automatic voter registration in universities. That looks like an extremely innovative idea—and for once, I have to admit, it has not come from Scotland. Perhaps we can start to consider it in Scotland.
We are short of time and there are later amendments that my hon. Friends are keen to press, so I conclude by saying that we will support the amendments I have mentioned and that I hope we can have some movement on new clause 14.
I want to speak to new clause 16, which draws on some of the points that my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield made in relation to amendment 49. In essence, the new clause seeks to remove students from the net migration figures. It would be interesting to hear from the Minister whether the Government have that on their agenda.
I also want to comment on how damaging it would be for the university sector if the number of international students that can be recruited in any one institution is related to the traffic light system in the TEF.
As we know, international students are important not only to higher education but to our economy. The contribution of international students to UK GDP is almost certainly in excess of £10 billion, and they support about 170,000 full-time equivalent jobs. Many of the students go on to do postgraduate work, and they are involved with and drive forward world-leading research and innovation in this country. They are therefore very much to be commended and supported.
While international students are in this country, they not only get to know the UK but develop an affinity with it. They develop links with staff, and they contribute massively to soft diplomacy, as we have already heard. It cannot be overemphasised that they improve Britain’s standing in the world, so it is very important that the Government do not put the recruitment of international students at risk. Once they are in this country, such students also enrich our society and contribute to its diversity. I know that from my Durham constituency, where international students very much add to the whole cultural experience of the local population.
I concur with my hon. Friend on the contribution of international students and the very good experience they get. My local university, the University of Central Lancashire in Preston, has many thousands of foreign students, who very much enrich the city and bring it to life. Once they leave the UK and go back to their countries of origin, these students become some of our best ambassadors and, whether they go into industry or government, their experience in the UK always makes them very positive about the future.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The Government should take on board his point about that ambassadorial role.
We can only be bewildered at the mixed messages the Government are giving international students. One message is coming from the Department for Education, another from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and another from the Home Office. I do not yet know whether the Department for International Trade has a view on international students, but, if it does not, it really ought to. Its view should be one of promoting an important industry, as hon. Members have said clearly this afternoon.
Instead of supporting an increase in the number of international students, the Home Office seems to be giving the message that we need to reduce the numbers, and that is having an effect. The figures I have for the number of international students and the trend are very different from those read out by the Minister. It appears that the number of new entrants has fallen by 2.8%. Indeed, one study has put the reduction as high as 5%. The Minister must know that the British Council has stated that the UK is beginning to lose market share to our competitors. Again, the Government should be very concerned about that.
New clause 16 also seeks to find out whether the Minister or the Home Office has any notion of introducing a system in which the number of international students that any institution can recruit is linked to what happens to it in the TEF and, in particular, to where it is in the traffic light system. To give the Minister an example, if the institution is given a gold rating, there may be no cap whatsoever on the number of international students that it can recruit, but if it gets a bronze rating—oh, dear—a cap might be put on the number of students it can recruit. To use the automobile analogy that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central used earlier, that is like telling Nissan, “You can sell as many cars as you like,” while telling Vauxhall, “We’re going to put one of your hands behind your back and limit the number of cars you can sell.” That is clearly nonsense. We need definite reassurances from the Minister that the Bill will not be used to link the TEF to the number of international students that can be recruited.
Given that the Government are supposed to believe in markets, it is bizarre that, when Times Education Higher produces university rankings across the world, they should choose to intervene and say which students should go where when students clearly have a choice in a market-based system.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. International students are central to the business model of every higher education institution in the country. In addition to the possible reputational damage that could be done to our universities, we do not want a message to go out that international students are not welcome. The Minister, the Home Office and other Departments could deal with that by saying that students are temporary visitors, which is what our international competitors do in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. That means removing students from the net migration statistics, which would be a very simple thing for the Government to do, and I hope that the Minister will tell us that he is going to do that. We should be ambitious for our universities. We should enable them to grow, particularly in international markets such as Canada, Australia and other countries, and not limit their international potential.
As the Minister will know, he has a mandate to do that. A recent ComRes study—my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central mentioned this—showed that 75% of people who expressed a view would like to see the same number or more international students in the UK. The poll also revealed that the overwhelming majority of the British public think that international students should be able to stay and work in the UK for a period of time. A very clear case has been made and I hope that the Minister will respond positively.
The Minister has referred to amendment 58. There is huge concern in the higher education sector about enabling bodies to call themselves universities even when they do not provide the range of student services and support that most of us would expect from a university. The reason that there is no particular guidance is that we have not needed it. Most of this country’s universities provide a system of student support and access to sport and recreational opportunities. They also provide wellbeing services and volunteering opportunities, enable students to join a students’ union, and play an important civic role.
The reason that I tabled amendment 58 is that the Bill will allow a series of higher education institutions to call themselves universities even though we as yet have no idea whether they will have to offer a range of basic services to students. Will they be able to join a students’ union and sports clubs? Will they play an important role in the local community, as is the case with existing universities? Will they have an important role in the local economy? We have heard nothing yet from the Minister except that there will be some guidance, so I am minded to press amendment 58 to a vote. I would like to hear from the Minister what will be in the guidance about how we describe universities, what the Minister’s understanding of a university is and when the guidance will be made available. In particular, will it be available before the Bill is considered in the other place?
A university is an establishment where higher-level study, education and research are done. It is not somewhere where one would necessarily avail oneself of volunteering experiences, for example, or of the other things that the hon. Lady has listed. I contend that as we move into longer lifespans within which we may take degrees at different times, we may be looking merely to access a degree to enhance our careers rather than making it part of our lifestyle.
The hon. Lady was on the Committee, and I am sure that she will recall that the things in the amendment are in addition to what we might call the core business of a university, which is to enable people to study for a higher-level qualification. The amendment is designed to ensure that we do not get a whole series of institutions that can use the title of university but that offer only a single course of study and a single qualification, because we think that that will dumb down the sector not only for UK students but, in particular, for international students. The hon. Lady will know that the sector is a highly competitive one internationally, and we want to ensure that our universities compete with the best in the world.
We have huge concerns about allowing an institution to say that it is a university when it does not have to provide any access to sports, recreation, cultural activities, volunteering opportunities, work-based learning experience or any of the other things that our universities do right across the piece. I hope that the hon. Lady is as proud as I am that our universities do so.
I concur, up to a point. I am hugely proud of universities, and I am hugely proud of what they deliver into our economies. But I would also argue that we have other great institutions; BT in Suffolk, for example, hopes to have a specific degree around research, learning and so on, and such things should be enabled for a future workforce that is fit for purpose. They should not just be wiped away because an institution does not offer the chance to play five-a-side football.
I, too, think that BT has a number of strengths as a company, but it is yet to be determined whether it is very good at running a university. We will only know that in due course. If BT runs a university, I want to ensure that it is a university as we would commonly understand it, not simply a company that offers a degree course.
Jo Churchill picked out the issue of five-a-side football, but does my hon. Friend acknowledge that there is a wider issue? This is the first major Bill on higher education for a generation, and it provides an opportunity to extend university title quite widely. Is not the nub of the problem the fact that no attempt is made to define what a university is?
I concur exactly with my hon. Friend. In Committee, the Minister said that he was setting
“a high bar that only high-quality providers will be able to meet.”––[Official Report, Higher Education and Research Public Bill Committee,
Unfortunately, at this point in time we have absolutely no idea what is meant by that high bar. I am hoping we will hear from the Minister exactly what he means by a university and what will be in the guidance, and that the quality and breadth of offer of our universities will be protected and will not be got rid of by this Government.
I am grateful to colleagues for raising so many points that came up in Committee which particularly exercised me with regard to part 1 of the Bill. Because of the shortness of time, I will restrict my remarks to two issues concerning students and staff in higher education.
I welcome Government amendment 21 on student representation on the board of the Office for Students and the fact that the Minister has listened to the huge number of representations he has received from members of the Bill Committee, from students unions and from higher education sector leaders, who really value the contribution students make and want to see students on the board. It would have been perverse to have a regulator whose purpose was to protect the interests of students and that had the word “students” on its door and headed paper but did not have students around the table on its board. I am glad the Minister has moved on that particular point.
As the Bill progresses to the other place, I hope the Minister might consider moving further on the issue of student representation. In Committee we raised the issue of having student representation on the board of the designated quality provider and in drawing up the quality code, and also ensuring that students have representation in what, as my hon. Friend Dr Blackman-Woods pointed out, could be a wide range of private providers. Whether an institution is a traditional university, a modern university or one of the new private providers, it is absolutely crucial that students’ rights are protected and their voice is represented at the top of the institution.
I also ask the Minister to address how he sees the issue of student representation playing out on the board of the Office for Students. The wording in Government amendment 21 is not quite what I proposed in Committee —that was slightly more prescriptive, specifying that the representative should be either a student, a sabbatical officer of a students union or an officer of the National Union of Students. I am slightly cautious about the amendment the Secretary of State has tabled, because we could define someone with “experience of representing … students” quite loosely. For example, a number of Members of this House, myself included, have experience of representing students, but I am sure that we would not expect to find ourselves, years later, on the board of the OFS. Perhaps the Minister will sketch out what that representation might look like.
Will the hon. Gentleman define what he considers a typical student to be, so that I can gauge his idea of someone who could represent, for example, me—I went to college as a mature student—or a lifelong learner, or whatever? We must not be too tight with the definition. The wording in the amendment gives us scope to have a looser definition and might be more appropriate.
I certainly do not think that we will be able to find a typical student to sit on the board of the OFS because, as others have said from their perspectives, no such thing exists. That leads me on to where I wanted to direct the Minister, in as far as I can. We should value the skills and expertise that representatives of students develop through their roles in students unions, precisely because there is no such thing as a typical student or a typical student experience. We should value and champion the role that the officers of students unions play in developing their skills and experience as representatives to make sure that students unions champion the broad diversity of students at their institutions; whether students are full time or part time, or are doing part of a course on a credit-based approach, whether they are living at home and commuting to university or have moved away from home, there are a wide range of student experiences. The challenge for anyone who seeks to be a representative is to make sure that they genuinely draw on that broad range of experiences, just as we have to as constituency MPs.
I hope that, when the Minister appoints one of these representatives, he appoints one who is a students union sabbatical officer, for example, because we are lucky in this country to have a means by which students can develop a good base of skills and expertise. Many of the country’s leading chief executives of voluntary sector organisations have been students union sabbatical officers, as have many Members of Parliament and people in all sorts of professions, because the experience and skill sets that it gives them are genuinely valuable beyond the scope of representing students during their time at university. I hope that that is the sort of person the Minister has in mind and that we will not drag people back from beyond to dust themselves off from retirement.
Although I agree with everything that my hon. Friend is saying, I think that Jo Churchill was perhaps referring to distance learning students, mature students and people who follow a less usual course to obtain qualifications. Certainly, when I have met the presidents of my students union over the years, they have been sympathetic to the needs of such students. Will my hon. Friend perhaps address the hon. Lady’s point?
I absolutely agree with that point, which brings me back to the skills and expertise that student union sabbatical officers develop in that role. The Open University students association or Birkbeck students union are institutions almost entirely dedicated to part-time students, people from non-traditional routes and people who often work alongside their studies who have returned to learning later on in life. It is important that that broad range of experience and perspective is represented on the board of the Office for Students. I hope that the Minister will appoint someone to that position who can represent the broad interests of students.
I want now to deal with staff. I should probably declare that I am a member of the trade union Unison, which represents a number of staff in higher education, and I should draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests on that point, too. Amendment 48 picks up the theme that I have been discussing—student representation on the board of the Office for Students—and makes the case for having staff on that board.
Staff are absolutely crucial to the success of our higher education sector, whether they are academic staff directly engaged in teaching and learning or the wide range of support staff, whose contribution to the student experience is often unheralded. Thinking back to my student experience, the first member of staff I spoke to at my university was not an academic; it was Gina Vivian-Neal in the admissions office. When I was at university, I spoke to staff such as Bill Simmonett, who was involved in catering and conferencing, because of my role as the students union entertainments officer. When I had a particularly small room in my second year and a larger one became available, Sue Jeffries made a substantial difference to my learning environment. Margaret Hay, who, I believe, recently retired from her role in the tutorial office, was absolutely central to the experience and welfare and care of students.
Bearing in mind what other hon. Members have said about the role that international staff play in our institutions, it is important that people on the board of the Office for Students have experience of representing the interests of staff. Many of our trade union colleagues, particularly in the University and College Union, have made a powerful case about the impact that the casualisation of contracts, for example, is having on our ability to recruit and retain good staff and their ability to deliver a good student experience.
Other trade unions, such as Unison and Unite, represent those staff who, while perhaps not directly engaged in teaching, often provide essential support functions that can make the difference between an excellent or a poor student experience. I hope that their voice and interests are represented on the board of the Office for Students. Given where we have taken our country in the debate about our ability to attract and retain excellent staff from around the world, we could leave ourselves in a vulnerable position in a sector such as ours that is so world-leading in its performance and reach, and we need to champion and protect the interests of staff.
I hope that the Minister will take those points on board. I thank him for the movement that he has shown since the Bill Committee. I had almost given up hope by the end of the Committee that we would see much progress, but, to give him credit, he has moved. I hope that he will listen to the points that we make today, and perhaps they can be addressed in the other place.
I apologise to members of the Public Bill Committee: I did not make the cut, so they have the advantage over me, but I assure them that I read the entire transcript, cover to cover, in one fell swoop—and riveting reading it was.
New clauses 9 and 12 deal with overseas students. The Minister tried to suggest that they would widen the scope of the Bill, but the new clauses, like Labour’s amendments, are in order, and we get very few opportunities to talk about this issue. The key point is that overseas students are very much part of the viability of the university sector, and if the Bill is about anything, it is about the viability of the university sector. We are in a brave new world, post-Brexit, and universities clearly wanted a very different outcome. I have been to many events where the Minister has tried, valiantly, to reassure a traumatised sector. It is easy to see why the sector needs reassuring: the loss of good students; the loss of opportunities for UK students; and the severe outcomes for the research sector. I recently polled a range of vice-chancellors and found that 86% of them thought that the impact of Brexit on their research programmes would be severe. The impacts are financial, cultural and academic—in the sense that it could lead to the collapse of undergraduate courses—and the impact on the research conducted by universities will be profound.
Some things are certainly true—the Minister repeats them from time to time—and nothing changes in the short term. As other Ministers have said to me, we had international students before we were ever in the EU and when Erasmus was thought to be a Dutch humanist, rather than an EU programme, but EU membership makes it a whole lot easier for British universities, and there has been a big increase in their number for as long as we have been in the EU. There is a case for following the numbers, therefore, and that is all new clause 9 endeavours to do. Numbers affect viability, and if the OFS does not do it on an independent basis, who will?
New clause 12 deals with something equally worrying, and something alluded to by Paul Blomfield: nonsensically, we include student numbers in net immigration stats, but the Government—certainly in the form of the Minister—welcome international students. I have heard him on many occasions, at many events, say how welcoming we are supposed to be to international students. As has been established through polling, the public also welcome international students, even when worried, at the same time, about immigration in general. Including them in the net immigration statistics, therefore, is clearly a nonsense.
What really worries the Government is when higher education is used as a stepping stone to employment and residence. This clearly bothers the Home Office. The hon. Member for Sheffield Central has already talked about the Home Secretary’s comments, which I found worrying, but also worrying is the suggestion from the Prime Minister’s senior adviser—regarded as her brain—that the Government’s post-qualification leave to remain should depend on whether someone qualified at a Russell Group university. This is obviously silly because the Russell Group is essentially a self-selecting group and slightly snobbish.
Another way of doing it, as suggested in last week’s Westminster Hall debate, is to depend on the teaching excellence framework of a student’s institution. In my view, that would be sillier, because the teaching excellence framework is in its infancy and not suited to the task, because not all universities buy into it anyway and because an individual’s ability and utility cannot be predicated simply on the institution he or she attends. Few of us would like to be judged by the quality of the teaching we have received. Actually, surviving poor teaching is a considerable and entirely marketable skill; it is slightly easier to profit from good teaching. There are good and valuable courses in institutions that may well pan out with a poor teaching excellence framework in general. This will clearly affect the ability of some institutions to attract overseas students, and valuable courses will collapse as a result—certainly many valuable courses in the capital. Further, if overseas applicants concentrate their applications on universities with good TEFs, it could make it more difficult for UK students to access them. Universities might, in despair, simply shun the TEF if it is used for those purposes.
The list goes on. Welding together Home Office policy and education policy seldom works, but we should clear this up. The Minister has an opportunity to do so from the Dispatch Box later, but so far the Government view and the Government take on this issue has been less than clear. That is certainly the case when it comes to the Home Office. Last week in Westminster Hall, the Home Office had an opportunity to say, “Categorically, this is not going to happen,” but we do not know categorically whether it will or not.
I may not get support for my amendment, and I would be happy to support other amendments that travel in the same direction. This issue, however, will not go away because it is important to the sector.
Of course we welcome the move to include a student representative on the body, as has been described. I have to say, however, that it is relatively thin gruel in comparison with the range of positive amendments that would involve employees and students in respect of some of the key issues that the OFS will have to face, some of which we debated in Committee. If the Government want to calm suspicions about the OFS, they need to do more to ensure that as a body, it has sufficient powers directly defined in the Bill. I have always said that we have to work on the assumption that we will have the worst and the naughtiest Secretaries of State, not necessarily the best ones and not necessarily the best Minister with responsibility for universities. That means that we need to build things directly on the face of the Bill. We have not had the ability to do that, and it is not helpful that the ability to tease out these issues should be confined to one day’s discussion of 113 clauses and 12 schedules. Other Members who might have been able to attend today know perfectly well that many of the issues that need to be discussed will have to be dealt with in the other place.
Let me begin by speaking briefly to our amendments, particularly those relating to staff and student involvement. Amendment 37 deals with consultation regarding ongoing registration conditions. It might sound very techy, and I know that there is some consultation with bodies or informal groups representing HE staff and students at the moment. Some of the new providers that the Minister wants to see coming into the marketplace may be relatively small, and may have relatively informal groupings, so it is important that the position of their staff and students is taken into account.
Let me move on to amendments 36 and 48. My hon. Friend Wes Streeting has already mentioned the latter. The Government must get into the right mind-set with HE and realise that it is not all simply about vice-chancellors, however excellent they are. It is not simply about business managers either, however excellent they are. It is about the support staff, who live in the local communities where the universities are situated; and it is also about excellent teaching, social mobility and student choice. Sometimes cleaning staff can be the first point of contact for live-in students who face isolation and need someone to talk to. The Government need a cultural step-change in the way they address these issues, and should not put some of these groups in as an afterthought. We believe that these modest amendments would take us down that route.
In Committee, we talked a great deal about the whole issue of social mobility. The Minister waxed lyrical on the subject—genuinely, I believe—but those who want to walk the walk must do something about putting the beef on to the talk. That is why we tabled amendment 38, which
“would make access and participation plans mandatory for all higher education providers.”
The Government have plenty of angles on the Bill, but two that are raised continually are competition and consumers’ rights. In fact, competition must go hand in hand with consumers’ rights. I am perfectly happy for the pool of new providers to be expanded—I spent 20 years working for an organisation, the Open University, which was once a new provider—but I am anxious to ensure that, if there is to be a competitive market, providers bring to the table a proper sense of the responsibilities that they will have to meet. That is why it is so important to ensure that an access and participation plan is at the heart of what the new providers do. There may be circumstances in which the numbers that that produces are relatively modest, but if the Government want the process to go ahead, providers must accept those responsibilities.
It is in the same spirit of inclusion that we tabled amendment 39, which
“would include the number of people with disabilities and care leavers, as well as the age of applicants, in the published number of applications.”
A number of Members have emphasised the importance of the issue of mature and older students, and indeed part-time students, about which I shall say more when I talk about new clause 15. Amendment 39 demonstrates that emphasis. If we want to have realistic expectations of where those groups are going and know what the Government need to do—and this has already been raised by several Members in the context of international students—we must have that evidence, and the amendment stresses the need to broaden the parameters.
New clause 4, which would establish a “Committee on Degree Awarding Powers and University Title”, is actually modelled on provisions in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, which we want to passport into this Bill. The Government, rather curiously, do not want such a committee, although one might have thought that they would welcome a backstop. After all, we know that Ministers are bedding down, inevitably slowly, in a new Department with further and higher education responsibilities. Again, the Government cannot be surprised if people think that they want as little outside scrutiny of the new providers as possible.
New clause 4—which, I might point out to the Minister, is supported by all the university groups that have spoken to us—was tabled because, as the Bill stands, the OFS could revoke degree-awarding powers or university title without consulting a committee. The current arrangements for conferring degree-awarding powers require HEFCE to seek the advice of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education—the Minister made great play of that—but it is vital for the OFS to seek advice from a designated quality body prior to any conferring of degree-awarding powers and/or university title.
Amendments 40 and 41 are designed to underline points that were raised by my hon. Friend Dr Blackman-Woods in a hugely important intervention about her own amendment 58. We need to shine a light on and distinguish between broad-based new providers and those that could go for opportunist, fast-buck courses, or those that are inefficiently structured or financed to do the things that my hon. Friend talked about. As she and others have said, there is huge concern in the HE sector about single-course universities. What has not been mentioned much—we talked about it in Committee—is the huge amount of public money that will go into those new providers, providing they jump through the hoops that the Government are putting in front of them. We contend that those hoops are inadequate. Because of that, we want to press the matter further. Amendment 40 requires the OFS to be assured about the maintenance of standards, students and the public interest before issuing authorisation to grant a degree. That is important. I give notice that we will press amendment 40 to a vote. Whatever the outcome, I assure the Minister that the issue is unlikely to go away and that he and his team will face further questions on it after the matter goes to the other place.
I have spoken against something that the Government want to do. I want to speak now about new clause 15, which would set up a standing commission on the integration of higher education and lifelong learning, and to thank the Minister for the small but important movement there has begun to be in the Government on that issue and on the issue of part-time loans, which is being looked at and is an important part of that process. We should look—we discussed this at great length in Committee, so I will not go through all the statistics—at the dire situation that adult learners have been in since 2010 and the way in which so many of those learners have been disadvantaged, when we should be arranging for them to be reskilled and retrained to meet our economic and social objectives in the 21st century.
In a speech in the House of Lords, Lord Rees said that we needed to have a revolution in the way in which we formalise the system to more readily allow for transfers between institutions and between part-time and full-time study. The demand for part-time and distance learning will grow, speeded of course by the high fees now imposed on students at traditional residential university. Lord Rees, a former president of the Royal Society, is absolutely right. The time for action is now. That is why the Labour party and the Labour Front-Bench team have tabled that significant new clause. The standing commission on the integration of higher education and lifelong learning would set the course that was originally laid out by David Blunkett in “The Learning Age” Green Paper in 1998. That issue has been sadly side-lined until now, but lifelong learning and higher education are not a nice optional extra. They are fundamental to our economic productivity, to competing in a post-Brexit world, to our social cohesion, to rebuilding a belief in the value and dignity of work and to offering personal and practical fulfilment to ordinary working people and their families, opening doors to them—often opportunities have evolved for the middle classes and professional people —rather than their being stuck on the first rung of the ladder. That is what we want to do. We want to think about how we deliver these things locally and nationally.
We are not claiming that the structure that we want to put in the Bill is perfect. We have taken wide soundings from all sorts of groups—city and guilds, Unionlearn, the Open University, the Learning and Work Institute—and considered our own thoughts on these matters. I say to the Minister, “Go away, look at the new clause, which would do some of the things that you are talking about in terms of social mobility, and take it on board.” If the Government do not take it on board, we will do so; we will take it through to the House of Lords, we will take it out into the country, and we will put this issue of proper lifelong learning in higher and further education right at the top of the agenda.
On our amendments 46 and 47, much of what I would have said about why we need in particular to make sure the TEF is taken out of the hands of Whitehall and put far more centrally into the hands of Parliament have been illustrated in the excellent speech this afternoon from my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield, my hon. Friend Mr Cunningham with his interventions, Carol Monaghan and others. We do not trust the Government with the TEF as it is because they have demonstrated ever since they introduced this Bill that whenever they had an opportunity to do something to keep control of the process and try and get things through that would not require legislation in detail, they have turned to the TEF as an automatic link with raising tuition fees. The Home Office has turned to the TEF, too, and is currently holding a sword of Damocles over the Government and all of us on the issue of international students. They have not turned to putting on the face of the Bill in any shape or form whether the TEF is going to be done on the basis of a whole university or school or subject area, and we have also heard from my hon. Friends of the many significant issues around the metrics in this area. It is a question of confidence and trust and parliamentary scrutiny, and that scrutiny is being denied under the present process.
My hon. Friends are right to say the vast majority of people in this country do not regard students as migrants, yet we could have a situation, as we have heard with the gold, silver and bronze issue, where these things are smuggled in, with dire consequences for our social cohesion, economic productivity and so many of the things we will need post-Brexit.
This move is vehemently opposed by the sector, and the Government seem to have managed to achieve an extraordinary conjunction in the way they brought the TEF forward by having annoyed and alarmed virtually every sector of the university world, whether it be the people employed in universities, those who study in them, those who manage them, the vice-chancellors who are at the head of them, or indeed their relatives, families and everybody else, who are now worried. We had a discussion about this in Committee, and the Minister talked about my views in I think about 2002 on teaching excellence. I have not changed my views on the importance of teaching excellence and a teaching excellence framework, but the teaching excellence framework which started out in this Bill as bad enough has now been malformed and deformed by the way in which it has been used, and is threatened to be used, to be not simply something that is completely useless but something that could be an absolute danger in all the ways I have described right at the heart of our university system.
We had to use some ingenuity to get even a discussion of the TEF in respect of the Bill, so cleverly had the Government gone about trying to keep it off the face of the Bill, but I am sure those issues around the TEF will be returned to, and with some significance and in no short order, when it goes to the other place. I therefore want to again place on record that we will be pressing our amendment 47 on the need for these measures to be continually subject to scrutiny by, and approval of, both Houses of Parliament to a vote.
This has been a good debate and I am glad to have the chance to respond to some of the points made. Many points were made this afternoon, and I will not be able to address all of them, but I will do my best.
Paul Blomfield spoke passionately about amendment 51. We debated it in Committee, as he mentioned. He met my colleague, the Minister for the constitution, my hon. Friend Chris Skidmore, after the Bill Committee, and we also met my hon. Friend Ben Howlett, who is not in the Chamber at present, to discuss this issue. That is because we share the hon. Gentleman’s aim of increasing the number of younger people registered to vote. We demonstrated our commitment to that cause by supporting, and contributing financially to, the pilot project at the University of Sheffield in the city he represents. That is why when we met him we undertook to encourage take-up of the initiative by other institutions by writing describing the outcome of the pilot to vice-chancellors. We also agreed that he should attend a formal roundtable meeting on student registration, and the Minister for the constitution promised to consider other ways registration could be increased. I regret that owing to a scheduling issue with one of the external stakeholders—not the Minister—we were unable to hold the meeting as planned, and we are actively looking to rearrange it, to fulfil the commitment we made to the hon. Gentleman at that meeting following the Bill Committee.
Amendment 37 seeks to widen the base of those the Office for Students should consult before it determines or changes the initial and ongoing registration conditions, to include staff and students as well as those representing the interests of English higher education providers. The Office for Students will take the views of students into account in all of its activities. It will consult on the initial and ongoing registration conditions as part of its wider consultation on the regulatory framework. Clause 68 makes clear that bodies representing the interests of students, and other such persons it considers appropriate, as well as bodies representing the interests of English higher education providers, should be involved in that consultation. It is my clear expectation that the Office for Students will strongly encourage providers to engage and consult with their key stakeholders, including staff and students, as a matter of good practice. The Office for Students itself will always listen to representations from students and staff if it thinks that that would add value. The amendment is therefore unnecessary.
Hon. Members made a number of points on new clause 9 and amendment 52 relating to international students. I recognise that the number of international students our higher education system attracts and the income they provide are key issues for the sector, so I understand the motivation behind this amendment. However, I do not believe that the Bill is the appropriate vehicle for commissioning annual reports on the number of international students in UK higher education institutions and their economic impact. As I have set out, Government new clause 1 requires the Office for Students to monitor and report on the financial health of the English higher education sector in the round. To do that, the Office for Students will have a very clear picture of the number of international students and the income they bring, as the recent Higher Education Funding Council for England report did. In addition, clause 8(1)(b) requires all registered providers to give the Office for Students the information it needs to perform its functions. That will allow the Office for Students to gather information on international student numbers and income in the context of its duty to monitor financial health. In effect, new clause 1 and clause 8(1)(b) already achieve the policy intent of the amendments.
A wide range of information is also already in the public domain. The Higher Education Statistics Agency, for instance, already collects and publishes data on international students. Further to that, the Department for Education will shortly be publishing statistics on the value of education exports. As I mentioned to the hon. Member for Sheffield Central, the Home Office also publishes data, and its data show there has been a 14% increase in the number of international students coming to study in the UK since 2010.
Regarding new clause 14, I thank hon. Members for bringing this issue back to the House after it was raised in Committee, but I still do not believe that this Bill is the appropriate vehicle for commissioning research into post-study work. The Bill is focused on creating the structures needed to oversee higher education and research funding for many years to come. The scope of what this amendment proposes—a short-term piece of research on an element of migration policy—is not consistent with the scope and functions of UK Research and Innovation.
The UK has an excellent offer for overseas students who graduate in the UK. International graduates can remain in the UK to work following their studies by switching to several existing visa routes, including tier 2 skilled worker visas. There is no cap on the number of students who can switch to a tier 2 skilled worker visa. Home Office figures show that, under our current provisions, more than 6,000 international students switched from a tier 4 to a tier 2 visa in the UK in 2015, up from 5,500 in 2014 and from around 4,000 in 2013. Britain remains the second most popular destination in the world for international students after the United States.
We have heard a lot of debate on the teaching excellence framework, and I will now respond to some of the points raised. First, on the question of the TEF and migration, I urge Opposition Members carefully to calm down and consider the Home Secretary’s party conference speech. We want our universities to continue to attract genuine students from around the world. We have no plans to introduce any cap on the number of non-EU students who can come to the UK to study. No decisions have been made on tailoring or differentiating non-EU student migration rules on the basis of the quality of the higher education institution, or on how that might be achieved. As the Home Secretary announced in her speech, we will shortly be seeking views on the study immigration route, and we encourage all interested parties to participate to ensure that every point of view is heard. New clause 12 is therefore unnecessary and premature, as the Government intend to seek views on the matter.
The visit to India, which I was honoured to be part of, was a big success in that it gave us numerous opportunities to reiterate our strong message that we welcome genuine students. There is no limit on the number of genuine students who can come and study at our world-class institutions, and there is no better place than the UK to receive a higher education. We want to see more such students coming to study here.
I assure the Minister that we are very calm about this issue, but he could calm us further by explaining what the Home Secretary meant when she talked about the use of quality in relation to the visa system, and in particular when she said that she would be
“looking at tougher rules for students on lower quality courses.”
What does that mean?
High-quality institutions are compliant institutions. We want compliance to be a strong feature of our system. It is important that the sector should do all it can to be compliant with Home Office regulations. The ability to bring students in on tier 4 visas is a privilege, not a right, and it comes with an obligation to ensure that students who come to this country to study follow the terms of their visas. The sector should welcome that because it wants a high-quality system of international study. The Government will be bringing forward a consultation paper in the coming weeks that will enable everyone across the sector, including the hon. Gentleman, to contribute their views on how best this can be achieved.
If the hon. Gentleman reads the Home Secretary’s speech carefully, he will see that she did mention compliance. She mentioned compliance and quality. High-quality institutions are compliant institutions; they are one and the same.
High-quality institutions could offer poor-quality courses, just as institutions with a bronze rating could offer extremely high-quality courses. How is the distinction going to be made?
I urge the hon. Lady to wait for the consultation document. She will be able to assess the Government’s proposals in due course when the Home Office is ready to publish them.
Amendments 46 and 47 would require greater parliamentary scrutiny of the TEF, but I do not believe that the content of the amendments is either necessary or proportionate. As I have said, the development of the TEF has been, and will continue to be, an iterative process—as the research excellence framework was before it. Requiring Parliament to agree each and every change to the framework would stifle its healthy development. The REF scheme is not subject to that level of oversight by Parliament, and nor should it be.
Hon. Members have talked about the “gold”, “silver” and “bronze” descriptors as though they were new inventions from this Government. They are in fact familiar to the sector through their use in other areas. Such terminology is already used, for example, in the Athena SWAN awards and by Investors in People in many universities. In every case, bronze is still recognised as a high-quality award, while gold is reserved for the highest quality.
Amendment 49 would not add any value to the TEF framework that we have developed. Changing the TEF ratings would fundamentally undermine the purpose of the TEF by preventing students from being able to determine which providers were offering the best teaching and achieving the best outcomes. It would simply allow for a pass/fail assessment. The teaching excellence framework assesses excellence over and above a baseline assessment of quality, and our proposed descriptors will allow students, parents, schools and employers to differentiate clearly between providers. We have consulted on the proposed metrics and considered the evidence, and we still feel that these metrics represent the best measurements for assessing teaching. They are widely used across the sector.
Turning to amendment 50, we have consulted extensively on the metrics, as I have said, and made significant improvements. Setting out the requirement to consult in legislation would be unnecessarily burdensome. We have taken, and will continue to take, a reasoned approach to the metrics. Given the co-regulatory approach I have described, we would expect the OFS to take a similar approach.
I shall now address the points made on degree-awarding powers and university title. Let me be clear that only those providers that can prove they can meet the high standards associated with the values and reputation of the English HE system can obtain degree awarding powers. If a higher education provider can demonstrate their ability to deliver high-quality provision, we want to make it easier for them to start awarding their own degrees, rather than needing to have the degrees for their courses awarded by a competing incumbent. Maddalaine Ansell, the chief executive of the University Alliance, has said:
“These plans strike a healthy balance between protecting the quality and global reputation of our country’s universities, whilst also encouraging innovation.”
The Minister might wish to comment specifically on new clause 4, but will he tell us why the Government are so reluctant to allow a process that has served the HE sector well since 1992 to be read across into the new arrangements for the OFS? I refer to the degree-awarding powers committee proposed in the new clause.
In relation to new clause 4, we intend to keep the processes relating to the scrutiny of applications for degree-awarding powers—which have worked well to date—broadly as they are. That includes retaining an element of independent peer review for degree-awarding powers applications. I said as much in Committee. The processes are not currently set out in legislation to avoid being tied to a static process, and we intend to keep it that way. We have published a technical note on market entry and quality assurance that sets out more detail on the operation of the quality threshold.
Turning to new clause 7, our policy is that degree-awarding powers cannot be transferred or sold for commercial purposes, and we do not see that changing. If the holder of degree-awarding powers were involved in a change of ownership, or if complex group ownerships change, the provider would be expected to inform the OFS and to demonstrate that it remained the same cohesive academic community that was awarded degree-awarding powers and that it continued to meet the criteria for university title. We intend to consult on the detailed circumstances for when degree-awarding powers and university title might be revoked, including instances of changes of ownership, so there is no need for this new clause.
Turning to amendments 40 and 41, the OFS is already required under clause 2 to have regard to the need to promote quality when carrying out its functions. The OFS will therefore have regard to the need to promote quality when authorising providers to grant degrees. I reassure Members that we will, as now, ensure that the high standards that providers must meet in order to be able to make such awards are retained. One of the key criteria for obtaining degree-awarding powers is the ability to set and maintain academic standards, and we expect that to continue. As now, we want all criteria to set a high bar, and we plan to set them out in departmental guidance to which the OFS must have regard. The amendments are therefore unnecessary.
We plan to put out guidance in the coming months. The hon. Lady will be the first to receive it when it is ready.
Turning to amendment 58, we are absolutely committed to protecting the quality and reputation of our universities. We are not changing the core concept of what a university is and are not planning any wide-ranging changes to the criteria for university title. As now, we want only those providers with full degree-awarding powers to be eligible. Students make the choice where to study based on many factors—not only the qualification they will receive, but the cultural and social opportunities—and one size does not fit all. As independent and autonomous organisations, higher education providers are best placed to decide what experiences they want to offer to students and the local community. Like now, we intend to set out the detailed criteria and processes for gaining university title in guidance, not in legislation. We plan to consult on the detail prior to publication.
Several interesting points have been made in the debate on this group of amendments. Let me conclude by thanking hon. Members for their responses to the amendments that have brought forward to enshrine the OFS’s duty to monitor and report on financial sustainability, to ensure there is always an OFS board member to represent or promote the student interest, to promote institutional autonomy further, and to compel providers to publish student protection plans.
I touched on that at the start of my remarks. The Opposition proposed a commission for lifelong learning in new clause 15. The Government are obviously strongly committed to lifelong education, in which the Secretary of State and I have taken a close interest. Studying part-time and later in life brings enormous benefits for individuals, employers and the general economy. Alongside our higher education reforms, we are reforming further education, including implementing the skills plan that was published earlier this year and through the recent introduction of the Technical and Further Education Bill, which had its Second Reading last week.
As the hon. Member for Blackpool South is well aware, the Government committed in the last Budget to review the gaps and support for lifetime learning, including part-time flexible study. That review is ongoing. Higher education already offers flexible options for the thousands of mature students who want to study each year. In addition, much work is under way to expand access to lifelong learning through a variety of routes to suit learners. I am confident that those reforms, like others in the Bill, will continue to have a positive impact on learning—lifelong or otherwise.
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 1 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 2