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UKRI report: international specialist employees

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 21st November 2016.

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Votes in this debate

“(1) Within six months of section 84 of this Act coming into force, and every year thereafter, UKRI shall report to the Secretary of State on—

(a) EU (excluding from the UK), and

(b) non-EU

specialist employees employed by UKRI and English higher education providers.

(2) For the purposes of this section “specialist employee”—

(a) in relation to a Council, has the same meaning as in section 88(3), and

(b) in relation to an English higher education provider, means the academic staff of the institution.

(3) Should any report made under subsection (1) identify a decrease in the number of international specialist employees since the previous report was produced, the Secretary of State must make an assessment of the impact of such a reduction on UKRI’s ability to deliver its functions under section 86 of this Act.

(4) The Secretary of State shall lay any report produced under this section before each House of Parliament.”—(John Pugh.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 57, in clause 40, page 24, line 13, at end insert—

“(13) Before authorising any provider to grant research awards, the OfS must consult with—

(a) UKRI, including Research England,

(b) the appropriate National Academies and learned societies, and

(c) such other persons as the OfS considers appropriate.”

Amendment 53, in clause 85, page 54, leave out line 19.

This amendment, together with amendment 54, would keep Innovate UK as a separate organisation to UK Research and Innovation.

Government amendment 17, in clause 86, page 55, line 3, at end insert—

“( ) The functions conferred by subsection (1)(a) to (e) include, in particular, power to encourage and support the provision of postgraduate training in science, technology, humanities and new ideas.”

This amendment makes clear that the functions of UKRI under clause 86(1)(a) to (e) include the power to encourage and support the provision of postgraduate training in science, technology, humanities and new ideas.

Amendment (a) to Government amendment 17, after “humanities” insert “, social sciences”.

Amendment 54, page 56, line 30, leave out clause 89.

See explanatory statement for Amendment 52.

Amendment 42, in clause 90, page 57, line 21, after “appropriate” insert

“including relevant bodies in the devolved administrations”.

This amendment allows Research England to coordinate with its devolved counterparts.

Amendment 55, in clause 94, page 58, line 38, at end insert—

“(1A) In making grants to UKRI under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must specify the separate allocation of funding to be made by UKRI to—

(a) functions exercisable by the Councils mentioned in section 88(1) pursuant to arrangements under that section,

(b) functions exercisable by Innovate UK pursuant to arrangements under section 89, and

(c) functions exercisable by Research England pursuant to arrangements under section 90.

(1B) No variation may be made to the allocation of funding specified by the Secretary of State in subsection (1A) unless each House of Parliament has passed a resolution approving any such variation and has the consent of the devolved administrations.”

This amendment would ensure there would be separate financial allocations to the Research Councils (collectively), Innovate UK, and Research England.

Amendment 56, in clause 95, page 59, line 45, at end insert—

“(6) In giving direction to UKRI, the Secretary of State must act in the best interests of all constituent parts of the United Kingdom and, before giving such direction, must consult on research and innovation policies and their priorities with the following—

(a) the Scottish Government,

(b) the Welsh Government, and

(c) the Northern Ireland Executive.

(7) Before giving any direction to UKRI under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must seek agreement to the terms of that direction from—

(a) the Scottish Government,

(b) the Welsh Government, and

(c) the Northern Ireland Executive.”

This amendment would place a duty on the Secretary of State such that before giving directions to the UKRI in regards to research priorities, the Secretary of State must consult the devolved administrations.

Amendment 43, in clause 105, page 63, line 23, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

This amendment would ensure cooperation and information sharing between the OfS and UKRI.

Amendment 44, page 63, line 24, after “functions” insert—

“(1A) The OfS and UKRI must cooperate with one another on—

(a) the health of disciplines,

(b) awarding of research degrees,

(c) post-graduate training,

(d) shared facilities,

(e) knowledge exchange and

(f) skills development”.

This amendment sets out where UKRI and the OfS must cooperate on issues at the interface between teaching and research.

Amendment 45, page 63, line 25, leave out subsection (2).

This amendment would ensure cooperation and information sharing between the OfS and UKRI.

Government amendment 35.

Amendment 59, in schedule 9, page 101, line 20, at end insert—

“(9) A joint committee is to be established by UKRI and OfS, which must—

(a) consist of representatives of both UKRI and OfS, and

(b) produce an annual report on the health of the higher education sector.

(10) The report must make an assessment of—

(a) the strength of the sector,

(b) work undertaken to improve equality of opportunity,

(c) the strength of separate disciplines,

(d) the availability of research funding,

(e) the awarding of research degrees,

(f) the quality of post-graduate training,

(g) access to shared facilities,

(h) the effectiveness of knowledge exchange,

(i) skills development, and

(j) measures taken to act in the public interest.”

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education) 7:30 pm, 21st November 2016

It might be helpful if I refreshed hon. Members’ memories about what new clause 11 contains, so that we know what we are talking about. It states:

“Within six months of section 84 of this Act coming into force, and every year thereafter, UKRI shall report to the Secretary of State on—

(a) EU (excluding from the UK), and

(b) non-EU specialist employees employed by UKRI and English higher education providers.”

It contains the critical subsection (3), which states:

“Should any report made under subsection (1) identify a decrease in the number of international specialist employees since the previous report was produced, the Secretary of State must make an assessment of the impact of such a reduction on UKRI’s ability to deliver its functions under section 86 of this Act.”

We all accept that universities have major anxiety about research funding post Brexit, simply because while we are in the EU there is a huge net benefit to the UK, in cash and personnel terms—in all terms—in key subjects such as science and medicine in particular. The Government are doing their best to pour oil on troubled waters with various reassuring mantras. They say that there is no change yet—well, we know that—and that there will be vigilance about what the EU is up to so that it does not cut us out of projects we ought to be involved in; there are vague promises of future largesse, with hopes of continuity, and statements that there are always prospects beyond the EU.

Sadly, none of that is working particularly well. Anxiety in the university sector is as emphatic as it was to begin with. We are not simply talking about money; we are talking about people. That is what new clause 11 is principally about. In some universities the number of foreign nationals working as lecturers and specialist employees is as high as 30%. That contrasts markedly with French universities and many other continental universities. It is a feature of the British university scene that makes it very different and very desirable.

Recognising that universities were worried about this issue, we asked vice-chancellors through a survey exactly what their views were and how concerned they were. I am happy to share the full results of that survey with any Member who expresses an interest. One question we asked was:

“Are you worried that the uncertainty regarding research grants and the future of EU academics could have a negative impact on standards at UK universities?”

Some 73% said yes. We also asked:

“Do you agree that it is necessary to maintain freedom of movement between the UK and the EU to protect research funding, the right to reside and work of EU academic staff and the right of all UK and EU students to study anywhere in the EU?”

It was a slightly inelegant question, but Members get the gist. The answer was that 83% said that yes, freedom of movement was crucial.

In the process of conducting the survey, I got a phone call from a vice-chancellor who spoke with a more anecdotal and personal view about his own university. He told me of the difficulties academics were currently facing in planning their future, thinking ahead, considering what they would do about their families—young academics, in particular—and wondering where their future lay. Like a lot of people planning their lives, they wanted a bit of certainty and security. Towards the end of the conversation he made what I thought was a very shocking confession. I had conducted the conversation on the assumption—my assumption, from his impeccable English —that he himself was English. I have probably given the game away, but it turned out that he was Belgian, and shared all the concerns that he was voicing on behalf of his colleagues.

This is a personal issue for a lot of valuable and skilled people, some of whom are already facing, unbelievable though this is, an increase in prejudice and, sadly, something that amounts at times to hate crime on their university campuses. If those skilled contributors go, some courses simply will not happen, because we need those people—that is why we got them in the first place—and some will worsen; university life will itself worsen.

The Minister is a very civilised man, who I am sure wants a diverse university sector and wants the best of EU talent to stay here, and to continue to come here. He would not welcome an exodus. He speaks fluent French, so has a true continental mindset, although it may not be encouraging to describe him as having that at this stage in the Government’s deliberations. I am sure he would welcome an early warning of any kind of exodus, and any kind of problem with or diminution of the involvement of international lecturers in our universities. The new clause would simply give him that.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Public Services and Education)

I will speak to amendments 55 and 56. I will start with amendment 56, which is in my name and that of my hon. Friend Roger Mullin.

The proposals in the Bill to reform the UK research councils have implications for higher education in Scotland, and we have concerns about the potential consequences for Scotland’s research base. The SNP tabled an amendment in Committee that sought to ensure representation on the UKRI board of people with relevant experience of the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland higher education sectors, as well as an understanding of the research and innovation policy context and landscape across the whole of the UK. We withdrew the amendment but reserved the right to bring it back on Report. That is what we are doing now.

We are pleased that the Government listened to the Scottish National party’s concerns in Committee and have tabled their own measure on this issue, Government amendment 36. However, although we welcome their acknowledgement of the need for the board of UKRI to include experience of the devolved Administrations, it is disappointing to note that amendment 36 requires experience of only one of those Administrations. That does not allow for the proper consideration of all devolved Administrations and their policy priorities within UKRI.

UKRI must have an understanding of the whole UK research and innovation landscape and must act in the interests of all devolved Administrations. That is why we have tabled amendment 56. What we have in front of us in Government amendment 36 does not adequately address our concerns and those of stakeholders, including Universities Scotland, Universities Wales, Queen’s University Belfast, the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, NUS Scotland, the University and College Union Scotland and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Our amendment is not partisan, but draws on a whole sector of university opinion throughout Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and has the full support of the Scottish Government.

The UK Government said that they would introduce a Higher Education and Research Bill that included measures set out in Paul Nurse’s review of the research councils. Our amendment would ensure the Bill matched what Sir Paul Nurse noted in his review, that

“there is a need to solicit and respond to distinct research priorities and evidence requirements identified by the devolved administrations”.

The Bill as it stands does not meet the overarching principles of the Nurse review, as the governance of UK Research and Innovation is accountable only to the UK Government, with principally English interests. We believe that the governance of UKRI needs to reflect the priorities of each of the Governments within the UK; if it does not, there could be a lack of consideration of Government priorities and research needs in Scotland and other devolved nations among the decision-making bodies of the research councils and of Innovate UK.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Europe), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader

I back the hon. Lady’s points, and note that Welsh universities have particular priorities when it comes to research, not least the very low level of funding that they get, which is probably around 2%—a figure that contrasts with the fact that we are 5% of the UK population. Irrespective of the Haldane principle, that is a specific concern in Wales.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Public Services and Education)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. Scotland does very well out of the research councils, because there is a large research body in Scotland and the research environment is vibrant across our 19 higher education institutes.

We want the Secretary of State and the UK Government to consult Scottish Ministers and their equivalents in the other devolved Administrations before approving UKRI’s research and innovation strategy. How else can we be certain that the new body set up in the Bill will be used in the best interests of the whole of the UK and is not simply focused on English-only priorities?

The Scottish National party is proud of our HE sector and acknowledges that it is valuable to ensure Scotland’s cultural, social and economic sectors prosper. It is worth over £6 billion to our economy, and we must ensure that this continues. The Bill has the potential to harm Scotland’s world-renowned research. The Minister and this Government need to ensure that devolved Administrations have an equal say and that their voice is heard within UKRI to ensure that the Bill will be of no detriment to any part of the UK.

Amendment 55 deals with funding. The integrity of the dual support financial system must be protected, and the Bill does not go far enough to do that. We need to be sure that the balanced funding principle is clearly defined in the Bill to ensure that the integrity of the financial system set up within cross-border higher education sectors continues. Any flow of funds between reserved and devolved budgets needs to be clearly defined, and the Bill does not address how the balance of funding allocated through competitive funding streams will be supported. There is a serious worry that Research England funding could be taken from the UK-wide pot, of which Scotland’s and other devolved Administrations’ HE institutes rightly receive a share. If that pot were to diminish, it would be to the detriment of the Scottish HE sector and, indeed, those of Wales and Northern Ireland.

We are already seeing uncertainty about funding for our HE sector, thanks to the reckless gamble over Brexit. Is it right now that we should deprive our HE institutes by taking UK funding away from them, too? Many stakeholders in Scotland are concerned about the potential hazard that will be placed in their way because of the funding structure. Amendment 55 would ensure separate funding allocations for the research councils, Innovate UK and Research England.

Although Scotland performs well, as I have already mentioned, in attracting funding from Research Councils UK for grants, studentships and fellowships, Scotland does less well in infrastructure spending for research and currently only attracts 5% of UK spending. As with many things, a lot of this spending is concentrated on the south-east of England, and we want UKRI to have a full overview of research infrastructure across the UK.

We are very concerned that that clause 94 will allow the Secretary of State to alter the balance of funding between the research councils. Any grant to UKRI is ultimately research project funding, which should be competitively available throughout the UK. It is therefore necessary to have transparency about what goes to UKRI and what goes to Research England, given that that body will distribute funds for research infrastructure that is available only to English institutions.

We are extremely concerned that no provision in the Bill will ensure that the Secretary of State cannot give directions to UKRI to move funds in-year on its own initiative between constituent parts. If, for whatever reason, funds had to be moved by the Secretary of State between research councils and Research England or Innovate UK, this must happen only if the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations give consent.

This SNP amendment would ensure that fairness and transparency are at the forefront of reserved funding allocation to UKRI and the allocation to Research England, while ensuring that the balanced funding principle is measured in relation to the proportion of funding allocated by the Secretary of State for reserved and for devolved England-only funding and providing clarity about when that might not be achieved.

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

I thank honourable colleagues for their enthusiastic support for our world-class research and innovation system. UKRI will be a strong and unified voice, championing research and innovation nationally and internationally. It will support fundamental and strategic research, drive forward multi and inter-disciplinary research, support business-led innovation and help to promote business links with publicly funded research.

UKRI will build on the great work already being undertaken by our research and innovation bodies and maximise the benefit to the UK of a Government investment of over £6 billion a year. That is why the Prime Minister this morning announced that, by the end of this Parliament, we will invest an additional £2 billion in research and development, including through a new industrial strategy challenge fund, led by Innovate UK, by our world-class research councils and, once established, by UKRI. This is clear testament to how UKRI can help to deliver greater outcomes for the research and innovation communities and for the whole UK.

UKRI will, of course, need insight not just into the research environment, but into innovation strengths and the business needs of the entire UK. We recognise the importance of UKRI board members having the appropriate experience to fulfil these important roles. Government amendment 35 will ensure that, when making these key appointments, the Secretary of State will have regard to the importance of the board having experience of the research and innovation systems in one or more of the devolved Administrations.

Amendment 42 would require Research England to consult the devolved funding bodies, when an equivalent requirement would not exist for them to consult Research England. I would highlight instead the new clause that I introduced in Committee, which will ensure that Research England can work with its devolved equivalents, as the Higher Education Funding Council for England does now. It is important that that joint working continues, and the provision in the Bill will enable that.

Turning to amendments 53 and 54, research and innovation must be joined up at the heart of our industrial strategy. Incorporating Innovate UK will bring benefits to businesses, researchers and the whole UK. It will help businesses identify possible research partners and mean that research outputs are better aligned with their needs. Researchers will benefit from greater exposure to business and commercialisation expertise, and it will deliver a more strategic, agile and impactful approach across UKRI’s portfolio.

As UKRI chair, John Kingman, has highlighted,

“it would be a huge mistake, and a backward step, to set up UKRI with the innovation mission left elsewhere. The big challenges facing our country require more and better co-ordination and partnership between our great research base, Innovate UK and the business community, not less.”

And stakeholders recognise the potential here, too. The CBI has said:

“The latest proposals for integrating Innovate UK within UKRI should support valuable synergies between different aspects of the UK’s science and innovation communities. Bringing Innovate UK’s business-facing perspective into UKRI can bring strategic advantages and should be used to build partnerships, creating the best conditions for fast growing, dynamic businesses to thrive.”

Let me reassure the House, however, that I recognise the importance of Innovate UK maintaining its business-facing focus. That is why the Bill will protect Innovate UK’s distinctive focus and autonomy in the delivery of its functions. Innovate UK will continue to develop new projects and programmes, working with companies to de-risk, enable and support innovation that will grow the UK economy. Furthermore, it will retain its separate budget, set out via a grant letter from the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State will appoint both academic and business representatives to the UKRI board, including a member to lead in promoting and championing innovation and business interests.

To realise our potential fully, we need to respond to a changing world, to anticipate future requirements and to ensure we have the structures in place to exploit the knowledge and expertise we have for the benefit of the whole country. The way to do this most effectively is to bring Innovate UK into UKRI. It is important that we deliver the flexibility and agility that the new structure for our research and innovation landscape will provide.

Turning to amendment 55, the Government have already committed to setting out separate funding streams for each council. The funding streams will be established in the annual grant letter. It is important that UKRI retains some flexibility to manage its funds to meet immediate financial pressures, to ensure best value from its resources and to meet the aspirations for seamless administration of multi and inter-disciplinary research and joint research and innovation projects. Small-scale, practical and mutually agreed virement is essential for any organisation that is managing a large portfolio of innovative, complex projects. This would allow UKRI’s councils to adapt to changes in project timing or to shift small amounts of funding to a lead council to support an interdisciplinary project in response to creative ideas from the community. I can also reassure hon. Members that the Secretary of State would not agree to UKRI viring money in such a way as to result in a net change in Research England’s hypothecated budget over a spending review period. This will be made clear in guidance to UKRI.

On amendment 56, I would like to take this opportunity to be very clear that UK-wide research and innovation funding, as conducted through the research councils and Innovate UK, are reserved issues and will continue to be so after transition to UKRI. It is already the Secretary of State’s duty, as it is mine, to work for the interests of the whole of the UK. Similarly, it is the responsibility of the research councils and Innovate UK to operate on an equal basis across the UK. Primarily, this is achieved by funding projects selected through open competition on the basis of excellence. The fact that they do so effectively is widely recognised in the research and innovation communities, as recognised by the former vice-chancellor of the University of Dundee, Sir Alan Langlands, in the evidence he gave last month to the Public Bill Committee. The research community functions remarkably well across the UK political landscape, not least because the UK Government and the devolved Administrations work together to make it do so. We would not seek to bind UKRI into a restrictive process of consultation, as proposed in this amendment.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Office/Europe), Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader 7:45 pm, 21st November 2016

I am sure that the record will show whether the Minister said earlier, in respect of Government amendment 35, that membership would include at least one person or more with relevant experience in relation to at least one of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Is it “one person” with relevant experience or “one person or more”?

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

It will be at least one person with experience of one or more of the devolved Administrations. To be absolutely explicit, the Government have tabled an amendment that places a duty on the Secretary of State to have regard to the desirability of having at least once such member. For the individual councils, we think it right that UKRI be free to appoint the very best people for these roles, and we expect it to appoint candidates with the highest levels of relevant skills and experience from a diverse range of backgrounds, both nationally and internationally.

On new clause 11, I absolutely agree with John Pugh that there must be proper monitoring of the international diversity of the research sector workforce. We already take this very seriously and collect and discuss such data, but let me reiterate the Government’s position on the importance of international researchers. As I have said, we remain fully open to scientists and researchers from across the EU, and we hugely value the contribution of EU and international staff. There has been no change to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK or of UK citizens in the EU, as a result of the referendum. As the Prime Minister said in her letter copied to Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, only five days after she came into office:

“Our research base is enriched by the best minds from Europe and around the world –
providing reassurance to these individuals and to UK researchers working in Europe will be a priority for the Government.”

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union)

The Minister has articulated exactly the sentiments shared by Opposition Members—for us, too, this issue is a priority—but does he not recognise that in reality the Government are failing in that objective? Around the country, we are receiving reports of EU academics saying, “Our future isn’t here, because we haven’t had the reassurances we need.”

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

There is no higher authority in the Government than the Prime Minister, and we have heard from her that it is absolutely our intention to provide the reassurance that EU scientists and researchers working in this country want and need. The Brexit Secretary has given similar assurances and reminded EU nationals living and working in the UK that those who have been here for five years are already entitled to indefinite leave to remain—I understand from his figures that that relates to about 80% of the group concerned—and that those who have been here for six years are entitled to apply for dual nationality. We want brilliant researchers from other European countries to continue to enrich our universities and student experience, and we have every expectation that they will be able to do so, as long as UK nationals in other EU countries receive reciprocal rights in those countries.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans)

Does the Minister appreciate that such statements are cold comfort to people in that position and that we need far greater certainty to make sure that our higher education institutions can flourish as they should?

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education)

We as a Government can only reiterate that we fully appreciate and value their presence in our institutions. We welcome them and think their work crucial, and we want them to stay and to continue doing that work. We cannot be more categorical than that.

On amendments 43, 44, 45, 57 and 59, I absolutely agree that co-operation between the OFS and UKRI is critical. Clauses 105 and 106 provide for this. It is counterproductive, however, either to restrict the areas or to be too prescriptive about how and where UKRI and the OFS should work together through legislation as required by these amendments. We have recently set out in a factsheet published on 15 November further details of where we expect both bodies to work together. One key area explained in the factsheet where we believe that the OFS and UKRI should work in close co-operation is in the assessment of applications for research degree awarding powers. The provisions in the Bill will facilitate this.

Another important area of joint working between UKRI and the OFS is postgraduate training. In turning, therefore, to amendment 17, I would like to thank Paul Blomfield for raising this important issue in Committee. While the functions of UKRI, as drafted in the Bill, do enable this, the Government have tabled the amendment to provide absolute clarity that UKRI will continue to support postgraduate training. Dr Blackman-Woods has proposed an amendment to our amendment to ensure that it includes “social sciences”. I can assure her that this is already the case, because clause 104 ensures that all references to science or the humanities include social science and the arts. Our support for postgraduate training will be across the spectrum of disciplines. The OFS will be responsible for protecting the interests of all students, including all postgraduate students. The two bodies will work together and share understanding to support their respective functions, and the Bill makes clear provision for this.

I hope that hon. Members recognise the considerable progress made in ensuring that the Bill meets the needs of the research and innovation communities. I believe that UKRI will catalyse a more strategic, agile and interdisciplinary approach to addressing global challenges and developing the UK’s research and innovation capability. This is fundamental to strengthening UK competitiveness as part of the new industrial strategy. I therefore ask hon. Members not to press their amendments.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

Our amendments 43 to 45 are on collaboration between the OFS and UKRI. I will come to those and the Minister’s comments on them in a moment, but shall start with amendment 42.

Amendment 42 would allow Research England to co-ordinate with its devolved counterparts. Labour considers this an important principle to establish in the Bill. The Committee did not include members from Wales or, obviously, from Northern Ireland, yet, in both Wales and Northern Ireland, universities and higher education institutions will be significantly affected by the process. They will also be affected if the process with the new bodies is not universally seen, at this important time for our university system, to be fair in sharing out its attentions. Not to consider including such provisions in the Bill is a great mistake. Surely we should consider those interests when setting up a new research body.

This is highly relevant to the future of those research bodies. The Minister will be well aware that research bodies are generally still not entirely mollified by the various blandishments and reassurances given, particularly on the role of research councils. I am sure he will hear more about that when the Bill goes to the other place. While we have not pressed further any of the amendments that were proposed in Committee, because of time pressures, I assure him that our noble Friends in another place will want to scrutinise in detail what he has said and what he is planning to do.

These are not arcane arguments about technical details. One of the problems the Government face is that they have overlooked a vital factor. There is little sense of what the knock-on effects of all this will be on the importance of what I describe as the brand UK plc in HE—particularly so, in view of the further uncertainties that have arisen since the advent of Brexit. I am not the only person to make that observation; other commentators and academics have also done so.

HE providers across England and the devolved nations are internationally competitive because there is a trusted UK brand. If we are to maintain a trusted UK brand, it is important that all the integral parts of the UK feel that they have a say at the table. If they do not feel that and there is disgruntlement and dissension, at a time when the UK Government need to do all they can in the Brexit negotiations to safeguard that UK brand, there will be a weak link. There needs to be a proper UK-wide strategy to safeguard the positions of our researchers, as John Pugh mentioned.

Amendments 55 and 56, tabled by SNP Members, provide a valuable service to the Government by waking them up to some of the implications of having a body—albeit not one that they might wish for—that appears to be too Anglocentric. Reference was made to the amendment tabled in Committee that would have given the devolved nations more input. The Welsh Government in particular are concerned that Government amendment 45, which is the UK Government’s response to the amendment tabled in Committee, will not be adequate. Their view is very simple: Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, although they have some similarities—in that they are not English—are not a homogenous group of countries. They have very different histories, interests and experiences of HE and research and innovation, which needs to be reflected in the architecture.

The Minister is at his most emollient this evening, on the back of the announcement today of a £2 billion industrial strategy fund, which is going turbo-charge the future for UKRI, so that it can power away and all the rest of it. The truth of the matter—and the Minister knows it—is that the architecture that will need to be constructed and consolidated in UKRI, with Innovate UK, the research councils, the devolved Administrations and so on, is complex. It is going to take time to develop.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Equality) 8:00 pm, 21st November 2016

On the subject of Northern Ireland, the Minister will know that Queen’s University, Belfast has an extensive partnership with companies and other universities across the whole of the United Kingdom, and we are all proud to be British in relation to that. With that in mind, I am wondering what consideration the hon. Gentleman feels this Government should give to Queen’s University, particularly for its innovative medical investigations to find new cures for cancer, diabetes, chest, heart and stroke illnesses and such like?

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. It would, of course, be invidious for me to single out Queen’s University over and above others—if I did, my postbag would no doubt be full—but he is absolutely right to champion what it is doing. There is an important point, which I am not sure the Government have entirely grasped. The research done at Queen’s and other universities and HE institutions under the devolved Administrations does not depend only on whether the Government get a good Brexit settlement with the European Union; it depends on maintaining the trust and support of those EU nations that we will rely on to get that sort of investment for clinical trials. For example, a lot of charities—the Minister will be aware of this because they made representations to his Department—particularly those relating to heart disease and cancer, are concerned that if we do not get a decent settlement, the problems of getting field trials in Francophone Africa or Lusophone South America will become more and more complicated because we rely on those researchers and the good offices of our EU counterparts in those countries. I do not think that the Government are taking anywhere near enough notice of that particular issue.

As I said, the architecture is complex, and it is crucial to get it right. Although the Minister may think that some of these amendments are nit-picking and do not need to be on the face of the Bill, as I said to him throughout our discussions in Committee, I think he neglects the importance of sending a signal to the devolved Administrations and others that their interests are going to be represented. That is why these amendments were tabled.

Our amendments 43, 44 and 45 would ensure that there is co-operation and information sharing between the OFS and UKRI. The Minister obviously knows that UKRI and Innovate UK have historically done different things. Again, he is at pains to try to reassure us that all we will get under the new structure is the best of both worlds. Unfortunately, we sometimes end up getting the worst of both worlds. I was struck, particularly during evidence sessions in Committee, by the fact that certain concerns remain—amendment 53, tabled by John Pugh, is also relevant here. The chief executive of Innovate UK outlined his concerns in Committee about whether Innovate UK and the Department that supports it will be sufficiently fleet of foot to do the sort of innovative things in finance and everything else that they have so far been very good at. This is not to say that the architecture cannot work; it is just saying that the Minister and his officials need to think rather harder about the how the process will go forward.

There is also, of course, the broader issue in part 3 that the process of separating teaching and research—and in this context, the Research England body is relevant—will mean that issues and activities at the interface of teaching and research, such as the health of disciplines, the awarding of research degrees, post-grad training and sharing of facilities, might not be effectively identified and supported.

Photo of Daniel Zeichner Daniel Zeichner Shadow Minister (Transport)

My hon. Friend will appreciate that a number of institutions are concerned—I suspect he was about to make this point—about this gap between teaching and research. I was quite surprised when my University of Cambridge told me that 89% of people who are involved in teaching at the university are also involved in research. That integration between the two is absolutely essential, yet it seems to be what is missing in some people’s eyes from the Bill. I believe that this is the force of the amendment that my hon. Friend is proposing.

Photo of Gordon Marsden Gordon Marsden Shadow Minister (Education)

I was going to say that my hon. Friend, as the MP for Cambridge, is at the cutting-edge, or certainly at the coal face, of this particular issue. I know it is important to Cambridge University and indeed to Oxford University, whose vice-chancellor has expressed similar concerns. This is not the Minister’s fault, but it is unfortunate that at the time this comes through, we will have had the machinery of government changes in terms of the Department for Education and the new expanded Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Time alone will tell what the benefits of that are—I think there might be a number of them—but there could be problems in the short term. With the best will in the world, that bedding-down process between the two Departments—I know the Minister has a foot in both camps, so I hope he will be able to help—is going to be a real concern.

We have talked about the OFS and UKRI co-operating on the health of disciplines and so on. Our amendment proposes a mechanism by which this collaboration could be achieved. The Royal Society, as I am sure the Minister is aware, has suggested that a committee on teaching and research should be established. The Wellcome institute, with which I am sure Members are familiar, has also offered its thoughts. Teaching and research are intrinsically linked, but that intrinsic link would be lost from higher education if the bond between them were broken.

Clause 105 sets out the interactions between the OFS and UKRI, but we wanted to strengthen that co-operation by replacing the word “may”—no disrespect to the Prime Minister—with “must”. In parliamentary and governmental terms, “must” is a great deal more useful than “may”. The Royal Society of Chemistry has said:

“In many HE Institutions we see positive interactions between teaching and research responsibilities…There is a risk that the separation of teaching and research in the new HE architecture will mean that the benefits of research informing teaching and learning practices could be lost.”

No one is suggesting that that would be done deliberately, but it could happen. The society has also said:

“The current draft of the Bill allows for information sharing between the OfS and UKRI. It does not, however, require their cooperation unless directed by the Secretary of State”.

Other learned bodies and societies have contacted me, and fellow members of the Committee, to make similar points.

The Minister referred to the guidance paper that he has issued. I thank him for that paper, which provides some further clarity, but it has come very late in the day. I wonder whether it was issued with an eye to the passing interest in the other place, to which the Bill is shortly to be committed, rather than with the aim of keeping us happy down here, but it is useful nevertheless. At the end of the day, however, it still does not establish an obligation or mechanism for co-operation; that is left to the whim of an individual Secretary of State or universities Minister.

As I have said, the issue is made more pressing by the new machinery of government structure and the responsibilities shared by the two Departments. Who knows what will happen in the future? The Minister may be looking forward to a long period as the universities Minister, but at some point, no doubt, he will go onward and upward, and there is no guarantee that his successor, in this or any future Government, will also share responsibilities with BEIS.

For all those reasons, we are suggesting that the Bill be amended to provide that the OFS and UKRI must co-operate without having to be required to do so by the Secretary of State. If SNP Members choose to press their amendments, we will support them.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

I wish to speak about amendments 57 and 59, and amendment (a) to Government amendment 17.

In Committee, my hon. Friend Gordon Marsden and I said that the OFS should not have sole power and control over authorisations of research awards, and that UKRI and other bodies should be involved in authorising degrees. I argued that there were two major problems with giving the OFS sole power to award research degrees. First, it would not allow any research funding bodies, or indeed any other relevant agencies, to take part in the process of deciding whether to grant an institution powers to award research degrees. That is problematic, because granting research degree-awarding powers without reference to other bodies diminishes the level of expertise in the decision-making process.

Secondly, as UKRI, Research England, and the national academies and learned societies have responsibilities for providing research funding, it would surely be a major error not to consider what role they would have in the granting of research degree- awarding powers, or the effect that it could have on their funding decisions. That is particularly important given the concerns that many organisations have about giving away degree-awarding powers. For example, the University and College Union is worried about the impact of removing a minimum period before institutions are allowed to apply for full degree-awarding powers. At a time when many groups fear that the restrictions on degree-awarding powers are being watered down, we should be ensuring that organisations such as UKRI are scrutinising the decisions made by the OFS.

The Minister did respond to some of my concerns about the OFS working alone. He said:

“One key area in which the OFS and UKRI should work in close co-operation is the assessment of applications for research degree-awarding powers, and the provisions in clause 103 will facilitate that.”

I appreciate that clause 105—which clause 103 has become—allows the OFS and the UKRI to work together, but the purpose of my amendment is not just to allow them to work together, but to ensure that they do so. My hon. Friend Gordon Marsden has just made that point. The fact that the two institutions are allowed to work together does not mean that they will.

The Minister said:

“The Secretary of State will have powers to require that co-operation to take place if it does not do so of its own accord.” ––[Official Report, Higher Education and Research Public Bill Committee, 11 October 2016;
c. 372.]

Why should not the organisations be required to co-operate at the outset, rather than the Government’s saying that they can work together, waiting until they do not work together, and then seeking to intervene?

Photo of Jo Johnson Jo Johnson Minister of State (Department for Education) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Minister of State (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Universities and Science) (Joint with the Department for Education) 8:15 pm, 21st November 2016

UKRI and the OFS are under an obligation to act efficiently and effectively, and to deliver value for money. That will inevitably mean that when collaboration would deliver those objectives, they will also be under an obligation to work together.

Photo of Roberta Blackman-Woods Roberta Blackman-Woods Shadow Minister (Housing)

That seems a bit convoluted.

A number of universities are still raising issues. We have just heard from the University of Cambridge, which says that

“the Bill itself does not contain any specific duty on the OfS to consult with UKRI towards the award of research DAPs. We believe that this should be specifically provided for in the Bill.”

I agree. I think that we would all like the Minister to include a specific requirement for the OFS to consult the UKRI and other bodies before granting degree-awarding powers. That, we think, would be a major step towards ensuring that decisions are effective and appropriate.

Amendment 59 suggests that one way of ensuring that the OFS and UKRI work together would be to establish a joint committee consisting of representatives of both organisations and requiring them to produce an annual report on the health of the higher education sector. They would have to report on, for instance, post-graduate training, research funding, shared facilities, skills development, and the strength of the sector. The amendment is intended to obtain—even at this late stage—a bit more information from the Minister about how he envisages the two organisations working together, and, in particular, how he will ensure that there is holistic oversight. That issue arose again and again in Committee. There was widespread concern, expressed in our amendments, that the split into two organisations would lose some of what HEFCE had provided for the sector. This amendment suggests just one way in which the two could be made to work together more effectively; there are others.

The Minister has provided us—rather late in the day—with framework documents that help to establish how the Government envisage collaboration between the organisations, and I thank him for that. I found it interesting reading. I hope that the Minister appreciates that I read the document immediately. It sets out a number of things that the OFS and UKRI may do. It says, for example, that the OFS and UKRI may co-operate with one another in exercising any of their functions and that the OFS may provide information to the UKRI. I just reiterate the point—why not just say “must” or “shall” where appropriate, and then we are all absolutely clear that those two organisations have to work together in a particular way?

I want to emphasise one thing about the amendment. At the end of it, it says that the UKRI and the OFS should have to publish a report on

“measures taken to act in the public interest.”

I am not going to go through again all the things we would expect to see from two organisations working in the public interest, but it would be helpful to have some understanding from the Minister about how the UKRI and the OFS are going to comment and report on the public interest as expressed by institutions and the work that they are carrying out.

On amendment (a) to Government amendment 17, the Minister is right that clause 104 says that the social sciences should be covered by the term “sciences” and arts by the term “humanities”. I tabled amendment (a) so that I could ask why, as only a few additional words would have to be added, “social sciences” cannot be added to the provision. We will all remember that arts is covered by humanities and social sciences by sciences because we are doing the Bill, but once the list is out there will be a danger of both the arts and social sciences falling out of everyone’s memory. I make a plea to the Minister: may we have the words “arts” and “social sciences” added to the provision?

Photo of Roger Mullin Roger Mullin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

I hope not to detain the House for terribly long, but I would like to make several points. The Minister said in relation to our amendment 55, “The Secretary of State would not agree to the varying of money”. That strikes me as the nub of the problem. Although the Minister is someone who I know to be honourable, absolutely committed to the university sector and assiduous in his work—he has listened to us, hence the modest changes he has made, which are welcome—he will not be there forever and in future we may get someone with much less stable characteristics, like his brother, for example. Can you imagine the havoc that could be wreaked if his brother were to replace him? Therefore, we need to ensure that some of the requirements are enshrined in statute.

When we look at the needs of the different Administrations, we see that there is a great difference between the needs of the economies in Wales, in Northern Ireland and in Scotland and the needs in England, particularly the south of England. I have had the great pleasure of working in Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University at different times, as well as in many Scottish universities and a few in England. The differences can be profound.

Take one of the universities in Scotland—the University of the Highlands and Islands, a multi-campus university that has grown out of the college sector and has research interests that are not shared by any other university in the UK. The same is true of Ulster University and, I am sure, although it is many years since I was there, Bangor University. There is a great variation is research interest. More than that, there is a profound difference economically, to which they have to respond. Their interests diverge in many ways. We only need to look at the debate about exiting the EU in Scotland, where 62% voted to stay. We and others are working hard to have as close a relationship as possible with the EU and all that that would bring. Look at the debate taking place in other parts of the UK, where precisely the opposite view is being taken. That will have profound economic consequences that need to be reflected, and they will not be unless there is proper consultation with the devolved bodies.

The Minister talked about bringing together, which I would welcome, research, innovation, the academic community and the business community and all that that involves. In the vast majority of cases, I would agree with him, but let me put in a word of caution. Some years ago, when I was chair of the joint departmental research ethics committee at the University of Stirling, we were faced with a situation where research programmes into smoking were being challenged by business, which was trying to get access through legal means to the original data that the academics had used, so that the tobacco companies could twist them for their own interests. Therefore, it is not always the case that there is a coincidence between academic and business interests. That is another reason why there needs to be much greater co-operation. The devolved Government in Scotland would have been much more sensitive to that matter than any other part of the UK.

Photo of Margaret Ritchie Margaret Ritchie Social Democratic and Labour Party, South Down

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that Queen’s University Belfast—I must declare an interest; I graduated there—has a particular interest in precision medicine and has been trying to get funding from Innovate UK to pursue a particular project, but it is in direct competition with a university in Britain? However, Queen’s has a particular expertise in that area.

Photo of Roger Mullin Roger Mullin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I was not aware of that, but she raises a situation where surely it would make sense for there to be co-operation and co-ordination to understand the different economic and medical interests that exist.

I appeal to the Government: it is not too late to think and to improve the Bill. I ask the Minister to think about those points again.

Photo of Deidre Brock Deidre Brock Shadow SNP Westminster Group Leader (Scottish Parliament/Scottish Government Liaison), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Devolved Government Relations)

As my hon. Friend has mentioned, many people working in higher education in Scotland are very worried about these reforms and I do not blame them. The Brexit mess is already causing tremendous uncertainty over future research funding and international collaboration. We need to make certain that changes to governance do not put even more blocks on the road.

As my hon. Friend Carol Monaghan said, the Scottish Affairs Committee recently had the privilege of taking evidence from Sir Tim O’Shea, the Principal of the University of Edinburgh. He was clear about the probable damage that Brexit would do to universities in Scotland and in other parts of the UK if a deal were not reached similar to the deal that the Prime Minister floated for the City of London. The Scottish research industry secured some €217 million from Horizon 2020 up to February 2016. That is 11.6% of total UK funding. Access to that funding will be lost unless agreement is reached between the UK and the EU, and that will necessitate the UK putting the money into the research pot in the first place.

Of perhaps more direct concern for the business in front of us, however, and a major concern about these reforms in Scotland, is that research councils will be sucked up into the new UKRI along with Research England, meaning the research funding pot for the UK could be too closely entwined with England’s funding council. We need clear lines and full transparency between UKRI and Research England. Scotland’s universities currently perform very well in attracting funding from research councils for grants, studentships and fellowships; we cannot allow the system to be skewed to their disadvantage, and we certainly look forward to seeing the Government guidance on this.

We also need more than lip service to be paid to consulting devolved Administrations. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Funding Council need input into those decisions, as do the Welsh and Northern Ireland Administrations, so that their voices and priorities are not drowned out.

The Scottish research industry has different priorities from the rest of the UK, and there is a concern that this will be missed from a UK-wide research body. For example, Scottish institutions have been pioneers in research collaborations since the first research pools were formed in 2004. These are often in smaller, less research-intensive institutions, and there is a worry that the new criteria could leave such smaller pockets of excellence locked out of funding. In light of this, Government amendment 35 simply does not go far enough in assuaging the very real concerns that have been voiced long and loud by the Scottish higher education sector. To only

“have regard to the desirability of the members including at least one person with relevant experience in relation to at least one of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland” is simply not good enough. That is hardly a cast-iron assurance that the new structure will not affect our research priorities or damage our research funding.

These changes will affect Scotland. We will be keeping a close eye on their effects, and we can be sure Scottish universities will take full advantage of any edges they can find.

One final point: one likely consequence of the Bill, in its current state at least, is that Scottish universities will become far clearer in their national and international branding.

Photo of John Pugh John Pugh Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Education) 8:30 pm, 21st November 2016

I do not propose to press my new clause to a vote.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 14

“Post Study Work Visa: evaluation

‘(1A) 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.—(Carol Monaghan.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 211, Noes 280.

Division number 89 Work and Pensions — UKRI report: international specialist employees

Aye: 211 MPs

No: 280 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 2