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Amendment made: 35, page 98, line 39, at end insert—
“( ) The Secretary of State must, in appointing the members of UKRI, have regard to the desirability of the members including at least one person with relevant experience in relation to at least one of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
( ) ‘Relevant experience’ means experience of one or more of the following—
(a) research into science, technology, humanities or new ideas;
(b) the development or exploitation of science, technology, new ideas or advancements in humanities;
(c) industrial, commercial or financial matters or the practice of any profession.”—(Joseph Johnson.)
This amendment requires the Secretary of State, when appointing members of UKRI, to have regard to the desirability of at least one of the members having relevant experience in relation to at least one of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. “Relevant experience” is defined in the amendment.
Our consideration having been completed, I will now suspend the House for no more than five minutes in order to make a decision about certification. The Division bells will be rung two minutes before the House resumes. Following my certification, the Government will table the appropriate consent motions. Copies of the consent motions will be available shortly in the Vote Office and will be distributed by the Doorkeepers.
I can now inform the House of my decision about certification. For the purposes of
Natasha Engel in the Chair
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (
Clauses and schedules certified under Standing Order 83L(2) as relating exclusively to England and Wales and being within devolved competence
Question agreed to.
The House forthwith resolved itself into the Legislative Grand Committee (England) (
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (
That the Committee consents to the following certified clauses and schedules of the Higher Education and Research Bill and certified amendments made by the House to the Bill:
Clauses and schedules certified under
Clause 56 of and Schedule 5 to the Bill (Bill 78);
Amendments certified under
Amendments 109, 243, 244 and 245 made in the Public Bill Committee to clause 80 of the Bill as introduced (Bill 4), which is Clause 81 of the Bill as amended in the Public Bill Committee (Bill 78)—(Joseph Johnson.)
Question agreed to.
The occupant of the Chair left the Chair to report the decisions of the Committees (
The Speaker resumed the Chair; decisions reported.
Queen’s consent signified.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Let me first convey my thanks to those from all parts of the House and those outside who have given their time and expertise to help to strengthen and improve this important and much needed Bill. We have been listening carefully to all the points made during the debates on the Bill, and I am pleased that the Bill has received such thorough scrutiny in this House.
We are reforming the complicated and outdated regulatory landscape. We are giving students more choice, driving up quality and ensuring our world-class research and innovation sector can maintain its standing in these ever more challenging times.
As we have heard from those in the sector, our reforms will make a real difference. I remind the House why the Bill is so important and so firmly in the national interest. The current regulation of the system reflects a bygone era of grant funding, elite access and student number controls. Things have moved on and we must catch up. We are therefore putting in place the robust regulatory framework that is needed. It joins up the regulation of the market and will give us a “best in class” regulatory system. This is essential to ensure that students are protected and that students and the taxpayer receive good value for money from the system.
The Bill will also create a level playing field, making it easier for new providers to enter, but only if they can demonstrate the potential to deliver high-quality provision. New universities will drive more diversity and innovation and more choice for students; elicit competitive pressure to drive up quality; and provide employers with more of the skills our economy needs. Nowhere has this been better demonstrated than by the announcement last month that Sir James Dyson, one of this country’s greatest inventors, is creating a new Dyson Institute of Technology. Dyson intends to take advantage of our planned reforms to give high-quality institutions a direct route to degree-awarding powers and university status in their own right. It will equip students and future employees with the skills that will be vital to the growth and productivity of our economy.
We have seen recently that new providers, such as the Dyson Institute, can be recognised as some of the most respected within the sector. The University of Buckingham was ranked first for teaching quality in The Times Good University Guide for 2015-16, while the University of Law, which became a university only in 2012, was joint first for overall student satisfaction in this year’s national student survey.
“UK Research and Innovation…will boost cooperation among the research councils;
allow a more flexible, interdisciplinary approach to global challenges;
and position research at the heart of a new industrial strategy”,
just as Sir Paul Nurse envisaged in the review we are now implementing.
Those are just a few of the important aspects of our reforms, but as we arrive at the final stage of the Bill’s passage through this House, before its transfer to the other place, I want to take this opportunity to explain how the Government have listened and how the Bill has changed since it was first introduced. Our reforms place students at the heart of higher education regulation. I have always been clear that experience of representing or promoting the interests of students is a key criterion in appointing the board of the new market regulator, the office for students, but we heard concerns that that was not sufficient, so we have strengthened our proposals. Through amendments agreed today, we will ensure that the OFS always has a board member with experience of representing or promoting the interests of students.
We have also listened carefully to university representative bodies. Institutional autonomy has been the foundation of the success of our higher education system. Through the Bill we are fully committed to recognising the fundamental and ongoing importance of academic freedom. To that end, the Bill creates numerous and robust safeguards ensuring protection of academic freedom and institutional autonomy at all times. Today, I have clarified in the Bill our clear intention that the Government, when giving guidance or directions to the OFS, or setting conditions of grant framed by reference to particular courses of study, will not have the ability to compel the OFS to perform any of its functions in a way that prohibits or requires the provision of particular courses. Many people told me that they wanted the OFS to take more of a role in monitoring the financial sustainability of the sector, working closely with UKRI as needed, to protect and enhance its reputation. We are enshrining that duty in law through the amendment agreed today.
The Bill is not just about reforming how we will regulate higher education institutions; we are also creating a body to strengthen the UK’s world-class capabilities in research and innovation. UKRI has a UK-wide remit. As I explained in Committee, to deliver that and our overall integrated and strategic ambitions for the new body, UKRI must have a proper understanding of the systems operating in all parts of the UK, and I am pleased we have agreed an amendment that will ensure that. We have also responded to the community’s feedback in recognising the important role that UKRI will play in supporting postgraduate training working together with the OFS.
The Government remain committed to ensuring that our higher education sector retains its international standing. The reforms in the Bill are crucial in enabling us to do so. I am grateful to the hon. Members for taking the time to scrutinise and contribute to this important Bill, and I commend it to the House.
I associate myself with the Minister’s thanks to all who have contributed to the Bill, most especially to my hon. Friends who served in such a sterling fashion on the Public Bill Committee. We have also had a huge number of responses, as the Minister said, from the university sector and indeed other sectors, which underlines the importance of getting a Bill such as this one right.
The Minister said, no doubt feeling released from the scrutiny of this House, that we were escaping a bygone era, but more than once during the previous course of the Bill and again this afternoon, I got a sense of 20th-century déjà vu in respect of a naive belief in unproven and unregulated competition. It seemed that nothing had changed since
The aspect that we criticised most as the Bill was taken forward is that we have seen no sense of adjusting to the realities of Brexit, and no indication that it might have been sensible to have paused and reflected on what structural change, particularly regarding the new providers, might do for our higher education sector—not just in England, but across the whole of the United Kingdom.
The Government could have given pre-legislative scrutiny to this Bill; but they did not. They could have conceded, frankly, far more than they did in Committee. SNP Members as well as Labour Members put forward positive suggestions, but very few of them were taken into account. I welcome what the Minister said about students, but to be honest, I have to say to the Minister that this is a pretty poor start at this stage.
What is happening? The Government are not looking beyond Horizon 2020; they are not looking beyond the European structural and investment funding, and the £2 million that the Minister trumpeted today for the industrial strategy will not go too far in dealing with the immense problems we are going to have to face out of Brexit. Too often, when the Government had the opportunity to reach out in Committee, we got civil service boilerplate.
I went back and looked at what I said on Second Reading, and to be honest, I cannot see much of a need to change what I said then. I said:
“Instead of looking at urgently needed and constructive ways of reducing the financial fees burden on our students, the Government have produced mechanisms which dodge Parliament’s ability to judge and regulate them.”
We have talked about that again today. I continued:
“Instead of strengthening and shoring up our universities and higher and further education at a most critical time, they risk seriously undermining them by obsessively pursuing a market ideology. Instead of presenting analysis in the wake of Brexit, offering relief, assurances and strategies to safeguard both research excellence in our traditional and modern universities and the involvement of higher education in the local communities and economies that they serve, the Government have presented no answers to the urgent threats”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 613, c. 728.]
As a result, as I indicated this afternoon, the Government have managed to alienate diverse groups of people. In the process, they have treated lightly in the Bill issues such as academic autonomy. They have missed opportunities to be forward thinking.
I have already mentioned the throwback to the 20th century in the naive way in which the Minister seemed to believe in terms such as competition. If I did not know the Minister better, I might have thought that he was a disciple of Ayn Rand and wanted to go back to the 1950s. Nowhere in the Bill are there adequate protections for students or for existing institutions. The Bill does nothing to support them in that way. In the process, as I have said, the Government have tried to do everything to avoid scrutiny of their new institutions by the House in the future. That will come back to bite them when the first of these innovations goes wrong.
We did manage to prise one thing out of the Minister in Committee. We expressed concern about rogue providers, and asked who would bear the costs of the OFS. We obtained some snapshots from a technical paper which showed that, increasingly, the costs would be covered by higher education providers; and who will provide the money for the HE providers? The students: the same students who have been double-crossed over the threshold by the Government—the same Government who have jeopardised the life chances of tens of thousands of young people by scrapping maintenance grants and replacing them with loans which they may or may not take up, and the same Government who have moved too slowly, too feebly, to address issues of reskilling and higher education which affect people throughout their lives and which we have done our best to bring to the fore in this Bill.
The Government have done too little, too late. I would have genuinely liked to come to the House today and say that we were satisfied with what the Minister had said and with the changes that he had made, but I am afraid that we cannot be satisfied at this stage. The Government have left an enormous number of question marks for the other place, which must carry out due diligence. I believe that the other place will do that, but the Bill, as it stands, represents a lost opportunity. It has failed in its overarching aims for social mobility, and that is why, with regret, we cannot support it and will vote against Third Reading tonight.
Let me begin by associating myself with what was said by the Minister and Gordon Marsden in thanking those who were involved in the preparation of the Bill, and all the stakeholders who have provided input for the Bill and supplied excellent briefings throughout its passage.
Despite the raciness of the Bill, we still have concerns about many aspects of it, some of which affect Scotland directly. Although Scottish higher education providers will not be bound to participate in the teaching excellence framework, it is feared that Scottish universities that do not participate will be disadvantaged when it comes to attracting international students, who are a crucial source of funding for all higher education institutions. That is compounded by the Government’s refusal to reinstate post-study work visas, despite calls from HE institutions throughout the United Kingdom, as well as business leaders and all political parties in Scotland. Now Brexit has been added to the mix, along with the reputational damage that it has done to UK higher education internationally. There are serious issues in the sphere of higher education, and we should be addressing them before we proceed with the Bill.
My hon. Friend is making very clear why so much of the Bill is important to our constituents in Scotland, and not least to the University of Glasgow, which is in my constituency. Does she share my concern about the fact that what we witnessed a few moments ago in the Grand Legislative Committee procedure makes a mockery of the scrutiny that ought to be given to clauses that affect England and Wales in particular? Does she also agree that if there is an answer to the West Lothian question, the current “English votes for English laws” procedures certainly are not it?
I am not sure who those procedures served, but I cannot imagine that they served the people of England particularly well.
The establishment of UKRI without a proper devolved voice—a voice that would understand the distinct nature of Scotland’s research landscape—could lead to a lack of consideration among the decision-making bodies of the research councils and Innovate UK of Government priorities and research needs in Scotland and other devolved nations. We welcome the Government’s movement on that in their amendment, but it simply does not go far enough or offer the guarantee we sought.
Scotland is already disadvantaged in terms of infrastructure spend for research—it currently attracts only about 5% of UK spending. Therefore, to prevent further leakage of funding or continued disparities, the firewall between the HEFCE and the rest of the UKRI must be in place. That would ensure not only that funding followed excellence but that the vibrant research community in all devolved nations continued to flourish.
I rise to echo some of the comments of my hon. Friend Gordon Marsden from the Front Bench. We can agree with some of the Bill. I do not think any Labour Member has a problem in principle with putting a teaching excellence framework in place. We think that it is a necessary corrective for many of our institutions to ensure that teaching gets the same level of applause as research currently does. However, even though we are on Third Reading, we do not have enough information about how the TEF will work in practice and whether it will measure teaching quality, or use proxy measures. We know that the metrics still have to be sorted. From now on, we will have to rely on the other place to scrutinise that matter and the issue of how the traffic light system will come into operation and whether it will be used in any way for the recruitment of students, particularly international students.
Other issues remain unresolved relating to the quality of new entrants, what they will do and the services they will provide to students in addition to their degree course. There are issues to be resolved about how UKRI and the OFS will provide holistic oversight to the sector and work together. There are issues about how higher education relates to the needs of part-time and mature students. There are a number of unanswered questions, which Members in the other place will have to examine in more detail, as they will student finance and the increasing demands that are being imposed in that regard. As my hon. Friend said, another issue is how all this is going to make sense to universities in the context of Brexit. Therefore, we are handing over to the other place quite a list of challenges, and I wish it well in further scrutinising the Bill.
Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The House divided:
Ayes 279, Noes 214.