Higher Education and Research Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:29 pm on 26th April 2017.

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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) 3:29 pm, 26th April 2017

I can reassure the hon. Lady that we are committed to ensuring that universities are able to increase their fees in line with inflation, provided they can demonstrate that they are delivering high-quality outcomes through the TEF. We are going to be introducing this scheme gradually and we are not going to be differentiating according to the fee uplift that institutions are able to get before the academic year starting August 2020; until that point there will be no differentiation of fee uplift based on performance in the TEF.

This means that differentiated fees will not be introduced until after the independent review has reported to the Secretary of State and to Parliament. Until that point all English providers participating in the TEF will receive the full inflationary uplift. It will be up to devolved Administrations, as before, to determine whether they are content for their institutions to participate in the TEF and what impact participation may have on their fees. I can confirm today that the ratings awarded under the TEF this year will not be used to determine differentiated fees, unless a provider actively chooses not to re-enter the TEF after the independent review. In practice, this means that this year’s ratings will only count towards differentiated fees if, after the review, a provider does not ask for a fresh assessment before their next one is due—that is an opportunity that will be open to all participants.

Before moving on to our other amendments, I would like to reiterate our commitment that the TEF will evolve to assess the quality of teaching at subject level, as well as institutional level. We recognise that subject-level assessments are more challenging, which is why I have already announced an extension to the roll-out of subject-level TEF pilots, with an additional year of piloting. This follows the best practice demonstrated in the research excellence framework, and means the first subject-level assessments will not take place until spring 2020.

In both this House and the other place, we have heard compelling arguments about the importance of student electoral registration. I commend Paul Blomfield for his passionate work on that issue. Having worked closely with my hon. Friend the Minister for the Constitution, I am pleased to propose Government amendments (a) and (b) in lieu of Lords amendment 15. Our amendments will improve the electoral registration of students by permitting the Office for Students to impose a condition of registration on higher education providers that requires their governing bodies to take steps specified by the OFS to facilitate co-operation with electoral registration officers in England. The amendments place that requirement firmly within the new higher education regulatory framework while, equally importantly, maintaining unaltered the statutory roles and responsibilities of EROs for ensuring the accuracy of the electoral register. The provisions will complement EROs’ existing powers.

In implementing the condition, the OFS will be obliged to have regard to ministerial guidance issued under the general duties clause, which will lay out what the Government expect in relation to the electoral registration condition, alongside expectations about other functions of the OFS. There are many excellent examples from across the sector of methods of encouraging students to join the electoral register, including the models put in place by the University of Sheffield—in the constituency of the hon. Member for Sheffield Central—that provide an example of good practice.

Through the Government’s amendments, the OFS will have a specific power to impose an electoral registration condition to deal with HE providers that are not doing enough to co-operate with electoral administrators. When a condition is imposed, it takes effect as a requirement—it will oblige action to be taken. The clear aim is for the OFS to look across the sector and, when needed, ensure that necessary action is taken. The condition can require particular steps to be taken so that higher education providers work with EROs to facilitate registration. As with any registration condition, non-compliance is enforceable, including through OFS sanctions.