What steps his Department is taking to increase student retention rates in higher education.
Our reforms will increase the chances of course completion. The introduction of a transparency duty, access and participation plans, and the teaching excellence and student outcomes framework will hold universities to account and help students to make informed choices about where to study and to get the best value for money.
The Higher Education Statistics Agency audit showed that 6.2% of first-time students in Scotland dropped out before their second year. That is not only the joint lowest figure on record, but the lowest in the UK. With Scotland leading the way, when will the Minister be coming north to Scotland for inspiration to enable him to think again about this Government’s failings on student retention?
Scotland is of course a beautiful country. Our reforms here have led to more disadvantaged people going to university than ever before. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that access should not just be defined as getting people into university. We want them to be successful there and to go on to achieve their aspirations. That is why, as part of our reforms, we are introducing access and participation agreements, which will be overseen by the new regulator, the Office for Students. These will ensure that universities are held to account for the success of disadvantaged students.
It sounds as though the hon. Lady is referring to a very specific issue. I would be happy to take it up with her afterwards.
Does the Minister accept that if we want to retain students not just through their undergraduate degrees, but into postgraduate studies and long-term academic careers, they will need to have confidence about the benefits and provisions that will come with that? To that end, what discussions is he having with the University and College Union and Universities UK about resolving the pensions dispute?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that an agreement was reached between the University and College Union and Universities UK last week. That agreement was brokered by the independent arbitrator, ACAS. I am disappointed that that agreement was rejected the next day, however, and I am urging both parties to get together to talk, because that is in the interests of students, especially at this vital time in their studies. The new regulator, the Office for Students, has wide-ranging powers to ensure that universities work to deliver for students. There is no mandate for strikes to disrupt exams.