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Higher Education and Research Bill - Committee (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 25th January 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees 3:45 pm, 25th January 2017

My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment for all the good reasons set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf.

The ability for the regulator also to validate degrees, and thereby operate within the market it regulates, continues to be widely seen as wholly inappropriate for a regulator, and unnecessary. There is no evidence to support the lack of a suitable validator being a barrier to entry. We believe, furthermore, that there are no circumstances in which the proposal in Clause 47 would be appropriate or necessary, so there is no reason for the clause to remain in the Bill, even as a backstop power. The policy intent is covered by Clause 46, which allows the Office for Students to make arrangements with a higher education provider to act as a validator of last resort, and, as we discussed on Monday, the Open University could very well provide this service without any conflict of interest.

The removal of Clause 47, therefore, does not remove the policy intent of opening up the market through a wider choice of validation arrangements—as the noble Baroness has pointed out—but removes the need for the OfS, as authorised by the Secretary of State, to enter into validation arrangements with providers.

We support the option of identifying a central validation body. The current system of awarding bodies works well, though it is recognised that protectionist practices are sometimes adopted on both sides. We therefore agree that validating bodies should commit to competition, diversity and innovation, though that should not mean that all comers must be validated. Expertise in validation —as the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, has set out so clearly—lies in the objective and impartial appraisal of an institution’s capacity to deliver and maintain appropriate standards of quality and student experience. We acknowledge that many universities already offer validation to students whose provider institutions are in trouble and such arrangements should be allowed to continue.

Whichever way you look at it, there is no need for Clause 47.