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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 Lord Browne of Madingley Lord Browne of Madingley Crossbench 3:45 pm, 25th January 2017

My Lords, I speak for Clause 47. I have not spoken on the Bill to date but I have followed its progress closely because I was the author of the last review of higher education funding and student finance, commonly referred to as the Browne review. It looked at three pillars of the system: quality, participation and sustainability. Its recommendations were conceived as part of a holistic package. Much needed to change to secure the future of the sector. I welcome the Bill for completing many of those recommendations: by linking teaching excellence with fees charged to students; removing barriers to market entry for new providers; and creating a new regulator that is fit for purpose.

One of the principles that guided the review was diversity of institutions being essential to creating a competitive market that can provide quality teaching and satisfy student demand. Organisations offering courses validated by a provider with degree-awarding powers are critical to this diversity. However, in compiling the review, my panel and I spoke to many such organisations and found that in many instances the validation arrangements simply did not work. Highly lucrative for the established providers, they created a closed shop that stifled innovation and competition among new entrants and as a result reduced student choice. I hope, therefore, that the Bill will prompt traditional providers to recognise the benefits for all in expanding the higher education sector, promoting greater choice, greater opportunities and excellence in higher education. I hope they will respond positively to such competition.

In the rare case where that does not happen, however, it seems entirely right that the Office for Students should be able to step in as a validator of last resort. In doing so, it is essential that the regulator is independent. The OfS’s board must be populated with those with no vested interests in the sector. If it is not, the reforms proposed in this Bill will be neither sustainable nor credible.