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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 25th January 2017.

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Photo of Lord Willis of Knaresborough Lord Willis of Knaresborough Liberal Democrat 4:45 pm, 25th January 2017

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 371. I hope that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, will not get lost in this group because what he raises is fundamental to the Bill and to the way we are going to improve the offer we make to students and the veracity with which we look at the higher education sector.

I have written to the Minister on this issue and raised it as a question earlier. I am referring again to the role of HESA and the role of data. Unless you have accurate data with which to interrogate, and unless they are consistent across all providers, quite frankly, they are pretty useless. At the moment, it is not simply that you cannot get at some of HESA’s data. I gave the Minister an example just this week. You cannot get the data because HESA simply says, “Different institutions collect them in different ways”. That is a brilliant cop-out for saying, “We can’t let you have it”.

The other cop-out, which occurs quite frequently, is to say that data are sensitive to the universities because they own them, and therefore could be damaging to their reputation. If we are to give students the sort of offer they rightly should have, and if we are to give taxpayers the confidence they rightly should have, data should not be hidden. Data are absolutely key to delivering a higher education system of the highest possible quality which will maintain the high quality we already have in the future. I urge the Minister, in reference to Amendment 371, to reflect on how we are to ensure that data are not just left to HESA, but that the Office for Students has powers to ensure their consistency and effectiveness to be interrogated.