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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 25th January 2017.

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Photo of Lord Lucas Lord Lucas Conservative 6:00 pm, 25th January 2017

I too support the amendment. There are things that only Governments can do. If we want an example of creating universities, we should look at the career of our late colleague Lord Briggs and what he did, and what the status of the institutions he created is now. They are considered to be top-ranking universities. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, said, they were just made and put in place and they ran. It can be done. Indeed, it is happening overseas: other countries are doing it.

We are proud that we have a collection of top-ranking international universities. Why do we not want another one? What would it take to make another one? It would take substantial action by the Government. Do we need a tech powerhouse on the lines of Stanford or MIT? Yes, I think we probably do. As my noble friend Lord Ridley said, there is a space for that—but it is not going to happen through little institutions founding themselves. We have seen enough of what that is like. I am involved with a couple of small institutions trying to become bigger ones, and it is a very hard path. Reputation is hard won in narrow areas, and it takes a long time. Look at how long it has taken BPP to get to its current size: it has taken my lifetime.

The Government can make things happen much faster, and if they realise that things need to be done, they can do that. For them to come to that realisation, a process of being focused on it is needed, and the committee proposed in the amendment certainly represents one way of achieving that. I would like to see, for instance, much wider availability of a proper liberal arts course in British universities. By and large, they are deciding not to offer such courses. If the Government said, “We want to see it; we will fund this provision”, and if the existing universities did not respond, we could set up a new one, in a part of the country that needed it. That would be a great thing. Equally, the idea might be taken up by existing universities. That is not going to happen through the market, because the market in this area is far too slow. But the Government can do it, and they ought to be looking to do it.