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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 Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 6:00 pm, 25th January 2017

I support the amendment and endorse everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, said in introducing it. She hit the nail on the head very firmly. There are issues around new providers. There is not very good evidence, and the evidence that there is seems to be anecdotal rather than scientific. The information published recently by HEPI threw doubt on whether many of the institutions that have come forward were bona fide or would survive, and some questionable practices were exposed—so there is an issue there.

In addition to the points that the noble Baroness made, which I endorse, there is, again, a gap in the centre of what the Office for Students is being established to do. It could have been imagined—pace the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, about not wanting to overload the OfS—that it would have a responsibility to speak for the sector to the Secretary of State about the gaps that it may see in provision, and the issues that may need to be picked up in future guidance. I would have expected that to be the normal thing.

However, it is interesting to see that the general duties in Clause 2 do not cover it. They are all about functions to do with quality, competition, value for money, equality of opportunity and access. They are nothing to do with surveying and being intelligent about the future and how it might go. However, as the noble Viscount, Lord Ridley, said, the game may have changed a bit now with the publication of a strongly worded industrial strategy—or at least, we hope it will turn into an industrial strategy after the consultation period. Out of that will come a requirement to think much harder about the training and educational provision that will support and supply the industrial machine that we will need as we go forward into the later parts of this century. It therefore makes sense to have advance intelligence about this, and to recruit from those who have expertise. It makes even more sense to do that in the way suggested by the amendment.