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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 25th January 2017.

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Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for Education) (Higher Education) 9:45 pm, 25th January 2017

The noble Lord has set me a task. I will keep my response suitably short, given the lateness of the hour. The Bill amends the Education Reform Act 1988 to deregulate the prescriptive statutory requirements that apply to higher education corporations in England, while ensuring that the route for FECs to achieve HEC status is kept open. The noble Baronesses, Lady Wolf and Lady Brown, suggested that research institutes should be given a similar legislative route. However, dozens of collaborative relationships exist between universities and research institutes across the country and they do not agree that these relationships are a shortcoming. For example, one such institute, the Laboratory of Molecular Biology says on its website:

“This relationship, between the LMB and the University of Cambridge, gives our graduate students membership of two of the world’s leading research institutions”.

Further, there is no legislative barrier in this Bill that would, in principle, prevent an institution that provides supervised programmes of research embarking on the process of achieving registered higher education provider status, and ultimately seeking to gain its own degree-awarding powers, if it wished to do so and could meet the applicable requirements.

I turn to Amendment 471, spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Watson. I begin by offering reassurance that these provisions are not new and nor do they allow a HEC to do whatever it pleases. The provision’s wording is the same as that already contained within existing legislation on HECs—specifically, Section 124(2) of the 1988 Act.

All the Bill does is remove the list of ways this power to do what is necessary or expedient can be exercised. This might include, for example, the power to supply goods and services, to enter contracts, or to acquire land or property. This list is detailed and non-exhaustive, and setting out specific powers in this way is perceived as outdated and unnecessarily restrictive. As a consequence, there is a risk that it stifles innovation and growth and slows down institutional change. It is also inconsistent with the Government’s commitment to establish a more level playing field in higher education.

We want to allow HECs the power to do anything that is necessary or expedient to further their objects, as many of their counterparts established under different corporate forms can do. For example, higher education institutions that are incorporated as companies under the Companies Act 2006 do not have their specific powers listed in legislation in this way.

I wish to reassure noble Lords that this will not give HECs an unfettered ability to do anything. A HEC’s powers must be permitted by law and exercised in furtherance of its objects. We also understand that HECs may wish to explicitly specify some or all of their powers, and they will be able to do this in their articles of government.

With that short explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her Amendment 470.