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Higher Education and Research Bill - Report (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:50 pm on 6th March 2017.

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Photo of Lord Young of Cookham Lord Young of Cookham Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 6:50 pm, 6th March 2017

My Lords, I come to the campus of this Bill as a fresher, in the footsteps of my noble friend who, by contrast, is competing a postgraduate course. But I have had some taster sessions, listening to the Bill from the Front Bench, and I have read the exchanges in Hansard and in Committee.

It has always been our intention that the Bill will lead to greater diversity, choice and flexibility for students. The noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, proposed an amendment in Committee requiring the OfS to waive the fee limit condition in respect of accelerated courses. I have read his speech, which was highly persuasive. The Government, therefore, are introducing these amendments to support the growth of accelerated courses by enabling Parliament to remove a key barrier to them.

Amendments 46 and 202 create a clear definition of an “accelerated course” and allow Parliament to introduce a higher cap for these courses. Separately, the remaining amendments clarify that, when setting fee limits for any type of course under Schedule 2, whether accelerated or not, the Secretary of State may establish different higher, basic and sub-levels for different types of teaching provision—for example, sandwich and part-time courses. That reflects the approach taken under current legislation whereby, for example, the higher amount set for part-time courses is fixed at a lower level than for full-time courses.

Accelerated courses offer students the opportunity to study their course over a condensed period—for example, completing a three-year degree course over two years. We know that accelerated courses appeal to students who may not otherwise choose to pursue a degree. That includes mature students who want to retrain and enter the workplace faster than a traditional full-time three-year degree would permit, and those from non-traditional backgrounds.

An accelerated course must meet the same quality expectations and achieve the same outcomes as a comparable, traditional course. However, accelerated courses typically involve tuition through the summer period, requiring the same resources as a traditional course over a shorter period. Evidence from independent research and our call for evidence tells us that a number of English providers are interested in providing more accelerated courses. However, many providers are unable to grow or introduce accelerated courses because of the existing annual tuition fee cap; they simply cannot afford to offer accelerated courses. Therefore, these amendments will enable Parliament to set a higher annual fee cap for accelerated courses—and accelerated courses only—compared to the annual fee cap for standard degree courses. They also serve to provide flexibility with regard to other types of provision.

Let me be very clear: our clear intention is that accelerated degrees that are subject to fee limits under the Bill will cost students less than an equivalent degree, not least because students will claim less overall in maintenance loans. Students undertaking an accelerated course borrow less money over a shorter period and forgo less earnings, as they are able to enter the workplace sooner.

We are creating a new definition for accelerated courses, and we intend to consult with the HE sector on where to set the fee cap and how to grow further accelerated course provision. Any higher fee cap for accelerated courses will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny via the affirmative resolution procedure. We will seek to stimulate the market for accelerated courses by agreeing a fee cap that provides adequate funding for providers while ensuring the student and the taxpayer get a good deal. I beg to move.