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My Lords, we welcome the fact that, as in respect of other parts of the Bill, the Government have listened to what has been said during the progress through both Houses. My noble friend Lord Stevenson moved an amendment in Committee that sought to allow funding flexibility and aimed to incentivise the provision of accelerated degrees. He made it clear at that time that it was a probing amendment and, in withdrawing it, invited the noble Viscount the Minister to come forward with one of his own to achieve something similar. So it is natural that we welcome this group of amendments, which should insist on ending the present rigid structure of the type of undergraduate courses on offer.
It is fair to say that we have had some concerns about the kind of new so-called challenger institutions that will appear as a result of the Bill. Our main concern is what might drive them—that is, the profit motive, rather than the education motive. It will not be the case with all but it could be the case with some. However, it is only fair to confess that I was particularly concerned until I met people from the Greenwich School of Management and spoke at length with them about what they offer. I now see that body as engaged in widening participation; it attracts students from backgrounds that have not traditionally engaged in numbers with higher education, which, whatever the situation, has to be welcomed. The university itself cannot validate its own degrees—that is done by Plymouth University—but that is an issue for a separate day.
I have to say that the Greenwich School of Management surprised me. My only knowledge of it prior to my meeting was that the hedge fund or venture capital company with which the noble Lord, Lord Nash, was involved had established it. That might explain to noble Lords opposite why I was somewhat doubtful as to the motives—but none the less I have to say that it is an example of a new university serving its community.
We accept that there is a need for courses that offer students the opportunity to complete full degree programmes in two years of intensive study, enabling them to enter or return to work as quickly as possible. That is key, particularly for those students from less well-off families, who simply cannot afford the time to be out of full-time work for longer than two years. That is a message that the Government appear to have accepted. We hope that the financial penalties that have prevented students from enrolling in two-year courses up to now will be brought to an end, paving the way for their increased and increasingly diverse participation.
Amendment 20 agreed.