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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 6th March 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) 7:00 pm, 6th March 2017

I thank noble Lords for their engagement with the issue of standards in the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, this is an important matter, and in Committee I undertook to consider what more we could do to address the concerns raised. I am pleased that this is another area where we seem to have been able to find common ground.

Throughout the passage of the Bill we have been clear that the standards that the OfS will use are those that are owned by the sector and contained within the framework for higher education qualifications. We are now amending the Bill to put this beyond doubt.

These amendments remove the previous definition of standards, which I recognise was the cause of some concern. Instead, we are making it clear that the standards against which providers are assessed, and to which registration conditions can refer, are the standards that are determined by, and command the confidence of, the higher education sector, where such standards exist. I reassure noble Lords that where sector-recognised standards exist but do not cover a particular matter, the OfS cannot apply its own standard in respect of it. This approach is in the spirit of co-regulation and allows the sector to develop its standards as it sees fit, to meet the challenges of the day.

We are also legislating to clarify that, where a quality body is designated, it will have sole responsibility for the assessment of standards. This keeps standards assessment at arm’s length from government in a truly co-regulatory way. I assure noble Lords that the quality body—or the OfS where there is no quality body—must have regard to the advice given to it in this area by the independent quality assessment committee that we are setting up under Clause 25 of the Bill.

When my colleague, Jo Johnson, announced these amendments on 24 February, they were widely welcomed by the sector. Universities UK said that they are a,

“very positive step and show the government has listened to the concerns of the higher education sector around academic standards and the independence of universities”.

I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, have also indicated their support for our approach by putting their names to the amendments we have tabled. Given this support, and that the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, has withdrawn other related amendments to Clause 14, Amendment 49 will not have the effect of limiting the registration conditions of the OfS. I therefore ask that Amendment 49 be withdrawn.