Higher Education (Monetary Penalties and Refusal to Renew an Access and Participation Plan) (England) Regulations 2019 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 20th May 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Garden of Frognal Baroness Garden of Frognal Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:45 pm, 20th May 2019

My Lords, we too understand the need for these regulations and thank the Minister for setting them out. Universities certainly need to be held to account for widening participation and supporting students from under- represented backgrounds throughout their studies, and monetary fines need to be part of the mix of sanctions available. However, I note that the Minister himself mentioned the concern that this might take away from provider income, and that in the notes the consultation process identified some concerns that monetary penalties could take away provider income that would otherwise be used for the benefit of students. Are there any safeguards to ensure that that will not actually be the case?

We certainly wish to ensure that all universities work to widen participation across the sector and prioritise their work with schools and colleges that have not traditionally been ones where young people went to universities, and we need every university to be transparent about selection criteria. However, we would also like to see the Government doing their fair share to widen participation by reinstating maintenance grants for the poorest students to ensure that disadvantaged young people do not have the highest loans to repay.

We note that the trend is narrowing but we see also that UCAS warns that for the fourth consecutive year limited progress has been made in reducing the size of the multiple equality measure gap, which remains at a similar value to that seen in 2014. Surely that should be a concern too. It also concluded that among the universities with the highest entry requirements the entry gap is widest, and in 2018 the most advantaged students were 15 times more likely to enter than the most disadvantaged. We have quite a long way to go with this.

The Minister and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, have touched on most of the issues that I would have mentioned on this, but I have a question for the Minister. Where will the money from these funds go? Will it just go straight back to the Treasury and get lost in the general pot, or is there any suggestion that these fines will be put into a separate fund that will help to benefit disadvantaged students? Money that just disappears into the Treasury is not going to do anything to help the students that we most want to help but, if there were some suggestion that it could be used beneficially for those students, that would be a very reassuring move.

As I say, there are some concerns about the effect of the fines, which I hope will be monitored as we go along to see whether they have an adverse effect on universities being able to provide for disadvantaged students. If not, of course, we have no intention of imposing this measure.