My Lords, this is a time of great uncertainty for universities. The main proposal in this SI, to introduce temporary student number controls, will add an important element of stability, and I support it.
My first point, however, is that whatever stability this produces will be completely undermined if students lose confidence in the quality of the experience they are likely to receive in the autumn term and decide to defer to 2021. Yes, the Government have talked about the benefits of current applicants enrolling at universities in September but, at the same time, the Prime Minister, Secretary of State and, this week, the Minister for Education, have made public statements critical of universities that will serve only to undermine this confidence—in particular, I fear, for students from deprived backgrounds. Of course universities have issues that they must deal with, but I hope the Minister will acknowledge that now is not the time for public lambasting of the sector.
My second point is on franchised courses between a university and an FE college or private provider, on which additional guidance has recently been issued. Franchised students count towards a university’s student number count, even if they are not taught there and undertake most of their direct learning elsewhere. Both partners have to decide how to stay within their SNCs. This could potentially jeopardise valuable local partnerships that are in the national interest and deliver the skills that local employers need, as well as improving student choice. I understand that it has also had an impact on student transfers. There seems to be a worrying trend that this change, mid-cycle, has had a disproportionate effect on widening participation of students. I hope that there will be some room for flexibility. Will the Minister agree to look at this with those most concerned?
Finally, I add my voice to those questioning the proposals for the devolved nations. They really do need to be thought about again.