My Lords, earlier in my working life, I had responsibility for admissions to one of the colleges of Durham University. I well remember the stress involved in trying to ensure that we reached our student target but did not exceed it. That experience makes me feel for those in our universities today dealing with admissions on a much larger scale and in the unprecedented circumstances of Covid-19.
I have been in touch with universities in my part of the country about these regulations. While there is understanding of why they have been introduced, and understanding that these are temporary arrangements, there are some aspects of concern where clarification and reassurance are necessary.
For example, universities such as Newcastle have inadvertently—in such a volatile year for student recruitment—exceeded the student number controls before this measure was announced. Understandably, they do not wish to rescind offers to applicants who have faced a difficult time, with exams being cancelled, but have been judged to be qualified for the courses for which they have been accepted. I hope that the Government will avoid a punitive approach in such situations, where institutions have clearly acted in good faith and in the interest of students.
I support what has been said about concern about the effect on students from underrepresented backgrounds. My experience of some of our local universities, such as Sunderland, is not that they have offered useless courses but that they have provided life-changing opportunities for many people from BAME communities and from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.
Finally, I agree strongly with those who talked about the inadequate consultation, particularly with the devolved authorities. Those issues have been explored but I urge the Government to continue dialogue with the higher education sector in the implementation of these proposals, and to do a much better job on consultation than they have done so far.