My Lords, as for many sectors, Covid-19 has created significant challenges for the higher education sector. It has taken an immediate reduction of income due to empty campuses and now faces the possibility of dramatic decreases in income in the next academic year, as student numbers, domestic and especially international, are expected to drop.
Therefore, it is right that the Government should put a plan in place to stabilise student numbers at English universities. In principle, the cap should be supported. However, the plans enacted by the statutory instrument have garnered some criticism, as highlighted by many noble Lords and comprehensively set out by my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton. I ask the Minister: how is this cap fair to universities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? For example, last year just under 3,000 students from England enrolled at a Scottish higher education institution, accounting for 10% of total enrolment. Students may, because of this, now be discouraged from studying at universities outside England. Can he therefore outline what consultation has taken place with the devolved Administrations on this issue?
There have also been criticisms from some higher education experts that the cap is too loose and will still allow more prestigious institutions to hoover up students from less prominent institutions. How will the Government ensure that this does not happen?
Finally, the criteria that the Government are using to allow institutions to apply for the additional places seem very restrictive. An institution would need to have a continuation rate of 90% or higher, or high-skilled employment, or a further study rate of at least 75% to access the places. This, coupled with the speech yesterday from the Universities Minister, leads me to my final question: have the Government considered the impact of student number controls on disadvantaged young people, especially during Covid-19?