My Lords, these are slightly curious regulations, in that the arrangements are temporary and apply only to the academic year 2021-22 from
Noble Lords have pretty well done this small instrument to death, so I shall try not to be repetitive, but I want to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Bassam. It appears that these changes have been introduced without any consultation with universities in the devolved nations. It would seem only right to call upon the Government to make time for a proper consultation process with the devolved Governments and higher education institutions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. They have many English students who will be impacted by this legislation.
Picking up comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, I also draw attention to the importance of providing adequate support for small and specialist institutions, which not only would be disproportionately affected if they were to exceed their student number controls but are often more reliant on international students. Some of these institutions specialise in the creative arts, music, drama, art and other aspects of education, which provide enormous benefit to the country in quality of life, and indeed to the economy, given that the creative industries are a great financial contributor. It would be a great loss to the country if they were to be financially disadvantaged.
There is also concern for EU students, as other noble Lords have indicated. They were informed last week that they cannot defer their study to next year and still keep access to student loan funding or capped fees. They need places this year, and we expect a surge in numbers, which the student number controls could not have predicted. The EU fees and funding announcement came after student number controls were established.
Penalising universities in this way could lead to worsening regional skills gaps and widening economic disparities. It could lead to damage to research capacity, innovation and research impact. There could also be an increase in cold spots in higher education, as access to higher education could be reduced. As we have already heard from other noble Lords, disadvantaged students could find themselves worse off and less able to select a university that best suits their learning needs. The points put forward by my noble friend Lady Benjamin about immigrant children deserve urgent attention. There is also concern that artificially managing student choice could lead to significant damage to the UK’s global position as a world leader in research and education.
We note that the Government will have the discretion to allocate an additional 10,000 places, with 5,000 ring- fenced for nursing, midwifery or allied health courses to support the country’s vital public services. Will those places be targeted at institutions having difficulty in filling their places or will they be in universities already fully subscribed?
I have a question that I would have asked the Minister the other day had I been able to get in. It is slightly off beam from the instrument but it is relevant to nursing, so I will ask it anyway. It picks up points from the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, my noble friends Lord Chidgey and Lord Goddard and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. Nursing is less about academic achievement and more about practical, professional and personal skills. What consideration have the Government given to promoting nursing apprenticeships and other vocational routes into the profession? These used to provide many excellent and high-achieving nurses before degrees became the great god of qualifications. I declare an interest as a vice-president of City & Guilds. That might leave more ring-fenced places for those who genuinely need cerebral academic achievement for their work.
We note that any institution that exceeds the sum of its forecast for UK and EU-domiciled numbers must explain the reasons to the OfS in England or the HEFCW in Wales. We do not know what sorts of reasons would be acceptable to justify those admissions. Is there any guidance on this yet?
It seems reasonable to assert that universities should not exert undue pressure with “golden hellos” or gifts, nor with the use of unconditional offers, where students might end up on a degree course which is really not suitable for them.
We can do nothing with statutory instruments apart from debate them, but I hope that the Minister is able to offer us some reassurances on the issues that have been raised around the House in this short but packed debate.