With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 27, in clause 14, page 9, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) The list (as originally determined and as revised) must include the principle that the governing body of a higher education provider publish the ratio of pay of the highest paid employee at the institution to the pay of—
(a) the average, and
(b) the lowest
paid employee at that institution.”
This amendment would require, as a public interest governance condition, the governing body of a higher education provider to publish the ratio of pay between the highest, average and lowest paid employees at the institution.
Amendment 26, in clause 14, page 9, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) The list (as originally determined and as revised) must include the principle that the governing body of a higher education provider appoint as members of any committee established to consider remuneration of the institution’s employees representatives of—
(a) persons employed at the institution, and
(b) persons enrolled at the institution.”
This amendment would require, as a public interest governance condition, the governing body of a registered higher education provider to include staff and student representatives on any remuneration committee.
It is a pleasure to serve again under your chairmanship, Sir Edward. I hope we will have the opportunity to hear more about your mind-expanding experiences at university. That was highly enlightening.
Britain has one of the best higher education systems in the world, educating millions of students from this country and around the world. Behind that success are hundreds of thousands of dedicated staff, ranging from university leaders and those who educate students on a daily basis to the many staff who perform essential support functions, from processing admissions to keeping our campuses clean.
Like any good employer, universities should invest in their staff and ensure that they are paid fairly. My motivation for tabling these amendments is to tackle two things. One is excessive high pay at the top of our universities, and the other is some of the remaining poverty rates that continue to be paid to staff working in and around higher education, particularly those working for university contractors.
I will begin with high pay. It is important to say that as leaders of universities, vice-chancellors carry serious responsibilities for a large number of staff, manage huge budgets and have to consider a wide range of activities, from research and innovation to educating students. It is right that we pay vice-chancellors at a rate that enables us to recruit and retain the very best leadership from this country and around the world. I certainly do not begrudge vice-chancellors appropriate payment for the work they do or, indeed, use the ludicrous benchmark that appears from time to time of comparing vice-chancellors’ salaries with the Prime Minister’s.
I have been concerned, however, about excessive rates of pay rises in recent years, particularly at a time of restraint in public spending and with students paying more than ever for their higher education. I do not use terms such as fat cat lightly, but vice-chancellors who have decent and appropriate salaries have been receiving fat-cat pay rises with little justification and certainly inappropriate scrutiny from institutional remuneration bodies.
I know that the Minister is concerned about that. In the HEFCE grant letter for this year, the Minister and the former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Sajid Javid, included a specific reference to excessive high pay at the top and urged universities to show greater restraint— incidentally, not only in terms of pay and pay rises, but in awards made to vice-chancellors on exit. I hope that the Minister will see the amendments as friendly ones that would help to pursue the issue that he and the former Secretary of State raised in the grant letter and could really make a difference.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good case for open and transparent processes in relation to vice-chancellors’ pay. I have a lot of sympathy with him about that. However, is he aware that this Government have already introduced gender pay gap reporting? For the institutions he mentions, the amendment would simply mean a duplication of legislation. We should look at enhancing the current legislation.
The hon. Gentleman is right to refer to the gender pay gap in higher education. There is something like an £8,000 difference in the pay awarded to male and female academic staff. My amendments do not deal specifically with the gender pay gap, but instead address the inequality between pay at the top and at the bottom.
The amendments would address those issues in two ways. The first is to require universities to publish the pay ratio between the highest-paid staff and the lowest-paid staff and the median rate of pay. That would get remuneration committees to think hard, when telling front-line staff that they cannot afford pay rises, about whether they are applying the same principle to staff at the top. According to the Times higher education survey, one in 10 universities paid their leaders 10% more in 2014-15 than the previous year, while average staff pay rose by just 2%. It is incredibly demoralising for university staff, academic staff and support staff when they feel they are exercising pay restraint but see university leaders not leading by example.
Publishing the pay ratio would bring about greater equity and a greater focus on low pay. I do not see any good reason why any university in this country should not be an accredited living wage employer. I hope that one outcome of the amendments would be to reinforce many of the campaigns led by students unions and trade unions to persuade universities to become accredited living wage employers.
As well as proposing publishing information to push for transparency, the amendments would strengthen accountability by including staff and student representatives on remuneration committees. That is important for two reasons. One is that staff representatives, through the University and College Union and other trade unions, and student representatives, through their students unions, bring a degree of independence from the process. They have a legitimate interest in ensuring fair pay from a staff perspective and also from a student perspective, in terms of ensuring that their fees are well spent.
There is also a broader point, which ties into the interesting exchange earlier about the idea of a university being, as well as all the things that the Minister set out in his response to my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham, a community. An important part of a university is the academic community in the university. It is not made up just of university leaders and staff; students are also part of it, and I think that it is important to include them in the decision-making process.
I therefore hope that the Minister looks favourably on the amendments. They would reinforce the signal that he has already sent through the HEFCE grant letter. They would help to concentrate more effectively the minds of remuneration committees, as well as bringing about a wider range of perspectives to ensure that they are reaching the right conclusion, to the benefit of students, staff and the taxpayer. I hope that the Minister supports the amendments.
I thank the hon. Member for Ilford North for his amendments, to which we are giving some thought. However, I emphasise that the public interest governance condition that the clause contains is a vital component of the new regulatory framework and is designed to ensure that providers are governed appropriately, as he wants them to be. That is in recognition that some providers’ governing documents—in particular, those of providers accessing Government grant funding—are of public interest.
Let me first explain how we envisage the public interest governance condition working. Clause 14 explains what the condition allowed for by clause 13 is. It will be a condition requiring certain providers’ governing documents to be consistent with a set of principles relating to governance. The principles will be those that the OFS thinks will help ensure that the relevant higher education provider has suitable governance arrangements in place. That is not new. Legislation currently requires the governing documents of certain providers—broadly, those that have been in receipt of HEFCE funding—to be subject to Privy Council oversight. That is the backdrop.
Let me deal with the amendments. I do not believe that amendment 25 is necessary, and it could be confusing. The arrangements are already set out and designed for the primary purpose of ensuring that appropriate governance arrangements are in place and that best practice is observed. The introduction of the term “practices” through the amendment would risk changing the scope of the public interest governance condition to give it a much wider and more subjective application and imposing a significant and ambiguous regulatory burden on the OFS. That would stray outside our stated policy objective and beyond the OFS’s regulatory remit.
The suggestion in amendments 26 and 27 is to include principles relating to transparency of remuneration as being helpful for potential inclusion within the consultation process. We resist those also. We do not think that it would be helpful at this stage to make them mandatory components in clause 14. That is because, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate, higher education institutions are autonomous institutions and the Government cannot lightly dictate what autonomous institutions pay their staff. As the hon. Gentleman said, we have already as a Government recently expressed concern about what appears to be an upward drift in senior salaries. The previous Secretary of State in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and I put this explicitly, as the hon. Gentleman said, in our most recent HEFCE grant letter. We clearly stated that we want to see sector leaders show greater restraint. The hon. Gentleman will also know, as a seasoned veteran of the HE sector, that higher education institutions are now obliged to publish the salaries of their vice-chancellors anyway, but as I said, we are watching this issue very closely and doing everything we can to urge the sector to exercise restraint, without crossing the line and interfering in the practices of autonomous institutions.
Yes, I can certainly give my hon. Friend that assurance. Transparency is a big feature of the reforms in other respects and it is important we continue to ensure that the OFS is attentive to the issues around remuneration in the future, as we have asked HEFCE to be in our last grant letter.
To make sure we get this list of principles absolutely right, clause 14 requires the OFS to consult on its contents. This is because we wish to ensure a transparent and full re-evaluation of the current and any subsequent lists, and to provide all interested parties with a full opportunity to make their own representations and help shape the terms of the list in a positive way. For those reasons, I respectfully ask the hon. Member for Ilford North to consider withdrawing his amendment.
I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, particularly his initial remark that these amendments are on issues that the Government are carefully considering. I hope that the Minister will take the exchange we have had this afternoon on board and think about more precise amendments. I note that he made a technical objection to amendment 25, and hope that he will therefore reflect on whether a better form of wording would achieve the objectives.
There are a couple of issues I want to pick up, in terms of the Minister’s principal objections. He talked about university autonomy and of course that is an important principle, but he has also conceded that universities are already required to publish the pay of the highest paid members of staff in an institution. The amendments propose a very simple and relatively minor extension to make sure there is transparency about the lowest paid. There are issues within institutions where some staff, particularly support staff, are paid at frankly unacceptable levels—in particular if they are contractor staff. I do not think it would be a gross intrusion into university autonomy to proceed with the principles outlined in the amendments. There is certainly not the threat to university autonomy that universities have been audibly whingeing about in the last few days. I hope the Minister will go away and think carefully about that.
Having said that, the Minister has raised a particular technical concern and I am mindful of the crack hand of the Whip—even when he is not in his place he is very effective at marshalling the troops—so conscious of the numbers, and the practical issues the Minister has put forward, I am content and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
This amendment would ensure higher education providers which operate in other UK nations are not excluded.
The Whip returns just as I am moving an amendment that, if he did not look at it carefully, he might think was a piece of pure pedantry—
But it is not, and I will explain why. Clause 14 deals with a public interest governance condition. The need, or concern, for the amendment has been brought to my attention, and possibly to the attention of other members of the Committee, by the Open University because it is alert—as the Minister and I always are— to the unintended consequences of legislation. I am also alert to the fact—as I hope the Minister will be, because he will want the successful completion of the Bill, if not on his tombstone, on his CV—that Bills like this one do not come along that often. Therefore, we need to try, without having a crystal ball, to look at where higher education is going in the next 20 years. The Open University, of course, is particularly concerned because it also operates, as the explanatory notes say, in other UK nations. It is therefore important that the Open University is not unintentionally removed from those provisions.
The Open University has been going for more than 40 years, but other potential providers, groups and conglomerates will increasingly want to operate across other UK nations through different mechanisms and in different media. We therefore have to try to future-proof the Bill for the development of online and other sorts of learning, as well as for the traditional campus-based learning that we all know and love—that is true in your case, Sir Edward, and possibly in other people’s cases, too.
I do not want to labour the point, but new forms of teaching are rapidly developing, such as massive open online courses. The Open University has come together with a number of other organisations on the FutureLearn programme. Groups of organisations that have not historically put their material out for formal or informal learning, particularly in the arts and cultural sector, might see the potential to do so and to produce largely online degrees that are quite specific to the stuff they put out, which is welcome. I do not know whether we will quite reach the nirvana on which the Minister mused. If he has been misquoted, I will let him correct me, but I think at one stage he speculated as to whether Google or Facebook might want to enter from the wings.
As for today, this is principally and specifically something about which the Open University is concerned. I am sure that the devolved Administrations will also be concerned, because they do not want to have different levels of regulation for institutions that operate across the United Kingdom, let alone across other jurisdictions outside the United Kingdom.
This is a probing amendment in the sense that I am presenting the Minister with a difficulty. If, by any chance, what I have suggested is technically inadequate, I would be more than happy for him to propose an alternative.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for tabling the amendment, which we have carefully examined. The amendment would change a reference in clause 14 from “English higher education providers” to “Higher education providers in England”. The term “English higher education provider” is defined in clause 75 as one
“whose activities are carried on, or principally carried on, in England”.
In practice, that means any higher education provider that carries out the majority of its activities in England. In that sense it replicates the definition in the Further and Higher Education Act 1992. It is important to note that that wording is capable of including a provider that carries out activities outside England. The only proviso is that the provider must carry out most of its activities in England.
Clause 14 relates to the public interest governance condition that can be set as an initial or an ongoing condition of registration of any registered higher education provider. A provider that has such a condition will be required to ensure that its governing documents are consistent with a set of principles relating to governance. We intend that the OFS will monitor compliance with those principles upon a provider’s registration and as part of its annual monitoring of a provider’s governing documents.
The public interest governance condition is an essential aspect of the new regulatory framework. It is right that the condition should be applied to all registered higher education providers but that it should not apply more widely. To apply the public interest governance condition to any institution that happens to provide some HE in England would extend the OFS’s regulatory reach beyond that which is appropriate and would expose some HE institutions to double regulation.
I will press on because this is a complicated set of arguments.
Such double regulation does not seem right, and it would not respect existing devolution arrangements in cases where an institution is already providing higher education across the nations of the UK. To make it a bit less abstract, let me give an example of HEFCE and the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales. At present HEFCE regulates all HEFCE funded providers who carry on activities wholly or principally in England. Likewise, HEFCW regulates providers whose activities are wholly or principally in Wales. HEFCE regulates activities outside English borders—for example, the Welsh activities of a provider that principally operates in England—and HEFCW regulates the English activities of a provider that principally operates in Wales. Those arrangements ensure that there is neither a regulatory gap, nor double regulation, across the UK.
Giving the OFS the ability to regulate providers involved in providing any HE in England at all, no matter how limited, would upset the current balanced devolution arrangements. Even if the amendment of the hon. Member for Blackpool South were applied only to the public interest governance condition, it would expose Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish providers, which might have only a minimal presence in England, to additional regulation from the OFS for their activities in England.
I appreciate that it is a complicated situation—I often use the example of a Rubik’s cube—and this is obviously part and parcel of that process. The Minister prayed in aid the arrangements made in the 1992 Act. There is a world of difference between the way people operate in higher education in 2016 and how they operated in 1992, hence the various references I made to online providers and all the rest of it. I am concerned to capture in the legislation what the situation would be for people who operate as an online provider, as the Open University increasingly does. How can the structure the Minister describes, which was principally set up for an analogue world, cope with a digital one?
The Bill is designed to cope with the growth of online HE providers. Providers of distance learning or online HE courses will be covered by the definition in clause 75 if the majority of their activities take place in England. If that is not the case, they can bring themselves into scope by setting up their presence in England as a separate institution and meeting the OFS’s registration conditions. Considerable thought has been given to the future-proofing of the legislation to take into account the growth of online and distance provision.
The hon. Gentleman asked about foreign institutions wanting to set up in England. Providers of HE courses will be covered by the definition in clause 75 if the majority of their activities take place in England. If a foreign university wished to set up base here, to appear on the register, and to hold English degree-awarding powers and a university title, it would need to set up its presence in England as a separate institution and meet the OFS’s registration conditions.
The hon. Gentleman specifically mentioned the Open University. I reassure him that we believe that the Open University will count as an English HE provider. According to published data from July 2015, the majority of its students are in England, and most of its income is from English sources. Like the hon. Gentleman, I recognise that the Open University plays a valuable role in HE provision right across the four nations of the UK and it is rightly proud of its status as a four-nation university. Its status as an English HE provider under the Bill should not be seen to detract from that in any sense. I hope that I have reassured the hon. Gentleman and I ask him to withdraw his amendment.
With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 171, in clause 14, page 9, line 5, at end insert—
“( ) relevant student bodies and/or their representatives,
( ) academic workforce and/or their representatives,”.
This amendment would ensure the OfS must consult with students/academic staff before revision of the list.
I always bow to the Clerks’ superior knowledge, but I confess I was slightly mystified about why amendments 170 and 171 are yoked because they cover different issues. I will have to keep them within the scope of the one clause.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North asked the Minister about definitions of “university” and wisely constrained himself to talking in fairly straightforward terms and did not become too philosophical. I will try to do the same in the context of this amendment.
We had a debate about what should and should not be in the Bill. Clause 14, to my surprise when I first saw the Bill, refers to
“the principle that academic staff at an English higher education provider have freedom within the law”.
In my judgment, it is unusual to see that in a Bill and I was so bold as to table the amendment because the one group of people the academic staff did not seem to be protected from were Government or other relevant stakeholders. It talks about ways in which they might be protected against, presumably—perhaps the Minister will amplify this—being affected by their provider. One can think of all sorts of situations without naming individual universities. Hypothetically, for example, a university might depend heavily on funding or support from companies promoting genetically modified foods and so on.
I will not mention a particular university although I will mention a particular controversy. In future, a university might, for example, receive funding from the proponents of fracking and find that a member of its staff who was not keen on fracking had all sorts of legitimate academic arguments against it. Such examples, which I believe will be covered by the clause, are well understood. The amendment is about how the Government or other relevant stakeholders might also constrain that because that will arise in any Government. I think back to when Baroness Thatcher was deprived of an honorary degree from Oxford because of the views of the congregation at that time—not that she was moved to be punitive or, as far as I am aware, to be terribly concerned about the matter. Nevertheless, circumstances may arise in which a university might put itself against the view of a Government Department, Minister or something else.
If we are going to have all these others things in the Bill, the amendment would not be a bad idea, although it is a probing amendment, obviously. I tabled it partly from curiosity because I want to tease out why these specific things have been put in the Bill when in other circumstances I would expect them to be in guidance or whatever.
My only other point relates more to the whole of clause 14 and putting forward new ideas and controversial and unpopular opinions. I do not want to set a hare running, but there is a fine line between controversial or unpopular opinions, or sometimes perceived opinions, and things we now take for granted should not come under the purview of the academics promoting them. Some may remember the furore around Professor Eysenck and his supposed research about the abilities of certain races to perform better at sports, for example. Some will remember a time when university academics pontificated about the origins of homosexuality and so on. These are not hypothetical issues. Getting the balance right between being allowed to put forward
“ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions” and those things that we in an evolving society now regard as unacceptable is always difficult. That is why I was curious to see this proposal in the Bill. I urge the Minister to think about the issues in terms of the Government and other stakeholders and to respond.
I will turn to the entirely separate matter of amendment 171, which is more straightforward and far less philosophical. In line with everything the Opposition have said and will continue to say—and on which my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North sallied forth today—this concerns the position of students. Surely it makes sense to require the OFS to consult students, the academic workforce or their representatives before revision of the list.
Again, that would need to be proportionate. We had this argument on an earlier clause but I am not suggesting that every small item of detail that requires a revision of the list should be consulted on. Fundamentals that perhaps change the pattern of work in a university or the closing of a campus should surely require students and academic staff to be consulted and to put forward their opinions to the OFS. That is the basis of amendment 171.
The governance condition is a vital component of the new regulatory framework. It is designed to ensure providers are governed appropriately. Taking amendment 170 first, academic freedom is one of the fundamental strengths of our system and I want to reassure the Committee that the Government are fully committed to protecting it. We absolutely agree that academic staff must be able to teach and research without interference.
The OFS is obliged to consult on a list of principles that can make up this governance condition. The Bill, therefore, rightly does not prescribe what should be included in that list, with the one notable exception that the hon. Gentleman has identified, which is the principle of freedom for academic staff
“(a) to question and test received wisdom, and
(b) to put forward new ideas and controversial…opinions” without losing their jobs or privileges. The amendment relates directly to that wording, which has been highlighted in consultation with the sector as being of great importance. That is why clause 14 ensures that that important principle remains included in legislation for the future.
The hon. Gentleman asked where the exact wording comes from. It is from the Education Reform Act 1988, which now cross-references to freedom of speech and academic freedom provisions in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, in relation to actions of governing bodies in preventing people being drawn into terrorism. The wording is also the same as specified in the Committee of University Chairs’ higher education code of governance. This is a tried and tested definition of academic freedom, widely valued and understood by the sector.
The Bill includes a comprehensive range of protections for academic freedom, of which this is just one. It defines for the first time all the ways in which the Secretary of State may influence the OFS by issuing guidance, in terms of setting conditions of grant and giving specific directions to the OFS. In each case, the Bill places an explicit and specific statutory duty on the Secretary of State to have regard to the need to protect academic freedom, and it lists the areas in which the Secretary of State may not interfere.
While I can reassure hon. Members of our commitment to academic freedom, I do not believe that the amendment adds anything to what are already extensive protections from Government interference in academic freedom, specified in multiple places in the Bill. As I mentioned earlier, the OFS will need to consult prior to determining and publishing a new list of these public interest conditions.
I turn to amendment 171 and the issue of who the OFS needs to consult, on which I am glad to be able to provide some reassurance. I fully believe that the list of principles on which the governance condition will be based should be as proportionate as possible and consulted on widely. I therefore welcome and sympathise with the suggestion that student bodies and academic staff should be included. In fact, I firmly expect those groups to be covered under subsection (8)(c), which states:
“such other persons as the OfS considers appropriate”.
It would be inappropriate, however, to attempt to list all parties the OFS needs to consult on the face of the Bill. That approach would risk drawing up what could be seen as an exhaustive list, thus excluding anyone else from such an important consultation.
I assure hon. Members that I firmly expect the OFS to conduct a fully open consultation, inviting the views of anyone with an interest, including students and staff. The Bill as drafted fully allows for that to happen. In the light of all those assurances, I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
Taking amendment 171 first, I entirely accept and am reassured by what the Minister said, which will be welcomed. There is always an argument about not wanting to list everything under the sun because we might miss something, and that is fair.
I will not press the amendment to a vote, which the Minister will be pleased to hear. Without us spending half an hour going through the various bits and pieces of statute— we are obviously not going to resolve it this afternoon—if we stopped people in the street and asked, “What is one of the most important things that a new office for students, preserving academic freedom, would want to do?” I would not be surprised if they said something like, “Well, Government shouldn’t be allowed to interfere.”
These are not hypothetical issues; they are real ones—for example, universities or colleges that get support in the area of fracking. Those are real issues, but we are saying, “Oh, well, it’s all covered somewhere else.” I am not knocking the specific examples on the face of the Bill, but I do not understand why things like questioning and testing received wisdom and new ideas need to go on the face of the Bill but something as fundamental as saying, “You can’t be done for challenging Government policy or Government Ministers” is not.
I will continue to reflect on the points raised by the hon. Gentleman. He makes some interesting suggestions, and we will take them away and have a think.