Clause 2 - Related amendments

Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 23rd March 2023.

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Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education) 3:30 pm, 23rd March 2023

I beg to move amendment 10, in clause 2, page 6, line 18, after “courses” insert—

“which are defined as modules under subsection (6A)”.

This amendment would ensure that the Secretary of State is unable to treat modular courses and other modes of study or subjects differently from one another for the purposes of the fee limit.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

Our amendment looks at the funding of modular study versus yearly study and seeks to incorporate into the Bill a greater assurance that the Minister cannot discriminate in granting funding to different types of courses or modes of study.

Numerous concerns have been expressed to me about proposed new subsection (7A), to which the amendment applies. In particular, providers are worried that it will give Government the ability to introduce variable fees by subject or mode of study. By extension, they are worried that the proposed new subsection could also pave the way for differential fees for undergraduate courses, depending on subject and institution.

We have already seen hints of that in recent years, with the Government deriding certain courses, labelling them with the names of all sorts of cartoon characters and reprioritising the strategic priorities grant away from arts-based courses towards STEM subjects. That has received widespread reaction and rejection, because of the importance of the arts and humanities not just to us socially but to the UK economy, whereby our soft power in the creative arts and commercial applications do so well.

The result of such changes has been uncertainty in the sector, with the closure of several renowned departments and increasing hostility from Government about the value of the arts. It would therefore be of great reassurance to the sector if the Minister could today provide a cast-iron guarantee that the Government have absolutely no intention of introducing variable fees based on course type or mode of study.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Education)

I am pleased to speak to the amendment. If the Committee will permit, I will provide some background information on what proposed new subsection (7A) is intended to achieve.

Section 10(7) of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017 sets out that if fee limits are set on one type of course, they must also be set on other courses of a similar type at the same or comparable level. The Bill makes a technical change to section 10 to put beyond doubt that the Secretary of State will not be required to place fee limits on courses and modules that are not designated for student finance.

I want to make it clear that that original section does not restrict the Secretary of State from setting differential fee rates for different subjects. That ability is provided for elsewhere in the Higher Education and Research Act, specifically through the power in section 119(5)(a) and schedule 2, which allow the Secretary of State to make different provision for different purposes, cases or areas. That power means that the ability to set different fee limits for different courses is already in the primary legislation.

Section 10(7) is specifically in reference to which courses have fee limits, and which do not. The amendment therefore could result in an LLE non-funded course being subject to fee limits even if the course were not designated for loan funding at all. For example, a university summer course could be forced to comply with per-credit fee limits rules, even though students on the course are not LLE-funded and they self-finance. That scenario would not be fair on providers, which is why we cannot support the amendment.

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education)

I hear what the Minister says, and I will look again at that. I take what he says on face value, and on that basis I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Robert Halfon Robert Halfon Minister of State (Education)

Clause 2 further supports clause 1 in ensuring that fee limits can be proportionate to the amount of study taken by students under the LLE. It makes further technical but necessary amendments to HERA 2017 as a result of the changes to legislation made in clause 1.

Clause 2 amends existing reporting duties on the Office for Students and providers so that the duties include the new credit-based fee limit amounts, in addition to any per-year fee limit amounts that apply. That is not intended to add any unnecessary burdens; it only adjusts the duty to reflect the new fee limit method. Subsections (2) and (4) provide explicit powers for the OFS to regulate fee limits at third-party providers, which will ensure that students cannot be charged thousands of pounds extra for choosing to study at a franchised provider.

Finally, clause 2 makes express provision in section 10 of HERA 2017 to allow the Secretary of State to set fee limits only on those courses and modules that are in scope for LLE funding. That will ensure that fee limits are not required for every single module of higher education, regardless of whether it attracts LLE funding.

The clause is an important part of the Government’s transformation of student finance. The LLE will give people a real choice in how and when they study so that they can acquire new life-changing skills. I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 2 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.