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Government makes significant changes to the Higher Education Bill

Wednesday 01-03-2017 - 14:18

On Friday afternoon, Jo Johnson announced at a meeting with Universities UK a raft of new amendments to the Higher Education and Research Bill.

The Bill is about to move to the final stages of debate in the House of Lords next week. These amendments have been widely seen by the sector as a response to the highly critical concerns raised by Lords from across the political spectrum. However, the fundamentals of the Bill - to open up the market and restructure the sector - remain the same.


Key amendments:


Transparency on attainment gaps

Following extensive campaigning from NUS and students’ unions, the government have agreed to include a requirement for providers to report on levels of attainment, broken down by gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background. This will provide essential data and evidence to help universities and students eliminate attainment gaps and develop more inclusive and liberated degrees.


Collaboration, not just competition

This significant amendment concedes to a key concern NUS and students have been making regarding the role of competition and the market in higher education. The OfS will now also have an obligation to have regard for the benefits of collaboration between higher education providers, not just competition.


Accelerated courses

This specific amendment will allow providers to set a higher fee for a shorter course than is currently provided within the law. This comes as part of a wider package of consultation and proposed changes to support wider delivery of two-year degrees. NUS welcomed the concept of more flexible provision, but voiced concerns about ensuring maintenance loans are also increased to support students who may not be able to work along this more intense type of study. You can read our press statement in full here.


Defining and protecting institutional autonomy

The real or perceived threat to institutional autonomy was hotly debated in the Lords. These amendments define and give the Office for Students (OfS) a duty to protect institutional autonomy in English higher education providers.


Who gets to award degrees

These amendments are a move to allay serious concerns over the weakening of protections about which providers get to award degrees, and the newly proposed power of having degree awarding powers removed. This particularly includes requiring the OfS to seek expert advice before making such decisions. The amendments include a requirement that people representing the interests of students must be amongst these experts.


What next?


You can read through the government’s briefing note on all their amendments here. The bill will enter the Report stage next week, and then will have it’s third (and final) reading in the House of Lords shortly after that. Depending on what other amendments go with it back to the House of Commons, and whether the government is willing to accept them, the Bill will receive Royal Assent and become law. Otherwise, the bill will enter a stage known as ‘ping-pong’, where the bill bounces between the Commons and the Lords until agreement is reached. You can follow the progress of the bill in more detail on the Parliament website.

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