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The committee for the HE Bill have been debating...

Friday 14-10-2016 - 15:27

With Labour and Conservative party conferences out the way, the HE Bill Committee are back in Westminster to continue their work.

The Higher Education and Research Bill Committee has been continuing to debate the Bill line-by-line this week, leading to discussions on student issues including teaching quality, student representation, access and participation and student funding. Further amendments that NUS has worked with MPs to draft and table on student representation were also proposed and debated.

Tuesday’s sessions started with concerns about the Teaching Excellence Framework and its metrics being raised, with some Committee members calling for more scrutiny of the metrics and assessment of their reliability.

Particularly noteworthy were several amendments that would see students better involved and represented in the process of assessing quality. Roberta Blackman-Woods, MP for the City of Durham, quoted the evidence given to the Committee by Sorana Vieru, Vice-President for Higher Education at NUS: “We cannot talk about working for the benefit of students without involving students themselves”. Another amendment to ensure that when HE providers produce an Access and Participation Plan, they must consult with students and student representatives was debated. 

Access and participation were key topics of debate this week, with concerns being raised over issues such as access for part-time and mature students, and the lack of flexibility in student funding.

On Thursday, the Committee debated a series of new clauses regarding student funding and access and participation. These included proposals to reverse the decision to change maintenance grants to maintenance loans for students from low income backgrounds, and to put restrictions on the government’s ability to retrospectively change terms of student loan repayments. MPs urged the Government to “right a wrong” and take the opportunity to show that they are taking widening access and participation seriously. They raised concerns about high levels of student debt and the impact this has on access and participation. 

In a debate on restricting retrospective changes to student loan repayment agreements, it was emphasised how significant the breach of trust that these changes constitute is for students, and that with any other loans these retrospective changes wouldn’t be permitted.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson responded to these points, arguing that access and participation has improved, and reiterating the key features of the Bill focused on social mobility. He defended a funding system that allocates “a share” of the cost to students, and praised the student loan system for being sustainable and fair – claims that led to some debate on the sustainability of the system.

The Bill Committee’s last session will be on Tuesday, after which the Bill will return to the House of Commons for Report Stage, which will be immediately followed by its Third Reading.

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