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Time for round 2: the HE Bill begins in the House of Lords

Wednesday 07-12-2016 - 16:12

All gloves were off in the House of Lords yesterday as peers began debating the HE Bill, now that it’s finished its first half of debates in the Commons. Find out more about the many and big challenges that the Lords raised against the Bill.

Yesterday was the first opportunity for the House of Lords to discuss the Higher Education and Research Bill, and the debate was well attended – 68 peers spoke, in a seven-and-a-half hour debate.

Many of the peers speaking have strong connections to higher education institutions – several of them were chancellors of universities, while others were honorary fellows and visiting professors at various institutions. Consequently, there was much debate over the effect the Bill will have on institutions. Concerns were raised particularly around the impact on institutional autonomy, with peers from across the benches – including Conservative members – raising concerns about state interference and the significant powers that the newly created Office for Students will have.

The government argument focused on the need to update the regulatory framework of the HE sector – considering the last major legislative reforms were made in 1992 – and on the importance of staying globally competitive and maintaining quality. Critics raised concerns that the Bill was written before the referendum on leaving the EU, and that the timing is wrong for the legislation.

Criticisms were made over the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), particularly the unreliability of the proposed metrics and concerns that the Gold, Silver and Bronze model may damage the international reputation of institutions. Several peers pointed out that measures would be much more significant at a course level rather than institutional level. Concerns were also raised over the links proposed by the Home Office between teaching quality and international student visa rights, with peers touching on the importance of attracting international students and the benefits they bring.

Elsewhere, peers raised fears over the marketisation of the sector and about preserving quality in a system with new providers springing up. Several peers criticised the ideology of privatisation they perceived behind the Bill abd an increasing perception of students as consumers. A number of peers were proponents of the Bill and defended the reforms as focusing on quality, employability and social mobility, and spoke of the benefits of expanding the sector, but even Lord Willetts – former Conservative HE Minister – noted that the Bill had big questions to answer on institutional autonomy.

With many peers showing an interest in opposing different parts of the government’s HE reforms, the debates on the HE Bill look set to be lively over the coming months. The Bill isn’t expected to enter its next stage until after Christmas, so now more than ever is the time to make sure that students are getting their voice heard.

NUS is continuing to make the argument that the Bill that we need is not the Bill that we’ve got. The system the Bill will create will give students less protection, more uncertainty and risk the quality of their education. To make sure your voice gets heard, head over to our ‘Lobby a Lord’ page and join the campaign against the Bill!

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