The govt may have won a vote but they lost the argument on TEF & fees

Tuesday 27-09-2016 - 13:48

A week can be a long time in politics, and with the Committee stage of the HE Bill passing the halfway mark now, that statement has never been truer for the sector.

The Committee of MPs formed to take an in depth look at the HE Bill has now completed three of its six days of ‘line by line scrutiny’.

Nothing further will happen while MPs are on recess for party conferences but the Committee will reconvene on Tuesday 11 October to finish going through the Bill. This means it’s a helpful time to take a look at where things stand.

Wondering what’s been covered so far?

The Committee works through the Bill chronologically, beginning at Clause 1 and counting up, but also considering individual ‘Schedules’ which are attached to the end of the Bill at relevant points in the debate.

The Committee has now considered Clauses 1 – 24; Schedule 1; Schedule 2; and, Schedule 3. These cover most of the clauses that set up the Office for Students, decide its membership and govern the new rules that universities will have to meet to charge higher tuition fees.

The full transcripts of the sessions are online here.

Very little has been changed in the Bill from how it was originally published – the government has a majority on the Committee so has been pushing back on changes and only agreed to a few minor amendments proposed by Universities Minister, Jo Johnson MP. However, the MPs have debated a lot of unsuccessful amendments – including plenty that NUS has worked with different MPs on the Committee on to get our different priorities onto the agenda.

Progress on NUS’ four priorities

NUS has been calling for action on four clear priorities: tuition fees; student representation, protecting students from marketisation; and meaningful action on access and participation. All of these have been extensively covered in the debates so far, and are set to continue defining the topics of discussion in the remaining Committee sessions.

The Committee has debated and voted on requiring the OfS to have at least a student rep in its governance structures, with all Conservative MPs voting against student representation.

The most intensely debated amendment so far has been our call to scrap the proposed link between tuition fees and the ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ by removing Schedule 2 from the Bill, which forced the government to try to find a justification for its plans. The vote was not in our favour, as the government does have a majority vote, but the debate exposed their lack of justification or evidence for linking assessments of quality with the level of tuition fees, as questions from opposition were dodged.

The Committee has also debated how to ensure students are protected from the risks that the reforms will create by expanding the HE sector with new providers – and the Minister conceded a meeting with NUS representatives to make sure proposed ‘Student Protection Plans’ work as well as students deserve them to.

What next?

NUS will continue to influence the shape of the debate at the Bill’s Committee stage with forthcoming amendments and beyond, and will keep students and students’ unions up to date about the progress being made in parliament.

However, many of the HE reforms including the introduction of the TEF and higher fees can proceed without any legislation being put in place so it’s important we organise on the ground and shape our institution’s responses.

You can register for one of the NUS Regional Networks hosted by an SU near you where each event will have a workshop on how to campaign on the Teaching Excellence Framework and kickstart a local campaign – the events are FREE and open to any student or student rep!

Once the committee stage ends in October, we are picking up the fight and continue lobbying when the Bill returns in the House of Commons for a third reading and will be sending you resources to lobby your local MP – so keep an eye out for our emails and social media!

Find more on our campaign around the Higher Education & Research Bill and resources on campaigning on the TEF locally by visiting our Quality Doesn’t Grow on Fees campaign hub today!


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