Parliamentary Submission – HE Bill Third Reading briefing – Lee Jones et al.


This briefing was prepared by the Convention for Higher Education (CHE), a non-partisan group of academics drawn from across the university sector. The CHE is deeply concerned by the damage that this bill would do to Higher Education across the UK. We appeal to all members of the Committee actively to seek, and forcefully to support, appropriate amendments to the Bill for the reasons laid out below.

1. The ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ (TEF) Will Reduce, not Improve, the Quality of Education and Graduates

The Bill says little about TEF, but one of its central purposes is to create the enabling institutions for it. Given its centrality, it is alarming that the TEF is not being subjected to properly parliamentary scrutiny or ongoing oversight, but is instead being developed via a separate technical consultation. The TEF would involve measuring and grading university teaching in a similar way to university research (the Research Excellence Framework, REF), with higher TEF scores driving higher fees, though capped at inflation. Since decades of educational research has failed to develop any reliable measurement of teaching quality, there will be a heavy reliance on crude metrics.

Whatever metrics are eventually used, TEF will inevitably incentivise not excellent higher learning but rather ‘teaching to the test’. For example, the government is currently trialling examinations to measure students’ overall ‘learning gain’. If this becomes the metric for teaching excellence, universities will inevitably start coaching students on how to ace ‘learning gain’ tests. The metric will cease to measure real learning outcomes and existing subject curricula will be hollowed out, as academics are forced to turn over class time for this purpose. Students will thus learn less, not more.

Other proposed TEF metrics – notably student satisfaction – have similar pitfalls. Student ‘satisfaction’ is affected as much by the quality of student accommodation, sports clubs and bars as by teaching. Incentivising universities to boost ‘satisfaction’ will likely compel the redirection of resources away from teaching to these peripheral facilities. Moreover, academics will be discouraged from designing difficult, challenging courses or grading fairly, for fear of making students ‘dissatisfied’. Course content will be dumbed down and grade inflation – already endemic – will escalate sharply, devaluing degrees. Again, introducing TEF will mean students learn less at university.

Moreover, as academics are increasingly held accountable for students’ learning outcomes, students’ sense of responsibility for their own learning – historically a core aspect of higher education – will diminish. We are already seeing students dissatisfied with their grades suing their universities. If the TEF is introduced, an ancient system of independent student, guided by subject experts, will be supplanted by spoon-feeding – as seen in our secondary schools thanks to the rise of metrics and league tables. The result will be less independent, less resilient and less responsible graduates who are less useful employees and less capable of assuming the responsibilities of citizenship. Continue reading

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Parliamentary Submission – proposed amendments to HE Bill

Amendment proposals, HE Bill

The following proposed amendments to the Higher Education and Research Bill 2016-17 were submitted to Gordon Ramsden MP by the HE Convention Steering Committee for inclusion in the Committee Stage of the Bill.

Alongside these amendments we also submitted four explanatory documents drafted by members of the Convention.

  1. Annotated copy of HE Bill (Sherrill Stroschein et al.)
  2. General points (Lee Jones et al.)
  3. Student choice (Sean Wallis and Lee Jones)
  4. CDBU paper (Tim Horder and David Midgley)

1. Problem: University autonomy is not protected in the administrative structure proposed by the Bill

Amendment 1: That a separate monitoring body (the Office for Educational Responsibility, OER) be established, charged with monitoring the quality of educational provision within HE institutions, and with safeguarding the character of universities as places of free inquiry, and which will preserve its political impartiality by operating entirely independently of the Office for Students (OfS).

Sections, Part 1, OfS powers overall. (The OfS structure outlined represents direct Government control over universities and loss of university autonomy.)
Sections, Part 3, Clauses 3, 4, 5 (influence of Secretary of State / government on plans and in meetings; unrestrained researcher commercialisation in Clause 5, Subsec 99)

2. Problem: Academic freedom is misunderstood, misrepresented, and unprotected in the Bill

Amendment 2.1: That the protection for academic freedom of inquiry in teaching and research will be explicitly defined as freedom for those engaged in its conduct, and not merely the institutions as corporate entities. (Well-defined only in Part 1, Clause 5, subsection 14).

Amendment 2.2: With regard to research, and in particular the prohibition on Secretaries of State from imposing conditions on the funding of research, protection should be strengthened by making explicit that sections 93 (2) and 94 (2) of the Bill, as taken from section 68 of the Further and Higher Education Act (1992), should be understood as reinforcing that prohibition.

Amendment 2.3: A commitment to the Haldane Principle should be explicitly stated in the Bill (it only appears in related documents).

Sections Part 1: Misunderstanding (as administrative ability) in 4 places: Part 1, Clause 2, Subsec 2; Part 1, Clause 9, Subsec 35; Part 1 Clause 17, Subsec 66; Part 1, Clause 20, Subsec 69.
Sections Part 3: Clauses 3, 4, 5 (influence of Secretary of State / government on plans and in meetings; unrestrained researcher commercialisation in Clause 5, Subsec 99)

Amendment 2.4: With regard to the revoking of the Royal Charters for Research Councils, there should be a clear statement of the objects of UKRI, and of its component Councils. At present a set of functions is given at 85(1) as what UKRIO ‘may’ undertake and are more limited than current objects (for example, there is no reference to social science). These objects should also have the protection of the Haldane Principle (as was the case with the Royal Charter of the Medical Research Council when founded in 1919). The Secretary of State should not have power ‘by regulations’ to add or omit a component Council or vary its field (87.5). Continue reading

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Parliamentary Submission on Student Choice – Sean Wallis and Lee Jones

Will the Higher Education and Research Bill increase student choice?

This text was submitted to the Committee stage of the HE Bill ahead of the first meeting on 6 September. Thank you to colleagues who commented.

Colleagues are also encouraged to make their own submissions. The deadline for submissions is 18 September, with the first meeting of the Committee on 6 September.

There are two publicly stated professed aims of the HE Bill. These are to increase social mobility and to increase student choice.

The HE Bill proposes to increase student choice by making it easier for students to move between institutions during their course of study, and by permitting private providers to enter the sector.

This briefing attempts to identify whether the net effect of the HE Bill, in the current context of HE funding policy and the actual behaviour of universities in the face of current funding and legislative frameworks, will be to increase student choice.

Note that it is not a given that markets always operate to increase the diversification of offerings, nor is it a given that deregulation increases choice.

1. Student transfers between universities

Currently very few students exercise this option. The Higher Education Statistics Agency recently reported figures available for 2013-14 (the most recent figures available). Out of some 400,000 UK undergraduates, fewer than 7,000 students – below 2% – transferred to another university mid-degree.

There are a number of connected reasons why this figure is low and is likely to remain low, irrespective of the intentions of the Government.

  • Academic coherence. Many university courses, by their very nature, are unique to the institution. They are developed by academics working at the frontier of a particular field. An architecture student transferring between one university and another may have been taught in a different way according to different principles. Mathematics curricula differ in the order of presentation of material, and a student who missed precursor modules may require remedial teaching. There is no national curriculum for Higher Education, nor can or should there be. Continue reading
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Letter: beware market failure

After the HE Bill 2nd Reading, beware market failure

Add your name

Despite the threats Higher Education faces from Brexit, and opposition from across the sector, the Government appears to be committed to pushing ahead with its disastrous Higher Education and Research Bill.

This can only be explained by the Government’s desire to expand the role of ‘alternative providers’ – i.e. private education companies – into the sector, which is clearly the Bill’s main purpose. To this end, quality assurance bodies and regulations will be abolished and the hurdle for attaining university status drastically lowered, allowing private firms – whether existing ones or new ones backed by venture capital – to receive government-backed fees and loans. Meanwhile, provisions are made for the ‘market exit’ of universities, either because they will be undercut as private firms cherry-pick cheap-to-provide courses and provide second-rate student experiences, or because private ventures will themselves collapse. Continue reading

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Parliamentary call for evidence: Have your say on the Higher Education and Research Bill

Parliament has opened its call for evidence for the Committee stage of the HE Bill, with a deadline of 18 September 2016 for submission of evidence. Early submission prior to Tuesday 6 September is ideal, as this date will be the first date the Public Bill Committee meets. See below for how to submit this evidence.

Do you have relevant expertise and experience or an interest in the Higher Education and Research Bill which is currently passing through Parliament? If so, you can submit your views in writing to the House of Commons Public Bill Committee which is going to consider this Bill.

Higher Education and Research Bill 2016

Summary of the Higher Education and Research Bill

The Higher Education and Research Bill 2016 implements the legislative proposals in the White Paper and seeks to bring forward a range of measures with the aim of increasing competition and choice in the higher education sector, raising standards and strengthening capabilities in UK research and innovation.
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Example letters for lobbying your MP – Second Reading

In order to help colleagues lobby their MPs for the Second Reading of the HE Bill, we have collated some example letters below.

Please do write/rewrite in your own words! Letters that are written in this way are more likely to be read. We have also highlighted parts of the text you should change.

These are written by/for Higher Education staff. But you should be able to adapt them, whether you are a student, a parent, or a school or FE teacher.

Note that due to devolution, the impacts – and the perceived impacts – are likely to differ across the four nations. So we have drafted different letters.

Continue reading

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Higher Education and Research Bill – Second Reading 19 July

The Government is rushing the HE Bill through to its Second Reading in the House of Commons.

The Second Reading has been called, at very short notice, for Tuesday 19 July.

parlt-lobbyThe NUS, UCU London Region and other organisations are coordinating an emergency protest in Parliament Square, expected to start at noon.

Emergency Protest against the HE Bill
Tuesday 19 July, Westminster
Assemble 12 Noon, Parliament Square (Westminster Tube)
Called by London Region UCU, NUS, FACE, NCAFC and others

We will publish more information on this page as it becomes available.

The decision to rush this Bill through its Parliamentary stages is despite the current political turmoil created by Brexit, and the economic uncertainty facing the HE sector as a whole. Our analysis is that the HE Bill will compound, rather than solve, the Brexit problems facing universities.

5034760960_6254b4cd1b_bUrgent action: Write to your MP

Notes for lobbying your MP Continue reading

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