An act that Labour must repeal to save higher education

(published in The Guardian 12 May)

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We commend the Labour Party for calling for the end of the current £9,000 student tuition fee-and-loans regime – for HE and FE.

High tuition fees have been catastrophic for social mobility. They triggered a collapse in part-time study and cut late returners to Higher Education. It is nonsense to claim that the fee regime is ‘progressive’.

They are also, paradoxically, more expensive than the previous £3,000 fee. In 2014 the Guardian reported the Treasury admitting that the rate of student debt write-off was predicted to ultimately be over 45%.

The high fee was designed for one purpose: to make HE privatisation profitable. David Willets introduced the fee as part of a package of measures: the partial abolition of the ‘block grant’, removal of caps on student numbers, and now – with the appalling Higher Education and Research Act (HE Act) and Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) – the effective deregulation of the sector. The Conservative aim, outlined in their own Green and White Papers, is to allow companies with little or no track record in education to set up private universities, paid for by the taxpayer through fees and loans, offer ‘degrees’ without oversight, and – if it all goes wrong – shut up shop abandoning students to their fate.

We commend Labour for demanding an end to the tuition fee regime, but we call on them to go further. If the Party is serious about rescuing HE in the UK it must commit to repealing the HE Act, and support the reintroduction of rigorous academic standards in the sector.

Yours sincerely,

Sean Wallis, University College London, UCL UCU VP, UCU National Executive Committee (NEC) member, and joint editor of the Alternative White Paper for Higher Education (AWP)
Prof John Holmwood, University of Nottingham, Campaign for the Public University (CPU), AWP joint editor
Rachel Cohen, City, University of London, UCU NEC, AWP joint editor
Tom Hickey, University of Brighton, Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU), AWP joint editor
Lee Jones, Queen Mary University of London, CPU
Prof Des Freedman, Goldsmiths University of London, UCU Branch Secretary
Malia Bouattia, NUS President 2016-17
Bruce Heil, Open University, UCU NEC
Patricia McManus, University of Brighton, UCU NEC
Chris Jones, Neath Port Talbot Group, UCU NEC, vice chair UCU Wales
Xanthe Whittaker, University of Leeds, UCU NEC
Sue Abbott, University of Newcastle, UCU NEC
Julia Charlton, Northumbria University, UCU NEC, Senior Lecturer, UCU NEC member and Branch Chair
Julie Hearn, Lancaster University, UCU NEC
Elizabeth Lawrence, Immediate Past President, UCU
David Muritu, Sandwell College, UCU NEC
Paul Errington, Teesside University, UCU NEC
Jo McNeill, University of Liverpool, President, University of Liverpool UCU, and UCU NEC
Marion Hersh, University of Glasgow, UCU NEC
Carlo Morelli, Dundee University, Senior Lecturer, UCU NEC
Lesley McGorrigan, University of Leeds, UCU NEC
Mandy Brown, Lambeth College,  UCU London Regional Secretary, UCU NEC
Sean Vernell, City and Islington College, UCU NEC
John Murphy, Blackburn College, UCU branch vice chair, UCU NEC
Margot Hill, Croydon Gollege, UCU NEC
Christina Paine, London Metropolitan University, UCU Coordinating Committee, UCU NEC elect
Lesley Kane, Open University, UCU NEC elect
Richard McEwan, Tower Hamlets College, UCU FE national negotiator
Nita Sanghera, Bournville College, UCU NEC elect
Rhiannon Lockley, Halesowen College, UCU West Midlands Chair, UCU NEC elect Continue reading

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Emergency Lobby of Parliament over HE Bill – 12 noon 26.4.17 – Parliament Sq


Lobby of Parliament

Government ‘concessions’ not nearly enough, say academics and UCU

London Region UCU has called a lobby of Parliament today (26 April) at 12 noon. The lobby is supported by UCU and the Campaign for the Public University.

What is at stake

The Government has made some concessions to attempt to get the Higher Education and Research Bill onto the statute books before the General Election. The Bill faced nearly 250 amendments proposed by the House of Lords. They need votes in both Houses of Parliament to get approval.

The House of Commons will take a decision on the future of the Bill later today. London Region UCU has called a protest and lobby in Parliament Square from 12 noon. Union members are being urged to write to MPs.

Analysis by UCU, the Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU) and the HE Convention is that these “concessions” do not go far enough.

Yesterday UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt wrote to all members. She writes that

Amendments which are NOW AT RISK include:

  1. blocking plans for a crude rating of teaching quality
  2. removing the link between teaching excellence and tuition fees
  3. ensuring any organisation awarding degrees meet improved quality standards
  4. removing international students from net migration targets
  5. protecting overseas staff

Prof David Midgley, a leading member of the CDBU, notes that the Government has provided little detail in its response to many of the Lords Amendments, and some amendments are not addressed at all.

His analysis, published today by the HE Convention, observes that the Government has potentially made minor concessions on points 1 and 3 above, but has refused to remove the link between the TEF and fees, and has made no improvements to protect international students and staff.

Republished from UCU London Region.

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Analysis of Government responses to Lords amendments – David Midgley (CDBU)

Higher Education and Research Bill

A summary of the Government’s responses to the Lords amendments, as published on 25 April 2017.

Amendment 1 (definition of a university):

Struck down in favour of guidance to be issued by the Secretary of State following consultation with interested parties (to be inserted in clauses 51 and 52: Use of university title, etc.).

Amendments 12 (prohibiting ranking), 209 and 210 (Schedule 2, i.e. fee
limit, subjecting the prescription of by the Secretary of State to
affirmative procedure):

Struck down. The effect of the various insertions proposed instead is difficult to decipher, but the insertion at p. 67, l. 12 appears to exempt the power of the Secretary of State to award above-inflation rises in the fee limit at the top end from the strong form of parliamentary control (i.e. by affirmative procedure).

Amendment 15 (registration of students on the electoral roll):

Struck down in favour of “such steps as the OfS considers appropriate for facilitating cooperation between the provider and one or more electoral registration officers”, etc.

Amendment 23 (quality assurance subject to independent evaluation):

Struck down in favour of deleting sub-sections 5 and 6 in Clause 25 (referring to “standards”) and inserting a new clause (at p. 16, l. 23) requiring the Secretary of State to appoint a person independent of the OfS, and with suitable experience, who would “command the confidence of registered higher education providers”, and who would produce a thorough report on the assessment and rating procedures (i.e. the TEF), including the descriptors used for rating purposes and the impact of the process on the “providers” concerned, “after the initial period” (i.e. the first year after section 25 becomes operative); and that the report be laid before Parliament.

Amendment 71 (conditions of registration):

Struck down, removing the requirement that a new provider demonstrate satisfactory validation arrangements for 4 years before authorisation. Some re-drafting is also proposed in this area.

Amendments 78 and 106 (the Judge amendments):

Struck down in favour of allowing the tribunal concerned to take into account “evidence that was not available to the OfS” and making explicit the range of options open to the tribunal.

Amendment 156 (international students):

Struck down in favour of requiring (in clause 59: publication of information) the consideration of information that would be useful to international students and institutions that provide for them, including information about numbers of international students.


Page references are to The Bill as introduced to the Lords (HL Bill 76).

The consolidated list of Lords amendments referred to (posted 6.4.17).

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HE Bill: Last Chance to Lobby Your MP!

5034760960_6254b4cd1b_bBefore Parliament is prorogued next week, the Government is still hoping to force through its Higher Education and Research Bill during the “wash up” period. The Lords inserted many substantive and important amendments, several of which the government is minded to reject — but it may have to compromise to get the Bill passed.

There is therefore a very narrow window of opportunity to influence the legislation. CHE urges everyone to use and adapt the template letter below to lobby their MP, and forward this post to everyone they know, asking them to do the same. This is literally the last ditch!


Dear [NAME – identify your MP using https://www.ucu.org.uk/scrap-the-HE-bill]

As one of your constituents, I am writing to ask you to support all of the amendments made in the House of Lords to the Higher Education and Research Bill (HERB). This Bill is likely to be put before Parliament is dissolved.

Your votes on this Bill will strongly determine my vote in the forthcoming election.

The HERB has been opposed by virtually every voice in UK Higher Education, as it would create a chaotic marketplace where untested, low-quality private providers can undercut and financially destabilise established universities, and would create a new, burdensome and entirely unscientific measure of teaching quality that will determine future fee increases.

The Lords – drawing on their extensive HE-related expertise – introduced several common-sense, proportionate amendments to safeguard universities and students. In particular:

  • Clause 12 ensures university fees are not determined by the unscientific, untested “teaching excellence framework” (TEF).
  • Clause 27 ensures the TEF must be rigorously scrutinised by statistical experts and not used to create crude rankings.
  • Clause 47 improves quality checks for new higher education providers before they can become universities.
  • Clause 49 provides safeguards to stop government regulators arbitrarily closing down universities.
  • Clause 16 makes it easier for students to vote.
  • Clause 90 excludes overseas students from the immigration statistics.

Further information on the amendments and why you should support them can be found here: https://heconvention2.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/che-he-bill-third-reading-briefing-for-mps.pdf.

I urge you to support all of these amendments or, if the government refuses to accept them, to vote against the Bill.

Yours sincerely,

[Your name]

[Your full address in the constituency – VERY IMPORTANT!]

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Alert: Lobby your MP before the Final Reading of the HE Bill

Dear colleague,

The Higher Education and Research Bill (HE Bill for short) is due to return to the House of Commons for a Final Reading at some point after Easter.

At the moment we do not know which date that will be, but we expect that it will be at the end of April or early May. (We won’t get much notice.)

The House of Lords passed a number of useful amendments to the HE Bill. During the Final Reading, MPs will decide whether to accept these amendments. These contain important safeguards, such as

  • specifying the purpose of a university, including that they are required to defend academic freedom;
  • defending institutional autonomy;
  • de-linking the TEF from caps on student numbers and fee rises;
  • reinstituting some upfront quality control (reducing the prospect of a rapid branding of a private company as a ‘university’); and
  • creating limits on awarding colleges Degree Awarding Powers.

There is everything to fight for.

Until now, Conservative and Unionist MPs have simply voted on party lines to get the bill through its First and Second Readings. MPs from the other parties have voted against the bill.

The Government has a small majority. It will not take many Conservative MPs to be convinced to vote for an amendment for it to be retained.

This also makes the job of lobbying MPs a bit easier than usual! If you live in a Conservative constituency, you can approach your MP in full knowledge that you can make a real difference. Personal approaches from opponents of the bill, whether they are from university staff, students, family members, teachers, or others, are likely to be effective.

On the day of the Final Reading itself, London Region UCU has called a lobby of Parliament. Outside of London, a “day of action” is proposed.

But the real work needs to start now, before the Easter break.

Write to your MP!

We are asking everyone who cares about the future of UK Higher Education to write to their MPs by personal letter.

  • If possible, ask to meet with your MP face-to-face to discuss your letter. Organise delegations with colleagues.
  • Ask your MP to consider the implications of the HE Bill and to support amendments made in the House of Lords.

Below are two up-to-date briefings from colleagues in the Council for the Defence of British Universities (CDBU) and the University and College Union (UCU). The CDBU briefing, drafted by Prof David Midgley, identifies key amendments to target and arguments you can use when writing to MPs. The second document from UCU is a letter that was sent to MPs last week.

There is also a UCU Lobby your MP online tool if you are not sure who your MP is and how to contact them. Note that the wording is currently rather out-of-date. Change the wording and bring your letter up-to-date. In any case, the personal approach is always best!


See also

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Lords amend HE Bill to defend international staff and students – 13 March

Amendment 156 in the House of Commons List of Amendments

On 13 March, the House of Lords passed the following amendment to the HE Bill by 313 votes to 219.

150: After Clause 85, insert the following new Clause—

“Students and academic staff at higher education providers

(1) The Secretary of State has a duty to encourage international students to attend higher education providers covered by this Act, and UKRI must take every possible opportunity to encourage and facilitate the maximum co-operation between British higher education and research establishments and those based outside the UK, in particular with projects and programmes funded by the European Union.

(2) The Secretary of State shall ensure that no student, either undergraduate or postgraduate, who has received an offer to study at such a higher education provider, be treated for public policy purposes as a long term migrant to the UK, for the duration of their studies at such an establishment.

(3) Persons, who are not British citizens, who receive an offer to study as an undergraduate or postgraduate, or who receive an offer of employment as a member of academic staff at a higher education provider, shall not, in respect of that course of study, or that employment, be subject to more restrictive immigration controls or conditions than were in force for a person in their position on the day on which this Act was passed.”

As Lord Hannay, proposing, explained:-

In summary, the amendment, first, places a duty on the Secretary of State to encourage overseas students to come here for their higher education.

Secondly, it urges UKRI, the new organisation co-ordinating research, to encourage and facilitate the maximum international research co-operation, in particular with EU projects and programmes, which may be less easy to do after Brexit than it has been as a full member—which we still are.

Thirdly, it seeks to put an end to the policy of treating students for public policy purposes as long-term economic migrants. This subject has been debated many times in the House without anyone, except the lonely person on the ministerial Bench, expressing a contrary view.

Fourthly, it seeks to ensure that no further restrictive immigration rules, beyond those that currently exist, are placed on undergraduate and postgraduate students with the offer of a place to study here, or on academic staff with an offer of employment. I underline the word “offer” because it is not intended that they should have free movement rights to come here and look for these things; they would need to have the offer.

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Lords amend HE Bill to regulate privatisation – March 8

On Wednesday March 8, the Lords made two further important amendments to the HE Bill. These concern Quality Assurance and Degree Awarding Powers.

These amendments support greater government regulation of the process of privatisation, which the Higher Education and Research Bill is intended to facilitate. They introduce “checks and balances” on the process, rather than stop privatisation altogether. But they should still be strongly supported, in the interests of our students, our society and our universities.

Amendment 72 – Quality Assurance

Amendment 72 challenges the premise of a one-size-fits-all metric for evaluating the “quality” of higher education.

Amendment 23 in the House of Commons List of Amendments

The HE Bill undermines the current role played by the Quality Assurance Agency in acting as an inspector and guarantor of quality in HE and replaces up-front regulation with TEF scores, ranking and retrospective intervention.

It is as if the Government proposed to remove inspection and licensing of abattoirs, say, and instead relied on prosecutions to enforce consumer safety standards. In some respects the HE Bill is worse: market forces operate in the food industry because each customer makes tens of thousands of individual purchases, and can therefore act when faced with poor quality. But a student does not get to return their degree and ask for their money back. They are at the mercy of miss-selling and fraud, which has happened in the USA and Australia.

For a detailed discussion of these issues see the Alternative White Paper for Higher Education.

Continue reading

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