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.

Continue reading

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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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Lords amend HE Bill to limit impact of TEF – March 6

On Monday, March 6,  the Lords voted 263 to 211 for Amendment 19 to the HE Bill.

Amendment 12 in the House of Commons List of Amendments

“Regulated course fees etc: use in relation to section 26

(1) The scheme established under section 26 must not be used to rank English higher education providers as to the regulated course fees they charge to a qualifying person; or the unregulated course fees they charge to an international student; or the number of fee paying students they recruit, whether they are qualifying persons or international students.

(2) In this section “regulated course fees”, “qualifying person” and “international student” have the same meaning as in section 11.”

This would have the effect of prohibiting the use of the TEF ranking:

  1.  in either the setting of the student fee cap or
  2. the number of students that a university can recruit.

As Lord Kerslake explained in the debate, the latter would apply to both national and international students, so preventing the possibility that the TEF ranking might be linked to the issuing of student visas.

The first of these has been a key debate of the NUS’ campaign against the TEF. The second arises in relation to Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s call at the Conservative Party Conference to use the TEF to remove the right of universities to sponsor overseas students. It would also prevent the Government of the day using TEF scores to cap student numbers by subject or institution, something that future governments may wish to do in the face of rising student loan deficit.

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Why the NSS is garbage – Lord Lipsey

The National Students Survey results matter. First, they are used by students to evaluate institutions by comparison with rival institutions. Secondly, they are one of the metrics to be used in the TEF, in awarding gold, silver or bronze markings to institutions which apply to take part. These ratings will decide if an institution can or cannot raise its fees beyond £9K.

The idea that student satisfaction should play a major role in the rating of universities is controversial. Research shows that there is no correlation between student satisfaction and student results in terms of degree grade. However the government has opted to increase the importance of student choice, competition and satisfaction in the higher education landscape; and this short note does not seek to address the rights and wrongs of that.

Rather it focusses on a narrow point: whether the National Student Survey (NSS), the chosen instrument to measure student satisfaction, is fit for purpose or not. Here the evidence is unequivocal: the NSS is statistical garbage. The reasons are widely understood by the statistical community and were set out inter alia by the Royal Statistical Society in its response to the government’s technical consultation about the TEF. Continue reading

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Alert: HE Bill back in Lords for voting on amendments – from 6 March

Dear colleagues

After weeks of detailed line-by-line debate at Committee Stage over two months, the Higher Education and Research Bill returns to the full House of Lords debate at the ‘Report Stage’ from Monday March 6th. The House will be voting on a set of amendments put forward to a full vote by the Committee.

It is fair to say that the Lords have subjected the Bill to a far greater level of critical scrutiny than the Commons, where Jo Johnson has so-far relied on an inbuilt Conservative majority voting with the party whip to see off any criticism.

Voting at Second and Third Readings on the unaltered Bill divided simply on party lines. The Conservative and DUP MPs voted for the Bill. Every other MP voted against the Bill.

There is now a real opportunity for those of us opposed to the Bill to influence events. 

Amendments passed by the Lords will be sent back to the Commons for the Final Reading. At that point, Conservative and DUP MPs will have to decide whether they should support the amendments.

  • All colleagues can use the UCU Lobby a Lord tool to raise concerns with Lords and ask them to vote in support of critical amendments.
  • Colleagues, especially those in Conservative and DUP constituencies, should restart the process of lobbying their MPs. There is a Lobby Your MP tool on the UCU website. Try to find out where your MP is having a constituency surgery and arrange to meet them in person.

As some 200 amendments are proposed, and some may be difficult to follow, Prof David Midgley for the CDBU has prepared the attached briefing on what the CDBU believe are the key amendments. UCU has also produced this briefing.

We will also provide up-dated information on the progress of amendments through the Lords on the Convention website.

Relevant documents

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Press release 9/1/2017

Students and staff speak out as the Lords prepare to challenge Jo Johnson over his Higher Education and Research Bill

Universities return to teaching this week, but lecturers, students and researchers face an uncertain future. The Government is pushing ahead with its Higher Education and Research Bill, currently in the House of Lords. A cross-bench alliance of Lords are organising a major revolt over the bill.

What is going on? Why does this matter?

Professor John Holmwood, a sociologist at the University of Nottingham who set up the Campaign for the Public University and is a founding member of the Convention for Higher Education, explained:

“The HE Bill is a deliberate attempt to remove all the checks and balances that protect university teaching standards – and thus the quality of student degrees – in the Higher Education sector.

“A student at a UK university knows that their degree programme is being carried out at a university that is strictly quality-controlled by subject experts among staff and by the Government, through their Quality Assurance Agency, the Higher Education Funding councils, and other bodies. When they graduate, their degree will be worth something.

“But if the Bill goes through unamended, this strict regulation will be scrapped, and we are likely to see quality of degrees in the UK go down. We know of the risks from the US and Australia, countries which have gone down this path before us. We don’t need a Trump University or a Corinthian Colleges [New Yorker report] scandal in the UK. With every such scandal, students suffer and proper universities are immensely damaged.”

In the autumn, across the UK, academics and students piled in to large meetings on university campuses, from Bristol to Liverpool and Oxford. Campaigners from the HE Convention and the University Colleges Union (UCU) and the National Union of Students (NUS) have organised meetings in Parliament as well as Stormont and the Scottish Parliament. Although this is an ‘English’ Bill, the joined-up nature of higher education in the UK means that it will inevitably affect the devolved nations.

Students and staff point out that the Bill has other negative consequences, many of which are also being challenged in the House of Lords. Continue reading

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