This House of Commons Library Briefing Paper provides information on the Higher Education and Research Bill's progress in Public Bill Committee. The paper summarises Government amendments to the Bill and discussion on the Opposition's attempts to amend the Bill.Jump to full report >>
The Higher Education and Research Bill 2016-17 was presented in the House of Commons on 19 May 2016 and its Second Reading took place on 19 July 2016. The Bill seeks to bring forward a range of measures to increase competition and choice in the higher education sector, raise standards and strengthen capabilities in UK research and innovation.
Provisions in the Bill will:
Full background on the Bill as originally presented is provided in Library Briefing Paper 7609, Higher Education and Research Bill 2016 [Bill No 004 of 2016-17].
The Committee stage of the Bill took place over fourteen sessions between 6 September and 18 October 2016. During the first three evidence sessions a range of spokespersons from public, private and further education providers, university mission groups and other higher education sector bodies, such as UCAS, appeared before the Committee. In the remaining sessions, the Committee conducted clause by clause scrutiny of the Bill.
As of 16 November 2016 no date had been given for the Bill's Report Stage.
There were 17 divisions during the Committee Stage and a number of amendments were agreed; all the accepted amendments were Government amendments – most of which were minor technical or drafting amendments. The only substantial amendments agreed were:
The closest division on a non-Government amendment was on an amendment moved by Gordon Marsden MP which would have required at least one member of the OFS board to be a student; this amendment was negatived by 9 votes to 11.
The main areas of debate during the Committee Stage were:
The issue of student representation was raised in many amendments. For example, Wes Streeting MP moved amendments to provide for student representation on the boards of the OFS and the new designated quality assessment body, and to make the establishment of student unions an ongoing condition of registration for HEIs. Dr Blackman-Woods MP moved an amendment requiring HEIs to consult with students over access and participation plans. The Minister, Jo Johnson MP, gave a similar response to many of these amendments: that students would be consulted and that having these proposals set out in legislation could restrict flexibility of the Bill.
Access and participation in higher education was covered by several amendments. Issues raised included:
Wes Streeting MP moved amendments to require access and participation plans to include targets and to give the Director for Fair Access and Participation power to set targets. Mr Johnson’s response to these types of amendments emphasised the need for institutions to retain autonomy over their admissions.
There were a number of lengthy debates over the TEF, in particular concerning an alleged lack of detail in the Bill and the linking of TEF results to increases in tuition fees. Gordon Marsden MP, for example, contended that the Government was attempting to avoid proper debate on the TEF.
The Minister reassured the Committee that Parliament would retain control over tuition fees and they would, at most, rise in line with inflation. He further said that the lack of detail in the Bill was necessary to allow flexibility and to allow the TEF to adapt over time.
Amendments were also moved on the TEF metrics and the impact of the TEF on the devolved administrations.
The main areas of debate on research were:
Several technical Government amendments and new clauses were agreed to these areas which would: enable collaboration between councils and facilitate joint working with the devolved regions.
Amendments tabled to the Bill were also used as a means of debating areas of recent controversy in the higher education sector more generally, such as the removal of student maintenance grants and the freezing of the student loan repayment threshold.
Commons Briefing papers CBP-7768
Authors: Susan Hubble; David Foster