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NUS responds to the government’s Higher Education and Research Bill

Thursday 19 May 2016 NUS News

The government has published the first piece of Higher Education legislation for over a decade. It will enact some of the most significant reforms to the higher education sector in memory – but what’s in it, and what does it mean for students?

Announced during the Queen’s Speech yesterday (Wednesday 18 May), the Higher Education and Research Bill is one of 21 Bills and is the first of these to be ‘presented’ to parliament, just a day later.

The Bill follows November’s green paper consultation and Monday’s white paper, which both outlined the government’s plans to reform universities and the wider sector.

NUS believes the marketisation of HE is a failed experiment and that the government’s repeated attempts to turn students into consumers are having a devastating impact, with the huge drops in mature and part time student numbers being just one casualty of this agenda.

We are extremely concerned about how well students will be protected if the government makes it easier for new providers to enter the sector as students risk losing both their time and money if untested providers do not meet strict requirements.

We acknowledge today’s positive announcement that the government will finally introduce Sharia-compliant loans, something which NUS has long campaigned for.

NUS will fight any rise in tuition fees and work to ensure students are protected from the dangerous reforms proposed in the white paper and today’s Higher Education and Research Bill.

Sorana Vieru, NUS Vice President (Higher Education), said: “NUS is strongly opposed to the marketisation of the higher education sector as a climate of competition will never be in students’ best interests. The government’s proposals could be hugely damaging to the reputation of our world-renowned higher education sector.

“The so-called Office for Students doesn’t even have one reserved place for a student representative, despite the huge impact its decisions will have on students’ lives. Further tuition fee rises are totally unacceptable and new providers should be held to extremely high standards, not given degree-awarding powers on day one.”

What are the headlines from today’s Higher Education Bill? 

The Office for Students (OfS): In replacement of the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the Office for Fair Access (OFFA), the OFS’ powers will include giving institutions degree awarding powers.

Register of Providers: The OfS will be responsible for running a register so that potential students can easily see the different statuses of providers which are set based on things like how high their fees are.

Access and Participation Plans: Having one of these (in replacement of an access agreement) will allow institutions to charge higher fees. It will outline how they plan to attract applications from and provide support for disadvantaged and under-represented groups.

Public funding for providers: The OfS will inherit HEFCE’s powers to grant money to institutions. This public money can be used to subsidise certain teaching costs for universities on the register of providers.

Degree awarding powers and university title: This power currently sits with the Privy Council, the move to grant this ability to the OfS will be a significant shift of powers.

Sharia-compliant loans: Muslim students who were unable to take out interest-bearing student loans post 2012 will now be able to, with the new ‘power to make alternative payments’. 

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI): This new body will oversee funding and support for higher education research. Existing research councils will become committees of UKRI, which will cooperate and share information with the OfS.

Our next steps are informed by our policy passed at National Conference in April. NUS is working closely with students’ unions on how they can engage their students with the parliamentary process and with local MPs to fight any rise in tuition fees and to campaign to fight all other draconian measures affecting students announced by the government today.