Bill gets bumby ride in the Lords!

By John Storan, FACE Chair

Welcome to the new year and the first FACE e-bulletin of 2017. We start the year with the news that the Higher Education and Research Bill is having a bumpy ride through the House of Lords. In fact ‘bumpy ride’ may be a bit of an understatement given the fact that the bill was defeated by 27 votes and that in the process a number of substantive amendments were passed which changed not only the scope of certain aspects of the original bill but in doing so also challenged some of the major clauses in the bill.

Having been a close observer of similar political episodes over the years in the HOL I must say I was somewhat surprised to see so many major parts of the bill, such as the Office for Students, the Quality Assurance Office and the alternative providers provisions, all of which require legislation in order to be enacted, being announced and trailed extensively by government throughout 2016. In some cases these have been actively developed on the assumption that the bill would pass smoothly through the various legislative stages required without little serious opposition amendments. What actually transpired was that several amendments, for instance those focused on the definition and role of a university, recognised that higher education has a social and public role and not just an economic one.

 
FACE has long been identified with the social dimension of HE so I was pleased to see that there were a number of amendments that substantially strengthened the bill in this important respect. One specific amendment identified the need for HE to be ‘working to improve equality of opportunity and the widening of access and participation within higher education, including via part-time, adult and lifelong learning’.
 
With a heavy agenda of government bills in the pipeline the biggest enemy of this bill might not be the cross-party and independents in the Lords who voted against it, but a lack of legislative time. If this turns out to be the case then we might see further amendments to the bill in the wake of the political horse-trading that ensues. Who knows what the final outcome might be.

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