Higher Education and Research Bill November 2016
Thank you for contacting me recently regarding the Higher Education and Research Bill [and the related campaign by the University and College Union].
The House of Commons considered the Bill on 19 July, passing it with Government support. The Bill completed its House of Commons Committee Stage on 18 October, during which my Shadow Frontbench colleagues held the Government to account on its plans.
I share your concerns about the Government's proposals to allow 'high-performing' universities to raise tuition fees and new universities to take on degree awarding powers from day one.
I am concerned that as a result of the Bill the best universities will become more expensive and therefore less accessible, at a time when the proportion of low-income students at many top universities is already falling. Students have already been hit by the scrapping of maintenance grants for loans, freezing the student loan threshold and removing NHS bursaries.
This has damaged social mobility for the most disadvantaged students. I believe that the reintroduction of the maintenance grant is important to ensuring that affordability is not a barrier to higher education and my Shadow Frontbench colleagues tabled an amendment in Committee which aimed to reverse the scrapping of maintenance grants for loans.
The threat of marketisation and poorly regulated new providers threatens the UK brand of both traditional international facing universities and community and vocationally orientated ones. I am also concerned about the potential impact of the proposals on the terms and conditions of staff. There is already an unacceptable gender pay gap in the higher education sector, alongside the growing use of zero-hours, temporary and insecure contracts. I am concerned that the Bill will make matters even worse as employers seek to cut costs in order to produce profits.
Overall, I believe the Bill is a missed opportunity that will set back the cause of equal access rather than advancing it. I will bear in mind the points you made in your letter when the House of Commons debates the Bill again at Report Stage and Third Reading.
Thank you once again for contacting me regarding this Bill.