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HERB returns to parliament for final act

April 26, 2017

Today, the Higher Education & Research Bill returns to the House of Commons for its final reading as MPs consider the amendments made by the Lords and a new set of ‘compromise’ amendments designed to have HERB become law by end of play on Thursday (when parliament will be suspended prior to its dissolution before Wed 3 May).

The amendments are fragmentary, technical and basically hard to read. GuildHE and Universities UK have again published a letter setting out their support and providing a gloss on the changes.

The headlines are:

  • The government is seeking to overturn the Lords amendment breaking the link between TEF outcomes and differential fees. This amendment will be replaced with one committing to defer any such link until 2020/21, after an independent review of TEF in 2018. The review will be led by an individual who ‘commands the confidence’ of HEIs.
  • This doesn’t mean that tuition fees will be frozen until 2020/21 but that there is no mechanism to set different maximums for different institutions. Future changes to the maximum tuition fee will be agreed by both Houses of parliament.
  • It does mean that the only incentive for institutions to participate in the TEF (which is voluntary) over the next few years is to influence the development of the policy.
  • The government is seeking to remove the Lord’s upfront clause which would have defined a university in law. Instead the government has pledged to consult with the sector about new guidance on the award of university title. This guidance will be given to the Office for Students (which will be created by HERB). It’s worth remembering that the White Paper pledged to remove the current specifications on minimum size meaning that we could see universities in future that do not even meet the size requirements for sixth form colleges (200 students).
  • Regarding degree awarding powers, the government is seeking to strike down the Lords amendment that would require those seekng to award degrees to have a track record. Its replacement amendment again tries to compromise by offering improved scrutiny of the process and by involving more sector expertise in the decisions. This is inadequate given the plans the government has to award probationary degree awarding powers on the basis of recruitment policies.



Overall, I find it hard not to feel that Labour, UUK and GuildHE have missed the main issues around probationary degree awarding powers and like Alison Wolf I would have preferred to let the bill die than allow that to move forward. Particularly as the new guidance on DAPs, like the new guidance on university, has not yet been put forward for consultation.



  1. Brian permalink

    “This doesn’t mean that tuition fees will be frozen until 2020/21 but that there is no mechanism to set different maximums for different institutions.”

    Under section 26 of the Higher Education Act 2004, a draft of the regulations to increase either the higher or basic amount must be laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament unless the increase is no greater than is required to maintain the value of the amount in real terms.

    Regulations were made in December 2016 to increase the basic and higher amounts, but only for “eligible institutions” defined in the regulations.

    The Higher Education and Research Act repeals section 26 of the Higher Education Act 2004. Does this mean those regulations are also revoked?

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