Blog: HER Bill amendments - a response

24 February 2017

Acting-Director of the Russell Group, Dr Tim Bradshaw shares his thoughts on the latest tranche of amendments to the HE&R Bill announced by the higher education Minister:

 

In his speech (Friday 24 February) Jo Johnson made some welcome announcements on ways Government was amending the Higher Education and Research Bill. He outlined amendments that will address concerns about autonomy.

The three elements of particular note for us were:

  • The Haldane principle
  • Institutional autonomy
  • Standards and quality

The Minister has committed to putting the Haldane Principle on a legislative footing. By enshrining this important principle in law  the Government is taking steps to protect this feature of our world-leading research system. It is important that peer-review by researchers is central to this.

Similarly the Government has made a genuine commitment to protect institutional autonomy, which underpins the productivity, excellence and competitiveness of our sector. This must be maintained in order to make sure UK HE can continue to lead the world. 

Through the Office for Students (OfS) will have a duty to consider institutional autonomy in everything it does. This should provide a much broader recognition of autonomy than we have previously seen.

In addition, the ministerial commitments on standards and quality should help to address concerns that the OfS could become involved in decision-making about the classification of awards for specific degree courses rather than simply confirming that a baseline threshold has been met. The focus on standards which have been agreed by the sector is helpful, as it reflects the current co-regulatory approach.

One of the most controversial elements of the OfS’s new powers has been the ability to vary or revoke degree-awarding powers (DAPs) and ‘University’ Title (UT), even where this is given under an Act of Parliament or by Royal Charter. Jo Johnson has been clear that these powers will only be used as a “last resort” after all other courses of action are exhausted. Whilst this is a helpful clarification of the circumstances in which a provider could lose DAPs and UT, we would still welcome additional and appropriate safeguards given the serious impact this could have. In particular, an amendment to ensure that UT can only be withdrawn through primary legislation would provide further reassurance.

These changes reflect what we have asked for and we will engage further as the Bill progresses. 

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