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The Higher Education and Research Bill would make extensive changes to the way in which higher education is regulated in England, establishing a new regulatory body called the Office for Students (OfS). It would also make changes to the way in which the UK’s seven research councils operate. The Bill provides for the research councils, along with Innovate UK, to be integrated into a new body called United Kingdom Research and Innovation (UKRI). Amongst its other provisions is the establishment of non-interest bearing finance options for students. The Bill’s Explanatory Notes explain that the measures contained in the Bill also:

  • Seek to open up the higher education sector with the aim of encouraging more competition and choice by making it easier for new high-quality providers to start up and achieve degree awarding powers, and subsequently secure university status.
  • Put in place risk-based regulation with the aim that the higher education sector serves its stakeholders: students, employers and taxpayers.
  • Seek to recognise and reward high-quality teaching by enabling the Office for Students to implement a Teaching Excellence Framework.
  • Seek to bring greater transparency to the data held by the higher education sector, to inform choice and promote equality of opportunity.

The Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 19 May 2016 and passed third reading on 21 November 2016. Its second reading in the House of Lords is scheduled to take place on 6 December 2016. The Bill was amended by the Government at committee and report stage in the Commons. At report stage these principally related to the monitoring of the financial sustainability of registered higher education providers, promotion of the interests of students on the OfS board and the desirability of at least one UKRI board member having experience in relation to at least one of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.  A number of non-government amendments were discussed at report stage, with the House of Commons dividing on six of these. Broadly, these amendments related to the modification of student loan repayment terms; the removal of means-tested maintenance grants; the impact of the removal of post study work visas; how the new Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) scheme could be scrutinised; the considerations the OfS should have when exercising  its degree awarding powers; and the relationship between UKRI and the devolved administrations. This briefing focusses on those opposition amendments upon which the House divided, however, it also provides a short discussion on some of the government amendments which were added to the Bill.

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