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Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.
Mike Boxall, an independent researcher and consultant on higher education policies and strategies, and a senior adviser to PA Consulting, considers the emerging post-COVID world and its implications for the future of universities. His blog is based on a paper published recently by PA Consulting, and co-authored with its HE lead, Ian Matthias.
A new Office for Students would have the right to ask universities for numbers and details of the offers they have made to students, broken down by ethnic and social background as well as gender, under amendments put forward by the government to its Higher Education and Research Bill.
Universities would also be asked for total numbers of applications and drop-out rates, also broken down along these lines.
Proposed changes tabled by the government include recommendations that student representatives – and people representing the UK’s nations – sit on the board of the new Office for Students.
The duty to monitor the financial stability of the university sector would also shift to the Office for Students under the changes.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson announced details of the amendments on Twitter, saying: “Our changes include making sure there’s proper student representation on the Board of new regulator, Office for Students #HEBill”.
The move to include students on the board has been widely welcomed by the National Union of Students and also by its former leader Wes Streeting, who is now a Labour MP.
He tweeted: “I'm chalking this up as a win. Credit to Jo for listening and all those involved in the campaign.”
Mr Streeting had lobbied the government, saying increased tuition fees had benefitted universities because money was “flowing in”, while students were paying record levels of tuition fees but had no protections or guarantees.
Other changes include giving the Office for Students the right to “impose a registration condition requiring a provider to publish a student protection plan”. Such plans – which are a voluntary requirement at the moment - set out what students can expect if their course, campus or institution closes.
Universities UK has welcomed the changes as a “step in the right direction”. It tweeted: “Govt amendments to HE Bill a welcome step in the right direction. Important students & unis' concerns addressed.”
The Higher Education and Research Bill is at the Report Stage in the House of Commons, ahead of its Third Reading there before it moves to the House of Lords.
Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs had wanted to see more changes to the Bill, but said amendments they put forward were blocked by the Conservatives.
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