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Many issues await the attention of the new universities minister

In a week when the government reshuffled its cabinet, HE issues that made headlines gave the newly-appointed universities minister a taste of things to come, says Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers .

Storm clouds are gathering over UK universities

The past week’s events and news are a sign of turbulent times for UK universities, warns Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University.

The UK must look after its global talent

Mike Ratcliffe, academic registrar at Nottingham Trent University, reflects on issues emerging from a packed week of higher education news.

Student complaints rise by nearly 21% in a year

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for higher education has reported almost a 21 per cent rise in the number of complaints it received from students last year – rising to their highest ever level at 2,371.

HE Bill amendments bolser Office for Students powers

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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