Higher Education (Fee Limits and Student Support) (England) (Coronavirus) (Revocation) Regulations 2020 Debate

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Department: Department for International Trade

Higher Education (Fee Limits and Student Support) (England) (Coronavirus) (Revocation) Regulations 2020

Lord Storey Excerpts
Thursday 29th October 2020

(1 year, 2 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I agree with what most noble Lords have said. Students get a raw deal. I only have to look at my city of Liverpool, which is in tier 3. Students arrive expecting to get the student experience. Polling suggests that 73% of students who decide to go to university away from home to live in halls of residence or rented accommodation do so because they want that student experience. What we are seeing is students trapped in their halls of residence or rented accommodation, in a local community, and having to do nearly all their lectures virtually. Imagine having to do that day in, day out. I suspect when they go home at Christmas quite a large number will choose not to return to university. That is not how we should be treating our students. I realise there are issues and problems, but we need to have a conversation with students. I do not have some sympathy—I have complete sympathy with students in the situation in which they find themselves.

Obviously, if one higher education provider overrecruits domestic students, it affects other HE institutions and, as the report states, disproportionately increases the public funding flowing to it through the student loan system. In so doing, it reduces the available students for other providers and increases the risk of insolvency of some HE providers, which puts further strain on public finances. There is some irony in a party that believes in letting the market decide bringing in these controls, but I will not go there.

This is the first cap on student places since 2012. All English providers get their student number cap. There are few exceptions: brand new providers do not get a cap, and nor do those in the approved registration category. If providers want to recruit more than the student number control, there are two ways they can do so. The first way allows them to bid for up to 250 extra places in a list of subjects. What are the criteria for the list? Why, for example, is architecture on it? Are we short of architects in the UK? The second way allows providers to bid for any number of courses in a selection of healthcare disciplines—very good. But have we given any thought to using, or would it be possible to use, that sort of top-up to recruit students from disadvantaged backgrounds or from black, Asian and other ethnic backgrounds?

What are these caps, and how are they calculated? We do not know how many students each provider can take this year. The Office of Students and the Department for Education have deemed it inappropriate. Can the Minister tell us why? There should be transparency. After all, it is a basic component of a trustworthy system of student number allocation. HEFCE used to do this rather well, after all. How will students retaking A-levels not be disadvantaged? Is there any mechanism for students who might chose to apply for a January start? Otherwise the cap will apply and they may not get a place.

Of course, there are wider considerations which Covid has accelerated. We could see a record number of students dropping out. In the case of first-year students, universities will be losing up to three years’ tuition fee income. Universities are likely to start experiencing more serious falls in income with financially poorer and less prestigious universities being hit first, but richer institutions are not far behind. Instead of waiting for that process of attrition to happen, universities should look at their practices and rather than entrenching old models should look at pioneering new funding structures, increasing access to higher education and, of course, ensuring that students get a proper experience of university.

Finally, can the Minister tell us whether private universities and colleges which offer degree courses included in the cap number?