I believe that nothing is more important than to make the hon. Gentleman’s life easier, so I am pleased to broadly confirm—I hope—exactly what he is saying. There is a fundamental lack of clarity internationally. Many people in this country understand the importance of the University of London’s member institutes, which have fantastic reputations. However, particularly in the global marketplace for education, there is, as he describes, a lack of clarity about the overarching University of London structure and the institutes that are, in some cases, called colleges and schools. I went to the London School of Economics and some people will not understand the difference between that and a university, so the hon. Gentleman is completely right, as I will confirm even further as I work through my remarks.
The member institutes set their own academic criteria and in most cases have their own degree-awarding powers. In addition to the London Business School in my constituency, the colleges include University College London—called somewhat confusingly both a university and a college—King’s College, the London School of Economics, Birkbeck and the newest arrival, City University, which joined the federation only in 2016. Imperial College, on the other hand, left the federation in 2007, having no other option at the time for it to achieve university status.
The University of London provides a range of opt-in central services to its member institutions, including the university library at Senate House, in which I spent many happy hours, the careers service and collaboration with the university on its international academy programme, which provides distance learning to over 50,000 students worldwide. Members pay an annual subscription to the university and terms of federation membership are prescribed in the university’s statutes.
The key rationale for the Bill, as I said in response to interventions, is that it will facilitate the university’s member institutions becoming universities in their own right. The Higher Education and Research Act 2017 changed the regulatory landscape for the higher education sector. It opened it up to new providers and shortened the process for obtaining degree-awarding powers and, crucially, for obtaining university title.
Without this Bill, relatively unknown higher education providers will be able to obtain university status while institutions such as the LSE, UCL and King’s will not. The Bill therefore ensures that such institutions are not placed at a disadvantage in the increasingly competitive market for students and teachers. Branding can matter, even for institutions with reputations as high as those I have mentioned, and some of the member institutions have found that their status as a college can cause confusion. The term “college” can suggest that the institutions are subsidiary bodies of the University of London, when they are in fact self-governing, setting their own entrance criteria and, in the majority of cases, having degree-awarding powers. They are therefore universities in all but name.
The process for institutions applying for university status is governed by the Higher Education and Research Act. Any member institution seeking to become a university in its own right will need to apply to the Office for Students for permission. How does the Bill facilitate that process? The 1994 Act described the University of London member institutions as colleges, and as I have explained, that is increasingly unhelpful, so clause 2 would define membership of the federation as including any University of London institution that has the “status of a university”. Not all member institutions will want or be able to become universities. Not all award their own degrees, for example, and that is a necessary condition of becoming a university. The definition of a member institution maintains the reference to an institution that has the status of a college under the University of London statutes. Whether a university in its own right or a college under statutes, all member institutions will enjoy an equal status within the University of London federation.
Twelve out of the 18 member institutions now wish to seek university status and are presently applying for such permission. As all 12 are long-established and high-quality providers of higher education, it is anticipated that the Office for Students will recommend to the Privy Council that the change of status be approved. The Government have insisted that Privy Council approval is dependent on the Bill obtaining Royal Assent, so to be clear: no member institution will be permitted to become a university in its own right unless the Bill is enacted.
I turn now to the provisions on the making of University of London statutes. These statutes set the objects and powers of the university and establish and define the powers of the university’s institutions. To explain the procedure for making statutes is immediately to identify why reform is needed. The prescribed procedure involves two defunct bodies and a procedure requiring the active engagement of the college governing bodies, which have made it clear that they do not regard such a process as appropriate to the modern federal relationship.
The power to make statutes is conferred on the council of the university—a body that no longer exists. The drafter of the 1994 Act anticipated changes in university governance, and the term used in the Act to refer to the council also applies to
“such other body as the statutes may from time to time designate as the governing and executive body of the University”.
Since 2003, the governing body has been known as the board of trustees, and so, in accordance with the flexible definition of “the council” in the 1994 Act, statutes may be made by the board. That is not clear, however, from the 1994 Act. Furthermore, under section 3 of the Act, the text of any proposed statutes must be sent to the University of London convocation, as the association of graduates of the university, but it ceased to exist in 2003. The Bill will ensure that the terms used in legislation reflect the actual terms now used to describe the various University of London bodies.
The 1994 Act allows statutory consultees a very generous period of four months in which to make representations on proposals. If the governing body then wishes to proceed to make the statutes, it must pass two separate resolutions, with an interval of not less than one and not more than six months, and the statutes only have effect following approval of Her Majesty in Council. That is how University of London statute is made. Whatever the virtues of the system, swiftness is not one. The university regards the process as cumbersome and unnecessarily protracted, and the college governing bodies do not wish to continue with a process that once made sense but which is no longer appropriate.