All 3 Lord Oxburgh contributions to the Higher Education and Research Act 2017

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Mon 30th Jan 2017
Higher Education and Research Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee: 7th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 8th Mar 2017
Higher Education and Research Bill
Lords Chamber

Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 15th Mar 2017
Higher Education and Research Bill
Lords Chamber

Report: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Higher Education and Research Bill

Lord Oxburgh Excerpts
Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, before I come to the amendments in my name in this group, I will just mention first that Clause 105, a definitions clause, says that “‘science’ includes social sciences”. So that is in the Bill, in a way. It may be that my noble friend Lord Willetts or the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, would like it to be more prominent, but it is certainly there already. Clause 105 is also the source of what I said about the councils. It says:

“’Council’ has the meaning given by section 86”.


Clause 86 is where “Councils” become “committees” of UKRI.

My amendments are inclined to emphasise the importance of basic science. I very much take what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, and others about developing knowledge for its own sake. That was a very clear statement of a very distinguished mathematician in my youth, GH Hardy of Cambridge. He was a theory of numbers man, which had no very obvious application to anything much at that particular moment, except that he brought the wonderful Indian mathematician Ramanujan to this country and made him prominent. GH Hardy’s view was that mathematics, particularly the theory of numbers, should be researched, investigated and developed for its own sake.

Amendments 484A and 484B relate to Clause 87, which defines UK Research and Innovation’s functions. I am glad that I have already had support from two speakers for these amendments before I had the opportunity to mention them myself. Clause 87(1)(a), which is mentioned in the provision referred to by the noble Lord, says:

“UKRI may … carry out research into science, technology, humanities”—


which includes the arts by definition, although I am not sure what else it includes separately from the arts other than perhaps languages—“and new ideas”. UKRI has the important function of promoting research into new ideas, which is distinct, apparently, from research in the earlier listed subjects of science, technology or the humanities. I am not absolutely clear what that adds to the whole function, but no doubt the Minister will be able to explain it to me with his usual clarity.

I want to emphasise the need for basic science to be remembered, which is why I have sought to add to UKRI’s functions as listed at subsection (1)(a) research into “basic, applied and strategic” science. That seems to me to be essential if UKRI is to carry out the kind of function that we expect from it of enlarging knowledge for its own sake as well as for the benefits that it may have to others. Enlarging knowledge will benefit people, even if you do it for its own sake. It is also important for the development of science itself that too much emphasis is not placed on applications, as the theory and development of the basic structure of the science is extremely important.

I noticed in today’s paper a comment on the research into dementia. A particular medicine or drug had been developed that was thought to be helpful in relation to dementia but, unfortunately, it did not work. It must have taken a little time to find that out, but it did not work. The comment was that the research was too narrowly focused on an aspect of the disease. This is a very topical example of what I am trying to say.

I hope an amendment such as the one I have proposed will be incorporated. I do not necessarily say that mine has the best ever wording—it could be improved, I am sure—but it is the best that I have so far been able to offer. No doubt the Minister’s reflections may improve it further.

Lord Oxburgh Portrait Lord Oxburgh (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I had not intended to speak today. I declare my membership of the Foundation for Science and Technology, chaired by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, and my honorary professorship of the University of Cambridge. The comments I wish to make cut across many of the amendments that we have discussed, both now and earlier.

Reading the Bill as it stands, you could believe that from a research point of view the UK was an island sufficient unto itself. There is almost no reference here to any international work. I think the noble Lord, Lord Willis, made a passing reference to that in one of his interventions in today’s debate, but it is crucial. There are whole areas of science in this country where we would not have a presence without successful international collaboration. A very good example is marine work. Marine research ships are very expensive to run, and frequently they have been run in collaboration with other countries. One could also mention big science facilities.

My concern with the Bill as it stands is that paragraph 16(3) of Schedule 9, which deals with supplementary powers, says:

“UKRI may not do any of the following except with the consent of the Secretary of State: … enter into joint ventures”.


Does this mean that if one of our research councils or other parts of UKRI wish to set up a collaboration with one of their opposite numbers, be it on the other side of the Atlantic, in mainland Europe or anywhere else, they have to go to the Secretary of State before they can do so? I hope that that is not the case, and that the importance of international work can be a little more clearly expressed in the Bill before we finally approve it.

Lord Bilimoria Portrait Lord Bilimoria (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I declare my interest as chancellor of the University of Birmingham and chair of the advisory board of the University of Cambridge Judge Business School. On that note, if I may boast, today the FT global rankings for the MBA came out and the Judge Business School rose from number 10 to number five in the world. This is a business school that has been around for only 26 years, compared with the Harvard Business School, which is over 100 years old. One of the reasons for that success is the excellence of research at a university like Cambridge.

The problem that is overlooked completely by the Bill is that we in this country carry out excellent research despite underfunding it compared with competitor countries. We spend 1.7% of GDP, compared with 2.8% in the USA and Germany. Our research councils, which are world-class and respected around the world, have been doing a great job as autonomous units. One of the main worries about the Bill in universities and research councils is the removal of the autonomy of these institutions. They function well thanks to that autonomy.

I support Amendment 490D from the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, and the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, which would leave out the words “as UKRI may determine”. Under Clause 89, headed, “Exercise of functions by science and humanities Councils”, UKRI would have the right to determine what they do. This is absolutely wrong. Whatever the reasons the Government have given for having a layer like UKRI, many people—the noble Lord, Lord Rees, has argued well against it—have said it is completely not necessary and could be damaging to the whole sector. The analogy made was setting up a body to represent all the world-class museums in London, which are the best museums in the world. That would be completely unnecessary as they are doing a great job on their own. We have to ensure that the autonomy of the research councils is protected, whatever happens, even with the existence of this body called UKRI.

Higher Education and Research Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Department for Education

Higher Education and Research Bill

Lord Oxburgh Excerpts
Lord Oxburgh Portrait Lord Oxburgh (CB)
- Hansard - -

I apologise for not being faster to my feet to intervene slightly earlier before the last speaker, but there are a couple of points that still need making. I declare an interest as an honorary professor at the University of Cambridge and before that as rector of Imperial College. Probably more relevantly, over the past 15 years or so I have been much involved in the assessment of universities in Hong Kong and Singapore.

I have two main points to make. First, the assessment as proposed at present by government is simply not useful to students. It may satisfy administrators or others, but it is not useful for students in so far as it does not have sufficient granularity. Within a university there may be departments that are outstanding in their teaching and others which are not, and that is the information that is of value to students—not some blanket assessment of the university as a whole.

Secondly, there is an implicit assumption in all this that, if a university is not teaching well or if a department is not teaching well, it is because it is not trying hard enough. That might or might not be the case, but it may also be that there is insufficient resource in that university to do better. Indeed, the proposal to link the level of support or the ability to increase fees may initiate a vicious downward spiral of despair, discouragement and pessimism in those institutions which are given the lowest ranking.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, it is clear from today’s debate and those that preceded it that many noble Lords feel passionately about the teaching excellence framework, or TEF. Many noble Lords agree with the need for a renewed emphasis on improving teaching quality. Many noble Lords have also said that they agree that students need clear information to make well-informed decisions. These concerns are important motivational factors behind why the Government have chosen to introduce the teaching excellence framework and why it featured in the Conservative manifesto in 2015.

I understand that some noble Lords may feel that we have not listened to their concerns. I assure them that we have listened closely, considered carefully and responded thoroughly. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for his words and the general spirit in which this Bill has been handled across the Chamber so far.

Noble Lords expressed concern that the speed of implementation was too fast. In response, the Minister Jo Johnson committed to further piloting subject-level TEF for an additional year. Two full years of piloting is in line with the best practice demonstrated in the development of the REF. As with the REF pilots, these will be genuine pilots, involving a small number of volunteer institutions, with no public release of individual results and no impact on fees or reputation. Noble Lords expressed concerns, too, about the metrics and ratings and whether both would be interpreted appropriately. I shall return to this point later in my speech but, just briefly, the Minister has responded by committing to a comprehensive lessons-learned exercise, following the trial year that is already under way, to explicitly consider all those points.

I say again that we have listened and we have responded—but we must keep sight of the intended purpose of this policy. On that note, I turn to Amendments 62 to 66, 88 and 93 from my noble friend the Duke of Wellington. I reflected carefully on the point that my noble friend made about the use of the word “assessment” instead of “rating” in the drafting of the Bill. However, while these amendments are well intentioned, an assessment without an outcome will neither help to better inform students nor provide the incentives needed to elevate the status of teaching in our system.

I note that my noble friend raised the issue of the sector, specifically Warwick, buying into the TEF only because of the link to fees. However, I can cite contrasting views. I will quote no less an institution than Cambridge University as an example of the type of comments sent to us by the sector. We need to establish a balance here. Cambridge University states:

“Cambridge welcomes the Government’s desire to recognise teaching excellence, and supports the continued emphasis on a higher education system that embeds principles of diversity, choice and quality”.


I will expand on those points by turning to Amendment 72, which also features in this group and was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. Amendment 72 goes even further than the amendments suggested by my noble friend the Duke of Wellington and would turn the TEF into a pass or fail system. This amendment overlooks the fact that we already have a system that determines whether or not providers have or have not met baseline minimum expectations: it is run by HEFCE and the QAA and is called the quality assessment regime. It plays a critical role in maintaining standards and we do not need another system to do the same thing.

What the TEF offers is differentiation. In order to be eligible for a TEF rating of any kind, a provider must be meeting the baseline standards expected of a UK higher education provider. Therefore, a provider must at least “meet expectations” before they can receive a bronze award. Let me be clear that receiving a bronze award is not a badge of failure, as has been suggested by noble Lords today and during recent debates, including in Committee. I strongly reassure noble Lords that we are working closely with the British Council, Universities UK International and others to ensure that a provider that attains a bronze is recognised globally for its achievement. However, the Government are not complacent about the worries and concerns that—

Higher Education and Research Bill

Lord Oxburgh Excerpts
Report: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 15th March 2017

(7 years, 3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Higher Education and Research Act 2017 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 97-IV Fourth marshalled list for Report (PDF, 89KB) - (13 Mar 2017)
Baroness Brown of Cambridge Portrait Baroness Brown of Cambridge
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 166 and support the other amendments in this group, which focus primarily on ensuring that Innovate UK—a very important business-facing council which is joining a group of academic research councils in UKRI—retains its unique character, strong business focus and ability to act in different and innovative ways. Innovate UK is, for good reason, a very different organisation to the other research councils.

My Amendment 166 goes beyond the earlier proposal for senior independent members. I was delighted to hear the Minister’s response on that, and I very much welcome the approach he will take on senior independent members. My amendment proposes that Innovate UK retains a non-executive chair and that a person appointed to the role be a senior figure from business.

Most of Innovate UK’s funding goes to companies, not to universities or research institutes. This funding is used to support innovative and strongly product and process-focused research and demonstration. Innovate UK’s support has direct economic benefit and will be all the more critical as we exit the EU, with a change in relationship to the industry-focused programmes of Horizon 2020. Innovate needs to retain its strong business voice, both inside UKRI and, critically, also outside it. That voice will be very much amplified if Innovate is chaired by a leading industrial figure and has a majority of business members on the board. This is the purpose of Amendment 166.

Government Amendments 173 and 183 are enormously welcome, recognising the need for UKRI and Innovate to be able to provide a wide range of forms of support to new products and companies, which could include investing in and forming companies as well as giving grants and loans, reinforcing Innovate’s role in supporting UK business—as indicated in Amendment 183. I beg to move.

Lord Oxburgh Portrait Lord Oxburgh (CB)
- Hansard - -

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 173A. On the face of it, it appears that the provision, under “Supplementary powers”, in paragraph 16(3)(b) of Schedule 9 prevents the research councils from doing a number of things that are important to their fundamental function. Clearly, they should be able to continue to do them. I hope the Minister will be able either to explain to us that this amendment is unnecessary because of provisions elsewhere in the Bill that I have not spotted or to accept that this is something that needs to be changed.

Lord Broers Portrait Lord Broers
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I have put my name to Amendment 173A. Although the wording of the amendment does not say it, this applies especially to Innovate UK. In its functions, Innovate UK very often has to collaborate and work with industry, so it would seem unnecessary to forbid it from setting up joint ventures.