Over 300 potential amendments to the bill were debated in the course of the public bill committee. No opposition amendments were passed, but a number of government amendments – mostly of a technical nature – have now been inserted into the bill. What the long hours of bill sessions did provide, however, was an opportunity to hear more from the Minister, Jo Johnson MP, about the policy intent behind some of the ideas put forward in the bill with further factsheets published to provide additional clarification.
Today's sessions will feature further discussions about the key areas of policy, and an opportunity to debate a slew of new amendments tabled by government, Labour and the SNP.
Last week's amendments tabled by the Secretary of State for Education represent a positive step in the right direction – particularly the amendments concerning a new duty for the Office for Students (OfS) to monitor the financial sustainability of the sector, restrictions on the Secretary of State's ability to frame guidance in relation to particular courses, and changes relating to the new body UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), including the addition of postgraduate training in UKRI's functions and the requirement for at least one UKRI board member to have experience of research, science or business in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
This is further evidence, on top of the reassurances given during committee stage, that government is listening to the concerns raised by universities, students and those working in the sector. But there is still a long way to go. Even if Report Stage fails to make much progress on key areas, we can expect serious and informed consideration of these matters when the bill passes shortly to the Lords (second reading, 6 December).
So what is it that Universities UK wants to see changed in the bill? There are seven areas where we believe there is more to be done:
Our briefing for MPs ahead of Report Stage goes into further detail on these points and why they matter for students, for society and for our members. The UK's autonomous universities are some of our most successful and ambitious institutions, with a strong track record of serving students and society well. Our job is to work with government and parliamentarians to ensure that the bill is properly amended to keep this the case.