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Slimmed down Queen’s speech: anything for universities?

Karmjit Kaur

Karmjit Kaur

Assistant Director, Political Affairs
Universities UK

​ It may have lacked the usual pomp and pageantry – and a majority party, but the Queen delivered her speech in Parliament earlier today reflecting Theresa May’s “humility and resolve” in her legislative programme for the next two years.

The speech is usually an ambitious programme outlining the winning political party’s manifesto. However, as anticipated, we heard a slimmed down programme, with some emblematic policies of the Conservative manifesto missing, and eight bills relating to Brexit and its implications for key industries.

The Great Repeal Bill is now the Repeal Bill and the government would seek the “best possible deal” for the UK for Brexit, with no reference to a “hard” Brexit. The content of the Bill however will echo the white paper from the previous parliament.  In terms of a best possible deal, a thriving university sector, that drives local economic growth and builds global connections, will be key to the UK making a long-term success of Brexit as we outline in our latest priorities document. British universities are the antidote to the UK's Brexit challenges, as Universities UK stated earlier this week.

When sifting through the mountain of Brexit legislation, we will want to see a preservation and building on regulatory and standards equivalence with other EU countries. A common regulatory framework has been a major enabler for research collaboration through providing certainty and consistency. It has provided a common set of rules to underpin EU funded research collaboration, including on intellectual property and the commercialisation of research. If the UK is to continue to collaborate with European partners and access research programmes, it will need to align with regulation relating to intellectual property and research commercialisation.

The accompanying legislation to the Repeal Bill will include new national policies on immigration and on trade and customs to implement an independent trade policy.  An immigration bill presents the government with an opportunity to ensure that the UK continues to welcome, with minimal barriers, talented EU students and staff. It will also be practically impossible for the government to consider a new immigration system without it being in the context of what a system should look like for all international workers and students.  

On a bill to implement an independent trade policy, there is an opportunity for the government to consider how higher education and research feature in discussions over any new international agreement post-Brexit. UUK has set out some initial thinking on this. There is also a significant opportunity to consider what further mechanisms might be developed to support international research collaboration above and beyond the frameworks already available.

While the Speech stopped short of legislation on counter-terrorism, it did announce a commission for countering extremism with the aim to tackle extremist ideology in society and on the internet and a review of the current counter-terrorism strategy.  Under current legislation, UK universities have a statutory duty to have 'due regard to the need to prevent individuals from being drawn into terrorism'. Universities take their role in preventing people from being drawn into terrorism extremely seriously and have strong partnerships with the police and security services.

The recent HEFCE report assessing the first year of universities’ response to the new statutory Prevent duty was clear that universities in England are fulfilling their duty and have strong policies and processes in place. The sector will continue to engage with any developments in this area, while stressing the importance that universities also remain spaces where controversial and sometimes offensive ideas can be explored and debated.

The speech also included plans to reform mental health legislation and we hope that the previous government’s green paper on children and young people’s mental health will be at the centre of any changes. Universities have an important role to play in the good mental health of our students and UUK launched a new programme on this with a vision and framework to be published later this year.

We are also working to join up schools, colleges, universities and routes into employment to ensure smooth transitions for our students. We know that we cannot replace specialist care but want to support the government in its role in strengthening the links with NHS and local community services and to fund services for higher education students and staff populations.

While the speech lacked a schools bill, the government wants to look at all options and encourages all stakeholders to help deliver good school places. Universities clearly have a role to play and UUK is considering how we ensure that universities’ partnerships and engagement with schools cover a broad set of practices which can maximise the sector’s role in raising aspirations, improve attainment and increase teacher ability and retention.

Finally, there was no reference in the speech to the manifesto commitment to review the tertiary education funding system in England, but the government will seek to make reforms to technical education including new institutes for technology and expansion of apprenticeships. The speech also referenced the continuation of the government’s industrial strategy which universities are engaging with.  

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jack robertson
jack robertson says:
3 July 2017 at 17:11

Nice Article