Peers at the House of Lords vote in favour of amendment securing universities’ autonomy

Yesterday, the Higher Education and Research Bill went through its first sitting at the Committee Stage in the House of Lords, with the next event scheduled for tomorrow.  Starting from the front of the Bill, any Lord with an interest can participate in detailed line by line examination of the Bill, working their way through to the end.

All clauses of the Bill must be agreed to, but most importantly discussion cannot be restricted in any way, nor can there be a time limit imposed.

Yesterday’s meeting, described as a ‘brief debate‘ by Lord Stevenson of Balmacara who led the debate, commenced at 3:07 in the afternoon and adjourned at 22:21, demonstrating just how much time and effort will be allocated to the Bill.  He ended the discussion by adding, ‘Government are determined to get this Bill through and they are showing no signs at all that they are sympathetic to any of the issues raised, even those by Members of the Minister’s own side’.

The first of 516 amendments debated was on the function of Universities:

“UK universities: functions

(1) UK universities are autonomous institutions and must uphold the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech.

(2) UK universities must ensure that they promote freedom of thought and expression, and freedom from discrimination.

(3) UK universities must provide an extensive range of high quality academic subjects delivered by excellent teaching, supported by scholarship and research, through courses which enhance the ability of students to learn throughout their lives.

(4) UK universities must make a contribution to society through the pursuit, dissemination, and application of knowledge and expertise locally, nationally and internationally; and through partnerships with business, charitable foundations, and other organisations, including other colleges and universities.

(5) UK universities must be free to act as critics of government and the conscience of society.”


It was said that ‘the Bill fails to understand the purposes of higher education’ and that ‘there is a danger that the new regulatory architecture, the new bodies and the revised research organisation will do real and permanent damage’ to UK HE.

The Lords voted in favour of the amendment by 248 to 221, with peers requesting universities are not forced to seek profit and also remain autonomous bodies.

After the event, a Department for Education spokesperson responded that ‘This bill will drive up the standard of teaching at universities, deliver greater competition and choice for students’ and that although the ‘result is disappointing, the parliamentary process is ongoing’.





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