Jo Johnson announces HE Bill Amendments

daily-buzz-480Today, the Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation addressed the Universities UK members’ conference at London’s Woburn House.

In his speech, Jo Johnson spoke about the next phase of the Higher Education and Research Bill, coinciding with the publication of a factsheet by the Department of Education summarising the amendments and intentions for the Higher Education and Research Bill, titled Amendments tabled ahead of Lords report stage

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Jo Johnson highlighted the co-creation element of the reforms, and its ‘spirit of partnership’ as it goes under ‘unparalleled scrutiny and debate’ in Parliament. He announced that he will be bringing forward amendments to the bill which will enable ‘the system to respond to needs for more flexible provision’ which will help improve opportunity and access to HE, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.


Accelerated degrees

He also announced ‘a commitment to encourage universities to offer more 2-year courses’ for those that want to ‘retrain and enter the workplace faster than a traditional full-time 3-year degree would permit’. He added that,

By giving the Secretary of State the ability to set higher annual fee limits in respect solely of accelerated courses that are higher than their standard equivalent, this amendment will mark a step change in how students in this country can learn, increasing choice in our system, and opening up opportunities to more people than ever before.    

He quickly clarified that ‘the cost for a student taking an accelerated course which is subject to the new fee caps will never be more, overall, than that of the same course over a longer time period.’


Credit transfer

The Minister also announced that Government has ‘tabled amendments to the bill that will drive real change in the way in which providers and students consider the issue of switching university or course.’  He said that the OfS will be made responsible of monitoring and reporting on the provision of arrangements for student transfer, and that amendments will be made to ‘confer a power on the OfS to facilitate, encourage, or promote awareness of, arrangements for student transfer’.


Diversity of choice 

Also announced was an amendment ‘to the OfS’s duties which specifies that the choice duty includes choice amongst a diverse range of types of provider, higher education courses, and means by which they are provided (such as accelerated courses, part-time study or distance learning)’.  This means that the higher education regulator  would be required by law to consider ‘different forms of learning’.  The aim of this, he said, was to increase opportunity and promote social mobility.


Access and Participation 

Facilitated by the bill, the commitment to increase the number of BME students by 20% and double the proportion of those from disadvantaged backgrounds, is underway.  Jo Johnson outlined what is already being done to achieve this ambition:

He said, ‘We are already:

  • ‘mainstreaming consideration of equality of opportunity by the OfS, as one of its core duties
  • ‘extending the powers of the Director for Fair Access to ensure that universities are doing all they can to support students throughout their courses, not just in accessing higher education, by helping to tackle drop-out rates and support disadvantaged students into employment
  • ‘enabling an alternative student finance product for the first time, consistent with the principles of Islamic finance, to ensure that participation and choice are open to all
  • ‘putting a statutory duty on certain providers to publish application, offer, acceptance and completion rates by gender, ethnic background and socio-economic background.’

Additionally, an amendment to require providers to publish attainment data’ was tabled.



It was announced that an amendment tabled by Lord Stevenson will ‘place on the sector regulatory a requirement to have regard to institutional autonomy’ and that:

As universities are rightly autonomous institutions they must continue to be free to determine how best to meet the needs of their students, employers and support wider society. It should not be for government to define a university’s characteristics and impose wide-ranging obligations in statute.

Jo Johnson also confirmed that they have ‘tabled amendments that will guarantee amongst other things that the standards against which providers are assessed are the standards that are determined by, and command the confidence of, the higher education sector’.


Teaching Excellence Framework

In his speech, the Minister responded to concerns over metrics used to measure excellence, and has reiterated that the TEF will develop over time and regularly reviewed.  He recognised the complexity and challenge of developing a subject-level TEF, and thus announced the decision to ‘extend the pilot phase of subject-level TEF by an additional year, putting back the commencement of subject-level TEF assessments to TEF year 5′.


Market entry

Jo Johnson reassured those concerned about standards of new providers that the ‘quality threshold for [them] will be set high’ and that they will absolutely ‘not risk the reputation of the sector as a whole’ nor the ‘livelihoods of students by permitting poor-quality providers’.  Thus, the OfS now ‘must take expert advice into account when awarding, varying or revoking DAPs’.

Of course, the level of how the OfS will take this advice ‘into account’ is yet to be seen.


Innovation and research 

Last but not least, the Minister confirmed Government’s commitment to supporting R&D, as well as a commitment to the Haldane Principle which is now ‘enshrined’ in law for ‘the first time’.

In terms of the governance of UKRI, the Minister said:

Recognising the vital role that charities play in the UK research endeavour – we are making it clear that experience of the charitable sector should be on the list of criteria government must consider when making appointments to the UKRI Board. We have also tabled an amendment to increase the upper limit for council members from 9 to 12 (in addition to the Executive Chair), which will allow for greater flexibility in managing the breadth of activity required by each council.

One of the strengths of UKRI is that it will bring together academic research with the business-led research funded by Innovate UK. To clarify and underscore Innovate UK’s distinctive business-facing mission, we are introducing a new requirement for the organisation to have regard to the need to promote innovation by businesses and strengthening the existing requirement to support those engaged in business activities. We are also making it clearer that UKRI can with permission enter into joint ventures, invest in companies and other innovative financial arrangements, all of which will help researchers and innovative businesses develop their ideas.


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