Government U-turn on higher education bill

The government has announced amendments  of their proposed bill of reforms of higher education, U-turning on their original omission of student representation in the proposed Office for Students.

The amendment requires of the new Office for Students that “at least one of the ordinary members must have experience of representing or promoting the interests of individual students, or students generally, on higher education courses provided by higher education providers.”

This announcement follows months of opposition to the bill and its lack of student representation from student campaigners. The National Union of Students (NUS) encouraged students to email Universities Minister Jo Johnson an “application form for the job of Chair of the Office for Students.”

Wes Streeting, Labour MP and former NUS President, said in September that there was a “great irony” in the bill being focused around the Office for Students and having “absolutely nothing for students in it.”

Responding to the government’s amendments, the NUS have said they are glad that the demands for inclusion of student representation have been heard, but that they retain the majority of their concerns over the bill’s impact.

Sorana Vieru, NUS Vice President, said that “the original omission of a student from an office named after us showed the government’s plans for what they really are – driving market competition and not ensuring student needs are met.”

Vieru added that “the amendments show how students can have an impact and influence change if we work together.”

Nick Hillmann the Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) said that it would be hard to find fault with the Department of Education’s changes, however, “anyone who thinks the new amendments remove all the controversy around the legislation should look again.”

UEA’s Undergraduate Education Officer Theo Antoniou-Phillips said “It was clearly ridiculous that for months the Government was refusing to involve students in the Office for Students.”

He described the amendment as being “a welcome change,” but noted that there are still many other aspects of the bill the SU is unhappy with.

The bill is expected to face mass opposition from the House of Lords, where the government does not have a majority.

Antoniou-Phillips said “we’ll be working on lobbying Lords to insert new clauses,” including a student bill of rights and opposing fee increases’ dependency  on the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

A spokesperson for UEA said the university believes “it is important for students to be properly represented.”


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January 2022
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