Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I do not want to detain the Committee at this late hour but I do think that Clause 18 is a classic example of hurried drafting without proper consideration. It will not stand for more than two or three years. The problems to which it leads in terms of challenge, definition, and so on, are extremely large. The further incursion into the autonomy of universities, which this implies, following the major incursions suffered under the previous government, is extremely unfortunate. It stems from over-hasty government reaction to the publication of the Dearing Report. It is sadly mistaken. Clearly, we shall have to come back to the matter at Report stage and Third Reading.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 110:

Page 14, line 14, at end insert--
(""course", where it appears in subsection (4) or (5), does not include any part-time course or any postgraduate course other than a course of initial teacher training;").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Perry of Southwark moved Amendment No. 111:

Page 14, line 14, at end insert--
(""connected", in relation to two higher education institutions, means that one institution controls the other; for which purpose a person controls an institution if that person has

22 Jan 1998 : Column 1732

the power to secure, by virtue of any powers conferred by the instrument of government or other document regulating that or any other institution, that the affairs of the first-mentioned institution are conducted in accordance with the wishes of that person.").

The noble Baroness said: Before I speak to the amendment, I should point out that I did not agree to the groupings and I am not quite sure why this amendment is grouped with Amendment No. 117, although both in different ways test the extent of control. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, may wish to present his as a separate amendment.

The purpose of Amendment No. 111 is to add to Clause 18(7) some definition of the word "connected". At present the financial penalties which could be imposed on a university charging top-up fees would extend also to top-up fees being charged by,

    "any college, school, hall or other institution connected with the institution".

For a definition of "connected" we must go to Clause 19, which imports a definition of the term "connected institution" into the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, and states that "connected institution" means any,

    "college, school, hall or other institution which the Council in question are satisfied has a sufficient connection with that institution for the purposes of that subsection",

which I suggest leaves with the funding council or the Secretary of State a rather vague decision as to what that connection is meant to be and how much control is exercised by one institution over another.

My assumption is that the clause as it stands is intended inter alia to apply to the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge on the basis that each of those universities is connected with all the colleges in the university. The amendment would negate that intention, making the point that the colleges and universities are constitutionally independent bodies without control over one another.

Rather than seeming totally parochial in the sense of speaking only about the two universities of Oxford and Cambridge, I raise the concern also that the connection could apply to many other universities; for example, to those many universities which validate other colleges' courses and work. Courses can be "franchised" into other institutions. Undoubtedly, the validating or franchising university then controls, in academic terms, the work of the other institution, but it has absolutely no control over the financial activities of that other institution. I respectfully suggest that it is both unreasonable and unjust for conditions to be imposed on a university with which it has not the power to ensure compliance, especially when the penalty for non-compliance could potentially put the whole of its grant from the funding council at risk.

I hope very much that the Minister will accept that my college does not find it unreasonable--nor, I am confident, do any of the other Cambridge colleges--that the Government as a matter of policy should seek to prevent universities charging top-up fees. I strongly support the principle that access to higher education should be on the ground of merit only and not on the ability to pay. However, the Government cannot ignore

22 Jan 1998 : Column 1733

the interaction of that policy with the existence of the college fees at Oxford and Cambridge; nor can they properly ignore the constitutional independence of the colleges which, for a long time, have charged for the tuition which they provide and which, in a fair number of cases, are constrained by their own statutes to charge fees for tuition at levels estimated sufficiently to fund their tuition accounts.

I know that discussions with the Government between Oxford and Cambridge universities in relation to college fees are continuing and I assure the Minister that, as far as the colleges are concerned, top-up fees are simply not on the agenda--that is, top-up fees in the sense of fees paid by students out of their own resources in addition to the £1,000 now being introduced. I hope that the Government will be willing to rely on the good faith of the colleges in this matter, but if they are unwilling so to do, I respectfully suggest that they must introduce legislation which addresses the matter of the colleges, and not of the totally separate and independent universities which, as I said, have no control over their financial matters.

Sadly, I think that this legislation has not been properly thought through and, in this specific case, more consultation with universities and colleges is necessary. It is not the business of this Committee to put through legislation which has been hastily prepared and which would be extremely oppressive and contrary to natural justice. I beg to move.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: To save the time of the Committee I shall speak also to Amendment No. 117 as these amendments concern related subjects. They relate to the problem of defining how far the concepts of connection and fees extend. We are in considerable difficulty on this Bill. Clause 20 states,

    "'fees' means tuition, enrolment or other fees payable".

As the Minister well knows, there is a great deal of nervousness about how one is going to be able to define that in practice. My children have attended a comprehensive school for the past few years and I am aware that all state schools have encountered increasing difficulty over what is a compulsory charge and what is a voluntary charge, as the Government have attempted to tighten that up. We are about to go down the same road with higher education institutions. There is a tremendous quagmire here which needs to be addressed. I understand that the Government have been in discussion on this with the CVCP and that the Government may bring forward an amendment at a later stage to clarify the situation. I merely wish to underline that that is extremely important if we are not to have a whole host of knock-on cases once this Bill becomes law.

Lord Whitty: These two amendments seek to redefine a connection in two almost diametrically opposed directions. The amendment of the noble Baroness seeks narrowly to define a connection. As far as I can see, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, would extend and tie down a connection. We may need to look at the precise wording here. In so

22 Jan 1998 : Column 1734

far as the amendment of the noble Baroness is designed primarily to deal with Oxford and Cambridge, it would define a connection far too narrowly, were it not to allow for the reality that the relationship between the universities and the colleges in Oxford and Cambridge is indeed a connection in the terms of this Bill. It is virtually inconceivable that those two universities and their colleges could live without each other. As I say, the effect of this amendment would be to exclude the colleges from the constraints on top-up fees which would destroy much of the intention of this Bill.

People outside this Chamber would find it difficult to comprehend why such colleges should be exempt from conditions on controlling top-up fees. In the current academic year public funding for teaching per student is £5,800 in Oxford and Cambridge compared with an average of £4,000 elsewhere. I think it is well known that Oxford and Cambridge take disproportionately more students from private than from state schools. If the amendment were accepted and colleges started to charge top-up fees--I accept that very often it does not appear the intention of those colleges to do that--clearly Oxbridge would become increasingly the preserve of the rich rather than of the excellent.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: I hope the Minister will forgive me for intervening even though I know it is late and we want to get on. However, the Minister has misunderstood what I said. We are not in any sense attempting by this amendment to exclude the colleges from the provisions of the Bill. What I said quite clearly was that we would hope that the Government would address the question of how to penalise the colleges should they charge top-up fees and not try to penalise the university which has no control over what the colleges do. Of course they are connected in many, many ways, in the same way that universities which validate the courses of other colleges and which franchise courses to other colleges are connected. The point is that the university has no control over the financial matters of colleges by statute; they are Royal chartered institutions and many of them have a duty to charge fees. The amendment seeks to detach the university from penalties as a result of the colleges' actions. Let the colleges be penalised for their actions, not the university.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page