|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
There is a second reason why I think this matter is important. The first reason was to do with a fair deal for the student. The second is to do with the assurance of quality. It is an assurance to me that the FE college must have an arrangement with an institution of higher education before it can offer a foundation degree. That seems to me a very important assurance that this foundation degree is of the nature of a degree in higher education in the United Kingdom. That is very important to every institution and to the nation given, as we recognised, the importance of the brand, which is not only worth billions of pounds a year in foreign exchange earnings but in attracting a good share of the ablest people in the world into our institutions. I see this as an assurance and one that I want to see going beyond the six years. As I understood what the Minister said, there will be a thorough check after six years, but thereafter it will be within the powers of the Privy Council to give an indefinite award. I want to be sure that when that happens, it is nevertheless a requirement that there should be an articulation arrangement with at least one university for every course; otherwise, the student will be short-changed and will be at risk.
I am concerned about this being a thin end of a wedge. Things do not stand still. As I recall, the polytechnics served an apprenticeship of 20 years to get their degree-awarding powers. Until then, they were under the guidance of the CNAA. But they got those powers. Now we have a situation in which it was
27 Feb 2007 : Column 1549
I am well content with what the Minister said on my amendment with regard to the students voice and the review. I listened to what the Minister said on the other two points. He has gone a long way to meet me. I should like to read precisely what he said on franchising; I hope to be fully reassured.
On my last point on articulation, which I saved to the end, this is an enduring concern which goes beyond six years. It is an issue on which I may ask the House to listen to me again at Third Reading.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I can hardly believe that it is 14 years since the publication of the report of the Hamlyn Foundations National Education Commission, which I was privileged to chair. At that time we were very concerned about a number of issues relating to higher and further education. There has been a series of major developments since that time which are to be warmly commended. One of the things that we recommended at the time was the establishment of learning and skills councils. We also recommended that there should be a progressive move to a greater degree of parity of esteem as between academic and vocational qualifications. The further education sector has done a wonderful job in those intervening 14 years in providing proper standards of vocational education for many individuals who would not otherwise have benefited from that kind of educational experience.
But it is fair to recognise that there is considerable anxietywhich I know will soon be articulated by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwickin the university sector about the powers which this clause will now grant to further education colleges. The foundation degree launched in 2001 was always intended to provide a vocationally focused and academically rigorous route into higher education with built-in progression opportunities for foundation degree students who wanted to progress to honours degree level. There has been a rapid growth in foundation degree delivery, largely achieved through extensive and successful collaboration between higher and further education institutions. The universities have pointed out that more than 60,000 foundation degree students were registered by 2006 but that no university provided validation of those degrees without also providing tuition either directly or through a franchise agreement. The problem that I
27 Feb 2007 : Column 1550
FE colleges do not currently have the power to award any other nationally recognised qualifications in their own right but only through recognised awarding bodies such as City and Guilds and BTEC. This clause will create an anomaly whereby FE colleges will be able to award HE-level qualifications but not those at FE level. Many HEIs have invested heavily in building collaborative relationships with FE colleges. These may be put at risk if they are in competition with each other over foundation degree programmes. I and many others who have a lifetimes involvement in the university sector have concerns about the whole principle articulated in Clause 19. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, put the case very well and was very persuasive but I still cannot overcome those reservations about awarding foundation degree-awarding powers to FE colleges, whatever work the Quality Assessment Agency undertakes before they are given that power. I have concerns about the principles in Clause 19.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I thank the Government, the Minister, and in particular Bill Rammell for the genuine efforts that they have made over the past few weeks to listen to our concerns and those of interested organisations and for coming forward with amendments to address these points.
There is no doubt that the government amendments improve Clause 19 considerably and address many of the concerns of Peers and outside groups. The draft guidance and explanatory material that the Government recently provided has informed and advanced the debate in many areas.
We are very happy that the Government have decided to accept our recommendation that a report is laid before Parliament four years after the powers in this clause are implemented. This will give us an opportunity to scrutinise whether these safeguards have been sufficient, and to consider whether more are needed, or whether the proposals we are looking at today are enough. That will also do much to reassure people that the Governments commitments on secondary legislation, which were given today and at other stages, are being effectively implemented. One of these ensures that the Privy Council will specify that further education institutions may only award foundation degrees for a period of six years before undergoing a comprehensive review by the QAA, prior to being considered suitable for awarding these powers in perpetuity. This review is critical and I would welcome any additional assurances that the Minister can offer on the rigour and thoroughness of the review. It is necessary to maintain the standards of foundation degrees and to ensure their continuing
27 Feb 2007 : Column 1551
Similarly, we are glad that the Government have tabled amendments to allow the Privy Council to restrict the abilities of further education institutions to accredit foundation degrees in other institutions. This franchising of the accrediting power has caused real concern, because of the enormous damage it could do to the foundation degree brand in a short time. Again, the Governments reassurances that these powers will not be given until an institution has successfully completed its six-year review period will do much to restore faith in this clause.
However, there is still one point on which we do not believe the Government have fully appreciated the strength of feeling. It has already been mentioned in other speeches: the relationship between higher education and further education, and progression from one end to the other of a foundation degree. The Government have assured us that they understand that this is one of the principal motivations for students undertaking a foundation degree, and have given some assurances about the continuing importance of articulation agreements between higher and further education, in order to ensure a good fit between the courses. On these Benches, we do not believe that it is enough.
We fully support the principle behind proposed new subsection (6B) in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, in his amendment on this clause. Putting the continuing progression from foundation degrees to honours degrees in the Bill is a necessary step for maintaining important relationships and to ensure the further success of foundation degrees. An unequivocal sign that a foundation degree is a higher education-level qualification, with commensurate standards of course content, teacher quality and the chance to convert the qualification into a level 6 honours degree, with the equivalent one more year of full-time study, is indispensable. Without this safeguard, this clause could still lead to the eventual development of two tiers of foundation degree, with those awarded by a higher education institution being considered more credible than those awarded by a further education college. This is something that must be guarded against at all costs.
To put a requirement for ensuring progression in the Bill will introduce nothing that the Government have not already committed to in secondary legislation, but will address one of the last serious concerns that we on these Benches, and many elsewhere, have. I hope that the Minister will be able to continue in the spirit of engagement with this debate, and will ensure us that he will consider this point and bring back an amendment that encapsulates this principle at Third Reading.
One of the great pleasures of debating this Bill has been speaking to many wonderful people whom we have in the further education sector. I have spoken to a number of principals, who say that you have to be aware that people going into foundation degrees are working, and studying part-time. Quite often, they
27 Feb 2007 : Column 1552
Although I understand the desire to consult students, there is some concern in further education colleges over which students will be consulted. Will it be those who are already doing foundation degrees, or those who are doing other things, but may think about going on to degrees? Will this consultation be binding on the council of governors? It is very important that when a further education college has gone to a great deal of work and effort to put something in place, it cannot be overturned at a whim by somebody who may not even consider going on to do a foundation degree.
I would also like the Minister to clarify something for the Association of Colleges sister organisation in Wales, fforwm. There was some confusion during the debate in the Welsh Assembly on this Bill as to whether Clause 26 was sufficient to allow the Welsh Assembly to enact similar legislation to enable Welsh colleges to award their own degrees. Although many Welsh Assembly Members thought that it would be, surely the Welsh Assembly has not been given the power to amend the Further and Higher Education Act 1992, and so has no ability to extend the Privy Councils remit to cover Welsh further education colleges. Is this the case and, if so, can the Minister explain why the Government have not thought it necessary to extend the same potential to Welsh colleges as they have to English collegesor, indeed, have they overlooked that?
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, I rise to support Amendment No. 43, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and to welcome Amendments Nos. 41, 42 and 44, tabled by the Minister. In so doing, I declare my interest as chief executive of Universities UK.
Since the Bill was published I have greatly appreciated the way Ministers and noble Lords from across the House have been willing to engage in really constructive debate about how Clause 19 could be improved. I do not want, at this stage in our debate, to rehearse the reasons I gave at Second Reading for believing that the measures in Clause 19 are a mistake. We are where we are. I recognise that the real task before this House is to define the improvements to the Bill that will prevent unintended consequences, about which Iand many other Peershave had concerns.
As the Minister said, the two issues that have become the focus of attentionand which have been reaffirmed by virtually every speakerare addressed in Amendments Nos. 41 and 43, and relate to progression and the franchising of courses. I shall deal with franchising first. The Bill, as currently
27 Feb 2007 : Column 1553
It is clear from what my noble friend has said that the Government have accepted this. Indeed the Ministers amendment gives the Privy Council the power to exclude the right to authorise other institutions to grant awards on behalf of an institution newly in receipt of foundation degree-awarding powers. In the package of information published on 11 February it is made clearand the Minister reaffirmed thisthat the Privy Council will be advised to apply this restriction for the first six years only. As I understand it, at the end of that period a college will have to re-apply for foundation degree-awarding powers and the Privy Council will be encouraged to grant unlimited powers, both in terms of time and the right to franchise their courses.
I very much welcomed what my noble friend said in presenting his amendments. I can see why the Government have done this, but I do not, on reflection, believe that it goes far enough. The Government have made it clear from the outset that they envisage only a small number of colleges, which already deliver a large volume of foundation degrees and have substantial experience in this area, gaining these powers. I cannot believe that it was intended that the further education sector should, at any stage, be able to establish consortia whereby a small number of colleges validate foundation degrees in a wide range of partner colleges, effectively cutting universities out of the loop possibly across a whole region. That could happen; indeed, we have heard reports that that is already the intention of a group of London colleges.
The point is that this could increase the likelihood of the foundation degree becoming seen as a signature FE qualification, and yet the Government chose to call it a degree because they wanted the explicit link with universities. The evidence from Foundation Degree Forward confirms the importance of this for prospective students and employers. Welcome though the Ministers amendments are, as are his subsequent assurances, we need to go further and I support Amendment No. 43 of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, which would exclude in perpetuity the possibility of franchising by FE colleges.
On progression, the other major issue with which we have been dealing, other noble Lords have emphasised the importance of students on foundation degrees having concrete options for progression on to
27 Feb 2007 : Column 1554
The Minister has said that that is already secured through the current requirements of the academic infrastructure and, therefore, putting such a detail into primary legislation would be unnecessary. However, given the importance of this issue, which others have emphasisedand I can only reaffirmthe strength of feeling on it, and that academic infrastructure could very easily be subject to change over time without reference to this House, it would be helpful to put the matter beyond doubt. If the Minister has no objection to the principle, which he has re-affirmed, that progression should be embedded in the criteria for gaining foundation degree-awarding powers, I hope that he will not object to making that explicit on the face of the Bill, as has been urged by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Dearing.
Finally, and briefly, I welcome Amendment No. 44, which would ensure that the arrangements introduced by the Bill were subject to review after four years. I also welcome the statements in the material published by the Department for Education and Skills on 11 February to the effect that the draft criteria will be amended to time-limit the initial award of the new foundation degree-awarding powers to six years. Both steps seem eminently sensible.
I should like to record my thanks to the Minister for the way in which he has responded to our debates in Committee, has anticipated our arguments this evening and has given us further reassurances. We are making good progress and I hope that we can persuade him to go just a bit further on the issues of franchising and progression.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, we on these Benches have always supported the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, and note with pleasure the Governments intentions in relation to most of the matters within it. The guidance published in advance of this Report stage has been helpful. Noble Lords will note that we on these Benches have not re-tabled our amendments which sought to restrict award-making powers to particular courses or departments, given that we have been convinced during our consultations since Grand Committee that any college which reaches the quality required by the Privy Council would have sufficient internal quality control procedures to ensure that such a college was not likely to put on the market a degree from a weak department. The market would sort that out, anyway.
On progression, I shall not reiterate what has been said by three noble Lords, but we share their
27 Feb 2007 : Column 1555
I note that new subsection (6D) in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, is a sort of probationary period and I welcome the statement in the guidance that a college would have to be reviewed after six years, rather than four. It seems appropriate that the number of years should be consistent across the sector. But, from the point of view of the student, to have a foundation degree from an institution which, at the end of the probationary period, lost the power to award degrees, would call into question the validity of the degree that the student had already obtained. Is there any way of safeguarding the quality of that degree during the probationary period, should the institution not retain degree-awarding powers after the six-year period? Perhaps a mentor university could be appointed that could guarantee the quality of the degrees awarded during the probationary period.
In the interests of the student, some though will need to be given to that if that happens, because not every college will get through its probationary period and go on to be given powers to award foundation degrees in perpetuity. At least one or two could very well not make it, and we need to think about the degrees obtained by such students. Can the Minister consider that idea?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, like other speakers in this debate, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister and to the Minister of State for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education for taking part in a number of conversations on how we might improve Clause 19. As the Minister knows, I am unhappy about the introduction of this change by the Government, but, as my noble friend Lady Warwick has said, we are where we are, the pass has now been sold and those of us who were against the principle now have to think about how we qualify the measure to ensure that damage is not done.
At this stage, we need to focus on the commitment made by the Government at Second Reading, which has not yet emerged in this debate, to limit the number of FE colleges that would gain power to validate their own foundation degrees. It was said that that would involve only a very small number of colleges of the highest quality. That seems to have been forgotten in this debate.
We have had much discussion this evening on ensuring progression, on which I wish to say more, because I share the concerns expressed by other speakers. As they have said, we need to proceed with
27 Feb 2007 : Column 1556
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|