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Mr. Touhig: My hon. Friend is being extremely generous in giving way. I cannot quite get my head around this. Is he saying that if Sir Adrian Webbs report finally recommends that FE colleges should have the power to award degrees, an Order in Council will be forthcoming to allow that? What is the difference between doing that and the Government agreeing to this amendment?
Huw Irranca-Davies: Yes, an Order in Council would indeed be necessary. Section 76 of the Further and Higher Education Act 1992 needs to be amended, and it would be amended by a National Assembly for Wales measure, followed by an Order in Council, which would be fully scrutinised here. My right hon. Friend asks what the difference is between that and accepting the amendment. In my concluding remarks, I will draw attention to the consultation that is taking place, and how this debate and Members can feed into that directly. If he will bear with me, I hope to deal with his question as I proceed, along with many of the other concerns that were raised.
On the cross-border implications of the current provision and the question raised by the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings, I can confirm that Welsh colleges will still be able to offer foundation degrees through current collaborative work with HE. He also asked when English colleges are likely to be given foundation degree-awarding powers. We understand that it might be a couple of years before they are given such powers. Importantly, that gives the Assembly time to consider the review and to make legislative changes, if necessary.
As I said in my opening remarks, there is a clear and overt policy in Reaching Higher on degree-awarding powers, which was reiterated in The Learning Country in 2006. That policy makes it clear that Welsh FE colleges should not currently have degree-awarding powers, but should instead work in collaboration. The policy has been evaluated by independent research, and the SQW study to which I referred has shown how well it is working. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings also asked what our plans are for foundation degrees in Wales over the next year. The independent review of FE reviewed their role in a wide context, including in the delivery of HE.
Numerous other issues were raised. On the demand for degree-awarding powers, we anticipate that between one and three colleges will want such powersbut who knows? As the hon. Gentleman said, more might want such powers in time to come; however, they can work through the collaborative process. The hon. Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather) asked about the discussion of foundation degrees with external stakeholders. Welsh Assembly Government Ministers have, and always have had, regular meetings with Fforwm and Higher Education Wales. Additionally, Welsh Assembly Government officers meet regularly to brief Fforwm, Higher Education Wales and others.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas), drew attention to the importance of the FE sector but to the disadvantages to Wrexham, Denbighshire, Flintshire and other parts of Waleswhat he referred to as scouse Wales. He was absolutely right. He also drew attention to the excellence of the FE sector in Walesquite rightwhich gives us a good basis for moving forward. Before the debate, he was
kind enough to provide me with the statistics to which he referred. They show how much ground we have to cover, but, as he will acknowledge, they also show just how far we have travelled in meeting our aspirations for higher and further education in places such as Vale of Glamorgan, Ceredigion, Pembrokeshire, Conwy and Gwynedd.
Questions were asked about consultation with Welsh MPs. In terms of the overall outcomes sought in the debatewidening participation, excellence and economic inputWelsh policy goals are closely aligned with those of the UK. However, due to the currently fragmented institutional structure of HE in Wales, the focus of implementation has been on collaboration between institutions, including HE and FE consortiums. That allows further and higher education colleges to exploit economies of scope and scale to deliver those benefits.
Members have expressed concern about the possible future use of degree-awarding powers and about particular geographic areas in Wales. One of the terms of reference of the independent review of further education in Wales is the role of the FE sector in the delivery of HE. The review will consult widely on that topic. The reference group includes strong FE representation to ensure that the sector can gather evidence to inform and direct the review, and the principals of Coleg Menai and Coleg Llandrillo sit on the group. Additionally, Fforwm has already formally met the review panel, carried out research and produced a large number of papers.
How can our debate inform the review? Point 11 of the terms of reference of the review relates to the role of the sector in the delivery of higher education, including the establishment of schools, FE and HE consortiums. I can assure all my colleagues and Opposition Members who have contributed to the debate that following a discussion this morning with Sir Adrian Webb, who is leading the independent review, I will undertake to make sure that MPs can directly feed into the review so that the outcomes in the autumn are informed not only by consultation in Wales but by the input of Members in this place. I give that undertaking to Members on both sides of the House.
I congratulate the Welsh Assembly on its full and thorough approach to policy development. The independent review is a good example of how it is engaging stakeholders. On that basis, and the offer I have made to Members to feed into the consultation, I urge the hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. Hayes: I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you, like me, have travelled to a destination that you have not previously visited, without a map, and have desperately tried to find the right route. I have wound down the window of my car and sought advice from a local, but having received it I was more lost than when I began. So it has been with the Minister. He was like the man giving advice.
We are no clearer than we were 10 minutes ago about precisely how things are likely to proceed. We are no clearer about whether the Welsh Assembly requires an Order in Council in this place to grant the degree-awarding powers that many Welsh colleges want.
Huw Irranca-Davies: I hope that I have clarified all those issues, including the use of Orders in Council, but I would be more than happy to write to the hon. Gentleman and all hon. Members to set out exactly how things will work if it is still not clear.
Mr. Hayes: The hon. Gentleman says that he has clarified the issues. He was asked by one of his hon. Friendsno less a personage than a former Secretary of State for Wales, the right hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy)whether an Order in Council was necessary, and he said that the measure would not preclude an Order in Council. We learn later in his remarks that an Order in Council is indeed a prerequisite of the National Assembly for Wales granting degree-awarding powers. We heard from the Minister in Committee that colleges in Wales did not seek the capacity to award foundation degrees, yet we heard from various Members who contributed to the debate not only that they do indeed seek that power, but that they warrant it and deserve it.
We heard from the former Secretary of State and other Welsh Members, including the Ministers immediate predecessor, that this matter has not been handled well. Indeed, I would go further and say that it has not been handled properly. We heard the former Ministerthe hon. Member for Carmarthen, West and South Pembrokeshire (Nick Ainger)say that he was now somewhat embarrassed with what he was obliged to say in Committee, because he was not aware of the views of Welsh colleges or their representative organisations when he gave that advice. He has behaved with great honesty in revealing that to the House today. Yet the Minister stands by his argument that we should not accept these amendments.
As the hon. Gentleman said, much the easiest way to deal with this matter simply and straightforwardly would be for the Government to accept these amendments. However, they remain dogged and stubborn in their determination to stand on ground that is looking increasingly shaky. The Minister has given extremely poor advice to those who seek a destination that, as I have said, Welsh colleges warrant, want and deserve: equivalent status to English colleges and the capacity to award foundation degrees if they wish to do so and can meet strict criteria. It is quite wrong that we should treat Welsh colleges in such a way. It is quite wrong that we should set up two standardsone for Wales and one for Englandand it is quite wrong that we should leave teachers and learners disadvantaged. Therefore I will seek to press the amendment to a Division to test the Houses opinion, to find out whether the House agrees with those Welsh colleges and those hon. Members who have spoken bravely, honourably and persuasively on their behalf.
(ii) arranges for progression to one or more courses of more advanced study which have been confirmed in writing by at least one institution mentioned in subsection (1)(a) or one body awarding advanced professional qualifications, and
(b) the institution as a condition of that order continues to secure guaranteed arrangements for progression to one or more courses of advanced study which have been confirmed in writing by at least one institution mentioned in subsection (1)(a) or body awarding advanced professional qualifications;
(6A) Any institution specified as competent to grant only the kind of award mentioned in subsection (2A) shall not grant such an award to a person unless he was enrolled at the institution at the time he completed the course of study for which the award is granted..
Adam Afriyie: I am pleased to address the House from the Front Bench for the first time. Having come to the Front Bench in the past few days and to the amendment in the past few hours, I look forward to your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and will try to behave myself under your watchful eye.
In principle, we fully support further education institutions being given the power to award degrees. Having read through the Hansard reports of the proceedings in the Lords and in Committee, it seems to me that this is perhaps one of the most controversial aspects of the Bill. Amendment No. 24 seeks to clarify the award-making criteria and secure progression from foundation degrees to advanced professional qualifications. In addition, it seeks to embed the advertising of courses and qualification progress in the new arrangements.
There is no doubt that colleges throughout the country do good work for students and for the economy. The dedication of principals, heads, senior managers and teachers is to be commended and should be recognised. With foundation degrees and through further education institutions, a door has been opened to educational and career achievement which was once firmly closed. Our amendment seeks to build on those opportunities by securing partnerships with the higher education institutions, securing the quality of progression, and ensuring that the information is available to students and to businesses to enable them to make clear choices about the courses in which they invest.
Let us be clear. Further education is important to widen access, to broaden the choices available to students, and to deepen the level of vocational skills in the economy and available to employers. The 20-year history of further education is a proud one. With potentially 60,000 certificated graduates this year, we must not jeopardise foundation degree status by failing to define clearly the requirements for further education institutions to achieve award-granting powers, especially if we wish to increase the number of students graduating to 100,000 or more in the next few years, which is the aim of Ministers.
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