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Baroness Warnock: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. The colleges have their own charters and are entitled to do what they wish and act as they believe necessary, in many cases for their survival. It is easy to write off such issues as concerning only Oxford, Cambridge and Durham and as of no central importance to the Bill. But if the Bill is not clear, Oxford, Cambridge and Durham will be in real trouble. I share the college of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry. We would not wish to do that. Therefore, I strongly support clarification of the issue at the present time--and there is not much time left.

The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: My Lords, the universities of Staffordshire and Wolverhampton are well established in my diocese in the West Midlands. I therefore share the concern of other Members of this House and of the Minister that all colleges and universities in the UK should flourish equally and as a whole. However, I am among those who are not yet persuaded that to maintain the particular prerogatives of a college at Oxford or Cambridge is to detract from the distinctive ethos and excellence of other colleges and universities elsewhere. I am among those who fear that

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if by any means extra funds which an Oxford or Cambridge college at present receives are removed or drastically reduced, such colleges are in danger of becoming the preserve of the well off.

That point was made in another debate in your Lordships' House by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford. Sooner or later, some of the colleges in the ancient universities may be obliged to charge more, thereby becoming a club for the wealthy. That would mean excluding students who are now there on their academic ability simply because their parents would not be able to afford the extra fees. It would sad if colleges in the ancient universities became clubs for the relatively well off, with all that that could imply for future jobs and careers in this country. There would be an accentuation of the worst kind of elitism.

I therefore support the amendment, with the background of being identified with the establishment of new universities in my region, but in the hope that a way can be found of safeguarding the historic diversity and character of our colleges and universities on the basis of academic ability alone.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I support my noble friend's amendment and what has been said by my noble friend Lord Renfrew and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lichfield. The right reverend Prelate had a wonderful ability to show support for the amendment while at the same time understanding the relationship between the old institutions and the rest of the university sector.

A pincer movement appears to be making almost impossible the survival of some of the colleges. That is the only point I wish to make in supporting the amendment. It was November when the Department for Education and Employment received advice on the allocation of college fees. It is time--in fact, one is overdue--for a response from the Government. It is highly suspicious that we might not receive that response until the Bill has passed through this House. That would be unfortunate. The amendment is tabled not only in the vacuum of not knowing precisely what the Bill means, but in the vacuum of not knowing what the DfEE plans in terms of allocating funds to college fees.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, one of the great problems about all this is the continuing uncertainty. At present in Oxford it is proving virtually impossible to make long-term appointments. The colleges do not know where they stand. They do not know whether they dare commit themselves to the costs of a long-term, permanent tenure. Therefore, very many short-term appointments are being made.

That will have a serious effect for several reasons. First, graduates will be deterred from the academic life because they see that there is no permanent future in it. Also, because of the uncertainty, the colleges are having to think about whether they can continue to afford to sustain endangered subjects; whether they can afford to have three tutors in chemistry or whether it had better be two. That will be to the disadvantage of students from every financial situation. They will not be able to

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be there because there will be no one to teach them. There is a serious problem of long-term uncertainty which needs to be resolved.

Earl Russell: My Lords, I do not believe that the Government have realised quite how modest this amendment is. It requires governing bodies to do things to the extent of their powers. I hope it is not the Government's view that they should do things beyond the extent of their powers. We are all bound to respect the law. I hope the Government realise what are the limits of the relevant powers.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, spoke, it became clearer as to what is behind the amendment. I am not entirely sure that subsequent contributions have helped because we have gone into areas concerning the future of Oxbridge colleges and their funding which are not matters for this clause or for us today.

On the face of it, the amendment is unnecessary in that, as the noble Earl has just said, we should not expect a governing body to act beyond its own powers. Indeed, we could hardly legislate to that effect. Therefore, the amendment is otiose, as they say.

However, I now understand more clearly what is in the noble Baroness's mind in relation to the amendment; namely, the concern that Oxford and Cambridge in particular, and possibly other institutions, do not have sufficient power over connected institutions to ensure that they do not charge top-up fees. I understand her view that it is those colleges which should be penalised rather than the university. Of course, having said that, there may some room for debate as regards the interpretation of what is and what is not within the governing body's powers. I still find it difficult to accept that universities should continue to receive grants for students attending connected colleges if they are not prepared to use their powers to the full to ensure that those students are not charged top-up fees.

However, having said that, I recognise the problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, said, we have looked at the wording, but we do not believe that any amendment should be made to this clause. Rather than amend subsection (4), we are prepared to look again at that part of subsection (8) which refers to fees payable to connected institutions with a view to bringing forward in another place an amendment clarifying that reference. That would be an amendment to subsection (8) to clarify the links between funding council grants for certain students and the aggregate fees that may be charged to those students by both parent universities and any institutions connected with them with a view to ensuring that institutions can be penalised for top-up fees charged to students only if they are claiming funding council grants for those students.

Therefore, we intend to come forward in the Commons with amendments to subsection (8). I hope that, at least to some extent, that commitment will

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reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and that, in the meantime, she will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, my noble friend asked when the Government are going to give an opinion about Oxford and Cambridge fees. No answer has been given to that question.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have said already that that is not of relevance to the Report stage of the debate. However, the answer is that that will be done shortly.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, as ever.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and his acknowledged understanding of the point I was trying to make. I thank other noble Lords who spoke on related matters.

I am rather disappointed that we are being offered an amendment which will come not to this House but to the other place. Many people in this House understand the issue very well and they would have a particular interest in ensuring that what is provided is something which can be accommodated in terms of the legal structure of Oxford and Cambridge.

Although I know that Third Reading is almost upon us, I hope it may be possible for the Government to bring forward an amendment at that time so that it can be considered here before the Bill leaves this House rather than waiting until it reaches the other place. I shall look forward to seeing an amendment tabled in time for Third Reading. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 56 to 59 not moved.]

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 60:

Page 14, line 18, at end insert--
("( ) The Secretary of State shall not exercise the power to prescribe descriptions of courses under subsection (4) in such a way as to discriminate--
(a) in relation to courses of initial teacher training, between different courses on the basis of the subjects in which such training is given, or
(b) in relation to other courses, between different courses at the same or a comparable level on the basis of the areas of study or research to which they relate.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, at every stage of this Bill, we have heard allegations in this Chamber that Clause 18 poses a threat to academic freedom. I do not believe that to be the case. But, nevertheless, I share and understand the value which many in your Lordships' House and outside attach to the principle of academic freedom.

The noble Earl, Lord Russell, along with his noble friends, has tabled the same amendment--Amendment No. 61--as he put down in Committee, with the aim of restating the principle of academic freedom that is enshrined in the Further and Higher Education Act

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1992. In responding to that amendment in Committee, I said that I fully understood the motives behind it and sympathised with its aims, even though most of it was unnecessary. More than that, I promised that we would look with the CVCP at Clause 18 to see whether an appropriate amendment could be drafted to ensure that, as far as possible, conditions on grant to control top-up fees could not be framed by reference to courses in particular subjects.

Amendment No. 60 fulfils that commitment. Subsection (4) of Clause 18 makes provision for courses of prescribed description provided by higher education institutions to be covered by conditions on grant controlling top-up fees. It is for the Secretary of State to prescribe the courses in regulations. But subsection (8) already makes clear that such courses may not include part-time or postgraduate courses, other than those of initial teacher training. The amendment adds to that safeguard by preventing the Secretary of State, when he draws up the regulations, from singling out courses at any particular level by area of study or research.

That makes it absolutely plain that the Secretary of State cannot, through conditions controlling top-up fees, affect the freedom of universities to decide which courses to offer, which subjects to teach or which areas of research to pursue. He can, thus, prescribe first-degree courses or courses leading to a diploma as those that can be covered by conditions on grant controlling top-up fees. But he cannot name in those conditions particular areas of study or research--whether any branch of medicine, science, technology, social science, arts or humanities.

The only exception is initial teacher training; and it has been necessary to deal with courses in initial teacher training separately for technical reasons. That is because not all courses of initial teacher training lead to a first degree. Some courses lead to a postgraduate certificate. Other courses--for, say, intending craft instructors who are seeking a qualification to teach in FE colleges--lead to an undergraduate certificate below first-degree level. We want to ensure that, whatever the level of the course, students on courses of initial teacher training should still receive financial support for fees from public funds. We have made clear all along that we need to be able, if necessary, to control any top-up fees that may be charged to students on those courses. That is why, paradoxical though it may seem, we have made special provision in this amendment for courses of initial teacher training to ensure that they are treated like first degree courses and not differently.

However, so as to ensure, again, that the Secretary of State cannot, through conditions controlling top-up fees, interfere in universities' freedom to decide which courses of initial teacher training to offer, this amendment prevents him from singling out such courses by subject. Thus the relevant regulations could prescribe that conditions might apply to all courses of initial teacher training. But they could not prescribe that conditions might apply to courses of initial teacher

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training specialising in any particular subject--such as social science--but not in another, such as the physical sciences.

I made plain in Committee the Government's commitment--and it is a total commitment--to upholding the principle of academic freedom. I hope that the amendment before the House speaks louder than any words that I could utter and enshrines that commitment in the Bill. For its part, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has made clear in its briefing that,

    "government amendment (No. 60 on the Marshalled List) meets universities' concerns about the protection of academic freedom".

I very much hope that it will also meet the concerns of your Lordships' House. I beg to move.

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