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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. In the consultation by the funding council, perhaps the Minister could ascertain and make sure that consultation is also done with the Scottish funding councils. The Open University exists in Scotland. In fact, it has a higher recruitment per head in Scotland than almost anywhere else in the country. Funding for students of the Open University in Scotland, which will be done through the Scottish funding councils, needs to match that.

I understand that, currently, a lot of consultation is going on in Scotland and that there is very little interest in the matter of part-time students. The Open University in Scotland exists as well.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I recognise what the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, is saying. In looking across Open University funding, I believe that that would be the case. But I shall confirm that in writing to the noble Baroness with a copy placed in the Library.

I could talk a great deal about the Open University and Birkbeck, which would echo much of what has been said about them. We have discussed with HEFCE that it should look very carefully at the proposals that have been put forward. I have rather galloped through this, but I hope that as noble Lords look back on what I have said, they will see the timescales involved, which reflect some of the concerns that have been raised. In particular, HEFCE will look at those institutions very carefully. There is no disrespect to either institution if I do not go through a whole set of notes that I have. I hope that noble Lords will take that as read.

I turn now to Amendments Nos. 26 and 36.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, before my noble friend the Minister moves off this issue, can she clarify the timetable again? Will the review be finished in the summer of 2005 and that there will then be consultation with universities?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, there are three different timetables. First, HEFCE will reach a decision by the autumn in respect of the Open
 
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University and Birkbeck. Secondly, all the principles behind the reviews will be established by summer 2005. Therefore, institutions will know what is being proposed and will be able to make plans accordingly. The final part of the consultation will be completed with firm plans made by the early part of 2006, which is before variable fees are introduced. I can clarify that further, but I hope that that gives my noble friend what she needs. In a sense, that is the framework, together with the research that we have put in place, which will give us the evidence base. I hope that that is recognition of the fact that we take this issue extremely seriously.

Amendment No. 28 requires the director to promote and safeguard fair access to full-time and part-time higher education. Amendment No. 36 includes access to part-time higher education as a matter that regulations might require to be included in plans. While the Bill does not rule part-time study into plans, it does not rule it out. For example, within the Bill, it is possible for the Secretary of State to require the director to write a report that relates to part-time provision. Of course, we have also made it clear that institutions can include reference to part-time provision in their plans if they wish.

The draft guidance from the Secretary of State to the director points out that institutions could use additional income from courses for which they are charging higher fees to attract and support part-time students. So part-timers are not ruled out of access plans, but we wish to keep the details of an access plan for the institution to think about and make decisions on rather than prescribe too much from the centre.

I am not able to accept Amendment No. 36, but I think that I can offer something on Amendment No. 28. While I cannot accept it as drafted, I can accept the amendment in principle and bring back a government amendment at Third Reading. I have also reflected on a debate that we had earlier today, on Amendment No. 24. Noble Lords know that that is a government amendment following the proposal put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, which would give the director the power to identify and advise on good practice in relation to the promotion of equality of opportunity in access to higher education. Since I believe that many institutions will in fact include in their access plans measures relating to part-time provision, this amendment might be further amended to include specific reference to good practice in respect of part-time as well as full-time students. If noble Lords agree, I will consider whether we can come back at Third Reading with two amendments along the lines I have indicated.

Within the package, an evidence base is critical and we are working on it, as well as supporting the Open University in that regard. We recognise the importance of the unregulated market for part-time study and the wish to continue in that way. I have made clear the HEFCE position. We accept in principle Amendment No. 28 and we shall bring forward an additional
 
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amendment along the lines I have just set out. I hope that, on that basis, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I am immensely grateful to the Minister. This is the solution that we have all been looking for. I sense that the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, may share my feeling that it would have been very nice if we had been able to go that little bit further, but we knew that that would be extremely difficult. As I said when introducing the amendment, we understand that we do not yet really know who these part-time students are. I am delighted to learn that HEFCE is accelerating the pace of its survey. It was extraordinary that it was going to take three years to complete it; one year is fine. As the Minister rightly indicated, we shall see movement, developments and plans in 2006, and we have it on the face of the Bill.

As the right reverend Prelate pointed out, this is of symbolical importance. It sends a clear signal to the community when a provision is put on the face of the Bill. I take on board the fact that institutions can do as they wish and that perhaps we did not really need the provision—that is the implicit response—but, as I said, it is an important signal to the community. I am delighted.

I thank all noble Lords who spoke in the debate. It has been very long, but extremely useful. Once again, I thank the Minister for what she has offered in her response. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean moved Amendment No. 30:


"(i) a duty to protect academic freedom, including the right of institutions to determine the criteria and the application of that criteria for the admission of students, and the selection and appointment of academic staff, (ii) a duty not to require plans to include reference to particular courses of study or research, (including the contents of such courses or programmes and the manner in which they are taught, supervised or assessed) except as provided for in section 23(1)(a) and (b), (iii) a regard to any guidance given to him by the Secretary of State."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, Amendment No. 30 is tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Perry of Southwark, as well as that of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, and of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood. I should mention that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, had an important medical appointment this afternoon and
 
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thus was not able to be here, but I know that he strongly supports this amendment, to which he has added his name.

While we welcome the acceptance by the Government of the amendment tabled in Committee by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and the move made by the Minister to recognise the importance of academic freedom—an issue that this House has a long and distinguished history of fighting for—we do not feel that it went far enough in providing all the assurances that are needed.

This amendment maintains the duty of the director to protect academic freedom, including the right of academic institutions to determine the criteria and the application of that criteria in relation to the admission of students. It adds to that the selection and appointment of staff, which is important given the argument that in some circumstances certain staff attract particular students. The amendment also aims to exclude the director from requiring plans to refer to particular courses of study or research, including how they are assessed.

Perhaps I can make the case most positively for the amendment by quoting the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, from the debates on the 1992 Act. She said that,

No doubt the Minister will tell me that my amendment is not absolutely spot-on technically, but she will recognise where the wording has come from. In commending the amendment, I hope very much to enlist the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, because she is the inspiration behind the words used. On that basis, I beg to move.


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