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There can be only one overall strategy within a region. I suggest that this requires an RDA approach with a strong LSC inputnot the other way around. I suggest that this could be more clearly recognised and written into the Bill. I would like the Ministers comments on that point.
I turn briefly to other areas. First, I endorse all that has been said on Clause 19. This is a wrong move and I am in complete agreement with what my noble friend Lady Blackstone has said, and with what, I am sure, my noble friend Lady Warwick will say, on this.
I am also concerned that the Bill does not give enough priority to the very real problem of dealing with the 70 per cent of the workforce that is already in employment and will be so in 2020. Their retraining and reskilling should be a top priority. This has not been the case under the current LSC strategy, where the balance has favoured the 16 to 19 year-olds. We all want to give 16 to 19 year-olds a proper opportunity, but given the declining numbers in this age group, and therefore their declining significance in the labour force, we need to bring about a greater balance. This point is not fully addressed in the Bill.
Lord Norton of Louth: My Lords, I declare an interest as a professor in higher education. My opening point is a general one and concerns the form in which legislation is presented. Where a Bill amends extant legislation, it contains clauses that substitute provisions for those of the earlier measures. This can make it very difficult to grasp the precise effects of a clause, especially in the wider context of the
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The Bill is an excellent example of the genre. As the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, said, it is something of a technical measure. It has 33 clauses. If we leave aside the last six clauses, which are essentially standard clauses dealing with commencement and the like, we are left with 27 clauses. Of those, only three are free-standing clauses. The rest repeal or amend legislation. Their effect can sometimes be gleaned from the way in which they are drafted, and the Explanatory Notes explain, albeit briefly, the effect or intended effect. The notes, however, are no substitute for seeing the provisions alongside those that they are amending or replacing.
The Constitution Committee, in its 2004 report on the legislative process, recommended the greater use of Keeling-like schedules so that the effect on the amended Act or Acts could be clearly seen. It strikes me that this Bill would have benefited from such a schedule being appended to the Explanatory Notes. Can the Minister tell us whether consideration was given to producing such a schedule for the Bill, and, if not, why not? It is a question that I may well ask when other Bills of this nature are brought forward. It is important that departments get into the habit of thinking about whether Keeling-like schedules are appropriate.
Before I turn to the specific provisions of the Bill, I shall make some comments about the contribution of further education. I agree with the view, expressed in the White Paper, that FE has delivered a great deal and that what it has achieved is not that well known. As the Foster report noted, the FE system does not enjoy a high profile or a strong reputation compared with other parts of the education system. The Association of Colleges is seeking to raise the profile, but FE is still seen as something of the poor relation of the education sector. It is a misplaced perception. FE makes a major and successful contribution to educating a large proportion of the population, although I agree with the White Papera point reiterated by the Ministerthat the need to maintain our competitiveness internationally means that we have to continue to improve what FE, and indeed our whole education sector, delivers.
On the Bill, I agree with those speakers who have queried the timing of its introduction. Why has it been introduced now, without waiting to integrate the recommendations of the Leitch report? I agree with my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton and the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, that it is a lost opportunity. Parts of the Bill may need to be amended in the near future. It is not, it has to be said, a shining example of joined-up thinking.
I turn to the provisions of the Bill. The changes made to the Learning and Skills Council are designed as a means of providing greater strategic leadership, and, in so doing, they also serve to reduce some of the regulatory burden. Anything that improves or reduces regulation is to be welcomed. I note, however, the
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For reasons of time, and because others have addressed it, I shall deal only briefly with Clause 19. Like others, I am not sure where this clause has come from. It was not foreshadowed in the White Paper and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned, it was not in the Foster report. Perhaps the Minister can explain what consultation has taken place and what other options were considered. The Minister has explained the problem that the clause is intended to address but not why this provision is preferable to the alternatives. The AoC has made the point that very few FE colleges are likely to seek degree-awarding powers. The Minister said that it would be a minority, which is not quite the same thing. Given that, what thought was given to improving the speed and cost-efficiency of the existing process of validation, and what study has been undertaken of the possible consequences of the provision? I share the views of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, about the problems of international perception that may result from the terminology employed for the qualification.
It is important that degree-awarding powers are not pursued at the expense of other qualifications offered in the FE sector. There is the danger of pursuing what the NIACE refers to as a signature qualification. It is also important that the points made in the NUSs briefing paper are addressed. I agree with the NUS that foundation degrees should be stand-alone degrees if that is what learners require but at the same time, where learners wish to proceed to higher education, there should be, as the NUS puts it, a seamless transition. Foundation degrees should serve as an effective, and attractive, conduit for progression to an honours degree. Employers need to have an input but so, too, do universities if foundation degrees are to provide the basis for going on to complete an honours degree. Indeed, existing arrangements give students in FE an advantage over those who progress through the standard route of A-level to degree.
If the Government are to pursue the proposal, several important recommendations that have been made, including by the NUS, will need to be considered. But, as things stand, we need a much more compelling justification for this clause. The case for it has been asserted, but not established.
Let me deal briefly with other clauses of the Bill. I am concerned at the range of powers and functions vested in the LSC. If one reads Clause 10 in
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On the powers of incorporation and dissolution, concerns have been raised about consultation and addressing the needs of students in the affected institutions. Will Clause 15, requiring the LSC to consider representations made to it, be adequate to meet the concerns about consultation? How much thought has been given to what will happen to students in colleges that are subject to closure? It will be helpful to have the Minister's response to the very genuine point raised by the NUS. There may be a need to incorporate safeguards in the Bill and, indeed, to consider slimming down the range of tasks that the LSC is empowered to fulfil.
I also note the concerns expressed by the NIACE about the abolition of the Young People's Learning Committee and Adult Learning Committee under Clause 5. Perhaps the Minister can explain why abolition is necessary.
The Lord Bishop of Salisbury: My Lords, from these Benches we welcome the thrust of the Bill and we congratulate Her Majestys Government on the general vision that undergirds it. However, like the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, I have great reservations on the matter of who awards degrees and for what.
If I may interpose briefly, noble Lords may like to know that our colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth would have dearly liked to be in his place this afternoon, but a crucial stage in the treatment of his illness prevents it. He receives a bone marrow transfusion tomorrow.
Our concern is that identified in the contribution from these Benches to the recent debate on the gracious Speech: the historical anomaly which gives sixth-formers at school an entitlement to provision for their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development but which denies that entitlement to their counterparts who are studying in colleges of further education. Noble Lords will be aware that, in the Education Acts 1944 and 1988, this entitlement is established for pupils up to the age of 18. However, both Acts refer only to pupils in schoolshence, the perpetual casting of FE colleges in a Cinderella-like role so far as concerns SMSC, destined to be treated differently and as second best.
Why does the entitlement matter? First, the continuation of the anomaly suggests that those who study in FE colleges have needs that are different from and perhaps inferior to those who study in school. I suggest that this is manifestly not the case. If young people at school have needs that are met through provision for their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development, then so do young people in further education colleges. To say otherwise is instantly to create a two-tier system, something against which Her Majestys Government always set their face.
Secondly, spiritual, moral, social and cultural provision makes a powerful contribution to the creation of the cohesive society for which we all long. It is surely healthy for students to be able to explore the vital questions of identity and belonging openly and with one another in the structured and accountable environment of the campus. The alternative may be the lure of more single-issue extremist groups, which flourish in the absence of other, more balanced provision.
Thirdly, there is clearly a desire for the entitlement to be extended. Thirty colleges have begun to develop multi-faith chaplaincies since the publication of the further education White Paper earlier in the year. Responses to a joint review by the National Ecumenical Agency in Further Education and the Quality Improvement Agency indicate that over 90 per cent of those consulted were in favour of this extension. This Bill presents Her Majesty's Government with an opportunity for reform. An amendment extending the entitlement would enable the House to voice its confidence in our young people, their formation and their future. It would correct an historic injustice; it would build a stronger, more harmonious society; and it would answer a clearly articulated need.
I urge the Minister to give this matter his immediate attention and to tell us how such a simple and equitable amendment might be made. Why do I urge this so forcefully on the Minister? We need to remember that young people at this stage are in a vulnerable position. They are searching for meaning and purpose in their lives, and questions of vocation are vital: What are my gifts? How can I use them creatively for the well-being of the whole of the community and not just for my own self-seeking ends?.
What is the best framework that we can provide to ensure that these questions are faced in a supportive context? Young people on the point of entering an adult worldand we are talking here about a hinge moment in peoples developmentare particularly vulnerable to the apparent clarity of single-issue pressures. We are all looking for opportunities to enhance social cohesion, to protect the vulnerable from inappropriate pressures and to coach young people in thinking beyond their immediate self-interest, in order to help them over that particular hump. Young people are allergicand understandably soto being told what to think. But supporting them in their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development cannot be an optional extra if
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Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe: My Lords, an enormous number of helpful comments have been made about the Bill. I will focus my remarks specifically on Clause 19, which would allow the Privy Council to give degree-awarding powers to further education colleges in respect of foundation degrees.
I begin by reinforcing what many other noble Lords have said, which is that foundation degrees have been a great success story. Here I declare my interest as chief executive of Universities UK. The foundation degree is a very new qualification. As the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, indicated, in some ways it is still quite a fragile qualification, but none the less a successful one, which was first offered in 2001. Since then, the number of students taking foundation degrees has grown from 4,200 to the latest figure of 47,000. Indeed, I understand that Foundation Degree Forward anticipates that something like 60,000 foundation degrees will be awarded in the current year. The current arrangements are therefore well on the way to delivering what the Minister hopes to achieve100,000 by 2010.
Foundation degrees are a distinctive qualification. The requirement that employers should be involved in their design and delivery has provided an enormously fruitful platform for working relationships between universities, colleges and employers of exactly the type that the Government want to proliferate, a point firmly backed up by the Leitch report, which was published just last week and to which so many noble Lords have referred. Foundation degrees have provided a valuable catalyst for collaboration between further and higher education institutions. At Leeds Metropolitan University, for example, they have played a crucial role in providing the basis for collaboration between the university and 15 colleges across the northern region. My noble friend Lord Sawyer eloquently told the House how successful the University of Teesside has been and what this Bill might put at risk. Also, because the foundation degree has provided a bridge for students in further education or in employment with the world of higher education, the qualification has become a central plank in many universities efforts to widen participation, helping them to reach students who might otherwise never have considered progressing to university. We know that foundation degrees have a proven track record in delivering progression to higher education. Fifty-nine per cent of foundation degree graduates go on to further study, the majority at honours degree level.
So I can entirely see why the Government look at foundation degrees and ask, How can we get more of this?. I know that Ministers hope that by extending foundation degree-awarding powers to FE colleges they will encourage more institutions to offer the qualifications and increase the number of students and employers choosing them. But I do not believe that this Bill provides the right answer. Like others, I
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I also think that there is a real danger that Clause 19 could produce the opposite effect to the one that the Government intend. I think that it could lead to a reduction rather than an expansion in take-up of foundation degrees. I shall explain why. First, we know that the fact that foundation degrees have the word degree in their title and are awarded by universities is a powerful reason why students and employers choose them. The reputation of our universities for providing high quality plays a large part in the attractiveness of the qualification, even when it is delivered in collaboration with an FE college. On what evidence have the Government based their assumption that uptake of foundation degrees will increase if they are awarded by further education colleges rather than by universities?
Secondly, foundation degrees were originally conceived as a stepping-stone qualification that would enable students to study perhaps, or often, in conjunction with work or while based at a local FE college, but which would also give them the option of topping up to a full honours degree when they gained the confidence to do so. That built-in progression route, currently an essential element of every foundation degree programme, might no longer exist if the connection with universities is broken. That would be bad from the students' point of view, potentially narrowing their range of options, but it might also contribute to relatively decreasing the attractiveness of the qualification to potential students.
Thirdly, what incentive will universities have to continue working with further education colleges to develop and deliver foundation degrees when those FE colleges are liable to become direct competitors? I know that many other noble Lords have expressed that concern. Vice-chancellors have told me that the likely result of this move is that they will withdraw the support that they currently provide to colleges in delivering foundation degrees. The reason is that universities will not know which FE colleges are likely to seek their own degree-awarding powers, either immediately or in the future. My fear is that there is very likely to be a period of planning blight in which universities are reluctant to collaborate with FE colleges that might become their future competitors. Given that uncertainty, the pace of the development to which I referred earlierthe helpful development in foundation degreeswill slow. So there is a real danger that both the uptake and the provision of foundation degree places will contract rather than expand as a result of the measures in the Bill.
I realise that I may be painting an overly pessimistic picture, but those are all possible outcomes that, as has already been indicated, might result from the Bill. I look to the Minister for reassurance that steps can be taken to safeguard confidence in the quality of foundation degrees among prospective students and employers. If the Government are determined to make this change, it is vital that we have confidence that further education colleges will be subject to the same rigorous quality assurance mechanisms as universities. In reinforcing that point, I ask the Minister whether he agrees that the current criteria for degree-awarding powers should provide a starting point for developing the criteria for this new category of degree. Can he reassure me that the Quality Assurance Agency will have a role in monitoring quality in the institutions that gain degree-awarding powers under the Bill?
Finally, will the Minister rethink the provisions in Clause 19 that would allow FE colleges to validate provision in other institutions? I do not believe that this issue has been referred to by other noble Lords. In my view, not only would that increase the likelihood of mission drift among those colleges in receipt of these new powers, but it might also do irreparable damage to the reputation of UK higher education in what we all know to be an increasingly competitive international market.
I do not support Clause 19. I think that it could have a damaging effect, undoing much of the good that has been done in promoting collaboration between further and higher education. If it is to remain in the Bill, there is real work to be done to improve the current drafting. I look forward to taking part in that work in Committee.
Viscount Eccles: My Lords, I shall concentrate on Clauses 2 and 3. I am puzzled by the hurry with which this Bill has been put forward and worried by the lack of clarity surrounding plans to restructure the LSC. How has this uncertainty come about? First, there is little or no guidance in the Bills Explanatory Notes, which state:
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