Yesterday saw the Higher Education Bill third reading in the House of Commons, the final stage for the Bill in the Commons. Labour MPs put forward further amendments, especially around terms and conditions of student loans, with Wes Streeting MP and Martin Lewis pointing out how, effectively, millions of students have been mis-sold student loans. Unfortunately, the government didn’t listen to concerns, and the fight now moves to the House of Lords.
Earlier in the week though, the government did announce some amendments to the Bill, following constructive engagement and Labour MPs making the case for an alternative vision for Higher Education at the Bill Committee stage. We’ve consistently opposed this Bill and believe the Bill proposes the wrong changes at the wrong time that will only further the marketization of education. Nonetheless, we welcome the Government’s amendments, especially on student representation on the Board of the Office for Students, but also on commitments to fair access, reporting, protections for students and postgraduate research training. A huge thank you to all of our members who pushed our list of suggested amendments and wrote to their MPs to build support for amending the Bill and to those Labour MPs who put forward amendments. This Bill is better because of your efforts.
It was good to see NUS engaging with the Bill constructively during its time in the Commons, through the amendments process and by giving evidence to the Bill Committee, casting aside any notion of ‘principled disengagement’. The changes the government has conceded on show the value of constructive engagement. If those people on NUS NEC who voted for ‘principled disengagement’ had had their way, there wouldn’t be student representation on the Board of the Office for Students. If those who say lobbying makes no difference had had their way, we’d had never have got those commitments to fair access. If those people who said we should give up on changing the Bill had had their way, we wouldn’t have seen the advances on postgraduate research training. They will make the lives of students better going forward and not engaging with the process would have badly let those students down. And yes, it’s right we talk about varied tactics. But all our tactics would be more effective if people didn’t undermine constructive engagement at the start of the process.
Yes, this Bill is still bad for students. A Tory majority government was always going to be bad for students. We know, the only way we’ll drastically improve the lives of students is by Labour being in power. But this Bill is better thanks to constructive engagement in the Commons. Now we take our fight to the Lords.