CVCP cuts up rough on bill

January 16, 1998

Vice chancellors have warned the government that they will back moves to torpedo a key clause in the Teaching and Higher Education Bill if their calls for changes to the bill are ignored.

The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals has spelled out the issues it wants the government to take on board when it tables its amendments to the bill this week.

But if the government amendments fail to reflect the CVCP's demands, it will put its weight behind an amendment drafted by the Liberal Democrat peer Earl Russell to wipe the controversial clause 18 - which deals with fee charging - off the bill, CVCP officials say.

The CVCP's proposed amendments aim to protect checks and balances to the secretary of state's powers, contained in the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act; limit penalties that could be applied to institutions failing to comply with fee-charging conditions; clarify which students would be required to pay fees; and clarify the definition of fees and how their level is set.

On the last point, David Blunkett, secretary of state for education and employment, told the Commons Education Select Committee there was "a debate to be had" over whether Pounds 1,000 fees should be linked to inflation, or the fee level set at 25 per cent of average course costs.

The CVCP says the amendments it wants are designed to pin the government down on such important points of detail.

Diana Warwick, CVCP chief executive, warned: "At the bill's second reading the government indicated it would meet our concerns. If it does not do so, we will be extremely disappointed and vigorously oppose the inclusion of clause 18 in the bill."

Earl Russell's amendment, to be moved when the bill goes to committee stage in the Lords on Tuesday, opposes clause 18.

Academic legal experts have condemned the clause, designed to prevent institutions charging top-up fees, saying it gives the government alarming and unprecedented powers to interfere in university affairs.

The government has already said it is prepared to amend the bill to clarify the extent of the powers available to the secretary of state in clause 18.

More than 70 separate amendments, covering several of the bill's 29 clauses, have been tabled by both the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives.

If peers reject parts of the bill outright the government may decide to drop it altogether in favour of reintroducing it in the Commons.

Main amendments to the Teaching and Higher Education Bill

Most of the over 70 amendments reduce the education secretary's powers.

Clause 1

Amendment by Baroness Maddock and Lord Tope: Specifies that at least half of the membership of the proposed General Teaching Council shall be teachers. The bill says that the council should merely reflect the interests of teachers.

Clause 2

Amendment by Lord Tope and Baroness Maddock: Gives the GTC more power to decide which other people or organisations it ought to advise. The bill says the secretary of state alone has power to decide who should be advised.

Clause 11

Amendment by Lord Tope and Baroness Maddock: Gives power to the GTC to demand information from the secretary of state. The bill says it is up to the secretary of state to decide what information ought to be released.

Clause 16

Amendments by Earl Russell: Would remove most of the powers of the secretary of state to prescribe who is eligible for a grant or loan, how much they receive, what conditions are attached and how much interest is charged.

Would remove the education secretary's powers to prescribe the means used to recover amounts due from students who have taken out loans.

Amendments by Baroness Maddock and Lord Tope: Would remove ten lines that give the secretary of state power to prescribe the terms and conditions of student grants and loans and their repayment.

Would rule out means-testing of grants and loans. "Circumstances" should not include the income or other resources of the person's parents or spouse.

Would limit secretary of state's ability to vary interest rates charged to student loans "from time to time". Instead the education secretary can make regulations to prescribe the interest rate but only if the interest is added to the outstanding amount of loans and only if the change is required to maintain the loan value in real terms.

Amendments by Baroness Blatch: Would mean that means-tested maintenance grants are still available to students and that the maximum amount of any loan available is no greater than half the prescribed annual maintenance cost.

Would mean payment of grants in respect of tuition fees for a fourth or any subsequent year apply equally to English, Scottish and Welsh students.

Clause 18

Amendment by Earl Russell, supported by Baroness Young: Opposes entire clause.

Amendments by Baroness Maddock and Lord Tope: Would ensure students pay tuition fees only if they have received a grant of equivalent amount.

Amendment by Baroness Blatch: Gives power to university governing bodies to do what they want with full amount of tuition fees received.

Clause 22

Amendment by Baroness Blatch: Ensures arrangements for grant payment in respect of tuition fees for fourth or subsequent year at a Scottish HE institution apply equally to Scottish, English, Welsh and Northern Irish students.

Clause 23

Amendment by Baroness Blatch: Opposes entire clause, which gives 16 and 17-year-olds right to time off work for study or training.

Clause 24

Amendment by Baroness Blatch: Opposes entire clause, which includes further provisions for time off for study or training.

Clause 25

Amendment by Lord Tope and Baroness Maddock: Requires that no regulations be made under clauses 1(3), 5(1), 13(1) or 16 of the bill without a draft of the regulations being laid before and approved by both Houses.

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