MPs undo Lords' work

May 1, 1998

THE government has overturned key Lords' amendments in the Teaching and Higher Education Bill to protect its funding option and centralised powers. The main changes to the bill are: Part I, about the establishment of a General Teaching Council, has been amended to remove some of the powers bestowed by earlier Lords' amendments.

An amendment to clause 3 removes a Lords' amendment giving the GTC power to determine teaching standards, teachers' conduct and their medical fitness to teach. The secretary of state will draw up such regulations.

A new government clause gives the secretary of state powers to prescribe the council's investigative role in cases of alleged teacher misconduct and any resulting disciplinary procedures. Cases involving the safety and welfare of under-18s become the overall responsibility of the secretary of state.

Part II relates to the new student loans system and prevents universities charging top-up fees.

Clause 19, on the new incomecontingent loans, has been revised to overturn a Lords' amendment retaining Sir Ron Dearing's preferred system for student support - half maintenance grants, half loans.

The government amendment also overturned a Lords' amendment treating English and Welsh-domiciled students equally with Scottish-domiciled students over their eligibility to pay fourth-year tuition fees at a Scottish institution.

A separate government amendment to clause 19 introduces further safeguards for student borrowers by limiting the rates of interest charged on loan repayments to no more than the rate of inflation.

Another amendment gives the secretary of state the power to prescribe repayment requirements for loans from time to time. This includes the power to vary repayment provisions or other provisions throughout the lifetime of a graduate's repayment period.

Clause 21, which gives the secretary of state the power to prevent universities charging more than the prescribed amount of tuition fees, was amended to clarify the government's position on fees charged by constituent colleges of a university such as Oxford or Cambridge.

The amendment says that the "parent" university is responsible for the fees charged to its students by the colleges but only if it receives a funding council grant for the students at those colleges. The government could then impose grant sanctions on the university if it allowed top-up fees.

The amendment ensures that if no grant is claimed then the government has no powers to prevent top-up fees.

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