Redraft HE Bill as ‘bill of student rights’, says MP

Wes Streeting calls for student representation on governing bodies and new information requirements

September 5, 2016
Wes Streeting

The Higher Education and Research Bill should be redrafted as a “bill of student rights”, an MP has said.

In more than 30 amendments tabled as a committee of MPs prepares to start scrutinising the bill, Labour’s Wes Streeting proposes that all universities should be required to have at least two students on their governing body, and that the planned Office for Students should have two student representatives on its board as well.

The amendments proposed by Mr Streeting, a former president of the National Union of Students, would also force universities to publish significant additional information about access, teaching and the wages of senior staff.

As of the morning of 5 September, the Ilford North MP was the only parliamentarian to have submitted amendments, with the first meeting of the Higher Education and Research Bill Committee due to take place on 6 September.

The details of Mr Streeting’s proposals would require universities to:

  • Publish information about the number of contact hours a student can expect and the “process and practices regarding marking and assessments”
  • Outline their institutional policy on contextual admissions online and in prospectuses
  • Release annual data on retention, attainment and graduate destinations, broken down by department
  • Publish the ratio of pay of the highest paid employee to the average and lowest paid employee
  • Reserve places on remuneration committees for staff and student representatives
  • Consult with students, staff and applicants on changes that affect them.

Other amendments would require private providers to establish a students’ union if they wish to join the register of providers, and would give the director of fair access to higher education the power to set targets for institutions that are failing to make good progress on widening participation.

Mr Streeting told Times Higher Education that universities should give students “a clear understanding of what they can expect for their investment”.

“Under the Tories, tuition fees have rocketed, with students shouldering the burden of paying for their education with insufficient rights and protections in return,” he said.

The NUS was planning to hold a demonstration outside Parliament on 6 September to protest against the lack of representation for students in the Office for Students, and the failure of the bill committee to invite the union to give evidence.

Mr Streeting added: “The so-called Office for Students puts students’ name on the door but doesn’t give them a seat at the table. It’s time to put an end to this hollow commitment to students by making sure that students are represented on the board of the OfS.”

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