The wider scope of the proposals

January 16, 2004

The higher education bill laid before Parliament last week sets out the legislative changes needed to introduce variable tuition fees, abolish upfront fees and overhaul the system for student complaints, writes Alison Goddard.

It also includes provision to establish an arts and humanities research council and proposals to devolve responsibility for student finance in Wales to the National Assembly for Wales.

The Department for Education and Skills simultaneously published details of how it proposes to implement the bill, if and when it is passed into law.

The notes explain the changes but do not form part of the bill and are not subject to endorsement by Parliament. They include the estimated costs of the provisions made in the bill.

An assessment of the regulatory impact of both the bill and last year's white paper was also published last week.

Below, The THES outlines the proposed changes, their territorial coverage, details of implementation and estimates of their costs.

Research in arts and humanities

* An Arts and Humanities Research Council will be formed by royal charter.

Research is not a devolved matter and the new research council will operate throughout the UK

* Funding will be provided through the Office of Science and Technology and is estimated at £78 million for 2005-06

* The property, rights and liabilities of the existing Arts and Humanities Research Board will be transferred to the research council.

Review of student complaints

* In England and Wales, a body for reviewing student complaints will be established

* The bill will end the jurisdiction of university visitors over student complaints in institutions established by royal charter

* Establishing the Office of the Independent Adjudicator will cost Pounds 500,000, and a further £500,000 a year in running costs.

Initially, this will be met by the government; after the bill has been passed, each institution will pay subscription fees ranging from £2,000 to Pounds 10,000.

Access regulator

* In England, a director of fair access to higher education will be appointed by the education secretary to promote and safeguard fair access to higher education. He or she will be paid between £50,000 and £100,000 a year and be appointed for no more than three years at a time

* The budget for running the Office for Fair Access will be about Pounds 500,000 a year and will be met by the Department for Education and Skills.

Offa will be a non-departmental public body supported by existing staff at the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Tuition fees

* Institutions that wish to charge top-up fees will be able to do so only if they have in force a five-year plan for "the promotion of equality of opportunity in connection with access to higher education" approved in England by the director of fair access or in Wales by a body designated by the National Assembly for Wales

* If an institution breaches its plan, the director of fair access may direct the funding agencies to impose financial sanctions, including the reduction of grant, or remove the ability of institutions to charge top-up fees for a set period.

Student support

* The bill makes provision for functions related to student support and responsibility for policy on tuition fees to be transferred to the National Assembly for Wales

* Student loan debt will be excluded from bankruptcy debt so these are not written off on discharge from bankruptcy. This will apply in England, Wales and Northern Ireland only

* Payment of tuition fees will be deferred until after graduation. Loan payments made in respect of tuition fees can be made directly to institutions, so that they can receive payments upfront that students can repay later.

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