New Clause 2 - Providers’ duty to ensure adequate resources for students’ unions

Part of Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:03 pm ar 22 Medi 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Shadow Minister (Education) 3:03, 22 Medi 2021

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This important provision is all about having sufficient resources. As we have debated at some length, student unions will bear a considerable burden of cost and resource to make the duties work on campuses. It is an administrative burden that hitherto they have managed to cope with, but this greatly exceeds what they would have done in the past.

We have to remind ourselves that we are talking about the full plethora of institutions from larger universities to smaller higher education institutions and further education colleges. The Department for Education’s impact assessment quotes a cost to student unions of £800,000 a year to implement and update the code of practice. The impact assessment also makes it clear that student unions will face the heaviest burden because of their unfamiliarity with the new administrative requirements; most universities already have in place good codes of practice on freedom of speech.

The Bill disproportionately affects a variety of SUs, such as those at FE colleges. The Association of Colleges points out in its briefing that 165 FE colleges are registered higher education providers on the Office for Students’ list. The recent submission by Durham University, which I am sure is of particular interest to two Committee members, makes it clear that clause 6 could represent a significant additional administrative burden on organisations. Jim Dickinson of Wonkhe highlighted in his submission that

“the funding and resultant capacity and capability of an SU to undertake these duties is usually wholly dependent on a negotiation between the SU and the provider. Without a duty on the provider to resource the SU appropriately to carry out the duty there is a material risk that they will be unable to. Vexatious complaints surrounding, for example, SU elections may not succeed but would cause an SU committee to need to seek costly legal advice which it may not be funded to obtain.”

Given that the Government have voted down all our attempts to amend the Bill in a satisfactory manner, the new clause is a form of backstop to ensure that the legislation will not challenge the viability of SUs up and down the country through the need to withstand these costs and the potential for vexatious litigants. The new clause is yet another constructive amendment that we want included in the Bill to recognise the immense financial burden and responsibility faced by student unions in the wide mix of institutions and colleges that the measures will affect. We think it important that the Government recognise that student unions will face that burden, which could seriously affect their viability.