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 Lloyd Russell-Moyle Lloyd Russell-Moyle Labour/Co-operative, Brighton, Kemptown 3:03, 22 Medi 2021

In local government, the health service, education and other areas, there is a doctrine known as the new burden doctrine. It is a sensible doctrine whereby if a new burden is put upon a body—particularly in local government and in educational bodies under local government—the Government shall make provision to pay for that new burden, or they will provide for that body to be able to raise revenue to cover the new burden.

Higher education institutions have income-raising capacity, although I am sure they would say that the cap should be lifted or the funding formula should be changed. They can make that an argument to the Chancellor at the spending review, and I know that many of them have. I desperately hope that the burden is not put on poorer students, as we are reading in the papers. Personally, I would move to a proper graduate tax, or even free education. A new graduate tax could be introduced for the young, and an old-age social care tax for those who are older, so we could have one joint intergenerational tax that allows a bit of intergenerational solidarity—but I digress.

Despite my desire for free education or a proper graduate tax that does not put people in debt, universities can go and make their case to the Chancellor. They have powers to raise revenue, either by seeking research funding or through student fees. They can get more students in, in fact—they could squeeze two or three more students into lecture halls. Student unions have none of those abilities. They do not, on the whole, raise revenue. Some, which are now the exception, still run some commercial businesses, but that is a rarity in higher education—even in campus universities. Most campus university student unions do not even run their own bars now.

Government Members who think that student unions can raise the money need to look again at student union finances, the vast majority of which come from the good will of the institution. The problem is that if the institution deprives the student union of money, the financial penalty for that student union and its duty do not transfer back to the institution; the liability is not reduced. I suspect that the liability will be covered by the student union’s paying basic insurance, but if it is deprived of money it will have no ability to pay for that, while still having the liability.

The new clause does not specify an amount; all it says is that the institution, in appointing the student union—because it appoints the body that is the student union; its job is to say, “This is our registered student union”—has to make sure that the student union has sufficient resources. If the student union has bars and commercial services, the institution can say, “We’ve ensured that you have the right resources because we can see that you have an income. No problem.” If the student union has none of those resources, all the new clause requires is that the institution takes steps to ensure that it has. Perhaps it will give a bar over to the student union to run, so that it generates the resources, or perhaps it will give over an amount of money. The new clause requires that to happen. The guidelines will explain how that happens, of course, but without this provision I am deeply worried that we will be imposing a new burden.