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 Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Llafur, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle 3:03, 22 Medi 2021

I try not to get cross, Mrs Cummins, but I am going to get a little bit cross now, and then calm down again.

As I have said many times, this whole Bill has been written with Oxford, Cambridge and all the Russell Group universities in mind. The intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown by the hon. Member for North West Durham reinforces that view. I keep going back to the 165 FE colleges that are affected by the Bill. How is a small FE college with no full-time student union representatives or independent income going to pay the insurance costs? The assumption is that all will need insurance to cover themselves against any liability. How will they be able to afford that and keep going if all the Bill applies to them?

The Minister says that the provision has to apply to FE colleges because they are higher education institutions, but it does not directly apply to junior common rooms. I will not repeat the long debate that we had about that, but if there is one rule for JCRs, why not look again at further education colleges? All the new clause does is say that there must be adequate resources. I said on Monday that the outcome of the Bill could be the creation of shell-like structures of student unions outside all the ones that can afford it—those of the Russell Group and Oxford and Cambridge. Beyond that, student unions would not exist in any meaningful way, which would be a travesty.

The Minister now has responsibility for further education and higher education, and the Government have spoken about parity and the importance of both. I believe in the importance of both, and in colleges and higher education institutions such as Hull College having just as good a student union as the University of Hull. However, the student union of the University of Hull has more resources than that of Hull College. All the amendment is saying is they should be given enough resources so that both student unions can abide by the rules that the Government are putting on them, and both can afford to keep going. If the Minister rejects the amendment, which sadly I think she will, she needs to look again at the affordability of the Bill for some of those smaller institutions—in particular further education colleges.