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 3:30 pm ar 22 Medi 2021.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Department for Education) (Higher and Further Education) 3:30, 22 Medi 2021

Earlier, I was too eager to get to new clause 2. The new clause would require providers to take steps to ensure that student unions have sufficient resources to carry out their duties under proposed new sections A4 and A5 of the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.

There is universal agreement about the importance of freedom of speech in university life. We saw that in the evidence sessions. There is also broad consensus about the important role that student unions play in protecting freedom of speech on campuses. Many student unions do fantastic work in that area, including having their own codes of practice, which often involve collaborative relationships with the provider. We fully expect that to continue, and for providers and student unions to work together, hand in hand, in relation to freedom of speech. That may include, where appropriate, a provider taking steps to ensure its student union is adequately resourced to carry out its duties. It may also involve the sharing of good practice, or a provider assisting the student union with the development of its own code of practice.

The measures are about protecting fundamental principles, not creating more red tape. There is huge diversity among student unions in the ways they are established and funded, reflecting the huge variety in the higher education sector as a whole and in further education. It is important that we reflect that variety in the Bill and do not seek to regulate the relationship between providers and student unions with a one-size-fits-all policy. Some student unions are heavily reliant on funding from their university; others may be more financially independent. Many have developed innovative portfolios as a way to generate income to contribute to a fulfilling university experience for students. The amendment does not reflect that variety or the differing, often complex arrangements that exist between providers and their student unions.

It is also important to note that the duties in proposed new sections A4 and A5 apply only to student unions of approved fee cap providers. Student unions of small, specialist providers that are not approved fee cap providers are not in scope of the Bill. In that way, we are ensuring that the Bill’s measures are not overly bureaucratic and follow the approach in the Education Act 1994, which sets out regulatory requirements relating to student unions at a number of institutions, including approved fee cap providers, but not other providers. In contrast, new clause 2 would place an additional, unnecessary regulatory requirement on providers in relation to student unions. In addition, we expect that there will be guidance from the Office for Students in due course that will help student unions to understand how to comply with their duties and assist them in drafting their code of practice.