The House of Lords has dealt a major blow to government plans for tuition fee increases by rejecting proposals to link fee increases to teaching quality under the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
The TEF will rank universities into gold, silver and bronze tiers based on teaching quality. Under the originally proposed legislation, universities ranked gold or silver would be allowed to increase fees by the rate of inflation from 2019 onwards, while bronze ranked institutions would only be able to apply an increase of half this amount.
Peers voted by 263 to 211 to support an amendment to the Higher Education and Research Bill which stated that TEF results should not be used to determine the fees a university can charge or the number of domestic or international students that it is permitted to recruit.
The decision is a major setback for Universities Minister Jo Johnson, who had already added a number of amendments to the legislation in the hope of improving the likelihood of it passing through the upper House of Parliament unhindered.
The government now has to decide whether to accept the legislation in its amended form or to try and force through its proposals with the support of MPs. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, told Times Higher Education (THE) the passing of the amendment was significant as it ‘could damage the TEF’ if allowed to stand.
Support for the amendment has been hailed as a positive step by student groups, many of which raised concerns about the impact further fee increases could have on poorer students. Soriana Vieru, NUS Vice President for Higher Education, told THE that the amendment could be a ‘major win for students’ if included in the final bill, but warned that students would have to fight to keep the concession.
A Department for Education spokesperson warned that the proposals for fee increases had been designed to keep the cost of education in line with inflation. They called on those opposing fee increases to explain how they will maintain the financial stability of universities and the quality of education.
The government suffered a further defeat when peers backed an amendment which would require universities to offer students the chance to be added to the local electoral register.
Union Southampton president Alex Hovden welcomed the passing of the amendment. He told Wessex Scene:
“Through this amendment, the Higher Education and Research Bill became a little bit less awful for students. It does nothing to stop fees from rising in line with inflation, however what it does is prevents a situation in which higher ranked universities are able to charge more than lower ranked universities.
It goes some way towards ensuring that everyone has equal access to education, and that can only be a good thing. The real question now is, will the Government accept the amendment or not. The House of Commons can plausibly reject the amendment at which point we are back to square one to be quite honest. In other words, this isn’t over…”