I am very concerned about the Government’s proposals to allow ‘high-performing’ universities to raise tuition fees and new universities to take on degree awarding powers from day one.

As a result of the Bill the best universities will become more expensive and therefore less accessible, at a time when the proportion of low-income students at many top universities is already falling. Students have already been hit by the scrapping of maintenance grants for loans, freezing the student loan threshold and removing NHS bursaries.

This has damaged social mobility for the most disadvantaged students. I believe that the reintroduction of the maintenance grant is important to ensuring that affordability is not a barrier to higher education and my Shadow Frontbench colleagues tabled an amendment in Committee which aimed to reverse the scrapping of maintenance grants for loans.

The threat of marketisation and poorly regulated new providers threatens the UK brand of both traditional international facing universities and community and vocationally orientated ones. I am also worried about the potential impact of the proposals on the terms and conditions of staff. There is already an unacceptable gender pay gap in the higher education sector, alongside the growing use of zero-hours, temporary and insecure contracts. The Bill will make matters even worse as employers seek to cut costs in order to produce profits.

Overall, I believe the Bill is a missed opportunity that will set back the cause of equal access rather than advancing it.

Published 25/11/16

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