Snap election: government bill that would make it easier for individuals to set up unis could be scrapped

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By Polly Botsford on

The Prisons and Courts Bill has already been abandoned, now maybe May’s announcement will save us from a Trump University in Britain

The government’s controversial Higher Education and Research Bill, which if passed could drastically change university education as we know it, is at risk of being kicked into the long grass thanks to the Prime Minister Theresa May’s general election announcement.

The bill is not yet finalised and has been subject to a number of proposed amendments by the House of Lords. With the announcement of a general election on 8 June, the bill could well be abandoned (it cannot be carried over to the next parliamentary session unless the government starts the process from the beginning). Opponents of the bill, which aims to dramatically open up the university “market” and could pave the way for a Trump University this side of the Atlantic, are crossing their fingers that the government will give it up completely.

This is the fate that’s already been suffered by the Prisons and Courts Bill.

As reported by Legal Cheek during the bill’s ascent through the legislative process, the Prisons and Courts Bill was part of the government’s bid to transform the courts system by allowing the Ministry of Justice to save on expensive court buildings and staff. If passed, the bill would have allowed defendants to both plead guilty and be convicted online. However, House of Commons leader David Lidington confirmed in parliament yesterday that these plans have been abandoned thanks to the general election.

The destiny of the Higher Education and Research Bill, however, may well be different.

Instead of being scrapped, it is more likely that the bill will get pushed through with some messy concessions from all sides during what is known as ‘the washup’, the period during which all outstanding bills are subject to intense negotiation before parliament shuts down to prepare for the general election. This means the government will have to get MP consensus on the numerous proposed amendments — and in a very short space of time.

The proposals have been highly controversial and are fiercely opposed by students in particular: the National Union of Students (NUS) has lobbied hard against it as part of its ‘Quality Doesn’t Grow on Fees’ campaign.

The Lords put forward a number of amendments, including proposing that the Teaching Excellence Framework, a scheme for assessing teaching standards introduced in the bill, should not be used to set tuition fees. The upper house has also said that plans to make it easier to set up as a university should be restricted, and that international students should be removed from the government’s target to reduce net migration.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, a Labour peer, reported that this was “the most amendments for any bill in recent memory”.

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