The Higher Education Bill: What Next?

The close vote on the higher education bill was so close that there is clearly a highly division of opinions in Parliament on the future of higher education. For NPC, taking a position on the principle of the higher education bill is a very difficult one. The real question is whether there really is a principle. Contrary to what the media said, the bill was not a bill to introduce tuition fees, it was a bill to reform higher education. The bill came in three main parts; the first was to introduce the Arts and Humanities Research Council, that means better funding of research and postgraduate support in the arts and humanities, something NPC has long yearned for. The second part of the bill is set to reform student complaints, by removal of Visitorial jurisdiction in old Universities and the introduction of an Independent Adjudicator. You only have to search NPCs website to see for how many years we have vociferously opposed the medieval Visitor system. Finally we have the tuition fees, which not only mean an upper limit of 3,000 for undergraduates in England but a possible increase in this upper limit in years to come. NPC does not support such policy in light of the burden of debt that will hinder so many from continuing to postgraduate education.

At the vote on the 27th January, either the whole bill had to be accepted or rejected, parts could not be removed or added. The "principle" of the bill was voted on, but with three very independent parts in existence, it therefore has to be questioned exactly what the principle is. Clearly whichever way this bill was voted on was going to be bad news. In this regard, NPC decided to remain neutral and highlight the parts that it does support and those it does not support. At present, NPC can only look to the future. A third hearing is due, with a number of reforms to be considered by the select committee before the third hearing is reached. The forthcoming Ordinary General Meeting in Leeds will discuss NPCs response.

Tim Brown