28 July 2016

Last week, CaSE convened a workshop on the Higher Education & Research Bill attended by around 40 people from CaSE member organisations and collaborators across academia, industry, charities and learned/professional bodies.

The workshop was kindly hosted by the Royal Society and, coming just before the second reading of the Bill in the Commons, provided an opportunity to go through the research and innovation aspects of the Bill (particularly part 3 and schedule 9) in depth and by theme before the Committee Stage begins.

Discussion centred around four broad and overlapping themes, UKRI & council links, Innovation, Teaching & Research, and Governance. We separated into groups by theme, then post-its, pens and flipcharts made an appearance as each group tried to capture their clause-by-clause concerns and to assess where concerns were broadly shared, what were emerging as priorities, and how some of the concerns could best be addressed – for instance by text amendments to the bill or by clarification through further engagement with government, parliamentary debate, or other means.

If numbers are a measure of priority the two themes that generated the most interest were UKRI & Council links, and Innovation. The specific clause by clause concerns, questions and proposed amendments raised at the meeting have been shared with CaSE members and attendees, and will help inform our ongoing work on the bill.

Following the second reading of the bill in the House of Commons on 19th July, this Bill has now been committed to a Public Bill Committee. The Public Bill Committee will meet in September after the end of Recess and will scrutinise the Bill line by line. Information and updates on the bill can be found on the parliament website. The Committee is expected to report to the House by 13 October 2016. During this period members of the Committee can propose amendments.

CaSE will be getting in touch with a number of committee members in the coming weeks. The debate on the Second Reading (which you can read the transcript of) underlined the areas of the bill that will likely attract most attention and command the majority of the Committee's time – these centre around fee increases, new providers and other matters on the HE side of the Bill. A common feature of the debate in the commons was also the context that surrounds this bill – namely Brexit coupled with new departmental structures splitting this Bill across two departments and two Secretaries of State. Concerns were repeatedly raised as to whether now is the right time to be pushing ahead with this legislation. Government seem resolved to continue, meaning pragmatic engagement with the process will be essential if the bill is to be in the best possible shape by the end. We will therefore be working hard to ensure the Research & Innovation aspects of the Bill are rightly scrutinised and considered in the Commons before the Bill progresses to the Lords from mid-October.

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