Reactions to the bill have been mixedComposite: Louis Ashworth

The Higher Education and Research Bill is an immense piece of legislation proposing myriad reforms, so it is no wonder that its critics have different objections.

Multiple universities, including Cambridge, Nottingham and Brunel, along with Universities UK and the Russell Group, have submitted written testimonials to the Public Bill Committee in which they criticise (mostly the same) provisions of the Bill.

In particular, the University of Cambridge and the Russell Group have condemned the idea that the Office for Students (OfS) should have the power to regulate the standards of universities’ degrees, arguing that this regulation is the prerogative of universities as autonomous academic institutions.

Universities have also expressed concern that the powers of the OfS – which include the ability to confer degree-awarding powers and remove them from an institution – lack proper accountability.

Brunel University has called for the provision to be scrapped entirely, while the University of Cambridge has been more equivocal, recommending that the power be subject to more scrutiny.

However, universities have mostly approved of the requirement that the Secretary of State maintains a balance between teaching and research funding, which they have suggested should be shored up still further.

The NUS has undergone a change of leadership since the announcement of the Bill, but its position has remained consistent.

It has criticised the proposal to allow tuition fees to be raised: in May, then-NUS vice-president Sorana Vieru predicted that students would be “outraged” by the clause of the Bill that would permit universities to raise their tuition fees in line with inflation.

Current NUS president Malia Bouattia has increasingly focused on the implications of the Bill for the relationship between student and university, accusing it last month of “attempting to move us totally away from a conception of education as a social good which strengthens and enriches our society towards one that it is a privilege to be paid for purely for the benefit of your future employer”.

In its main contribution to the content of the Bill, the Union has called for student representation on the Office for Students board.

However, an amendment to the Bill that would have achieved this, tabled by Labour MP and former NUS president Wes Streeting, was voted down in parliament.

Nonetheless, the NUS has found things to praise in the Bill, particularly its access commitments. Under the Bill, universities will be required to compile statistics regarding the family income, gender, and ethnicity of their students.

Academics have not generally welcomed the proposals. A letter sent to the Financial Times from 96 academics in September criticised the general sentiments of the Bill, arguing that it “entrenches the notion of universities as suppliers of courses rather than as educators, and of students as consumers”.

In another letter, in The Guardian, 13 academics queried the wisdom of creating for-profit universities and warned that the Bill treated universities like “degree factories”.

These complaints follow growing alarm among some university staff that students are beginning to regard their degrees as a mere commercial service.

Teaching academics have complained of students approaching them demanding to know why their grades are not higher, given the amount of money they have spent on their tuition.

Indeed, the the University and College Union (UCU), has provided some of the most vociferous criticism of the Bill, calling for it to be halted entirely in light of the Brexit referendum, which the Union contends will require reconsideration of all government higher education policy.

Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the UCU, has also warned that the Bill could breed low-performing for-profit universities.

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