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Union attacks university leaders after Lords amend higher education bill

9 March 2017

UCU today thanked peers for making a series of amendments to the government's Higher Education and Research Bill and launched an attack on university vice-chancellors for signing up to the government's proposals.

The union said it believed university leaders had failed to stand up for the higher education sector when they released a letter on Friday, through their representative bodies GuildHE and Universities UK (UUK), which said no more amendments were necessary and urged peers to back the bill.

However, peers ignored their advice and made a string of amendments blocking plans for a crude rating of teaching quality, removing the link between teaching excellence and tuition fees, and ensuring any organisation awarding degrees must meet improved quality standards. Former education secretary Lord Blunkett even accused UUK and GuildHE of having reached a Faustian deal with the government in their support of the bill.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'These amendments are a tribute to the independence of peers and have followed much hard work from UCU, students and others. Given that staff and students overwhelmingly oppose the bill we have been disappointed that UUK and GuildHE signed up to support plans which would so damage our sector.

'UCU has consistently warned that introducing teaching quality ratings based on dodgy metrics, or letting for-profit providers offer low-quality degrees with little oversight could cause chaos in our higher education sector. We will continue to work hard with students and politicians to ensure that these valuable amendments are not undone when the bill returns to the House of Commons.'

During the debate, peers from across the political spectrum spoke out against plans for a ratings system, recognising UCU's concern that the current metrics are deeply flawed and that teaching quality ratings would have a damaging impact on graduate prospects and the international reputation of many UK institutions.