There’s probably not been a more exciting (or, at least, eventful) time to be involved in science policy for many, many years.
On top of the small matter of the result of the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, the government introduced the Higher Education and Research Bill (HERB) before the summer. Parliament returned this week, and HERB is near the top of the agenda.
HERB will not only demand the attention of the sector for at least the next three to five years, but will have ramifications for decades to come. The bill will lead to significant changes in the way in which higher education institutions are regulated in England, and in which UK research and innovation infrastructure (HEFCE, the research councils, Innovate UK) is structured.
Under the bill, all higher education regulation and teaching will fall under a new body, the Office for Students (OfS). All research infrastructure (including elements of HEFCE, the research councils and Innovate UK) will fall under another new body, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). There will be a more simplified route for institutions to become universities, greater efforts to promote a market in higher education, and a legislative underpinning for the Teaching Excellence Framework. On top of this, over the summer, the machinery of government was changed so that all higher education policy now falls under the Department for Education, and research under the new Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. For the previous nine years all research and higher education policy was under the same roof.
Already, the Public Bill Committee tasked with scrutinising the bill has met twice to take evidence from interested stakeholders. They will soon be going through the bill, line by line, to suggest amendments before it goes through to the next stage in the legislative process. The bill is unlikely to make it through all stages in the process until next year.
The IOP welcomes a number of areas of the bill, including increased transparency for providers, ensuring that providers have to agree access and participation plans, and enshrining the balanced funding principle into law. However, we have a number of concerns, including: a need to maintain the existing strengths and operations of the higher education and research landscape; a need to clarify the relationship between the government, OfS and UKRI; creating stronger links between research and teaching; maintaining links with the devolved administrations; and stronger provisions on widening participation and access.
We have submitted evidence to the Public Bill Committee, and are in the process of engaging with MPs to highlight specific amendments that we feel should be taken forward to strengthen science and research, and ensure that we don’t lose existing strengths in the system.
During this time, we will continue to engage with members on their views on the bill and its likely effects on the physics community. Engaging with IOP members is absolutely essential to the success of our policy work. Without their expertise, we couldn’t be the respected voice that we are in policy.
- You can download the evidence submitted by the Institute to the consultation on the Higher Education and Research Bill from the IOP website