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The Peers who might influence as the Bill heads to the House of Lords

The Higher Education and Research Bill begins its journey in the House of Lords this week, so we take a moment to reflect on who's who from HE in the upper house and who's likely to be influential in the debates.
This article is more than 7 years old

Pooja was a Policy Assistant at Wonkhe.

The House of Lords is not short of members with extensive experience in higher education, science and research. We’ve taken a quick look at those peers who look most likely to make a splash during the upcoming passage of the Higher Education and Research Bill.

The list is about as ‘establishment’ as they come, with many of the following names having held countless senior positions in public life for several decades, including former vice chancellors, heads of professional bodies, chairs of quangos, heads of Oxbridge colleges, non-executive directors of big corporations, and former ministers. Most of the peers with a background in the higher education sector are now either Labour or Crossbenchers, with remarkably few Conservatives having extensive experience working in or around universities.

The list is also by no means extensive – there are far more members of the Lords who have worked in academia and education and are expected to take an interest in the Bill. The sector is not short of allies in the upper house, and many more characters besides these listed will likely have an influence on proceedings.

Viscount Younger – Conservative HE spokesperson

Viscount Younger of Leckie, a Conservative hereditary peer, was appointed in July 2016 to be the Government Whip and Lords spokesperson for the Department for Education focusing on higher education issues. In a recent debate in the Lords about the impact of Brexit on universities and scientific research, he showed a diligent respect to the party line when providing assurances to the Lords about the future of UK higher education. He has consistently voted for tuition fee rises in the past (not all Conservative parliamentarians have) but may have to work hard to defend future increases if other Lords choose to force the issue.

Lord Stevenson – Labour HE spokesperson

Lord Stevenson is Labour shadow spokesperson for both the Education and BEIS briefs and will lead the official opposition to the Bill in the House of Lords. As former Secretary and Academic Registrar at Edinburgh Napier University (at the time Napier College), he has extensive experience of working in a university environment.

Stevenson told recently the Lords that the HE Bill was “six years too late”, and that since 2010 parliament has been a “passive witnesses to a radical experiment across our higher education system” which “has been transformed out of all recognition with its vouchers for borrowed fees and maintenance, financed by hugely increased personal debt.” Although welcoming of the TEF in principle, he is wary of the link between rising fees and a “very narrow range of indicators of teaching excellence”. Like Baroness Wolf (see below), he has expressed concerns about the expansion of private and company universities, pointing towards what he sees as uninspiring evidence in the United States.

Lord Willetts – Conservative –  Former Minister of State for Universities and Science

David Willetts is a familiar face to many in the sector as architect of the 2010 funding reforms and 2011 White Paper. He is now Executive Chair of the Resolution Foundation, Chair of the British Science Association, and Visiting Professor at King’s College London, where he is currently undertaking research for an upcoming book on higher education policy. Willetts had begun work on his own HE Bill back in 2011-12 before it was dropped, and some elements of his legacy have carried over into the current Bill.

Willetts hasn’t been that active in the House of Lords to date – though he may have been biding his time waiting for the HE Bill to surface – and he has frequently commented on matters of higher education policy. He also recently suggested that many Conservative ministers and MPs believe the sector’s representatives are too often “talking for their own book” when lobbying over the Bill and international students. It would be surprising if Willetts broke the whip and publicly challenged any of the Bill’s main tenets on its journey through the Lords, but his influence runs deep as he has a rare vantage point on the policies being proposed, and is widely respected across party lines.

Baroness Wolf – Crossbench – Professor of Public Policy at King’s College London

Professor Dame Alison Wolf is a heavyweight of the tertiary education sector and sure to make waves in the Lords’ debate on the Bill. As well as a prominent thinker on education policy, as the Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Policy at King’s College London, she is also as a governor of KCL’s widely praised Maths School.

Wolf has recently been critical of lowering barriers to sector entry and university title, arguing it will create an “American-style catastrophe”, where “dramatic expansion” would lead to an increase in poor quality colleges. She has recently submitted questions to the government relating to DAPs, on how institutions can lose them and whether institutions without them can be called universities, and should be watched closely when the Lords debate this topic.

Lord Rees – Crossbench – Former President of the Royal Society

Martin Rees is a true eminence grise of the research community: former president of the Royal Society, former master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and the Astronomer Royal since 1995. He has been openly critical of the merger of the research councils into UKRI, a proposal of Paul Nurse, his successor at the Royal Society. Rees recently argued in the Guardian that the Bill is “needlessly drastic” and that the research councils are plenty effective at collaboration and working efficiently. He has also expressed concerns about the lack of a senior independent scientist in BEIS. The government has made it clear it is not willing to shelve proposals to merge the research councils, but Rees may secure some amendments to mitigate against what he believes will be a damaging reform.

Baroness Bakewell – Labour – Broadcaster and President of Birkbeck, University of London

Joan Bakewell is best known as a journalist and broadcaster, but since 2013 she has been President of Birkbeck and has announced her intention to champion the cause of part-time and lifelong learning in the Lords debate. Bakewell has an honorary degree from multiple universities and a long history of leadership in the arts sector, including with the National Theatre, British Film Institute, Tate Gallery, and National Campaign for the Arts.

Lord Bilimoria – Crossbench – Entrepreneur and Chancellor, University of Birmingham

Karan Bilimoria, the founder and CEO of Cobra Beer, has been a vocal critic of the government’s policy on international students. He is co-chair of the APPG for International Students and President of the UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA). Born in Hyderabad, he recently accompanied Theresa May on her trip to India to build up diplomatic and business relations, but pointed out that Indian PM Narendra Modi criticised the UK as wanting India’s business “but not their children”.

Baron Krebs – Crossbench – President, British Science Association

Lord Krebs is a heavyweight in the world of academic science and research and a prominent voice on the Lords Science and Technology Committee. He was formerly Chief and Chairman of the Natural Environment Research Council and Principal of Jesus College, Oxford. It will be interesting to see what he makes of his former research council being merged into UKRI.

Baroness Garden – Liberal Democrat – Former government whip and spokesperson

Susan Garden began her career as a school teacher before working for a long time at senior level at City and Guilds. During the Coalition years, she was the Lords spokesperson for the BIS. She has recently spoken in the Lords on removing international students from the net migration target but voted with her party to raise the fee cap to £9,000 in 2010.

Baroness Warwick – Labour – Former CEO, Universities UK

Diana Warwick has had a long and esteemed career in higher education on the side of both employers and employees, serving as Chief Executive of Universities UK from 1995 to 2009, and before that General Secretary of the Association of University Teachers (now UCU) from 1983 to 1992. She has made it clear in recent parliamentary debates that TEF should not be linked to international student recruitment, and has called for the government to recognise all QAA-assessed universities as high-quality institutions. Alongside her work on many important sector bodies, she is also a member of the Councils of University College London and Nottingham Trent University, is the Chair of International Students House, London, and has sat on the Lords Science and Technology Committee. It would be surprising if she were not to discuss or table amendments to the Bill.

Lord Stern – Crossbench – Economist and President of the British Academy

Nicholas Stern is most well-known in recent years for his review of the Research Excellence Framework and as President of the British Academy. He also holds a number of roles at the London School of Economics, most notably as G Patel Professor of Economics and Government and Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. Stern was the Chief Economist and Senior Vice President at the World Bank from 2000-2003, and in 2006 authored the government’s Review of the Economics of Climate Change after serving a stint at the Treasury.

Baroness Deech – Crossbench – Former Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education

Ruth Deech is a leading bioethicist and professor of law and has had a number of roles in the sector including as the first Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education and former Principal of St Annes’s College, Oxford. Deech has been quiet on the Bill to date, but she may be most concerned with the Bill’s impact on student protections given her experience of work at the OIA.

Baroness Brown – Crossbench – Former Vice Chancellor, Aston University

Julie King was vice chancellor of Aston University until stepping down this year and is no doubt still well connected amongst the current crop of vice chancellors. She has also been a Council Member of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and was involved in Lord Stern’s review of the REF. King has indicated a desire for the Lords debate to focus on matter pertinent to the Bill rather than other important issues, such as Brexit, that are not directly relevant to the legislation. She has stated her intention to focus on issues such as institutional autonomy, quality and standards, a continued high bar for sector entry, and the regulatory role of the Office for Students.

Baroness Cohen – Labour – Author, lawyer, and President of BPP University

Janet Cohen is currently the President of BPP University, one of the best known private universities in the country. Her voice will likely be a counter-balance to the many representatives of the establish sector in the Lords that will be critical of new entrants into the market. Cohen is also a fellow of St Edmund’s College Cambridge.

Baroness Kennedy – Labour – Lawyer, broadcaster, and Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford

Though nominally a Labour peer, Helena Kennedy QC is a regular rebel against her party whip. She has held innumerable leadership roles in public life and is currently the Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, but in the past was President of SOAS, and Chair of the British Council. Her charity, the Helen Kennedy Foundation, offers bursaries, mentoring and other support to disadvantaged students in further and higher education, and Kennedy has regularly been involved in debates on widening participation and social mobility. Expect her to speak to these issues in the Lords.

Lord Mandelson – Labour – Former Secretary of State for Business, Innovation, and Skills

Peter Mandelson, master of the ‘dark arts’, is now Chancellor of Manchester Metropolitan University. He was formerly the Secretary of State for BIS in the dying days of New Labour, and set up the Browne Review which ultimately led to tuition fee increases in 2010. We await to see whether he’ll get stuck into the Bill, but if he does his notorious expertise in wheeling and dealing could oil the machinery of amendments. A former European Commissioner, his experience in Brussels will be invaluable to a range of sector’s during the next couple of years, and he has warned that Brexit could potentially “jeopardises the world-class status” of British universities.

Lord Triesman – Labour – Former Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Innovation, Universities and Skills

David Triesman was originally a union hack, first at NUS and then General Secretary of the Association of University Teachers before becoming General Secretary of Labour Party in 2001. In more recently years he’s been best know as Chairman of the Football Association. His time in DIUS focused on intellectual property and quality in universities during a brief spell in the now defunct role as Minister for Students. He is currently both a Member of the Governing Council at the University of Northampton and a Senior Fellow in the University of Warwick’s manufacturing group. His experience lends itself to both teaching and research elements of the Bill, and may be particularly concerned with standards of science and research, as well as contributing to debates on workers’ rights in higher education.

3 responses to “The Peers who might influence as the Bill heads to the House of Lords

  1. No doubt shortage of space meant that you omitted David Triesman’s time at NATFHE, now UCU following the merger with AUT. HE should therefore be well placed to understand the issues across the range of types of institutions in the he sector.

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