Paul Blomfield

A strong voice for Sheffield Central

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Beefed-up role for University Access Tsar after my pressure

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I've welcomed the Government’s concession to give more power to the person responsible for getting people from low income and other under-represented groups into university and helping them do well there.

I urged the Government to strengthen the role of the Director for Fair Access and Participation within the new body proposed in the Higher Education and Research Bill, the Office for Students (OfS).

The Government rejected amendments to the Higher Education Bill proposed last year by me and my Labour colleagues to ensure that all access and participation functions within the OfS lie with the Director, designed to avoid a watering down of the functions. But the Government has now tabled amendments of its own to the Bill, to the same effect. Those amendments are being considered by the House of Lords today and are expected to be agreed to, as the Bill passes through the Upper House before returning to the Commons.

The last Labour Government set up the Office for Fair Access to make sure that universities face robust challenge to ensure they provide opportunities for all. It is vital that when access and participation functions transfer to the new Office for Students, the Director for Fair Access and Participation still has the power to hold universities to account. The Director has made good use of these powers to date. This Government concession will make sure the Director can continue to press universities to make progress on access for under-represented groups and the provision of support to ensure their success.

I hope that the Government will also be making concessions on some of the other issues we pushed in the Commons, particularly on the flawed metrics for the Teaching Excellence Framework and on developing a more positive approach to international student recruitment.

You can find out more about my work on the Higher Education bill here, and my work on higher education more generally here.

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