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Wednesday, July 8, 1998 Published at 21:39 GMT 22:39 UK

Teaching and Higher Education Bill

Originally the measures in this Bill - including the introduction of student tuition fees - were to have been included in the Bill to improve school standards.

The government decided at the last minute to introduce two separate pieces of legislation, to minimise disruption to the School Standards and Framework Bill from the anticipated opposition to its proposals on tuition fees.

University tuition fees have to be approved by summer 1998 if the government is to be able to charge students for the 1998 academic year. The Bill was introduced in the House of Lords on 26 November 1997 and has now had its Third Reading in the Commons.

Other main elements of the Bill are:

Establishment of General Teaching Councils for England and Wales.

  • Measures to reform the teaching profession.
  • Provision for certain young workers to have time off to study.

    Student Funding

    This part of the Bill outlines the government's plans to replace the maintenance living grant for students across the UK with a loan, and to introduce tuition fees for study.

    The government first outlined its broad plans for student funding in a report, Higher Education for the 21st Century, published on the same day as the Dearing report on higher education - 23 July 1997. The proposals include:

    • Tuition fees to be paid by all except the poorest students from 1998/9. About 30% of pupils will not pay tuition fees because their income or that of their parents or spouses is too low. Another 30% with family incomes of less than about 35,000 a year will pay less than the maximum level for 1998/9 of 1,000.
    • Replacing the maintenance grant for living expenses with loans from 1999/2000. Repayment of loans will be at the rate of nine per cent of a graduate's income once it is above 10,000.
    • A supplementary hardship loan of 250 a year to be available.
    • Bursaries to be considered for students entering teacher training or health and social care courses; employers will be invited to consider bursaries for other areas.
    The government has had opposition to its proposals from not only students' representatives and the Opposition benches in Parliament, but also from its own backbenchers.

    On March 2 1998 the Oppposition inflicted two defeats on the government in the Lords.

    The first amendment, carried by 143-102, restored the maintenance grant for poorer students. Baroness Blatch, the Conservatives' education spokeswoman in the Lords, argued that she was simply doing as the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had said he would do, which was to abide by the Dearing recommendations.

    A second defeat, by 134-89 votes, would mean that English, Welsh and Northern Irish students studying at Scottish universities would have to pay a total of 3,000 in tuition fees for a four-year course - the typical duration of degree-level studies in Scotland - in line with their Scottish counterparts.

    Both amendments were overturned in the Commons on June 8, when 31 Labour MPs defied the Whip and voted against the government on the issue of maintenance grants, while 15 more abstained.

    On June 23, the Lords inflicted a further defeat on the government when peers again voted to extend the fees exemption for fourth-year Scottish students to English, Welsh and Northern Irish students studying in Scotland. Once again, this was overturned in the Commons.

    But on July 7, the government suffered its heaviest defeat to date in the Lords when peers voted by 319 to 108 in favour of a new amendment exempting all UK students from fourth-year Scottish tuition fees.

    Ministers insist they will overturn this latest defeat in the Commons, even if this game of political "ping pong" means dealying the implementation of tuition fees by a year.

    General Teaching Councils

    The purpose of the GTCs for England and Wales is to improve the standing of the teaching profession by establishing professional bodies to represent it. They are modelled on the teaching council that Scotland has had since 1965. Separate legislation on a GTC for Northern Ireland is currently being framed.

    The function of the GTCs will be to advise the Education Secretary on standards of teaching and standards of conduct for teachers, on the role of the teaching profession and the recruitment and career development of teachers, and on whether a teacher should be sacked or prohibited from teaching.

    The Conservatives argue that the councils should be not merely advisory. There was a third defeat on this Bill for the government in the Lords on March 10, when peers voted 137-112 for a Tory amendment to give the GTCs similar powers to the General Medical Council - responsibility for standards of teaching, standards of conduct for teachers and their medical fitness to teach.

    Again, the government overturned the amendment in the Commons.

    The GTCs will also maintain registers of teachers - who will have to pay a fee to have their names entered. The Secretary of State will have powers to require employers to deduct the fee from salary. These fees will eventually finance the GTCs, after initial start-up costs are met by central government.

    Reform of the teaching profession

    Various measures to improve teacher training are proposed in the Bill:

    Time off for study

    This will enable certain 16- and 17-year-old employees in England, Wales and Scotland to take paid time off to study or train for approved qualifications, in order to improve their employment prospects.

    The government expects the cost to businesses to be between 60m and 130m per year, depending on how many take up the opportunities.

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