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The week in Westminster

The higher education and research bill requires further amendments to protect institutional autonomy, peers told government during the second reading of the higher education and research bill on 6 December.

Some 68 peers spoke during the eight-hour debate, many of whom had extensive experience in higher education. Jo Johnson, the universities and science minister, watched the entire debate from behind a barrier that limits entrance to the chamber. Since second readings focus on principles rather than details, and peers had just five minutes each, criticisms focused on over-arching themes, such as the excessive ministerial powers it grants, the risks of lowering the criteria for market entry, the validity of the teaching excellence framework metrics, and the risks posed to the autonomy of the research councils and Innovate UK. Unlike in the Commons, where MPs are more heavily whipped, several Conservative peers asked for tweaks to be made, while the more robust critiques came from Labour, Lib Dem and cross-bench peers. The bill now moves to the committee stage, which may meet for the first time before Christmas, but which will largely take place in the new year.

In a written answer on 6 December, Johnson noted that the Dowling review of university and business research collaborations has been "very influential" on government thinking, and had guided its decision to create UK Research and Innovation "to make the science, research and innovation landscape more strategic, coherent and effective". The government had set out an initial response in the higher education white paper published this year, he said, but it is currently developing a more detailed response, which will incorporate the recent autumn statement announcements on research and development.

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