Blog: Queen's Speech 2022 Analysis

13 May 2022

While the Queen’s Speech wasn’t delivered by Her Majesty herself, our university visitors from Belgium this week were nonetheless delighted by its pomp and pageantry. Indeed, Tuesday was an important moment, finding out where the Government was planning to take us in the year ahead. 

This year, the big question was who the Government was seeking to please: external stakeholders, or was their focus the electorate and its own MPs after a disruptive start to 2022?

After disappointing local election results, the expectation was that the Government had to wrestle the narrative back; delivering a legislative agenda that balances a focus on their flagship ‘levelling up’ policy with trying to satisfy the concerns of the public.

So, did they deliver?

Well, levelling up was certainly mentioned: an eponymous bill was in there, while several others (school, housing and rental reforms, transport) will be seen by those in Downing Street to try and help breathe new life into a stuttering policy. There was somewhat less on the cost-of-living crisis, so we suspect there is more to come on this front in the next few months.

And while we would have welcomed indications of work on a new funding formula for universities to protect teaching quality, support student choice, and deliver the highly skilled workers our economy needs - while being fair for students and taxpayers - there was still much for the sector to get their teeth into.

Three years after the Augar review was published, we have now had a government response, a consultation, and Tuesday brought us a new Higher Education Bill, which will introduce the Lifelong Loan Entitlement (LLE). The Russell Group has consistently said that the LLE has the potential to be transformational – if funded and implemented appropriately – so perhaps good things do come to those who wait.

However, as ever with these things, the devil is always in the detail.

Proposed reforms relating to student number controls and minimum eligibility requirements are set to feature as part of the Government’s ongoing response to tackle what it perceives to be low-quality courses. However, we need to be mindful that proposals in this area could have serious implications for students and access to higher education, so robust, proportionate, and evidence-based solutions are needed for the issues government is seeking to tackle.

The aforementioned Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, which ministers will hope can be the catalyst to kickstart the jewel in the government’s policy crown, will be of interest to the sector. Additional funding through devolution deals and the Shared Prosperity Fund is now a possibility, so it is vital that universities showcase just how big a role they can – and do already - play in creating opportunity and helping local towns and cities.

One of the key advantages of universities is that they can tap into knowledge and talent from around the world to address challenges faced in the UK and create new opportunities. But collaborating globally obviously comes with its own challenges.

Our work with Government to strengthen and maintain the extensive research security measures in place will continue, but we must make sure that the carried-over Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill and newly introduced National Security Bill complement existing mechanisms and do not create unintended obstacles in the path of world-class research that the UK will need to draw on for future growth, health protection and environmental security.

While safeguarding research, enhancing transparency, and upholding national security is of the utmost importance, it would be folly to have legislation that hampers the UK’s ability to attract foreign investment – especially from our trusted partners such as the US, Canada and Australia. Decision makers must consider whether the adding of additional bureaucracy is worth the potential consequences of making Britain a less attractive option compared to other countries.

Away from the headline legislation, there was a welcome signal that the government is keen to step up their intentions to create more fertile ground for innovation in the UK to prosper. Many bills (including energy security and procurement) are intended to reform regulation in whole or in part to foster innovation and help to meet the Government’s ‘science superpower’ ambition, which we very much welcome.

Whether it is working to safeguard links between international collaborators, protecting the quality of teaching and support for students, showcasing our role in the Government’s levelling up agenda or working to encourage more use of the UK’s R&D sector to create opportunity and boost the UK economy, the next 12 months will be an exciting time ahead.


Colin McKinlay is the External Relations and Policy Manager at the Russell Group. 

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