Diversifying delivery in higher education

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I’m delighted to be co-chairing the Higher Education Commission’s fifth inquiry alongside Lord Norton of Louth, investigating this growing diversity of higher education provision in the UK, assessing the distinctiveness of alternative models of provision, and considering whether this variety in the sector’s offer is effectively responding to the needs of students.

The Higher Education Commission is an independent body made up of leaders from the education sector, the business community and the three major political parties. Through its previous four inquiries, the Commission has become a leading voice in the development of evidence-based higher education policy in Westminster. Our previous inquiries have been influential, and have recommended the introduction of government loans for postgraduate study, the creation of a single lead regulator, improving sector-wide data management, and starting debates about the sector’s financial sustainability.

Our latest inquiry will take a close look at higher education taking place outside the traditional on-campus, three-year undergraduate degree to examine alternative models of provision, wherever they are found. We are interested in how alternative models are structured around student need, designed and delivered with employers, how they are funded and taught, and what the policy implications are.

What are the innovations taking place within alternative models? What makes alternative models distinct in their offer to students? What are the barriers to innovation? And what can the higher education sector learn from this?

In our first evidence session, we heard about the rationales underpinning alternative models in their subject offer, and discussed the role that student demand, funding, and regulation plays in this. For example, there are some models that are not operating for growth, and strategically offer subjects in unique subject areas in which they can take in small cohorts of students. Whereas there are other models which may offer business courses as these subjects are perceived to be important in the communities they serve.

The Commission also heard that some models offer subjects in order to address a social mobility need, or may be unable to offer desired subjects due to constraints in validation, funding, and capped student numbers.

With such heterogeneity already captured in the early stages of this inquiry, we aim to showcase the main features of innovative practice, and examine any barriers to further innovation, with the aim of promoting cross-sector learning. The Commission is keen to hear from all providers from across the HEI spectrum – from universities, FE colleges, to alternative providers.

I invite you to contribute to the Higher Education Commission’s fifth inquiry. The deadline for submission is Monday 3rd April. Evidence can be submitted to pooja.kumari@policyconnect.org.uk.

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