Via the means of a written ministerial statement from Greg Clark, the government has unexpectedly introduced a raft of new measures aimed at beefing up regulation of alternative providers. They recognise criticism inherent in the NAO report amongst other things, as context for this move. However they are opening up student number controls for their preferred ‘elite’ end of the private sector – the seven providers with degree awarding powers.
The measures are:
- Alternative providers will need to be redesignated every year, rather than remaining designated indefinitely. This will not apply to the seven providers with Degree Awarding Powers that have courses designated for student support.
- As a condition of designation providers will undergo a strengthened quality assurance process, Higher Education Review, which will apply to all higher education providers and be the common review framework of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education in England.
- From now on alternative providers will be required to have registered any student with the relevant qualification awarding body before a claim for tuition fee support for that student can be made.
- A ‘fit and proper person’ test will apply to all directors of alternative providers as a specific requirement of the annual designation process, in line with practice in the publicly-funded sector. Changes of directors, or their circumstances, will need to be notified during the year, as well as at the annual designation point.
- Alternative providers will be required to submit information on students’ previous qualifications, demographic characteristics and achievements. This information will be published through the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
- Subject to consultation we intend to introduce a minimum English language requirement to ensure that students studying for qualifications at alternative providers have sufficient language skills to succeed at their course.
- We will require alternative providers, subject to consultation, to provide students with good quality information on: student satisfaction ratings, graduate salaries and employment, tuition fees, financial support and the cost of accommodation – through the Key Information Set, which already applies to HEFCE-funded providers.
- We will remove the student number cap from the seven providers with Degree Awarding Powers that have courses designated for student support, and allow providers offering validated degrees the flexibility to increase the number of students they recruit by up to 20% in 2015/16. We will retain the cap on all other alternative providers. From 2016/17 we will allow providers with a strong performance to expand, while reducing student numbers for other providers.
- A rapid response investigatory team has been established, headed by the Government Internal Audit Agency and including the Student Loans Company, HEFCE, the Quality Assurance Agency and BIS. The team will be able quickly to investigate allegations of abuse of the system.
- Pearson, whose qualifications are delivered by some of the alternative providers about whom the NAO have expressed concerns, have strengthened their internal quality assurance process, introducing annual approval and student re-registration and increasing the level of proficiency in English required of student entering Higher National courses.
Lots of interesting things here. Removing the SNC cap for the private that had DAP has been a big ask from them for some time. It certainly helps further distinguish this group from the rest of the private HE sector. The ‘rapid response’ team will be welcomed, as will the ‘fit and proper’ test for directors of alternative providers. Plenty to chew over here, more analysis will follow.