The Pearson BSc

The media today has been covering the public launch of Pearson College. The new offering from the education publishing giant sees it move into full undergraduate degrees from the HNCs and HNDs it offers through its subsidiary, the examination board Edexcel. This post looks at the interesting changes to Pearson's business model that have taken place which tells us a lot about the current state of HE reform.

The media today has been covering the public launch of Pearson College. The new offering from the education publishing giant sees it move into full undergraduate degrees from the HNCs and HNDs it offers through its subsidiary, the examination board Edexcel.

The basic model for the BSc Business and Entrepreneurship at Pearson College is what is known as an articulation arrangement. The first two years’ of study on the programme will be towards the award of a Pearson diploma, an HND that Pearson validates itself. The third year is the ‘honours’ year the part of the programme that leads to the award of a BSc validated by Royal Holloway. And this final year is available as a ‘top-up only’ option for those with other equivalent experience and qualifications. (Owing to this basic structure, it is likely that the course will be ‘designated’ for student support and access to fee loans).

Beyond the inevitable questions about the further entry of for-profit companies into degree-level provision, and legitimate questions about the structure of the diploma and its relation to broader questions around internships, what is most interesting in the wider scheme are the changes to the business plan that can be observed since the partnership with Royal Holloway was announced in 2011.

Back then, the idea was that Pearson would not be engaged in teaching but would deliver the programme in conjunction with FE colleges. At the time, I was led to believe that there was no place for academics in the business model. Jump forward to today’s news and we see something quite different: Pearson will be taking responsibility for teaching at its offices in Salford and central London.

Although the main PR campaign began today, the college website was up and running back in June. Even then the site advertised 12 FE colleges as partners available to deliver the final top-up year (see cached version here). Similarly, at that time, five years’ business experience would have counted as sufficient to gain entry to the final BSc year. I would guess that both these elements have been removed so as to comply fully with current regulations regarding validation, with Royal Holloway needing to hold Pearson directly to account over quality assurance rather than allow it to delegate some of those matters to delivery partners.

This overall shift from Pearson as non-teaching to teaching body reflects the problems the government is facing in legislating to grant degree awarding powers to companies such as Pearson. Indeed, back in 2011, Times Higher Education reported David Willetts’s enthusiasm for this decoupling of teaching and degree awarding powers.

So in one sense, Pearson’s revised strategy is a hedge: it will build up a teaching track record so as to comply with current regulations in case Willetts cannot deliver on the promise ‘to ensure that barriers to non-teaching bodies are removed’ (Technical Consultation §4.29).

The combination of Pearson with degree awarding powers combined with FE colleges offered a rapid rollout of cheaper undergraduate provision. Even if such progress has been slowed for the time being, and Pearson College is really a compromise offering, it is clear this is the ‘new provider’ to watch especially with BSc’s in IT and Engineering to follow in 2013.

2 responses to “The Pearson BSc

  1. This is the slowest possible way they can achieve degree awarding powers, but it makes sense for them to use every option available to them, as the profits they’ll be able to achieve having had a few years of the necessary track record of delivery before getting DAPs, could be huge.

    I’d be surprised however if we didn’t see some form of legislation before 2015 that let them skip to the end.

  2. Kellogg’s say on their boxes “We do not make cereal for anyone else”. How long before UK HEIs have distance learning HEIs made by Pearson and simply branded as the HEIs (cheaper, ubiquious, not quite as good as the real thing)?

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