Office for Students to investigate Leeds Trinity University partnerships

The investigation started on 16 February 2024

David Kernohan is Deputy Editor of Wonkhe

In what looks like the first move following a long-trailed intention to sort out the often-murky world of franchise provision, the Office for Students is to investigate the quality, management, and governance of subcontractual partners at Leeds Trinity University.

The investigation will also examine Leeds Trinity’s compliance with the registration requirement to provide information to the OfS (F3), alongside a more general examination of compliance with registration requirements and the conditions attached to degree awarding powers in relation to partnerships.

Leeds Trinity has run contractual relationships with four UK private providers for nearly half a decade, and has commenced further partnerships this year. As things currently stand, the provider subcontracts provision to:

There is also a validation arrangement with Barnsley College, and partnerships with international providers in Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Of the six UK partners, all but two (LDT and SSS) will be well-known to the Office for Students as registered providers in their own right – and given that there are no current registration conditions placed on these providers we would have to assume there are no concerns about the quality of provision.

LD Training Services (two campuses in Nottingham, plus Stanmore and Dudley) offers four business-related undergraduate degrees in partnership with Leeds Trinity University, all of which include foundation years. The only other provision on offer there is the IFA direct online route to professional membership for accountants. The Scholars School System (five campuses in London, Leicester, Birmingham, Manchester, and Bradford) offers two foundation-year enhanced undergraduate courses (in business, and in health and social care), alongside two postgraduate courses in similar topics. Neither recruit via UCAS.

According to Office for Students data, Leeds Trinity University had nearly 7,000 students taught at subcontractual partners in 2021-22 (excluding apprenticeships) – plus nearly 4,000 students taught and registered to itself.

Leeds Trinity told us:

As a responsible higher education provider we understand and take seriously our obligation to comply with all relevant rules and guidelines to meet the sector’s regulatory requirements. Leeds Trinity University will work with the Office for Students (OfS) to ensure transparency and assurance in relation to the institution’s franchise partnership arrangements.

Widening participation is at the heart of Leeds Trinity’s ethos and has been for many years. Franchise partnerships are one of a number of ways in which the University enables social mobility and raising aspirations in groups traditionally under-represented in higher education.

The Office for Students is keen to emphasise that

The opening of the investigation means that the OfS has identified potential concerns that require further scrutiny. The decision to open an investigation does not mean that any form of non-compliance or wrong-doing has taken place.

10 responses to “Office for Students to investigate Leeds Trinity University partnerships

  1. HEPI paper – “we need light touch regulation for reasons”
    OFS – “Hold my beer”

  2. Not by choice, but necessitated by other agencies now getting involved.

    An attempt to head off greater scrutiny, to justify their existence, and very possibly to provide some cover on questions such as if and to what extent they have participated themselves.

  3. Do all partners of Leeds Trinity identified above (I assume taken from their web page) deliver sub-contracted/franchised provision? University partnerships with FE Colleges, in particular, are more often validation arrangements. Whilst a University is ultimately responsible for the the quality and standards of both sub-contracted/franchised and validated provision, leading to awards in its name, there are a number of differences with these arrangements. Most notably, FE Colleges with validated provision will already be registered with, and thus regulated by, the OfS in their own right.

    1. I’ve tweaked the text to make this clearer.

      It is notable that only two of those franchise partners listed above are not on the OfS register.

    2. There is a question as to whether providers fully understand the difference between franchise and validated provision. It is surprising how many don’t, which given the less than clear definitions provided by the OfS is not surprising.

    1. Agreed – although, to be fair to Leeds Trinity it isn’t clear what boat we are talking about yet, or if they are in it.

      But there are more than a few franchise arrangements that need looking at. My concern is that too few will be flagged up by someone in Bristol looking at a spreadsheet – and the students at these places don’t contact the OfS, either, to notifiy them of the problems. One needs a working knowledge of this murkier part of the sector to know how bad it is and I see no evidence that the OfS have that, or even that they are aware of their expertise deficit.
      The numbers of students who have been defrauded since 2019 (while our regulator has been …well, I’m not sure what they haven been doing, frankly) really adds up. The only thing that has stemmed those numbers in any way recently, bizarrly, is Brexit.
      Universities need a regulator supporting them collectively to address this problem – not a peacemeal approach to opaque investigations with punitive regulatory decisions that seem to take years for any outcome to emerge!

  4. How about EDA College, a near-dormant for-profit company, with questionable promoters, getting a brand new franchise agreement from Newman University, though it is subject to NAO investigation? Do Universities care about such inquiries?

    Monies exchanged with Uni insiders to get agreements?

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