by Emma Petela 2nd February, 2015
3 min read

BIS Propose to Tighten Regulation of Alternative Providers of Higher Education

This week has seen the Government reiterate its continuing support for a high quality, diverse and more competitive Higher Education ‘market’.

Last Thursday the Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, Greg Clark MP, announced a series of significant requirements for alternative providers (APs) to demonstrate greater assurances of quality. The most notable, and decidedly arduous of these for providers, is the requirement for those without Taught Degree Awarding Powers (TDAP) to seek re-designation every year. The process of designation (where BIS approves courses on which students can draw down a student loan) will include greater quality assurance processes and stipulations, including Higher Education Review and a ‘fit and proper person test’ for directors of APs. Providers will no doubt highlight the lack of a level playing field with their publicly funded counterparts in relation to the yearly re-designation. However, the announcement did include some carrot as well as a stick for those APs offering degree level qualifications.

The seven providers with TDAP will no doubt be delighted with the Government’s decision to remove them from the student number control cap from 2015/16. At the same time, providers with validated partners will be allowed a growth flexibility of up to 20%. Given that BIS cut back student numbers at these providers to 2012/13 entry levels for the 2014/15 academic year, this will be a significant and welcome relief for those providers wishing to see some growth in student numbers.

BIS have been careful however to avoid a repeat of the sudden and substantial increase in public subsidy being drawn down by some low quality, high volume providers. In a circular to heads of APs, BIS confirmed that they would not be designating any new Higher National Certificate and Higher National Diploma courses for the next academic year. This goes some way to addressing the concerns highlighted most recently by the Public Accounts Committee and National Audit Office, who identified areas of abuse in the system.

With UCAS figures indicating record numbers of people applying to study at the UK’s HEIs, it will be interesting to see how increased capacity in the private sector will impact on the performance of the more traditional universities. The General Election and potential change of government could also create some significant waves across the sector.

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