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Extensive survey of private HE/FE: UK

The UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has commissioned research into the UK’s private education sector to chart the actual size and USP of private education colleges. The aim is to give ministers a better picture of the private sector landscape, following last summer’s White Paper on education, which calls for a more “equal playing field” between public and private providers of HE.

The research will involve establishing an authoritative list of existing private FE and HE providers

It is being carried out by the British Accreditation Council (BAC) and consultancy CFE. BAC, which provides accreditation for private operators – although the UK government ushered in a new list of quality audit bodies for Tier 4 visa purposes in 2011 – said the research will involve establishing an authoritative list of existing private FE and HE providers in the UK.

The research will also survey the scope and scale of provision at institutions; and chart student motivations and experience, including those of the “significant international student population studying in the sector”.

“This project provides an excellent opportunity to raise the profile of private HE provision in the UK”

Dr Gina Hobson, chief executive of BAC, which has links with over 500 organisations in private FE/HE said: “This project provides an excellent opportunity to raise the profile of private HE provision in the UK, and to emphasise the scale, diversity and quality of provision in the sector.”

Firm data is also being sought as to the proportion of international students studying in the private sectors as compared with UK and EU nationals.

Hobson said she hoped for similar rights for private providers, as promised by the White Paper, although there is no mention of reversing the ban on international student work rights in the private sector – a serious impediment to competition.

Firm data is being sought as to the proportion of international students in the private sectors

“Given that private providers are now having to be reviewed by publicly accountable educational oversight bodies, my hope would be that UKBA will strip back the differentiation between public and private providers and apply the same rights to all [students] regardless of where they study,” said Hobson.

Other reforms that could result from the White Paper are related to accessing domicile student loans and degree-awarding powers (currently universities may hold these in perpetuity but private providers must reapply every six years).

The White Paper aims to make education a student-centric experience; other changes it moots are enabling students to signal quality concerns they may have and encouraging educators to work with industry and “kitemark” courses that are valued to employers.

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