Eight years on from its inception, the association has opted to hone its approach to focus on independent higher education providers, in light of both the changing regulatory landscape in the UK and its own limited capacity.
“With the best will in the world, we can’t be experts in every single policy area from HE to A-Levels to GCSE to other school issues”
In a letter addressed to members, Independent Higher Education’s chief executive, Alex Proudfoot, said the group’s work is now “predominantly on two fronts: domestic higher education policy and the great new opportunities for independent providers within the HE sector; and international education policy and the rules surrounding international students”.
As a small team, the association has decided to concentrate its resources on the areas where it has strong relationships and expertise to advocate for the HE sector – including pathway provision and higher-level vocational training.
Now is a pivotal time for the sector, Proudfoot noted, in light of the Higher Education and Research Bill announced earlier this year. One of the lynchpins of the bill is to make it easier for private providers to access degree-granting powers.
An increased membership fee will enable Independent HE to take on new staff members and intensify its lobbying work on improving the UK ‘offer’ to international students and the workings of the sponsorship system, the letter said.
“With the best will in the world, we can’t be experts in every single policy area from HE to A-Levels to GCSE to other school issues,” Proudfoot told The PIE News.
“The issue really with representing such a broad, diverse group of members is that in the last few years, sixth form members have felt themselves to be increasingly school-focused.”
Existing sixth form members will keep their membership until the end of the year, but will no longer be full members as of next year.
The association has found its name to be a “barrier” to recognition in the sector
It is “quite likely” that the association will provide some level of support for sixth form colleges that want it, particularly in areas such as advice around Tier 4 (international student visa) compliance, Proudfoot said. However, he added: “It’ll be quite clearly defined in terms of this is what we can provide, this is what you’re getting for the service and these are the limits of how we can help you.”
The relaunch includes a name change as the association has found its name to be a “barrier” to recognition in the sector, Proudfoot said.
“Many strong independent providers have been crying out for this level of support and representation; many of them didn’t even know we existed or that we did the work we did,” he added.
The association’s current priorities are to build membership among existing independent higher education providers and to build on its profile as a strong, credible voice to advocate for the sector.
Proudfoot predicted that membership will grow in the next two years as the regulatory landscape opens to new providers.
Independent HE will ask members to commit to upholding four principles: teaching excellence; flexible provision; quality assurance; transparency; and student protection.
To support the association’s work, members will pay annual subscriptions of between £2,000 and £5,000 per year, with higher fees for institutions with 1,000 or more full-time students.