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UK: Gov imposes new regulation for private colleges

A ‘Rapid Response Team’ to investigate fraud allegations and ‘fit and proper’ tests for directors of alternative providers (APs) are just some of the new measures the government will apply to private colleges, as revealed yesterday in an unexpected ministerial statement by Universities and Science Minister Greg Clark.

Greg Clark's written statement outlines tougher quality measures for higher education alternative providers. Photo: BIS.

Access to loan funding by students at alternative providers is up by almost £179m year-on-year

Clark commented that quality controls need to “go further” and that all non-degree awarding powers that institutions have will be re-designated every year rather than remaining designated indefinitely.

“The reputation for quality of our higher education system is of paramount importance, and I expect all alternative providers to contribute to it,” he noted.

“The reputation for quality of our higher education system is of paramount importance, and I expect all alternative providers to contribute to it”

There was no direct link made in the statement by Clark between delivery of quality provision to appropriately qualified candidates at “some” APs and colleges catering for an international clientele.

It is clear that provision aimed at non-native students is a concern, however, as Clark did outline plans to introduce a minimum English language requirement to ensure that students studying for qualifications have sufficient language skills to succeed at their course.

“Pearson, whose qualifications are delivered by some of the alternative providers about whom the NAO [National Audit Office] has expressed concerns, have strengthened their internal quality assurance process, introducing annual approval and student re-registration and increasing the level of proficiency in English required of students entering Higher National courses,” said Clark in the statement.

Clark has also outlined plans to introduce a minimum English language requirement

And APs must now register any student with the relevant qualification awarding body before a claim for tuition fee support for that student can be made.

The latest rule changes come as further scrutiny of access to loan funding by students at both public sector institutions and APs has been made possible.

An investigation in December by the National Audit Office found that EU students at some alternative providers have claimed or attempted to claim student support they were not entitled to.

Meanwhile, public sector institutions top the charts for access to loan and maintenance funding, data published by the Students Loans Company (SLC) last week reveals that access to loan funding by students at APs is up by almost £179m year-on-year.

Students at St Patrick’s College accessed student loans (comprising maintenance loans, grants and tuition fee loans) worth £96m in 2013/14, despite the college having its designation for funding suspended by the government in November 2013 for any further recruitment for HND and HNCs in that academic year.

The funding suspension in 2013 was enacted in part because of concerns over EU students’ eligibility (there was a requirement to demonstrate UK residency of three years).

Greenwich School of Management accessed £77m of funding in 2013/14, followed by London School of Business and Finance (which is linked to St Patrick’s College), which accessed £56m. The fourth highest claimer of SLC funding was The British Insitute of Technology and E-Commerce which accessed £31.7m.

Last year the government ruled out a review of the students loans system, despite BIS putting forward urgent recommendations

In November last year, the government ruled out a review of the students loans system – despite a BIS committee putting forward urgent recommendations for an overhaul – after it was revealed that 43% of EU students’ loans were outstanding.

BIS, alongside the Student Loans Company, HEFCE, and the Quality Assurance Agency will now form part of the Rapid Response Team that will “quickly investigate allegations of abuse of the system.”

Finally, the seven private providers with degree-awarding powers: Ashridge Business School, BPP University, the College of Estate Management, IFS University College, Resource Development International, Regent’s University, and the University of Law are exempt from the new re-designation criteria.

In a move that differentiates these providers further from other APs, the government is also simultaneously relaxing their student number caps, allowing each of the seven institutions flexibility to increase student numbers by up to 20% in 2015-16.

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