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  • New rules for independent providers announced by Greg Clark MP Study UK responded to the announcement by Greg Clark, the Universities and Science Minister, of new rules for alternative higher education providers designated for student support. The measures include greater consistency in quality assurance, stronger admissions processes, and new data collection and publication requirements. He also confirmed that student numbers on degree courses at alternative providers would be allowed to increase by 20% in 2015-16, with further growth in 2016-17 to be based on performance. Alex Proudfoot, Chief Executive of Study UK, said: “These are thoughtful proposals which will help strengthen the UK’s already world-class higher education sector. Greg Clark rightly recognises the exceptionally high levels of student satisfaction and graduate employability in many independent providers, and their success in these areas will be amply demonstrated by the collection of new public information announced today. It is also great news that independent providers will be able to welcome more students onto their degree programmes this autumn. Study UK will work closely with the Minister's team on the implementation of these changes, and we look forward to helping prospective students choose confidently from the growing range of fantastic courses available in the UK." Study UK will be meeting with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) to explore some of the changes in more detail and discuss the timetable for implementation. We will also ask for clarification of the proposed annual renewal of designation, and will seek assurances that prospective students will not be disadvantaged by any strengthening of the existing annual monitoring process. It is of course essential that any student making their choice of undergraduate programme according to the standard UCAS timetable can feel confident in the availability of loans funding for the start of their course the followng year. 
  • National Audit Office investigation into financial support for students at alternative HE providers Study UK, the leading association of independent education providers, welcomes the National Audit Office’s investigation into financial support for students at alternative higher education providers.  Alternative Providers play a vital role in the UK higher education sector, offering excellent quality provision and opportunities to students who might otherwise not participate in higher education. Quality-assured, Government-designated HE courses form an important part of the broader provision available at Study UK members, who offer world-class tuition to a diverse range of quality students from the UK, EU and beyond. As the NAO confirms, many new controls have been introduced in the short period of time covered by this report. Greater clarity in the setting and monitoring of standards has already been seen through the steps taken by regulators and providers, who have had to adjust rapidly to significant change, requiring new investment in systems and infrastructure, as well as staff re-training. Study UK has supported many providers through these changes, and continues to advise its members on compliance issues to ensure that practice and provision is of consistently high quality. Alex Proudfoot, Association Manager, said: “Today’s report, along with research published yesterday by CentreForum, highlights the rapid growth of Alternative Providers and the positive contribution they make to the higher education landscape in offering quality and affordable tuition to a diverse group of students. There is now an urgent need for primary legislation to strengthen and consolidate recent piecemeal changes to higher education regulation. Study UK will continue to press all parties to support the drafting, debate and implementation of a higher education bill in the next parliament. New legislation will be key to ensuring that the regulatory system is fit for purpose, is built to meet the needs of a modern and heterogeneous HE sector, and effectively promotes competition between providers in the educational quality, innovation and value for money of their provision.” The NAO report highlights the necessity of strong working relationships between Alternative Providers and regulators, relationships that Study UK has worked hard to build on behalf of its members. Study UK fully backs the Government’s work so far to prevent any misspending of public funds and also supports a comprehensive review of Student Loans Company processes to ensure that the necessary controls are in place to weed out any applications for support by ineligible students. 
  • Response to Consumer Rights Bill amendment to mandate OIA subscription for designated providers Study UK, the leading association of independent education providers in the UK, has welcomed the news that the Consumer Rights Bill is to be amended to create a level playing field for access to the higher education ombudsman service, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA). This amendment makes it mandatory for independent education providers with specific courses designated for student loans to subscribe to the OIA, bringing private colleges in line with public universities, which are already required to sign up to the OIA under the Higher Education Act 2004. Study UK has long championed the need for consistent and robust protection of the interests of students and will continue to support its members to engage with and subscribe to the OIA. Paul Kirkham, Study UK Board Member and Chief Executive at the Institute of Contemporary Music Performance said: ‘The independent education sector should welcome this amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill because it places independent providers on an equal footing with universities, with a collective, sector-wide obligation to meet the requirements of an OIA subscription. My organisation chose to subscribe voluntarily to the OIA because we believe it offers a valuable service in assuring students and other key stakeholders that we take student welfare and complaints seriously and we are committed to an accessible, open, transparent and independent process. That all designated independent providers will now be joining us in subscribing can only be a positive step for the education sector as a whole.’ In anticipation that a subscription to the OIA might become a requirement for designated providers, Study UK has been engaging with the OIA for some time to discuss the ways in which both its adjudication service and the developing ‘Good Practice Framework for Complaints and Appeals’ might be applied in the case of independent providers. We will therefore continue to work with both our members and the OIA to ensure that the published Framework is well-suited to the specific needs of independent education providers, large and small, to encourage its consistent adoption within the education sector. 
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