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Controls already in place for independent higher education institutions

10 October 2013

Study UK, the UK’s leading association for independent further and higher education institutions and specialist training providers, has responded to a report launched in Parliament yesterday by the Higher Education Commission on ‘Regulating Higher Education’. Calling for an overarching regulatory framework to protect student investment and safeguard the reputation of UK HE, the report expresses concerns that ‘new alternative [i.e. independent] providers offering higher education in England… are not being picked up by the current regulatory regime’.

Sue Hindley, Chair of Study UK, responds to the publication of the report:

“We welcome the Higher Education Commission’s major contribution to the public policy debate with this report and look forward to discussing its recommendations in more detail. While Study UK has long been in favour of new primary legislation to bring all UK Higher Education under a clear and consistent regulatory framework, it should be recognised that independent providers in the UK are already subject to high levels of scrutiny and oversight under the current regime.

Firstly, since 2011 all independent providers of Higher Education to international students have undergone an in-depth review of their provision by the QAA in order to meet Home Office requirements for Educational Oversight. This is in addition to a raft of other controls that have the net effect of closely regulating their international recruitment.

Secondly, independent providers whose students want to access tuition fee loans of up to £6,000 now face a rigorous ‘course designation’ process operated by HEFCE, with tough requirements for financial sustainability and the effectiveness of management which will protect both students and the taxpayer from any risk from less stable institutions. The conditions of this course designation are similar in many respects to the requirements for publicly funded institutions, with independent providers required to provide regular data on students and courses to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, as well as being subject to thorough review by QAA on a regular basis.

Study UK believes strongly that external quality assurance at an institutional level is essential for protecting the reputation and standards of UK Higher Education, and for giving prospective students confidence in the quality of their chosen course. We are pleased that extensive regulation is today already in place to assure students and the taxpayer of the academic quality, financial sustainability and responsible management of independent and alternative higher education providers.

Finally, while it is right that we move towards a Higher Education sector in which all providers are subject to a consistent set of regulations, this must go hand in hand with a consistent level of opportunity. In far too many areas at present, publicly funded providers have been granted a competitive advantage that threatens to stifle innovation and efficiency in the sector – for example, in the area of working rights for international students. Removing all such artificial distortions of the sector will be key to the success of a new regulatory framework in protecting students, encouraging innovation and enhancing excellence.”

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