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What of alternative providers?

December 6, 2013

Now’s there’s a good question. Will we be in the perverse situation of the alternative providers labouring under greater restrictions than established, HEFCE-funded universities and colleges?

The OBR writes:

§4.144 The number of new students undertaking courses with alternative providers is expected to peak in 2013-14, but to remain above the March [2013]  forecast throughout.

And it seems clear now that HNC and HND courses, subdegree qualifications, will continue to be restricted after a harum scarum explosion in 2012/13.  Responding to a parliamentary question from Liam Byrne this week, Willetts revealed that numbers on those courses leapt from 2 590 in 2011/12 to 15, 320 in 2012/13, while student support outlay (loans and grants) shot up from £21m to £131m. BIS stated very recently that they want to concentrate on degree-level provision at alternative providers.

The Autumn Statement  reaffirms that in 2014/15 numbers controls will be introduced for the first time at private providers who want access to the student support. The institutional caps will be based on 2012/13 recruitment levels but the OBR comment above suggests that the limits will be rebased so that allocation turns out to be lower .

§1.204 From 2015-16, [the government] will allow student numbers at alternative providers to be freed in a similar manner as for HEFCE-funded provision. The higher education sector has an internationally excellent reputation for quality. The government will continue to closely monitor quality of provision across the sector and reserves the right to reimpose number controls on institutions that expand their student numbers at the expense of quality.

By ‘similar manner’ there, I read the idea that we will see transitional arrangements not unlike the current high grades policy. It would be bizarre to introduce caps for one year, 2014/15, and then immediately lift them.

But it’s good to see quality brought back into the frame. I understand that the current consultation on ‘designation’ status will be withdrawn and replaced with something that looks more closely at institutions. Obviously, several things remain unclear in practical terms (one aside: what happens to HE in FE in the new terrain?), but it does look like the government has learnt some lessons. Still, the regulation needed to effect this change means that private providers will have to sacrifice more independence to preserve access to student support.

 

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